Before I left for my year abroad, I remember being terrified of the world — Yale — going on without me. I remember worrying that I would be forgotten by my friends. I remember how much it comforted me when people said “Don’t worry, it’ll be like nothing has changed when you get back.”
It was odd. I hated so many parts of Yale — the hyper-competitiveness masquerading as effortless nonchalance, the networking and constant introspection of why so-and-so didn’t want you, subtle judgement across race and class and even your goddamn major. I wanted it all to change, but at the same time I selfishly wanted nothing to change at all.
A part of me expected to lose my friends. Like a seed of dread planted deep, easily ignored. So I told myself that if I lost them all it was probably a net positive in the end, because that meant we shouldn’t be friends anyways. Right? Because if we can’t go a year of long-distance friendship, a lifetime of it is sort of off the table.
But damn, that logic is hard to follow when it’s happening.
I remember feeling this faint hurt thrumming in my heart at first. Subtle. I would check Snapchat — a classic millennial — and see my suitemates laughing in the corner of somebody’s story. I would see my a cappella group-chat light up with an update about what room rehearsal was in. It was an ache at first, knowing they were not only able to do all the things without you, they were able to be happy as well. Isn’t it cruel to feel hurt that your friends are happy?
The pain was all sharp edges and I was soft skin and half-swallowed words. But as my messages began to go unanswered, I remember being frustrated, then angry. Is there a difference between a “bad texter” and somebody who just doesn’t care enough?
I felt like I was going through this vast emotional change — this change where I was learning to be alone and find pockets of adventure and happiness in a busy day, where I was finally grasping onto Chinese culture and learning to stop caring about what others thought of me. And I wanted my friends to be a part of it with me.
But they weren’t. So I tried to tell myself that these people were probably never good friends anyways. That it was just a matter of time. It was a hostile combination of buried anger and feigned indifference.
But as my time abroad began to quicken in pace, the anger trickled away. I realized that just because you’re no longer friends doesn’t always take away from the authenticity of that friendship. That there can be different times in your life for different people.
Someone told me that I probably just felt disconnected because I wasn’t there, that it would return to normal when I got back. But these same words that had comforted me so, just months ago, no longer did. Because I like my new normal. And it was okay if things were no longer the same, it was okay if these friendships were perhaps not what they were before.
There are some memories of the friendship, the physical, that are outwardly permanent. The scar on my palm from falling, tipsy and laughing with friends on York St., is still there. Black hair dye on my white T-shirt when I dramatically swore to change, it’s still there.
But the others are permanent too. The hoarse voices from singing badly, and much too loudly on Cross Campus at 2 a.m. The frustration, teeming with anger, as you ranted about how you’d thought Yale would be better, the students less judgmental, less mean. The subsequent slouched shoulders and cursing at “the system” and weak giggling. These are all still there. They are real.
But it’s all right if they don’t continue the way you always expected them to. And it doesn’t mean the hushed voices and brimming tears and breaking laughter were less real.
Maybe we should stop being so afraid of things happening when we’re not there and instead hope that things are. We say it is others we fear will change but a little part of that is a fear that we ourselves will change.
I’ve lost most of my friends. Unsurprisingly, the ones I would “grab a meal with” whenever the time since our last one stretched awkwardly too long. But also the ones who assured me that things would stay the same. The ones that hugged me and said our friendship wouldn’t change.
But I am glad.
Not some sinister sort of happiness coupled with bitterness. Nor is it masquerading as cool indifference or vice versa.
For once, it is ok. I left and am coming back someone different. I think they are doing the same.
I want to miss out. Because that means I’m present in something else. And that something else will be amazing.
Sharon Li is a student in Branford College taking a gap year. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .