What It's Like to be `Married' in College
Two freshpersons are sitting on a bench at a Thayer party during freshperson week. One of them is slightly drunk and quietly places her legs over those of the male freshperson sitting next to her.
"And before I knew it, I had two really sexy legs draped over mine," Kevin W. Yardley '89 says. "My friends teased me for awhile and called me the `legman,' but now what would you do in that situation?"
Yardley uses this story to describe the way he met his girlfriend, Christine H. Berkenstock '89, whom he has dated ever since.
Berkenstock and Yardley are not the only couple who chose to ride the Harvard roller coaster together. In spite of the demands of tough classes, the time commitment of extra-curricular activities and the occasional third-party principle, several couples in the senior class were bitten by cupid's arrow early in their Harvard careers and have not recovered since.
Cupid is not at all discriminating about the places he chooses to strike and for the Class of '89, romance always seemed to strike just when students were least expecting it. From the Yard to the Freshperson's Dean's Office (FDO), freshpersons were hit and hit hard.
Margaret B. Ingall '89 says that she got to know her four-year beau, Christopher J. Duffy, in a freshperson seminar on American film that they took together. But the first time she met him was in the FDO. "People would go in the FDO and check the seminar lists," Ingall says. "I saw him leaning on a post and I remember thinking, `oh God, what a cutie.'"
The Yard is another place that frequently buzzes with activity during the incoming students' first weeks here. And for one four-year couple, it was the spot where they had their first chance encounter.
"One night it was pouring rain and I was going to a party. I didn't have an umbrella and I stopped to ask this guy if he knew how to get [to the party]," Sandra B. Lee '89 says of the first time she met her long-standing boyfriend. "And he offered me his umbrella and walked me to the party," she continues. "The next day I didn't remember him and we always joke about it now."
In a place like Harvard, where the emphasis is on being an individual and expanding one's own horizons, it is difficult to keep a relationship going, these four-year couples say. They explain that establishing a personal identity while still remaining a part of a couple can often be difficult.
Denise E. Katsias '89, who has dated Elliott S. Smith '89 for the last four years, says that it is understood that when people are dating seriously, they have trouble seeing their other friends.
"As far as seeing friends, anytime you have a boyfriend you're just not going to spend as much time with your friends," Katsias says. But she adds that the activities that her friends are involved in keep them busy enough so they do not mind the time she spends away from them.
But Katsias says that because she plays field hockey and Smith rows crew they do manage to spend time with their separate friends on occasion. "When I'm away [with the team], he has time to do more things with his friends and when he's away I have more time with mine," Katsias says. "It's kind of good in a way."
"We definitely have our own groups just because we like to have our independent lives, but we like to spend time together, too," Katsias says.
Others say that time apart strengthens their relationship because it gives them time to develop as individuals. And it also allows them not to become too isolated from the rest of the world.
"Any relationship that survives survives because you have different activities and do different things," Valerie A. Bogdan '89 says. Both she and her boyfriend, Christian F. Liles '89, play rugby, and as a result, they spend many of their weekends apart.
As her relationship with her boyfriend Michael B. Darby '89, progressed, Lee says they did not need to spend as much time together as they had in the beginning. She says they were secure enough in their relationship to see less of each other while still maintaining their feelings for one another.
"By now, though, we've established a really strong foundation, so we don't need to see each other all the time," Lee says. "Reaffirming things is not as time consuming as getting to know each other."
Making time to see her friends was a major priority for Lee. She is heavily involved with Radcliffe activities, including helping to plan the first Women's Leadership Conference last fall. As a result, she says she really makes an effort to make sure that her friends play a vital part of her life. "I make appointments to see my friends. I make a lot of meal arrangements," Lee says.
"Scheduled contacts with other people are most important because contacts with Mike can be informal. We can be doing something or nothing at all," she says.
For Darby, the reverse is true. He says that he could have made more of an effort to make friends separate from the ones that he shares with Lee. "We have the tendency to hang out with other people, but sometimes I wish I had been a little more aggressive in seeking out new friends," Darby says. The two have a large number of friends in common, he says, in part because he spends so much time in Quincy House, where Lee lives.
Although they participate in their own activities, Steve J. Boranian '89 and his girlfriend of four years, Susan H. Spalding '89, try to include one another in these activities. Boranian says he spends a tremendous amount of time singing with the Glee Club, but he adds that Spalding never misses a concert: "She's like a Glee Club groupie."
Boranian says that one of his fondest memories of their time together here is when Spalding came to visit him in Europe during the Glee Club's tour in the summer of '87. "Having her there to share something that was so special to me really meant a lot," he adds.
Dealing with Separation
Some couples who were separated during the summer or for a semester decided to push their individuality to the limit and temporarily broke up with each other. But in all cases they decided that--contrary to the beliefs of their friends, parents or themselves--dating someone for four years does not necessarily mean missing an important part of their college experience.
During her junior year, Katsias went abroad for a semester, and she says that when she returned she and Smith felt awkward together. "When I went to England last spring, it was kind of hard because we hadn't seen each other in a long time," Katsias says. "We weren't really sure of how we wanted things to go."
"We both kind of went on dates [during that time] but it was nothing serious," she adds. "For him, and definitely for me, it made us see that we wanted to be with each other more than the people we were seeing. It strengthened our relationship."
For Lee, dating Darby for such a lengthy period of time was difficult because she did not envision her college life as including just one long relationship. "I had an intellectual problem with going out for four years," Lee says. "If I could have planned my life, I would have put my boyfriend in junior year."
Darby and Lee started dating in October of their first year at Harvard, when neither of them was established in activities or had many solid friends. Last year the two stopped seeing one another for a few weeks, before deciding that they wanted to remain together.
"I wanted to be sure that we were right for each other and not just that we had been together so long," Lee says. "Being apart also means that you can see yourself alone, and that's important, too." Lee adds that her friends also began to see the two exclusively as a pair rather than as individuals and this view affected her relationships with them.
She says a large part of the problem is that Harvard's social atmosphere is not designed for couples but rather for individuals. Sometimes single friends worry about asking her to go out with them because they know she is involved with Darby and will not be interested in looking for other men to date, Lee explains. "It's almost uncomfortable for a person to spend time with a couple, or part of a couple, because lots of times people go out to meet other people," Lee says.
And Katsias says that people's perceptions of her relationship with Smith often cause her problems as well. She recalls several times when girls have approached Smith at parties although they know he is seriously dating someone else. She says she teases him after such encounters because he usually remains oblivious to these women's advances.
"A lot of times girls know when guys have a girlfriend, but he usually doesn't realize that some girls are putting the moves on him," Katsias says. "Usually we joke about it later."
But Bogdan says that social pressures are relaxed rather than exacerbated for her by dating Liles for so long. "The one thing about dating the same person for four years is that you don't have to find a date for any of the formals," Bogdan says.
Now that these long-term couples are graduating, the time has come to make decisions about whether to enter the real world together. Though some are trying to stay together, other have decided to make the break now.
"We're doing our own thing," Bogdan says about her relationship with Liles.
But Boranian says that he and Spalding definitely want to keep their relationship "exclusive." Both plan to move to Northern California in the fall.
Darby and Lee will be trying to continue their relationship in New York next year. Lee has accepted a position with Prudential and Darby has a tentative position with Booz Allen.
After enjoying the camraderie of the members of his crew team for so many years, Smith has enlisted in the Marines. "It suits his personality well in terms of the fact he's used to a team effort and he's used to the close bond and it's the same with the marines," Katsias says.
She adds that Smith plans to wait a year before he goes into the Marines, and so the next year will be a trial time for the couple. As Katsias explains, "We definitely want to keep going out but we're not sure of what the next year holds."