Warning: Mild spoilers ahead for To All The Boys I've Loved Before.
Within the first five minutes of Netflix's new movie, To All The Boys I've Loved Before, lead character Lara Jean's older sister breaks up with her boyfriend, Josh. It's an important moment for the plot of the film, which follows Lara Jean awkwardly scrambling to fix things after five love letters she's written (one of them to Josh) get out. But the reason Laura Jean's sister gives for the breakup is much more than a plot point. It's actually super realistic, and something anyone leaving for college without their S.O. probably thinks about. "Before mom died, she said I should never go to college with a boyfriend," her sister says. It doesn't matter that she still loves him, she's leaving for college, so her relationship is over.
Maybe the advice sounds harsh, but plenty of people who make the high school-to-college transition while in a relationship have heard it before. The theory goes that there are too many opportunities in college, and too many changes, to hold on to a high school relationship. And often, that's true. "Most kids break up before they go off to college for the first time," says Susan Bartell, Psy.D, a psychologist who works with couples. "If they don't break up, they almost always break up by Thanksgiving or at the latest by winter break." It's hard to be tied to someone when you go off to college, she says, especially if one person is left at home when the other goes away.
Couples who do choose to stay together often start fighting because one or both partners imagine the new life their S.O. is building without them and get jealous. "One is away and they're constantly Snapchatting and posting things here and there and going to fraternity parties and bars," Dr. Bartell says. "And for the one who stays home, their life hasn't changed so much." She sees it happen both in couples where both partners go away to separate colleges and in couples where one partner goes away and one is either still in high school or goes to a school near home. In that situation, there's almost always jealousy from the partner at home. While jealousy doesn't always mean doom for a relationship, it can be a problem if the couple isn't talking it through. When the jealous partner doesn't communicate their feelings well, the other will likely misread their jealousy as mistrust.
But the worry about cheating isn't totally unfounded, Dr. Bartell says. She often sees couples break up because one or both finds someone at college they want to be with, so they either cheat or they start thinking about it. "They meet someone who's right there at college, who they could have a relationship with and who they aren't going to see only three times a year," Dr. Bartell says. Being in a relationship when you start college can make people feel tied down and really hinder their college experience (including the possibility of having college hookups).
Since bringing a relationship from high school into college is so fragile, Dr. Bartell almost always suggests couples break up before one moves off to college. The goal of dating in high school is to learn how to be in a healthy relationship, she says. And, sometimes, that means struggling to figure out when it's the right time to break up. "It's okay to break up," she says. "Just try to do it in a way that's ethical and that's not going to hurt someone's feelings." Every once in a while, she'll tell a young couple to stay together and just see what happens. "If it's not a drama-filled relationship, if there's not a lot of fighting, if there's not a lot of jealousy to start, and if they are generally mature kids, then I think it's more likely that it'll work out," Dr. Bartell says.
Again, it comes down to communication. If you and your S.O. are really in love and you're willing to work at keeping your relationship healthy, then go ahead and give it a shot. Lots of people will probably try to tell you not to stay in a relationship when you go to college, but no one can make the decision for you. Just know that it won't be easy.