I want to preface this by saying, no, I’m not anti-relationships-in-college.
But as an observer from the sidelines, watching as my friends go in and out of relationships (that have been tumultuous, to say the least), it’s hard not to develop a slight sense of caution.
I’m definitely not a skeptic when it comes to romance—in fact I’d consider myself a hopeless romantic who has too often been swayed by the impractical fairytales rom-coms feed me. And perhaps that’s where the problem lies. But this isn’t about me. It’s about why we all have such a dire need for companionship.
It’s getting colder. And all you can think about is the idea of being snuggled up in a blanket, sipping hot chocolate with a significant other, watching The Holiday or Love, Actually on repeat.
Something about winter creeping up is enough to make anyone want to trade the “Hot Girl Summer” mindset for a “Settle Down Winter” one. Or better yet, a “Time to Lower my Standards” mindset, as I like to call it. The need to be in a relationship can be so completely consuming that people will be quick to view themselves as the problem and lower their standards, when it’s more about luck and timing. Furthermore, this downgrade of standards may not be setting them up for a successful and healthy relationship.
College is a weird time. You move to an entirely new environment, away from your family and everything familiar to you, and are expected to forge a future for yourself within four years. Not only that, but as you try to make a new place like Georgetown a second home, you’re also attempting to learn more about yourself. What are you passionate about? Who do you like to surround yourself with? What makes you happy? On top of all this, given Georgetown’s highly competitive student body, you’re left constantly questioning whether or not you have enough on your plate to be “successful,” whatever that means.
With all these questions to answer, college serves as a perpetual state of experimentation where who you are and what you want to do with your life are bound to constantly shift based on your experiences.
Navigating through this trial-and-error process of self-discovery can be stressful. Sometimes relationships, good or toxic, are learning experiences, illuminating things about yourself you wouldn’t have known otherwise. For me, my first relationship showed me that I valued acts of service and quality time above anything else.
Other times, you can grow too reliant on your relationship, allowing it to interfere with your journey of self-discovery. And that’s dangerous.
This is the time you’re trying to figure out who you are as a person. In that process of experimentation, relationships can be confounding variables, tampering with the answer to your question.
Let’s say a friend of mine was struggling to find recreational activities that excite her outside of her current academic commitments. She starts dating someone and they’re really into gymming, so she tags along. Let’s say she doesn’t really enjoy gymming, but tries to embrace it for her partner, letting go of her search for her actual passions. Or, she loves gymming but is dependent on her partner for physically going there. Relationships can seamlessly complicate self-exploration. Everything about your lives become intertwined, especially in an enclosed space like a college campus.
Aside from the intoxicating effect of the cold, and how it seems to erode all logic, it’s easy to view a relationship as a one-stop-shop to fix all your current problems or alleviate all your anxieties. According to a study by the National College Health Assessment, over 85% of college students are reported to have felt overwhelmed by daily responsibilities. Fighting with friends? Let me vent to my partner. Grades taking a dip? I’ll study with my partner. Having a career crisis? Let my partner’s shoulder be the one to cry on. It’s hard to imagine how a relationship could contribute to college anxiety.
Another one of my observations (yes, I should find better ways to occupy my time) includes that, more often than not, relationships in college tend to move abnormally fast because of the environment they form in. Everyone’s in what seems like a permanent state of anxiety, which can manifest itself in several ways, from extreme vulnerability, to a desire to be cared for, to flat-out toxicity, to the very human fear of being alone.
Being away from family also means trying to create your own on campus through the people you surround yourself with. I loved seeing my family every day when I’d come home, so I’ve translated that to my friendships, and seeing them has become an important part of my daily routine. You might try to give a relationship that same sense of routine even though setting boundaries are important to prevent unhealthy attachment. A lack of boundaries may create a wildly codependent relationship and the illusion of “I can’t live without them,” even though you very well did a year ago.
Then again, time doesn’t function normally in college. A week can feel like a year and months flash by in seconds. Someone who’s so ingrained in your routine may feel like they’ve been in your life forever. Within this skewed timeline, you might have undergone a multitude of changes, causing your relationship wants and needs to adjust. Suddenly, you’ve outgrown the person (which is perfectly normal during such an exploratory period), but the stability of being with someone is too comforting to leave.
So, am I saying relationships in college are inherently prone to disaster, making them not worth pursuing at all?
No! They’re absolutely worth exploring, but similar to the experiment-esque method of finding yourself, relationships deserve the same due diligence. Consider your current capacity, your standards (that should not lower), and boundaries. Relationships don’t need to be viewed as high stakes from the get-go, and casual dating has become increasingly popular for its non-exclusive and minimal effort companionship. Casual dating can be used to better understand yourself, the type of partner you are, and the type of partner you seek.
And if casual dating doesn’t sound appealing to you, that’s okay too! You can very well learn about yourself outside of your relationships with others. Taking up a stress-free hobby, reading a new book, or journaling offer opportunities for identity introspection.
The chilly weather may be making you feel particularly single, maybe even a little pressured, but know that there are other paths to fulfillment that can be equally as exciting as a new relationship. Plus, you are much better off decorating gingerbread houses with your friends than you are stuck with someone you had to settle for the rest of the holiday season.