When I came to Boston College in the fall of 2020, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when it came to friendships. More importantly, I wasn’t quite sure what I should tell people about my life back in Mobile, Ala. Now, as my junior year quickly approaches, I’m reflecting on both my relationship with my own past in Mobile and my relationships at BC and looking back at how they’ve progressed over the past two years.
According to my mother, I grew up in the “smallest big town you could ever see.” That might seem like a silly nickname, but it describes Mobile perfectly. Growing up, it felt like everyone knew your business and you couldn’t escape the gossip or the rumors. Even when I come back for Christmas or Thanksgiving break, I still hear about the lives of people I’ve never met and all of the scandalous things they’ve ever done.
When I came to BC, I decided I wouldn’t let my past define me. People didn’t know about my past or who my parents are—they just knew me. It was nice to finally be free from what felt like constant observation from the people in my hometown. I decided my past was in the past, and I would only tell my new friends what they absolutely needed to know about my homelife. There was no need for me to dwell on things that no longer mattered with the people I would be spending the next four years with. This decision has helped me move on from some particular traumas, and I’ve never been happier.
Sometimes I make divorced parents jokes, if only to watch my friends whose parents are still happily married squirm—it can be quite the laugh if I’m feeling particularly chaotic. Even still, my friends understand that these jokes come from a place of healing, even if they do not know the whole story. Humor is my way of coping with the things I’ve been through, and while my college friends may not know the details that make some of these jokes tear-jerkers for me, they laugh along as if to let me know they are there for me.
Recently, I decided to drop my biological father’s last name and take both my mother’s maiden name and my step dad’s last name. There’s a whole laundry list of factors that went into my decision including how my college friends would react. I was scared they would question me because to them, this might seem like an out-of-the-blue decision, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The first person I told was my best friend from home. She was particularly excited for me as she knows about most of my past and my own uneasiness about family stuff. It gave me comfort that, if no one else did, she supported my decision.
Telling my college friends so far has been a breeze. One night in June, I was texting a close BC friend of mine asking her to talk me out of getting bangs—thank God she was successful. While we joked about bad haircuts, I decided to tell her what I planned to do about my last name. She was nothing short of joyous for me, as were so many others. She congratulated me on this decision despite not knowing more than my tag line: “My parents are divorced and I don’t have a relationship with my biological father.”
After she voiced her endless support for my decision—something I appreciate more than I could ever tell her—I decided it was safe to go ahead and tell people. So far, I’ve only told a handful of people—even some of my fellow Heights editors are finding out through this article.
This anecdote might seem random to some, but I hope it helps you realize you are not alone in navigating this scary, weird space we call college. You don’t have to give all of the facts about your past experiences to receive the support you need. Maybe you have a safe space to share past experiences with your friends, and that’s great. But don’t forget that not everyone is comfortable with sharing information about their past.
One thing to do when talking to your friends about something that could be sensitive is to ask them if they have the emotional space to take on something that could be triggering or taxing for them. It’s important to remember that your friends may not come from a similar background, or some experiences they may have gone through might be hard for them to divulge as well. Remember, if it’s weighing heavily on your mind, then it might affect the people around you in a similar way.
This is not to say you can’t find comfort in your new friends, and it may bring you even closer. By sharing your experiences with your friends, you’re letting them know about important moments or experiences in your life that have defined you. If you think something may be a little heavy for someone to process, let them know that you do not mean to overstep, and if they tell you they are not in the headspace for a heavy conversation, respect their boundaries.
My own approach to this has varied based on the friend. Typically, I have given the important parts of my life and left out the little details. But depending on who I am talking to, someone may have a better understanding of my past experiences. Some of my friends also have divorced parents and have processed their trauma, so they better understand where I’m coming from and help me navigate things. Others had similar experiences growing up, but aren’t ready to talk about it, so I am careful when talking to them about my life pre-BC.
I found that by letting my friends know that I process things differently because I’m an only child that grew up with a single mother, there is a deeper understanding of why I deal with various situations in a certain manner. My friends do not know all of the things that I have been through and vice versa, but by sharing our own defining moments—meaning, those life-changing, world-spinning moments that changed your perspective on the world—and things that have shaped us into who we are, we are better able to give one another grace when dealing with tricky situations.
Another way I process situations from my past at home is by journaling. Writing things down helps me process situations better, and I always feel like a weight has been lifted off of my chest when I’m finished. Journals are great for just venting when your emotions are high.
I would also recommend looking into starting therapy. Although it can be expensive, therapists are paid to listen to you. They don’t have an emotional stake in their relationships with their patients, so they are able to give unbiased advice when needed. If beginning therapy seems like an overwhelming task, reaching out to University Counseling Services is an easy way to get in contact with one of BC’s therapists for free. Either way, if you want someone or something to vent to, journaling and therapy are two really great options.
College is a time to start over and to reinvent yourself if you want. It’s a time to be who you truly are and to make friends with people who you might not have been friends with in high school. As you enter this transition phase in your life, remember that people are shaped by their experiences. It’s important to share with your friends what you think they might need to know—bare minimum details about why you may process certain things in a particular way. As you become more comfortable with one another, you can open up more if you both want. I hope these tips help you adjust to your new life at BC while having a better grasp of how to talk about your homelife with your new friends.