Extracurricular Activity: Dating and Relationships at Naropa University

As we near the end of our first semester here in the Naropa TCP program, a lot of activity is going on.  Papers are due, finals are coming up, and stress and emotions are both running high.  This produces a variety of troublesome phenomena for the students here.  It’s around this time of year that people start to feel the physical demands of the workload, and many people get sick, don’t exercise, and resort to eating junk food because they’re always in a hurry.

It’s also the time of year that students start to get pretty lonely.  Think about it–family holidays are coming up, the novelty of a new town and a new school are wearing thin, and the weather is turning towards winter.  Overall, the atmosphere here in Naropa-land has become decidedly less like flying above the clouds, and more like falling through them.

Which means that at this time of year, people start turning toward their new friends and classmates here at Naropa, and not always just for a shoulder to cry on.  Naropa’s unique setting attracts unique people that often felt ostracized in their hometowns.  Upon coming to Naropa, many suddenly feel accepted for the first time in their adult lives.  Furthermore, the open mindedness that the school tries to cultivate means that it’s usually not hard to find a handful of people who match your sexual orientation, even if you aren’t straight.

Okay, so people hook up.  We’re all adults, we can handle our own sex lives without anyone’s interference, thank you very much.  Right?

Well, it doesn’t always work out that way…at least from the faculty’s point of view.  Don’t get me wrong, the instructors here are savvy, and they’ve worked with grad students for a long time.  They know how it works.  People in college date each other.  And yet here, in a population of self-sufficient, well-educated adults, it’s still pretty common to hear teachers advising against even casual sexual intimacy with Naropa buddies, much less forming relationships with them.

Which, upon first glance, seems pretty ridiculous.

But really, they’re well intended.  As much as I’d like to point out that many of Naropa’s instructors probably met their own significant others while in college, they do have a point.  This program is intense.  It messes with your emotions in ways that no other graduate psychology program ever will, and it does so intentionally.  If you sleep with someone, and it ends up being a mistake, you’ll probably have at least one class with them every semester for the next two and a half years, unless you intentionally (and collaboratively) schedule around each other.  The program is small, and some of the classes are big.  Many of the electives are only offered once or twice during the program, and then only have one section.  And couples often don’t survive Naropa.  I’ve heard instructors tell their students to start couples counseling on the first day of classes, because they’re instantly worried for their students’ romantic stability.  In a school of only a couple hundred students, it would be pretty easy to see your ex every single day without meaning to.

How do I know all this?  Well, some of it is from hearing all of those instructors’ warnings.  Unfortunately, the rest is from experience.

When I began attending Naropa as an undergrad, I was engaged.  After about a year, I was married.  About a year after that, I was single again.  Just like that.  Both of us were Naropa students, and saw each other every day.  It was terrible.  I cannot stress this enough…this program seriously fucks with you.  Having a relationship will be twice as difficult as it ever was, particularly if your significant other(s) attend Naropa too.

Luckily, there’s hope.  I am now in another relationship, with someone else who had gone through the undergrad program too.  And we’re both in the TCP.  And thus far, it’s been the best kind of hell.  We’re constantly falling apart and putting ourselves back together again.  We’re learning what it’s like to have a partner who is sometimes just too distraught themselves to be supportive.  We’re learning how to be individuals in our relationship, to trust each other even when we’re both wrecks.  We’re on this bull that is Naropa, and it is bucking like hell.  But we’re also incredibly lucky.  We get to be in a relationship in which we actively watch each other progress intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually at an accelerated rate, and we each know the other is experiencing this as well.

I don’t know if I’d honestly recommend this process to anyone…my partner and I are pretty stubborn people, and this has served us through the intensity thus far.  I have to admit, it’s often very uncomfortable, particularly when we have classes together.

Will we last?  Hopefully.  I have faith that we can, and I know it will be one of the hardest things we’ve done as a couple.  But even only one semester in, the results are astounding.  It really is a trial-by-fire, and we’re each melting down into something new.  It’s incredible, and terrifying, and amazing all at once.

If you choose not to date, good for you; you’re probably saving yourself a world of heartache.  If you decide to do so, good for you anyway.  You’ll learn a lot about who you are in relationships…and who knows, you may come out the other side still together and stronger for it.

Whatever you choose, I wish you the best, and hope you find a way to make it work.


Confessions of Naropaholic: My Flaws, Faults, and Failures

Hi everyone.  My name is Mari, and I’m a Naropaholic.

“What do you mean?” you may be asking yourself.  Allow me to explain.

This really all begins with a belief that a lot of people who meet me seem to have.  They tell me, “Mari, you really have your shit together.”  Well, first of all, thank you very much.  You have been a great reassurance to me and my insecure need to seem like my life fits into a neat little box.  But of course things are more complicated than that.  And since I can’t seem to shake this false image of general invulnerability (and also because I think I scare people off), I thought I’d take some time to share with you all exactly how not-together I am.  Because let’s face it, nobody is really that “together.”

First of all, I don’t get all of my reading assignments done.  I realize that this is an expected byproduct of being in grad school and also being human, but it bears mentioning.  I also sometimes finish assignments the night before, or occasionally right before class.  I don’t always give myself enough time to print papers, and so I’m often late to classes on days when papers are due.

Speaking of which, I am also not always on time for things.  I go to sleep late, then wake up late, and barely have time to shower and get dressed before I’m rushing out the door.  I end up buying food and coffee instead of making them at home, which means I’m pretty constantly broke.  While I’m usually pretty good with finances, I’ve been lax about it lately, which has caused problems in my general life stability.  This in turn makes me cranky.  I feel rushed and tired all the time.  I don’t take the time to properly care for myself.  My room is a mess, and my bonsai tree is dying because I haven’t had the time to figure out what the hell is wrong with it (or so I tell myself).

I’m also emotional, in a sometimes destructive way.  I’ve been known to get angry for no reason.  Usually there is a reason, but I’m more angry about it than is warranted.  I tend to blame people for things, even when it’s really my own damn shit that I need to work through.  I also don’t know how to express gratitude.  I don’t expect people to appreciate me, and when they do, I become awkward.  I often turn bright red when people’s attention is unexpectedly focused on me.

Which is probably why I’m writing a blog instead of saying all this in class.

And speaking of class, I talk too much.  Yes, I will be the first to admit this.  I’m sure part of this has to do with not really being heard when I was younger, but whatever the cause, I still end up talking disproportionately more than most other people that I meet.  Think about it this way: if you consider how much I talk in class, and how much I talk when I run into you, AND the fact that I have a blog in which I can just rant about whatever the hell I want to anyone who will listen for no real reason other than personal enjoyment, you will get the idea.  Thankfully, my partner talks a lot too.  We have lots of drawn out conversations in which both of us cut each other off and then get upset when it happens to us, and ultimately realize we’re both incredibly lucky to have the other around.

So that’s a start.  I could probably go on for a very long time, but I’ll cut it off here. You may be wondering how this relates back to Naropa.  Well, I’ll tell you. Naropa points these things out.  Not overtly, but it does.  Mostly it helps me notice these things about myself, and work on them.  And as someone who puts off this affect of “togetherness,” I really need that.  I need an external force to point out my flaws.  Because let’s face it, I’m bullheaded and I don’t always slow myself down when it’s warranted.  But the longer I’m here, the more I start to notice these things without other people pointing them out, and the more I progress.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Naropa teaches me to be a little less hard on myself for all of this.  It shows me that we all make mistakes, and that there’s wisdom in anger, and that I don’t have to take myself so seriously all the time.

So I’ll admit it to everyone.  My name is Mari, and I’m a Naropaholic.

Thankfully, this sort of “addiction” seems to be helping rather than hurting my spiritual, emotional, and intellectual growth.  So I think I’ll keep at it for a while, and see where it takes me.