College is a place to discover yourself.
A place to learn what you like and what rubs you the wrong way.
A place to sample different cultures, academic interests, career options, activities … and dating preferences.
Especially here at UCSB, there is a very prominent hookup culture. We all tried those “serious” relationships in high school, but most of us left them behind when we moved away for university, because what’s the point in trying to make long distance work when you haven’t even figured out who you are yet?
Dating is a commitment, and one that most of us put off until we’ve decided what we want in life. It’s not something we pursue in a college setting. If it happens, it happens, but we don’t go looking for it. And it’s not something that’s valued in our college culture, especially if it’s an old high school relationship.
But maybe it should be.
In terms of the romantic and sexual culture at UCSB, I’ve found myself in the minority. I started dating my boyfriend my sophomore year of high school. He got my dad’s permission, bought some flowers and asked me to be his girlfriend during halftime at a school football game.
Seems pretty typical, right?
But as cheesy as it sounds, we aren’t the stereotypical “dated in high school and never experienced anything else” kind of couple.
As he was a senior and I was a sophomore when we got together (I was pretty much the coolest sophomore on the block), he graduated and left me in the world of high school for two years. We got used to not seeing each other every single day or being in the same world 24/7. We learned to enjoy living lives apart from each other.
So once I packed my bags and moved to Santa Barbara, it wasn’t a complete shock to us. Sure, it wasn’t easy. We had to make some adjustments.
But my biggest struggle wasn’t being away from him. It was being one of the only people in my social circle in a relationship.
In the hookup culture we live in, it’s hard to take a long-distance, long-term relationship seriously.
Among my fellow lonely girlfriends, I’ve heard a slew of struggles:
“There are so many hot guys everywhere.”
“I’m so fucking horny.”
“I just want cuddles.”
When everything around you seems to be a raging sex fest, it’s not easy to wait for that special someone. It takes a certain kind of determination, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly.
I’ve had lots of talks with my single friends about their opinions on long-distance relationships. Everyone seems to say something along the same lines:
“I mean, since you guys have been together for three years, it makes sense. But for most people, I think long-distance seems like a waste of time.”
I understand that viewpoint, and it’s not wrong. To drag out a relationship just to feel comfortable and loved is definitely an unnecessary and selfish use of time and energy. College is a time of experimentation and self-discovery. If you can’t seriously imagine yourself hand in hand with a guy with a ring on your finger, you shouldn’t waste your time on him.
Personally, I thrive in my relationship. He pushes me to try new things. He helps me to grow and change for the better. We share new experiences, we question things and we help each other through whatever bullshit life can throw at us. We have conflicts, but we don’t have fights. We call each other out when it needs to be done. Most relationships – especially those established in high school – aren’t like that.
But this isn’t a rant about how perfect my romantic life is. It’s a critique of the way our community deals with serious relationships.
You hear a lot of support here toward racial minorities, the LGBTQ community, women and other historically discriminated populations, and that’s amazing, but this is a kind of isolation that I never expected to experience in college.
Today, somebody told me that my boyfriend and I are cute together. A few months ago, I would have brushed it off. I know we’re cute. Today, it was one of the most meaningful things I could have heard.
People have told me long-distance relationships never actually last.
If I ever want to go out with my girl friends, I’m afraid I’ll be the only one who doesn’t want to dance on guys or hook up.
Very few people – even my closest friends – have expressed any kind of support for my relationship.
This is a problem that nobody talks about.
There’s nothing wrong with focusing on yourself in college. It’s great to expand your horizons, experiment and take some time for self-discovery. But that doesn’t mean that it’s wrong to be in a serious relationship.
It feels good to be taken seriously. It feels good to still be seen as independent and fun and exciting. Every man and woman on this campus deserves those things, regardless of relationship status.
I applaud all of my fellow students who are counting down the days until they get to see their lovers again, hold their hands, feel their warmth, experience that comfort and familiarity that nobody else can offer.
That takes independence, strength and confidence.
You can do it. I support you.