Opinion: This So Called Real World - First Time Week


By Jordan Reisman

Remember that sense of excitement that you felt in those few months before graduating college? The sense that once you’re out of the place that kept you grounded for four (maybe more) years, you’re on to your new adventure? I sure as hell do. I was tired of spending my days seeing the same faces and making the same trips to campus like a lab rat.

I had plans to move to Chicago, Illinois for reasons that will go unmentioned (let’s just say that I got bit by the Midwestern love bug). In my mind, this move was the turning point in my life where I would finally become independent and live out my dreams.

What nobody told me was that there is a bit of a lapse in time between graduating college and living the “dream” life, whatever it may be; a state of limbo, so to speak. And like most denizens of this life-limbo, I ended up moving back home at the end of a summer due to financial issues. I offer this piece as a means of comfort and empathy for those who are stuck in it with me.

Whenever I see old friends from college or high school and they ask, “What are you doing now?” I spiral into a quiet existential crisis. I answer the employment question they’re probably curious about, and say that I intern for BreakThru Radio. The other part of the answer that I ask myself many times a day is, “What do people… do?

Commencement at Nazareth College. Photo courtesy of Nazareth College.

This might seem like a naive question but it is more the result of disorientation than anything else. I spent four years in a small town where I was a pretty well known guy. I sang in an a cappella group (see video below), I played in punk bands, I went out to the local club on Tuesday nights. Then when college semesters ended, I would come home for breaks and see my friends every night. The boredom would set in temporarily but we all knew that it would be a matter of weeks before we’d be back at school and living our regular lives.

What I didn’t realize then was that I was part of a community of like-minded people who considered me an integral part of their world. Since being back home in the suburbs of Westchester County, there’s no one asking why I am not at practice and there are no bands calling my phone asking to borrow a drum kit for the night. The only local establishment that can recognize me by face is Gennaro’s Pizza and I’m not sure that they know my first name. But still I persist…

Now that I live with my parents in the suburbs and haven’t a full time job to speak of, that would make me a chick magnet, right? Well, maybe if said fictional girl is in a more unfortunate position like, say, being twice my age with the same circumstances. But for all intents and purposes, my current situation is not the sexiest. Dating was made a bit easier in school because it pooled together a bunch of people the same age as you and you could weed out the ones with whom you shared no common interests (e.g., just don’t show up to frat parties). Now we’re all scattered around the state of New York and it’s hard to tell who actually is my age. So I did what many other semi-desperate singles would do in my position – I activated an online dating account.

My weapon of choice was OkCupid. I say “was” because I recently deleted the account, after having gone on a date with a girl who earned her income through less than noble means. But when it was still active, I was half-heartedly messaging cute hipster girls like there was no tomorrow.

For a while I felt that by merely confusing the girl with a useless factoid, she would be intrigued by my “quirkiness.” My most common was, “Hey! Did you know that a lot of the people heard in laugh tracks are now dead?” A friend told me recently that I “scoop up everyone’s desperation,” or rather, I expose mine and anyone else’s desperation by simply talking about online dating in public.

The desperation manifested itself in the girls I was meeting over time, such as the life-changing breakup or the crippling social anxiety. I fancied myself a bit better adjusted than the people I was meeting, but then again I have some skeletons in my web browser too (mine being my staunch pickiness, which is hard to deter since OkCupid arranges everyone like you’re shopping for shoes on Amazon).

Yet the thing that freaked me out most about the Internet dating “community” is the exact thing that freaks me out most about New York City, and by proxy most of post-college life: almost everyone is a stranger. Sure, you’ll see someone from high school pop up on the site from time to time, but hardly anyone I was meeting had any mutual friends with me, and so when our discussing mutual interests would run out of gas, we would never correspond ever again.

At least in college, I’d have to face the humility of running into the girl again. One girl explained to me that the dating scene in New York City compromised of “mostly one night stands, and then you never hear from the person again.” That kind of anonymity and moral autonomy made me feel like I was meeting extras in The Matrix: their presence symbolizes an alternate reality and when they’re gone from the scene, they’re gone for good.

While I have never been one to discuss financial issues in great depth, the effects of money are an important part of understanding why post-grad life can take an emotional toll. In short, loaned money keeps you young. I realized a few months ago that I would be living with my parents for quite some time but I did not realize the implications of it. As I do not have a permanent means of income, oftentimes my parents will loan me money for whatever I choose to do with it (mostly going to shows and falafel).

It is a nice gesture and I recognize the privilege that I have because of it, but it warrants a degree of shame for not having earned it myself. While my parents do not hold it over my head that they support me (they’re not the Mafia), it is also clear that I am still in the same position that I was when I was 12. I stay out later than I did back then, but in a way, I’m still getting my “allowance.”

You know that independence I mentioned before that we all dream about? It’s hard to achieve if you’re still getting lunch money.

The one question that I don’t ask myself often enough is, “What are the upsides of this situation?” But the answer is quite simple: Despite how alone in this ocean I feel, I’m not the only one going through these circumstances. Shows like Girls are designed to universalize this uncomfortable period, deeming all the awkward rituals involved as just common enough to warrant an HBO series about them.

However, the show and the film that preceded it, Tiny Furniture, serve as examples for everything not to do in your time after college. In Girls, the protagonist, Hannah, is constantly using her little crises as a crutch for why she can’t hold a steady job, provide her own income, and basically live without the constant emotional (and financial) support of others. Each of these aforementioned issues has a solution for the everyperson, though sometimes it can be easy to think that they will haunt me forever.

The hardest part of all of this is being taken out of your element and being expected to function normally without the painstakingly homogenous environment we’re well adapted and accustomed to. That kind of uneasy feeling is probably why we feel slightly bad for animals at the zoo. You know that polar bears aren’t meant to live in the Bronx! The difference being — college was the zoo, now we’re out in the wild. When lost in the wonder and magic of college, we ignore the fact that these feelings are very specific to a certain place and time. Now I’m a little fish in the big pond of New York City, where no one gives a crap who I am!

What I have learned very slowly is that it takes time to build my own world again. Things feel stagnant and unchanging at times, but I know that I am closer to living the life that I want with every day that passes. It’s all about baby steps. I told my a cappella group when I was graduating with a few other members, “This kind of bond is an important thing and very rare, but we have to go and create this kind of feeling elsewhere.”

I had my Morgan Freeman moment at that time but the sentiment rings true. Communities are important in solidifying a person’s self-worth and sense of belonging, so now we have to take this time to build something else in a new environment. Are you with me Class of 2012?!

Jordan Reisman is an intern at BreakThru Radio and a recent graduate from SUNY New Paltz, Class of 2012.