Students carrying over high school relationships into college may be bucking the odds, but it hasn’t stopped them from trying.
Of all college relationships, nearly 33 percent are long-distance, according to an iVillage survey.
But do they last? If you’re out of college, think about your Facebook friends: How many are still together with — or even married to — their high school sweethearts?
“It’s definitely possible, but it’s rare, because the chances of you knowing who you want to be with at 40 when you’re 17 are kind of low,” said Tracey Steinberg, a dating coach. “But it happens, and love is rare. And it’s worth the wait if it’s real.”
Going the (long) distance is not easy: Challenges including overcoming communication barriers, resisting the temptation of a fun, new social life and scraping together the finances to visit each other at separate schools.
It’s a tough road. But the next time you grumble about a spotty Skype connection or a pricey plane ticket, think about Barbara Gee and Gordon Baranco.
The pair got together at age 16, despite the misgivings of their parents (Barbara is Chinese-American, and Gordon is African-American), who threatened to disown them.
They chose separate schools — she went to UC Berkeley, and he went to UC Davis. They broke up a bit, dated other people at the suggestion of their parents, but stayed in close touch.
“We were only about 100 miles apart, so we were able to see each other on weekends and over the summers, but what happened was because there was so much against us in the beginning, we did try to date other people, and split up," Gee said. "Our parents insisted that we make sure that we looked at other people, to make sure this relationship would be a strong one. But we always remained best friends.”
Fifty years after high school graduation and two children later, Gee is confident it was meant to be.
“We could always talk to each other, and laugh at each other’s jokes, laugh at each other’s idiosyncrasies. I could tell him anything, he could tell me anything. It was an unconditional acceptance.”
Stephanie and Jon Mandle went on their their first date at a McDonald’s right down the street from high school in Lexington, Massachusetts, where they met in 1996.
For them, “respect, trust and communication” are the keys that kept them together through separate schools and beyond. Today, they’re happily married, living in California, and their daughters are 6, 4 and 2.
“We didn’t do everything together,” said Stephanie. “We let each other have his or her own independence. It was really good for us to have our own separate lives for a few years.”
As with any relationship, it wasn’t all wine and roses (“we made some mistakes,” said Stephanie), but they made sure to talk it out. “My mom gave me some really good advice about letting go of the small stuff.”
These stories of perseverance and success aren’t the norm, say experts. More likely, one or both students will find the allure of new adventures in college too hard to pass up.
“If the fumes of high school life aren’t strong enough to keep you staying with your high school sweetheart, then it’s really easy to get distracted by all of the hot and sexy people in college, and the new experiences that are now available to you that weren’t available to you when you were living under your parents’ roof,” said Steinberg.
“You have no curfew, no one to answer to, and you can really explore who you want to be, and that’s what a lot of people do in college.”
All that exploring can lead to the “turkey drop,” a phenomenon that, while unconfirmed by science, follows the conventional wisdom that high-school-to-college relationships are most likely to dissolve around Thanksgiving of the first year.
It may not be an urban legend. “The first semester is often very very stressful for students, and then by the time you roll in the holidays, that’s kind of the breaking point, because there’s also finals that they’re getting prepared for,” said Amy Lenhart, a college counselor and president of the American College Counseling Association. “And so, especially if they haven’t been good at communicating with that partner, it’s going to be even more difficult to stay together.”
(Don’t breathe a sigh of relief, though, if you make it through Thanksgiving with your relationship intact — surveys have found that Christmas, New Year’s and Valentine’s Day can spell doom for couples, too).
The bottom line is, incoming freshmen hoping to stay tied to their high school mate should keep talking.
“Continue the friendship part of it,” said Gee, who believes that dating other people in college, while scary, strengthened their relationship. “We grew to be individuals. I never ever had to feel that I had to follow in his footsteps. We had our own paths, but they were parallel, and in the end they merged.
“Try to make sure that you fulfill your desires, your goals, what you want to do in life, but remain friends. And if it is really meant to be, you’ll come together. If you do break up and meet someone else, then probably it wasn’t strong enough. It probably was good that you went in divergent paths.”