For the first 18 years of my life, I lived in one world. A simple, stable world defined by family and childhood friends, carefully planned activities and kind of a soothing predictability. When I left home and came to Davis, my personal solar system suddenly seemed to expand, and there were other unexplored worlds that became very important to me.
Inevitably, those social worlds collide. I supposed it’s possible to keep them apart forever, but it seems silly to keep my new friends entirely separate from my old ones as though my old existence and my current one were two different planets with distinct orbits that never intersect. I prefer to live in both. But how do you make that work?
The first step is inviting one of my new friends to come hang out with my family back home. That went fine, giving me the courage to have my family come visit me at school, which turned out great.
It occurred to me over the summer that the last and final step was to step into one of my old friend’s new worlds. I wanted to see what our friendship, which managed to thrive over the last three years despite thousands of miles of distance between us, would be like in her world. I had made a promise to come visit her at the University of Wisconsin even before our freshman year began, and I was clearly running out of time. So last Friday, I packed my bags, got up before the sun, and headed off to Wisconsin. When I landed, it was snowing outside, but seeing Alyson waiting for me at the airport with a sign that read “Ms. Kaplan” filled me with incredible warmth.
From the moment I landed to the moment she hugged me goodbye, it was one of the best weekends of my life. From the very first moment in this unfamiliar place, I felt completely comfortable. Alyson’s roommates were fantastic and friendly, her friends she met abroad were sweet and we clicked as though we’d been hanging out since kindergarten. I experienced Mac n‘ Cheese pizza, a cookie dough eggroll, walking to the bars in the snow, a Big 10 hockey game (man those are some serious fans), an apple pie shot and the pomegranate martini she’d been talking about since she turned 21 almost a year ago. She and I stayed up until all hours talking and laughing, and I was reminded of why we’ve managed to stay so close even though we’ve been far apart.
It’s natural to wonder if friendships are situational, or if some are really just meant to exist only in their organic worlds, in original form. Sometimes people reinvent themselves when they come to college, leaving behind the people they used to be and trying to infuse their lives with more of who they want to be. People say they come to college to find themselves, and that can sometimes require leaving parts behind. It is impossible to know what a friend is really like while he or she is away from you. Who does she hang out with? What is her social network like? Does she drink like a fish now? Did she reinvent herself?
I guess what I realized, the grand lesson or truth, is that sometimes seeing someone else’s world is like looking into your own with different actors playing the same parts. Some things are obviously different, and I don’t have to worry about snow days, but some friends are meant to be and when they are apart all that happens is they miss each other.
Mixing worlds, visiting worlds, transforming worlds; all that really matters is how well you adapt, how easily you can make conversation with someone you’ve never met even though you’re sitting in her living room, and how important is it to you that the worlds coexist in peaceful harmony.
EMILY KAPLAN has just realized how Miss-America–candidate her concluding thoughts were. She’s just hoping she doesn’t have a sash T-shirt made about her stupidity. If you share Emily’s hopes for world peace, e-mail her at email@example.com.