In Praise of an Extra SemesterConnie Lissner
If you want to get a lot of knowing glances, just tell people that you and your high school boyfriend, who'll be attending universities nine time zones away from each other, plan to continue dating.
You are sure to hear about the “turkey drop” (Thanksgiving Break break-up), or get a lecture on much you’ll miss out on spending all your time mooning over a boy who’s not there.
At the time, I mostly smiled and nodded. I knew I wasn’t going to convince anyone that this 18-year-old knew better. But I think now it’s fair to allow myself an I-told-you-so moment.
Jakob and I got married the summer after college graduation and today is our fourth wedding anniversary. I know, I know, we’re still babies in many people’s eyes. But our relationship survived and thrived during our college years and beyond, and I’m happy to share what I learned from the experience to help you talk to and support a son or daughter who might be in the same boat.
Failing to put down roots is not unique to people starting college in relationships. Here are a few other things people get wrapped up in to the exclusion of making friends:
Building a new community always takes work, especially if, like me, you’re a little shy. Jakob encouraged me to get out there and meet people, and his support helped me have the courage to do so.
If they recognize that they’re both going to change, change won’t seem as scary. In fact, if they do stay together, they’ll be all the better prepared to love and support each other through other life stages and changes.
I’d recommend that your student set some expectations regarding any activity or concern that may take up a lot of their time. If that happens to be their high school sweetheart, perhaps they could schedule one or two longer weekly calls, and pledge not to check texts when they’re hanging out with people. If they’re close enough to visit, it is also a good idea to plan the first visit for a little later in the semester. They’ll have more to talk about when they do check in, and setting these goals ahead of time will help them feel more comfortable about not being in constant contact.
College is a time of intense growth and change. However, you don’t just magically stabilize at 22. In fact, the transition out of college can be just as tumultuous or even more so. If you’re in a long-term relationship, you know firsthand that people change throughout life, and at any time. So yes, if your student goes off to college and expects their relationship and significant other to stay exactly as they were in high school, they are in for a real shock. But if they recognize that they’re both going to change, change won’t seem as scary. In fact, if they do stay together, they’ll be all the better prepared to love and support each other through other life stages and changes.
Honestly, they might break up at Thanksgiving. Not every relationship lasts, and long distance/life changes add extra strain. Students will have to decide for themselves if it is worth the effort and possibility of heartache later to try and see if their relationship has staying power. And yes, they may make a different decision than you would.
Still, even if they do decide to try, and even if they do end up splitting, it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. They will learn from the experience. If they’ve taken your advice, they’ll have new friends to lean on. They will know more about themselves and what they are looking for in a relationship. And, what I think is best of all, they won’t have given up on something they believed in just because someone else said it would be hard.
And what if they don’t break up? What if this person is going to stick with your student through college, and for the rest of their lives? This could mean that your student gets to spend four extra years in a relationship with someone they love. When Jakob and I tell our story, we get a lot of “awww”s, which is great. But what’s even better is that we got to support one another all through college. We got to grow and change together and apart, and found that our relationship could be strong without being brittle. We learned to include one another in our lives without needing to share every single experience. We honed our communication skills and built an appreciation for the simple joy of being in one place.
I remember my mom telling me that it might be tough, and I could see that she was concerned. But more than that I remember that she and my dad respected my decision, and once it was made they both supported me in ways small and large. They gave me airline gift cards for Christmas and my birthday. They made Jakob feel welcome when he visited and included him in family celebrations. They supported my choice and that meant the world to me, and made them important co-conspirators in what turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made.