Students discuss balancing school, romance in the season of love

Judging by the pink hearts and cupids appearing around campus this past week, it seems that even a historic slew of snowstorms can’t take the heat out of the most romantic timeof year – Valentine’s Day. On Saturday, couples will decide how much fanfare to make in demonstrating their mutual attraction, while singles will perhaps go looking for a spark of passion, or lament the lack thereof.

But putting aside the decorations and date nights, this most romantic holiday reveals an important question about this most hormonally fueled place known as the college campus: how do college students really feel about relationships, and what do relationships mean to them?

The answer, it seems, depends on the individual, his or her preferences and the ability to compromise.

Virginia Rutter, a sociology professor who specializes in gender relations and sexuality, has identified and studied the two styles of relationships – long-term and occasional hookup – each of which has a set of risks and rewards, especially for young people.

“Both of these strategies are sensible,” Rutter said. “My advice would be, don’t worry about what other people are doing. Recognize that your strategy is a legitimate strategy, so long as it feels good to you.”

However, regarding the serious relationship – glorified more this weekend than at any other time of year – Rutter advises students to be cautious, and not rush into one.

“Young people are at risk of thinking very quickly that they’re in relationships, and that they need to play relationship roles,” she said. “So you see people quickly believing that their contact or socializing with somebody means they’re owed something, or that they owe the other person something that goes beyond the way you would treat a friend – with respect and courtesy.

“The thing that I think young people can sometimes forget is that,” said Rutter, pausing and smiling in preparation for the oncoming cliché, “there are plenty of fish in the sea.”

She added, “Practice, practice, practice,” mimicking relationship advice that her uncle had given her during her college years.

This was the case for senior Meredith Nelson, whose current relationship developed slowly and out of a genuine friendship.

Nelson’s girlfriend, Caitlin Carley, who graduated from FSU last spring, was originally Nelson’s friend through Carley’s best friend, whom Nelson was dating on and off at the time. When things between Nelson and Carley’s friend hit the rocks, Carley was there to support her. Returning the favor, Nelson would support Carley when she experienced troubles in her relationship at the time.

“We sort of bonded over that,” Nelson said.

A year and a half later, it has shaped up to be, as Nelson described, “the best relationship I’ve ever been in.

“I’m glad it happened here at school,” she added. “It’s just a good environment to be in.”

Rutter said that for college students, “Having a partnership can be fantastic. If you’ve got a partner who shares your values – academic values, personal values – and who supports you in pursuing every aspect of your education, every aspect of your life, it’s really wonderful.”

Jesse Sannicandro, a junior, who is single, said that in general, college dating is a good thing, allowing students to “meet like-minded people.”

When asked about the balance of romance and academics, Rutter described how it’s not so much whether academics come first, but how to put them first while still engaging in fun and meaningful social relationships, warning students to avoid any partner who would try to “suppress your interest in the world and your desires.”

While most students would surely agree that shirking schoolwork for romance is problematic, evidence shows that it is still a prevalent issue. According to data from a spring 2014 national survey of college students provided by Judy Grob-Whiting and Pam Lehmberg of the FSU Health Center, 8.3 percent of college students reported that relationship troubles had affected their academic performance.

For students trying to balance romance and academics, Counseling Center Director Paul Welch gave simple advice – “Remember your priorities,” and, of course, “Don’t forget your friends.”

Junior Jarred Joyal, though happily in a relationship since freshman year, admitted that college dating is “not the best thing for academics.”

Two juniors, who preferred to be known simply as Ronnie and Joe G., have both faced the potential difficulties of college dating in a more unique way, as both maintain long-distance relationships while at college. Though both have girlfriends about an hour drive away, they offered differing views on the experience.

Ronnie said that long-distance dating “can be stressful” for the college student due to the infrequency of face-to-face interaction – in his case, only seeing his girlfriend about twice a week when on break.

Joe G. disagreed, saying that long-distance relationships allow more freedom for each partner to keep his or her own close group of friends and have passionate, though infrequent, reunions.

“You make the best of it every time,” he said.

Regarding FSU, Ronnie added, “I didn’t even know anyone dated around here.” From what he’s seen, he said, “They mostly just hook up,” or carry out short-lived relationships.

For junior Cameron Zamagni, however, maintaining his long-term relationship has been especially challenging, since his girlfriend lives not in a different part of the state, but a different part of the world – the opposite side, in fact, as she is currently working as an au pair in New Zealand.

Zamagni described how, besides the fact that she is not here with him, just trying to communicate with his girlfriend can boggle the mind due to the time difference.

“It is currently 1:00 p.m. here,” Zamagni said, looking at his phone. Doing some quick mental math, he said, “There, it’s 7:00 a.m. – tomorrow.”

As one might imagine, Zamagni’s total Skype and Facetime hours have reached an astronomical sum. The arrangement has at times required him to stay up extra late and get up extra early in order to sneak in a date to talk about what’s happening in their lives. Occasionally, schoolwork would takes a back seat to providing emotional support.

“There are good days and bad days,” he said. “It’s a lot more intricate than a regular relationship. All you have is your face and the words you’re saying. You can’t hug them.

“I think it has worked, though,” he added hopefully. “She’s managed this whole thing extraordinarily well.”

For Zamagni, it is mutual dedication and understanding which allows his trans-continental relationship to work. Rutter described how this is the key to successful college dating.

“You want to be with people who share your investment in life, and your investment in the world. You want a partner who connects with that and who doesn’t compete with it,” she said. “I do believe that you can have it all – you can have a great relationship and a great school life. … Find a partner who shares your values and wants to see you succeed in life.”

Such is the case for junior Julianna DeWolfe and senior Dan Topliffe, who enjoy one of the more serendipitous relationships on campus. The two met in history class and formed a bond after Topliffe “laid down the moves,” slowly moving his seat closer to DeWolfe’s and asking for her phone number right in front of the professor. It was only shortly after that they realized they both commuted to school from the nearby town of Ashland – not to mention that Topliffe shares the same birthday as DeWolfe’s mother. Fate perhaps?

When asked about the impact of college romance on academics, DeWolfe stressed that there has been no negative effect in her experience. Topliffe agreed, noting that his GPA has gone up since their relationship began.

“It’s motivating,” DeWolfe said of their close connection. “We can study together, and with that, you really get to see two sides of someone. We balance each other out.”

This happy pair said that they will likely be staying in this Valentine’s Day, eating, relaxing and “enjoying each other.”

Sophomore Johnny Trocchi said that, although a college relationship could be good or bad depending on the individual, “after college is when you should get serious.”

Junior Danielle Winters, who recently began a relationship with someone off campus, called being a couple “relieving,” and “slightly helpful,” as it allows her to spend more time on work and less looking for love.

“I don’t have to worry about shit,” she said regarding her romantic situation. This includes Valentine’s Day, which, she said, is not too important to her or her boyfriend.

Sophomore Colin MacEacheron, who dates another FSU student, described the duality of college dating.

“She betters me in terms of motivation,” he said of his girlfriend, but added that she “can sometimes be a distraction.”

MacEacherson said that FSU’s location makes it prime territory for building relationships, being surrounded by potential date sites such as restaurants, bars or the movie theatre. However, this Saturday, their third V-Day together, he and his lady are not planning any big production.

Junior Brianna English, who is in a relationship with someone off-campus, said that college dating “takes time,” both in developing partnership and nurturing it day to day.

“Most people don’t bother,” she said, “but it’s really not a bad thing, if you’re willing to put in the effort.”

Of course, though generally a couple-centered occasion, V-Day can be a time to express any and all sorts of love. For seniors Elena Ivanova and Liana Meira, this Saturday will be a celebration of a very special type of connection: the bromance.

Both single, Ivanova and Meira are considering spending Saturday, as they joked, each with a smirk, “braiding each other’s hair and slow dancing while staring into each other’s eyes.”

Of her relationship with her BFFL (best friend for life), Meira said, “I have someone who I can be myself around, who knows me better than a boyfriend, who I don’t have to try to impress.” To this Ivanova added, “I feel very happy about it.”

“Luckily,” Rutter said, Valentine’s Day is “a holiday that’s about fun and celebration. Not every question that you could think of needs to be answered at this moment in your connection with somebody. You don’t have to know all the answers. If you’re having a meaningful, good fun time right now, it’s going to be fine.”

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