318 miles. My apartment in Madison, Wisconsin is only 318 miles from my home in Zionsville, Indiana. It’s close enough to drive home for a weekend, but too far away to quickly drop by for a visit. As much as I wanted to escape my home state, I never realized how far 318 miles would feel until college.
Before I started my senior year of high school, I knew I wanted to go to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. My parents are alumni and football season ticket holders, so I grew up screaming “Go Badgers.” I loved the campus, the environment and the surrounding city—but most importantly, attending school in Wisconsin was my chance to escape to somewhere new and exciting. The one thing I didn’t consider was how attending an out-of-state school would impact my friendships back home.
When people ask me what is the hardest part about going to school out of state, my answer is not being homesick, hating the central time zone, craving people who pronounce words without Wisconsin/Minnesota accents or missing my favorite restaurants. The worst part was drifting apart from friends.
My friends decided to stay in Indiana for school. I started college three weeks after they did. I watched from the sidelines as they went to orientation, attended their first classes and experienced college life. I loved how they prepared me for what was ahead by showing me their dorms, taking me to campus events and explaining how to stay on top of schoolwork.
While I was excited to start my adventure as a cheesehead, I felt extremely nauseous as I frantically worried no one would accept me like my friends did back home. Saying goodbye to my friends felt like “see you soon, ” but that wasn’t the case. For many people, saying goodbye at high school graduation meant “I will see you again when I awkwardly run into you at the grocery.”
The fear of remaining friendless quickly vanished as soon as I made my first friend on campus. My best friend and I met as we talked on the way to dinner about being the only people from our schools at Madison. She told me, “We’re like the same person.” I responded with, “We aren’t the same,” not realizing people wouldn’t understand my dry sarcasm. Months into our friendship, she told me the comment labeled me as a person she would probably never be friends with. We got over the comment by continuously spending time together and discovering that we were weirdly similar. Making friends in college became easier when I found a commonality with someone, whether that was having a nose piercing or liking Ferris Bueller.
The more I started making friends on campus, the less I talked to my friends back home. In the beginning, a lot of my college conversations were about things I did in high school, but those conversations quickly switched to campus life, cute boys in the dorm and crazy professors.
I didn’t really notice that I was talking to my friends any less until I saw pictures with all of them together on Facebook. Looking through those pictures, I immediately started crying. If I had stayed in Indiana, I knew I would have been in every single one of them.
This turned into a breakdown and a series of frantic calls to my parents begging them to come whisk me back home for a weekend. I missed my friends, and I was so scared they forgot about me. Thank goodness for my wonderful parents who picked me up even though they drove 20–25 hours total that weekend.
When I saw my three best friends from Indiana, it felt like nothing had changed, but I still noticed a huge divide. I was an outsider because I didn’t know every detail of their lives. They talked about things they did with people I didn’t know or discussed homework for a class I didn’t know they were taking. As much as I loved seeing them, I needed to communicate with them as much as possible.
I texted my high school friends often to make sure I could stay as informed as possible. Sadly, the same thing happened. I slowly started to lose touch again. I blamed college stress and figured returning for winter break would kick-start our bond again.
When my friends from high school met up, everyone gravitated towards their friends who attended the same school. I group hopped because I was the only one who went to an out-of-state school. It was as if I was intruding. They had to give me background information, like who their new friends were, just so I could follow along in their conversations.
When I got home and looked through the pictures we all took together, I realized something. When I saw pictures of my friends without me, they were just taking pictures with their college friends. It wasn’t like they wanted to exclude me. That painful feeling I experienced was exactly how they felt when they saw me with my new friends from Madison.
Drifting apart from high school friends is normal. Everyone gets busy and everyone is developing new friendships on different campuses. I remember seeing a Facebook photo and thinking, “Wow I haven’t talked to them in a while. I should text them.” It wasn’t until months later I actually remembered to do so and it was a short conversation. When I stopped obsessing over my fear of losing friends back home, I was much happier. I stayed close to the people who mattered to me, but lost contact with the people who weren’t willing to put in the effort.
I realized my friends will always be there for me. We always joke about how we send each other “I’m ok” update texts at least once a month. It might not be every detail, but they know the important things.
Losing friends is hard, especially people that you’ve known your whole life, but it’s part of growing up. As much as I still wish some of my closer friends did not turn into my awkward grocery-store run-ins, there is only so much I can control.