College relationships are a conundrum. On one hand, fueled by newfound independence and the spirit of experimentation, college is the perfect place for romance to bloom. On the other, the specter of graduation can force couples to confront tough questions sooner than anyone wants to. Hannah and David got together during their senior year of school in Tacoma, Washington, staring down both sides of this double-edged sword from the get-go, so we asked them to share their experiences.
Conversations on dark porches at house parties. Text messages composed with painstaking care and decoded with neurotic concern. Banter over drinks at dive bars.
A healthy beginning, a typical one, especially for college kids. This is the fun stage, before the whole thing quietly fizzles or becomes Facebook-official.
But David and I, both pathologically noncommittal and willing to go to great, inconvenient lengths to prevent uncomfortable conversations, were still having “fun” about four months beyond the sell-by date.
“It’s not like I’m his girlfriend,” I told my friends. “I’m not mad at him.”
I was mad at him. Frequently.
But when he—without precedent—bought me a drink on Valentine’s Day, I threw down the gauntlet. “What are we doing?” I asked him.
“I want to be your boyfriend, but I don’t know how,” he said.
That would do. And it did.
We decided that we were going to break up after graduation. I had no idea what I was doing post-grad and really, neither did Hannah.
So we put an expiration date on the relationship and, in retrospect, I found that immensely reassuring. Limiting the relationship to this six-month window was a tremendously effective way of putting off making any real decisions. And that worked fine until I actually had to think about it. It was about 3:30 a.m. the morning after graduation when I decided to stay in Washington instead of moving back home. The next day, I told my parents. And then I moved into Hannah’s house.
After a transitory month where David squatted in my empty, unfurnished house in Tacoma, we moved to Seattle and spent the summer in bars. With plenty of free time, and financial support from our parents, David and I got to know each other differently, and better.
But summer always ends, and I felt uneasy. Restless. Edging closer to the inescapable post-graduation abyss without a plan, without a job, with only the haziest of aspirations.
I panicked. I needed a new purpose, a new structure, and I lacked the guts to forge my own. Impulsively, I applied for a competitive internship in Washington, D.C. I found out I got it the day before my 23rd birthday, for which David and I were planning a getaway to Vancouver.
“Can you be here in three weeks?” my future boss asked.
“Definitely,” I said.
We went to Vancouver. We didn’t talk about what was going to happen until we were saying goodbye.
I don’t think either of us trusted ourselves to do the whole long-distance thing. In a way, we were back where we started, but I never felt that our relationship was over. Hannah’s internship was only four months—not so long, I rationalized.
But while I was proud of her, and obviously it was something she had to do, it made me feel even more rudderless than I’d been before.
I left for D.C., single, with a brave front and an open mind.
But D.C. wasn’t my scene. The job was great for my resume, but I was lonely and exhausted and unfit for a nine-to-six schedule. I missed Seattle, and I missed David. That was particularly infuriating.
He came to visit in November. We went to the National Gallery, walked on the Mall. We got roaring drunk, and got back together. I couldn’t resist the return to the familiar. But instead of the disappointment in myself that I’d felt before, I felt secure. This wasn’t a retreat; it was a relief.
We’re still more or less the same people we were in college. I still spend a pretty solid proportion of my time paralyzed by self-doubt and indecision. I don’t know if that’s ever going to stop. I still don’t know what’s next, but things are good now. I’ll take that.