I recently realized why I’ve long held this strong and somewhat innate belief that marrying immediately out of college is a bad idea. Upon graduation, my college boyfriend and I more or less stumbled into a long-distance relationship. Sure, we had talked about the fact that we would be trying our hand at long-distance, and we had thrown some ideas out regarding visiting one another - travel schedules, frequency of visits, and the like - as well as methods of communication between visits. But by no means did we have any kind of real “game plan.” We either willfully ignored the myriad of challenges we were about to face, or we simply didn’t give the possibility of encountering struggles any meaningful consideration. And, as such, the relationship deteriorated at a fairly rapid clip. Somehow though, we managed to “stay together” - insomuch as our Facebook pages said “In a Relationship” - for nearly a year. But now that I can reflect back on that period of time with a clear head and heart, I see that the number of fights, break-ups and make-ups, and infidelity that went on were truly shocking (or perhaps awe-inspiring - maybe we were approaching “greatness” from the opposite end of the spectrum). I can also now see that these problems existed before long-distance was a factor; they were simply magnified by the physical separation. At graduation day, we weren’t on the same page about what we wanted and how we were going to handle ourselves moving forward - but frankly, we hadn’t ever been on quite the same page.
He was my best friend during my junior year, and when we both became single in the summer leading into our senior year, we came to the conclusion that it “made sense” to give dating a chance. Over the course of that summer, we talked every night and texted practically all day long. He would ask me lots of silly questions to determine if I was “girlfriend material.” We became closer than ever, or so it seemed. However, what I actually think was happening was that we were establishing some false sense of familiarity and intimacy through these virtual interactions as a result of the “holes” left in our lives due to our newfound singledom (I think perhaps that experience has given me insight into how those seemingly crazy stories of people falling in love through Xbox Live might be rooted in some very real need to connect with people on a deep level, even if the means of interaction are fairly superficial). When we returned to school in August, this “closeness” that we had created over the summer dissipated – at least for me – and I became overwhelmed by the very realness of him and of the situation. The logistics, the labels, the changes to my day-to-day life as a byproduct of his insertion into it – they all seemed to be more than I was ready to handle. Also, I was extremely afraid of ruining our friendship and of getting hurt the way I had in my last two relationships. Nonetheless, he managed to break down my walls enough that, within six weeks, we were girlfriend and boyfriend. Still though, I was scared and reluctant – and, as a result, I went from being a cool female friend to a bit more uptight and bitchy girlfriend (a “bit” might be an understatement). By mid-October, the first rumors of him cheating had gotten back to me, and coupled with my bad attitude, we began on a downward spiral. My reluctance and frequent cuntishness during the first four months of our relationship, only exacerbated by those awful rumors (well, as I later discovered, not just rumors), created a level of resentment and a power struggle between the two of us that – though it vacillated throughout the course of the next year and a half – never went away. Though we were happy a good deal of the time in private, this power struggle, tension, and/or resentment between the two of us always seemed visible to those around us. Not only did it make us look incompatible as a couple, but it highlighted for everyone else our shortcomings as individuals.
Toward the end of our senior year, it was me who was trying to convince him we should be together, it was me who was stressing about our status. As such, after graduation, we were really on two different pages – or in two different books – wherein I was trying to force us into something that he didn’t necessarily want. And, thus, we spent our first year out of college holding onto a relationship that was no longer working. We had serious problems, far worse than most people knew, and were falling apart as a couple in such a way that it was negatively impacting our personal lives in our respective cities. I was an emotional wreck - anxious and melancholy. I damaged my relationships with my friends and family due to how emotionally drained I was from my relationship with him. Everyone was frustrated with me and my absurd commitment to the relationship. What I didn’t realize then - no matter how many times other people tried to tell me – was that I was scared to be without him. I was staying with him despite the horrible knock-down, drag-out fights and cheating because I didn’t know how to be alone. I didn’t know how to be an independent adult. My desire to be with him was coming largely from a place of fear and co-dependence. What his reasons were for staying are unclear, though I have to imagine his rich, sex-tracurricular life made it easier to not outright break up.
Finally though, we did call it quits. It had just gotten to be too much - too much hurt, too many problems, too much resentment, too much distrust. Things between us were broken beyond the point of repair. And, honestly, breaking up was the best thing we ever did. During those eight or nine months, we had our ups and downs as friends and ex’s. We both dated other people (actually, I’m the only one who truly “dated” someone else), hooked up (him far more than me), lived at entirely our own pace, did what we wanted, didn’t have to answer to anyone, and so forth. It was a really great time. I felt like I finally got comfortable with the idea of being on my own and taking care of myself - life in New York no longer felt temporary, it no longer seemed like an elaborate game of dress-up. I got to see what it was like to have first dates and be taken out by guys. I got to kiss whoever I wanted without fear of gossip or of potentially “stealing” a guy that some other girl thought was her possession. It was freeing and wonderful. For him, I think it was similar - and then some. He probably made even better use of the time apart given that his schedule is significantly more flexible than mine (and involves greater alcohol consumption). Over those nine months, we became, individually, better and happier people without the negativity of our relationship hanging over our heads, suffocating us. We also managed to maintain a friendship. Sure, there were times that it was hard just being friends, even when I was really happy with my life in New York - for instance, it killed me to hear about his slampieces. Similarly, he was less than pleased about my relationship with a guy here in New York. He and I still fought at times about little things, but generally, we grew closer and began to move away from the vortex of drama that was our relationship and back toward the amazing friendship we once had. We began to talk more and connect on a deeper level - similar to our relationship before it turned romantic. By the end of December, we were no longer fighting, struggling to find things to talk about, or screening each other’s calls. We were once again best friends, without all of the hurt, resentment, frustration, and distrust that were born out of our dating relationship. And we had figured out things about ourselves, about being independent, about what we actually wanted in a partner and where we saw our lives going. Still though, we both had to wonder – is this just another seemingly close relationship, circa summer of ‘09, or is this more?
To make that determination, we decided that a visit was in order. There was no chance that either of us would truly “move on” or become emotionally available to other people if we didn’t sort out our feelings for one another. And it was during that visit that we realized how much we love each other and how, all this time, we have had the foundation of something wonderful but, unfortunately, let other things get in the way. Despite that realization, I wouldn’t want to change our past, because I think we needed the year-and-a-half dating experience, fraught with problems as it was, and the nine months of being apart to get to a place where we both want to be with one another for the right reasons. Our desire to be together comes from a place of love and happiness, not neediness or co-dependence. And we also both know that, if things go sideways ever again, we could separate and be OK. There won’t be holding on to anything that isn’t “right” this time around.
So, back to the genesis of this post. Having this experience of not truly appreciating him or wanting to be with him simply because he enhances my life and fills an important place in my heart until we had time apart makes me wonder how a couple right out of school is really ready to be married. In college, you really never have to be an independent adult. At least at my school, you’re probably not taking care of yourself (or another person) financially, you probably don’t have to provide your own meals, your schedule is dictated by a third party, and you generally have very limited responsibilities outside of showing up to class (maybe) and taking tests. As such, how can you possibly be in a position to suddenly have to manage your own finances, deal with bills, show up to a job, and take care of another person 24 hours a day? I’m using this idea of caring for another person loosely – I don’t mean to say that you’re suddenly waiting on another person hand and foot, but you certainly have to deal with what’s going on in your partner’s life, their moods, their wants and needs, emotions, etc. constantly. And you’ve never even had the opportunity to see if your independent, adult life is made better by that person, because you’ve never experienced what it’s like without them. I think having that point of comparison is extremely important. You can typically say – “Hey, this person enhanced my college life” – but life after college is completely different, and assuming that a person and a relationship will be the same out in the “real world” is rather naive. If two people are really meant for each other, taking a bit of time apart to live life independently shouldn’t change the end result; however, I think it will help a lot of people come to the realization that their college relationships aren’t meant to last a lifetime. Because people change. And lifestyles change. And, with a divorce rate hovering around 50% - why risk it? Don’t get me wrong, I have no real issue with divorce and I’m not necessarily advocating the need to reduce the national divorce rate - I’m just saying that people should work out their own lives before committing to bringing another person into them.
In the past year, I’ve figured out more about myself and my life than in the 22 years prior, and now I’ve found the person that I want to include in that life. I just hope that other couples can say that with confidence, too.
(Source: observando, via abigaillx)