On Friday night, my high school friends and I had our last whole group sleepover before we all head off to college.

In the wake of that event, I’ve been thinking a lot about change, friendship, and growing up.

The group of friends I finished high school with were not the ones I started middle school with. My school was sixth through twelfth grade, so hypothetically, I could’ve had the same friends all the way through. But, I when I entered sixth grade, I wanted new friends – I wanted to separate myself from the friends I’d had in elementary school, three of which came to my new school with me. In my desire to separate myself, I unknowingly was setting myself up to struggle a lot with friendship. I spent three years jumping from friend group to friend group, struggling to find people who got me. When I hit high school, I started hanging out with the set of friends I have now – three of them were those same people I wanted to desperately to separate myself from in middle school in an attempt to be someone else.

My new group of friends was huge. It consisted of me and ten other girls, all of whom had been friends since sixth grade. Coming in in ninth grade, I felt like an outsider, and all I wanted was to feel accepted. And they accepted me with open arms and smiles, but there was this feeling of outsider-ness that stayed with me through my junior year. I struggled to feel like they valued me in their group, mainly because sometimes people did things without me.

In the summer after my junior year, I started a new job with new people and suddenly, I was making plans to hang out with them and was constantly busy. It taught me that sometimes I had to be the one to initiate plans to hang out with people, something I’d always been horrible at doing. When I went back to school, I returned with a new motto: that I would make plans with my friends.

And I did. Suddenly, our friendship clicked. In the midst of senior year and all of the change, I was happier than ever before. I felt like my friends knew me, that I relied on them in a way I never had before. I had these moments of beautiful friendship with them at eleven o’clock at night at someone’s house, cackling in laughter or at dinner, talking honestly about our fears for the future. I felt valued, loved, and accepted. I realized that the problem all along wasn’t them – they were more than happy to go out and do things with me, they just didn’t think to extend the invitation before I started asking them. The problem was that I was to afraid to ask, to afraid of rejection, to afraid that someone would say no.

At the end of the school year, I felt this mixture of happiness and sadness that I’ve mentioned before on this blog. I felt happiness for the places I was going, but torn apart by the idea of leaving the people I love so dearly behind. This summer, I decided I wouldn’t leave them behind. Instead, I made plans, I had lunch with my friends, went rock climbing, saw movies, had sleepovers, drove around the city we’ve all grown up in singing along to old Justin Timberlake songs. And now, at the end of the summer and the end of a time, that feeling of sadness has returned, but it’s a bit different.

I’m not sad to be leaving them behind, because I won’t be. I’ll still text them and hear what’s going on in their life, get letters in the mail every month, see pictures of their lives. No, I’ll be sad that I can’t experience all of the incredible things in their lives right next to them. That I can’t see, firsthand, all of the beautiful things they’re going to do. Instead, I’ll have to hear about them on the phone, or see pictures after the fact. I won’t be able to get lunch with them every day, stay up late studying for finals with them, or have 14-person sleepovers on the weekends.

And that part is going to suck. It’s going to suck so, so much. But at the same time, it’s a part of growing up. In order to move into the next phase of our lives, sometimes things have to change, but that doesn’t mean you have to leave people behind. You can still have them with you, just in different ways. You have to make an effort to stay in touch, and realize that distance doesn’t mean you can’t have a strong friendship – it’ll just be a different friendship.

Today, two of my friends moved into their dorm rooms. I got to see pictures of their set-ups and of orientation, and this feeling of pride suddenly washed over me. Pride in how far they’ve come, how many successes they’ve had, how they’ve picked themselves up from the hard moments and found the light in the darkness. How they make me laugh and smile and see the beautiful parts of life, and how, most of all, I can’t wait to hear about all the people they’ve spread their light to in this new chapter of our lives.