Relationships in college are complicated; So is being single. Around this time of year, when Hallmark likes to remind the single and taken populations of their respective relationship statuses, these relationships — or lack thereof — are hard to ignore.
In an effort to inspire an honest dialogue about something on all our minds, the Center for Student Diversity hosted a brown bag lunchtime session about relationships with men and women Feb. 12 — the first of a series of sessions. Students were invited to come discuss relationships with a group of counselors from the Counseling Center.
“We are doing a series of discussions on a variety of topics and — of course — February, Valentine’s Day, the idea of relationships seemed timely,” Assistant Director for the Center for Student Diversity Margie Cook said. “People are at a time in their life when they are seeking relationships. They are trying to figure out what they want in relationships. We thought this would be interesting.”
In a room full of college students and only a few adults, Cook opened up the floor for discussion. Attendants were encouraged to lay out any topic regarding relationships with men or women. The discussion began with a question about why men are so immature, but Outreach Coordinator for the Counseling Center Patrick Hudgins soon shifted the topic to a more level playing field.
“If you recognize that that is the way that things are, how do you figure out what you want?” Hudgins said. “What are the signs that this person is the one that you are looking for in a relationship?”
Throughout the dialogue, counselors stressed the importance of defining what you are looking for and establishing who you are as an individual before going further in a relationship.
“You do have to look at character,” Hudgins said. “Am I attracted to some things that society tells me to be attracted Goode-Cross agreed that between the ages of 18 and 21 not everyone really knows what he or she is looking for yet.
“At this age, a lot of people are figuring out who they are,” Good-Crosse said. “Sometimes they figure that out by figuring out who they aren’t.”
Hudgins added the importance of knowing who you are and where you stand before getting romantically involved.
“Some folks in relationships believe that a relationship gives them a sense of self,” Hudgins said. “I believe that you have to have a sense of self prior to that relationship.”
The importance of knowing yourself before you can have a truly successful relationship came up in many of the counselors’ advice. Throughout the discussion, a few hard truths were voiced as well.
“Maybe what you want is unrealistic,” Hudgins said.
“Fundamentally people don’t change,” Goode-Cross said.
“Are these things deal breakers for what I need in a healthy relationship?” Pre-Doctoral Intern for the Counseling Center, Austin Shedden said.
While these hard truths may be reality, both Shedden and Counseling Center Director Warrenetta Mann reminded the students in attendance that people are not perfect, and sometimes it’s just about getting what you need out of a relationship.
“Are they consistent seven, eight out of ten times? Or does it feel like two or three out of ten?” Shedden said. “Those are important to step back from the relationship and look at the body of the relationship holistically.”
Mann referred to it as the 80:20 rule.
“People are fundamentally not going to change. No one is perfect. So if you find a good healthy relationship where 80 percent of it is doing what you want, that is not settling,” Mann said. “There is a realistic point [where] you have to say, ‘I am in a relationship with a human being, not a Gobot or an avatar.’ It’s a human being.”
After discussing what exactly people are trying to find in relationships, students posed questions about how to define relationships in the confusing social interactions of a small college campus.
“I feel like in college it’s kind of hard because you see people all the time,” Taylor Hurst ’12 said. “There are a lot of things that are undefined.”
Kim Green ’13 agreed that it is hard to tell someone how you feel without scaring him or her away.
“I’m really awkward, and I will just tell you how I feel — and sometimes that can push people away,” Green said.
Goode-Cross argued that awkwardness might not be something to avoid.
“I don’t think there is a not-awkward way to be vulnerable with a person,” he said.
Hudgins addressed another difficulty of living in a small college community, in that it seems that everyone knows everyone else’s business.
“It is different saying something to someone and knowing that it is only between you guys and no one would ever know,” Hudgins said. “But you are on a campus where people are watching and people are talking.”
While college relationships can prove to be extremely confusing, Shedden reminds the students that out of any relationship, growth occurs.
“In general in relationships, we are going to experience lots of growing pains,” Shedden said. “It could go well or it could be a train wreck, but in the midst of it, real life growth happens.”