Just Tell Me What I Need to Know: Community After College
It’s Friday night. After a long week, you just want to relax—preferably with a group of friends or even just one. The only problem is that there’s no one to hang out with.
Sound familiar? This was a picture of many of my Friday nights right out of college: sitting in front of the TV, eating DiGiorno’s pizza and feeling pretty sorry for myself that I had no friends. Though I value alone time, I was not prepared to spend night after night by myself, especially after experiencing such rich community in college.
My college apartment sat in the center of campus. Most weekends the place felt like Grand Central station—people coming and going all the time. I roomed with four amazing women with whom I shared meals, clothes, highs, and lows. Other close friends lived just a short walk across campus. The proximity to people in the same life stage and the pathways I walked each day offered constant access to community.
After college I launched out on my own and landed in what seemed like “Middle of Nowhere,” Pennsylvania. I was 250 miles from home and only knew one person in my new location. Unsure how to start finding friends, I felt isolated and lonely.
Navigating a New Landscape
When the geography of our lives changes, it can be challenging to find community. Especially when there are so many other things to attend to, like jobs (or landing one!), loan payments, groceries, and laundry. When we’re simply trying to “make life work,” we may not have the energy it takes to make friends. But, as Melissa Tucker puts it in Results May Vary: Christian Women Reflect on Post-College Life, “[W]e don’t need friendship in spite of all that’s going on, but because of all that’s going on.” All of us desperately need community, and yet finding it after college is often the top area of struggle for most recent alumni I know (and was for me too).
Here are three things I wish I would have known.
Community takes time.
As someone who easily made friends in college, I was unprepared for how long it would take to find new ones. I thought connections would happen naturally and easily. When they didn’t, I frequently distracted myself with media or skipped town to visit friends from college. Too often, I chose these escapes over inviting God into the “here and now” of my new location. As I look back, I wish I would have had the perspective of this recent graduate, Jordan, who moved home after college:
Don’t worry when things take longer than you expect. . . . You might not make lots of friends in the amount of time that you would hope for. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing a bad job. . . . It’s actually an opportunity for you to change and grow and also to trust God to provide for you in the future the way he has in the past.
Community requires intentionality.
One of the biggest differences between college and the next phase is that life is no longer structured with our needs in mind. If we want something to happen, we have to go after it. Most likely, you will have to go out of your way and outside of your comfort zone to find community. You will need to be intentional.
In your day to day, this might mean disrupting the rhythms (or rut) of your week to attend that company potluck, small group meeting, or meal out with a potential new friend (even if you’re exhausted and just want to binge on Netflix).
In the bigger picture, be purposeful about the kind of places and people you want to be in and around. After struggling to find friends her entire first year out of college, Laura, a recent grad, says she wishes she would have moved with a friend. She’s resigning from her teaching position with the hopes of landing a job in a location closer to family and friends. Knowing that the “where” (location) of her decision matters just as much—if not more—than the “what” (occupation), Laura wants to be intentional about her next step.
Last, I would argue that being intentional should involve getting connected to a local church—a key (if not primary) place to find community post-college. If you’re not sure what’s next or you’re considering a job change, what would it look like to move for a church or a community instead of a job, seeking to use your degree in a place where you know you can thrive?
Community involves being present.
I did not start finding friends after college until I made a point to not only stay in town on the weekends so I could attend a local church, but also actually show up at the twentysomething small group I signed up for.
The group met on Sunday evenings. For months I received emails from the group leader and continually “replied all” that I was sorry I couldn’t make it. At one point a group member, Beth, explained that I didn’t need to apologize for my absence. She followed that by essentially saying, “It’s okay to not be here. But if you want to be here, you need to be here.” That conversation was catalytic in helping me change behaviors (like leaving town) that led to finding community.
If you want to establish yourself in a place, you need to be there physically, but you also need to be present in mind and spirit. In an age of distraction, it’s easy to attend events or have conversations without really being there. It’s possible to be more preoccupied with our cell phone, the next thing on our to-do list, or even our own self-absorption than to be present. Most importantly, we need to be present with God, taking our needs before him and inviting him to move in our lives.
Hope for the Road
The psalmist writes, “God places the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6). God made us for relationships and delights to provide them for us. But the community he gives us may not be what we’ve pictured; our best friend may be a decade older or our “family” might have more quirks than we expected. I found both of these to be true as I made friends after college. But I’ve also found that God longs to lavish his goodness on us. As I reflect on the rich mosaic of friendship God has blessed me with since graduation, I’m in awe.
So if you find yourself home alone on Friday night with nothing to do except iron your clothes for Monday morning, rest assured that it won’t stay this way forever. As you launch out, you can trust that God has gone before you, paving the way and providing everything you need, including friends for the journey (Isaiah 45:2; 2 Peter 1:3)!
Image by twentyonehundred productions team member Matt Kirk.