The Dos and Don'ts of Being in a Relationship in College
A handy guide for coupled-up freshmen.
Photos: Jamie Clifton
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
The best piece of advice I can offer in regards to being in a relationship in college is to not be. I know that sounds cynical—who among us has not said "I love you" to their high school boyfriend from the passenger seat of his car and meant it with the full force of all of their being—but I promise you it's a terrible idea because one of the following things will definitely happen.
– You will be cheated on.
– You will cheat on someone.
– You will admirably struggle to make it work over the course of three to four years, and then break up immediately after graduation.
– You will maintain an effortless balance between your relationship, friendships, and personal space in a way that makes everyone around you feel jealous and incapable. You'll move in together after school, get engaged in your late-20s, and only post on Instagram when you're on combined family vacations in the south of France. Two weeks before the wedding, each of you will panic whisper something to a friend about "doubts" and "problems in the bedroom" but go through with it anyway. You will stay together forever and spend every unoccupied minute fantasizing about running off with the barista who works at the cafe by your office.
As someone whose undergraduate experience saw the end of one long-term relationship, the beginning of another, and a six-month period between the two, during which I had tons of fun, I would say: leave it. Enjoy the one period of your life where it's actually fine to be a bit selfish and unencumbered. That said, it's important to make mistakes in order to learn from them. Also, if you're reading this in genuine pursuit of advice, you're probably still at an age where you're not actually interested in hearing other people's thoughts on your decision-making, especially when it says "don't do that thing you want to do" and is coming from a 29-year-old idiot monetizing their emotional problems for a living on VICE.
So, fine. Whatever. We’ll have it your way.
Don’t: make life-altering decisions based on their hypothetical effect on your relationship
To their credit, my parents are not pushy people. If they were, I'd have had a harrowing time studying law at an inner-city university and retaken my sixth grade piano exam. But this was not my destiny. Instead, I aced exams to end up doing creative writing somewhere, in a town smaller than the one I came from because it was an hour away from my boyfriend. "Can't wait to spend my formative years propped up against that big tree reading Keats alone," I told myself on my first day, knowing full well I would spend the next 18 months on Facebook messenger, waisting half my student loans on train fair. Ah, precious memories.
It wasn't a terrible decision. The 60-minute buffer worked out alright, and it seems reasonable enough not to want to venture too far away from what you know. What should be avoided, though, is: ditching your own plans to follow your high school sweetheart to their school of choice. Or: not taking a year to study abroad because you've got feelings for someone in your class and you want to see if they "mean" anything. And don't map out the next five years of your life based on the aspiration of being with someone you met at a traffic light party.
Do: get good at sexting
Forget about critical thinking, this is the most important skill you* will learn in your early 20s. Start with templates, if you have to—all great artists start out copying the work of people they admire before honing in on a original creative output. Be bold, experiment with forms. By the end, you'll have a BA in The History and Taking Videos of Your Butt on Instagram Direct to Be Viewed Once Before Disappearing from the Conversation Forever.
*I'm talking mostly to men who sleep with women here, obviously. Thanks to having little to no sexual representation in mainstream culture and having to explore our agency by cybering with predators online, everyone else is already proficient beyond a text that says "bby" followed by a graceless shot of their hog.
Don't: spend all of your weekends and breaks back home
At least half the benefits of going to school are experiential, even more so if you're doing a humanities degree. And while staying inside to watch British soap operas may not seem like much of a contest at the time, it'll inevitably come back to haunt you when someone you met twice during freshman week finishes telling you a funny story about something that happened at [what you’re assuming is a club?] involving [several names you don’t recognize but feel like you should so you feign recognition and nod along enthusiastically], then asks what you’ve been up to and you realize you've spent 107 consecutive Saturdays indoors.
DO: whatever you want TBH
Communication and consideration are the cornerstones of any successful relationship, but four months ago, your mom was still regularly going off at you for picking your nose and wiping it on the wall by your bed, so let's look at ways to establish necessary autonomy through the prism of these far more realistic scenarios.
Your partner: reasonably frowns upon narcotics, but is rather unreasonably trying to force this opinion on you by being judgmental about the whole thing.
You: quite want to try MDMA that someone has enthusiastically copped from a man called "Minty" who still lives the same house as he did when he graduated from your school five years ago.
Resolution: Try the MDMA, hun. If someone can't handle you at your "clutching a water bottle and grinding your teeth to dust at an 80s cheese night," they don’t deserve you at your "shall we watch Nanette, it’s supposed to be really good." Go forth and sesh safely. Anyway, in three years, you'll be over it and they'll be escaping the mundanity of their graphic design job by taking hits of ketamine.
Your partner: thinks you should read this theory book because there are some quite interesting points in there about counterculture andsasiufhkjwsdfjwndskjhfablah.
You: don't really care.
Resolution: Fuck it. Read something you’re actually interested in and tell them to take it to a subReddit.
Point being: you do you. Inevitably, someone will be the bigger personality in the relationship and that person often ends up getting their way on the grounds of confidence alone, but there’s no point pandering to that at this stage. Or do, I guess. Either way, it’ll all go to shit when you start outgrowing the shape of the person you’ve unintentionally molded yourself into for them and start doing really reactional things like getting a super weird haircut or becoming a memelord. However:
Don't: have sex with other people, idiot
Good rule of thumb here for the monogamous, but bears hammering in like a mantra to fall back on when you’ve been thrown into a social environment that is essentially Love Island but with thousands more people who are far less attractive and yet you fancy every single one of them purely on the basis that they didn’t go to your secondary school.
Don't: have sex with your roommate, idiot
Imagine the unique mixture of horror and awkwardness of bumping into a one-night stand in a supermarket. The strained how's-it-goings; the fidgeting with your hair and clothes, hoping they don't notice that it's 1 PM and you’re very obviously on your way home from a club; the over-compensatory laughter; the overwhelming shame of being forced to look the person directly in the eye while holding two boxes of sausage rolls and smelling bad. Now imagine that feeling every time you need to use your own bathroom.
Do: attempt to integrate them into your new friendship groups very fucking quickly
You can tell everything about a person by what their friends are like. If you don’t get along with theirs or vice versa, it’s probably doomed. It’s very easy to confine a relationship to the bubble you established in the beginning, when you got to know each other exclusively in various coffee shops and two bedrooms. Now, your entire opinion of them is based on how they are in relation to you without really knowing how they function in society at large, and you won’t know how to react when they tag along to a birthday meal and get into a heated argument with one of your roommates on Facebook.
Don't: actively discourage your partner/s from doing things because you're terrified they might learn something about themselves and leave you
If you love something, set it free; if it comes back, it probably left something of sentimental value at your house.
Don't: be a dick. Although you peobably will end up being a dick as some point
Realistically, what happens to most high school or college-born romances is that you will outgrow one another because that’s what happens when you form relationships before you’ve properly formed your personality. However, it’s very hard to recognize this without the aid of life experience or a therapist, and so you will deal with it by lashing out in a variety of spiteful ways, such as checking out their friends and suddenly deciding to loathe all of their favorite bands. You will later come to understand that this is the trajectory of most relationships, regardless of age because people alter constantly over the course of a lifetime and it is actually very rare and difficult to be able to do that harmoniously in tandem with each other. So, perhaps the best thing is to not get into any relationships? At all? Maybe just adopt an old, blind cat that’s totally dependent on you, channel all your emotional energy into that and get really into increasingly niche porn until the concept of intercourse becomes purely academic? I don’t know. Just thinking out loud.
Do: Follow your heart! Do whatever you think is best for you! It’s your choice!
For more advice on starting college, read this essential guide we put together a few years ago.
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