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How to Navigate Friendship Fallout When You Return to College

I recently saw a friend from college for the first time in months. Like many students, I haven’t been able to interact with any of my friends from campus since spring break. Most of us have been living at home with our parents, while friends may be hundreds of miles away. In my case, pretty much the only interaction I’ve had with my sorority sisters, roommates, and friends has been from behind a laptop camera or text message. When I finally caught up with my friend IRL, I was so happy. We had been talking for months, never lost contact, and if anything our friendship had grown stronger during quarantine. But when she and I started talking, I came to the realization that many of my other friendships and relationships weren’t helped by the period in lockdown, they were suffering.

During the extended time at home, I found myself reaching out to certain people more than others. I was reluctant to contact the people in my college community I had yet to develop close relationships with —  like those second-semester classmates, people who I only saw in group settings — and instead stayed in touch with my close circle. I no longer had the dining hall, parties, class, or the library to catch up with people, and suddenly the only interactions I could have had to be intentional. It makes sense because I was craving normalcy and structure, and the friends who I had developed long and deep connections with could provide me with security more than the friends who I was still getting to know. Plus, it felt awkward texting people I didn’t know too well, because what was there even to talk about? Most of us were living the same day over and over. 

Original Illustration by Gina Escandon for Her Campus Media

What I began to see was that many of my close friendships during quarantine grew stronger, but many of my weaker ties grew weaker. I also started taking note of the people who were always checking in and those who weren’t. I found myself feeling hurt when I didn’t hear from friends I considered myself close to, but still feeling reluctant to reach out myself. The last few months made me realize what I valued most in relationships, as my large circle that existed on campus slowly dwindled into a small group. 

So, here I am months later, feeling like a lot of my friendships ended when I wasn’t quite ready for them too.

Going back to classes and school is going to be interesting. Like many other schools, my campus is planning on resuming in the fall, and now I have to face “friends” who I have distanced from in the past few months. I’ve thought over and over about how I am going to deal with the fallout of changes I’ve had with all my relationships, and the conclusion is this: go into next semester and surround myself with those who make me feel good.

This is true for all college students who have encountered uneasy social situations over the last few months. There is going to be some fallout. You might feel angry or hurt when you see the friend group who went radio silent, and you might feel guilty when you see the friend you forgot to check in on. But we are in a new time. Most universities are no longer giving you the option to have parties or dining hall interactions, so most of our social time will come from small groups that we feel safe with. It’s okay that you only have one or two close friends. It’s okay if your social groups aren’t what they were before. Friends that make us feel good are all we really need.

It’s okay if down the road you want to reach out to the friends you lost touch with if you’re missing them. There is nothing wrong with sending a text taking that accountability, recognizing you lost touch and making an attempt to fix the distance. But, the important thing to remember is that you’re not obligated to keep them in your life. It’s also okay if you don’t want to do that. You are entitled to surround yourself with friends you want in your life, not just those you feel like you should have in your life.

Try not to put your energy into the friendships that have dissolved, because there probably wasn’t much there to begin with. Don’t hate the people who didn’t reach out to you, love the ones who did. Put the energy and time that you used to invest in your scattered friendships into staying in touch with the people you miss most. What matters is that you recognize what you need from people, and what people are willing to give to you in return.

I’ve personally learned a lot about myself, just as I am sure many of you have. I’ve learned how to reconnect with my family, how to find activities that energize me, and I’ve learned what relationships I truly need in my life.

We are in college. We are learning. We are growing, and sometimes that growth means that we have to acknowledge the relationships we’ve had and let some of them go. 

Emily Jones is a senior neuroscience major on the pre-med track and a national staff writer for Her Campus as well as a writer for Her Campus at Furman University. Her goal is to one day be a physician, but in her spare time you can find her trying out new baking recipes or watching the Great British Bake-Off (over and over again). She also loves her two Boston Terriers, true crime podcasts, and cheesy horror movies.