Going to college can be a daunting experience for everyone – living away from home, meeting new friends, and devoting your time to one subject can be quite a lot to take in at once. When I left for Sussex University almost four years back, I felt so much better knowing that my boyfriend was coming along with me. I believed that we could provide each other with some support through the big changes that we were about to face, having been together for a year already.
Our families and friends were quite adamant that the decision to go together would fail miserably. "Just enjoy being single and meet new people," I was told. "He will hold you back if you stay with him." Fast-forward to now and we are still together post-uni, hoping to move in together soon. We both feel grateful that we didn't listen to the advice.
Let's be real though, going to university with a partner is not easy. If anything, it can make those "big changes" all the more difficult. In my first week at college, I started to believe that our families and friends may have been right. While other students mingled, made connections, and explored being single, we both struggled to form our own friendships as we stuck together the entire time. We are both quite nervous, socially awkward people so we would rarely split off from each other at parties or events. When we did introduce each other to new people, you could sense this awkward elephant in the room – knowing that they thought it was odd to come together and we would probably break up. This made it incredibly difficult to form lasting friendships, to the point that both his and my only friends were my roommates.
We both felt too nervous to keep up with meeting new people together so we decided that the two people I lived with were enough to keep us happy in terms of friendship. This meant that we slept in my single bed, spending every day and night together for our entire first year. We spent our time only with each other – all day, every day. Both of our mental states deteriorated and we rarely left the flat, except to buy food and attend classes.
Despite the pandemic, our third year was incredible. We kept in touch online during the various lockdowns and we both enjoyed living with our friends, who kept us company during the difficult months.
In the February of that year, I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD), which made me isolate and stay inside even more. On multiple occasions, we decided to break up because of how unhappy we both were. Then, after a few days, we would both feel even more lonely and so we would decide to get back together. It was a vicious cycle: without each other, we were unhappy but we were also extremely unhappy with each other. Neither of us realized at the time that if we had just formed our own friendships, had some more space, and taken better care of ourselves, we wouldn’t have been in this situation.
Over the summer, we talked about how miserable we were and agreed that we would not live together in the second year. We would make more effort to find more friends and keep some distance between ourselves to ensure our relationship lasted. With this distance in place, we both felt so much happier in our second year. I had new friends, a new place that looked out on the sea, and my mental health was beginning to return to normal. After a while, though, I found it difficult to be alone. It almost felt like I was having withdrawal symptoms from him. He was my support blanket: I was so used to being with him for every second of each day to make me feel loved and less alone. I began to think that in order to get rid of that feeling of weakness — which I realize now is a very normal symptom of BPD — I needed to remove him from my life. In my irrational state, I decided that we should split so that I wasn’t depending on him to sustain my happiness. That same week, I went out with some of my friends to a club and explored what it felt like to be single for the first time. I kissed various strangers, boys and girls, and thought that this was the right thing for me to do to feel better mentally and become more independent. To "find myself."
The next morning I was overwhelmed with feelings of guilt and regret and questions about my sexuality. I felt guilty for trying to move on so soon after our split and for attempting to ignore the feelings I had toward my partner. I felt guilty for letting my irrational feelings take over and for doing something that would hurt his feelings. Prior to this, I was insistent that I was heterosexual, despite growing up and realizing that I thought some women weren’t just "pretty" and was, in fact, sexually attracted to them. I had always feared the labels that some bisexual people face. I had been suppressing this side of myself, hiding it from everyone, including me. But acknowledging it didn’t mean that I had fallen out of love with my partner.
It felt like an entirely different relationship from the year before: we were healthy and vocal about our feelings. We didn't depend on each other anymore to be happy.
I decided to tell him everything: that I regretted my decision to break up, that I was having some identity issues, struggling with my diagnosis, and suppressing my emotions. He was very understanding and accepting. I began therapy to help me with my identity, to help me take better care of myself, and to make smarter decisions when I felt overwhelmed so that my mental state wouldn’t bring my partner down with me. Shortly after, we began dating again and became very open with each other about our feelings. If I was having a bad day or had an issue with how things were working, I would let him know and he would do the same. We ensured that we had enough time with our friends and each other, and some alone time too. It felt like an entirely different relationship from the year before: we were healthy and vocal about our feelings. We didn’t depend on each other anymore to be happy.
I made sure that he was aware that I may be bisexual and we have talked openly about it since. He is aware that it does not change how much love I have for him, and I don’t personally feel that I need to explore in order to make this valid. What matters is that I know who I am and so do my friends and family. Despite the pandemic, our third year was incredible. We kept in touch online during the various lockdowns and we both enjoyed living with our friends, who kept us company during the difficult months. When we were able to see each other, we would go on long walks and catch up with everything that we had missed.
We now both live back at home with our parents and are set to move in together soon. Even though our experience of attending university together was a struggle at times, I truly believe that we wouldn’t be as happy in our relationship today without it and I don’t regret it. We have both learned how important it is to be vocal about our feelings, to seek help when needed, and not to depend solely on your partner for happiness.
This story was originally published on Refinery29 Australia.