My dad and I were sitting at the edge of the ocean on Catalina Island sharing a pitcher of beer, which was very exciting for my then-18-year-old self and which I mention here because an alcohol reference increases my writer cred. It was a father-son weekend trip before I headed off to college, and I was ready for some mad coming-of-age knowledge to be dropped. Naturally, since I was, at the time, in a serious relationship and we are both more-or-less emotional mushballs, the conversation turned to the topic of relationships in college.
“I met mom when I was 18, and, you know, we did long distance between Denver and New York and then got married at 22 and had kids soon after,” he said. “And I wouldn’t want any of my kids to go through that — I want you to be able to be free and easy while in college and not have to worry, but, to be honest, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
And thus, my dad expressed the dichotomy that surrounds relationships in college. Overall, college students seem to have conflicting ideas about the whole serious relationship thing.
There is a natural feeling of wanting to be free to individually grow and act however you wish during these years, while simultaneously wanting to experience that growth alongside someone who fulfills you far more than any reckless weekend night or pointless hook-up. You want to be able to do your thing and be open to new possibilities without any second-thoughts while in your youth. Yet, a solid relationship could teach you more than anything and could sincerely give a sense of purpose and beauty in your life that makes the selfish, free-spirit ideals falter in embarrassment.
So, what is the answer? What is the correct way to do it? Tell me, almighty Taran! Well, I have no idea. But I’d like to try to figure it out with you.
I have heard college student friends of mine who are in long-term relationships express the sometimes lingering wish that they met their significant other at a different time so that they would have been able to do whatever they wanted in college before engaging in a serious commitment. Without being accountable to anyone else but yourself, the romanticized college ideals of “finding yourself,” getting all the youthful recklessness out before settling down and exploring different people and interests all seemingly become more attainable. Being with someone could hinder this, whereas when you are alone, you don’t have to answer to anybody or justify any of your actions.
And, you are free to embark on any opportunity that you want, both during college and once graduation strikes. A summer internship across the country or a year studying abroad becomes an easy decision, rather than feeling the need to inhibit yourself because you want to be near your significant other. Or, once you hit graduation, you are free to explore anything that is anywhere and not have to feel the stress of “making things work.”
Yet, on the other hand, while in a relationship, the people around you who are partaking in the glorious single life sometimes seem to be indescribably missing the point. Seeing sweaty make-out seshes on the dance floor at a party or hearing people declare themselves to be anti-relationship while in college suddenly become signifiers of immaturity or superficiality to you. While in a relationship, at the end of the night, you go home arm-in-arm with someone you actually care about and someone who you share a connection with that far surpasses any of the emptiness felt after a night of the single life. You look at those single people and become curious but ultimately feel superior, knowing everyone essentially wants what you have.
And, while in a relationship, you are able to see each other grow during these formative years through the failures and the successes in a camaraderie of support. You can work together to both create deep college memories that will always be treasured and to encourage each other in the pursuit of individual goals. Exploring San Francisco together or simply studying across from each other at a cafe could be some of the most sincere college experiences that you have that transcend individual undertakings.
So, which one do you want? After thinking about both sides, I think I have figured it out — as much as it can be figured out.
Sure, my dad being able to kiss that cute girl at a party or being able to go and do whatever he wanted during college would have been cool at the time, but those moments of freedom are fleeting and dissipate into the past in irrelevance, whereas his college relationship has led to a lifetime of happiness and five amazing kids. Of course he wouldn’t change it for anything, because he was looking into the eyes of his 18-year-old son, the last in the family to leave the nest, and knew that this moment on Catalina Island far surpassed any free-spirit escapade decades ago. I’m not saying to go out right now and find your future spouse, and there is no problem whatsoever with being single throughout college, but if you are lucky enough to be given the choice during these four years, I would say this: Always choose love.
Taran Moriates writes the Monday column on the dos and don’ts of college. Contact him at [email protected].