High school small talk was always themed. During junior year it was the SATs. The next fall was nothing but college applications. At prom, no one could think of anything more intelligent than “Omigod, you look amazing!” to say to their acquaintances.
During college breaks, as it turns out, the theme becomes even more specific: “Imply (or explicitly state) your hatred for all things hometown-related by overenthusiastically expressing how excited you are to go back to school.” At every party I went to, “When do you go back?” came before “How are you?” Reactions were standardized and immediate. “Tomorrow” was always met with jealousy while a weepy “Next weekend” garnered a sympathetic groan. Instead of enjoying each other’s company, we wanted to prove how exciting, challenging, amazing our new lives were by complaining that we weren’t currently living them.
But spending a month describing our impossibly perfect college experience conditioned us to believe it actually was that way, and when we came back, we were struck by disappointment. When you’re far from people it’s easy to forget their imperfections. Complaints you were raging about as recently as finals week — your roommate’s annoying ringtone, that one friend’s constant relationship problems, your stand partner’s habit of coming late to rehearsal — are forgotten in light of your desire to go back.
These new lives are great, of course, but they are hardly perfect. I have problems at school that I would never have to deal with at home — empty fridges, no available washing machines, midterms that are actually hard. Screw dates will fall through and tears will be shed. The emergency chocolate stockpile will be raided. The toilet paper will run out. Your free time evaporates in ways you never could have predicted.
These are issues we didn’t have in high school, so it only follows that we often have trouble understanding. Most of us have never had to live with our friends, to jointly clean common areas, to balance our need for sleep with our desire to be the roommate who’s always available as a therapist. For 18 years, we were used to cohabitants who were slightly more accommodating: Our parents always turned down the volume when we asked them to. We never realized that it is impossible sometimes to work in our own bedrooms. We didn’t have to make dinner plans every night.
We forgot to mention these issues to our high school friends over break — we must have been too busy assuring them that we always have somewhere to go out on Wednesdays. We also forgot to mention how stressed we sometimes get, how sometimes a seminar can feel like getting run over (then reversed over and run over again) by an 18-wheeler; how we never sleep enough; how there’s never time to go to the gym.
It’s okay though — we’re freshmen. We haven’t yet learned to balance, so instead we overcompensate. We pregame. We reevaluate. We remember. Maybe over spring break, we’ll tell our friends a different story.