Leaving high school friends behind

Photo by Faustin Tuyambaze on Unsplash.

While making the transition into university or college life, it’s easy to cling to past relationships. It’s also easy to fall out of them. In a new life, with new friends and new experiences, we learn more about ourselves than we ever thought possible while in high school. It’s crazy how fast things change.

Once I left home, there was no going back. My best friends in high school were either staying in the small town I was desperate to get out of, or, in an extreme case, moving almost 4,000 kilometres away. I focused on my day-to-day: my friends downtown, my job and my schoolwork. The distance began to feel natural, and the friends I held close during high school continued to slowly drift away until I hadn’t heard from them in months.

This past summer, however, I ran into one of my high school best friends. Having been settled in Toronto for almost a year at this point, I had no idea that she’d been living in the same city for a couple of weeks (about 10 minutes from my apartment), had a job right on Yonge Street and was starting at Ryerson in the fall.

Our interaction was awkward, to say the least, as I was caught off guard by how we clearly had become strangers. We parted ways with promises to see each other soon. Despite realizing how close in proximity we were, we didn’t reconnect in the months following our chance encounter in August. The distance that had once separated us was not an issue anymore, but we had grown so far apart that we didn’t have any desire to see each other.

It wasn’t until reflecting on my experiences transitioning through friendships from high school to university that I wanted her opinion. We had been close throughout our four years of high school, and while our friendship had already begun to fizzle out during our senior year, I wanted to know her side of what I thought of as a natural fade. Were we both okay with moving on to different chapters of our lives without each other? Did we care for one another in a way that allowed us to still fondly reflect on our memories?

When we finally got together, it felt like we’d gone back in time. She was exactly the same as I remembered and the way we spoke felt like we were back in high school talking over lunch in the crowded cafeteria. We caught up briefly before discussing what had really happened to our friendship between graduation and now.

We both agreed that our falling out was circumstantial. In high school, friendships are dictated by proximity and habit. Students know one another for years, have classes together, and see each other every day. These friendships can be attributed to always being around each other rather than actually having anything in common. Our distancing began when I was getting ready to leave for school and she was preparing to take a year off (two drastic changes in our lives), and while we tried to keep in touch in the weeks following, our separation made the effort fruitless.

University changes everyone in a way that four years of high school never could

She talked about the inherent absence of close friends being the hardest part of losing friendships. Your best friends were a part of your life when you were growing up and then all of a sudden they just aren’t anymore. Our years were spent having sleepovers, laughing until our stomachs hurt and fantasizing about silly romances. We navigated coming of age together. But we had both moved on to different avenues and hardly kept in touch once high school was over.

Coming into university this year, she also explained the difference between making friends now compared to how it was done in high school. In university, you’re welcomed into a whole new world of people who literally have no idea who you are. The options are endless, but that in itself is sometimes the hardest part of making new friends. Proactivity can be hard when there’s less pressure to bond with people, where there are different people in every single class, and we both agreed that you actually have to be involved to seek out friendships in post-secondary education.

While making friends in university can seem daunting, there’s more importance placed on common interest. You can meet new people by joining clubs or striking up a conversation about shared hobbies and passions. Friendships can be more defined by interest rather than the proximity of high school. You’re figuring yourself out and making friends with similar mindsets. University changes everyone in a way that four years of high school never could, and sometimes friends who are just as passionate about the same things you are makes it all worthwhile.

We spoke for more than an hour, offering our opinions of our friendship and also laughing about the ways we had each grown up individually. We had both grown through our fair share of experiences since our friendship ended, and while it had felt like we were still the same people from high school, we were both very different versions of who we used to be. It was nice to catch up on the life we’d both lived in our time apart because, when it comes down to it, neither one of us is at fault for our falling out. The process of growing apart was organic and something that happens to everyone, and taking the time and space to grow individually didn’t mean we were any less special to each other.