The First ‘Real Friend’ You Make After College Is Special

“I have a big-girl job and a big-girl friend, and we’re talking about big, important things like breakups. What a life I live.”

Illustration of two women using laptops sitting back to back in front of a window with a city outside and two birds swooping by the window
Wenjia Tang

Each installment of “The Friendship Files” features a conversation between The Atlantic’s Julie Beck and two or more friends, exploring the history and significance of their relationship.

This week she talks with Alyssa and Emily, who met at their first job out of college and then moved in together during the pandemic. They discuss the role friends play in transitioning from college to adult life, what it’s like to suddenly be trapped at home with your co-worker, and how a situation that could have been overwhelming instead made them inseparable.

The Friends:

Emily Herbein, 23, a contract writer and music journalist, who lives in Philadelphia
Alyssa Moore, 23, a contract writer and public-relations consultant, who lives in Philadelphia

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Julie Beck: When and how did you meet?

Alyssa Moore: We both got a job right out of college at a media-buying agency, as contract writers.

Beck: That’s a term I’ve never heard before: media buying.

Alyssa: You and me both. Essentially what we do is: When you’re on Yahoo or something and there’s an ad to an article that says, “You won’t believe what they found in their garage,” and then you click through 30 slides, and [it turns out] they found an old picture of their grandmother—that’s what we write. It’s a weird job. We started on the same day in May 2019.

Emily Herbein: We still work there now. We’ve been remote since March [2020] because of the pandemic. I remember so vividly the shift from co-worker to friend. [At first], we were both way too shy to speak to anybody. We Slacked each other a little bit, like, “Do you know how to format this article?”

But then one day I hit her up on Slack and I was like, “I’m going through a breakup. Can I vent to you? I know it’s going to be weird, but I need to talk or I’m going to explode.”

Alyssa: I was going through a really big friend fight at the time. My best friend from college had blocked me on all social media. So I was like, “I’m so glad you brought this up—I also have things to unpack with a stranger.”

Emily: [After that,] I felt like, We’re very close now. We’ve unpacked this trauma with each other. I think we can hang out outside of our warehouse office.

Beck: So it was a very abrupt shift from co-workers to friends.

Emily: A very immediate friendship.

Beck: It sounds like you were going through some postcollege transitions: breaking up with a college boyfriend, having trouble with a college friend, starting a new job. Do you feel like your friendship symbolized, in some ways, the transition from college to adult life?

A close-up selfie of two smiling young women
Emily Herbein (left) and Alyssa Moore (right) (Courtesy of Alyssa Moore)

Alyssa: It’s cheesy, but this felt like my first step toward being a person outside of who I was three months before. I have a big-girl job and a big-girl friend, and we’re talking about big, important things like breakups. What a life I live.

Emily: I totally felt the same. My group of friends in college didn’t change much after freshman year, and I’m still close with friends that I’ve had since elementary school. Alyssa was also my first “real person” friend. It felt very much like a new chapter of postgrad life.

Beck: What was your living situation before you moved in together?

Emily: I lived by myself.

Alyssa: I’m originally from the suburbs of Philadelphia. I moved back home to live with my parents during the first few months of having a job, trying to save up. And I commuted into the office. Then I had an apartment with my cousin’s friend, who was great and lovely, but we were not close.

Emily: After the pandemic hit, when our leases were about to end, we bounced around the idea of moving in together. We tried to do the remote-looking-at-apartments thing. Trying to find an apartment in general gives me a lot of anxiety, but she loves to browse Zillow. Then, right when we were losing steam, I saw that there was a listing in my building on the floor that I lived on. I was like, “Would it be crazy if we just moved down the hall from where I am now?”

We did that. We’re in a small two-bedroom now, and we’re going to move again this summer, to a new place, together.

Beck: What was it like making that decision? Were you worried that, living with a co-worker, you’d be spending too much time together, or that it would change your friendship?

Alyssa: I was definitely worried about that. People say, “Never live with your best friend. It’ll go badly.” I did that in college and had a really great experience. But we were working completely remotely, and I was worried that we were going to get truly sick of each other.

I’m a very introverted person. When we moved in together, I was like, “I do sometimes just need to be alone. And it’s not because of you.” She was like, “Yeah, totally. I get that.” We set that boundary early on so that we didn’t overwhelm each other. It’s worked out fine.

Emily: I would tell you if I was sick of you. From living alone for two years, I truly valued my personal space. Now I don’t remember how it felt to live by myself.

I’m really grateful that we have this friendship and roommate relationship. Working the same job hasn’t felt overwhelming. It’s honestly a comfort, because we can vent.

Alyssa: It also helps that our rooms are on opposite ends of the apartment. It’s an unspoken rule that if somebody is out [in the living area], they’re willing to chat, but if I’m in my room, if I have headphones on, I need to be working hard-core.

Emily: And we each have, like, three side-hustle projects. Alyssa does PR, and I do music journalism and music PR. We’re constantly busy.

Beck: What is the culture of your apartment? Do you have rituals, routines, or favorite activities?

Alyssa: Something that I’ve started doing recently, which I think Emily hates—

Emily: I don’t really hate it.

Alyssa: I put Spotify on my TV and turn it up super loud. I only do it for one song, but I’ll be like, “We’re doing a vibe check midday,” and I bump Taylor Swift’s “Love Story Remix.”

Emily: As music-oriented as my career is, I hate dancing. And Alyssa is so into it. Anytime there’s a music vibe check, I’m in my room doing my thing, nodding along, and she’s dancing through the living room.

Another habit we have is watching TV together for hours a day after working. We’ve started this thing—

Alyssa: The list.

Emily: Anytime someone on TV says something weird or stupid or funny, [we add it to the list]. It’s typically something that only we think is funny. If we tell you any of them, you probably won’t laugh.

It’s gotten to the point where we’ll be watching TV and someone will say, “Blah-blah, petri dish of ugly depravity,” and I just look at her.

Alyssa: I’m the keeper of the list. It is my greatest responsibility.

Emily: I don’t have the list on my phone. It would be so simple if we just shared it with each other. But I think it’s really funny that you have it.

It’s a rush of serotonin whenever I find something list-worthy, because there’s nothing else to do. We sit and watch TV or we work. We need something to fill the day.

Beck: Are these phrases that you adopt into your vernacular, or is it just, “Oh, we would like to review them and laugh?”

Emily: We review them and laugh.

Beck: One thing that is interesting about our living situations right now is we’re spending more time with the people we live with than ever before. So the inside jokes become very insular. My boyfriend and I are like a closed loop of idiocy.

Alyssa: “Closed loop of idiocy”… you made the list.

Beck: Oh my God. I’m so honored. I’m just wondering, has that insularity changed your friendship in any way?

Alyssa: We’re very close. When we do things with our other friends, it’s another unspoken rule that if you invite me, you must invite her. Or even if you don’t invite her, she’s coming. It’s a little ridiculous how in sync we are.

Emily: I’m just like, “I’m so sorry that we have to bring this to the table.” We’re like the Dumb and Dumber of the friend group. But we’re so much fun.

Beck: Are you guys dating during the pandemic? Have you had any weird Zoom dates?

Emily: We’re both vaccinated at this point. I went on two Hinge dates; nothing came of either of them. At the very beginning of the pandemic, I had what I like to call a quarantine texting boyfriend, and that lasted two months.

Alyssa: I did have that Tinder guy I played Battleship with, for, like, six months. Never flirted with him once. I was just like, “Hey, man, you haven’t played Battleship yet today. I’d really like to continue the game. Hope you’re doing well.”

Emily: I think we’re both on a downturn with dating, which is fine.

If Alyssa does have dates, she doesn’t tell anyone until, like, three days after. She really bamboozled me a couple of weeks ago. She was like, “I’m going to take a walk.” And then she’s not back for five hours. And I was like, Where has she gone? She does take long walks sometimes.

Then I found out three days later that she had had a date. That is one thing that she hides. It’s a bad habit, but I think it’s so funny.

Beck: What are the reasons you want to keep it to yourself for a while?

Alyssa: They’re random Hinge boys that I have no personal stake in. You don’t need to get invested in the character development of Marcus from Fishtown. I’m not invested in his character development.

Emily: Most of our boy developments have been letdowns. But I’m relieved that neither of us have had boyfriends through this pandemic, especially living in this apartment. It just wouldn’t work.

Beck: Have you learned anything new about each other since you’ve been living together?

Alyssa: We’ve learned everything.

We’ve exhausted each other’s stories to the point of no return. I know what your mom was wearing during your 7th birthday party. I think we’ll be happy to have a new experience to share with each other.

Emily: The frequency of our heart-to-hearts has exponentially increased. I’m glad that we’re friends.

Alyssa: I’m also glad that we’re friends. In our most recent heart-to-heart with another friend, the other night, we spewed our feelings for each other. It was like, “I hope you know how much I truly love you.” Just one of those aggressively mushy situations.


If you or someone you know should be featured in “The Friendship Files,” get in touch at friendshipfiles@theatlantic.com, and tell us a bit about what makes the friendship unique.