How College Is Different When You’re In a Serious Relationship

My boyfriend and I have been dating since we were fifteen. Yep, fifteen. We met on the first day of middle school. Our relationship has changed a lot in the two years since our high school graduation, but in many ways it’s been one of the most consistent things in my life over the past five years. As someone who’s been in a serious relationship since the start of college, I’ve seen the ways in which my college experience has differed from that of my friends and peers. So, if you’re taking your high school relationship to college with you or thinking of taking a step toward commitment in a relationship that started in college, there are a few things you need to know.

You have to figure things out earlier. So many college students have no idea where they want their lives to go, and that’s absolutely fine. But in my experience, if you’re in a relationship that you want to last after graduation, you have to spend serious time thinking about where you’re headed - and then communicate that clearly, so that the two of you can consider the extent to which your future plans line up and potentially try to accommodate one another’s priorities. This often means a lot of long and honest conversations, and a lot of introspection too - basically, emotional maturity is incredibly important when you’re balancing growing up with growing toward someone.

Also, you’ll have a really great, comfortable home base and support system. You can trust that there’s always someone there to hold you up when you need it. Whether that means helping you study, supporting you emotionally, taking things off your plate when you feel overwhelmed or just hanging out on the couch when you don’t feel like going out, the little acts of love are so important when things get rough.

On the flip side, you absolutely have to make an effort to spend time apart. Being with yoursignificant other is great - but one person can’t meet all of your emotional needs. Making time for friends, and being present during that time, is crucial.

You have to make an effort to spend intentional time together - more than you might think. Just hanging out and watching TV or doing homework is great, and in my relationship it makes up a significant portion of the time we spend together - but when that’s the only time you spend together, one or both of you can start feeling taken for granted.

You’re less “wild” - generally. I absolutely have single friends who are super chill, and I also have friends in relationships who party a ton. As a rule, though, I think that being in a relationship tends to make people settle down a bit in terms of behavior. You don’t have anyone to impress and you generally know how your night will end, so partying really hard is just less appealing.

Your friend groups may merge, overlap or change in interesting ways. You can’t force people to get along - but there are certain individuals that might get along in ways you don’t expect. For us this really came out over spring break, when we went to the beach with a small group that was made up of each of our friends - it was great to see how everyone got along so well while being so different! At the very least, you’ll make friends you never would have if you were single. Making “couple friends” is so fun, and so is getting to know your significant other’s friends.

Making individualistic decisions is harder - but more important than ever. When I chose to study abroad last summer, it was a hard decision to make! I was worried about missing my boyfriend, but I knew that if I didn’t go because of that, I would never forgive myself. We also ended up going to different colleges for our first year, and that ended up being a really good choice because we got to establish ourselves independently before my boyfriend transferred to be in a stronger program for his major. If I had chosen to go to a certain school to be with him, I probably would have ended up unhappy and resentful. In both scenarios, I had to trust that despite the difficulty of being apart, it would work out for the best for both of us.

Being in a relationship in college is complicated - and sometimes, you might feel like the odd one out. But for me, the rewards have far outweighed the challenges, and I trust in the strength of my relationship in a way I never could have imagined before college.