“I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light.” – Helen Keller
Since finishing grad school, I’ve noticed that it’s a lot harder to stay in touch with friends. I’ve heard this commonly happens after people graduate college and join the workforce.
College provides a network of relatively like-minded people who give support and encouragement. Classes give you a built-in community and remove barriers, making socializing easy. And with the same general schedules and living on or near campus, it’s pretty easy to arrange get-togethers outside of class.
Then graduation happens and people scatter. They get jobs, move to different cities or countries. Sometimes relationships dissolve, and the ones that last require more deliberate effort to stay connected.
But, in every season of life, whether we know it or not, community is something we all need, and especially in hard times. I realized just how much recently when I started paying attention to my own socialization habits.
How stress can lead to a lack of connection.
Since May, I’ve been trying to figure out my post-grad school life, and it’s been causing me a lot of stress.
By nature, I’m an optimistic person. I don’t stay down or in a bad mood for very long. I consider myself resilient, and I’m quick to look at life from a new, fresh perspectives.
Recently, though, this has been more of a challenge for me. I haven’t felt like myself, and more often that I’d like, I’ve felt antisocial.
I feel exhausted at the thought of having to share it all with a friend.
As a result, without the safety net of classes to force me to chat with other people, I’ve stayed in my personal bubble much more than usual.
The false closeness of social media.
Between Facebook status updates, Instagram photos, and Snapchat stories, we can be up-to-date on our friends’ lives at pretty much any moment of the day. We see what they ate for dinner last night, what concert they attended the Saturday before, and where they celebrated their recent anniversary.
Social media allows us to know the latest haps with our friends without requiring to have an actual conversation with them, or anyone. It makes us feel connected, when in reality our only connection was with our smartphones.
Social media can be a great tool for networking, and sharing ideas, articles, and images that we may not share with friends in person. But it isn’t a substitute for real life human interaction.
While I wasn’t relying on social media to stay connected, I noticed that I was relying on group chats and texts to replace getting together in-person.
Humans need to socialize.
I started thinking about what I tell my clients – we need socialization. It’s detrimental for us to pull away from others, especially at times when we probably need their support the most.
I needed to take my own advice. I reached out to a couple friends, and we made plans.
Some of the night went as I’d expected. They asked about job hunting and my roommate situation, and I filled them in, even though I really didn’t want to. It was a reminder of everything I’d been through and was still dealing with.
But then both girls shared personal stories, providing tons of validation which affirmed my feelings.
Friendship opens the door for shared experience.
It can be hard sometimes to remember that other people have been in similar experiences. By sharing our struggles with friends, we get validation and empathy because they’ve been through something similar. And we also receive perspectives that we hadn’t previously considered.
Something about that particular night sort of surprised me, though – my problems weren’t the center of attention. Because they’d been at the forefront of my mind, I assumed they’d be front and center with friends. But in reality we talked about other things in my life, like my relationship with Logan and what’s been going on with them lately.
In the end, the evening turned out to be exactly what I needed – support, encouragement, laughter, and connection.
Don’t retreat from support.
When things get tough, we tend to do the exact opposite of what we do when things are good. We forget that seeing friends, exercising, and eating healthy all contribute to our overall mood and well-being.
When we start to neglect one or more areas, we’ll probably feel worse instead of better.
But leaning into friendships, instead retreating from them, might be just what we need to get us through.