The harmful impact of dealing with first-year heartache
Kasey didn’t expect to spend her second night of college in the hospital after an hour of lying facedown in the grass, trying to make conversation with a cop between spells of vomiting.
She didn’t expect the overwhelming need to hook up with guys each weekend to feel whole.
She didn’t expect to binge drink to try to forget about her breakup in a place that was completely foreign to her.
Kasey’s was one of the many high school relationships that go up in flames due to going away to college. Only two percent of high school relationships last until marriage and, many times, college is what marks the end of the road. The distance is too much for most couples, and with that comes an influx of broken-hearted freshmen into an environment that has no sympathy for such emotions.
Anna, another freshman at Miami, decided to pursue a long distance relationship with her boyfriend of almost three and a half years. However, her boyfriend broke up with her shortly after school started. College was too much of a strain, he said.
Anna, like Kasey, had to deal with her first breakup, and all the emotions that come with it, in a new college setting. This can prove to be difficult, as college tends to breed a sense of loneliness and isolation in first year students.
“You move hours away from your family and are forced to adjust to an unknown lifestyle,” Anna said. “You have to make friends, maintain schoolwork and when the constant of a significant other is also changed, it is just too much to handle.”
Coping with the negative emotions that the loss of a relationship brings is hard enough, but being a new college student can make coping with these issues even more difficult and sometimes even dangerous, as college campuses foster an environment that presents heavy drinking as an outlet of relief.
“My drinking has definitely increased, and the breakup was definitely a factor because I thought alcohol would make me forget about it all,” Kasey said. “You get to college and suddenly there is this notion that alcohol is the answer to anything: sadness, joy, excitement, anxiety.”
Alcohol isn’t the only harmful coping mechanism present. There is a prominent hookup culture in college that newly-single students are especially vulnerable to.
“It all comes down to distracting,” Anna said. “I hook up with people to distract from the fact that I am hurting. Everyone likes to feel wanted, and hooking up with people gives you that, even if it is artificial and brief.”
Dr. Kip Alishio, the Director of Student Counseling Services at Miami University, can testify to these feelings.
“Students can fall into self-destructive patterns and not really intend to. They can develop a pattern of drinking, drug use or sexual promiscuity in a way that’s very negative and stems out of the need to feel accepted and included,”Alishio said.
According to a 2015 research study done at the University of Missouri, drinking to regulate negative emotions, or “coping,” is a primary motive for alcohol consumption among college students, and drinking with this motivation creates a higher risk of developing alcohol-related problems.
“These behaviors can lead to alcohol addiction and puts one at a higher risk of sexual assault, whether that be victimization or victimizing,” Alishio said.
This risk is especially a concern for students participating in the hookup culture. Using alcohol as a means of coping also makes it harder for students to find the more positive alternatives.
“I have gone to counseling just because I have felt lonely, but I’ve also used journaling as a way to cope. It’s really helpful to me to get my feelings out onto paper,” Anna said.
There are also positive aspects of a college environment that can aid in the healing process. Building close friendships, staying busy and involved and utilizing university counseling services are ways that both Kasey and Anna agreed helped in a much more productive way.
They are not the only ones who feel this way, though.
“Being a parent to a child away at college who has experienced a breakup is a worrisome experience,” Anna’s mother, Beverley said. “You just pray they can find the resources, internally and externally, they need to keep navigating their ever-changing world.”
“It is so important to find a community. Whether that’s through natural friendships or university organizations,” Kasey said.
Although this is a problem that will likely never go away, there are ways to aid those struggling, the biggest being open and public conversation about it.
“This issue is important because it’s something that so many students have to deal with. Talking about it really helps because it lets people know that they aren’t alone,” Kasey said. “Keeping it to yourself and it not being discussed makes it harder to deal with.”
Anna had similar thoughts.
“I wish people would be more open and understanding. I think heartbreak is such a common thing that we forget how much it hurts and that it can affect people in really serious ways.”
In order to protect their anonymity, the names of sources in this article have been changed.