College Relationships

               College relationships are hard. And no, I don’t just mean dating—I mean any kind of relationship. Friends, roommates, and dates alike. Dealing with people and feelings and trying to figure out how to communicate and navigate the social minefield everywhere you go is tough. Believe me, we all make mistakes when it comes to relating to people.

               College can be an especially tumultuous social scene. We are thrust into a new environment, on our own for the first time and figuring out who we are, surrounded by a bunch of other people who are equally new to their freedom and self-discovery. With so much unknown about ourselves and others, it gets… messy.

               We make new friends, then fall apart. We meet a new person, things click, we like them, and then down the road realize we don’t really like them—or they don’t really like us. College friends change from the person we met in freshman year to someone totally different by sophomore year. Even friends back home start to change too, and we grow away from them, physically and emotionally.

               It’s a given: people are complicated, so relationships of any kind are complicated. Sometimes, things just happen, people just change, and it’s unavoidable. Can’t do much about that, and it’s okay. But some things about relationships are on a learning curve, we make mistakes and know not to do those things in the future. We’re all human, messing up is part of the territory. In the spirit of living and learning, here are some stories of relationship mistakes that have been lived, and we can all learn from…

Best Friends… and College Roommates

               Lucy and her best friend were thick as thieves. They had the kind of friendship where they could have a whole conversation in just a few looks. They were each other’s confidantes, ride or die’s, the gravy to the other’s mashed potatoes. Inseparable for years, becoming college roommates only made sense as they ventured into young adult life.

               A couple months into their living situation, Lucy’s best friend started dating a guy. As their relationship progressed, her bestie was gone a lot and, occasionally, wouldn’t come home. Lucy didn’t think anything of it; they had both grown up in a Christian home and had good heads on their shoulders. Her friend wouldn’t do anything stupid or irresponsible.

               One day, Lucy was putting together an outfit and couldn’t find the sweater she wanted. She remembered that she had lent it to her dearest roommate—who wasn’t home to retrieve it for her. No biggie, Lucy knew what her sweater looked like, she’d be able to pick it out of her friend’s closet without too much invasive searching.

               Lucy popped into her friend’s room with all the intention of only grabbing her sweater. She sifted through the closet quickly, waiting for the familiar fabric to pop out at her. Instead, something else popped out of the pockets of a coat she pushed to the side. Something shocking, and completely unnecessary in a responsible and God-honoring relationship.

               Lucy stared at the items on the floor of the closet for a moment, the sweater forgotten. Shock quickly turned into anger. All those times her roommate had been away at night; all those times Lucy had just trusted her to be careful. Lucy felt betrayed that her friend hadn’t told her, that she had just let her think the best of her. She wondered how much she really knew about her friend after all.

               When her friend finally returned from goodness knows what, Lucy was there, items in hand, demanding an explanation. Instead, her friend was appalled by the invasion of privacy. Their confrontation was not fruitful, neither of them willing to receive blame or let go of the other’s faults. Unable to work things out, Lucy moved out and the friendship fell apart.

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               The broken friendship extended to their families, who each blamed the other’s child for the conflict. It was several years before the two girls spoke to each other again. Lucy, looking back, marked fault on both sides. No, she shouldn’t have been snooping. Her friend should not have been doing what she was doing, but that was her business. People choose their own mistakes; we can’t always make them do what’s right. There were better ways to approach the subject that could have saved them from losing valuable years of friendship.

Break Up, and Stay That Way

               Tiff and her boyfriend had broken up after over a year together. Of course, it was a difficult decision, and naturally there were some lingering feelings. So, when her ex came to her, proposing they give it another try, she couldn’t help but feel right about it. After all, it had worked for a year before the breakup and they still cared about each other, so it was worth working for, right?

               They picked their relationship up where they had left off. It was a lot of work, but she had expected that, hadn’t she? What she hadn’t expected was her family’s reaction. They told Tiff that they didn’t feel good towards him, that they “got bad vibes” from him. She tried to respectfully draw a barrier between their emotions and her own. It was, after all, her relationship, not theirs.

               However, as time went on, she found herself exhausted and frustrated trying to prop up the relationship. More and more, she felt herself being pushed to change aspects of who she was to keep him comfortable and satisfied. Tiff began to feel less secure about herself, and less confident in her feelings. After a few months of giving, and her happiness growing thinner and thinner, she had had enough.

               For the second time, the relationship ended. Tiff decided, following that incident, that if a relationship didn’t work out the first time, it wouldn’t work out the second, or third, or any time after that. She also advises listening to your family when they get a bad feeling about someone. They want you to be happy, and they are much more objective about the people you bring home than you are.

College Friends and their Feelings

               Pete’s college friend Dylan liked a girl… who didn’t like him back. A bummer for Dylan, but no biggie, right? It happens all the time. A little college-crush and we move on.

               That is, until Pete found out that she liked him instead.

               Now Pete had a dilemma. His friend had liked her first, but he had no real claim over her, right? After all, they had never dated, or even talked about dating. Not to mention, she was cute, and there was no real reason for him to reject her, she hadn’t done anything wrong. She had a right to choose who she wanted.

               So, Pete and the girl started hanging out, and even went on a couple dates. When Pete decided that it was time to make the relationship official, he went to Dylan to respectfully fill him in before announcing it. The only problem was Dylan didn’t find it respectful; any of it.

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               Dylan felt betrayed by Pete and, understandably, jealous. He felt that Pete should have respected his feelings since he knew that Dylan had liked her and knew that it would hurt him to see Pete and her together. Pete tried to reason with Dylan and say that she should be allowed to like who she wanted, but Dylan wouldn’t hear it.

               Dylan told their mutual college friends what Pete had done, and sides were taken, effectively splitting apart not just Pete and Dylan, but their whole friend group. With the damage already done, Pete continued to date the girl, but the friendship and the friend group were unsalvageable.

               Pete’s advice? College relationships are complicated. Tell your friends before you start dating people that they like. However, when you like someone, keep in mind that you don’t own them or their feelings. They still have the right to choose someone else, and while it may hurt, you shouldn’t take it personally. You can express your feelings to college friends or potential significant others, but it’s up to them to decide what they do with that information.

Listen, Don’t Tell

               Nat met Amy through the athletics department of their school. Aside from their shared interest in sports, they didn’t have a lot in common, but they found it was easy to talk to each other, and soon small conversations turned into lengthy, deep talks about life and the greater things that give life color and flavor—their love lives.

               Nat didn’t really have a love life; after a couple bad experiences and heartbreaks, she opted to take a break from relationships in college and focus more on enjoying the college social life. Amy, though, had been in a long-term relationship since high school and talked often about him. And, as they grew closer, she talked more honestly about him.

               After several years of dating, Amy and her boyfriend had effectively left the “honeymoon phase” behind and were more able to see each other as real people, with real flaws—flaws he pointed out perhaps more often than he should’ve.

               Nat listened and tried to be objective about him. Most of what Amy had to say about him seemed negative, which didn’t escape Nat’s notice. It definitely made it hard to like him. Nat would give Amy what advice and encouragement she could, trying not to seem too pushy, but emphasizing that Amy should stick up for herself more and set harder boundaries with him.

               Amy stayed in the relationship, and Nat did her best to be supportive of it and not get too involved with her opinion of him. After all, her experiences with relationships in college didn’t really make her an expert.

               One night, Nat and Amy were out on the town. They met a group of women, just a few years older than them, and got to talking. The women were eager to give advice and talk about lessons they learned and what they might expect following college. Eventually, as it always does, the topic of dating butted its way into what was a pleasant conversation.

               One of the women explained that the man she was now dating was not the kind of guy she ever expected she would be with. He had not been the type she was attracted to, and, back in her college days, she wouldn’t have given him a second look.

               But she explained that he treated her way better than anyone else ever had, and the effort he put in made all the difference. Nat confessed some of her past relationships, a common problem being that she was never, it seemed, attracted to the nice guys.

               Amy then chimed in. She told Nat that she should give uglier guys a chance, explaining that she wasn’t with the most attractive guy, but he was a “good” guy. And something in Nat snapped at the insinuation that she was shallow for not wanting “uglier guys.” Nat responded, asking how Amy’s boyfriend was considered “nice” when he did all the things Amy had told her about.

               And Nat then listed those things, for everyone to hear.

               It got quiet after that.

               The next day Amy texted Nat, expressing that she didn’t appreciate having her “dirty laundry aired out,” and Nat, stomach sinking, remembered all the things she had said. Nat apologized profusely but the words couldn’t be taken back. Amy decided to take a break from their friendship for a few weeks.

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               Eventually Nat and Amy recovered, but it took a long time to rebuild the trust they had before the incident. Nat has learned to listen without judgement, and to keep her personal opinions about her friends’ relationships to herself. We may not always like the people our college friends date, but the things we are told about them in confidence should stay in confidence.

To Go, Or Not to Go

               Donna and her high school best friend went to the same college. So, naturally, they decided to be college roommates. They had both been in dorms before, back when they attended high school, so they knew the drill.

               Dorms in college often put on “hall events,” which are silly games or outings that are meant to create easy opportunities for students to mingle, make new friends, and enjoy college social life. Donna and her friend, having already done the “dorm thing” didn’t attend any of the hall events for their dorm. They felt like all the events were too silly or childish for them, the newly independent adults, and so they kept to themselves.

               One of the events the hall put on was going to a local diner in the middle of the night, in their pajamas. All the girls filed out of the dorm, clothed in their baggiest, fuzziest pjs, complete with their puffy bedroom slippers and wool socks, carpooled to the diner, and split pots of coffee and pancakes—all except her and her best friend, who rolled their eyes at the thought of such a childish plan, and opted to stay in their room.

               Years later, Donna looked back on her time in college and wished that she and her friend had gone to the hall events, silly as they were. She realized that she missed a lot of opportunities to expand her social circle, meet people in her hall, and become college friends with people she would otherwise not have met.

               Put yourself out there, even if it seems lame. Sometimes the dumbest and silliest experiences are the foundation on which the best friendships are built–That’s what the college social life is all about, new friends and crazy experiences.

Blind Dates and Don’ts

               Jess was single—but she had great college friends. Such great friends, in fact, that they were willing to fix her problem, and try to find the right man for her. Without her input.

               Jess was a good sport though, and, having not found someone herself, allowed her friends to set her up on some blind dates. Going out with someone that you have never met, or even seen, is an obvious risk. It takes a certain amount of trust in the people setting you up and requires a kind of patience with the things that are left out of your understanding. And forgiveness for when those things turn out to be complete deal-breakers.

               Here are some things Jess learned:

  • Don’t wear a pencil skirt to a blind date. Jess had picked out the cutest outfit, complete with an elegant pencil skirt given to her by her mother. She was dressed to impress and ready to charm—until the guy pulled up in a lifted truck.

Any sense of elegance went out the window as Jess tried hopelessly to hoist herself into the truck without the use of her legs. All hope of redemption left when her pencil skirt tore up the built-in slit. It was a quiet car ride after that.

  • Don’t agree to the date until you know where you’re going. Jess’ date picked her up from her house, and started the date by revealing that the restaurant he chose was AN HOUR AWAY. Too late to back out, they carried on a strained and often stunted conversation in the long car ride.
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The first thing Jess did at the restaurant was choke on her water, cough to the point of tears, and settle into the realization that there was another hour-long car ride to go. No way out.

  • Learn to say no if the situation is uncomfortable. Her best friend set her up with a guy who was supposed to be tall, dark, and handsome. He drove a nice car, was young, and relatively wealthy. The guy who showed up to pick her up was NONE of the above. Out of a beat-up old car came a short, balding, mid-thirties man.

Feeling obligated to see it through, Jess grit her teeth and went on the date. He talked about the wall paneling at the restaurant and golf for the entirety of the date, which lasted less than an hour. Jess got home and called her best friend, furious, and found out that the guy she was supposed to go out with had traded her off to his older brother.

Thus ended her willingness to go on blind dates.


               Relationships in college are messy. Relationship mistakes and friendship mistakes are inevitable. But we live and we learn. Remember that every relationship is different, and we all need a little grace and patience as we interact and navigate college social life.

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