While holidays mean, above all, food and family, trips home often carry the awkwardness and anxiety of reuniting with high school friends. These are the people you shared time and experiences and secrets with, but slowly the relationships drifted from weekly FaceTimes to intermittent texts to obligatory birthday calls. I often get the feeling that I should be so excited to see them again, but I can’t shake a worry that it won’t be what it used to be. While I jump at the opportunity to sit in my friend’s dorm and do nothing on a Tuesday night, it takes a pep talk to muster up the energy to hang out with high school friends the one night we’re all home.
When I discuss this pattern with Princeton friends (usually with undertones of shame or regret or embarrassment), we often come to the conclusion that the lack of connection is because we are in different places in our lives — different college experiences, different relationships to home, different goals and interests. But I think the apparent distance is not a total drifting apart but a general discomfort that arises from leaving the social framework that becomes our first language — the Orange Bubble.
We are used to relating to our peers based on common experiences. My friends at the University of Texas are used to discussing tailgates and SAE’s jungle party. I’m sure they feel the same nervousness when they wonder who I will be when we reconnect and what we’ll talk about. But these relationships, with people we share so much history and such formative years with, are worth making the effort for.
I notice how attached we get to the local vernacular whenever someone has a friend from out of town visit. Every conversation seems inseparable from the Princeton experience, and the guest is left completely unaware of what’s happening. We talk about eating clubs and professors and deadlines and dining hall food and Nassau and assorted buildings and Princetoween and intercession and that flasher on the towpath. None of the conversations are totally in American English. I find myself turning to the guest every few sentences to define vocabulary and bring them up to speed. I try to include them by asking about their own experiences, but somehow the conversation — almost like a magnet — instantly veers back toward Princeton.
We are used to speaking to people on campus daily who know the jargon of our worlds — our dorm, our study spots, our newspaper, our professors. Sure, I may do different activities or take different classes or attend different social events than the person I sit next to on the Dinky, but anyone I encounter will share so much with me as a consequence of sharing the same few acres of living space. While in Boston or New York you may encounter students from dozens of different schools, in Princeton you are unlikely to meet many people our age outside the Bubble except for those high school kids who hang out at Princeton Pi or the skateboard clique found terrorizing Robertson Hall’s Fountain of Freedom.
We learn on campus to connect with people through these shared experiences or spaces. But when we return home, none of these social crutches are available. We don’t share the 90 percent of our lives that we did when we left home, and maybe we don’t share many experiences in college. While this often gives off the feeling that we don’t share anything, I think there is space to reconnect and enjoy these people we’ve loved so long. We have let go of our go-to conversations and find those values and world-views and passions we shared and built a relationship on. I refuse to believe I shared my life for so many years with people out of convenience — there must be something more even if it isn’t as easy or obvious as it used to be.
So the mission I pose for myself — and maybe for you — is to reach out to anyone who’s home and meet up. Reconnect even with the people you feel it’s been too long to reach out to. Swallow the moment of uncertainty or discomfort and find yourself back in the familiar folds of childhood friends. Remember together high school sports and driving for the first time and whose parents were overbearing. Appreciate where they are now and fall back into a rhythm. Trade in the talk of the Street and late meal for conversations remembering that late-night fast food place you’d flock to after football games (Whataburger) and that old red Jeep Wrangler she used to shuttle you around in. As a senior, I realize that these breaks are one of the last times that my old friends will all come home at the same time. We are not incapable of staying in touch. We are not so different than who we were. We are just a little out of practice — nothing that a few old pictures and favorite stories can’t fix.
Jessica Nyquist is a senior concentrator in computer science from Houston, Texas. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.