Illustration by Gillian Watts

Expiration dating can be amiable

Dating in college can be pretty great. You feel more confident about yourself, you may have  begun wearing deodorant and perhaps you even have a better understanding of your needs. When we find that special someone, dating and relationships are often a natural progression. I know some couples at Lewis & Clark who have been together for all four years of college. However, graduation also means change. For a class that is no longer attached to Portland, there will be a lot of people departing from this city. Saying goodbye to the people we love, as long as we provide it with the attention it deserves, can be just as meaningful as the relationship itself. 

If you and your lover are going to make it happen after graduation, then I salute you, but this article is not for you: It is for the folks who are going their separate ways after May 6. It is for the folks who are afraid of what the days, weeks and months after the break up will look like. It is for the folks who are expiration dating, when a romantic relationship has to be ended at a certain date because one or both people are moving away.

All things come to an end: Delicious meals have their final bite, movies have an ending scene and road trips have those last few miles. Relationships are no exception, but that is what makes them beautiful. If everything lasted forever, it would be terrible: Nothing would feel special. When we know that something is finite, we place more emphasis on the precious moments we have. However cheesy it might be, Dr. Seuss (or possibly Gabriel García Márquez) really hit it on the head when he wrote, “don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened.” 

So, how do we approach this ending? Well, first we need to remember that just because it is the end of romance, it does not have to be the end of love. Relationships change and evolve just like the people that create them. Just because physical intimacy might not be in the mix anymore, that does not mean we cannot carry on meaningful relationships with those we care about. A reframing is necessary: It is not just the end, but also the beginning.

When we are approaching that great unknown it can get pretty scary. Sometimes a couple pretends that everything is fine until they have broken up, and then they find themselves lonely and confused and trying to understand what happened without the help of their significant other. This approach adds an unnecessary burden to an already difficult process, and can even lead to bitterness when people feel they were not able to say everything they needed to when they had the chance. The other approach I see often, is people disassociating from their partner and cutting emotional ties in the weeks and months leading up to the end. I am not a huge fan of this approach either, because this is a harmful and punishing way to end a relationship. It is a sad end for something so incredible, and it can also lead to resentment.

So what am I proposing instead? Speak freely with your partner. Tell them about how you are feeling. If you are feeling scared, say that. If you are going to miss them, say that. When you discuss these things with your significant other, you are able to ease some of those uncertain feelings and work through them together. By talking about how we feel, we can help ease some of the post-break-up pain. By no means is this the complete cure for heartache, but it is a start. It is okay to be scared or afraid of a break-up, but do not bottle it up. These answers may seem obvious, but our thoughts can become very muddled when we are unsure of what to do. Nobody likes saying goodbye, but when it is said right, with all the love, friendship and respect it deserves, it can be beautiful. 

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