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On Suffering From Graduation-Induced Ennui

I am one of this academic year’s sufferers of graduation-induced ennui. Having finished university in July, I spent a few months working remotely and travelling around Greece, where I was born and grew up. I fancied myself a digital nomad. Disillusionment had not shown its familiar face, my work and proximity to home provided purpose enough.

Since December 2020 I have been in a long-term relationship with someone from the city I studied in, and he did not travel with me. Long distance was bearable for as long as it was necessary, but it was not exactly necessary, in the sense that I was not in Greece for a job or a course, I was there because I missed it, and my family, and because I find everything easier when I am there. Long distance is useful to clarify how much of a relationship is habit, and how much is need or desire.

Simultaneously I missed my boyfriend and the city I have lived in my entire adult life. Studying abroad is such a strange inversion of childhood reality; being abroad begins to feel like real life, and going home becomes a holiday, a suspension of real life. So, I stopped travelling around home and returned to my Uni city, the same city I left in July, only with my degree finished and my university friends all either having moved away or moving on.

I have definitely heard graduates talk about this feeling before. It is so universal I found it uninteresting to hear about until I started experiencing it. Only I thought I was immune because I didn’t go straight into my undergrad from school. I took a year out of school and academia and worked and volunteered in Glasgow and lived very much outside of the student bubble. I felt sure that I was aware of – and beyond - the false stability a university provides and that there would be nothing new about graduate existence, nothing to adjust to that I had not already experienced. The best-laid plans.

What university provides is the illusion of a tiny little world, just big enough to fit all your friends, your mutual friends, and their respective social circles, all endlessly available for whatever level of interaction you are in the mood for. Every exit you make from that illusion does not negate the illusion, only makes you feel above and beyond it, making it all the more comforting when you re-enter.

My flat was close to my seminars and study spaces, my job was close to my flat, and all my friends were constantly around me. I know friends of mine have also struggled with not having a group of accomplished professors telling them what to read and what is and is not worth their time.

When I lived in Glasgow, I didn’t feel this same loss because I had never experienced that specific illusion of safety, only the safety of childhood. The university illusion is far more addictive than that of childhood because the former gives you some control over who you spend your illusion with, as well as the experience of personal independence while surrounding you with validating friends, acquaintances, and academic frameworks.

Meanwhile, in this phase of change and transformation of my life’s parameters, I find myself needing to combine my life and my needs with another’s. Long-term relationships in one’s early 20s are notoriously torturous. Every friend I have has encountered this same problem, and yet I am astoundingly unprepared to deal with it. A time in life which according to all social laws necessitates following all internal whims, wherever they may take you, so that wherever and with whomever you do end up settling down, it is somewhere and with someone you were drawn to and did not tie yourself to.

On the other hand, early 20s unavoidably involve more than one’s fair share of falling in love. Occasionally the falling happens with someone ideal. So, what happens if that ideal person is not interested in going or is not able to go wherever you are? People of a parental age or persuasion would say, then they are not an ideal person. I invite them to share in the emotional and hormonal labyrinth of being a 23-year-old in love and in limbo and be capable of any clarity.

On a work trip, a very patient and, as far as I could tell, wise academic listened to me tell her about my confusion and she told me, the world is literally burning, go everywhere you possibly can with whoever it is you most want with you.

Yet here I am in a city that will definitely forever be a beacon of nostalgia, feeling lonely and illusion-less. Not yet yearning for the past, feeling prepared for the future, stuck in this suspended state.


Edited by Vicky Muzio

Image The Graduate by Rachel Adams is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

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