We all know those couples who have been together forever and are already planning their wedding. Hey, maybe you’re even a part of one! And while it’s great to be in love, is this level of commitment healthy at the college level? Are these couples built to last? Relationships aren’t cut and dry – there is no right or wrong answer when emotions are involved – so Her Campus has enlisted the help of relationship experts and authors J.M. Kearns and Sylvia Shipp to help us understand serious relationships in college. Read on, collegiettes™!
Being in love has been proven time and time again by thousands of relationship experts to be beneficial to one’s well being. No matter how old you are, solid relationships make you happy! Duh, right? In college, you’re surrounded by hundreds, sometimes thousands, of guys who are similar to you. Not only is it easier to find a boyfriend, but it’s also easier to find someone with whom you’re compatible in the long run.
“It’s notoriously hard to find a truly compatible partner in life, but an upside of the college environment is that it actually affords many opportunities, if you are looking for the right thing,” says Kearns. “In college, you tend to meet people who have similar interests, intelligence, values and background, are in the right age group and are even often from the same area you’re from. So the chances are favorable of finding someone with whom you have the potential for real friendship as well as sexual chemistry.”
College relationships often start with a solid foundation of similar backgrounds and then grow into something much deeper. “My boyfriend and I started off as friends during our freshman year,” says Katie, a student at Georgetown University. “Once we realized how much we had in common, we decided to pursue a relationship, and we have been together for the past four years.”
Katie says that her relationship requires hard work, but it gives back just as much, if not more, as she puts into it. Her relationship, she explains, has been a growing experience and has given her love, comfort, acceptance, stability and fun.
“Humans are emotional creatures,” says Shipp. “We thrive on deep, loving relationships in that it makes life events and precious moments more meaningful when we have someone intimate to share things with. Assuming the relationship is a good one, it’s a safe place to grow, love and be loved.”
Having someone to share life’s ups and downs with is a powerful motivator for long-term couples. “My boyfriend and I do almost everything together,” says Hannah, a student at the University of San Diego. “If we do something separately, he is the first person I want to tell about it. I love having someone to share my life with.”
As Katie says, long-term relationships provide many benefits. “If you feel you are bringing out the best in each other, then you can bet that you’re in a healthy, potentially long-lasting relationship,” Shipp says.
Every relationship has its fair share of ups and downs – it’s only natural. College relationships, however, have a reputation for being especially volatile because of the typical maturity level of the average student.
“A lot of people in college are not mature enough, and lack the self-knowledge, to know the difference between thrills and a good match,” Kearns says. “And there are so many opportunities to hook up that it may be hard to commit to one person long enough to find out if they are the one. The other problem is that a couple may seem well matched, but some people still have a lot of growing to do, and they may grow into two very different types of people.”
For many people, college is a time to discover who they are, what they want and where they are headed in life. While it’s nice to bring someone along on that journey, there is no guarantee that you will still want him there once you reach your destination. People change, and, sometimes, this results in growing apart.
“I have been dating my boyfriend since I was 15 (we are rising juniors now), and he studied abroad this summer,” says Katrina, a student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. “I think the time apart changed him, and he realized he didn’t want to be with me anymore. It’s been hard, but it’s probably for the best. We are two very different people than we were in high school.”
Although the breakup has been hard, Katrina says that she has actually benefitted from being single. She says she spent so much time worrying about their relationship that she didn’t have time for herself.
“If a young woman is a people pleaser and still developing her identity, then there is a greater possibility of her getting lost in her partner’s shadow at the expense of her own needs and goals,” says Shipp. “You will limit yourself if you are mainly hanging out with your partner.”
Many couples, regardless of the depth of their actual feelings, operate in a state of ‘puppy love,’ during which they want to spend every second together – disregarding their friends, family and responsibilities. While this is fine for the short-term, it eventually leads to other issues.
“Based on my experience and on that of my friends and family members, compared to relationships maintained by older people, many college relationships are high-maintenance,” says Shipp. “Unfortunately, many college-age relationships still involve histrionics, jealousy, possessiveness and insecurity.”
While it’s possible to grow out of the ‘high-maintenance phase,’ many couples continue to engage in these behaviors until their relationship is either destroyed or until it becomes the norm, setting a future standard for unhealthy practices.
Not only do college couples have to deal with drama while they’re in college, but they may also have to deal with it once they graduate. “One of the challenges of college relationships is that after graduation, jobs and other factors often pull people apart, putting them in locations far from each other,” says Kearns. “So you get a long-distance relationship as phase two of what used to be close and convenient. Finding a way to survive that may not be easy; it’s a test of the couple.”
Serious relationships in college are tough, and there are many challenges associated with long-term commitments. Although not every couple will have the same journey, it can be a long road to marriage for some serious couples in college.
So What About Marriage?
The general consensus is that if you are in a serious relationship, you’re at least thinking about marriage. If you aren’t even open to the idea, what’s the point of being together, right?
“Many college sweethearts get married, and often, the marriages do well,” says Kearns. “Again, it’s all about the many facets of compatibility, like life skills, values, desire for children, intellect, energy, sexual agenda, humor (not whether you ‘love to laugh,’ but what you laugh at). The trick is to find grounded love – love that is based on a deep, real knowing of the other person.”
The ‘long-term’ part of a relationship is what generally helps you to find grounded love. After all, you usually only truly know someone once you’ve spent a significant amount of time with them.
“My boyfriend and I were together throughout college, and we graduated in May,” says Ali, a recent graduate of the University of Michigan. “He proposed about two weeks ago, and I couldn’t be more excited to marry him. I think the trial and error of college helped us figure out how we operate as a couple and what works for us. It was hard, but it made us a stronger couple.”
College is almost like an ultimate test for couples. With added stressors such as school, work, activities, internships and a busy social life, it’s tough to manage a relationship, too – it’s definitely a make-or-break time for serious relationships.
“I assume those who marry are compatible in terms of their values, interests and habits, as well as the short- and long-term goals they are pursuing,” Shipp says.
One of the best (and sometimes scariest) parts of any relationship is the element of not knowing what the future will bring. If you knew you would be together forever no matter what, would you still work as hard to make it last? Probably not.
“Encourage each other to explore all your dimensions, whether intellectual, spiritual, creative or social,” Shipp says.
“Many people have a great partner in college but take them for granted because they were so easy to find,” Kearns says. “So they move on and let that person slip out of their life. Then they discover to their chagrin, years later, that ‘the one that got away’ was really the one. Don’t let this happen to you.”
So are serious relationships in college worth it? You be the judge.
Collegiettes™ from across the country
J.M. Kearns, relationship expert and bestselling author of Shopping for Mr. Right,Why Mr. Right Can’t Find You andBetter Love Next Time
Sylvia Shipp, relationship expert and author of The Long Distance Relationship Guidebook