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.


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