Relationship (and Breakup) Survival 101: Put Yourself First

The other morning I was sitting next to a couple in the Coffee House on campus, and all I could think about was how overly involved and infatuated they were with each other. Perhaps there wasn’t anything unusual or unhealthy about their relationship, but to an outsider it looked strange. They were sitting at a smaller table, both on the same side, and she just watched him annotate his biology textbook.

Maybe she didn’t have any homework of her own (which is doubtful, even in week two) and that was why she simply sat there observing him as he did his own. He often took breaks every page or so to hold her hand or brush noses with her. While I know nothing about either of them or their relationship, I got the impression that they were freshmen who were frighteningly invested in each other. And though their acts of PDA were a bit weird for 9 am in the CoHo, they didn’t particularly bother me. What did was thinking about what they might be feeling if they were to break up a few months down the line.

Towards the middle of my freshman year, I went through a messy and rather unpleasant break-up that left me feeling generally regretful and pretty damn miserable for a couple months. That said, if there’s anything that you should take away from this, whether you already know it or think that you do (I know I did), be wary when it comes to dating in college, especially in your freshman year, but no matter what, who, when, or where, always put yourself first. Always.

That might sound a bit selfish but it’s worth noting that I’m not trying to say that you shouldn’t make sacrifices or compromises in a relationship, I’m saying that you shouldn’t be making them all the time. When it comes down to it, the only person that has to live with you and the decisions you make is yourself, so don’t put all your eggs in one basket because if they all break you will have no eggs at all, and that’s going to make shit like baking and life much harder. 

Realistically, all relationships end one of two ways: 1) you break up or 2) you date forever and ever and maybe get married, if marriage is your thing. More likely than not  — unless you’re extremely lucky and meet the perfect person right off the bat, or even in college in general, your first relationship in college is going to be one of many, making you the winner of outcome #1 — which usually feels nothing like winning at all, unless we’re talking a lottery where the grand prize is pain and heartbreak. 

The goal, if you’re into playing life smart and somewhat safe, is to figure out how to make it so outcome #1 doesn’t involve your life burning down in flames, e.g. losing your friends, crying on the floor of your dorm room, and the list goes on. While part of being in a relationship is making the decision to open yourself up to vulnerability, which could backfire as with any act of being vulnerable, the hope is that you can do so in a way that guarantees you have a normal and happy life in the event that the relationship ends.

At the end of the day, a boy is not a god, he is not the end-all-be-all, he is not to be worshipped, and he and his interests, goals, and passions are not to be put before yours. You and your needs come first; that’s just how surviving works. Prioritize a life outside of your relationship: make other friends or keep your friend groups separate so you both have safe spaces to vent in or retreat to, join lots of clubs, focus on and develop your interests and passions, and spend time apart. Develop your own lives as college students outside of each other, don’t become immersed and lose yourselves in one another — you will regret it.

You might be thinking, well duh, of course, how stupid is this girl? Trust me, I think the same thing all the time. For someone who considers herself reasonably intelligent and secure, I spent a good deal of my freshman year falling into a rabbit hole that left me generally miserable, often to the point where I no longer recognized myself. That’s the hazard of relationships in general, friendships included. 

It’s really easy to attach yourself to another person and lose yourself in the process, especially when starting college where you’re away from home and your old life. The whole point of college in the first place is to find yourself and to become a better, more intelligent, and stronger version of yourself. For some people that learning process might be on the unpleasant side, but the hope is that by consciously putting yourself first, you can avoid some of that ugliness.

At the end of the day, it’s also important to remember that every single person has baggage and every single person is a little bit emotionally screwed up; everyone’s got worst days and if college is good at anything, it’s bringing those out. Accordingly, every single relationship is going to have problems along the way, that’s just part of doing the thing in the first place. The plan is that if the problems prove to be too big to deal with or you can’t work through them effectively together, you can come out the other side intact and keep on chugging.

Sometimes plans go awry though; that’s just part of life. The important thing to know is that even if things don’t work out, even if you lose sight of yourself and you get your heart ripped out and stepped on, everything’s gonna be fine. After all, it’s usually the most painful or cringe-worthy lessons that are the most valuable ones.