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High School Relationships in College

Marlene Kern Fischer

When your new first-year student leaves for college, they will bring along many things from home — including, possibly, a relationship with a girlfriend or boyfriend from high school.

This can be a complicated and tricky subject to deal with and one which is sure to create angst and issues at some point along the way. For anyone who has a child in this situation, even under the best of circumstances, there will be some rough times ahead.

My middle son starting dating his high school girlfriend when they were seniors and I watched their relationship blossom over the course of the year. Before he left for college, I cautiously brought up the subject of whether they would continue to date, knowing well that I was about to enter shark-infested waters.

Sure enough, my son reacted defensively and said that I wanted them to break up because I didn’t like his girlfriend. On the contrary, his girlfriend was one of the nicest people I had ever met and I was proud that my son had chosen someone so wonderful. I just knew that, with him going to school in Boston and her in North Carolina, what lay ahead would not be easy and, as a mom, I wanted to spare him some of the inevitable hurt.

But I also discovered that some lessons just need to be learned on their own and no amount of discussion or warning can forestall that. I suggested that, instead of breaking up, perhaps my son and his girlfriend could date other people, and was told in no uncertain terms that just wasn’t done. I realized the best (and really only) choice I had was to back off.

There are some advantages to starting college with an established relationship. With everything new and uncertain, there is comfort in maintaining a connection to the familiar. Additionally, without the pressure to date, there is more time to concentrate on studies and school activities. A friend’s daughter said that, because she had a boyfriend at another school, she “focused on homework and was able to set my own schedule with a lot of freedom because I didn’t have to be home from the library at a certain time to see him and spend time with him after.”

On the flip side, she said having a long-distance relationship was tough because, “socially, when I was out sometimes I was intimidated to talk to people because once they found out I had a boyfriend, girls didn’t think I was fun to hang out with and guys no longer had an interest in talking to me.” I've heard from several college students that it’s (understandably) difficult to be surrounded by people at parties and other social functions and be unable to date.

Freshman year, my son and his girlfriend did their best to make things work, despite the distance and different school vacations. They made the most of winter break and the summer and saw each other as much as possible. However, once back on campus, with busy schedules which included Greek life for both of them as well as many other activities, it became harder to sustain their bond. They broke up Thanksgiving of sophomore year, which was emotionally tough for both of them.

Another friend, whose son also had a high school girlfriend when he went to college and experienced a heart-breaking split at the end of his junior year, made the excellent point that smart phones and technology do not necessarily make long-distance relationships easier or better. Being able to text, FaceTime, and Snapchat create an illusion of being close, yet the intimacy required to stay together may still be elusive. And seeing a significant other having fun on social media can lead to misunderstandings as well of feelings of jealousy.

As time goes on, and students become more enmeshed in their new lives, maintaining former relationships can become increasingly challenging. My friend’s daughter, who also recently split from her high school boyfriend of three years, cited distance as the main cause of their break up. She explained that “texting constantly was becoming a bit of a hassle and we found that checking our phones became less of a priority as we became more caught up in our lives at school.”

Another reason that high school relationships often fail is that college is a period of tremendous growth, perhaps more so than any time in a person’s life.

My oldest son matured in so many ways during his undergraduate years that I barely recognized the version of the young man who accepted his diploma as the same person who started college and I saw significant changes in my middle son as well. As people grow, their transformations can divide as much as physical distance. Even platonic friendships from the past can become difficult to sustain as new interests and friendships develop.

The reality is the majority of high school relationships do not last. And for those that don’t, it’s important to note it does not mean they were a failure.

Those first loves remain significant, a cherished part of the past and stepping stones to future relationships. And until the next serious relationship appears on the horizon, college is the perfect time to get to know many new people and experience all it has to offer.

Marlene Kern Fischer is a wife, mother, food shopper extraordinaire, author and college essay editor. She has published two books: Trapped in My Sports Bra and Other Harrowing Tales and Gained a Daughter but Nearly Lost My Mind: How I Planned a Backyard Wedding During a Pandemic. Find her on Facebook at Thoughts From Aisle 4.
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