Life after grad school: The secret nobody talks about

While I wish I could say I planned it this way, just a few minutes ago I finally found the motivation to pick up the digital pen to record my thoughts—and as I did so, I realized that it’s been exactly six months since I graduated with my M.Ed.

This is the part people don’t often talk about. Usually, my colleagues keep great blogs, consistently detail their two years of graduate studies and then completely drop off the face of the blogosphere. I used to wonder, “What happened to them after they graduated, took on that fancy new job and moved on with their lives? What happens next?”

Post-grad school life has been an incredibly mixed bag.

Weeks after I graduated, I moved to Sacramento, California with all the belongings I could stuff into my Toyota Corolla. It was the start of what felt like would be a very exciting new chapter—a city I’d never lived in before, a new position that straddles both the world of higher ed marketing and the world of student affairs, and, most thrilling of all, the chance to make a life back in my home state. But, truth be told, I didn’t really know what to expect from this post-graduate school life aside from no homework and more bills.

The bills did come, and so did the lack of homework (score!), but there’s things that graduate school simply didn’t prepare me for when it came to this next chapter. My theory about why we don’t hear about it that often: Some parts can be really tough to face, much less to talk about.

Making friends as an adult outside of school can be really, really hard.

Moving to a new place has been a painfully lonely experience. This isn’t the kind of loneliness that can be cured by a #relatable Thought Catalog article. It’s the kind of loneliness that creeps up on you after a long day of work after a week straight of watching Netflix alone every night—it wraps itself around your mind and sews seeds of doubt. It makes you ask questions like, “What did I get myself into?”, “How do I make friends without being in school?”, and “Is this really how things are going to be now?”

If I hear about one more time, I’ll probably rip my hair out.

Half a year into being a newcomer to my city, I feel like I’ve made relatively few meaningful connections outside of work. A routine has set in: Wake up, go to work, get home, do nothing, sleep, repeat. Weekends are the most challenging because it feels like there’s nobody to spend them with. Sometimes, a day in is called for, and I’ve found joy in learning to do some things solo, like catch a film or work on personal projects at a coffee spot. But beyond this, what else is there? I’ve heard every recommendation for meeting new people at least five times over (and if I hear about one more time, I’ll probably rip my hair out). I’m not sure why I’m floundering so much in the friendship department, especially because I could talk to a wall and can be outgoing when I want to be. But I do know this: Making friends as an adult outside of school can be really, really hard.

It’s like we’re all carrying this secret about how challenging friendship can be to come by.

The bright spots: I now live a 2.5 hour drive from family and a 1.5 hour drive from San Francisco. These are lovely things—and, I don’t want to spend my every weekend driving hours and hours just to reach the closest friendship outside of the workplace.

I’m beginning to genuinely wonder if this is what life will be until I decide to start a family and become busy with parenting. It’s a difficult reality for me to face, but there’s no escaping the deep loneliness that eats away at me when I stop long enough to think about it. So, I tweet about it. I ask long-distance friends for tips. I do research on the infrequently active 20s and 30s meet-up groups in my area, the scant opportunities to join a choir and the long-abandoned local Instagram meet-up accounts. I ask locals and co-workers what they do for fun and often get depressing answers. And now, I’m blogging about it.

Post-grad school life has been an incredibly mixed bag. Recent successes include working a job in a healthy office and an institution I genuinely enjoy, owning my first house and having the privilege to attend professional development opportunities. For these things, I feel beyond blessed. But the loneliness that has accompanied these successes is eating away at my thoughts, and I’m not sure what to do next.

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Talking about it openly and in detail has been a personal struggle. I don’t want to sound like a complainer, I don’t want to make people feel sorry for me and I don’t want to seem ungrateful for all that’s come to pass in my 24 years of life. At the same time, though, this is a narrative that needs to be shared and talked about more often. When I bring it up to friends and fellow millennials, this seems to be an issue that’s much greater than myself. People reply and message me in droves as a response to my posts about loneliness on social media, sharing how they too have difficulties making connections beyond the workplace. It’s like we’re all carrying this secret about how challenging friendship can be to come by at this stage of our lives. What is it about this part of the journey that makes it so hard to find friendship?

Unfortunately, this will be a blog post without solutions. I’ll hold out hope and keep an open mind about putting myself out there, which I’ve been doing since I moved. In the meantime, I challenge you, dear reader, to think about where you fall into this dynamic of loneliness. When was the last time you reached out to the new person in your office and asked how they’re doing? Do you ever consider inviting them along to meet people in your circle of friends? Whether or not they take you up on it, it probably wouldn’t hurt to extend the offer.

Might there be room in your friend group for just one more?

Let’s keep the conversation going on Twitter: @MattMNazario

3 thoughts on “Life after grad school: The secret nobody talks about

  1. This is so incredibly true. This really hit home for me. I am in a long term relationship, living in a city that is 30min from my hometown, and have that “let’s get together soon” “we should do this more often” friendships from college, and am in my 3rd year in my role and this still describes my feelings to a T. I find folks don’t often understand the I don’t have the money to go out, I’m on duty and can’t go far limitations, and thus there goes the chance to get together.

  2. Thanks for sharing Matt! I have also just moved to Denver from Austin after finishing my masters, and have felt very lonely here. My cohort was very close, and when we all graduated and moved our separate ways, I felt like I lost 17 friends all at once. My partner is still back in Austin, and we are still unsure of when he will be joining me here. So I feel like I have a double whammy. What has been helpful for me is just acknowledging that I am lonely and not trying to shove that part of myself in the closet. I don’t have any solutions either, but have found that going to a counselor has helped sort out some of my feelings about this new transition and what it means for me. Thanks again for sharing your story and being vulnerable with the higher ed community.

  3. I feel this so much. Even though I wasn’t super close with the people in my cohort, I had lived in the city where I went to grad school for 6 years prior, so 8 years altogether is a long time to live somewhere, and it was extremely hard to leave.

    You’re right in the sense that there isn’t an immediate solution to this, and I find that difficult to grapple with on certain days. But, I have high hopes for both of us- and I just moved to the Central Coast of CA, so hopefully we can see each other at a regional get-together or something. thanks again for sharing.

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