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So they say senior year is supposed to be when it all comes together. You wrap up your studies, you line up your job, your grad school, your service program, whatever. Heck, some people still get engaged before they graduate – the “ring by spring” crowd is indeed alive and well, lord help us all – point is, conventional wisdom holds that this last year is when your “real life” truly takes shape. And those among us in relationships – talking to the seniors here, sorry to my young friends – get to make the wonderful choice of whether that “real life” has room for the relationships we have begun or continued during our time at college.

This is a hard choice, usually. You want to say, “oh, yeah, we can make it!” Or, “we love each other so much, why would we let graduating stop us?” And you have a point there. Romance really should triumph over all, or at least so says this love columnist. But staying together takes planning and real commitment. Real mutual understanding. A depth of awareness of the other person as a full individual. Also, some trust that each person can make the choices they need to move forward that are best for the relationship as well as themselves. It’s a balancing act. Oh, and then there’s money. You’ll need that if you want to jump right into a cohabitation situation, or at least a long-distance thing where you travel to see each other. Those things take currency, or at least a support network. Indeed, relationship questions are right up there with the others that come with graduation approaching, and they can multiply stress about them – the ones revolving around where you’ll be living, what you’ll be doing, how you’ll support yourself, et cetera. The relationship in this way becomes one more very important thing to worry about as May 27 approaches (by the by, that’s about 93 days from press time).

So that’s a bummer. Your beautiful college-but-it’s-totally-forever-love is on your scary “real life” future list. What to do? Honestly, I couldn’t tell ya. All I know is my longtime girlfriend broke up with me in September, and frankly I’m a little relieved not to have to worry about all that right now on top of everything. Sorry.

There’s a couple ways to look at it, though, in my view. You could for instance consider that whole “real life” thing for what it is: bullshit. This is real life, this college business. The things you do here matter. They shape us for being here. Your relationships are, likewise, just as important as the rest of the things you do at school. They inform you, they enrich your life, your experiences, teach you about yourself and the world around you. Graduation isn’t such a huge threshold. Being in love might be its own liberal arts experience, if you want to get weird with it – letting yourself feel and commit that deeply can open you up to a vast array of new possibilities, perspectives and so on. On this view, maybe you should really consider taking the plunge and going for that legit long-term relationship status. Are you really prepared to let go of the beautiful thing you have with this person? Do you need to be so concerned with the small stuff when you have the right person by your side? And what can be more edifying than a beloved and loving companion?

The other way to look at the problem that graduation poses for the currently romantic senior is to realize that, well, maybe this isn’t real life. Think about the way you live here at Olaf and compare it to a working professional that you know. College seems sorta fake, doesn’t it? Our weird modular schedules and our segmented living situations and our communal dining experience and the insular nature of campus life – it’s all so clearly a fascimile of the flow of adult living, in a microcosm. In real life, you have less homework. You have generally more time to call your own – you have to choose what to do with it though, of course. You have autonomy and agency over and above the training-wheels adulthood we enjoy here on the Hill. The stakes there are higher. The rewards perhaps greater, the pitfalls perhaps deeper. Maybe, on this view, you might view the continuation of your relationship as the risk it really is. Maybe you aren’t so sure about who you as an individual are yet. Maybe you need to figure yourself out as a real adult before making this commitment. Are you really ready to face it all – all of it – together? Do you even know what all of it is? What could be more harmful to each of you than dragging each other down and away from opportunities in a big, messy world?

All that said, you can make it work. Really. So very many people do. And again, lots and lots of folks do get hitched right out of the gate, and I’m sure many of them die seventy or eighty years later with happy contented grins on their faces. Insert your own dreamy, lovey-dovey future here. All I’m telling you to do is think about it seriously, and to tackle these questions both as an individual and as a couple. For real – now is the time. So get talking.

And however things turn out, by everything sacred and lovely in the world, take this term to have fun together if you can. We’re only young once, and it all passes so quickly, love included. Be safe, be kind, be generous.

smith12@stolaf.edu