During winter break, you may have spent some time enjoying the simple pleasures you grew up with: trips to the local mall, late-night diner stops or maybe even a local sports game. Life without the stress of classes and final exams couldn’t get much better.
Soaking in this utopia you felt completely at ease until, of course, you spotted a high school friend looking a lot fatter, balder and – more than anything – older than you last remembered. It’s easy to return home and rewind a few months or even years. After all, not much has changed; your little sister is still annoying, your parents still nag you to clean up your room and the local roads still lead to the same places. But nothing shatters the familiarity of the past like a run-in with an old friend with some new baggage.
In the time one leaves to go to college a lot of things can happen – weddings, pregnancies, even radical cosmetic surgeries. There may be no shock like the realization of the world moving on while you spend the days hitting the books and hitting up the Draught Horse at night. This shock may take days, or even weeks, to wear off. As many of us prepare for graduation and dealing with a temperamental job market, some people our age have to face dirty diapers and formula.
Senior marketing major Anee Korme is no stranger to this. Currently making efforts to break into the professional world, many of her friends from home are pregnant and ecstatic to be young mothers.
She explains that the shock she feels about their choices is equally reciprocated.
“They all act like something is wrong with me,” Korme said. “It’s funny because we’re looking at each other and thinking ‘poor thing.'”
Sophomore film major Mike Shulman received a surprise this past Christmas when he learned that the girl he took to senior prom recently became engaged. He worries that she may be so caught up in the idealism of growing up that she isn’t thinking it through.
“I think she feels like she is wearing a ring and thinks ‘Wow, I have a fiance. I don’t know what that really means but it sounds great,'” Shulman said. “Then when she decides to settle down with him, if she does, I don’t know if that is what she really wants.”
Senior social work major Melanie Rifkin sees the flip side of the situation. Wed last summer to her husband who is in the Army and now serving in Iraq, Rifkin constantly feels the shock of others who learn of her recent marriage.
“Even strangers make a big deal,” she said. “They see my ring and are like, ‘No, you can’t be married, you’re too young.'” She said she often feels uncomfortable when people bring it up because she doesn’t view it as a big deal. “People want all the details and always have a judgment or criticism to make,” she said.
But why is it so hard to deal with these sudden, often unexpected changes? Dr. Marsha Weinraub, professor of psychology, understands the shock many students feel.
“It’s often hard to think of ourselves when we are young as people who are of the ‘marrying age’ or ‘having-babies age’ or being millionaires or being homeless ‘types,’ but it happens,” Weinraub said.
“And when it does, it can be very surprising.” She also attributes the shock that is sometimes felt to the sudden pressures when faced with such situations.
One may not know how to respond or what to say to someone with surprising news. And, perhaps even more stressful, is the way we change how we judge ourselves.
“Seeing these changes in others is especially hard when it has implications for how we view ourselves,” Weinraub said. “And when we are thinking of ourselves instead of the other person, we can sometimes respond inappropriately and then feel bad about it later.”
With societal pressures mounting with age in so many different arenas in life, it’s easy to become insecure – the key is not to project that onto others.
So the next time you’re home, prepare yourself for the unexpected and practice maintaining your best game face. And, while accepting the world changing around you may not be easy, look on the bright side – the wedding may be open-bar and a friend may need a babysitter.
Jessica Cohen can be reached at email@example.com.