Close your eyes at the end of this paragraph. Try to visualize your daily walks if you had chosen a different school; think of the different friends you would surreptitiously text under classroom desks. How would you look in that light? What would the view be out your windows?
No one I know can say with a straight face that their university life turned out like they had imagined. Our generation has grown up consuming popular media that glorifies the small-town ensemble-cast-friend-group pennant-on-the-wall collegiate life as the only authentic one. We all spent hours in dull high school classrooms looking forward to it — what has become of us now?
In writing this piece I have collected true stories of friends. We have all learned that there is no authentic student experience except that which we experience. The movies are bullshit. You may coast through easy; you may be popular; you may be broken and remade. You will be lonely and confused; you will make friends by sharing your loneliness and confusion.
All one can aspire to be at U of T is infamous or well-liked, it’s too big a place for popularity. Maybe you were a big-shot athlete in high school. Well, now you have fewer friends than the “nerd” who brings Timbits to your seminar. You lose the desire to be popular and you start wanting warmth. This is growing up, I think. It’s happening to me.
You go to parties.
You can’t just “go to parties” without scrolling guest lists on Facebook events. There are those you attend to be seen, those you regret with your first foot in the door, those where you feel drowned in a sea of the “cool kids” you don’t yet understand. Early on you’ll probably get drunk as hell, and end up in bed with a pile of regrets. This pile may take the form of a stranger, a friend’s girlfriend, a friend, or a puddle of vomit (all four if you’re lucky).
Some of the best parties you’ll go to won’t be real parties. After a while, drum beats and anonymous fishnet legs all blend together, but you’ll remember warm nights on worn futons with friends, laughing with movies, smoking weed, and cuddling. You’ll remember concerts, video games, and costumes.
You know just what you want to study. You get out in four years.
Nobody knows what they want to study. If you’re in first year and think you do, you’re wrong. As for getting out in four years, a recent New York Times study found that the average American student now takes at least five; shaming yourself for being a fifth-year senior should be a thing of the past.
You date someone older, cooler, smarter.
One girl told me, “All my friends are single. Their standards are too high.”
You hook up.
You lost your virginity to some boy in his friend’s room during frosh week. All the lights are on. Every blemish on his skin becomes a regret when you think it over in the morning. When you see him next semester, he won’t recognize you. “Oh,” you’ll think.
“I have a boyfriend.” “I have a girlfriend.” Everybody seems to. You dance at clubs and take the night bus home alone. How long until you realize that nobody has girlfriends, boyfriends, and those were all clean polite rejections?
You go to class.
Sometimes you go to class. Sometimes life gets in the way; sometimes work; sometimes work for other classes. Maybe it piles so high that you can’t get out your door. Maybe you’re just tired. When you need an excuse, you will find one.
You make friends.
Some of the best friends you’ll make will only be made when you let your guard down and talk to people you wouldn’t ever talk to. If all your friends look, speak, and think like you, ask yourself if you’re bored, if you’re stimulated by your social life. Likely not. One of the few things Hollywood gets right is the importance of “broadening horizons” (whatever that means).
You end up with no friends. You come home from class and sit online. On a campus where most students are non-residential, this might be more common than you think. Reach out to the lonely; it could save a heart or a life.
Fall into some role in a group.
Maybe you’ll be one of the lucky few to keep a friend group through the length of your degree; but really, as you age, you learn that different people grow at different rates. You will feel outpaced by some friends, self-conscious in the face of their success, or you will feel like you’re leaving friends behind as your life moves on.
In 2005, it was found that one in seven or more than 800,000 youth experience mental disorders, with anxiety disorders the most prevalent. We have seen too many friends let studies and lives fall into disrepair because of untreated or unacknowledged mental illness. If you’re afflicted, don’t feel like it’s a weakness, like something is wrong with you. Nobody is alone.
Your twenties are a time for internal crises. You will stress over questions like: What next? What now? What am I even doing? Who will I become? Maybe that’s another thing Hollywood had right, this is what this time is for. Figure yourself out. You’re young. All will be well when you’re done.