Here’s what no one tells you about graduating: it sucks. It really, really sucks. It feels like the rug has been pulled out from under you, like you’ve been pushed off a cliff and you are falling and you just keep falling. There is no hitting the ground. There is no parachute. There is just the air and you.
Let me be honest about this: in the Spring I expected to be one of the good ones. I had a great internship lined up in my chosen field and a summer sublet paid for in full just twenty minutes on foot from my office. Sure, I didn’t know anyone in Berkeley, but how hard could it be to make friends? So what that I had never lived more than an hour’s drive from my family? I thought to myself: I am twenty-two years old, I just wrote a thesis, people at my college know who I am. I will be just fine. Everyone cried at graduation, but I was the stoic one as I moved out. I just wanted everything to be over, all of the sobbing and the goodbyes and the desperate hugs. I wanted to sleep, and then I wanted to start the next chapter of my life. I will admit to feeling a little superior, a dangerous mixture of arrogance, denial and ignorance. Everyone said it would be hard, but I was no Hannah Horvath from HBO Girls. I survived college, didn’t I? How bad could this adulthood thing possibly be?
I am looking at apartment listings on Craigslist. There are very few fall sublets available, and the ones that have been posted are either too far from public transit or well out of my price range. I am crying, which is not unusual these days. Over the phone, my boyfriend offers well-intentioned advice about managing my expectations, but that’s opposite of what I need to hear right now. I’m not even sure if I want to stay in the Bay Area after the summer. The constant street harassment is getting to me, and having to live with a stranger, and knowing next to no one. I had to stop dressing in anything attention-getting, putting away my thigh highs and my favorite skirt because I’m sick of men at bus stops asking my cleavage if I want to fuck. That falling feeling isn’t going away and it is too hard for me to put into words, too hard to explain. When I get short and even more upset on the phone, he admits he does not know what to say, does not know how to make me feel better.
“I don’t need advice,” I say. “Just tell me you love me and that it’ll be okay.”
“I love you,” he says. “It’ll be okay.”
A friend from college has moved home and is having trouble adjusting to living with his family again, an adult and yet still a child. Another friend’s anxiety is acting up, separated from her support networks at Wesleyan. Another friend can’t find a job and spends each day writing cover letters, turning down internships because she cannot afford to work without pay. I have moved across the country to a new coast, a six hour flight and three hours behind my parents, and the loneliness festers. I work five days a week as an unpaid intern and I come home every night covered in paper cuts. The internship is challenging and exiting, helping me build my social media skills and meet people in the publishing industry. I correspond with authors I have long admired as I plan blog tours and send out advanced reader copies of new releases. I am one of the lucky ones: I am on a career path, even if I am living off of savings. I have savings to live off. I do not have the shadow of student debt limiting my options. But if I am one of the lucky ones, why am I so miserable?
“Of course it’s going to be hard,” my mother tells me. I have called her at 6am my time, sobbing and convinced I have bed bugs (I do not). “Your father and I knew it would be hard for you. You’re starting over. This part always sucks.”
“It doesn’t have to be hard,” my boyfriend tells me. He is worried about me, doesn’t want me to be self-defeating. He has watched me work through trauma, watched me finish a thesis, watched me shatter silences about STI stigma on our college campus. The fact that I have called him crying because my new roommate accused me of stealing some of her shampoo is very strange to him. “Stop telling yourself this is going to be hard. You’re just lonely and you have a shitty roommate.”
My four former roommates from my senior year of college are dealing with the following: the passing of loved ones, difficult family dynamics, cockroaches, breakups, various health struggles. I petulantly text my best friend about how much I miss Wesleyan. She answers, “We’re all in that boat and it’s a fucking shitty boat but everyone told us to savor it while we could and I don’t think we quite understood how difficult the transition would be.”
Things I miss about college: being on a meal plan and buying Cheetos from Weshop with my monopoly money, writing in Olin Library with the afternoon sun streaming over the tables, walking around my campus and never feeling unsafe, coming home to my best friends whose bedroom doors were always open, having the option to be alone when I needed to be alone and the option to be surrounded with friends when I needed to be surrounded with friends. Always, always having someone’s shoulder to bury my face in. Having a class schedule and assignments and another semester, another vacation, another course load to plan. Knowing where I would be without fail on September 1st. Knowing it with certainty.
It is really hard to admit I am having a hard time. It feels like a failure. I am terrified of being some spoiled girl from Connecticut who can’t hack it in the real world. The idea that I might be a fraud — that all those people who told me how excited they were to see where I would go might be disappointed — keeps me up at night. And the fact that my twenty-something angst is so predictable makes it even harder to articulate. Of course, everyone keeps saying. It’ll be okay, everyone else says. This is the hard part, the part that makes me who I am, that makes me who I will be. But how do I differentiate between a hard transition and just not liking this city? Would it be sensible or cowardly to move back to the East Coast and live with my parents while I freelance? Is my state of mind holding me back, or do I know myself well enough to know that this isn’t working?
It has only been two weeks. People say to give it a month, give it six months, give it a year. And of course. I will be here until my sublet runs out in mid-August, and I will look for fall sublets, and I will apply for jobs when I come closer to the end of my internship. I will ask coworkers out for drinks and strike up conversations at open mic nights and keep trying, keep fighting to make a life here. I am strong enough and I will figure it out, I know that. And there have been moments of belonging already: walking to a reading with my new boss and listening to her explain how people’s views of pornography have changed in the past five years. Telling her I just want to be a part of this world and having her turn to me and say you already are! Driving over the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time and gaping at its brawny structure, not as a tourist but as someone discovering a new home. Being recognized and greeted by the cashier at the grocery store by my apartment building and realizing I am finally a regular somewhere.
But I won’t invalidate my feelings, and my dominant feeling lately is lost. The drop of losing Wesleyan is brutal. I am trying to find the right words to say it because that is what I do. It isn’t self-indulgent to say what everyone else seems to be feeling. I am a writer, I put into words what everyone else is flummoxed by. I have not found the perfect digestible metaphor yet for this transition, this new chapter, but here is what I have so far: the unknown is scary, but things become less scary once you name them. Graduating college sucks. Pretending it doesn’t suck just makes it suck more. Post-grad drop, I refuse to let you be my dirty little secret.