Growing Apart From Old Buddies
Written by Emily Meehan
WSJ.com, May 9, 2007
When we were students, if a friend got bad grades or couldn't master Super Mario Bros., it wasn't a deal breaker. But when you're done with college and the game is real life, it can be hard to keep playing with those friends who aren't moving in the same direction.
"I love him dearly, but he still lives with college kids," says Ryan Day, 27 years old, of an old friend. "When he invites me over I know there are going to be 19-year-olds there and I'm gonna feel uncomfortable." Mr. Day, of Seattle, is in high-gear, working full-time at a public-relations company and getting an M.B.A. at night. He gets invited to parties that involve risqué themes and "beer bongs" -- on weeknights. He usually declines.
Mr. Day says he has tried to encourage his friend to get a better-paying job, with no luck. "It's awkward because you don't want to give him advice and act like you know what you're talking about, cause you don't," he says. "You're doing your best just trying to figure out what your own story is."
Before we have families of our own, our friends comprise a sort of tribe. They influence our beliefs, career ambitions and networks. They set us up on dates, exercise with us, travel with us and take us to their parents' houses on holidays when we can't make it home. But after we graduate, we may find ourselves on vastly different trajectories from those of old friends.
Differences in class and education now rear their heads. That friend who never finished school may be struggling with a dead-end job. The one with the family country-club membership you used to benefit from on Sunday afternoons may now work for a magnate father. To an extent, that proverbial "side of the tracks" we came from beckons until we establish our own status.
Brandon Harris, 23, always knew his old friend came from the leisure class. But it didn't bother Mr. Harris, a self-described "middle class striver," until recently. A year out of college, the two men have starkly different lives: Mr. Harris works at a film magazine and also writes and directs his own movies. His friend is less focused career wise. "He is…more interested in becoming a very talented, knowledgeable musician than a successful musician, and having a ubiquitous knowledge of literature rather than being a professor or a book publisher -- two things I think he would be very good at," Mr. Harris says of his friend.
They have tapered off their interaction. "I am constantly discussing my career and what I'm doing, constantly meeting different people about projects and discussing rumors about new projects. … There isn't an analogous situation for him to talk about. Really, I can only ask, 'how was your day?'" he says.
Jonathan Kaplan, 27, admits that he has chosen isolation over friendship since he graduated from college. The Valley Stream, N.Y., resident is involved with his hobby, improv comedy, and his high-school teaching job. He says he pays as much money as he can every month to student loans, and lives with his parents because it helps him be frugal.
One friend was a kindred spirit, but he smoked pot, got arrested and "acted a little crazy when he drank." Despite their shared love of music, nature and documentary films, Mr. Kaplan couldn't put up with his friend's lifestyle. "At that time I needed to be doing something else, and I couldn't even give up a Friday night to hang out," he says. "Everyone's traveling through life and we all have individual paths."
Hunkering down may seem, in the mind of the focused individual, like a positive course of action. It seems natural, after all, to leave nearly two decades of school resolved to hunt and gather and build a sturdy life. But others are using this time to explore and experience. Again, friendships can diverge.
"He doesn't seem to want to do anything," says Jaime Marconette, 26, of a friend who no longer socializes with him and has been living at his parents' house for the past three years. "He actually seems genuinely afraid of life. Come on -- living at his parents directly after graduating with no thoughts of moving?" Mr. Marconette says that his friend is saving up money for a life with his current girlfriend, and future wife.
Mr. Marconette has known his friend since grade school. "He's a really cool guy," he says. "He's been saving up money but in doing so has sacrificed so much. … I've gone off and done things and taken trips to other countries."
If we love our friends, we probably aspire for them. But visions of progress diverge after we graduate from simple rating systems like grades and tae kwon do belt colors. Life isn't like playing Super Mario Brothers. Or is it?
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