Article by Florence Chui & video by Audrey Willis
Special to Mustang News
Laurie Nakagawa, an industrial engineering graduate student, and industrial technology senior Greg Wee have been in love for three years. Now, as they both approach the end of their senior year, they face the largest hurdle their relationship has come in contact with: graduation.
“We have been trying to see if we can try to get jobs that are close to each other, because right now we visit each other very often,” Nakagawa said. “We’re almost living with each other.”
College has always been a place to learn and grow, as well as a place where many people enter their first serious relationship. That relationship, however, sometimes comes with an expiration date — the day they graduate.
What do Cal Poly students think about relationships in college? Click the hotspots below to find out.
Graphic by Sara Natividad
According to psychology professor Laura Freberg, students can be under unconscious stress about their relationships when it comes to what will happen after graduation.
“We are conflicted sometimes, and we could even have some, what we would consider, implicit or unconscious feelings about a situation that we really hadn’t thought through,” Freberg said.
Most students haven’t been in a serious relationship until college, and when confronted by this sudden issue, they have no prior knowledge on how to handle it properly, Freberg said.
When seniors have to address their relationship issues, some of them choose to avoid communication with their partners, Freberg said. They fear their partners will say what they don’t want to hear and prefer to protect themselves from the pain of rejection.
“We go through a lot of really physical pain. I mean, you do get heartache when there is rejection, and if both people aren’t on the same page, somebody is gonna get hurt,” Freberg said.
Couples who have different plans after graduation are often left with a difficult decision to make. If one partner is hesitant to be in a long-distance relationship, it leaves both partners in limbo between February and June. They are often questioning whether they are done with each other or if it’s worth working out, Freberg said.
Freberg also suggests couples should communicate more to solve problems because it helps each other to understand.
Freberg suggests focusing on the issue of where the relationship is heading. She says it is important not to bring up old memories and instead work on arriving at a solution.
A year ago, Nakagawa saw her graduation coming soon, so she brought up the problem they would both face at the end of June.
“He didn’t try to avoid it,” Nakagawa said. “He just never brought it up, and it was never a concern to him until I started bringing it up.”
Unlike some students, they did not avoid communicating with one another. After discussing the issue, they decided they want to find jobs close to each other so they can remain together.
Psychology senior Andrea Patton is in the same boat.
“There comes the date we’re both gonna graduate and leave posteriorly, so I think a very big issue is to get on a same page,” Patton said.
It is nerve-wracking for couples to bring up the topic of what will happen after graduation because it could shatter a wonderful relationship, Patton said.
She and her boyfriend will live in two different places after graduation. They have tried discussing it, but they never agree on a solution.
“It’s so difficult,” Patton said. “It’s hard. It’s stressful, you know? But then we take a break for a couple of weeks and come back to it, but it is the biggest challenge for me.”
According to Community Prevention and Intervention coordinator Dr. Hannah Roberts, the most common issue that leads couples into an argument is a lack of communication. Most students don’t want to talk about their expiration date and pretend it doesn’t exist.
“There is always a fear of something really big, and it will definitely get bigger if we ignore it,” Roberts said.
Roberts encourages students to open their hearts to their partners and have a conversation on what level of commitment they are on by asking what the next step is.
“I hope that they will value one another and they will share with one another,” Roberts said. “How important they are to each other, because it’s a lot.”
Approaching their potential expiration date, couples need to be brave and communicate. The possibility of rejection remains, but allowing these issues to go on can result in more emotional turmoil when the time comes. The importance lies in talking it out, or regretting it later.
When an issue comes up, Roberts has some suggestions for couples:
- Be clear about your explanation on what you are thinking.
- Don’t play mind games.
- Let your partner know you want or need something.
- Be prepared to talk about the situation.
- Seek advice. For example, go to counseling.
- Talk to someone you feel comfortable around.