The Friends You Make In College: A Love Story

There’s a joke I have with my best friend. The joke is that one day in my family home — five, seven, maybe ten years from now if it really takes that long — one day, there is going to be a photo framed above my fireplace. The photo is going to be an image that encapsulates love in my life, and my kids are going to look at it and wonder how long it will take until they find that too. The joke is of course that this picture will not be of myself and my husband. It will be of myself and this crazy girl Elizabeth or Eli as we fondly call her, captured minutes after taking shots of tequila during a pregame.

Here’s the thing though: it’s not really a joke. There are some Saturdays when nothing is going on and when I feel lonely. I do wonder how long it will take to find someone who falls in love with me, and who I eat breakfast silently with every morning while we scroll through the news on our smartphones, and who sleeps next to me every night even after we have a fight, and who I am so unshakeably sure of that one day I will want to create a human being with him. The longing for that person keeps me up some nights. And I know the opposite of that feeling must be something pretty spectacular and it’s something I would love to frame and put in my house. But not above my fireplace. That spot is reserved for, like I said, what encapsulates love in my life and that what is the love that my college friends have taught me about.

I met them at different points during my Freshman year. Alex, she was the first. We were random roommates and I met her on move-in day. I awkwardly hugged her and she just as awkwardly accepted.

I met Kat second. Then Debora. She was talking about how to dress up for Frat row and my eyes were alight with wonder. I met Meg after that. I sat outside my room with her and this kid Joshua, and she was telling us how she spent an unbelievable amount of money on a Photoshop program that was not the one she needed.

I met Eli in our first French class, and then we realized we lived on the same floor. I met Emma last. She didn’t live on our floor but she lived in the same building, Sadler Hall, and was basically a transplant to our floor anyways.

Gallons of apple cider, the emancipation proclamation, psycho ex-boyfriends that eat your SIM cards, Nicholas Sparks movies, a little charlie brown Christmas tree, a trip to the hospital, heated arguments over whether a shirt is blue or green, getting hit by a car on your way to get a calzone at 3 AM, dancing to the Star Wars soundtrack, eating way too goddamn much Jimmy John’s, drinking tea and watching Shark Tank, shattering an Olde English 800 bottle and breaking your toe in the process, comforting your friend through her first ‘let’s go on a break,’ writing a scathing fictional piece to roast the guys who broke your friends’ hearts (and your own), tearfully hugging while “Vienna” plays in the background, hungover breakfasts at Bruegger’s—one hundred and twenty-six words that bring to mind my life at Syracuse. One hundred and twenty-six words that bring to mind my friends. A billion-and-one more words that do the same thing but which I have neither the convenience to write nor the gall to make you read.

It’s been four years since we met. But when I sit on the floor of Emma’s apartment eating ice cream and drinking beer (they were out of wine at the supermarket ), it does not feel like four years. It feels like that comfort I have on Christmas Eve with my whole extended family. A comfort that derives from feeling known. I look at Emma, or I look at Eli, or I look at any one of the girls in my small group of friends and it’s like we’ve already grown old together. Because the amount that a person grows and changes in four years of college exists in a singularity. There is no other stage of growing up like it. And my friends have seen me through it all. They’ve seen my through the ugly bits and they’ve seen me through the sunset bits — you know, the moments that when you’re in them, you know… this is what it’s all about.

Absurdism, and existentialism, and all that mumbo-jumbo philosophical speak that you become quite familiar with as an English major…I used be very bothered by it all. I’m a person who likes to imagine that some invisible current runs through us all and connects us. We’re here because of blank, not just we’re here period. But then I read some pretty strong arguments to say that a meaningful life might just be a crux that we have constructed over thousands of years of living because it was necessary to our survival. It was necessary to our sleeping through the night, to our sense that we should keep going, to our ability to get excited over something as insignificant as family movie night with microwaveable popcorn. But when I’m sitting in the grass on a sunny day while Emma plays “First Day of My Life,” and me and Eli sing along, it doesn’t feel like we’re creating meaning. It doesn’t feel like that at all. It feels like I am in the center of something beautifully organic, planted and watered by the connection we share. And that’s why I call that moment a “sunset bit” because it’s sort of the same as witnessing the sun go down. You feel as though there has to be something more than you, beyond a shadow of a doubt. Watching such brilliant colors transform our sky as the sun goes down, you get an overwhelming sensation that you will never be alone.

And that’s the love that I’m talking about when I talk about my friends. When I was younger, I thought that having a boyfriend was an escape from feeling sad. By my senior year of high school, I learned very quickly that this was not the case. I loved my boyfriend but I experienced a weighty period of feeling lost and sick and alone at the same time that we dated. This was not due to him; it was due to a nuance of my brain chemistry which was predisposed to anxiety and which was activated during a heightened time of stress brought on by applying to college. I loved and was loved, yet I was sad. And it just didn’t make sense to me how that could be so.

In college, I found out how. Having love present does not equate to feeling happiness there as well. There have been many times when I have cried around my friends, or moped, or maybe worst of all, times when I have just been silent because I was so doubtful of myself and my future. But my friends were still there. Their breathing, and their voices, and their beings kept mine company. Loving a person does not mean plucking them out of a hole. It means leaving them in there but extending your arm down into it so that while they are in the hole, their fingers can still feel the presence of someone else’s.

And that’s what I want my kids to see when they look above the fireplace. Maybe they won’t get all of this from a picture. But rest assured, I will tell them the stories of my wild bunch of ladies and I, the stories that flash through my mind while I write this and cause me to see a collage of smiles on my friends’ faces. My kids will hear about those stories and those girls and they will be reminded of them when they look at that picture. They will remember that even in feeling lost, even in feeling lonely, and even in feeling unloved, those girls always loved their mom and her knowledge of it never waned. And some day, if they are really, really lucky… someday, they might just find friends like those. And a love like ours.