Lessons in love and letting go: The college 'situationship'

Humans have a distinct tendency to learn most effectively through their own experiences. It’s an inherent characteristic — we are stubborn beings, often resistant to advice and guidance no matter how wise or well-intentioned it might be. This trait seems almost universal, and it’s one I’ve observed not only in those around me but also within myself. We often need to feel the heat of the fire firsthand before we truly understand why we were warned against it.

This was vividly illustrated to me last semester in the life of one of my closest friends. She began a relationship with someone who, on the surface, seemed to be an ideal match for her. He was charming — an athlete and seemingly very much interested in her. Observing this budding connection, I felt a surge of happiness for her. After all, seeing a friend find someone who sparks joy in their life is a cause for celebration.

Despite having been in a stable relationship myself for some time, past experiences with the complexities of romance were still fresh in my memory. These experiences gave me a certain perspective on relationships, a lens through which I could offer my friend advice and support. Yet, as I’ve come to learn, advice can only go so far. Each person must navigate the intricacies of their relationships in their own way, making their own discoveries and — inevitably — their own mistakes.

In her situation, the excitement of a new romance quickly gave way to the realities of an undefined and complicated relationship. What started as something seemingly simple and enjoyable soon turned into a lesson in emotional boundaries and self-awareness.

As the semester trudged on, my friend’s relationship, or more accurately, her “situationship,” began to overshadow other aspects of her college life. While her academic performance remained steadfast, her emotional world was in a state of on-and-off turbulence. Her once diverse conversations now had a singular focus: him and their undefined relationship. This proximity meant frequent, often unintended encounters, making it nearly impossible for her to gain the distance she occasionally sought.

In this college setting, where personal spaces often overlap, their ambiguous relationship became an undercurrent to our daily lives. Despite its unofficial status, the emotional investment was palpable. It was as if their casual, non-committal interactions somehow carried the weight of a more profound, intricate relationship. Each casual glance, each accidental meeting was analyzed and dissected, not just by her but by our entire friend circle, sometimes adding more confusion to her already mixed feelings.

I couldn’t help but see parallels between her situation and my own past experiences. Having navigated my share of complicated relationships in college, I understood all too well the allure and the pain of such entanglements. Now, in a serious relationship myself, it was easier to spot the red flags, pitfalls and emotional turmoil she was going through. But even when he treated her poorly, and one could almost say humiliated her, she just couldn’t let him go. As hard as that was to watch, I remembered the reluctance to leave someone, even when you knew they weren’t good for you. It was a tough spot, one where the heart and mind often find themselves at odds. My own journey through these tumultuous waters had taught me empathy and patience, both of which I tried to offer her.

As time passed, the “situationship” started to unravel. There was no dramatic breakup because there was never an official relationship. Instead, there was a gradual, albeit painful, drift. They began seeing less of each other, and their encounters became more sporadic, more civil, less charged. This slow fade brought a different kind of closure, one that was less about endings and more about accepting the ephemeral nature of some connections.

This college experience, set against the backdrop of academic learning and personal exploration, highlighted a crucial aspect of growing up. It taught us that not all relationships are meant to have clear definitions or predictable paths. Some connections are there to teach us about the complexities of human emotions, the value of understanding our own needs and the importance of setting boundaries.

Ultimately, the biggest takeaway was that some of life’s most crucial lessons are learned not through advice or cautionary tales, but through our own experiences. They may not always be pleasant, but they are invariably valuable. They teach us resilience, self-awareness and the often underrated skill of letting go. College, in this sense, becomes more than an academic journey; it’s a pivotal stage for personal and emotional development, where each experience, each “situationship,” each challenge, shapes us into more mature, understanding individuals ready for the complex world beyond campus walls.

Barbara Cardenas is a Trinity junior. Her column typically runs on alternate Mondays.

Editor's Note: This piece was edited Monday morning to conform with The Chronicle’s editorial standards.


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