I lived it. I did what everyone tells you not to do when you first go to college. By Sept. 12 of my freshman year, I got into a serious long-term relationship.
My freshman year was then filled with sleeping over (in a double), no longer putting on makeup because I was cuffed and spending hours studying with one person. While I still committed to a couple of extracurriculars and made some friends, I felt comfortable where I was. I felt lucky to have someone to go back to after a long day on this new and large campus, and after a string of short, horrible high school relationships, I felt at the time that I had matured to the point where I could sustain a serious relationship. And so, I held onto my freshman relationship like my life depended on it. I couldn’t help but see this relationship as an irreplaceable part of my transition into adulthood.
It wasn’t until the end of my freshman summer — sobbing on the balcony with a bottle to drown my sorrows and blasting music to soothe a broken heart — when I realized just how heavy of a toll that relationship took on me. I realized that I had been looking through rose-colored glasses and missed all the red flags for flags (cue the Bojack reference). I also realized that I ended that first year with not nearly enough extracurriculars to satisfy my desire for working and serving others. In dedicating my time to one love, I was not aware that I was leaving my other loves behind until the first disappeared.
I started sophomore year without a cohesive group of friends, having spent most of my time with one person while everyone else was busy expanding their networks on campus. I had been warned countless times to take time to figure myself out freshman year, to not jump into a relationship right away. For the two years after, I was haunted by feelings of shame and regret. I swore at myself constantly for getting sidetracked throughout freshman year. I spent the next two years rapidly loading on more extracurriculars, more classes and more time dedicated to making new friends, the rose tint slowly wearing off my glasses.
As I began my final year at Cornell, however, my regret and shame transitioned into understanding and acceptance. While my heart still pangs sometimes when I pass by the balcony I flooded with tears, I am now watching friends experience something similar much later on in their college journeys. I recognize now that I learned so much about my resilience, my needs and wants and my shortcomings very early and quickly into my college career. I grew far faster much earlier than I would have otherwise. That relationship, for all its ups and downs, has given me invaluable knowledge and understanding of myself.
I bumped into my ex by accident a couple of days ago as I was working in the Cornell Store. I slipped by him on my way to lunch, not realizing it was him until I said “excuse me” in my singsong customer service voice and he turned around. Seeing him reminded me where I was — and where I am now. All the personal growth that has happened since because of the hardships during and after the relationship occurred at a much earlier time than I would have experienced otherwise. I am incredibly thankful for the good and the bad for pushing me to be better and stronger.
Even after retrospectively seeing how my freshman year relationship ended, if I were to relive it, I would make the same decision again. I would still go for the cute person I saw in class, the confident person I saw in the streets as I stumbled to the next frat party, the person living two doors down from a new friend. It could end in a beautiful marriage, as I know a good number of O-week couples who have created wonderful lives together. It could also end in a wrenching heartbreak, like my relationship did. But that’s okay too. What the conventional wisdom doesn’t tell you is that even a painful ending can teach lessons you can’t just learn in lecture. However it goes, you will become more resilient, compassionate and, most importantly, understand yourself more.
Joanna Hua is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Cup of Jo runs every other Friday this semester.