Growing up, then growing old: Dating your school sweetheart lays the foundation for a successful future

Anya Grondalski, Podcast Host

Illustration by (Emma Kogel)

There’s something special about a relationship that grows up with you, laying a brick foundation for your future.

My boyfriend and I have been together for 4 1/2 years. We met when I was 13 and he was 15 at a mutual friend’s graduation party in 2016. A year later, we recognized each other’s friendly faces at show choir practice and the rest is history.

Long-lasting relationships are the ones where two things remain unwavering: healthy communication and a commitment to compromise. These skills are learned throughout adolescence and practiced into adulthood. The average adult couple has already developed these, putting communication and compromise into practice to start a relationship.

But imagine loving someone through this critical development in your life. Through your experiences, your mistakes and pain, you choose to better yourself not just as a maturing individual, but also on behalf of your partner.

Although some will tell you it’s impossible to see forever in the guy you met in the auditorium, there are examples of how high school relationships can in fact work out. LeBron James and Savannah Brinson started dating at 17 and 16, respectively, and are still happily married to this day. They were committed before the NBA legend’s claim to fame, and they stuck together through the challenges that being a celebrity likely brought to their family.

My boyfriend and I were together during puberty, bad haircuts, fashion phases and changes in career goals. He was my one constant as everything else around me was changing, and we loved each other the same through it all.

According to marketing expert Brandon Gaille, only one out of five high school relationships make it to college. Additionally, less than 2% of marriages are between high school sweethearts. It seems like the odds have always and will always be against people like us.

To make things even more complicated, there’s a general societal consensus that staying with your high school or college partner is just plain sad. People tend to think you are holding each other back from achieving your unrealized dreams and goals.

Our commitment to each other has strengthened our plans for the future. We know that “home” is in the same area and our Christmases won’t be split between coasts. And the best part: we can avoid the awkward “meeting the parents” dinner that most new couples dread.

Additionally, our relationship has been instrumental in shaping who we’ve both become. My partner’s parents divorced before we started dating. They had to sell his childhood home. This experience gave him a cold outlook on life, but through our experiences together and my sometimes-overbearing joy for the little things, he’s grown into an emotionally intelligent and openly communicative man. Likewise, he spent years encouraging me to be outspoken and defend myself when I used to be a silent doormat for toxic friends.

There’s no doubt we’ve made each other stronger, better, more confident individuals.

And like all relationships, there’s fighting. The transition from high school to college was especially hard because he is older. Not being able to relate to each other, plus long-distance and his military university’s culture, made it feel like we were living completely different lives. What got us through was knowing that the other was right where they were meant to be. All we could do was be supportive until we could be home together again.

Situations like this are one of the many reasons that my high school relationship demonstrates strength. It may be cliche, but you’re supposed to fight for the people and things you love. Maybe people just don’t see the point in putting effort into relationships anymore, or maybe I just got lucky.

The person I am now at 19 is in stark contrast to who I was at 13. You come to realize that problems don’t have to be so big and that fighting over semantics is a waste of time. You learn an incredible amount of patience, a skill severely lacking in people our age.

You are also privy to the full scope of your partner’s past and the way it influences their decisions and perspectives. You know the real “why” behind their hurt because you went through the experiences that shaped each other together.

Planning your future with the person that made your past is a special experience that few are privileged enough to have. And through it, you learn that love is so much more beautiful when you choose to invest time, energy and sacrifice into it.