Real Talk with Savannah Johnson: Graduation Fears, Toxic Relationships and Difficult Commitments

Welcome to Real Talk, Subject’s latest advice column with junior psychology and sociology major Savannah Johnson. Each month, Savannah dives into your burning questions about anything and all, judgment-free and with love. Email your questions to editor@subjectmedia.org or DM us on Reddit @subjectmediadotorg to be featured in our next column.

I have only one semester left and I’m terrified to graduate. I love my major, my friends here and how exciting college life is. The thought of growing up and working a 9-5 depresses me. How does one cope? 

Congratulations on making it this far in college! I understand the part about being scared to graduate – it’s like the world’s biggest signifier that you’re officially an *adult*, and honestly, that doesn’t always sound like so much fun either. 

College is a time in your life when you’re trying to figure so many things out – socially, academically, and personally. I love that you’ve made it so enjoyable for yourself! Learning and exploring life can be so much more desirable than “growing up.” However, that graduation date is going to come, and I’m sure the ceremony will be an amazing experience – what a time to be recognized and to reflect on all of your hard work! 

Something that will be vital to your perspective on post-college life will be the mindset that you walk into the “real” world with. If a 9-5 job isn’t something you want to spend the rest of your life doing, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to be in that situation forever. Understandably, a 9-5 may pay the bills temporarily, but that doesn’t have to be permanent. You can truly do anything you want in the world! There are an infinite number of opportunities waiting for you once you graduate – finding them depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re concerned about a 9-5 rather than focusing on what you desire in a career after graduation, you’re more likely to end up with that type of job. 

Of course, changing your perspective is easier said than done. For coping, I would begin by simply acknowledging that graduation will happen, as scary or depressing as it may seem. By acknowledging that fact, as well as your emotions towards it, you can start to move forward by finding the exciting or positive things in graduating and the post-college world. Maybe do some research on job opportunities that may interest you that aren’t that 9-5 scenario or ask around for some volunteering opportunities to get involved in now. Volunteering can really help in finding a deeper meaning in what the world around you is like – and it may help with the fear of graduating if you’re working for some causes bigger than yourself. 

All this to say, it’s not a bad thing to be scared of graduation. I am too – and I’ve got three semesters left. I’ve adored my majors and all I’ve gained from the experience so far. There’s a lot of pressure to figure so many things out at once when you graduate – but there’s plenty of choice too. You can do whatever you want, and you can achieve it if you set your mind to it – a non-9-5 job included. And stay in touch with the friends you’ve made throughout your college years! You can push through the feeling of fear and struggles of growing up together, even if you don’t have classes together anymore. 

My friend’s boyfriend is extremely toxic, but she refuses to acknowledge any of the red flags. Any time we try to bring it up she gets defensive and upset. I’m not sure if I should just let it go or continue trying to get through to her before she gets hurt. How to handle this? 

I’m sorry to hear about this type of situation – I was in one myself a few years ago, when I was in high school. Your efforts to talk with her about the boyfriend show that you really care about her well-being, in and out of the relationship. Unfortunately, it’s up to your friend in how she handles the relationship. Her defensiveness when you try to bring it up may be because she’s recognizing these red flags deep down but doesn’t know how to handle it yet. 

My advice is not to let it go, nor to continue trying to get through to her – it’s something more in the middle. Pressing your friend can cause more harm than good – she may be perceiving your efforts as an attack against her. If her boyfriend is toxic, that’s something embedded within his character, and that’s something she can’t fix – although she may not have realized this yet. In my experience, I pushed away the red flags because I thought that I could repair the relationship if I just “stayed through the rough patches.” I would refrain from pushing the subject any further, but if she chooses to bring it up with you, focus on listening to her and providing an empathetic response. Provide advice if she asks for it – but for now, it sounds like you can provide the best support by letting her feel the relationship out for herself and being there for her when she needs it. If it’s hard to tell how it’s best to help, you can simply ask, “Would you like my advice, or is this a time where you need someone to listen?” 

Obviously, this is something that is really difficult to do, especially when you’re close to her. However, maintaining a positive support system for her will matter a lot in the long run. Of course, if you feel like he’s harmed her physically in any way, that’s an appropriate time to bring up the topic with her, if her safety is in danger at all. Again, you’re a great friend for recognizing these red flags, and being transparent and upfront with her about what you’re witnessing. I hope that her situation, and your relationship with her as a support system, improve over time. 

My sister wants to adopt a dog but she is an extremely irresponsible person. She doesn’t realize how big of a commitment it is, and I’m scared she’ll either end up returning the dog after it gets attached or neglecting it. If we even gently try to mention how much of a commitment a dog is, she gets extremely upset at us for ‘doubting’ her. Not sure how to handle this one!

I completely understand your concerns – this is something that happens a lot in shelters, and it’s honestly heart-breaking to hear about. Animals don’t deserve that type of treatment, and absolutely should not be neglected.

It sounds like her defensiveness is a sign that she may be feeling a little overwhelmed about having a dog too – like you said, they’re a huge commitment! Absolutely adorable and exciting (especially as puppies) … but they can be a lot to take care of, and expensive at that. They can also destroy your house if not properly trained – they don’t have the same value in furniture and nice things as we do. 

My rule of thumb is that, if I really want something and am prepared for the commitment, I should still be thinking about it a month later, just as excitedly and as dedicated as I was when I first wanted it. Perhaps this could be a perspective to share with your sister? It doesn’t question her level of commitment to caring for a dog; rather, it’s that you are looking out for her and making sure that she won’t be overwhelmed or stressed if she gets one. 

Another suggestion is to find places where your sister can interact with dogs temporarily, like by volunteering at a shelter or visiting a dog park, or even spending time with a friend who has a dog, and educating herself from personal experience. The thought of a dog can be different than the reality of having one – perhaps knowing that reality could change her perspective. 

I know it’s frustrating when you’ve already tried to voice your concerns, to get a negative reaction in return. I think you may find a more positive reaction by providing her with some resources or opportunities to interact with dogs outside of adopting one – that way, she still feels like the decision is hers in the end, and you may find some comfort in knowing that your sister at least is fully aware of what the commitment of getting a dog is like.