Relationships with pals change as a freshman

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I should've known after watching "Superbad" that things would change in college.

Parents, don't worry -- I'm not referring to the characters' baby-face hormones, pursuit of fake IDs or ill-fated attempts at winning over girls.

Because, underneath its rough, often crass edges, the film has a serious suggestion: Despite their best wishes, college-bound teenagers inevitably will see their friendships change.

That relationships would change once people go different places and do different things should come as no surprise. It's a truism, perhaps even a lame one.

But its triteness makes it no less true, especially because most graduating seniors seem incapable -- or, perhaps, unwilling -- of fully recognizing this before they leave.

And "change" is such a vague term. When does "change" in a friendship blur into sad disintegration? When does going separate ways turn into permanently losing touch? I frantically asked myself these kinds of questions in my first semester of college.

Yes, I knew that my life would change in college. I would be on my own. Classes would be harder. "Home" wouldn't really be home anymore.

Nevertheless, I naively assumed that I would stay in the same kind of constant communication with my friends -- particularly my best friends Rich and Brady -- that I did in high school.

For four years, Rich, Brady and I were inseparable, largely because of our almost identical schedules. As swim teammates, we trained in the ungodly hours before school, went to classes (sometimes the same ones), returned to the pool after school to train for another two hours, led our team as captains at swim meets, and, of course, hung out on weekends.

When senior year finished, though, we went completely different places. I chose Swarthmore College, a small liberal arts school outside of Philadelphia; Rich enrolled in the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs; and Brady decided on St. Bonaventure University, a Catholic school in rural New York.

I wish I knew beforehand how frustrating and, at times, downright upsetting it can be to stay in touch with your friends from high school.

Don't get me wrong -- college is fantastic and liberating. Instantly, I felt that I found the school that met my interests and was meeting passionate, down-to-earth people.

Still, though, the first few months were unstable. As I worked to find a niche, I found it hard to forget that I already had an established one at home with Rich and Brady. I was certainly making new friends, but suddenly I started missing my friends from high school.

Throughout all my new experiences, there were moments of excitement and sadness, success and failure that I wanted to tell them about, but there was always that inexplicable difficulty in keeping in touch. We're children of a hyper-technology generation, so why was it so hard to communicate?

It's not a question I can really answer. But what I can say is that friends, despite the best of intentions, start losing touch in college. When this first happened with Rich and Brady, we all had a visceral reaction -- simply, I think we were a bit hurt.

We knew we were busy with different classes and activities, but it was hard to differentiate busyness from apathy. In turn, we failed to communicate that our failure of communication was upsetting.

But at some point freshman year, we all realized that our separation was OK, even healthy. In other words, we realized we should've worried if we were staying in constant communication, for that might have meant we were holding ourselves back from pursuing our interests.

In a sense, we are naturally different people who need a bit of separation to thrive.

Having finished two years of college, we are better at staying in touch, mostly through the phone (as a note, Facebook is not a sustainable way to keep friendship alive). But if we miss a call here or there or get out of touch for a few weeks, we don't freak out. There is a mutual understanding that we mean well. Sure, this may seem like laziness. But I'd like to think it's a testament to the strength of our friendship.

And, of course, there are always the times when we hang out while home that it seems like nothing has changed. We're still best friends and, if anything, we're closer even though we've certainly changed. But I'm proud of us and mostly excited for our futures.

I'm no longer anxious or distressed about the distance and differences among Rich and Brady and me.

Like the characters at the end of "Superbad," I've recognized that going different ways might be a good thing after all.


Dante Anthony Fuoco, who was a summer intern at the Post-Gazette, is a junior at Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pa., where he majors in English literature. He can be reached at localnews@post-gazette.com .


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