Miranda lived on the third floor. Amy, her room was below mine. Kili and Heidi lived next to Amy. Collin and I shared a wall, while Sean lived three doors down. And then Debbie, Kate, Elizabeth, Megan, and… We all lived in Berchman’s Hall on the campus of Saint Mary College in Leavenworth, Kansas.
The total population of my friends came from all over campus. I was a theatre major, as was my central social circle; theatre junkies singing showtunes and analyzing plays. Others I met as manager for the women’s soccer team. Still others came from being hyper-involved with clubs and organizations. Then there were impromptu parties or randomly meandering into a room, joining people dying their hair, watching Meet Joe Black.
Then, on May 12, 2001, we graduated. Neo-adults entering the real world with caps on our heads, gowns on our backs, and degrees in hand. Bright eyed. Bushy tailed. Hopeful.
Saint Mary College was a tiny school. Only 178 of us lived on campus. Practically everyone knew everyone. A social life easily accessed through classes, clubs, and parties. And now I’m a twenty-something, not backpacking through Europe or waiting to begin a volunteer year with the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps or some other corps. I have to work. And I work 40 hours a week with people who have their own lives and built-in friends, not eager to add to their circle. Simply put, I don’t know how to ask someone to be my friend. I never had to ask until now.
Okay, Damian, just go up and be cool. Calm. Casual. No biggie. “What’cha guys do’n this weekend?” I sound completely fake. “Anything going down in town?” Damn it. I’m trying too hard. Think they’ll notice? Yes. Ugh!
I’m a cashier in the Bursar’s Office at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. This is my first job after college, and I work with three other cashiers.
“Me and my buddies are headed to…”
“Yeah, I got plans to…”
“It’s guys night out and we’re…”
“No worries, man, next time.” Man? I said, man?! That’s not how I talk. “Whatever’s clever.” Damian, stop! Just stop and walk away.
Maybe I’m not cool enough. But, what does that even mean? Or, maybe I’m actually ridiculous. I know I’m not that smart, or that kind of smart, they talk about books a lot, and I like the idea of reading, I just don’t read what they read. So maybe… I wonder how these people actually view me? I should’ve worn a different shirt. If only I liked sports. And, I’m fat, that could be why they don’t… Or, because I’m brown, that definitely could be… No. Damian, that’s dumb, don’t go there. I’m just not their ‘type’ of friend. I wouldn’t mix well with their friends. But, why wouldn’t I mix well? I’m a good mixer. I want to be back in college. I think I peaked in life too soon.
I sit and stare out my bank-teller-like-window as I see college students walking together with their college friends. Wait until you graduate. There’s an awakening you’ll get out here, the real world. God, I’m bitter. I am bitterly adulting.
Making friends is like dating. Shopping for the right person to fill parts of your life. This guy over here, great drinking buddy. That lady over there, the complete coffee companion. And that person, total travel partner. And of course, this person, my confidant. But, after college I wanted everyone to be everything. I wasn’t discriminating about who filled my life. I wanted my life to be one big dorm, recreating my college experience.
What I wanted was quantity. The more friends I had the more my life was worth. Or so it seemed. The grass is always greener, and the people with copious amounts of friends had the greenest grass. And I wanted their grass. I found myself more willing to regress than grow. Occupying myself with late nights, hungover mornings with late arrivals to work. All for the benefit of appearances.
My truth: I was afraid of being out here on my own. Being an adult meant arriving – everyday – at an apartment building filled with strangers who want nothing to do with you. Living in closer proximity to loneliness in a one-bedroom studio rather than a dorm near people you love.
I loved my time at Saint Mary College, and there was a time I wanted nothing more than to rewind life and go back. Not anymore. I love where I’m at right now and the people who fill the spaces of my heart. It took me awhile to get here though.
My favorite playwright, Tony Kushner, says it best: “In this world, there is a kind of painful progress. Longing for what we’ve left behind, and dreaming ahead.” I got lost in that longing and dreaming Kushner wrote about. In college I was confident, I knew who I was, I had a sense of where I was going. Then suddenly, like a camera flash, college was a memory and I’m out here on my own. I was a stranger to everyone, even to myself. And in all that grasping for the past to remain present, I hadn’t considered the wonderful possibilities of life after college. I needed to let go and meet myself in life’s new chapter.
I’m cognizant that I no longer need friends the way I did when I was in college. My desire for quality friendships outweighs quantity. I want friendships that have depth and meaning, and that takes time – an investment I am more interested in engaging than I did when I was 22.
It’s been 17 years this past May since I graduated college. In that time, I’ve maintained solid relationships with a good handful of college friends. But, they reside in other cities living their own lives. And I require, as I’m sure we all do, access to friendships nearer to my daily ins-and-outs. A joy of being out of college is having the freedom to choose – with absolute intention – the people I want to occupy my time. And, being able to claim those friendships, when they happen, is beautiful.