The Tao of breaking up before college

I’d like to do a brief clarification of our most controversial and most proven piece of HUGS advice — namely, to end your hometown relationship before going to college (or “before you go, let go of your sig-o”).

We are not saying that your boyfriend or girlfriend is not the bomb.  We’re not saying there’s no such thing as true love.  We are saying that 100% of people who have a BF or GF from home eventually end up breaking up with that person while at Harvard.  In our 6 years of doing HUGS, there have been no exceptions to this.

What I like about Taoist philosophy is that it’s more descriptive than prescriptive.  It doesn’t have some kind of rigid ideology saying, “This is the way the world should be.”  Instead, it has a curious, observant approach to the world: “Ah, this seems to be the way the world works.”  Water flows downhill.  It’s easier to swim with the current than against it, to cut wood with the grain than against it.  What goes up comes down.  All things, good or bad, come to an end.

And so it is with high school relationships.  There are two possibilities: staying with your sweetheart, or breaking up.  If you stay, chances are that the pressures of distance, deprivation, local distraction in the form of hot new classmates and just plain horniness will precipitate a break.  Then you’ll have a potentially messy breakup, with accusations and recriminations flying across mobile phone lines, possible cheating, one or two hurt parties, many tears, and an emotional scar that will affect your next relationship.

Or you could take the mature approach of breaking up in broad daylight, in full possession of your senses, knowing that you still love one another but are setting each other free.  We’ve observed it’s going to happen anyway; why not make it nice and clean instead of mean and messy.  Maybe you’ll get back together next summer or get married in 10 years.  Maybe you’ll be really good friends for the rest of your lives.  We can’t know any of that for sure.

What we do know is that it’s a much more elegant solution than a doomed long-distance relationship that would deprive both of you of opportunities to meet others and grow.  It’s also the best chance of preserving the very real love you have between you.

I strongly believe that a long-distance relationship is no relationship at all (consult my Tao of Dating blog for more on that), so do yourselves a favor and set both of you free.  Before you go, let go of your sig-o.

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One Response to The Tao of breaking up before college

  1. Miriam says:

    OK, I feel like I have to say something about this.

    First of all, not everybody who’s in a long-distance relationship through college breaks up. Just because you haven’t personally seen anybody make it doesn’t mean nobody does. That’s a pretty irrational attitude to take: “I haven’t seen this happen; therefore it CANNOT happen.” I’ve met and heard of plenty of people who’ve gotten married after long-distance relationships. Granted, I go to Northwestern, but I assume that students here aren’t of a different species than Harvard students.

    Second, what’s true for you is not necessarily true for others. I’m immediately wary of any statement that includes words like “always” or “never.” Maybe you are not the kind of person who’d do well in a long-distance relationship; that’s fine. But that doesn’t mean that long-distance relationships can NEVER work out, or that people who try them ALWAYS end up with broken hearts.

    Finally, life isn’t simple. There are no simple answers to any of life’s questions. The answer to “Should I try a long-distance relationship?” can never be an unequivocal “no.” Such a decision has to involve lots of thinking, talking, and evaluating the relationship, yourself, and your partner. Otherwise, you’re selling yourself short. I would like to think that most college students are mature enough to make thoughtful decisions about their lives without resorting to one-size-fits-all solutions like yours.

    As for the part where I disclose any preexisting biases I may have–right before my senior year of high school ended, I started dating my best friend of four years. We go to school five hours apart. Is our relationship “no relationship at all,” as you said? Hardly. We’ve been dating for nearly 16 months now, and I’ve never been happier, ever.

    I don’t like to imagine what my life would be like if I’d listened to people like you a year ago and ditched a wonderful person just because it seemed like the “rational” thing to do.

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