I want to begin by saying, love has no rules. Every person and every relationship is different. This crazy little thing called love will show you the highest highs and the lowest lows.
Valentine’s Day is all about the highest highs. Happy couples stroll hand in hand across campus, restaurants are filled with starry-eyed lovers and mass media pushes messages of love and relationships to everyone it can reach.
Unfortunately, feelings of love are not universal this time of year. Emotions of lost love become magnified against the exaggerated messages of love. Cupid cut-outs and red hearts will be visible from pretty much wherever you are: on campus, downtown or online.
Most college students go through relationships and break-ups throughout their college careers. There is a good chance this means students will be spending Valentine’s Day alone at some point during their four years on campus.
This notion spurs the “Singles Awareness Day” movement that single people all over the world have embraced. This concept sheds light on the other side of Valentine’s Day: people that have been hurt in relationships and have had the single life thrust upon them.
I want to propose a different way of thinking about this. I’ll be “alone” on Valentine’s Day, but I won’t be desperately wishing I was cuddling in a lover’s arms or dreaming about “what could have been.”
I’m choosing to focus on what I’ve learned through past experiences, and how I’ve grown because of them. In my interviews, I encouraged the broken hearted to take this mindset as well. Bitterness towards love runs rampant in February. The students I interviewed naturally fell into this negative thought pattern. I asked them to go deeper into what they actually gained from the relationship. How the time they did spend with their significant other helped them grow, how moving on made them stronger and more mature and what they gained from overcoming this major obstacle.
Keith Weinstein, a senior, discussed his experience with love and break-ups with me. Keith came to JMU with a girlfriend that was attending a different college. Despite the common advice to enter college single, Keith admitted to being “blinded by love.”
This story does not have a fairy tale ending. Like many long distance relationships, Keith’s floundered and did not last. As he says, “sometimes the love is right, but the timing is off.”
A simple, yet profound statement. Long distance relationships make building a love much more difficult. Keith still has negative feelings about college relationships, but he was able to get over that hurdle to discover how he benefited from his break-up.
“The early 20’s are where we are supposed to learn what we want in a companion through trial-and-error,” Keith explained. Like every relationship, Keith’s had its ups and downs. They were really good together, but not perfect.
If you reflect on a relationship, you can find things you would do differently. These discrepancies between perceived utopia and reality point you in the right direction to find that special someone. Keith decided that he “would want to have more space, as well as give my significant other more space.”
While this won’t help Keith rekindle his past love, he can use it in his future relationships. He was able to learn more of what he wants in a companion, the key to moving on and up to a stronger relationship.
Second semester senior Steve Busby is currently bearing the fresh pain of a recent breakup. He had been dating a girl for over a year and a half, until they broke up after winter break.
He has persevered through this with his hope for the future. Steve realized, “she’s 95% of what I’m searching for in a girl.” Instead of seeing that as a terrible dilemma, Steve viewed his situation from a different perspective. He continued, “It just makes me excited to meet the next girl that is 96% of what I want, then 97% of what I want, until I find my 100%, the perfect girl for me.”
This isn’t easy for anyone, especially a college student. It’s hard enough deciding between buffalo and honey BBQ bites at Dukes, let alone attempt to figure out what you really want in your significant other. You learn that through meeting and familiarizing yourself with new people that have distinct personalities from what you’ve grown accustomed to.
Break-ups are painful, and it’s not easy to get over them. Time will gradually soothe the pain and a contrasting outlook will help you move on.
In the words of senior Julia Henderson, “pain is the pathway to happiness.”
I want to change peoples’ perceptions of break-ups. Start a different conversation. The end of one relationship is just another learning opportunity to grow through, to help make your next relationship a little more successful.
As senior Evan Beach wisely articulated, “Love is a battlefield. You just have to keep fighting.”
*Some names have been changed to protect the anonymity of respondents.
How have you been affected by break-ups? How have you overcome the issue? Share your opinions below, and help me change the conversation.