An identity crisis: Why long-distance friendships suck

dorm room photos
Isabella Schreiber/Staff

I
grew up in a small desert town on the outskirts of LA where there was nothing to do but complain about the heat and the wind. It was a boring town, and to combat the boredom, we learned from a young age the importance of surrounding ourselves with interesting people. As a result, I spent most of my life defined by my network of friends. Like flies atop fresh manure, my friends and I orbited each other in chaotic unison, endlessly hovering over a common pile of shit — the Antelope Valley. I believe that I can say without being naive that these friends are lifelong, the kinds of friends who will be at my wedding and meet my children, the kinds of friends I will support as they chase their dream careers, the kinds of friends with whom I will grow old.

It was hard coming to Berkeley as an independent flea. For so long, I knew myself as the friend of Felicia and Albert and so many others, but without them, my identity collapsed. I was empty.

Every time I met a potential friend, I wondered if they would, years from now, be worthy of a wedding invitation. I knew that was a lot of unfair pressure to put on strangers (and myself) at the outset of my college career, but I couldn’t help but feel that the entire course of my social future hinged on the introductions I made at Golden Bear Orientation. Historically, first impressions have not been my strong suit — both the giving and the formation of them. I come off as either antisocial or obnoxious, and I am drawn, under false pretenses, toward people who are actually painfully antisocial or obnoxious. Opposites attract, I guess.

But against all odds, I did make great — dare I say, lifelong — friends my freshman year. I found a new part of me in the friends I made at Berkeley. They challenged my worldviews in ways that facilitated growth. I loved it here. I still do, but every night my freshman year I gazed up at my wall of pictures of friends from home, and I felt the desert boy inside of me ache.

My identities grapple with one another, and I am paralyzed by the idea that I do not know who I am.

So by the time spring semester ended and I said goodbye to my floormates, I was excited to return to LA for the summer. And after just a few days, the new, intellectual Edrick who studies at UC Berkeley had melted into a more confident version of the Edrick who left home in August, but remained a desert boy nonetheless. I adopted the mannerisms of my SoCal friends, remembering inside jokes and reincorporating slang I hadn’t thought about in almost a year. I even breathed differently. I noticed pieces of me surfacing that had been hiding for months.

I am genuinely happy, but that’s such a weird thing to think because I was also genuinely happy in Berkeley. And now when I go to bed, it is my fellow Golden Bears I yearn to see again. My identities grapple with one another, and I am paralyzed by the idea that I do not know who I am. I used to think of my friends as gems who fill the void in my heart that longs for companionship, but now they each feel like horcruxes, splitting my soul into a thousand pieces scattered all over the globe, destroying my personhood in the process.

I think to myself that no matter where I am, I am longing for my friends. I think to myself that having more friends only exacerbates that aching I felt before. I think to myself that this means either one of two things: 1) I have given too many pieces of myself away and will never again be whole or 2) I have to learn that I can love my friends without my having my identity be gravitationally bound to them.

And I think to myself that both conclusions are terrifying.

Contact Edrick Sabalburo at [email protected]