We get it: You’re in college and you want to have a good time, but you also like the feeling of being in a relationship. These two things don’t have to be mutually exclusive! Sometimes, a relationship that’s fun can also be truly fulfilling – even if you don’t see it having long-term potential.
Being with a person who’s good for you right now (but not down the road) can be great, but it can also be a slippery slope. So how do you know if it’s time to break things off? We talked to experts and collegiettes to help you figure out if you should stay with your short-term SO for now.
You should stay together if…
You feel happy and fulfilled
So what if you’re not looking to settle down right now? We’ve said it before: A big part of college is having a good time! If that’s what you’re getting out of your current relationship, then there really is no reason to break up.
“The bottom line is that if this woman is enjoying the relationship and it enhances her life, it's okay to stay together as long as both people in the relationship feel happy and fulfilled,” says Andrea Syrtash, a relationship expert and author of It's Okay to Sleep with Him on the First Date: And Every Other Rule of Dating, Debunked. “A relationship that's fun, fulfilling and has mutual respect is never a waste of time, as far as I'm concerned. Even if you know for a fact you have no interest in something long-term, it's fun to have companionship and a partner to go through school with.”
This is exactly how Zoey*, a junior at Boston University, feels about her current relationship. “This guy and I have been together for pretty much all of my college career,” Zoey says. “Initially I thought it had long-term potential, but the more time went on, the more I realized it probably wouldn't work out. I don't see myself staying in one state and I don't see us being the type to have a long-distance relationship, so I know it's going to have to end eventually.”
Although Zoey sometimes questions the relationship, it just makes sense for her and her SO right now. “I do contemplate all the time, ‘What's the point in staying together if we don't have longevity?’” Zoey says. “But then I think, ‘Why do we have to break up?’ We don't have any major conflicts, we're happy with each other. So it's fun for now.”
You’re learning about yourself
To carry on with the clichés, college is not just about having fun; it’s also about understanding who you are. One of the best things about being in a fulfilling relationship that you don’t necessarily see having a future is that you get to learn things about yourself and about what you want in a significant other.
“Each relationship teaches us something not only about ourselves, but [also] about what we want in relationships ahead,” Syrtash says. “'College is an exciting time, sometimes full of more questions than answers - and I'm a fan of using the time to explore your wants and needs.”
Part of learning about yourself often involves sexual exploration, which is one of the biggest advantages of being in a short-term partnership. “A woman gets to explore sex and her sexuality within a fun, safe relationship,” says Neely Steinberg, a professional dating coach. Why would you want to miss out on that, if everything is running smoothly anyway?
You enjoy the independence
If you’re keeping your relationship light, it can allow you to do more of your own thing, and this is another great way to discover who you want to be. If you and your SO aren’t too committed to each other, you might gain “the ability to focus in on career or academics and figure out who you are on your own and what direction you want go in life without necessarily being tethered to someone else,” Steinberg says. This means your partner isn’t holding you back, and you’re not worrying about an uncertain relationship in your life; you’re just doing you.
You should break up if…
You feel ready to move on
It might seem obvious, but if the relationship doesn’t feel right anymore, it’s time to break things off. Trust your instincts! Only you can know if it’s working out or not. “Ultimately, the decision to end it should come from [your] feeling of wanting to end it - not because [you] ‘should,’” Syrtash says. “When it comes to love and relationships, these timelines are arbitrary and often based on other people's ideas of what is right or appropriate.”
Steinberg agrees that “there is no right time, per se.” Once again, you should simply be honest with yourself and break up “when [you’re] feeling ready to move on, or the ‘relationship’ stops [being] fun/healthy,” she says.
Although dating is always complicated, sometimes it’s just clearly not working. This is what Barbara*, a recent graduate from St. John’s University, eventually had to admit to herself about herself and her long-distance boyfriend. “The relationship was ultimately not making me happy,” Barbara says. “My ex-boyfriend was exactly like me, personality-wise: stressed, anxious, insecure, uptight, and I thought that it would help in the long run emotionally, but it ended up stressing me out even more, instead of bringing the kind of ease and peace that a healthy relationship is supposed to have.”
One of you wants more out of the relationship
Just like in friends with benefits situations, the concept of staying in a relationship with no foreseeable future can lead you down a slippery slope, where either you or your SO starts to want more commitment. This is why it’s so important to communicate with your partner! “My only caveat [to staying together] is if the woman involved secretly wants marriage soon after she graduates or if her partner is looking for something long-term and she really doesn't see it in her future,” Syrtash says. “In this case, it's worth having a conversation to ensure both people involved are on the same page.”
If your SO wants more than you’re willing to give, it’s definitely “best to not lead someone on for your own selfish purposes and to break it off.” Steinberg warns.
Barbara realized after a few months that she wasn’t as committed to her boyfriend as he wanted her to be. “One big sign was that if I went one day without talking to him via text or phone call, I wasn't distressed over it or had any kind of [desire] to get back to him right away,” Barbara says. “When he confronted me about the lack of communication and asked to talk about it, I wasn't interested in resolving it.” One condition of being in a light relationship is to make sure that neither person involved wants anything serious – keep checking that you’re both on the same page, and if not, cut your losses!
You feel like you’re missing out
As much as you can learn from a short-lived college relationship, you can gain a lot from more meaningful relationships, even if they eventually end. According to Steinberg, you could be “missing out on what true intimacy and partnership are all about. Experiencing a really loving, emotional commitment to someone else in college is a great training ground. It can help you grow and evolve as a whole human being, help develop other aspects of you that are necessary when you are in a committed partnership, and prepare you for what long-term commitment is all about.”
Of course, a lighter relationship can be wonderful if that’s really what you want, but if you feel like you could get more from being more emotionally involved with someone (whether it’s your current SO or someone else), you might want to explore that aspect as well.
College is a time for experimentation, especially when it comes to dating and sexuality. If you don’t want to be too committed to someone right now, being in a fun, light-hearted relationship could be exactly what you need. Whatever choice you make, just make sure you’re making it for the right reasons!