Being at university in your twenties is a strange time of life. As those of us who are going through it know, lurching between what at times can seem like two very disparate and separate existences can be disorientating. Nowhere does this feeling of dislocation demonstrate itself more than in my catch ups with you, my hometown friends. Falling back into our patterns of interaction seems very easy, at first. We talk about old school memories and in jokes come bubbling back as the conversation flows.
It is only when one of you brings up a night club escapade with a university friend, or complains about a looming coursework deadline, that I remember how much our lives have grown apart over the last two years. It’s no surprise to me that you’ve gathered so many new friendships (you are, after all, kind and interesting and enjoyable people to be around) but hearing the names of “Emily, my friend from football” or “Dan, you know, the annoying housemate” is a reminder that we no longer inhabit each other’s lives to the extent we once did.
I have a real and persistent feeling of guilt about not maintaining our friendships perhaps as much as I should. These relationships are too important for me to let them gather too much dust, but the reality is that I have a woeful tendency to neglect my home friends when I’m at university but I also do it to my Oxford friends when I’m back home – please don’t think it’s personal. Anyone who knows me is already aware that rapid replies are not my strong suit, but I know this gets especially bad when I’m out of town. I know that I can occasionally overlook messages from home friends for days, which is pretty dire considering some of you would probably rather lose a limb than our 100 day snap streak. Perhaps the lack of contact is an inevitable consequence of separation and the hectic lives that all of us lead, but it doesn’t stop me berating myself for not doing more to keep up with you.
And yet, in some ways, I almost feel closer to you than I did when we saw each other every day. Infrequent contact means that we have to actually make an effort to meet up with each other in the holidays, which for me gives the time we spend together now an added poignancy. I’m rather enjoying what is fast becoming a tradition of meeting up at Christmas and during summer, revelling in the familiarity of the same pubs and clubs we used to haunt as teenagers. And although we’ve all changed over the past couple of years, it’s a relief to be around people who know where I’ve come from. Despite how we’ve had to adjust to being long distance pals, the unsettled nature of a life lived shuttling backwards and forwards over one hundred miles every three months is comfortingly contrasted with the knowledge of the unchanging security of my friendships at home.
At least I can take some solace in the fact that people who knew me when I was young, who supported me through some difficult times and some very questionable fashion choices, are unlikely to break off our friendship any time soon.