New Seasons and Dead Weight: Navigating the End of a Friendship in Graduate School

Photo:  AdobeStock

Photo: AdobeStock


It is really crazy when you think about it. Here you are in graduate school, and in order for you to get here you had this whole support system—or at least you thought you did. 


They were there when you didn’t think you could make it. When you were crying and lamenting over the application process. They were rooting for you (literally, rooting for everyone Black). And honestly, you needed that. If it wasn’t for the friend support, you probably wouldn’t have made it to where you are now. 


But now you are here and you are in a different season. And you are looking back at the folks who used to lift you up and support you, and you start to realize that they are the same ones that are somewhat holding you back now. They are not holding you back because of some “beef” you have and you are arguing or whatever. But in reality, they are stunting your growth because they expect you to be the same person you were last year or the year before that, and that is not the case. 


Maybe this hasn’t happened to y’all yet; however, it has happened to me. And if we are being frank, I would rather fall out with friends over some real shit. A fist fight. You stole from me. You dated my ex. You called me fat and meant it in a bad way. Something like that. Those things make sense in my brain. I can tell myself: “See, that person doesn’t value you or they wouldn’t have done ‘xyz’.” But when I have just outgrown a relationship, that shit is difficult and I feel guilty. 


I feel like I shouldn’t just NOT be someone’s friend because they are not in the same program as me. Or they are not pursuing a graduate degree and don’t understand. Or they live in a different state. Or they have a different family dynamic than me. All of those things seem like extremely childish reasons. However, in graduate school, you begin to realize how precious your time is, and you begin to fully understand what it will take to accomplish this stuff.


I often make the analogy that you use more gas in the car when you are carrying more stuff—have your trunk and back seat packed with so much stuff. Now, I use that same concept in my life in dealing with people. 


Do you know how much energy I have expended trying to bring folks with me that shouldn’t have even been in the proverbial car? I will tell you: A WHOLE HELL OF A LOT! And in that moment, it doesn’t feel like a lot. But looking back, I see much quicker I could have arrived to my destination—both literal and figurative—quicker had I just let some shit go. 


And I just read an article in Time magazine about Friendship Break-Ups. And that shit could have not been more timely, but it could also not have cut any deeper.  The thing about friendships ending that sucks so much is that you really cannot pinpoint the exact moment something happened. It’s not like that friend cheated on you or stole from you (I would hope not) or betrayed you deeply. However, it’s more like an epiphany that you come to about how you two are traveling in separate directions. I am thinking of particular instances, and I don’t have any dry beef with some folks. I just realized I couldn’t take that person with me to the next stage in my life. 


This does not mean that person won’t ever be back in my life. But what it does mean is that I put myself and my needs first for once and chose to keep those around me who truly understood where I wanted to be in my life. 


I honestly do not have the time in graduate school, or period, to continue to text/call/tweet/message someone first. I do not have time to have pointless conversations. 


I need folks in my life that will hold me accountable and hold my feet to the fire when it comes to me meeting my deadlines. Someone who will check me if I am tripping about something. Someone who isn’t afraid to tell me when I am wrong. And someone I am not afraid to tell when they are wrong. 


It is hard to carry dead weight with you when you are trying to walk into a new season. You cannot bring everything with you on every trip. And when you really think about it, you do not always need the same tools in every situation. Yes, your friendships should be based on more than quid pro quo. However, everyone plays a certain role in your life and every “scene” doesn’t need all of the actors (roles). 


Adult friendships are tough and I am upset that the movies did not illustrate that. I thought I was going to be friends with quite a few people my entire life, but clearly that is not the case. And there is nothing wrong with that—it is what it is. 


Understand, that in this time during graduate school you need what YOU NEED and that doesn’t make you selfish at all. That makes you self-full and makes you aware of what adds to your life and not I think acknowledging the type of folks you need around you is a great form of self care. 


About the Author

Joy Woods is a Master's Student at the University of Iowa who studies the sociology of sports and health communication within the education system. When she is not busy completing work for class she enjoys writing for her blog, running with her dog, and hunting down guests for her podcast.

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