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Credit: Sammie Yoon

On FaceTime with a friend from high school, right after an Instagram-official couple post on my part, she teased me, “What happened to ‘I hate labels, relationships are a burden, freshman year is for the girls’ Kaliyah?” 

That led to a heart-to-heart conversation, as we girls do, on the story of my new relationship and all the internal conflict that preceded putting a label on the thing. As our friendship started at a small boarding school in Southern California, and we’d gone through everything together, we mused on how our experiences at boarding school affected our view on romantic, monogamous relationships.

Something important to consider about my high school experience was that there were substantially fewer options. We know everyone has a type. I don't just mean in a physical sense, but things like humor, pet peeves, and maturity are important aspects when you're deciding if you like someone. Because there were fewer options at a school with 270 students, I lowered my standards under the impression that anyone was better than no one. If we had talked, or even dated, and it ended, even horribly, I might reconsider that person in a couple trimesters. I found myself going back to people I thought weren’t right for me multiple times. Not having perfect relationships and often being frustrated led me to understand what traits were important for me in a partner, but it also gave me the mindset that relationships had to be difficult. Not only were they difficult, but that I was bad at them in the ways that matter — expressing feelings, opening up, etc. 

You also had to see the person all the time. Because the schedule at my school was very structured — classes, sports, dinner, friends, study hall — adding another person to the mix was often stressful and made me view relationships as such. I also became wary of getting into one because I knew that at such a small school, I could not avoid having to see this person all the time regardless of the outcome. My friends and I all had experiences being heartbroken and having to see that person at least once a day, which, at 16 years old, is kind of traumatic.

Because boarding school is essentially living nine months of the year with your peers, I also felt like having a relationship meant missing out. Two of my friends' freshman-year relationships ended after they had invested a lot of “friend time” into their partner, while the rest of us had gotten closer. After watching them go through the pains of coming back into our friend group, I remember thinking to myself that I wouldn’t ever do that. It became something we awaited excitedly: being single and having fun our freshman year of college. 

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As my experience at boarding school was the only firsthand exposure I'd had to dating, I had taken it as fact that relationships were not going to be a thing for me my freshman year. I don't mean that I hated the idea of having someone to be infatuated, or even in love, with. I am a romantic, believe it or not, and spend a lot of my time writing about love in all its ooey-gooey aspects. What I mean is that I was very nervous about getting hurt, what with some of my role models warning me against college boys and their lack of concern with my pretty little heart, so I thought my freshman year was the worst time possible to take that risk. 

Then, I met someone. If there is anything that can make someone go against all of their carefully crafted ideas about dating, there is usually only one reason. They met someone. With every intention and effort not to, I fell into the thing. I can write for ages about why my idea of relationships was flawed, but if you’re like me and you haven’t had good luck with dating, it’ll sound like a load of crap. 

What I can say is, when you are in a relationship that seems too hard, consider that it may be the situation. When you feel like you’d be having more fun somewhere else, or with other people, consider that it may be the person. When you run away from the feeling and it comes anyway, consider running away harder. When it comes again — and if it’s right, it will — let it be what it is. Before I wrote this piece, I spoke with some friends, asking “What did boarding school teach you about relationships?”  My roommate at Penn (who also went to boarding school) had this to say: “Every guy isn’t the guy. Some things are meant to be lessons and be temporary.” 

You don’t have to be wary of a relationship like I was, just be aware of the pros and cons. There are worse things than heartbreak and not many better than love. 

KALIYAH DORSEY is a College freshman from Pennsauken, N.J., studying English. Her email address is kaliyahd@sas.upenn.edu.

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