There are a lot of articles about choosing to, or happening to be single your first semester of college. There are articles about why not to start a relationship, or why you shouldn't maintain a long distance relationship in college. There are even counter articles about why having a LDR isn't a waste of your time first semester. But there aren't a lot of articles about what happens to people who meet and start dating someone early on their first semester of college. Probably because it doesn't happen, people avoid it, and it isn't the most popular choice. I've had amazing support for my new relationship from friends and family through the first semester, but I've also had a lot of people seem taken aback by it.
Being single is seen by younger college students as independence and an opportunity to have fun and explore your options. And, those things are a part of being single in college. It frees you up of a lot of the investment and commitment that comes with a relationship, and you are freer to explore things and be more independent. However, just because those are things being single lends to, doesn't mean they're automatically sacrificed when you decide to be in a relationship. Some of them are scaled back, and some of those things are just experienced in a different way.
Neither my boyfriend nor I were seeking out a relationship when we met each other. He came into college with the mindset I just described, of wanting to explore and have fun and not be serious. I wasn't so set on the being single mindset when approaching college, but a horrendous experience with a guy I had been "talking" to for about half a year had set me 100% against dating. Fast forward, and both of us had fallen into a sort of "talking" slash "dating" slash "seeing each other" thing with one another, and the hurdle we had to overcome was the idea that it wasn't absolutely crucial and necessary to remain single your first semester to have fun, explore, learn about yourself and become independent.
I came into college thinking I was a strong, independent, girl who knew herself inside out and was going to have a blast her first semester regardless of whether or not it worked out with the guy I'd spent a long time talking to. I thought I was prepared to keep on keeping on if that didn't work out. But honestly, I did not do well when it ended. I was more invested and attached than I had realized, and the facade of strength and independence I had built was really eroded by how badly I felt and how much I was hurt. This only reinforced the idea that being single was the only way to grow, be strong, and have the right experience. At this point, I thought nothing good could come from a relationship early in college.
As I was wrong about that relationship, I was wrong about relationships in general. Relationships weren't what would ruin your fun or independence, toxic people were. This is true whether you involve yourself with a bad significant other or a negative group of friends. It's cheesy, and he'll have to excuse me for saying it publicly, but it took meeting and spending time with someone who was effortlessly kind, thoroughly genuine, stomach-ache-causing funny and super cute (obviously), to show me that the negative stereotypes about early-college relationships were built more around people's experience with toxic or immature significant others than the actual support and experience of having a relationship.
It is true that you're more emotionally self-sufficient, free to do whatever you want with whomever you wish, and less attached as a single person early in college. However, if you're single you still have friends, and your loyalty to your closest friends won't always end up that different than the loyalty you may develop towards a significant other. Sometimes a relationship can inhibit you from being as wild as your single self (or could bring our your wild side), but as far as all the things singleness is supposed to cause, I've found that being in a relationship has made me tackle them in a different way.
As someone who maintained singleness, or non-serious relationships for most of high school, I was fine to keep my ideas about what you learn from being single, and didn't realize how being in a relationship can give the same qualities via a different method. In a relationship, you aren't barred from fun. Your fun is enhanced because you're doing it with someone else, and the things you can do are expanded by the interests of your partner, and you're pushed to try new things. In a relationship, you'll still get out of your comfort zone and meet new people. You've doubled the circle of friends that you have a chance to interact with, and by proxy, have usually opened yourself up to a whole new slew of parties to be invited to and events to attend.
As far as your personal characteristics, you'll develop a different sense of independence or maturity. Although in a relationship you grow an attachment and a little dependence on the other, you gain the responsibility of providing support and affection for the other person. As much as they'll be there to comfort you instead of you needing to comfort yourself, it comes with the caveat that you have to be there for them too. It's one skill to be there for yourself, and to give yourself advice, but you grow in a whole other way by learning how necessary it is to consider the feelings of someone else, and to develop as someone who listens to others and truly hears what they have to say in order to understand, rather than just to respond.
Lastly, I've found that having a relationship has added a layer to my life that being single never did for me. Back home, and in high school, I loved to do things alone. I loved to take myself out for dinner, grab a coffee solo, or go out on a long walk by myself. Even during my relationship, being alone was important, and led me to travel alone in New York City (and have the absolute best time). However, my first semester became even better because I had someone to experience it all with. Naturally, we do this with our friends, but our friends have other friends and for most friendships, it's never as close and one-on-one as a relationship is.
I got to see first hand how someone else experienced their transition to college. I had someone to listen when I had a bad day, and someone to learn everything about. I had someone there when other friends were out on dates, at a party, or busy at rehearsal. I had my alone time, but if I had a truly lonely moment, I had someone to make me laugh. The worst part of my semester was when my roommate moved out. Her and I had a real friendship, and her leaving left a pit in my stomach and had me feeling completely abandoned. I know I could have made it through it myself, and been helped by the amazing friends I've made, but in that situation, it made a world of difference to have someone who made my room a happy place again, and not just a place where I lived alone staring at empty furniture and an un-made bed.
All in all, I know I could have made it happily through the semester as a single person. Maybe I'd have had a crush here and there, or a hook-up at one of the parties I went to, or even just a Tinder fling for the books. But, I'd have coasted through as the same person who started, with the same jaded view of relationships and the same idea that being single made me strong and independent by default. Having a relationship was never my intention, and it's not something I'll let myself grow a dependence on, but when I look back I'll always treasure what I learned about myself and all the memories I have of learning what it means to be in a relationship, while still having the most fun I've had in my whole life.
Lead Image Credit: Tumblr