For many of us, a lot has changed over the past year due to the pandemic, transitioning to virtual learning, and spending lots of time at home. With campuses opening up again this fall, returning to school can feel exciting, especially if you’re ready for a much-needed change of pace! But what happens when you reconnect with friends, and things aren’t like they used to be? Maybe you realize that going out for drinks every night isn’t your thing anymore, or that you can’t stay up until 2 AM quite like you used to. If you feel like you’ve changed over the past year, due to the pandemic or otherwise, you are not alone. Here’s how to introduce your “new” self to your college friends, especially if you feel like you’ve changed.
first, take a deep breath.
Whether you’re navigating back-to-school season, postgrad life, or simply figuring out how to return to “normal” after the year we’ve just had, don’t be so surprised if you’ve changed — and try not to let your emotions and nerves take over. If you’re feeling anxious about introducing your “new self” to your college friends at some point, remember, they’ve changed too — in both small and big ways! This doesn’t mean you can’t still be friends, and there are definitely ways to make your future hangout feel comfortable and calm.
Let’s say one of your college friends reaches out and asks you to catch up over drinks. This might feel awesome at first, and you might look forward to spending time catching up on each other’s lives. However, maybe you feel like you’ve graduated from the party scene, or you simply may not enjoy late-night drinking as much as you used to. If that’s the case, it’s totally okay! The key to genuinely enjoying time with old friends is to meet up in a place where you feel comfortable. Instead of feeling like you have to force yourself back into your college lifestyle and habits, do what feels right to you at the stage of life you’re in now. Maybe that means asking your friend to grab coffee or tea at a new café you’ve been wanting to try, or going to a workout class together after a year of doing virtual workouts from home. Focus on the experience you want to have, choose an activity that aligns with your personal values, and you’ll feel better showing off “the new you” in no time.
Share your new interests.
If you’re meeting up with someone you haven’t seen in a while, now can be a great opportunity to share all that you’ve been up to since you last saw eachother (even if most of it is working remotely at your desk all day long!). Chances are, a lot has changed about your life and priorities since you hung out last — and it’s likely the same for your friend, too. When reconnecting and “reintroducing” yourself to college friends, be sure to share topics and activities that have sparked your interest lately, whether you started a new hobby during quarantine, chose to embark on a brand new career path, or otherwise. Things may have changed drastically over the past year, but sharing what you’re genuinely interested in with your college friends can be an exciting, empowering way to start accepting and embracing your “new” self.
Don’t be afraid to share your struggles, too.
Whether you’re adjusting to in-person classes again or are learning how to navigate post-grad life after the pandemic, change is something nearly every college student goes through, even if people rarely talk about it. When you’re reconnecting with college friends, don’t be afraid to share what’s going on in your life, even if it isn’t always pretty. If you aren’t returning to college this fall and are dealing with post-grad blues, it’s totally fair game to talk about life after college and the struggles that come with it — chances are, your friends may feel similarly about their own transitions. Maybe you and your friends are struggling to make friends at work, you feel pressured to have everything figured out in your career, or maybe you’re experiencing depression. While it may feel vulnerable to open up to others, if the person you’re reconnecting with is a true friend, they’ll genuinely want to know how you’re doing — and you never know, they might be feeling the exact same way as you.
Reminisce about the good times.
When reconnecting with friends you haven’t seen in a while, it can sometimes feel awkward to know what to talk about. If this happens, I recommend reminiscing about the good times you had! Even if you feel like you and your friends have changed since you last spoke, you can always reflect on positive memories from school or otherwise. Chat about some of your favorite times together, whether it’s that incredible study abroad trip you went on together, tailgating during football season, or late-night movie marathons in your dorm room. Recalling the positive memories you shared can be an easy way to refresh your conversation and connect on some common ground. Fun fact: a 2015 study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology even found that the process of recalling positive memories — known as grateful recounting — can actually boost your overall well-being over time. Reminiscing on the good times can be a great opportunity to remember who you were in college and reflect on who you are today. And often, this moment of reflection — especially when you’re chatting with a friend or someone you care about — can feel both rewarding and bittersweet.
Don’t change who you are to please others.
Meeting your college friends after some time apart may not always go as planned, and occasionally, the moment may feel different than you imagined. Maybe you realize that your friends are still in “college-mode” and you’re not. Maybe their priorities no longer match yours, and you’re finding it hard to remember what you had in common. My advice: do not change who you are to appease your college friends, no matter what! It’s totally fine to have differences, but do not feel like you need to act like your “college self” or revert to a former “version” of yourself to keep your friends. While it may feel difficult, try to embrace your new personality and your “new” self.
Additionally, if you’re finding it hard to reconnect with your friends, it may be a good idea to start networking and expanding your social circle. Some of your friends are meant to be in your life during college and during certain milestones, but they aren’t always meant to be with you for your whole journey. It’s hard to see this in hindsight, but if you’re feeling lonely or discouraged, remember that there are people who are meant to come into your life that you haven’t even met yet! How exciting is that? In the tough moments especially, know that you aren’t only limited to friends you made in college. There are many more to come.
Whether you spent the past year away from friends or you recently graduated, it can be disheartening to feel like you and your friends aren’t on the same page anymore. Know that after any major transition — whether the end of a semester, the pandemic, graduation, or otherwise — everyone experiences changes, and it’s natural to feel like you’re becoming a different version of yourself. However, this doesn’t have to be a bad thing — the goal is to grow more confident in who you are, and start embracing your “new” self, whatever that means to you. Give yourself grace when you are trying to introduce your “new” self to your college friends, and remember — they are likely going through the same changes you are.
Watkins, P. C., Uhder, J., & Pichinevskiy, S. (2015). Grateful recounting enhances subjective well-being: The importance of grateful processing. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 10(2), 91-98.