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Dating life in college is convoluted. While various studies and articles state that hook-up, Tinder and one-night stand culture reigns supreme amongst collegiates, there are those who start and maintain their first (and sometimes last) serious long-term relationship during their college years. In fact, 32.5% of college students maintain long-distance relationships while completing their studies and 28% of married college-graduates attended the same school.

As a non-traditional college student starting my college career at 25 as a married woman, I will fully admit I am completely detached from hook-up culture. However, I can relate to the underrepresented minority of college students in committed relationships. More so, I understand that commitment does not mean that navigating your relationships is any less complex. Relationships are work, with foundations to be built upon and nurtured; and, unfortunately, relationships are traditionally muddled with gendered expectations.

Ultimately a relationship is a belief, and, like all beliefs, there will come a time where your beliefs are challenged.

In a committed relationship, this could manifest in a multitude of different ways — having your peers not being able to comprehend sacrifice, that arguments happen even in strong relationships, and that long-lasting relationships are not always fun. But, one of the issues I’ve witnessed amongst committed college students that tends to be the most isolating is catching feelings for someone outside of your relationship that you do not want and possibly harbor guilt over forming. Crushes happen. Your relationship is rock solid, and then your professor — like some malevolent god — pairs you up with this one person whose smile completely destroys your concept of reality.

It can be extremely isolating for college-aged women to deal with this type of situation because relationship responsibility and guilt as a woman’s role in partnership is deeply entrenched in heteronormative expectations of monogamy and definitions of infidelity. And it should be noted that heteronormative is not synonymous with heterosexual. Infact, heteronormativty influences Queer relationships as well and identifying or dating beyond the binary gender spectrum does not protect an individual from falling prey to gendered expectations. 

In a 2011 study conducted to better define infidelity, Victoria Thorton and Alexander Nagurney of Texas State University found that while some may not define a crush as emotional infidelity, others might. Whether it is yourself or your social circle that harbors that belief, it can add additional stress to processing these feelings on your own.

“Ultimately,” Thorton and Nagurney state, “infidelity might be considered to be feelings or behaviors that go against a partner’s expectations for the exclusivity of the relationship.” 

This sentiment spans across all relationships, monogamous, polyamorous, long-term, short-term, hetero and Queer. And psychology experts agree, developing a crush in a committed relationship is normal, to be expected and no indicator of being a bad partner or being in a bad relationship. In fact, crushes usually signify a need for a boost in your own self-confidence because crushes make you feel good about yourself and all those little things you see in this new person. The issue is that this mindset is not the accepted societal norm, and it can be hard to find this type of positive reinforcement in your social circles that normalizes emotions that are to be expected with time. 

Amy C. Wilkins and Cristen Dalessandro from the University of Colorado-Boulder conducted a study to dissect college-aged women's definitions of cheating and monogamy. They found that many participants believed if their female-identifying friends were found to be unfaithful, either on an emotional or physical level, that it would be an indicator that they lacked the capability to engage in other social relationships as well, including friendships.

As Wilkins and Dalessandro found, a woman’s infidelity disrupts gendered expectation about sexual behavior; “men’s infidelity extends normative expectations about their relentless quest for sex, but women’s infidelity breaches gender beliefs that hold women morally responsible for maintaining ‘heterosexual monogamy and stability’”

The fear of losing friends and respect amongst your peers, as well as being perceived as unstable as it pertains to your character, or your relationship are a few of the many reasons individuals view these normal human conditions as a mark of misdoing in their ability to express and experience love. This not only weakens your friendships, but also your existing relationship you are trying to maintain, and more so your personal spirit. 

This is steeped in what Angie Burns has defined as “The Constructed Otherness of ‘Other Women.’” The guilt you may harbor due to a harmless crush, even if it comes and goes unacted upon, comes from the readiness in society to hold women as the responsible party in most cases of infidelity. With this responsibility, women have constructed the ‘other woman’ ideology. With the shared perception of the ‘other woman’ associated so closely with faltering emotions and destroyed relationships, those who identify as female will divide themselves either physically or mentally between ‘good women’ who don’t date or even think about another woman’s man and ‘other women’ who do.

“Because cultural ideas about women’s greater capacity for emotions and caretaking give women more responsibility for making relationships work,” Wilkin and Dalessandro state, describing the social divides women create within themselves and the female community, “as to not ‘hurt’ their boyfriends.”

Fear or guilt surrounding normal emotional processes is representative of a gendered fraction taught to females or about females long before their first relationship may even begin, and it is further expected once the role of partner, wife or girlfriend is taken on. It is a fraction, not only between men and women but amongst women themselves. While commonly in college exploring your sexuality, either by choosing to be non-monogamous or through relationships outside of heterosexuality, is seen as a sign of personal growth. It is appalling that monogamous partners still face the scrutiny of being expected to be emotionally dead as a sign of commitment to their significant other. As those who identify as college women, we must consider all emotions valid, and not as an invitation to attack one's character or their relationship.

Victoria currently serves as the News Editor for ODU's Mace and Crown student magazine, along with workings as a copywriter by day. When not writing, which takes up a considerable amount of her free time, she enjoys gaming on both console and TTRPGs.
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