In the day-to-day scheme of life at Stanford, I find myself running into the same people in the same spaces like clockwork. The consistency upholds to the extent that I even feel vaguely familiar with people I’ve never actually met after perpetually encountering them in classes and study spots that I frequent around campus.
From entering the freshman dorm onward, student organizations or living arrangements, including clubs, co-ops, Greek life or even just similar majors and areas of study foster patterns of interaction structured around similar routines in student life. While this cultivates excellent spaces for finding others who share common passions, over time it can sometimes seem to shrink the Stanford world and feel limiting in the range of individuals it is possible to meet and communicate with throughout the four years of college. There are moments where it feels as though I either personally know or at least share a mutual friend with nearly every person on campus. In reality, however, this is simply the result of my exposure to only the fraction of the student population who happen to inhabit the same spaces that I do.
Along with this realization came an unsettling — yet not unexpected — observation: that these constant relationships and regular stretches of interaction, like all other things, are subject to immense change. Because of the significant amount of time spent within small social spheres, the relationships that are built and maintained can bend under the external pressures of campus life. I think back to the spring of last year and reflect on how much has shifted within the span of four short quarters. I experienced the cycle of an entire romantic relationship, in all of its beautiful and dark moments. I grew apart from close friends. I found comfort in new ones that I had once only known in passing.
These transitions often occur naturally over extended periods of time as individuals settle into the unfolding quests for the discovery of life, passions and self-identities. Still, there are many cases in which relationships can transform in a manner that is much more abrupt or unexpected, sometimes overnight. The latter case feels a lot more daunting when it is set up within a context that already feels constricted and can easily make a person feel trapped.
How does one navigate a falling-out or a break up when they are forced to encounter the very sources of their discomfort or heartbreak on a regular basis? It is precisely the inextricable network of mutual friends and shared spaces in the Stanford sphere that creates a sense of inescapability, which can amplify the drama, pain or awkwardness of sudden change. Some choose to stay within their set circles and attempt to navigate these challenges as they stand within the limits of their own fractions of Stanford. In the midst of all the immediate chaos, however, it is important to remind oneself how large the community truly is, and that in the face of these challenges, there is plenty of room to grow outwards and upwards.
In the process of coming to terms with my own transformed dynamics, I’ve found that an enormously helpful piece of advice was to broaden the scope of my habitual encounters by inserting myself into spaces that I otherwise wouldn’t. I study in new locations. I take classes that don’t pertain to my major. I introduce myself and engage with people with very different interests and lifestyles than my own. To do so, however, does not entail breaking away from all that I’m familiar and comfortable with. Amid all these novel discoveries and adventures, I’ve also found comfort in the things that remain the same as they were before: places and people that I once sought as sources of nurturance and wisdom remain constant, and in some cases always will.
What is perhaps the most difficult part of losing touch with someone you were once extremely close to is their sudden physical absence in your life. While the conscious, rational part of you might quickly come to terms with the conditions of altered or ended relationships, there is a physical shock that the body and subconscious must work through in the course of change. Despite the fast pace of the quarter system and the tumultuous possibility of quick, unprecedented transformations in interpersonal dynamics, I’ve learned to be patient with the emotional, intuitive parts of me that are hesitant to move forward as they continue to struggle with the past.
I suppose that what comes most clearly out of this brief meditation is to learn to not only accept and tolerate change, but to embrace the countless opportunities that come from it. In the process of stepping away from certain areas of my life, I’ve shed some of the ugly layers of my own behavior that I hadn’t even been aware of until I was confronted face to face with them and their unintentional effects on the people within close proximity to me. To question these changing dynamics is not to simply cast blame on external factors or circumstance, but also to call oneself into a moment of deep introspection. Once you’ve settled into the undoubted existence of your own changes in self, the reasons and benefits of external changes suddenly become a lot more apparent.
Contact Clara Spars at cspars ‘at’ stanford.edu.