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Whether you’ve spent the past four years at the college campus of your dreams or have commuted back-and-forth to a nearby school, graduation marks an important life milestone. The time has finally come to celebrate all of the late-night study sessions, tedious group projects, and friendship drama you’ve endured along the way. But for some, perhaps the drama isn’t quite over. 

As one chapter comes to a close, it can be difficult to begin another — especially if you need to decide who will remain in the picture beside you. For those who’ve spent these past few years in a relationship, graduating brings up another conversation for couples: what happens afterwards? Should you break up after your college graduation?

If making plans for your future feels overwhelming and complicated, I’ve got you covered. Here are seven questions to ask yourself while weighing the pros and cons of going separate ways with your significant other post-grad.

What’s my immediate plan?

It’s time to answer that dreaded question: what’s your plan after graduation? I’ve heard it countless times before, and I’m sure that you have, too, by now. When coming from others, this question feels like nothing more than an obligatory conversation starter and an annoying chore to respond to. However, fitting your SO into your life (or choosing not to) will be much easier once you know what your immediate circumstances will be following graduation.

Will you be moving to NYC mid-summer for a big office job? Are you leaving behind one campus in exchange for another in grad school? Maybe you don’t have a plan yet, and are going back home in the meantime to figure it out. Regardless of what your short-term goals are in the upcoming months, it’s crucial to be honest with yourself and the person you’re in a relationship with. From there, you can assess how your situation compares to that of your partner’s.

What are my long-term goals?

How compatible are you and your SO, really? Once the frequent sleepovers and parties end, how well do you expect to operate as a serious couple? Before you can answer this question, try thinking about how you function on your own first. What are your habits, rituals, long-term goals, and career aspirations?

In doing so, you may find that some of the nuances of your relationship — even if they didn’t seem like a big deal in the past — will turn into deal-breakers moving forward. If establishing a morning routine is important to you, and your partner can’t wake up before noon, will that be a problem? If a profession in your line of work requires long days and weekend hours, how might that affect your relationship? You’re the only person who can decide if you’re willing to work through the differences and settle on compromises.

Where do I see myself living?

One of the greatest parts about college is that the experience broadens your horizons. Believe me — people aren’t kidding when they say these four years are some of the most formative of your life. In this time, you’ve likely traveled to unfamiliar places, interacted with diverse cultures, and met all kinds of new people.

With that being said, this very aspect of the college experience is part of what makes saying goodbye to it so difficult. Maybe your alma mater is one of the only things you have in common with your partner, and the reality is that your hometowns are across the country from each other. Even if this isn’t the case, location is still a factor in applying to and/or accepting a job, grad school program, etc.

Are you a city person? Have you always dreamed of inheriting your grandparents’ farm one day? Where in the world can you go to put that new degree to good use? The way that you and your SO answer and discuss these questions can be indicative of whether or not the relationship will survive moving forward.

If necessary, am I willing to do long distance?

Maybe you’re one step ahead and have already done all the soul-searching and arguing about where you and your partner will be living post grad. Maybe your reality is that you weren’t able to secure job offers in the same city, or that one of you has decided to pursue a master’s degree at a university on the opposite coast. Of course you don’t want to hold the other person back, but now what? Is the relationship automatically doomed?

Just when you thought you were done soul searching, think again. 

Some couples might determine that a long distance relationship is out of the question. But for others that value independence, maybe the relationship will be able to endure separation. Other factors such as the level of trust established between you and your SO, how far your commute is to see each other, and whether or not your work schedule will allow you to travel often influences this decision, too.

If you’re worried that long distance relationships are doomed to fail, don’t let fear make the decision for you — a 2018 study of 1,000 conducted by KIIROO found that 60% of long distance relationships survive. And sure, maybe those aren’t the best odds, but it can give you some peace of mind as you think over your options.

Can I commit to a serious relationship?

Disclaimer: you should never feel pressured to do anything you’re not ready for when in a relationship. So, it’s important to know that you’re not obligated to immediately get engaged or even move in with your partner if you choose to stay together after graduation. However, this decision does convey a degree of seriousness and requires commitment on both sides. 

Depending on how long the relationship has already lasted, this question may be relatively easy to answer. Either way, start by asking yourself: is this person someone you can see beside you for years to come? If not, there might be a need to experience certain life events on your own, or perhaps with a better-suited partner by your side.

Do I just fear being alone?

Initiating a break-up is almost never easy. When this person is someone you’ve spent four of some of the craziest, most fun years of your life with, deciding whether or not to split up may feel especially difficult. After all, you’ve probably counted on your SO to serve as your date to fraternity parties, a study buddy during finals season, and loyal confidant through all the other stressors of college. If this sounds like your relationship, it’s likely that you’ve grown used to the comfort that having a partner often provides.

A 2021 study found that younger people reported more loneliness than people in middle age, especially those in individualistic cultures like the United States. Recent grads are vulnerable to loneliness in ways that might make us want to hold on to the relationships we formed in college.

Needless to say, a break-up changes everything. Going from a committed relationship to being single is an adjustment in itself, let alone the added pressure of being a recent college grad. If the only way you can justify remaining in your college relationship is that you don’t want to be alone, it might be a red flag. Your life circumstances are bound to change after graduation, and though it’s easy to retreat back to the same partner out of comfort, try not to lose sight of your goals. Be honest with yourself: will being in a relationship hold you back?

Am I proud of this relationship?

Most importantly, how healthy is your relationship? The U.S. Department of Justice reported in 2014 that people in the 18-24 age range had the highest rates of partner violence of any age group, and women have higher rates of partner violence than men. One main thing to recognize is that dating violence encompasses more than just physical abuse. Any behavior that one partner uses to obtain power and exert control over another is indicative of an abusive relationship, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

If your relationship makes you feel unsafe and unsupported in any way, it’s time to get out. Even if you haven’t experienced this — and I’m certainly hoping you haven’t — you’ll want to consider how happy and comfortable you are with the relationship. Can you talk openly about things that bother you? Are you willing to hear your partner out, too? Is this someone that you’re proud to introduce to your family and friends?

For as big of an accomplishment that graduating college is, it can often be an equally uncertain time. Knowing what you want for yourself or for your future may not happen overnight, but hopefully working through these questions will help to start the conversation between you and your SO.

Sources:

KIIROO. (2018). Long Distance Relationship Troubles. KIIROO.

Barreto, M., et. al. (2021). Loneliness around the world: Age, gender, and cultural differences in loneliness. Personality and Individual Differences.

Truman, J.L. and Morgan, R.E. (2014). Nonfatal Domestic Violence 2003-2012. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Payton Breidinger is a recent Penn State grad (class of '21!) who majored in Public Relations and minored in Communication Arts & Sciences. On campus, she was a member of the student-run advertising and PR agency, Happy Valley Communications, and volunteered with the university's year-long fundraising efforts benefitting THON: Penn State's annual dance marathon for childhood cancer. When not writing for Her Campus, she enjoys updating and creating content for her personal blog, The P Word. Some of her other passions include all things food, music, and fitness!
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