My Daughter’s First College Love: Have I Prepared Her?

Before a child heads out the door to move to college, a parent might take stock to make sure that they have parented adequately. It seems like there are so many boxes to check off: Items to order for the dorm, calendar arrangements for drop off and move in, and the ever-present hope we all have for our child to get the most out of their college experience. Try everything! Work hard! Get to know different people! Have fun!

Parents run the lists of college preparations through their minds dutifully, even checking in with their peers to compare notes or scrolling through social media feeds to heed advice (and warnings!). We are as prepared as we can be for the first steps of their departure, but have we talked to our children about college and love?

What should I have told my daughter about college love? (Shutterstock )SynthEx

Have we spoken to our kids about college and love?

We were nearing the end of prep for our daughter’s first year of college. She attended orientation over the summer, knew her roommate a bit through social media, and signed up for her first term of classes. We had covered the topics of drinking, vaping, drugs, sex, social media, and other general do’s and don’t of life.

We were not world class parents, but we talked enough. I knew I was going to miss her like crazy, and as excited as she was to leave home, I knew she might have her own dash of homesickness.

I felt no need for anymore teachable moments until we crashed into them and dealt with them, as needed. The rest would be phone conversations, texts, and FaceTime. We could catch up over parents’ weekend and over vacations. But I forgot one thing…what if our child fell in love and truly believed that he or she was the one?

We had never really discussed falling in love with our daughter

And that’s when it happened. It wasn’t right away. There were tons of social events, classes, sporting activities, outdoor exploring, all exciting ways to kick off her first year away. We heard about many; other details were likely reserved for her friends. There may have been a crush or two (occasionally one name popped up a few times), but nothing really that sounded big. College life sure seemed fun. Old me remembered young me, and I was relieved to get the impression she was digging into everything and also taking care of herself. Whew.

Spring of her first year, I wasn’t terribly surprised to hear that there was “a guy” she liked and he was really great. This was a name that came up more frequently. Huh. She “couldn’t wait for me to meet him”. Double huh, This was becoming more than a crush, and it certainly wasn’t a college hook up (who tells their mom about that?!), rather, it was sounding like our daughter’s first real love beyond high school.

We hadn’t talked about love

This changed everything. Love? We hadn’t talked about love! We discussed safety with guys, at fraternities, on dates, but love? I realized that I didn’t have a say in this relationship. I couldn’t witness the day-to-day or debrief with her casually as we folded laundry or ate dinner or went for a walk together. What if this was the last time she fell in love, this was it, and it all happened out from under my watch?

Although I could listen to what she told me about their days together, I kept thinking…wow, she is spending a lot of time with him. She might think he is the one. It seems really soon to already have “the one.” She doesn’t know that relationships in the college bubble aren’t exactly real world.

A college relationship is different than a relationship in the ‘real world’

This relationship might seem special because it’s the first time that these kids can essentially be together whenever they want, however they want (Oh please use birth control), without parental consent or guidelines. Regardless of how much I like this young man, school is meant to explore different friendships and romances. While I think my newly college-aged daughter understands that she is living in a bubble, she likely does not understand the depth of how a relationship might change in the real world.

Do I say anything?

I don’t. I can only pay attention to her experiences from afar, listen to her, listen to what she isn’t saying, and trust my kid. I do, and I did. While I trust her, there are things she doesn’t know yet. I smile, I heart emoji the pictures of him that she sends, and I laugh at the funny stories of what they do together. I meet him, I like him, and I like how he is with my daughter and how my daughter is with him. But I am still a little guarded, and when people get excited about the “college boyfriend” she has, I casually mention that he is great, but there could be others, so let’s not get too attached.

What should I have told my daughter about college love?

What would I have done differently if I thought to discuss love relationships with my daughter before she left for school? I don’t know. Maybe I would have acknowledged that she would likely fall in love, and it will be hard for her to imagine that there could be anyone else, but there could be. I would tell her that if a relationship at this age ever felt like work or that they had to talk things out, or take a break, then this one was not meant to be.

I would tell her to trust her friends and let them be there for her. And then I would realize that without my having said anything, she implicitly knows this. It’s exactly who she is, the choices she has made, and the life she has led so far.

Is she still with him? Yes. Is he good to her? Yes. Does she remain independent, social, active, and studious while in a relationship as well? Yes.

Perhaps I am simply mourning the loss of my little girl

Perhaps I am just mourning the loss of my little high school girl who left our home on dates when the boy picked her up and I knew their parents from town. So she is growing up, she is making choices, and she has chosen this first college love.

Perhaps I should not fear that and instead I should celebrate it. I can see both sides, but I can’t help but look back on my own college “loves” and wipe my brow that time has put these relationships way behind me. And, that feeling is likely mutual.

We just weren’t ready, and in a way, I think I went through some relationship motions because I thought it was what you did. I suppose it is simply a matter of hoping (and trusting and praying) that your child has the good sense to be themselves and establish relationships that complement them and support them. Those might be love relationships. And, they might be forever, or not.

So send your child to college, but remember that there is more to prepare for besides the pack-up, the classes and how to get along with a roommate. You may have someone new in your family that you didn’t expect. Temper your responses. Trust your kid. Speak up if you need to, or sit back and listen. Love isn’t a bad thing.

More Great Reading:

As You Leave for College, Did I Remember to Tell You This?

About Sydney Clarke

Sydney Clarke started to write “for real” after her life took a turn and she found she was no longer correcting essays and creating lesson plans for her students. She currently has a bank of essays about her new life, her son’s imminent departure to college, and her daughter’s second year away at school. When she isn’t writing or working her new job, she walks the dog and dreads the arrival of another dinner hour with nothing in the fridge. A great pair of clogs always cheers her up.

Read more posts by Sydney

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