The Post-Collegiate Drift: An Open Letter to My Long Lost Bro

long lost friends
The Post-Collegiate Drift: An Open Letter to My Long Lost Bro
How is it that our best friends are the ones we speak to the least?

You’ll probably think this is stupid, but you’ve been on my mind lately.  Actually, I’ve been thinking about your wedding. What was it, two years ago? Three years ago? Was that the last time I saw you?

I remember shaking hands with your best man. We were outside of the club at your bachelor party. He seemed like a good guy, and as the night wore on, I did start to like him quite a bit. But there was something about him. I’ve been thinking about it and I think I’ve figured it out. He seemed like an awesome guy. I mean, he was your best man, so he has to be. But I just didn’t know him.

That’s all I could think about, sitting up there at the head table. And now, when I think about his speech that night—all that stuff he said you two had been through—I realize that there’s this huge part of your life that I know nothing about.

It was worse at our buddy’s wedding last month. I understand that you couldn’t make it, what with the new job and the kid on the way. (Congratulations, by the way. I’m such a shit for never calling you back.) I was in the wedding party, then, too. But I didn’t know any of the groomsmen. I was sitting there at the end of this table of seven guys, none of them I had ever met before, and I realized why I was there. Each of those guys was representing a part of his life. There was his brother, his coworker, his brother-in-law, his childhood friend and so on. And I was the token friend from college. I was supposed to represent everything that was important to him back in those days.

That’s cool and all. It makes sense. But that night, I couldn’t help feeling like a fraud.  As I kept introducing myself to people, explaining that I knew the groom way back in college, I felt like I was talking about a different person than they knew. I almost felt like I was making it up. And that other person in the stories, his friend way back when. He was another person, too.

We all used to be so close.

What happened?

How is it that in this age of hyper connectivity, it feels like we never talk? Why are there a million ways to get ahold of you but I have no idea what’s going on in your life? How many pictures of you have I seen on Facebook without ever hearing the stories behind them? It doesn’t make sense.

Look, I’m writing this to you now because I’m worried that it’s too late. I hope it’s not, but there’s a lot of stuff out there saying that it is.

I read last year in the New York Times that it’s almost impossible to make good friends when you are in your 30s. They say that as you get older, you can still make “kind of friends,” but there’s pretty much no way you’ll ever find a best friend. At least not the way we were all best friends.

We all met at a very strange and important time in our lives. Back when we were friends in college, we were brothers in the truest sense. We grew up together. And I don’t just mean that we got older. Believe me, in the past couple of years, I’ve gotten a hell of a lot older, but I don’t think I’ve grown up as much as I did back when we were friends. We stood by each other as we became independent, changed our majors like a million times and discovered what we wanted from life. I was there after your first one night stand and you were there when I started my first serious relationship (which, coincidentally, ended up being my first seriously messed up relationship, too).

Our friendship—yours and mine, and all the other guys too—that’s a big part of why I became who I am. I know that sounds cheesy, but I’m pretty sure you’d agree with me.

I’ve made a few friends here and there since we graduated. But I’ve yet to feel really close to any of them. And I guess that’s normal. That article I read says:

As external conditions change, it becomes tougher to meet the three conditions that sociologists since the 1950s have considered crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other… This is why so many people meet their lifelong friends in college.

To me, that explains a lot. We don’t have any of that now. And we likely won’t have any of that with anyone else. Work comes close, but you and I both know that it’s a completely different situation there.

What I’m starting to realize is that meeting your best friends in college is just as meaningful and important as meeting your wife. And preserving that closeness with your old bros is equally as important as remaining faithful to your wife. Those two relationships—your love life and your true friendships—those are the two things that define you.

The difference between friendships and marriage is that you and your college friends are supposed to go your separate ways. College is a temporary home where you gain everything you need so you can go out and make something of yourself.

Remember how we used to joke about graduation?  The big bang we called it. It’d be our glorious entrance into the world as we burst onto the scene. We’d be continents, we said, with our massive ideas and staggering ambitions.

Well, the big bang happened. It looks like you’re doing well, and I think I’m on to something with all my stuff. But we’ve drifted more than I thought we would. And lately, it’s been harder to see how we all used to fit together.

Lately, I’ve felt like I’ve been losing more than my friends. I’ve been losing myself. This is more than nostalgia, I think. When we all went our separate ways, we took for granted that we would profoundly change the world. We never considered how the world would change us. Most of that change was inevitable, and some of it is even good. Just like in college, facing change is what makes life exciting and worthwhile. But surviving it can be tough. We did it in school by supporting each other and constantly reminding each other what was important to us as people, even if it wasn’t the same for me as it was for you. Because of that, the bad times were in many ways more important than the good times.

inset

I still have those kinds of dips and peaks in my life, but when those crazy things happen, I just cope. I withdraw into myself. Or I read a book or I talk to a coworker or a family member about it, and all they do is give me safe, reassuring answers. They don’t prod me and challenge me like you used to. They don’t hold me accountable to the real person they know I am. And that’s okay—that’s not their job. That’s your job, man.

If you read this, hit me up sometime. No, screw that, I’m calling you right now.

It’s ringing.

I got your voicemail.

I’m leaving you a message.

Call me back.

When you do, I’m going to explain to you how we’re going to get the guys back together. I know you’ll be down with it, because I bet you feel the same way.

First of all, no more of this Facebook shit. Yeah, I know we are Facebook friends, but sitting on your iPhone and liking the Arrested Development references on my wall while you take a dump doesn’t count as interaction. All that tells me is that you are alive, or your account got hacked or something.

I know I’m just as guilty of that, though. Facebook has this way of ruining my urge to be outgoing in the same way that junk food kills my appetite for real food. It fulfills my hunger for substance with nothing. It does so just to the point where I’ll stop looking for something more substantial, even though I’m nowhere near fulfilled.

I’m not saying you have to delete your Facebook account. I’m not going to delete mine, because admittedly, it’s kind of fun to eavesdrop on ex-girlfriends and all those douches I went to high school with.  But next time I read a cool article or have a harrowing encounter on the bus or something, I’m going to email you or text you. Let’s do some more one-on-one discussion, even if we can’t get actual face time in. It doesn’t have to get deep or profound or anything, but at least we can be real, instead of worrying what your mom will think about the comment I left on your wall.

Secondly, no more vague plans. The next time I bump into you and you say, “We should hang out soon,” I’m calling your bluff. You’ll know you’re too busy, too tired or too lazy to actually follow through on that. And you know I usually feel the same way. But to hell with that. If I pull that one on you, here’s what you should do: Pull up your calendar on your phone and say: “Okay, how about April 23rd?” Even if that’s two months away, mark that date. It’ll still be sooner than what either of us were thinking when we said “Soon, man, we’ll go get drinks soon.”

Get that hangout time on the calendar. It’s more important than laundry day, your dentist appointment or any other routine drudgery. Your socks won’t get any dirtier in the hamper, but our friendship is growing weaker every day.

Also, I won’t let that night end without scheduling our next hangout time. I know it’s not the same as “unplanned interactions,” but we are already close friends, and let’s be real: nothing gets done in our lives if it’s not planned. So, why not plan something? Let’s play cards once a month. Or join a kickball league or volunteer or start a band or something. Let’s take the effort out of finding time, clearing schedules and all that. Let’s make it automatic—every third Thursday, we’ve got plans. Doesn’t matter what we do so long as you, me, our wives and our bosses all know that there are people counting on us to be there.

We’ve got to get back in touch with the guys who live out of state, too. It’s ridiculous how long it’s been since we’ve seen them. So, let’s do something. Let’s go to Europe for a week in the spring. Let’s meet up every year in Memphis for the Beale Street Music Festival. Then, let’s go to at least one bowl game a year. We’ll meet up at the airport and get a hotel room. It’ll be expensive, but we all have jobs and we all know how to budget when it matters.

Some guys will bail on one or two of those outings, but that’s okay.  Think of it: If we would’ve been doing two trips a year, we already would’ve had at least ten weekends together in the past five years. That doesn’t seem like much. But the time we spend together away from home, away from all the pressures of our normal lives—that time will be more like the times we used to spend together back in college. We won’t be rushing through one last round, checking our watches and thinking about how soon we’d have to be in bed to get up the next morning for work. We’ll be 100% there, even during the lulls and crises that go hand-in-hand with travel and events.

Basically, what I am saying is that we are going to have to do some work to stay close. I know that’s not at all how things used to be. We used to just wander into each other’s dorms and sit down on the couch and not get up until Monday. We wouldn’t even say “Hi” or “Bye.” There was no catching up or keeping in touch. We were just parts of each other’s lives. We still are, of course. We always will be. But we need to be part of each other’s present, not just the past.

Listen, I’m going to get over feeling guilty about never calling you and I’m not going to be mad about all the times you flaked. None of that matters. What matters is that we get together, just to shoot the shit. The further we drift, the more awkward that gap between us becomes. If you forget to call me back, I might forget to try calling you again, and we might never touch base again. That’s not an ultimatum, it’s just how life unfolds.

Let’s not let that happen.

Seriously,

Your Bro

Jack Busch lives in the Pittsburgh area. He writes. He edits. And he encourages you to visit PotatoFact.com or follow him on Twitter.

  • Jack

    wow this hit home. I’m gonna call my bro

  • Raymond

    Just confirmed a lunch with my buddy. Have been meaning to do so but this just gave me the biggest kick in the ass

  • Butch_Zee

    After reading this, Barney Stinson wept.

  • John Markle

    Thanks for sharing this, definitely hit home. What struck me most was this paragraph.
    Facebook has this way of ruining my urge to be outgoing in the same way that junk food kills my appetite for real food. It fulfills my hunger for substance with nothing. It does so just to the point where I’ll stop looking for something more substantial, even though I’m nowhere near fulfilled.

  • Andy

    Sorry, but some of this is about those of us like the author just growing up. Your buddy who is married and has a kid probably isn’t going to start a band with you. It isn’t realistic. And the ‘hangout time’ you schedule isn’t going to be more important than his kid’s parent-teacher conference, or bad case of the flu that pops up. It is good to take initiative, but you also have to understand that ‘hanging out’ isn’t necessarily what makes adult friends. And as for those friends you’ve made since college but haven’t ‘connected with?’ Well maybe its because when the crazy events happen in your life you withdraw – if you don’t make yourself vulnerable and let people in, how are you supposed to get close? It happened in college because you were forced to be vulnerable with the people you met. When you’re an adult you have to make a conscious decision to let people into your life. So this isn’t about imposing rules on your college friend to make sure you have your hang out time – it’s about acknowledging that you have emotional growth to do on your own, and responsibility to take for yourself.

    • Good point

      That’s depressing to read. Valid but depressing.

  • Don

    Ugh, this just made me super depressed after moving 2500 miles for work at the age of 29. It’s clearly not the worst thing in the world but it certainly doesn’t help to reinforce the idea that i’ll never be making good friends again. I can’t just bump into old bros …

    • Rick

      Yeah, distance is the problem for me too, though my 500 miles isn’t much compared to yours. On the flip side, everyone I knew from college stayed in that area.

      Maybe there really should be some kind of dating site for bros like in “I Love You Man” hahaha

    • Trev

      That’s where being vulnerable (i.e. trying stuff) is a big thing. You need to get out there and identify a social thing you enjoy doing and find an organization that will enjoy ding just that. It could be organized rec sports, art, cooking, just about anything really. Meet people, talk to them, find ones that, while their values do not have to be very similar like a spouse, have personalities you can dig. Then meet apart from these events. It does take effort, but if you plan on staying where you are now, it would be nice to not have friends besides the friends of any future romantic partners.

  • Rt1583

    “Each of those guys was representing a part of his life.”

    This line, to me, neatly wraps up what friendship is in general. No single friendship truly defines who we are but each one of them contributes to who we have become and with the exception of those few that have a friendship that began in childhood and has progressed relatively uninterupted into adulthood, (you know, that one person other than your mother who knows you as well as you know yourself), all friendships are representative of specific times in our lives.

    People change and friendships falter for whatever reason but to pine away for a friendship that can’t stand on its own, for whatever reason, is to keep yourself trapped in the past.

    By all means, remember all of your friendships and the times shared (these are afterall the people who helped you become the man you are) but don’t sacrifice your future by trying to regain your glory days. Just remember, those glory days are but one set of many sets of glory days which you will have and each set will be peopled by those that are the best fit for you at that time.

  • boohoo

    This is some straight-up crybaby shit, people move on and 9 times out of 10 I’d rather remain friends with someone who isn’t a time-suck and allows me to just catch up whenever its convenient than someone who is going to whine and pester me because we don’t go out for a beer anymore. People change, life goes on.

    • xantheus13

      So basically you just want an on-call “friend”, not an actual friend. If you consider someone wanting to hang out “pestering” you that’s just sad. Glad I don’t have “friends” like you.

  • Ni

    Man this really hit home. I am still in school. But I took close to two years off in between and lost touch with a lot of my closest friends from my dorm. It’s been the hardest thing for me to deal with because man, they were my bros. I totally get what you’re saying when you say it’s more than nostalgia…it feels like losing part of yourself because those friendships define you. When you don’t have that you don’t have that piece of yourself. Gonna make more of an effort to reach out to them and reconnect.

  • Ryan N

    The point to take home here isn’t about forcing friendships on people.

    It’s that friendships. take. work.

    If you want something to be, or continue to be, in your life – anything – you need to put some work into making it happen. You can’t just assume it will be there whenever you have the time for it. Go out and make it important again.

  • Loïs Boullu

    Great article, the facebook part struck me, you perfectly put in words what I feel, and why I feel so bad about Facebook. Thanks!