It’s no secret that relationships aren’t easy—whether you’re in high school, college or embarking on life as a full-time adult. Sometimes, outside factors like school, distance, time and careers can come between couples, making it seemingly impossible to work around them. While the old saying, “If there’s a will, there’s a way,” definitely still rings true, not all relationships are destined for eternity—and that’s totally okay. You can be happy with someone now while knowing you’re not meant to be with them forever. We asked relationship experts for advice on how to navigate relationships you know aren’t meant to last.
1. Be clear about how you feel
While dating in college may seem more serious than the relationships you had in high school, you shouldn’t feel pressure to have a long-term relationship just because you’re older or more mature. However, it goes without saying that you and your SO should always be on the same page about the status of your relationship, or else the other person could end up feeling seriously hurt and confused.
“I believe it is fine for college women to date someone they know they don't want to be with long term as long as that is made clear from the beginning,” says Kim Olver, a relationship counselor. “Dating someone ‘in the meantime’ is unfair to that person if they think this could be a happily-ever-after relationship. When you know a relationship is coming to an end, it is essential that you both have healthy communication about it. It is likely one person is ready for the relationship to end while the other one is not. If you are the one who is ready to end it, then you should be the one to respect your partner's needs for closure.”
College is a great time to figure out what you like and what you don’t, and that goes for dating and relationships as well. If you’re feeling stuck in your current relationship and want a break, or you’re single and want to give dating a try without a huge commitment, you should give yourself the freedom to make those decisions without feeling any guilt. Just make sure you’re forward about your intentions with your SO, as their idea of a relationship in college could be totally different from yours.
2. Avoid getting too attached
Especially if you’re new to a relationship, it can be really easy to become emotionally attached to the other person and want to spend all your time with them. However, doing so can lead to major heartbreak down the road when one or both of you decide to call it quits.
“The best way to approach a relationship that has an expiration date is to not let it get too intense,” says Dr. Carole Lieberman, a relationship expert and media psychiatrist. “Keep things low key. For example, space out the occasions when you get together, do things in groups, keep your options open and plan how you’re going to meet [new people] after the inevitable expiration date of the relationship.”
Avoiding serious attachment can help you and your SO keep things civil down the road, if you do decide to break up.
"My usual inclination isn't to end the relationship, even if I know it won't last," says Gina Escandon, a junior at Cal Poly State University, San Louis Obispo. "I tend to ride it out and enjoy my time with that person. Of course that means being mindful, and not getting really emotionally attached. But if both people are aware of the situation, it's usually fun to just enjoy the rest of your time together for what it is, and have a happy ending rather than a bad break-up later."
If keeping things low key is a serious problem for you and your partner, you may want to talk about the possibilities of a long-distance relationship or getting more serious about going long-term. However, if the end is in sight for the both of you, you can make things a lot easier on yourself if you avoid getting too attached too quickly.
3. Weigh the pros and cons of staying together and breaking up
Regardless of the state of the relationship you’re in, communication should always be at the center of it. If you’re both dreading the impending break-up, then you need to weigh the pros and cons of doing so to make sure that you’re both making the right decision.
“Talk about the immediate future and where you see yourself after college,” says Olver. “Should you both have plans that do not easily include the other person, then be honest about that and talk about the options. Sometimes it's better to maintain the friendship rather than to go through a messy breakup. The other consideration is that it is wonderful to experience intimacy and to have a person with whom you can share your life, even if it is temporary.”
Keeping in constant communication about the future of your relationship is a great way to ensure that you’re both on the same page, and that each of you will be prepared should you decide to call things off.
“In deciding whether or not a college relationship is worth pursuing, don’t languish in a dead-end relationship just for the sake of having a date you can count on,” says Dr. Lieberman. “This is wasted time that could be spent following other passions, or looking for someone new. Settling for a bad relationship erodes your self-esteem. You begin to think that you’re not worth a better partner than this and it becomes depressing.”
While relationships are important, they should never get in the way of your long-term goals.
"Me and my last boyfriend had this issue," says Jazmyne Jackson, a sophomore at Boston University. "He was going to college in New Mexico and I had one year left of high school. Our long term plans took us in opposite directions too--he wanted to settle down in California and I wanted to live in New York. There was no point in salvaging something when we just had different long-term goals."
Your college years are precious and shouldn’t be spent stuck in a relationship just for the sake of being in one. Follow your heart when it comes to deciding whether or not you and your SO should stay together.
4. Learn to live in the present
While planning for the future can be inevitable when you’re in a relationship, it’s important to make sure that you and your SO are focusing on the present. No one should feel obligated to plan for a long-term relationship in their 20s if they’d rather be focusing their time on other things such as school, careers or other passions.
“When you both agree that a breakup is inevitable at a particular time or event, then living in the present is the only way to go,” says Olver. “I believe that is the only way to be in any relationship since the present is really all there is. People get too caught up in ‘forever’ relationships. There is never a guarantee any relationship will last forever, even married ones. Don't be worried about a hypothetical situation in the future that may never happen, just enjoy the moment and allow the relationship to grow into whatever it becomes."
Relationships can be amazing and rewarding, but they should never add negative pressure to your life—especially during your college years. Focus on the now and what you can add to each other’s lives, and the rest will fall into place, whether or not you decide to stay together. Always put your happiness first, collegiettes!