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When you feel like you don't have a squad anymore
Coping when your besties spin off into other sitcoms
Meet the cast of my own personal Friends sitcom, which ran very successfully from 1980-1986. There were very few situations that Andrea, Rachel, Marylynn, Alicia and I encountered in high school or college that we couldn’t handle. When necessary, we’d use sarcasm to cut whatever or whoever was bothering us down to a more manageable size.
The people who played a starring role in my sitcom were everything you could ask for in a friend—loyal, trustworthy, superior sense of humor, sensible, considerate. I never had to look far to find someone to meet at the Ground Round (a 1980s version of Applebee’s) for apps after my shift at the mall, to play a round of miniature golf, or to hit Friendly’s for ice cream topped with a sweet serving of the latest gossip. Once these people were cast as my friends, I had the good fortune of seldom feeling lonely.
Admittedly, the last two seasons of my sitcom weren’t as great as the first four because we ended up at different colleges. I got the worst of the deal–though all the other members of my squad headed off to college accompanied by at least one good friend, I landed at Villanova by myself.
I wasn’t that worried about it at first because I was convinced that college was about to bestow upon me all of the things I desired most at the time—a rollicking social life, a boyfriend, and a pathway to a career that was going to financially reward me for all those years of earning good grades. I assumed I would effortlessly assemble a whole new squad at college at least as good as the one I’d enjoyed in high school.
If you look closely at the photo of me posed outside my dorm on the first day of classes, you will see that I am beaming because I was so certain that the very best time of my life–when everything would just effortlessly fall into place–was about to begin.
This sense of optimism powered me through the first week and a half until reality caught up. Once the exhilaration of orientation and a Labor Day weekend reunion with my original squad were behind me, it didn’t take long to realize that simply throwing myself into a bunch of “make new friends” activities wasn’t going to make Squad 2.0 a reality as soon as I would like. Auditioning a whole new set of friends was going to take time.
I got along really well with my roommate, so in the beginning, I took full advantage of relying on her to be a built-in buddy. I also kept in touch with other people from my orientation group. This ended up backfiring on me when one of the guys from my orientation group visited my dorm room one day, met my roommate, and soon after started dating her. They would eventually marry a few years after we graduated. It was fantastic for them, but it meant I lost my built-in buddy.
It was really, really hard that fall facing the reality that having someone to hang out with on a weekend or even a random weeknight wasn’t a given anymore. (By the time my parents took that photo of me in my dorm room a few weeks into the semester, the struggle was real.) Sometimes I’d end up in my dorm room alone on a weekend night, feeling like a loser. So much for college being the best time of my life.
But the reality was that the only way forward was through. The only hope I had of assembling a new posse was to try to find other likable people who also happened to be in search of new friends. So I grabbed dinner with other people on my dorm floor. I struck up conversations with people in my classes and went to lunch with them. I joined the staff of the school newspaper. If I enjoyed spending time with any of these people, I asked if they wanted to make plans to do something over the weekend.
Though I was never able to assemble another squad quite like the one I had in high school, I did manage to gradually acquire a new set of friends.
And I kept up with my old squad too, via phone calls, handwritten letters, and visits to each other’s campuses. (I know it sounds primitive, but this is how people maintained friendships before cell phones.) And when everyone was home over breaks and for the summer, I reveled in it being kind of like the glory days all over again.
So if it feels like your old squad isn’t what it used to be, take heart. You are experiencing a normal, though unwelcome phenomenon–as people move through life, we typically end up with a rotating cast of characters to accompany us along the way.
And just like the creators of a sitcom don’t know when they shoot the pilot whether it’s going to be a hit, you never know when some random conversation you strike up is going to turn into something special. Who knows–you might end up in a whole new sitcom that you didn’t see coming.
Your squad’s relationships may evolve, but they don’t have to end
Chances are that if your friendships have a solid foundation, you’ll be able to maintain those ties if you and your friends work at it. The four girls from my original sitcom were bridesmaids in my wedding and have been recurring characters in the subsequent sitcoms I’ve been in. And though distance and our grown-ass women's lives make it harder to get together these days, we are still there for one another.
Squads may not exist at the same intensity as they did in high school or college
It isn’t easy to maintain the intensity of those friendships you have in high school or college when you see each other almost every day. The reality is that the world generally isn’t set up to maintain those kinds of friendships after graduation. Everybody gets full-time jobs. Some friends might have the nerve to move to a different city for their career or for love or just because they feel like it. It is a bummer when it starts to feel like your squad doesn’t have critical mass anymore, but it is a very common problem that most people will eventually face.
It sucks when it feels like you’re the one whose squad left them behind
It is hard when your castmates have moved away or start to prioritize other relationships. It can feel like you were playing a game of musical chairs and you’re the one left without a seat. Nobody likes to have to go find new friends with greater availability. But sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.
Squads have to evolve to make space for other relationships
Though it’s sad when you don’t get to hang with your squad as often as you used to, sometimes the space between you is what allows new people to enter into the mix. Some of these new people might become significant others and even spouses, which helps make possible a whole new crew of other extremely significant people. This is how we keep acquiring great material for entirely new sitcoms.
You may never assemble as tight-knit of a squad again
It can be hard to assemble a cast of friends who all play well together. Long-running hit shows that are like your own personal version of Friends don’t come along all that often. If you have been gifted with this rare blessing at least once in your lifetime, be grateful. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to assemble a new squad if the old one fades away; I’m just saying you shouldn’t be disappointed if it doesn’t grow into the same tight-knit kind of group. There are many forms of friendship, and they are each a gift. Cultivate those relationships and be grateful for whoever you find to accompany you on your journey.
I’m curating a “Books of Wisdom” collection for you that covers all of the topics on the minds of people trying to get their lives together–love and relationships, career, finding meaning and purpose in life, and life hacks. In every issue, I’ll offer samples from the Book of the Month so that you can assess whether this book would be a good read for you.
Burnett and Evans believe people need a design process to help them figure out what they want and how to create it
In Designing Your Life, Burnett and Evans make clear step-by-step how to think like a designer and how to design and build a life in which you can thrive.
Their life by design approach can help anyone answer the fundamental questions that haunt us all: How do I find a job that I like or maybe even love? How do I balance my career with my family? How do I build a career that will make me a good living? How can I make a difference in the world?
Stay tuned for more snippets from Designing Your Life this month.
In the olden days, moms used to clip articles from newspapers for their kids if they thought it was something they needed to know. I’ll be keeping an eye out for things that you might have missed that may be helpful to you.
This week’s clips:
How to actually make friends post college: Make talking to strangers in public a habit. Create a group chat to help new people get to know one another without feeling social pressure. See more Practical tips for making post-college life less lonely. Or maybe helping others could help cure your loneliness.
Cheap things to do with your new friends: Beyond taking advantage of free activities at your local library, playing disc golf in a local park, and good old-fashioned people-watching, Life Kit suggests 10 ways to have fun without breaking the bank.
Firing up a job search? These job-hunting hacks make it easier for people in your network to help you find what you’re looking for in your next role.
Learn more about this person who’s telling you things at joannemchugh.com
Next Week: Yes it is really expensive to buy a house The 411 on homeownership and how you can prepare
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