Monday, February 16, 2009

Keeping Connected to Old Friends

I have just put a batch of homemade chocolate pudding in the fridge to cool. Yum. It reminds me of my dad, who used to make it when I was little.

That leaves me with twenty minutes to attack a topic.

I have found that when I send an old friend a Facebook message asking how they are doing, I never get more than "fine" back. If I send an email, I might get a few sentences. But if I really want to keep in touch with people, I have to call.

So I do. When I do my laundry, I call a friend while the dryer runs. I start at the top of my phone list and work my way around, so all friends get talked to... eventually. How quickly depends how often I do my laundry. If they don't pick up, I leave a message and call the next one. It's a two-fer special, because then I get a call back the next day.

This system works really well for me, and I love hearing stories about how lives are going. It's especially interesting for me because only two of my friends have chosen grad school, the rest have jobs and lives and husbands and wives and - gulp - kids now. I get to vicariously pretend to have a paycheck and a house, and they get to relive the glory days of late nights and ordering in pizza.

It's even better when they come visit. Last week, I had my first visit from a friend I knew in undergrad. It's been nearly two years since I graduated, just for background. My friend has now married his girlfriend, moved to Texas, and works for National Instruments. He was teaching a class on how to use National Instrument's software for employees in a company that is in my area. So we got together, I showed him around campus and took him out to dinner. I was very proud to show off my work and my campus, and over dinner he confessed that he was a little jealous that he didn't have the flexibility that being a student offers. I think, of course, that he was jealous of the Very Cool Stuff that I build. :) But I digress.

The funny thing is that I was going to say that I was jealous of his world - sometimes I feel a little like I've been left behind by my friends. He seems like he's moved up a stage in life - he has a wife now, a car, a job at work with projects directly applicable to the real world. Did I mention he doesn't live in a dorm. And, for crying out loud, he does not have to take TESTS anymore?

So to each his own, and honestly I wouldn't trade what I am doing for any of my friend's lives. I may not have all those "grown-up" type things now, but I will eventually graduate. And when I do take on those adult responsibilities, I will be doing it with an advanced degree in a field I love that I can apply to whatever career path I fancy.

But sometimes these conversations with old friends leave me with a dilemma. I have some friends who are not where they want to be in life. One friend living in a city she hates because her husband got a job there. Life is especially hard for those with degrees in fields that are really tough to get into right now - my journalism friends come to mind (one of whom just got laid off from a newspaper job she got after graduation). One friend, who so inspires me, was the first one of her family to ever go to college, much less get a degree. But instead of escaping small-town life like she wanted, she gave up some of her dreams to care for her mother. Now that her mom is better she is stuck in a crappy job in her hometown, just like she never left.

So my dilemma is this: how do I tell stories about what I am doing now (graduating with a Master's from World's Best School) and places I have been (Singapore, London, Alabama) without sounding arrogant? How do I get across the point that I am still so very proud of my friends, even if they don't have the same opportunities or make the same choices I did?

How do you brag about your life to someone who is not happy with theirs, without sounding like a jerk?

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