Romantic Relationships: Who, When, and How?
Some of the happiest times you will have in college can be when you meet someone you really like and begin a romantic relationship. But rushing into such a relationship is not a good idea. Begin by meeting a lot of different people, both men and women. Get to know them and develop some strong friendships first.
When you were in high school, you probably knew most of the students in your class. You may have known some since you were in Kindergarten or first grade. You knew their interests, their values, their opinions and their behavior patterns. You probably were at the same parties. You may have gone to movies along with a group of friends. You probably even knew their parents. You had a good idea what they were like before you ever dreamed of dating them.
In college, many students don’t take the time and effort to get to know someone. They leap straight into dating. Hannah Parmalee, tells on one such relationship. It is found in the article” How to Date the Best”, based on the book, How to Avoid Marrying a Jerk by John Van Epp.
Read Leah’s story carefully. It could make you think of people you know. Ask where Leah made mistakes. At what point would you have ended the relationship?
My friend Leah met the “perfect” guy. They were both interested in rock climbing, country music, and B horror movies, and he was entranced with her. What else can you ask for, right? Isn’t this what every Disney movie and romantic comedy promises us? Meet the right person, fall in love, and live happily ever after. They hung out all the time, talked on the phone for hours, had “amazing” sex (he’s “the one” after all, so why wait?) and a few month later moved in together (You know how it goes. His lease ran out and they were spending all their time together anyway).
Well a few more months passed and he didn’t treat her as well as he had at the beginning, he didn’t like her friends, so she didn’t see them anymore; she felt a little guilty so she stopped talking to her family and going to church. Everyone could see this guy was not good for her. But she stayed with him for five years – five years before she finally recognized he was a jerk and ended the relationship.
To read the entire article go to http://family.pepperdine.edu/relationshipiq/articles/romantic-relationships/ Click on How to Date the Best by Hannah Parmalee. You may be interested in some of the other articles too.
Take a good look at the picture. Will these newlyweds have a happy marriage? From the expressions on their faces, I get the impression they are wondering if they made a mistake. I hope I’m wrong.
What do you want in a relationship?
Did you come to college mainly to find someone to marry? Someone who loves you madly? Someone to spend the rest of your life with? Or did you come to college to get an education, to get a degree, to put take the first steps to your career goals?
Certainly it is possible to do both, but it takes hard work to develop that kind of relationship. I have known couples for which education was the top priority for both of them. They sometimes studied together and enjoyed spending break time together. But when one had an exam to prepare for or an important paper to write, the other was completely understanding. They both agreed on what was important. Couples like this may decide to get married before heading to graduate school but often agree they will not have children until both get their degrees.
On the other extreme are those who fall “madly in love: and are unable to think of anything else but being together. They skip classes to be together or, if they go to class, they are distracted, able only to think about their lover. They rush into marriage and, when she gets pregnant,she drops out to have the baby and he drops out to support his new family. In a few years they both regret that they didn’t finish college and enter the careers they dreamed of.
In fact, with many of these stories, couples didn’t take the time to find out if they even liked each other before they decided they were falling in love. Some might say they were actually in love with the idea of being in love.
In between these extremes are many students who enjoy having several romantic relationships and learn from these experiences. Some may even remain friends afterwards and value these relationships.
Before you begin dating
1. Consider carefully what you want in a relationship. Many students, both men and women, are looking for sexual experience. But many others, again both men and women are looking for romance that does not go as far as sex. They are looking for someone to love, someone who will love them in return, someone to have fun with, and the security of knowing you have someone wonderful to go out with.
2. Consider what values, beliefs, and interests are important to you. When you make friends, get to learn their values, beliefs, and interests. Do they drink? Use drugs? Lose their temper easily? Behave in any ways that bother you? Sometimes, as in the story of Leah’s romance, you don’t see these attitudes and behaviors until you have been together for quite a while.
3. Begin your relationship gradually. Women: If someone you know little about, perhaps someone you met in math class, asks you out for dinner and a movie, think twice. Dinner could give you a chance to get to know each other. What do you say? He might be cute. He might have a great smile. But you don’t know anything about this man. You need to realize that after paying for dinner and a movie, some men will expect to end the date with sex. As one man I met my first semester of freshman year told me, “You owe it to me. After all, I paid for the dinner and movie.” I made it clear that this wasn’t going to happen, but I wished I had gotten to know him first before accepting a date. He didn’t actually try to rape me but he wouldn’t let go of me, thinking he could change my mind.I had to fight to get away and then ran all the way back to my dorm. This certainly isn’t true of everyone but, until you are sure you want to be alone with him, think twice about it.
You might suggest something more casual. You can say “I think it would be nice to take time to get to know each other before we go out together. Maybe, after class we could eat together at the cafeteria. (You pay for your own lunch.) Or you could say you really need to study. You always need to study, don’t you? Maybe you could study together at the library and get to know each other better during a short break. But be sure you have a friend from your dorm to walk home with. How long does it take to get to know this man? It might take a couple weeks. It could take months. If you think a date is a good idea, start with group events like a school concert or play. Or start with daytime dates like a picnic at the park, preferably with another couple or a group of friends.
Men: Read what I suggested to women. Play it smart. She will be much more relaxed and you should be too if you start slowly. Suggest lunch at the cafeteria, doing your math homework together, or going to campus events with friends. You too, should want to get to know her better before you rush off into dating. Find out what interests the two of you have in common. She will be more interested in a date when she knows you better and learns to trust you.
Hannah Parmalee, who told the story of Leah, suggests that, before you get too serious, you ask how well you know them, trust them, and can rely on them. And she adds this comment: “You often don’t start getting to know the real person until you’ve known her or him for at least three months. So be careful not to make any big decisions in the first few months.”
Discuss what you want in a relationship
When the time comes for actual dating, you really need to discuss what each of you is looking for in a relationship. I once was on a date with someone I just liked as a casual friend. It wasn’t long before he explained that he was looking for someone to marry. Marry? Not me. I was just a freshman and had big dreams. But I knew my roommate wanted to get married. I suggested he ask her out. Within a year, the two of them were married.
You might begin by suggesting that you aren’t looking for serious romance, just someone to have a good time with, that you have years of school yet, including graduate school, and you are not ready to get serious about anyone.
And, while it might take a little courage to bring up the subject, you need to talk about sex. If one of you is looking for sex and the other firmly believes in waiting until marriage, it’s good to know. Either person can raise the question but I think it’s easier for the woman to bring it up, especially if she’s the person wanting to wait until marriage. If he discovers that you aren’t willing to have sex, he might look elsewhere and I would say that’s fine. If he’s more interested in sex than in making her happy, she’s better off without him.
How much time would you want to spend together? Will you both date other people or both agree to an exclusive relationship. Are you both happy to have the other spend time with other friends? How much time do you want to spend on the phone or texting each other? Some people like to call or get called a dozen times a day. That’s enough to make someone else crazy. Some people want to go dancing frequently while others hate to dance. One person may love going to concerts, the louder the better, while the other might hate loud concerts. You can certainly compromise on some of these differences, but if your interests are completely different, you might want to look elsewhere.
I hated going to football games. Once, my sophomore year, my date from another school accepted that. He went to the game with friends. The two of us went out after the game. But, if the guy who loves heavy metal concerts gets upset when his girlfriend stays home, or if he insists on dragging her along, this isn’t going to work.
Building a stronger relationship
You found someone you really like. You have similar values and share some of the same interests. You have begun dating and want to build a strong and lasting relationship. You can follow the same guidelines as when you began to make friends.
1. Really learn to listen to each other. Be sure you understand exactly what the other person means. Ask serious questions. You need to understand what they think and why they think it. You certainly don’t need to agree on everything. Some families cheerfully announce that one is a Democrat and the other is a Republican, that their votes usually cancel each other’s votes, so to speak. But they can laugh about it rather than fighting about it. You may not like the same television shows, but you can agree to take turns or to get two television sets if you get married. You might not like the same movies, but she might agree to go with him to some “Shoot ’em up” action movies if he’ll go with her to the more romantic ones.
2. Understand each other’s emotions. Can you tell when the other person is upset? Can you discuss emotional issues sympathetically. Can you be patient when the other person isn’t ready to discuss what’s bothering them. Do you both trust each other?
3. Be open and honest with each other. If you begin to consider marriage, you want to begin sharing things about yourself and your family that you may not be proud of. If your father or sister is in prison, your partner needs to know that. If you aunt or your brother is addicted to drugs, if your mother is an alcoholic, if someone in your family suffers from mental illness, it is better to discuss it now rather than later.
If one of you has struggled with depression, or alcohol or drugs, you need to talk about it. And when you learn information about your partner, you need to be sympathetic and understanding. At the same time, you need to be honest. If your partner has had struggles with alcohol or drugs, you may need time to think about it, to decide if you want to really continue this relationship.If you learn that your partner has HIV-AIDS, you might want to continue the friendship but need to think seriously before you consider marriage. Because you are learning to trust each other, you should never share these discussions with anyone else. The one exception would be medical issues and then you might want to talk to a doctor, together or alone.
4. If you are even imagining the possibility of getting married, you need to discuss career plans. If one wants to join the military, how does the other feel about that? What will happen if one wants to start a business and stay in the same place forever, and the other expects to move from time to time as promotions come? And where would you live? I know one couple who planned to get married until he learned that she wanted him to move to where she lived, and he expected her to move to where he lived. If one is determined to live in the city and one insists on living in the country, you might compromise by living in a rural area just outside a major city. But if she wants to live near her parents in California and he wants to live near his family in Georgia, that isn’t going to work.
5. And if you are dreaming of marriage, you need to discuss children. He hates children and she wants at least five or six. Time to rethink the relationship. He expects to raise the children as Roman Catholics, while she plans to raise them as Quakers or Baptists, or maybe she is Jewish. You might not have a problem each going to your own church, but with children, it is often more of an issue. Can you come to a reasonable decision or will you have major battles on the issue?
6. You should each make a list of questions. Some may just help you know each other better. Some may be extremely important.
Taking the next step
Again, go slowly. You might want to double-date a couple times. You might just spend more time getting to know each other. Make sure the other person is comfortable with your ways of showing affection. Talk about it. But when the relationship gets to the point where sex is on your mind, you really need a serious conversation. Do not assume that the other person feels like you do.
If you both feel like you are ready for sex, you need to ask these questions.
1. Has either of you been sexually active in the past? If so, you should get tested for STDs including HIV-AIDS. It’s nice if both of you get tested even if the other has not been sexually active. (It really isn’t important to talk about how many people you slept with and who they are.)
2. How will you prevent pregnancy? Will the man wear a condom (good idea) or will the woman start taking birth control pills (good idea) or will you do both ?(the best idea)
3. If, somehow, the woman does get pregnant, how will you handle it? It will be very helpful if you are both pro-life or both think abortion is the best solution. This is the one issue where I believe, if you disagree, the woman’s decision is most important. If she chooses to have the child and keep it, the man needs to agree to pay child support. If she gets pregnant, will she expect him to marry her? How would any of these decisions affect your ability to finish your education and reach your lifetime goals?
Yes, these are adult decisions. If you decide you are ready to have sex, you need to discuss serious adult issues. And while it may seem terribly awkward to bring up the subject, if you are serious enough about each other to consider having sex, you should be serious enough to be able to discuss these topics seriously.
Let’s consider the facts
These facts come from the article by Hannah Parmalee, the person who told the story of Leah.
1. Couples who date at least two years are more likely to stay married.
2. The more sexual partners a man has before marriage, the more likely he is to cheat once married.
3. The more sexual partners a woman has before marriage, the more likely she is to get divorced.
4. Couples who had sex before marriage are less sexually satisfied with their relationship once married.
5. Couples who live together before they get married are more likely to get divorced.
Evaluate your relationship
There is an excellent article on Healthy Relationships at the website of Iona College, a small Catholic school in New Rochelle, NY. I have adapted this list of questions from their article. If this is helpful, you may want to read the entire list.
Do you have a healthy relationship?
1. Do you and your partner treat each other with respect and trust?
2. Do you and your partner share many values and enjoy many of the same activities?
3. Is your life better because you are in this relationship?
4. Do you and your partner solve conflict calmly and respectfully?
5. Do you and your partner each have other friendships?
6. Are your friends and family happy about the relationship?
7. Are you and your partner able to discuss serious issues and make choices without fighting?
8. Are you proud to introduce your partner to your family and friends?
Do you have an unhealthy relationship?
1. Does your partner control or manipulate you or tell you what you can do or cannot do?
2. Does your partner want you to avoid your other friends and your family?
3. Does your partner abuse you physically or verbally? They may claim it’s all a joke.
4. Does your partner abuse alcohol or drugs and then behave in inappropriate ways?
5. Does your partner put you down, criticize you and make you feel bad about yourself?
6. Does your partner keep telling you he or she is going to change, that things will get better?
7. Does your partner push you to have sex or to do anything else you don’t want to do?
8. Is your partner possessive and jealous, getting upset when you talk to other men or women friends?
The full article was at this website, but they may have moved it or removed. The Website has many other helpful articles. it.www.iona.edu/studentlife/counsel/guide/healthyRelations.cfm
You have now read the last page under Building Friendships. You may want to continue to the other section of Social Skills: Group Participation