It took me about a year and a half, but I think I can say with full certainty that I have exhausted the St. Olaf dating pool. As a first-year, hookups and dating seemed inconsequential – my romantic life was an opportunity to explore and have fun. That exploration, however, has slowly developed some unintended consequences.
At dinner the other day, I was talking with my friends about an ex-boyfriend of mine. I told a fun anecdote about a time his close friend Ruby* and I went to dinner together. I had nothing against Ruby. She was a nice girl who always treated me with respect and kindness. But Ruby is a close friend of my ex-boyfriend and as a means of disassociating myself from any romantic feelings towards him, I figured it would be best for my mental health to avoid Ruby. After all, Ruby was a part of my ex-boyfriend’s world, and we belonged to different friend groups, so it was easy to keep those worlds separate.
“Ruby? She’s my SI instructor for religion!” My friend exclaimed.
“No way,” another friend chimed in, “She lives right across the hall from me!”
I realized then that our worlds were not as distant as I had previously thought. Somehow my ex-boyfriend’s world overlapped with my friendships and I was at a loss. Sure, I could keep adding people to my “avoid-eye-contact-at-all-costs” list, but I had already watched it grow exponentially over the past year as I added the names of my recent ex-boyfriend and, by association his friends and their friends.
In a small school, it is impossible to avoid the ghost of relationships past. It is tempting to try and distance yourself from old heartaches, but learning to confront your post break-up reality is part of moving on. People have as much power over you as you give them, and unnaturally trying to keep your worlds separate can be draining. Especially considering that memories of your failed romances will haunt every inch of this school. It is at Old Main where you first spotted that cute person in your 9:00 a.m. BTS-T class. It is at the Cage where you had your first coffee date or at Viking Theater when you went to see Incredibles 2 together. For me, it was at the Caf when I carried my food to my table.
Just as I was setting my tray down, I look up to see my ex-boyfriend one table over. He was facing me, laughing with his friends. We had not yet made eye contact, so in that moment I had a choice. I could either take my tray downstairs and eat in the Pause or take a seat at that table. Whatever decision I was going to make would say something significant about me – my coping mechanisms, my conflict resolution tactics and my insecurities. Was I going to live the rest of my time at St. Olaf in fear of an array of college boys, or was I going to confront my relationship ghosts head on? Sitting down would mean I was ready to let go.
So, I took my tray and went to go eat in the Pause. However, as I turned the corner and walked past the dishroom I stopped. I glanced at my reflection in the window and then at my uneaten food. Refusing to acknowledge my history was ironically what was giving it so much power. By actively avoiding my past I was not allowing room for personal growth. That is never a healthy way to live.
When navigating relationships at St. Olaf, it is important to develop healthy coping mechanisms in case the relationship ends. We are young and bound to make mistakes when it comes to love. Sometimes those mistakes cost us a few friends or partners, but hiding from your past will make your time here so much more unpleasant. Especially on such a tiny campus, it is practically impossible to entirely forget old relationships. You will see them, and St. Olaf will somehow remind you of their existence. You have a choice, too: you can hide from your ghosts or let them go.
I took one last look at my reflection in the window. My heart was racing and I stared myself down. I had made my choice. So, I walked myself back to the table at the Caf, and took a seat.
*names have been changed.