How do you cope during that awkward, post-college phase?

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By: Holly LayCC BY 2.0
This past June, I graduated from college and came back home from being out of state for four years. While I have long-term plans (move to New York City, meet that handsome guy, get my dream job…) I’ve had to put them away in the back of my head in favor of actually getting a job and, more importantly, getting out of my parent’s spare bedroom.

Right now my biggest problem that I’m surrounded by people who are either younger than me by five or more years or older than me by ten or more years. My same-age friends have either moved elsewhere, gotten married and blown me off, or live in different places, so I am constantly spending time by myself or trying to fit into age groups that I can’t fit into.

I don’t want to change myself to fit into different social groups, but how do I cope or make friends in that awkward, post-college, pre-long-term-plans phase?MissMarga

When it comes to making friends, we’ve got some BIG advice for that. When it comes to coping, we’re guessing your fellow Homies have some great thoughts…

Comments on How do you cope during that awkward, post-college phase?

  1. The biggest thing that I’ve learned about making friends post-college is that age just doesn’t matter as much anymore. I’ve made some work-friends in my post-college-office-job, and they’re all at least 10 years older than me. And it just doesn’t matter. When you’re in college, it feels like it matters IMMENSELY how old your friends are. But once you’re out of college, you’re all kind of in that post-college phase. It seems to me that the biggest differentiator is whether or not you have kids – all but one of my work friends is childless. And it’s not a matter of fitting in, really. I just found people I click with, despite our differences. No, the 40-something office-worker-cum-professor in a perpetual long-distance relationship is really very different. We have different upbringings and different outlooks on things like higher education and relationships. But at the same time, we get along great, and I consider her a work friend.

    Another way that I’ve made post-college friends is by always going for it. When a friend-of-a-friend asked me if I want to help on a theatre show because they know I did theatre in college, I took it. I met a whole bunch of people, and I’m now that theatre company’s designated assistant stage manager. I even got together for the theatre company’s artistic director’s work friend’s birthday. A very slight connection, but still! A connection, and a good time. I was just at a friend’s grandmother’s wake, and I started a conversation with the girl sitting next to me about bars in our town (we both live about an hour from where we were). She’s going to send me a list of bars she recommends, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we ended up hanging out.

    Other ways to meet a bunch of new people: playing a sport like ultimate frisbee or dodgeball, karaoke nights at bars, trivia nights at bars, book clubs, meet-ups, alumni events from your college.

    Making friends isn’t as easy as it was in college. You aren’t going to see people as often, in all likelihood. And it’s ok. The friendships are still good friendships. They’re just different.

    • The other great thing about older friends is that they are a wonderful resource to have in your life for when you need advice or job contacts. And in return you help keep them young. People like to help their friends.

      And it just suddenly struck me that since Miss Marga just graduated from college that I *am* one of those ten-years-older people now. If it’s any help at all I can tell you that from my end, a ten year age difference between friends is no big deal at all.

    • Yup. My friends are between. 2 and 30 years older than me, and it works. I’d say most of my friends are at least 10+ years older than them. I hve a good group of friends my parents’ age, who have kids just a few years younger than me. It works though, because we have similar types of weirdness. They’re my people, and I’m theirs. Seriously, I think age matters not at all in adult friendships. Life stage matters more, but isn’t insurmountable. (a very large section of my friends are at a similar “early settled relationships married or marrying no kids yet” stage, although I went back to school and am also in school.)

  2. How you make friends in college: leave your dorm room door open. Go to clubs and student organizations to find people with the same interests. Talk after class. See those same people over and over again in your classes.

    My strategy for making friends after college: talk to my neighbors. Volunteer for causes you believe in. Take a community-based class to meet people with the same interests.

    Except that it didn’t quite work out the way I thought it would. I didn’t meet a bunch of people my age with the same interests. Unlike college, it seems, just being in the same location isn’t a great reason to be friends with someone. You may hate your neighbors, or they may hate you for a whole host of reasons. Unlike clubs in college, everything I volunteered for seemed to be filled with retired people or parents and children. Why? Because that’s generally the population that has time to volunteer! Don’t count out making friends with much older people. They have a lot of life experience to share, and they’ve had decades to figure out what they like, like walking dogs or taking a community painting class.
    The place where I had the best luck meeting people was a community sports league, which really surprised me, but there’s a huge variety of people who play recreational sports! If you can make your way into a large group of people, you can then pursue friendships with individuals within the group that have similar outside interests, other than just how you met.

    About changing yourself to fit in: I think in college we cultivate these “identities,” which are partially defined by who surrounds us. One of the biggest things I had to learn after college is that I can still be myself, even if I am doing things I don’t normally do or hanging out with people I wouldn’t have seen myself hanging out with. I eased my moratorium on football games on TV when I realized that in a large group, not everyone is glued to the TV. There are other conversations going on about non-football relating things. Sometimes I still can’t believe that I willingly go to watch football, but you go to see people, not the game.
    The other part is that, as an adult, you will have friends that fill different roles, instead of one friend who is your go-to person. (Or if your go-to person lives across the country, like mind does now!)
    And you may start changing HOW you hang out with people. This can even include people with children! You can still talk to parents about all sorts of stuff other than their kids- AND if the conversation lulls, ask about their children (or pets). You can even hang out with them and their kids, but it might have to be brunch with mimosas, not a night at the bar.
    So these are a few things I learned in my post-college years. College was the time of my life, so it is really rough to make that transition. Remember that other people your age are going through the same frustrations that you are. And be more forgiving of others AND yourself. πŸ™‚

    • I’m glad you mentioned what you did about “changing yourself.” Your college identity likely isn’t going to suit you forever. You might circle back to it, as I came back to theatre, but you should probably consider challenging what you think of yourself. Don’t like watching football? Try going to a viewing party. Think book clubs are boring? Bring a big bottle of wine and see how it goes. (Book clubs are just an excuse to drink with friends and gossip, at least in my circle. We talk about the books too, but the drinking’s essential.)

      • Haha, I’m also in a book reading/wine drinking club πŸ™‚ It’s great because it’s a pretty diverse group of people and I read stuff I never would on my own!

      • I think as we get older (been out of college for about 7 years), we are more secure in our identities. Doing something “out of character” won’t make or break your persona, like it seems it would in college. And, after you meet people at a club with shared interests, and you think you want to be broader closer friends with them, how do you do that? Be flexible. If you are invited, go. Even to watch football.
        Still, the football thing is a big shock to me. How it started is that my husband and I have a large group of mutual friends, around 20 people. Most social things are some combination of these people, everything from happy hour to brunch to game night, to football. So “going to watch football” can mean anything from 5 dudes glued to the TV, which I do NOT attend, to several groups forming throughout the house with varying interests in football. So several of us (not only women!) end up in the dining room talking about anything and everything, while the game is on in the other room. It is a way for me to see the people I was becoming friends with more often and develop closer relationships, rather than waiting to see them in a setting I prefer- less football. Then after this, I ended up going to a series of yoga classes with the one girl and meeting up with others to do other crafty garden-y things. If I hadn’t stuck it out through the football, I might not have made it to the other fun stuff with the same people!
        So now maybe I’m thinking that I should just skip the books and start a wine club πŸ™‚

  3. Maybe try to join a local group of people with similar interests as you? Like a class or a club type thing?

    After college, I joined up with two local art groups: one at church, and the other was a monthly art jam outside of church. It was pretty fun and I ended up making some really close friends.

    To find local groups, just do a quick google search of “Your interest” group, “your city, state”? Also, I think Craigslist may have a groups/classes page too.

  4. I bet your married friends would still love to hang out with you. Try reaching out. They may be focusing on different things right now, but hearing from you would probably be welcome. And I agree with Christy that age becomes less and less important the farther you get from college. Remember that just because folks get married and/or have kids doesn’t mean they stop being the same people they were before – they just have to schedule more carefully!

    Check out the book MWF Seeking BFF, by Rachel Bertsche – it’s a funny memoir by a gal in a similar position who set out to find her be best friend (she also has a blog: ( At the very least it will give you ideas for where to meet new potential friends!

  5. I’m in the same boat. My best advice is to get out there! You likely won’t meet new people by just sitting at home in your parents’ spare bedroom. I would also advocate not feeling like you need to stick to people your own age. Making friends of all ages can be quite satisfying.
    As for the “how,” OBH has lots of advice on how to make new friends.
    You can volunteer regularly, where you can meet people: clubs, sports, charities, events planning…
    I have also had good luck with hanging out with “friends of friends” who may be nearby. Most of my socializing lately comes from making plans with people I didn’t know so well in high school, but are local and would make convenient friends now. (If you’re into anthropology, this is related to the “weak ties” theory.)
    And if you’re an extrovert, just start talking to people. Everywhere. The library, grocery store, auto mechanic, random people you pass while you’re out for a walk/run…

  6. I wish I had had more support and guidance right after college (more than any other time in my life so far). I would cherish the opportunity you have to live with your parents right now, and take advantage of it by not wasting your time with low paying jobs.

    Part of the answer is that there is no answer. You’ll have to find your own way. Also, it might be misleading to call this a phase. It’s more like post college shock about the new normal. In all likelihood you’ll never be surrounded by people your own age again.

    One way to approach this situation is to focus on self improvement, and let friendships follow that. Go to the gym, pursue your hobbies, take community college courses, pursue your creative drive, for instance spend time drawing, or writing, or taking photographs. If you pursue your interests and your own self improvement, not only will people want to be around that, it will also help you cope with the much smaller social circles than you had in college.

    Just one perspective. I hope that helps.

  7. Just dive into life: use all the energy that comes from being young to try all the things in the world you ever thought you’d like, and a few you didn’t. Don’t worry about the ages of the people you meet; just meet a lot of people. When someone invites you somewhere, say yes. The friends of those friends are your future best friends.

  8. I’ll echo things said above. Age doesn’t matter really at all. Having friends older and younger than you are both great in their own ways. What really matters is that you have the same interests.

    Find a group or club that interests you and dive in. I got involved in the gardening part of my neighborhood association and roller derby. Now I plant flowers along the median of our road with 12 yr olds and 80 yr olds and play roller derby with a group of women between the ages of 18 and 55. Many of these friendships have become really tight knit. My day to day bestie is 42 (I’m now 28).

    Branch out. Meet people and do stuff. You might be surprised where you end up.

  9. Friends post-college tend to rely more on shared activities and strong common interests, and less on ‘just clicking.’

    For example, the prime interest of my closest friend from college was and is caving, an activity in which I have approximately no interest. In college that didn’t matter, because we lived feet or yards from each other, we were going through the same life experiences, and we just ‘clicked.’ Then we discovered that we had lots in common, after all. There were so many people at my college that I had shared interests with that it was easy to wait for that ‘click.’ Friendships seemed to just happen.

    In contrast, I met my closest friend of my post-college years (well, there are several closest friends, but we’ll just pick A. for the sake of argument) through a mutual activity — we’re both Quakers, and passionately involved with Quaker community. Further, we have multiple shared interests/similarities: we both grew up on farms. She’s a social worker and I’m a nurse practitioner. We both love cooking, crafts, and the outdoors. We love each other dearly, but we have to work at it more than I had to work at it in college — scheduling breakfast dates and dinner dates and ‘crafternoons.’

    For a while post-college I was super depressed because (even in grad school) I didn’t seem to be making friends any more. Then I kind of realized that no longer would it magically just happen. Like . . . in college, I’d take my fiddle and go play tunes out on the green and fifteen people would wander by and suddenly two other people had a fiddle and another person brought a guitar and we were having a session on the lawn with no effort. It was AMAZING, but I took it for granted.

    Now it’s a longer process to put myself in the way of such activities, adventures, and friendships, but it’s totally worth it.

    So for recommendations: Join things. If you’re spiritual-but-not-religious, try the UUs (it’s like a federation of people who are spiritual-but-not-religious). If you have a religious affiliation you just haven’t been active in, become active. Try finding groups of people via or other sites. Become a regular somewhere — the same dance every week, the same book group, the same class at the gym. Try reconnecting with alums from your college who may now be local to you.

    In the meantime, spend lots of time on the phone with the friends you do still have! If necessary, set up elaborate “let’s meet in the middle” plans. (I did this for YEARS with my closest friends from college when we lived 3–4 hours apart.) Sometimes one gets to explore cool new towns this way. Become a letter writer — there is NOTHING so comforting as a physical letter from a loved one that you can carry around with you all day long.

    Good luck!

    • Totally agree that it’s less “clicking” than in college. I just recently, after being out of college for a loooong time, found a gal at a yoga class where I felt like we just ‘clicked’ and that was so strange because I’m used to meeting people and having just shared interests or life experience (other moms of young people) and developing friendships based on that!

    • If you are religious and not practicing, I highly recommend joining a church/synagogue/mosque/coven/temple/whatever group affiliation your religion has. Almost all of my friends are from my synagogue. We see each other every week at services, we serve on committees together, we invite each other over for holiday meals, and gradually become close friends. (Plus, if you are having a hard time keeping in touch with people, all you have to do to catch up is go to services!)

  10. My first advice for everyone looking for friends is this: stop identifying how the people you’re surrounded with are different than you. If you keep thinking “they have [Attribute/Identity/Status] so we’d have nothing in common”, you’re really missing out on a lot of amazing life opportunities. Some of the biggest and most profound moments of personal Aha! came when I was speaking to someone who was incredibly and totally different from me–especially when it came to people who were older than me.
    Now, I really believe that people need a few friends who are very similar in background, age and status. I think that fills a very particular need, socially and emotionally. However, don’t cloister yourself until you can find those friends! And be open to the idea that a person can have a whole lot more in common with you at 50 than someone at your own age can.

  11. I had a hard time feeling ‘grown up’ when I was getting ready for work each day after sleeping in a bunk bed at my parent’s house. That post-college phase was awkward, but I managed to keep my sanity by re-connecting with my parents (we watched some TV each night and ate family dinners), while also having a really good phone friend (who was in the same situation about 100 miles away, living in HER parent’s house, too). I did volunteering, and ONLINE DATING. It got me out of the house meeting people, and I was even willing to drive quite a ways for a date, just to have something cool to do!

    And I spent my energy focusing on making it to my long-term goal. I knew that post-college was going to be a year and then I wanted to get my Master’s in another city across the state. So I started making concrete plans…studied and took the GRE, tried to make connections in that city, went to a couple meetups.

    To meet cool people, I think things like are really good for finding people of all ages that have a similar interest as you!

  12. If I had gone home right after college, I would have been stuck in the same boat as you, so I stayed in the city in which I finished my degree and found a job at a NFP agency with a lot of young staff in the office. I’ve met some of my closest friends working there (our agency attracted a lot of young women with similar point of views and interests, so it was easy to make friends). Now that I no longer work there it takes a lot more effort to get together – we’re not just down the hall from one another anymore – but it’s totally worth it. I can’t imagine life without those ladies!

    To tell you the truth, I found it harder to make friends during college, because I was so focused on school work. I was a little wary of coming back to school this fall, but my program focuses a LOT on group work so meeting new people has been relatively easy.

    I like Monk-Monk’s idea of re-connecting with the ‘rents. I think my parents are pretty cool people, so I LIKE hanging out with them when I go home. If I think my parents are cool, their friends can’t be too bad either, right? So when I’m home and I’m invited out for wings and drinks with all of them I’m there!

  13. I’ve been there! I grew up in the Mid Atlantic East Coast, then moved to the Midwest for college. When I graduated, I had to leave all my friends, and had not kept in contact with many from high school. Living with my parents + not driving a car made me feel isolated and borderline depressed. What helped was finding a church near me that had a lot of 20-30 somethings. I’d suggest finding a club/group/ gaggle of people who share your interests. Into roller derby? Check out the nearest rink. Love skydiving in nothing but high heels and a feather boa? Google to the rescue! At first, it was intimidating for me to walk into a group of people I didn’t know, but 7 months later, they have become my family.

  14. I was lucky in that I went straight to grad school after college. So while I was dropped into a very different situation, I had a ready-made group of people who were pretty much in the same boat in my fellow students. But there was a LOT more variation in age and background than I’d had in college – people who’d worked for 10 years before coming back to school, people with kids, etc. We were all feeling pretty isolated initially, so I wound up setting up a weekly bar night and inviting everyone in my grad program plus pretty much everyone I even vaguely knew (e.g. friends of friends of friends I’d been introduced to over the internet). This wound up being wildly successful – people I didn’t know well were a lot more willing to show up to an Organized Event than to arrange awkward friend-dates. So if you have any pool of people at all do draw on, maybe you can organize parties or meet-ups of some kind? This is how friend-groups form in the wild. (Also, I believe these meetups are still going on six years later. I moved away four years ago.)

    My after-grad-school experience was more free form, but the best advice I have to offer is to make sure you do stuff you enjoy in situations where there will be other people. Knit? Join a knitting group. Read? Join a book group. It might take a few tries before something sticks, but this gets you out of the house and gives you something to talk about when you do meet interesting people. I wound up getting involved in a burning man art group and found an excellent group of friends through that.

    You can also straight-up friend date through OKCupid. This is definitely a thing people do, especially when moving to a new city. Find people, read profiles, suggest hanging out or doing an activity together. The worst that will happen is that it’s awkward and you leave, but you might meet someone awesome who you can then invite to your barbecue/bar meetup/public park picnic (see above).

  15. I haven’t read through all the comments yet, so I may be repeating things, but I’m right there with you! One of the best things has been figuring out what I like to do (whether I already liked it, or it’s something I’ve always wanted to try) and then just doing it! You aren’t around your old friend groups, but the good news is that no one (except maybe your parents) has preconceptions about you. So go try new things!

    Some activities I love to do alone are running, playing guitar (one of the things I always said I wanted to do and now am actually doing), knitting (another new discovery), and reading books (always). They aren’t terribly social sometimes, but I’ve gotten closer to a good friend’s girlfriend because we’ve gone running together, and an old college friend and I discovered we have really similar tastes in books so we’re thinking of doing a virtual book club.

    As for more social activities, I discovered the joys of choir in college, kept it up through grad school, and still sing with a choir where the average age is about 55. I have a good friend that I carpool with who’s about 30 (I’m 25), but seeing, sitting with, and singing with the same group of women week after week means I’ve started chatting with them, and definitely consider some of them to be choir friends. Even the ones who have children that are older than I am. It doesn’t matter! Plus, I’ve started making plans with my carpool friend outside of choir, which isn’t a terribly big leap.

    Basically, if you find people you like and have a shared activity you do together, inviting them to have dinner or hang out outside of the activity is a great way to promote them to “friend.” When I had my birthday party at the beginning of summer, I erred on the side of inviting people I was on the fence about (acquaintances, but not good friends yet), and most people are happy to be included and likely also looking for friends. And, in the meantime, you’re still doing an activity you really enjoy while you get to know the group. Win-win!

  16. I had the same problems when I left grad school. I spent a few months in my hometown trying to make a relationship work (it didn’t) and then I moved back in with my parents.

    I moved in with my parents because I didn’t want to wake up one day and realize I’d missed my chance to spend time with them. You have an opportunity a lot of older people would kill for: the chance to spend time with your parents before they’re too old to remember you or just plain gone. Make memories with them now.

    Put a priority on your friends in other places. My second year of grad school was HARD. Most of my friends were a year behind me, so I knew they were going through what I just had. Since I wasn’t busy with dates or friends or even work, I wrote cards on a random basis trying to encourage them and give them hope that there was life outside of school. It made me feel like I was helping them, and from what they told me, they really appreciated them.

    If you’re not a interested in going out and making friends (I wasn’t) then try doing stuff at home. Learn to cook. Learn to bake. Challenge yourself to improve your eating habits or exercise routine. I took advantage of my time at my parents house by losing 60 lbs on a mostly organic diet and daily elliptical work out. It was fun learning about shopping differently and finding healthy versions of my favorite foods. It was also fun watching the scale go down.

    You could learn to sew or knit or crochet. Once you start knitting, you’ll see signs for knitting groups everywhere that were there before; you just never noticed them. It’s the same with any hobby. You like old movies? Go to the library and rent them. See if you can make friends with the other people in the old movies section. Find your hobbies and explore them more fully. You don’t have class to take up your time anymore, so you can actually do that!

  17. I’m in a similar situation, though a little older. After a break up, I moved back to my home town where I hadn’t lived in 10 years. I still have a few friends there but they are all married and starting families. I’ve been trying to find ways to meet new people, clubs, groups, zumba , but I found a great way to meet people through a website called . It is a site where local people get together for social activities. There are groups for hiking, biking, book clubs, singles or just general social get togethers. I’m in a 20’s-30’s social group and I’ve gone to bon fires, happy hours, and my favorite was a meet up at a ceramics studio. Might be something worth looking into. Zumba is a fun way to get out of the house too.

  18. I moved back home after grad school when I fell into a job at the local university, and ended up in the same situation: everyone was younger than me or older than me. After abortive attempts at the local theatre (who stuck me in a tiny room by myself hemming costumes) and classes (just never met anyone I liked), I joined the campus science fiction club and helped run their local con. I still felt a bit weird that I was just about the oldest one in my friend group, but fifteen years later I’m still friends with many of the people I met and married to one of them (seven years my junior!).

  19. I definitely remember how awkward that time in my life was, so I relate. I went back to my hometown after college (a small town in TN vs. New Orleans. A total downgrade of fabulosity). I didn’t live with my parents, just my sister for a bit til I could get my own place. I’ve always been introverted, so making friends has always been really difficult.
    What I did? I spent a lot of time with my family. And you know what? I’m so glad I did. About 4 years later I moved across the country and now I hardly get to see them anymore, so looking back, I feel really lucky to have had that time. Especially with my nieces. So if your family is who you primarily hang out with, please don’t feel bad. Enjoy the hell out of it, cause we never know how long we have with anyone really.
    One thing I did do was start belly dancing. I discover the older I get, the more confidence I have to try things I’ve always wanted to do. (Flash forward to me in my 30s now, and I have more confidence than is probably warranted, but it sure is fun being me!). Even if it’s not dance, go for something that pushes the limits a little. And don’t worry about making friends with different age groups. At one point I was hanging out with a bunch of saucy older ladies. It was like being on an episode of Golden Girls. Priceless.
    And I know it’s echoing other comments, but give up on who you think you are. Keep your core values and interests, but this is a great time to figure out what kind of adult you want to be. Drop your preconceived ideas, and really explore what matters to you, what kind of person you want to be, what you’ll be like at home. Let’s face it, for your adulthood, you will probably be home more than out with friends. Make peace with it and figure out what you’ll enjoy doing during that time.
    That’s all the two cents I have to offer, take it for what it’s worth πŸ™‚

  20. I’m five years out of grad. school and a week away from thirty and I’m still there with you. Well, not in my room in my parents’ house any more, although I was there for far too long while seeking full time employment. But only a couple of my high school/college friends are still in the area (I commuted through both college and grad. school, so buying a house with my husband was the first time I moved), and I haven’t made many friends since then. I’m in the SCA, and there are people I know and like from that, but only one couple, in their early fifties, that we ever do things with outside of the SCA, as we all like Irish music and both my husband and the wife in the other couple do crew work for different community theatres (which often leaves either me or her husband in need of people to sit with at a play when our respective other halves are working). And there is a friend of a friend that I’m trying to turn into a friend, who is about five or six years younger than me and shares a lot of my more eccentric musical theatre tastes.

    But although I can have nice conversations with most of my coworkers at work, none of them are friends on a level that I see them away from work, and I’m really the only person my age at church. There are a few women who are slightly older who have children and lots that are several decades older, and while I agree that post-college age doesn’t matter as much, there’s a difference between being one-on-one with a friend of a different age (or in a different life stage) or in a group with a lot of variety and being the one person who doesn’t fit in. The people with a lot of things in common discuss the things that they have in common with each other. Yes, women without friends can be friends with women with kids… but when there’s a whole circle of women with kids talking about nothing but kids, and therefore you don’t have enough non-kid-related information about any of them to ask a non-kid-related question to shift the conversation, what’s the one woman without kids and no short-term plans to have them to say?

  21. This was so me! I moved back in with my mom because I didn’t want to re-up my lease while job searching. I spent a bunch of time hanging out with my parents. Luckily, my parents are all very socially active, but it meant that I was going out with people 25 years my senior! It was definately odd, and there were topics that we didn’t talk about that I would have dicussed with friends in my age bracket/life situation. But it offered a unique perspective on what life might be like for me and all my friends in 25 years. It wasn’t “cool” being single, 20-something, and hitting happy hour with my mom and sep-dad, but it was way better than sitting at home. Now that I’ve moved away and have that adult life with a husband and same-age friends, I miss my parents and the time we got to spend together.

    I also had a part-time job at Home Depot, where my coworkers became my social circle. Many of them were still in college, and a fair number were a bit older than me as well. Retail tends to collect a wide variety of employees, so even if you’re not making tons of money, a retail job might be a way to expand your social circle.

  22. I just want to chime in and say, I did this, and it was hard. I remember how it felt that first September after college to be in my hometown not going back to school or at the big girl job I wanted. It was 2001, and then 9/11 happened and the job market froze. I did an internship at a newspaper where I had interned after my sophomore year of college. It felt like such a step back.

    I worked odd jobs. I interned. I freelanced. I substitute taught (in PA you can be “emergency certified” if you have a bachelor’s degree. It doesn’t have to be in teaching), even at my old high school. It was weird.

    Any day that I didn’t freelance or get called to teach, I worked in a friend’s mom’s gift shop, making gift baskets, hauling dozens of Yankee candles up and down two flights of stairs, organizing the stock room and putting out Christmas displays in the store complete with faceless Amish dolls. On those days I made minimum wage in cash under the table.

    I moved between groups of friends and felt weird. The people who “made” my birthday that year were my substitute-taught high school kids. They made me a cake. My friend’s mom is still like another mother to me, even though her gift shop has long since been retired. I blogged and made lifelong friends inside the computer who became friends in real life. My dog, then just a puppy, was my best friend some days. I took her to the dog park a lot. Talking to other dog owners helped. I threw ball after ball for her. I cried and felt stuck and repeated, “Some day when my parents are gone, I will be glad I had this time with them” like a mantra.

    I’ll never forget when I got the call that I got my dream job. It was the March after graduation. I’d been home for 10 months. I was in the chair at the salon for a trim, wet from the shampoo station, got the job call and was like, “New phase in life begins! Let’s cut all my hair off!”

    Within another year, I would get leave that job in Miami for a job in New York City. In another three years, I met the man of my dreams, and I had a lot of adventures along the way. I am now contemplating motherhood and running my own business and traveling and loving my spouse and my house and my pets, including my “puppy” who is now a lady of a certain age- 13 and arthritic and spending all her time at the dog park checking her “pee mail” and not running around at all. She’s still one of my best friends.

    You will get there. You will. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Just keep swimming! Just keep swimming! You will find your place.

  23. My short answer to your short question (how to cope) is to blast ‘Purpose’ from Avenue Q – loudly and on repeat! The rest of the time you should follow the lovely advice others have given.

  24. The best thing I did out of college was dive into a few different social hobbies. For me it happened to be mostly revolving around theater and costuming at (as well as writing/podcasting about and staffing at) fan conventions. Through conventions I solidified some really great friendships, mostly with people 4 to 6 years my senior. Through theater I met the love of my life and before I knew it, two years out of college to be exact, I was living in an apartment with him. TRUST ME at the time it did not seem like my life was likely to move on from the post-college phase that fast. Until suddenly it all sort of happened at once, and there I was living in an apartment and paying bills and…I was living in the “adult” world.

    I think the thing that really helped me move on was keeping an open mind. I wasn’t trying too hard for anything (of course getting to such a mindset is MUCH easier said than done) and didn’t have any short-term expectations. One big thing I did was make an active effort to surround myself with people who made a better person–that is, people who when I was around them I liked myself a whole lot more–and I distanced myself from those who I felt had a negative influence on me and did not treat me well.

    I think the key is to find the balance between making things happen (for me joining a theater company and keeping a job enough to continue adding to my savings) and letting things happen (falling for my boyfriend). Also, if you can take advantage of the opportunities living with your parents might afford you and do everything you can to get into better habits to make yourself a better person. Just because the tangible evidence of your life moving on aren’t in place doesn’t mean your life is on hold and you can pick things back up in 5 to 10 years. If you’re not working out on a regular basis, start. If you’re not eating healthfully, figure out how to. If you’re indulging toxic influences, separate yourself from them. All the while, keep your eyes and heart open. Sooner or later you’ll wake up and suddenly find you’re further along than you realized.

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