January 20, 2012

College Growing Pains: Ending High School Relationships

For better or worse, if you tried to keep a relationship going after high school, college often means the end of that romantic relationship.

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In the world of university faculty we sometimes refer to first semester freshman as 9th semester high school students (the other 8 semesters come from 2 semesters in 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grade).  Learning to think and act like a college student takes time. You need that first semester to learn how to take notes in lecture, how to juggle your classes, and how to manage your interpersonal relationships. With the awkward first semester out of the way and second semester beginning, you now officially leave the world of high school behind and truly become college students.

For better or worse, if you tried to keep a relationship going after high school, this transformation often means the end of that romantic relationship. Of course there are exceptions to everything but don’t be surprised, providing it hasn’t already happened, if you, and or your partner, suddenly realize things simply aren’t working out. If this is the case and the world feels like it is falling apart around you, let me be the first to say: It’s okay.

If your relationship recently ended or currently feels like it’s falling apart, that’s okay. It’s actually pretty normal, particularly right after winter break. The reality is that you are both growing, you are just growing separately. Let me try to explain…

What’s Going On?

Sure, many relationships can and do work out, but college isn’t high school. College is a time of exploring. For many, this is the first time in your life that you are figuring out who you want to be. Your friends and values aren’t dictated by the high school you went to or the church you attended. You have options in just about everything you do. With every new reading and class you take, you are learning to think critically. You are, hopefully, beginning to question everything around you and asking philosophical questions like “what really is the difference between gender and sex?” and “why does someone pull the fire-alarm in our dorm every night at 3 am?”  To put it simply: You are growing.  You are maturing and moving through developmental stages of life. The funny thing is that you don’t even realize that you are doing it.  That is until Thanksgiving/Fall Break…

Thanksgiving: The Beginning Of The End

For most students, Thanksgiving break is the first time that students leave the “what-has-become-normal” college culture for the “what-was-once-normal” culture of home. Thanksgiving break is one of the first times that you get to compare your experience with friends at other universities and reflect on how much older, wiser, and experienced you are then everyone back in your high school. It’s also when the first wave of high school relationships end.

Simply put, you realize that what you had in high school was nice but college is turning you both into different people.  As fall break ends, some of you may have come back a little broken hearted but you were now free to jump into college culture. You no longer felt that you had to stay home from the Friday night party or not join (insert your favorite student group) because you didn’t want to miss a skype call from your lover.  Suddenly, you could make your own choices without having to consider what your high school significant other thought about those choices.

Having said all of that, sure many relationships may have ended but many relationships were also still going strong and continued to chug through the second half of first semester.

Winter Break: The End Is Definitely Near

By the time winter break rolls around, everyone is exhausted. You are sick of studying, final exams have worn you down, and the 3 am fire alarms have you vowing to seek vicious revenge on whomever keeps pulling them.  The idea of “what-was-once-normal” home culture calls to you like hot soup on a cold winter day. If you are not looking forward to seeing your lover and spending more than a long weekend with him or her, then you probably have that pit in your stomach that tells you the relationship is ending. The last thing you want to do is walk into the awkward conversation of breaking up. For better or worse, winter break means forgoing “college reality” and facing “home reality”.

So you go home and for the most part it’s pretty awesome. You’re hanging out with your old friends while delivering wise advice to the high school seniors currently applying to college. For a week or so it’s freaky how quickly you adjusted back to “what-was-once-normal” home culture. You begin to question your first semester of college: Did that really happen? How can it feel so close yet so far away?  You and your high school lover spend time together.  After two weeks at home you begin to miss the freedom you had at college. You love your high school friends but you miss your college friends. Before you know it, it’s time to go back to college and just like Thanksgiving, many relationships ended and many relationships vowed to stick it out second semester.

The Only Thing Constant Is Change

So here we are: second semester freshman year. You are no longer the new kid on campus. You know what to expect. You know everyone on your hall and you have shed your high school self and embraced your college self.

All of this ‘stuff’ I just described is simply part of the process. Sure we all take different roads to get there, and some of us take some detours along the way, but, for the most part, there is some commonality in our experiences. I do know couples that met in high school, went to college, and 20 years later are still together and doing fine. I also know that the odds of a high school relationship succeeding through college are pretty slim. College is about academics but it is also about figuring out who you are and who you want to be. Part of that is having romantic relationships with people. With every class or late night philosophical discussion you have with your peers you are reevaluating who you are in the world. If you are constantly changing, it only makes sense that your romantic partner is too. Obviously, this is going to impact your relationship.

Sure change can be scary, but the only thing constant is change. If your high school relationship ended or is ending, it’s going to be okay. You are just in the middle of a freshman year growing pain.

DISCLAIMER [growing pains may also be experienced sophomore, junior, and senior years]