Alex Sylvester@@[email protected]@ has been with his boyfriend, Loren, for a year and seven months. When they first started dating, they struggled to find and maintain a balance between independence and dependence. Everyone requires different amounts of personal space, and understanding a partner’s personal needs is critical.
From getting comfortable with a higher education curriculum to making and breaking relationships on a consistent basis, life on a university campus is a learning experience by default. Students interact with other students both familiar and unfamiliar, relationships are made, and friendships either blossom or wither.
Moreover, intimate relationships are explored and pursued. What’s overlooked is the importance of these relationships to the college experience and the personal growth of each partner.
Let’s face it — relationships are hard work. There is no doubt that they are an essential aspect of human life; however, they require more energy and communication than people are often willing to give. Relationships are especially susceptible to turmoil at the university age range.
When it comes to romantic relationships, it’s important that partners maintain an appropriate balance of dependence and independence.
“One of the biggest developmental issues among college-aged students is trying to create a sense of independence from their parents but also trying to find who you are in relation to other people,” said Jonathan Davies, a psychologist and former counselor for the University of [email protected]@http://www.uoregon.edu/findpeople/person/Jonathan*[email protected]@
That sense of freedom carries over into every aspect of a student’s new life in college. Maintaining the appropriate balance between personal independence and interpersonal dependence is an important factor in this new lifestyle.
“I do not require as much (alone time) as Loren, but that’s something he’s taught me to appreciate, taking time to go be alone or be with other friends,” said Sylvester, the Gender and Sexual Diversity Advocate for the ASUO.
Over the course of his relationship, Sylvester realized that “communication is the answer to most relationship problems.”
“If you hang out too much together all the time you can get sick of each other, so we talk about it a lot more, and there is a lot more communication,” Sylvester said. “We have to make sure that we are both getting our needs met, whether that is a need to be together or a need to be apart.”
In terms of intimate relationships, it’s important to be “aware of your needs for connection and for your needs to be independent,” Davies said. “It’s about understanding and accepting where someone is emotionally at a given time.”
An important part of a healthy relationship is moderating the balance of freedom that each partner needs. Recognizing that you have dual needs for both freedom and attachment is extremely pertinent for all age ranges, but especially for the university-aged demographic.
College is an important time for experimenting and seeking out the niche that students are best suited to associate with. Relationships, intimate or otherwise, are an essential factor in the academic success of students.
“Our academic learning is built on top of having our social and physical needs met,” Davies said. “I think the need for social connection is as strong and as necessary as the need for air and water.”
“If you’re going to get serious with someone, I think it’s important to maintain your own life while still being connected with the other person’s life simultaneously,” Ali Noell said. “I think my boyfriend and I do that really well.”
Noell’s boyfriend Brent graduated two years before Ali in 2009. Ali graduated this past spring with a degree in education.
“So all of his friends moved away (after Brent graduated), and we decided to live together,” Noell said. “So that was a big commitment for both of us to make. It could have worked out poorly, but luckily we both still very much love each other.”
After Noell and her boyfriend had both graduated, they made the decision to stay in Eugene. Noell explained that becoming dependent on another person in terms of livelihood and romantic necessity is a difficult decision to make.
“I think it’s really important to be yourself,” Noell said. “I have a lot of friends who think that they really like somebody, but they’re really trying to be somebody else for that person, and that’s not ever going to work out in the long run.”
Noell explained that it is critically important to have a partner that respects who you are and doesn’t expect you to be someone that you’re not. This comes back to maintaining your individuality as well as your independence.
The real issue is maintaining that personal liberty without losing sight of the intimate relationship that is so important to students. “A healthy romantic relationship should have room for both (dependence and independence), and if it doesn’t then that’s something to think about,” Davies said.
He explains that there is a danger in either of the extremes: being too independent or being overly connected and dependent that one loses his or her individuality. The solution according to Davies: communication.
Dependency does not necessarily have to carry a negative connotation. As humans, we naturally seek out relationships with others. However, too much dependence can hinder the development of healthy relationships. It’s counterintuitive because if you love someone you want him or her all the time, but often times becoming too dependent on that person’s presence can begin to erode that person’s sense of freedom.
Davies spoke on the topic, saying that an overdependence on a partner can lead to an abusive relationship. This isn’t to say this is true of all cases; however, it is definitely a prevalent issue. Partners need a sense of independence or else that partner can lose touch with their support group and personal interests. According to Davies, this is a dangerous phenomenon. Again, he explains that communicating is the best solution to avoiding this kind of behavior.
It’s important to note that understanding one’s own emotional patterns is essential in understanding what one wants out of a relationship. “People need to be aware of their emotional patterns and sometimes those patterns can be extremely healthy,” Davies said. “But sometimes we’re also attracted to negative characteristics.”
However, it’s not always negative qualities in a partner that create hardships or conflicts within a relationship. The UO brings together students from all different geographical regions, both nationally and internationally. This brings on a new set of challenges for students and their romantic relationships. Oftentimes, relationships break apart geographically because the summer months separate some couples. Also, study abroad programs leave students with their intimate partner thousands of miles away in a foreign country with new friends, new experiences and minimal communication.
“Loren and I have spent two summers apart, and he tours the nation with a drum and bugle corps, so he can’t talk very much. I get to talk to him for five minutes a day during the summer for pretty much the entire two months,” Sylvester said. “That is really hard, and we have a lot of systems in place to make sure that I don’t get controlling and angry and that he doesn’t feel like he’s constantly disappointing me because he’s unable to talk to me.”
“Both times were really hard. The first summer I was, I don’t like to use the word ‘crazy’, but I was crazy,” Sylvester said. “This summer, the thing that really changed was that we talked about what was going to happen over the summer a lot in advance, and we had been dating longer, so I trusted him. I think that trust and communication was what was missing the first time.”
Managing the intimate ties with your romantic partner is difficult when you’re separated by thousands of miles. Davies said, “There is no magic solution to that, but I think talking about one’s fears and what’s realistic to pledge is helpful and can provide some clarity.”
“There used to be a saying in the ’60s that if you love something set it free. If it’s meant to be, it’ll always be there,” Davies said. “It’s a paradox — you have to do the opposite of what your emotions tell you. Instead of squeezing tighter, you just have to let go.”
As humans, we undergo a natural cycle of desires, fears, ambitions, successes and hardships. It’s important to find a balance and this holds true when it comes to romantic relationships. Oftentimes, the balance of independence and dependence on partners goes astray, but that balance can be restored with the combined efforts of both partners.
This is where the communication factor comes into play. If you understand your own emotional position, communicating that to the other partner in the relationship can create a healthy discussion about fears and desires.
Consequently, the relationship will thrive because both partners understand each other’s emotional states, therefore creating a respectful, balanced relationship. Communication is the key to maintaining that balance and helping both partners grow as a couple and as individuals.