Losing friends after you move away to university

Moving away to university in a new city is a daunting experience, but it may be a good opportunity to make new friends and re-evaluate old friendships

July 25 2018
Losing friends after you go to university

So here you are: you’re starting university, having moved to a whole new city, and you can’t deny the feeling that you’ve left an old life behind for a new one. A “fresh start”, if you will.

This raises a big question: how much of that old life do you intend to bring with you? Making new friends is important when you move away, but what about your oldest friends?

According to a recent University of Oxford study, moving to university has a detrimental effect on childhood social circles. The average undergraduate loses 40 per cent of their existing friends every six months if they do not take steps to maintain those relationships. It’s no wonder that making friends is a top priority when you go to university. 

Differences in gender

Before we get into the tips section, here’s a closer look at the study.

The researchers found that original social circles broke down rapidly once individual members moved away, explaining that an inability to see friends at weekends contributes to relationships breaking off.

There’s a gendered split, too. Having followed a group of secondary school (high school) friends through their first year of university, the research found that the girls relied on regular phone conversations to maintain relationships, whereas the boys in the group saw no benefit in talking on the phone.

Instead, the male group preferred to do things together. They had to make the effort, whether that was arranging to go for drinks together, playing football or just seeing a film.

According to evolutionary psychologist Professor Robin Dunbar, the research reveals an incredibly “striking sex difference” where “women clearly have much more intense close friendships”.

So women value regular contact while men prefer real-life activities every now and then. And, if things do break off, the male group won’t be likely rush to repair the friendships.

With that in mind, here are some of the best ways you can keep in touch – or, if you think it’s right, why it’s OK to (sensitively) break things off.

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Five ways to maintain old friendships

1. FaceTime or Skype

Combine phone conversations and meet-ups with FaceTime or Skype. If you’re a long way from your old friendship group, video calling is ideal. You can even use it to watch your favourite programme or eat dinner together.

2. Make each other laugh

Whether it’s sharing memes, gifs or funny articles that will amuse with your pals, making each other laugh is an underrated way of finding value in your friendship. With instant messaging, it has never been easier.

3. Group chats

A group chat is one of the best ways you can bring old friendships together, especially if all the members of the circle live in different cities. If you’re not a fan of group chats, mute the notifications and check in at a time that suits you.

4. Meet in person when you can

While phone conversations are useful, there’s nothing quite like meeting in person. It’s important that you set aside the time when you return home for the weekend. Or alternatively, arrange trips to go and visit each other at university. Plus, meeting in person will help you to decide if the friendship is worth your time (which we’ll get on to shortly).

5. Cut them some slack

You’ve got things going on, and so do they. Despite having so many ways to keep in touch, it’s still hard when life is so busy. If you don’t hear from your friend for a few days, don’t take it too personally. Pressuring them will only make them break off more.

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Five reasons why it’s OK to break friendships off

1. People change

This is inevitable. A large part of adulthood is about choosing who you surround yourself with – because now, you can. This isn’t school, and you don’t feel the need to befriend people in your class out of convenience.

2. Or, people don’t

As you’ve grown up, you will have accumulated beliefs and ways of thinking that shape your personality. If you feel that old friends haven’t grown up alongside you, or at all, then it may be time to assess whether the friendship is worth maintaining.

3. You have new priorities 

You have a new set of priorities when you move for university, and you can be forgiven for letting things slide a bit. You’re now more engaged with studies and your future career, and some friendships don’t survive as a result. It’s sad, but it happens.

4. Toxic friendships

Some friendships aren’t worth your time, and you’ll soon realise that letting things run their course is the best thing you can do. You may still care about them, but if they don’t make you feel great about yourself, then it’s not a friendship that you have to invest in.

5. You have enough friends already

If you’re happy with your current new friendships and you don’t feel the need to maintain the old ones, that’s completely fine. As you get older, you naturally evaluate relationships to see how they are working for you. It might sound a little self-serving, but it’s true. It’s about prioritising friendships that bring out the best in you, and vice versa. Think of it this way: you needn’t feel guilty about not letting those older friendships fade, because it takes two to maintain a friendship.

Read more: Five ways to make friends at university


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