In preparing your expectations of college, I encourage you to simply let go. Release expectations. I know it’s much easier said than done, but perhaps my story can show how letting go will help you settle into the whirlwind of freshman year.
I’ll set the scene: move-in day, August 2019. I’m in Mary Markley Residence Hall, AKA what I hope is the home of my potential new best friends. My body is a concoction of nerves and excitement. I’ve placed huge expectations on my freshman year. I thought the best college experience started with finding my friends for life. Walking the hallways, I picture each person I pass as my best friend, envisioning us together someday far in the future, watching our kids grow up and telling them our silly freshman-year stories. Like I said, super high expectations.
I blame my expectations on the wild college gossip that returned home each break with recent graduates from my high school. They would come back sharing snippets of their glorious new lives, happily filled with freedom, bursting with exciting stories which made high school seem small and lame in comparison.
The part I envied the most was hearing about their new friends, who everyone seemed to be close with from the second they met. I’d long awaited my turn to graduate and start thriving amongst a fresh crowd of people.
I had solid friends in high school, the kind that had been around so long they felt like an extension of me. We knew each other’s laughs, class schedules, family dynamics and Starbucks orders by heart. These friends will always have a special place in my life; they helped shape who I was for 18 years. However, I knew most of them weren’t my people. The friendships were held together mostly by history and proximity.
High school was starting to feel stale, my friends looking more and more like people who just happened to live near me. I was eager for a change.
It’s my first night of college — I feel as if I’ve been waiting for this night my entire life. I guess it’s time for my dreams to be realized? Potential best friends number 1 and 2 down the hall invited me over. I’m elated to be making friends within the first few hours — we all click instantly, sharing endless laughs as we get ready to go to our first college party.
Welcome Week proceeded to fly by in a haze of introductions, discussions of hometowns, more names than I could remember and long nights staying up talking in Markley or going out in huge groups of enthusiastic freshmen. Each new friend I met matched my excited energy. My perfect vision of college was coming true!
Then one night, potential best friends number 1 and 2 made plans that didn’t involve me. I found out via Snapchat, hours after they’d refused my invitation to hang out, claiming they had to “stay in and sleep.” On my phone, I watched them dancing at a party without me. My perfect vision of college crumbled. What happened to being best friends since the very first night? The next day, they didn’t return my wave in the dining hall.
All of a sudden, the honeymoon phase of college ended.
I’ve come to realize this phenomenon — the loss of your first college friends — is fairly common. My friends now joke about “first semester friends” — those who you spend every single second with until suddenly they’re gone and you’re left wondering if you made it all up. I had many “first semester friends” during freshman year who I was positive would be future bridesmaids, by my side for life. When some of those friendships’ expiration dates arrived, I’d been devastated.
Ultimately, you will not be able to stay close with every person you meet in college, and that’s okay.
The cycle of friendships changes dramatically in college. You may be inseparable from someone for a day and completely forget about them by the weekend. I wish someone had been there to tell me this each time I spiraled, upset after losing the friend who had every meal with me the week before in the dining hall, or the girl who stayed up telling me about her life until 2 A.M. It’s sad but it happens. Friends move on. Friendships move on. Life moves on.
Give yourself some grace and patience in your first year. You’re not supposed to automatically know how to juggle all these new, confusing dynamics and the overwhelming amount of possibilities.
In reality, it’s hard to find your people at college. It’s probably not going to happen in the craziness of freshman year. Everyone will feel lost and overwhelmed upon first arriving at school. It’s a guarantee in college, as inevitable as your RA texting your hall group chat to “keep it down” during finals week or MOJO having a line for cookies (two things incoming Michigan students will learn quickly).
Given how frantic everyone is upon first entering college, I advise you to approach friendships with a carefree attitude and a sense of ease. Welcome each person into your life for as long as they’re meant to be in it. The majority of my freshman year friends only belonged in my close circle for a limited time. That’s perfectly okay. It’s part of the journey. I encourage you to adopt this positive mindset: be grateful for each experience, kind to each person and accepting of the fact that some people aren’t meant to stay in your life forever.
I’ve learned that holding on tightly to expectations during freshman year meant I wasn’t living in the present moment. I hadn’t been giving my all to anyone, including myself. I’d lost touch with myself, forgetting what I was looking for in a friend in the first place. COVID-19 brought ample alone time, and I found I was exhausted from chasing after people. I’d been so relieved to have friends at all that I’d overlooked the quality of these friendships. Once I had time to reflect and work on myself, I became more aware of the kind of people I wanted to be surrounded by.
I stopped giving energy toward people who would have me chasing them forever. Instead, I finally learned how to put energy into myself.
Incoming freshmen, try not to get lost in the excitement of potential friends at the expense of losing yourself. Focus on yourself first, and I promise you will find the right people.
I urge you to relinquish some control and embrace the chaos of being a freshman — college is an absolute mess in the best way possible! Let go of any expectations of what friends or school should look like and instead let it be revealed to you. This is a trust-the-process part of life.
Reminders of old friends I’ve lost touch with make me smile now; they helped get me through freshman year. I can look back with love for the memories we shared and sentimental appreciation for an old version of me. Each person I’ve met has been a necessary part of my college experience, a thread woven into the fabric of my story here. At the end of college, I’ll have this patchwork of people and memories — some from freshman year, a handful from this club or a few from that class.
I promise that you will eventually find those who exceed your dreams of what a best friend can be. You will look around one day and realize you’re living your dreams of the best college life. Until that day comes, be patient. Stay in the moment. And let go.