Hi Miss Bea,
I’m a third-year, and my wonderful partner of almost two years is a fourth-year in their last semester of undergrad. We’re both from out of state, and their plan for next year is to rent off-campus, take a gap semester/year to work, then finish their MS at [Case Western Reserve University]. They seem to be under the impression that I’m going to grad school at CWRU as well, but I’m not sure what I want to do after undergrad, and even then I’m not 100% certain that I’m going to stay in CLE for whatever I end up doing. We did long-distance at the beginning of our relationship, and with all the stresses of being remote and having to deal with school, it was really difficult to maintain a good schedule to talk to them consistently.
I guess my questions are, how do I go about planning my future when I have my significant other to consider? How should I prioritize? How do we go about talking about this?
Dear Thoughtful Third-Year,
College relationships are a bittersweet experience. You’re finally in an adult relationship! And then you realize … you’re finally in an adult relationship. This comes with the stunning reminder that your decisions no longer impact just you, but also your partner.
Now, if this were a high-school relationship, I would tell you not to even consider including a partner in your future plans. Too often we hear about young teens giving up university scholarships and career opportunities so that they can stay together, only to be dumped three months into their first year. But this is different. You and your partner have been together for some time—it is natural to want to include them in your future, whether that be in the same city or in a long-distance relationship capacity.
Here, you have two separate issues that need to be addressed.
The first issue concerns your ultimate plans for life after school, which can only be decided by you—not by your partner and definitely not by your friendly neighborhood advice columnist. Independently, you should take some time and decide what you are/are not willing to compromise on in terms of your own future goals. Once you have a better idea of what you want and what you are open to, without the influence of a partner, you will inevitably get a better idea of how to approach the conversation about your combined futures.
If you are open to the idea of continuing on to going to graduate school at CWRU, you can remind them that this is just one of the many possible pathways that would allow you to spend your lives together in the next couple of years. On the other hand, if you absolutely do not want to stay in Cleveland––regardless of whether you go to grad school or not-––that is something that needs to be discussed.
Once you have a good grasp of what you may or may not be willing to compromise on, you must then have a conversation about what they are willing to compromise on. Find a quiet moment where you won’t be interrupted and hash out what you both think would be good for your combined futures. For instance, grad school usually only takes an extra year when students apply to the university they are already attending for undergrad. Would they be willing to skip out on taking a gap year so that you both could graduate your respective programs at the same time? If not, are they willing to wait around in Cleveland for another year should you choose to pursue your master’s degree?
Keeping your partner involved in your thought process ensures that there are no surprises further down the line. You say that “they seem to be under the impression,” but only you can provide the clarity that is needed to move forward after college. Be firm and clear about your expectations and ideas for the future. Not only will this discussion ensure that you are in sync post-graduation, but it will also help you gauge if both sides are willing to put in effort to make sure your relationship works.
If you think about it for a while and still don’t find the answers to these questions––that’s fine! You’re still a third-year, and while your partner is already forced to make a decision about where their life is going, you still have plenty of time before adulthood rears its ugly head. As a fourth-year, they should understand that you may still have to take time and figure out what is ultimately best for your future. However, you still need to lay your cards on the table so that they can be prepared for possibly unsavory scenarios ahead, such as long-distance.
This brings us to the second subject that needs to be addressed––the struggle of long-distance relationships (LDR).
Other than the obvious physical separation, I stand by the fact that the biggest challenge with a LDR is couple complacency. You get busy, they get busy––then, sooner or later, you are only managing to fit in an hour a week for chatting and focusing on your relationship. As cheesy as it may sound, you have to actively pursue your significant other as if they are right by your side. I know several pre-med and engineering couples who use a shared Google Calendar so that they can plan romantic times around their hectic schedules.
Now, this might be a little clinical for some––but it’s the thought that counts. Set up funds that are specifically meant for things like date night or flights to and from visits. Send romantic text messages, and make time for shared activities like movie night or board games. Ask questions, be open, and never forget what made you fall in love in the first place.
College is hard, but relationships and sex are even harder (pun intended). In this latest Observer advice column, the ever-thoughtful Miss Bea Haven reprises her role as the go-to guide for all things scandalous at CWRU. Got questions or in need of advice? Anonymously email email@example.com and you could be featured in next week’s article!