There are lots of useful thoughts over at wolfangel these days. Friday she posted about realizing that she's going to miss many of her friends and colleagues from her department, and how she will likely never see them again.
As I posted in the comments there, I really feel for her. As a kid I moved around a lot, shedding friends as I went, and I've continued to do so as an adult. What's particularly bad in my case is that my childhood experiences taught me that a friend you move away from effectively ceases to exist -- which as an adult I know is not true, but it does hamper my ability to maintain relationships with long-distance friends.
Of course, moving away from grad school friends is not limited to those who leave academia; given the academic job market, it is vanishingly unlikely that you'll end up in the same department as any of your friends (even if married to one of them!). This is why conferences are so popular for those no longer seeking a job; it's a chance to catch up with old friends and schmooze and have a beer together. In smaller academic communities (like my situation at Midwest Liberal) there is the presence of colleagues in the same boat (or small town) to foster connections across disciplines. Academia can be somewhat incestuous, but it does have the virtue of encouraging long-term, close friendships between colleagues. (And animosities, too, of course.)
On the other hand, it does a lousy job encouraging connections with non-academics. I've noted before the impractibility for most academics of career guides that tell career-changers to "tap into your networks" outside your field. The possession of significant non-academic business networks is not common for most academics I know.
And now I am learning that this lack of networks extends to social ones as well. Of my academic friends, I am in touch with only a handful -- and the closest ones are people I met in academia but was in the habit of talking about non-academic things with. The others are still people I like, but I'm finding it difficult to talk with them; we simply have increasingly little in common. To find common ground I have to match my old experiences with their day-to-day activities, and it feels more forced as the temporal distance grows. And academia consumes much of their lives, so my other interests are not things they have time (nor interest, often, like knitting) for themselves. At larger social gatherings, I feel quite out of place -- I fit neither into the academic cohort, nor yet into the group of "non-academic-significant-others-with-an-academic-partner."
I am hoping that this summer I might find some sympatico colleagues with whom to make new connections; it's not happening at my current workplace, where people are too bound up in their job descriptions (and in some cases, inability to fulfill them, resulting in more work for others) for me to see them as colleagues, let alone friends.
Dang. Now I'm all depressed. Off to work, to battle with the three simultaneously occurring "Why the hell didn't you tell me a month ago that this was going to be due this week so I could allocate the necessary three weeks to finish it on time without going insane?!?" projects, all due Wednesday. Heh.