Shawn Fredericks | Staff Writer

Relationships are an important part of the college experience and are a key part of having a long and happy life. However, between rigorous academics and incompatible personalities, college can be a challenging place to build worthwhile relationships.

As your dear Uncle Shawn, I thought I’d share some lessons I’ve learned so you can be more prepared to find healthy friendships and romantic relationships.

Be vulnerable.

A relationship cannot be authentic without the people within that relationship being vulnerable with each other. Honestly, I have struggled with this because in both my romantic and platonic relationships, I won’t show vulnerability. I’ll get to know people without letting them learn about me, and you cannot develop a deep connection with people unless you put that guard down. Being vulnerable can be scary, and it takes a strong person with good intentions and character, but it’s worth the risk for an authentic and deep connection with another person.

Things will change.

People change, and if you are going into your freshmen year (or if you’re a transfer like me), you’re going to make a lot of new, but ultimately superficial, connections. Your social circle will naturally get smaller as your schedule gets busier. So while you may care for many people, you will have to let some of them go to make time and space for the ones that matter most. It’s not easy, but it’s a part of life.

Your relationships are a reflection of you.

As a college student, you have more autonomy over whom you let into your social circle. This means whomever you gravitate towards is a reflection of your internal mindset. For instance, if you are constantly in relationships where you are taken advantage of, where people do not value your time or personality, there something going on internally that pushes you towards forming connections like that. Maybe it’s low self-esteem or lack of self-love; whatever it is, until you do some internal work, the cycle of dissatisfying relationships will continue.

Reciprocity is non-negotiable.

All healthy relationships have a foundation in reciprocity and balance. When you invest time into people, there’s nothing wrong with expecting a return on your investment. You shouldn’t over-extend yourself for someone who does not put effort into the relationship. On the other hand, you shouldn’t abuse people because it’s convenient for you. If you notice someone is investing time or money into your relationship, then you should reciprocate that or cut it off. Balance is key. Notice what you’re giving and what you’re taking. This doesn’t mean you should get into a “tit for tat” mentality, but if the relationship is one-sided then you have to let it go.

People will make mistakes, including you.

People are not perfect—especially in college. We’re all learning how to navigate these complicated ties of relationships, so people will make mistakes. Acknowledge that, give yourself space to make mistakes, and don’t take yourself or relationships too seriously.  While giving yourself room, allow others the room to make mistakes. That doesn’t mean tolerate mistreatment; it means be intentional about keeping yourself open and compassionate.

You are enough and you have something to contribute.

Sometimes we don’t believe we’re capable of contributing to a relationship, and these feelings of inadequacy make us build a wall between us and other people. However, don’t fall into this type of thinking. We all have positive traits, whether it’s being a good listener, great advice giver or having an empathetic soul. We all have something to contribute to a relationship in a positive way.