Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: I graduated from high school with a close-knit group of friends who were all going to different colleges. We tried to be realistic about being separated and busy in the coming year, but were going to stay friends despite it.
During my freshman year, I only interacted with one girl semi-regularly. No one ever made the effort to contact me, although they responded when I did, and eventually I got tired of doing all the work.
I just feel like such an idiot, because everyone says this happens, but I'm so sad. I never made any friends my first year of college, so I often went for days without speaking to someone. I don't even have the desire to make new friends anymore. I'm tired and I feel empty inside. Is there a way to make this hurt less?
Carolyn says: I'm sorry. It sounds like you fell into a crack during a normal transition, drifting away from high school friends but not toward new college friends.
I can see how that would hurt. But your old friends aren't rejecting you, per se. If you had made new college friends last year and therefore, naturally, reached out less to old ones, then you wouldn't have been rejecting them — right? You'd merely have been living in your moment, just as they're now living in theirs.
So the issue you face is, again, not that your old friends don't make an effort or that you're an idiot or anything else: The issue is just that you didn't get any social traction at your school. It also sounds like — chicken or egg — you are possibly depressed. Certainly each can cause the other.
So I urge you to go to your school's health services to set up a depression screening and/or session with a counselor. Tired, empty inside, sad, no desire — every one of these is a symptom, and every one, therefore, has the potential to improve with treatment.
Concurrently, please put some things in your schedule that force you to interact with people in a non-academic context. Make yourself go. In my experience volunteer groups are the most welcoming and have the lowest barriers to entry, plus you get to feel a little extra yay-me boost for doing something useful. But if there's something centered on physical activity (running, dance, yoga, intramural anything) then that would bring the added benefit of a natural depression fighter. Exercise is clutch.
And, if it doesn't backfire on you, keep placing occasional calls to the high school friends; if they're receptive to your presence in their lives, then it's OK to decide that's enough. Plus, if you spread the calls around, then you could conceivably not talk to any single one of them more than once a month or two — hardly clingy — and yet have someone to talk to once or twice a week. Potentially a huge difference as you work your way toward better social health.
But do start with the health service — and let your adviser know you're struggling. Use the supports available to you and be patient (with yourself, especially) as they do their work.
E-mail Carolyn Hax at firstname.lastname@example.org, or chat with her at 11 a.m. Friday at washingtonpost.com.