Graduating from high school and heading off to college is one of the primary rites of young adulthood. Moving out of your parents’ home, being financially and scholarly responsible for possibly the first time in your life, and moving away from many of your friends are all massive, and very important signals that you are making your first tentative steps into adulthood.
One thing that you may be losing, however, is the physical closeness of your high school sweetheart. Whether she is moving away, you are, or you are both moving to separate campuses, the move to college can be very difficult on young love, no matter how long or how entirely you have been committed throughout your high school years. Because in college, the whole game is going to change.
When you hit a college campus for the first time, it seems as the whole world is opening up for you. Suddenly there is a massive concentration of young nubile co-eds your age, all of whom are relatively new to the environment and experiencing all sorts of freedom for the first time: freedom to be who they want, with who they want, finally study what they want, or don’t, if they want. No one is monitoring your attendance. No one is monitoring your behavior but you (and any of your girlfriend’s friends who happen to be at your campus). It is sweet and it can be dangerous to relationships.
When you first hit college, there will be a week of institution-sponsored indoctrination (or “orientation”) in which old hands on the college campus are going to throw the entire potential social world at you. There will be beer bashes all day long, booze cruises and campus nights at the bar. If you are staying on campus, your residence will immerse you in beer and parties for the entire first couple of weeks. If you are rushing frats, there will be hours of humiliation to endure. It will be overwhelming and exhilarating. And your girlfriend will be experiencing all of it for the first time.
If you are the one who left your girlfriend behind, then you are going to be experiencing a whole new world that your girlfriend has no access to, unless you bring her along for the ride. Vice versa if your girlfriend is the one who left you back at home. There is going to be some jealousy and some insecurity, the levels of which are regulated to a large extent by the person who has gone away.
If the one left behind is still in high school, hopefully in their senior year, then they are going to have a lot of things to keep them busy over that year. Graduation year is exhilarating in and of itself, and the bonding time that goes into your friendships make it a good year to be single, or even pseudo-single. You can make time for your friends, and also visit your lover or entertain them on the weekends they return.
The return trips will be a big-deal, a measure of the kind of college fun she or you is willing to give up in order to commit time to the relationship. Return trips give the message that although you are away, your heart is still with them. It also gives the message that the college-goer is not spending their weekends with their on-campus flame. It is also important, if possible, to include the Left Behind in activities at the college. New friends must be met and sussed out; potential competition that might be hanging around must be evaluated. Left Behind must make their presence known. By including them in your college experience, you are keeping them a part of your changing life.
Another way to keep the Left Behind feeling good about the relationship is through phone calls. Phone calls are going to be very important, so invest in a good long distance plan right off the bat. Not only will frequent phone calls be a must, the occasional drunken phone call at the end of a long night is often well placed. As annoying as it can be (don’t do it every night!), and as much as it may irritate the parents, a drunken phone call at the end of the night tells the Left Behind two things. First, it tells them that you are coming home alone, and second, that even in your drunken state, surrounded by equally drunken members of the opposite sex, your instinct is to call home.
When you or your loved one is away at college for the first time, there is going to be a lot of temptation to cheat or to break up due to a need for experimentation. Living in residence my first year, I saw this phenomenon a lot. When you are living on campus and the opposite sex’s beds are just across the common room from yours, a lot can happen. Friction and flirtation are par for the course, as everyone tries to fit themselves into a brand new social structure. Not getting involved sometimes entails separating yourself from some of the fun, and many are not willing to give up a weekend of midnight hockey to travel home to see the girlfriend. This is when you have to start to prioritize.
It is important, if you can, to talk these new experiences over with your significant other. If they are experiencing the same temptations, maybe you can discuss the option of taking a break for a few months to experience what else is out there. Surprisingly, I saw many high school sweethearts for whom this worked. Sometimes breaking up with a long time love is exactly what you need to realize why it is you have them in your life to begin with. And if you do it right, hopefully he or she will be there for you when you want to come back.
The insanity of the first year of college can whiz by, or it can last for the entire time you are in college. There is something to be said for experiencing everything that college has to offer, including relationships. In the end, only the two of you can decide if your relationship is worth keeping close or worth cashing in for the unknown.