My little sister started her first year of university today. And as she got ready for this new chapter in her life, I couldn't help but think back on my own time in school. This September is my first year not going to school and in all honesty, it's a bit of a sad and weird feeling. I for one, always loved school, learning, socializing with my friends and favourite teachers. But I didn't necessarily love juggling them with part-time jobs, homework, extra curriculars, physical activity and of course - dating.
Dating in university is no walk in the park, especially if you're living at home. When you're away from your parents, curfews and strict night-life bouncers, it can be a lot easier to find love (or at least a booty-call). Going to U of T, while an amazing learning experience, also really limited my independence and the ability to meet people and interact with them freely and casually.
As a Toronto native, I spent university living with my mom to save money on rent and got to enjoy pleasures unknown to residence like baths and home-made peanut butter cookies. Inviting someone over to your dorm room to watch Game of Thrones? Totally chill. Suggesting someone makes the half-hour drive from North Toronto to Etobicoke? A bit more serious than I'd like.
Living situation aside, I was juggling a lot more than I intended to when I started up uni. I was working 30 hours a week part time (yikes), trying to establish a good work out schedule and see my friends while keeping up a 3.5 GPA. Of course there were cute guys in my classes, but quite frankly I didn't have time. I somehow miraculously pulled off this routine by the year's end without passing out or having a serious nervous breakdown.
As the years went by, I only got busier. Racking up more jobs, opportunities and friendships. By second or third year, I was managing my time better, but still couldn't manage to fit a guy into the equation. After a a full school week of running around like crazy, I desperately needed time to myself. Just to sit, eat a hot meal and watch Narcos or FRIENDS until I passed out. I'd end up talking to guys in the time I had off, like reading week, winter and summer break, only to let relationships fizzle and fade over the coming months.
One of the most important things I learned in university was how to prioritize myself and my needs. I could really focus on listening to my body, telling myself it was okay to skip a work-out if my eyes were shutting after 3 hours of studying. I focused on listening to my mind, like writing down thoughts when I'm stressed or scheduling an appointment with an on campus councillor. Because I was alone, I was able to learn how to give myself everything, without depending on anyone else. I was a happy, functioning person without without relying on the support or reassurance of significant other.
I really think that if I was with someone during university, I would of had a completely different experience. In my past relationships, I always tended to give my partner everything before myself, meaning I put myself second. A lot. Being single allowed me free reign on my decisions. I didn't have to worry about anyone else but me, my family or my friends. While I wouldn't have ran away from a relationship while in school, and there's certainly nothing wrong with being in one, it just wasn't the right time for me. And I totally see that now.
Of course, there were times when I wanted a boyfriend when I was in school. Maybe not a boyfriend exactly, but someone to lean on when times were tough. I think being alone helped me become stronger and inevitably helped me become a person that other people could lean on instead. It also encouraged me to seek guidance, comfort and counselling from family, friends and professionals - especially when the mental and emotional stress from school really kicked in.
Just to reiterate, there is nothing wrong with having a boyfriend or girlfriend while you're going to school. I'm just glad I didn't. Not because I was hooking up with a different dude every night or swiping on Tinder until my fingerprints wore out, but because it gave me the opportunity to learn about myself in a way that I don't think would have been possible if I had been with someone. And now that I know myself so goddamn well, I can be in healthier, happier relationships than before.