LONG DISTANCE: College Freshman Boy

         I never thought I would want to do a long-distance relationship, ever. I couldn't imagine being in a relationship with someone who I couldn't see frequently and who lived so far away. That changed when I spent my junior year at City Term in NYC.

         When I arrived at the program, I loved every second of it. The people I was with, the city, and the academics. There was also this girl, Jesse, who I had started to become friends with into the third week. We got along extremely well. Even though we didn't share many of the same hobbies to bond over, our personalities clicked. As soon as we started spending time together, there was this flirtatious tension that built between us. My heart would jump when she walked in the room, and I would always try to walk past her classroom on the way to mine, so we'd have a moment to say hi. I noticed she just "happened" to bump into me after my classes as well.

         One night, after weeks of lingering hugs, brushing hands, and getting to know each other more, we were talking in a classroom while printing out an assignment for the next day. We were a lot closer than we needed to be, and when the conversation paused, we kissed. It was more intense and connected than any other intimate interaction I had experienced with anyone before. That's when I found out what “fireworks” felt like. We kept hooking up in the days following whenever we got the chance (it was harder than you might think since we were at a boarding school). We continued to try new things and go a little further each time. Our interactions between class became more frequent, and our intimate moments more intense. Before spring break I had a moment when I thought to myself, "Damn I really like this girl - I want to make this a little more serious". So, on the day we left, I pulled her aside and was up front. I told her I like her a lot, and that I didn't wanna hook up with other people over spring break because I wanted to just be with her. She felt the same way. I was ecstatic.

         We talked a lot over break. When we returned we were closer than ever, and started more liberally using the terms "girlfriend" and "boyfriend". It continued to ramp up rapidly after that; we got on so well and every moment I spent with her got better. She made me so happy, every single moment. We did a great job of balancing time with friends and each other. It was easy because our friends overlapped a lot. By April, we had talked about sex for a little while, but it was going to be her first time, so we wanted to make sure that it didn’t happen in a classroom or bathroom or something like that. We wanted it to be in the right place where we didn't have to worry about anybody else and just focus on the moment.

        There was a weekend when her parents were in town and she had a hotel room to herself. We spent the day together and talked about how we wanted to have sex that night, so when we got back to her hotel room we started hooking up. Things moved slowly as we weren't in any rush. We were both in tune with how the other felt, and it was exciting. We were more loving then we had been before. When we started to have sex, it was a little difficult trying to find the position that felt best, but it still felt so right because it wasn't awkward. We were so comfortable with each other. We laughed a little as we figured it out. When we found our flow though, I felt closer to her than I ever had before.

         Our feelings for each other continued to grow so much more than I thought they could, and I kept thinking to myself, "Oh no, oh no, I'm falling in love with her". It felt like nothing I had ever imagined before. The part that sucked though was that she lived on the east coast and I lived on the west. That issue seemed so small though when, towards the end of the term, we sat together in a room talking about how we'd miss each other like crazy with less than a month left. Then it just happened. She was looking down when I said, "Jesse". She looked up at me and the words, "I love you", flew out of my mouth. She said it right back with no hesitation. It felt warm.

         That's when I realized why people do long distance, and it's when she realized it too. After we exchanged those words for the first time, we decided we wanted to stay together. The summer was rough. The goodbyes sucked, and she didn't have her phone for 2 months. When she returned to civilization, we were so good. We got the chance to see each other once before school began and we talked about what we were nervous for and what we would do to make it work. When it started, we talked on the phone every day. We kept that up for the entirety of senior year. It started off without a hitch. We were our normal selves and the phone didn't really hinder our conversation. We talked about how we still felt like we were in a “honeymoon phase”, how we didn't fight at all, and how it felt great.

         Overtime, things started to change, as they do in any relationship. We got the chance to visit each other somewhat frequently considering we lived so far away from each other. About every 2 months or month and a half she would visit me and I, her. We met each other’s friends and got a first-hand look into the parts of life we couldn't see through face time. I liked her friends and got along well with them, but something started to separate us. It was how she felt about my friends. In particular, those who were girls. She started to feel like she couldn't connect to some of the people I was friends with, and we began to fight over how she felt about me spending time with those girls. This was a consistent issue throughout the year, but we were still very much in love and that love continued to grow. The relationship was still making both of us happy.

         Slowly, the amount of time I spent talking to her, and sometimes fighting with her, ate into my time with family and friends. I didn't think it was happening at first, but after a while I couldn't deny it. Our love made me blind to that though and made me more indifferent. She thought that we were too different, but I disagreed and had to constantly convince her that she overthought all of the interactions that I had with friends. Going out with friends on weekend nights only exacerbated this issue, and parties and drinking made her even more annoyed with my actions. It turned into a pattern of me doing something I thought of as inconsequential, she getting angry or upset at my actions, me apologizing profusely and working to make sure it didn't happen again, and then another issue popping up or an old one resurfacing. I felt like I couldn't do anything right, and she felt like she was acting crazy.

         Regardless of all this we stayed together because we still loved each other so much and when we saw each other it was the best feeling in the world. Senior year ended, and we both were away from our phones for a little part of the summer. Again, we wrote to each other all of the time to provide updates on our lives. I didn’t think that I’d have to worry about the fighting from senior year, but the same issues came up about my friends at camp. When we saw each other in early August, she said she felt like something had changed with me and that I wasn't the same person. I didn't understand what she was talking about. I didn't know what she meant. And that's the moment when I really realized why this relationship could be so hard sometimes. I loved her so much and we were so close, but we had this disconnect over what I thought would be okay with her, what I wanted to do, and what would make her uncomfortable. Still, we wanted to stay together in college. After all we were far closer - only 2 hours by public transit.

         When college began we found a good rhythm, and things started to feel really good again. We did new things, met new people, and told each other all about it. It was so exciting. That second “honeymoon phase” ended after about a month. We had both visited each other at school. Again I liked her friends a lot. However, she didn't like most of mine. She felt like I was changing, like my friends were to different, and she couldn't get along well with them. I told her they all loved her, and they did. Still, she felt they were too different. We still really enjoyed seeing each other and being in a relationship, but over time these problems continued to manifest. Again, particularly around my friends who were girls.

         I was joining lots of groups, and in second semester I started rushing co-ed program houses (basically co-ed fraternities) and fraternities with my friends. She said that I was all over the place trying to find myself and that I didn't have enough time for her even though I made such an effort to see her so often. It hurt me a lot when she said that because it made me feel like all of the hard work that we put into being together didn't mean anything. And yet I still loved her. So so much. But we were fighting way too much, and we both needed to dive more into our own college experiences because it wasn't working while together.

         On our 2nd anniversary we went to her beach house nearby and spent the weekend there together, just the two of us. It was amazing to be away from it all. We had talked before about whether or not to break up, and we decided while we were there that as much as we didn't want to, it was time. We couldn't go on like we had been - it hurt too much. I felt like I needed more room to change, and she felt like that too. It was mutual, it was amiable, but we really didn't want to. We still loved each other, and that made it hurt that much more.

         That was almost 2 months ago today, and it still sucks but it's getting better. We text a bit because we still want to be friends. It feels weird to call her my ex. Now I'm fully immersed in the college culture here, and my friendships have gotten even stronger. It's a little easier to be in the moment because my mind isn't always on her. I still love her, but the space is good for us to figure out who we are more. Figure out what we want in life, college, and relationships. We're still working on being friends. If it's right we'll get back together down the line, so we can support each other in being the happiest and best versions of ourselves. If it doesn't work out that way, she'll still have been a big part of my life, and maybe she'll continue to be in it in a way that's good for both of us.

ANONYMOUS QUESTIONS 8

Every quarter I will share questions from our anonymous question link that reveal what students really want to know but may be afraid to ask. This month:

When do I know if I'm addicted to juuling?
Can I overdose on weed?
How much does size actually matter?
If you are ace, how would you go about having a relationship with someone who is sexually active?
How come I can't keep my erection when I'm with my girlfriend?

Finding Myself: Kaylah, 19

Being a brown, thick, girl is hard when you’re in a school full of white, skinny people. Before going to high school, I had a preconceived notion that it would consist of parties and boyfriends. The number of parties you went to and the boys’ attention you caught equated to how pretty or desirable you are. In these four years I found myself trying to find validation of my beauty in others. Through this journey I have discovered how I internalized ideas of beauty and projected these emotions and expectations onto my sexual and romantic partners.

In high school, I felt a lot of pressure to conform to an idea of beauty that I did not fit --  that I should be desirable under white beauty standards. I was not being asked out by the boys or girls at my school, whether it be a hookup or an actual date, which made me question myself. Was I not pretty enough? Was I too intimidating? Was I too brown? Was I too fat? These were questions I asked myself on a daily basis throughout high school. When I was in environments outside of my high school, in my own communities, I never asked myself those questions because everyone surrounding me looked like me. We were proud of being loud, brown, women. These people whether they be my friends, or people I was dating, always validated my identity and beauty because they understood. I lived in two opposing worlds on a daily basis, which in the first two years of high school made me constantly confused. Eventually I was tired of being ashamed of my identity in school. I decided to be more vocal and proud. This not only helped me in my voice being heard, but with understanding my identity. It also gave me the power to understand how to take agency with my own sexuality.

In my two last years of high school I found myself empowered and willing to learn more about myself and my sexuality. I explored my body, came out as bisexual, and had discussions about masturbation, self exploration, and self love. I started dating someone in my senior year, who I am still happily dating today. We have learned a lot about each other through our year and a half together and have a healthy relationship all around. What I realize now is that without my journey of sexual self discovery and the pride I have in my body, I would not have been able to have such a healthy relationship with my boyfriend and myself today. Validation from others or a sexual partner is not what allowed me to discover self love or learn about what I like. Although I do feel empowered by others through common identities, they are not the reason for my own self love. I learned to find acceptance from within, I learned about my body, and I learned about what I like by myself. This self discovery is never ending as I continue to learn about myself everyday and accept any insecurities I have with time.

ANONYMOUS QUESTIONS 7

Every quarter I will share questions from our anonymous question link that reveal what students really want to know but may be afraid to ask. This month:

What sort of boundaries should I have for myself?
How do I tell someone I want to experiment with them?
Is it possible to have a balanced relationship with someone if they are older than you?
Why do we fall in love with certain people and not with others?
Why do parents always say "wait until you're older" when talking about sex?

THE TEEN EXPERIENCE: Cameron & Evie College Freshmen

Love! <3 

Evie and I have been dating for over a year and a half, but it seems like a whole lot longer. We’re writing this together, curled up in my dorm room in Providence, Rhode Island. Even though we go to different schools our dorms are only 5 minutes apart, and we make time to see each other everyday. We technically went on our first date freshman year of high school. It went… poorly. I got so nervous I threw up. This sounds really bad but it wasn’t as bad as it sounds, I promise. Evie could not have possibly handled the situation better, but I was still mortified. Unsurprisingly, we didn't really talk much after that.

Fast forward two years, and we found ourselves in the same friend group. We started hooking up in the spring of junior year, meeting at the beach halfway between our houses. This simple beginning became a fun and healthy relationship that has helped us both grow more than we ever imagined. 

We pretty much do everything together. We spend lots of time with one another, just being in the same place but working on our own homework or doing our own thing. But we also make art together, go to concerts and other fun things. We wrote and illustrated a children's book together for our senior year art class and dressed up as one another during halloween senior year and won the costume contest. Although not an entirely original idea, it worked very well because we have very contrasting styles and interests. Even though we love each other and function as a unit, we are still very different people. The term opposites attract really comes to mind while  writing this. 

These differences have helped us grow in many ways because they’re learning opportunities. Would Evie go to a rap concert if she wasn’t dating me? Nah probably not. Would I go to a chorus performance if I wasn't dating Evie? nah probably not. Although the is a pretty generic example it can be applied to all of our contrasting interests, of which there are many. One of the most important for me has been Evie’s influence on my school work. Her good study habits and love of school really helped me change my perspective on school, ultimately helping raise my high school GPA. Another one of our differences is how we handle stress and make plans. I would consider myself the type to just go with the flow, I don’t really need a destination or a plan. Evie likes making plans and sometimes gets stressed when we don’t have a plan. But just like she’s helped me with school work and study habits, I’ve helped her with feeling less stressed and more chill. We have different friend groups and go to different schools, but we’ve found a way for our differences make us closer. More than anything, we are honest and talk about how we feel. Open communication is everything to a good relationship. 

This kind of love is the only thing either of us want. It makes us happy and helps us to grow and become stronger people. As a couple, we’re usually the outlier in both our high school and college friend groups that are so immersed in hook up culture. There are so many different kinds of relationships that can bring people joy, and we’ve found ours <3 

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ANONYMOUS QUESTIONS 6

Every quarter I will share questions from our anonymous question link that reveal what students really want to know but may be afraid to ask. This month:

Why is there so much expected from kids our age?
What is the difference between sympathy and empathy?
How can you tell if someone is romantically interested in or just wants to be "friends?"
Is anal sex natural?
Why is it more difficult for girls to orgasm than guys?

THE TEEN EXPERIENCE: College Junior Boy

Growing up, I always felt different.  Watching my friends begin to experience attraction towards each other, and proceed to explore that attraction with other kids, made me feel separate from the group.  I had the same curiosities but no outlet to express them.  That sense of “other” continued into high school as those around me began to crush, flirt, hook up, date, and all the while talked about who crushed, flirted, hooked up and dated with whom.  Within the realm of sexuality I felt separate from my community.  In fact I felt completely alone.  I turned to TV, movies and the internet for solace.  Sometimes I sought solidarity, but more often I sought escape.  I escaped into the TV lives of high school characters, whose lives seemed glamorous and fun when compared to my own.  Television and movies provided the space for me to turn away from my often times annoying sense of difference. 

            Though I escaped into other worlds often, I also knew not to let my own high school experience pass me by.  I went to parties, and for the most they were enjoyable.  Enjoyable, though also exhausting.  They constantly reminded me of the differences I felt so strongly in myself yet worked to hide from others.  I would always scan the room for possible issues that may arise.  Which girls could be looking my way, whose looks I might have to deflect?  What excuse would I use if someone told me a friend of theirs thought I was cute?  How would my dancing be perceived by the people around me?  How highly pitched could my laugh resonate around a room without it sounding too gay?  All of this running through my head while attempting to maintain an appropriate external expression of pleasure, no matter the anxiety I may have felt internally. 

            Like many people I know, I didn’t have penetrative sex in high school.  But I also didn’t give or receive oral sex, kiss, hold hands with or touch someone I felt attraction towards, or made it known that I thought someone was cute.  None of this happened until I was 18, the summer after graduation.  And when it happened, it all happened at once.  The first person I ever openly admitted attraction towards was also the first I had sex with.  He also happened to be a man I met through a dating app and had known for only a brief time.  For a while this caused me a lot of shame, for it seemed like my first encounter story differed so greatly from those of my peers, the ones I had spent hours debriefing about in high school.  However, despite any shame I felt, the worst part about my first time was how amazing it was.  Amazing, yet to be kept to myself.  I was not out to my friends at the time, and so this wonderful experience had to remain within the confines of my own mind. 

            Far from a fairytale story, my first sexual experience was overwhelmingly positive and enjoyable.  I met the guy the week before at coffee. I felt comfortable with him. We hit it off, and decided to meet up at my house.  I was upfront with him about my inexperience, which he neither fetishized nor shamed me for.  I was slightly nervous in the moment because of how my first time was unfolding so unlike any movie I’d seen or story I’d heard in the past.  But I soon came to appreciate the differences between the facade of first times and my own first time.  Whereas most teen movies show the character’s first time happening in a setting like a party, I was in an environment in which I felt completely comfortable.  Unlike many of my friends, I was totally sober at the time and felt clear-headed.  Rather than put pressure on me to know what I was doing, my partner guided me gently and consensually.  The person I chose to first have sex with may have not known me well as a person outside of a sexual context, but because of my high school health class I went into it confidently that at the very least it would be safe and consensual because those were the priorities I communicated.  The sex we ended up having was communicative, mutually pleasurable, respectful, intimate and fun.  And to this day that is exactly the sex that I seek.  I have never had sex drunk, unsafely, or with someone I felt uncomfortable communicating with. 

            I feel lucky to be able to say that my sexual experiences so far have all been positive, and that I now can talk openly and honestly about them.  I finally let go of the shame I felt for hooking up with people I met through apps because I knew I had the tools to ensure that I stayed safe and have mutual comfort prioritized.  Just like how an experience that mimics social standards doesn’t translate directly to enjoyment, an experience that differs from the norm doesn’t have to result in disaster.  The context within which I meet my partners is not what matters.  What matters is being an advocate for myself and my safety, never shying away from saying no to anything or anyone that feels wrong, asking for and giving consent, and allowing myself to enjoy whatever feels right to both my partner and I.  For a long time I felt left out of the world of sex, and wished that I had gotten the chance to explore more in high school.  Now looking back, I appreciate the time I got to spend maturing and growing outside of the hookup culture, because I know I will never take the privilege of sex for granted. 

ANONYMOUS QUESTIONS 5

Every quarter I will share questions from our anonymous question link that reveal what students really want to know but may be afraid to ask. This month:

How do I get my parents to stop fighting in front of me?
What if my friend's parent wants me to tell them what my friend's been doing, and to keep it a secret from my friend?
What is the media's effect on people's sexuality?
What does a positive relationship with sex look like?
Is the only way to find my sexuality through experimenting sexually?