by Olivia Tan (16A01E) and Liew Ai Xin (16A01A)
Let’s get real. For most of us who came from single-sex secondary schools, “Junior College” (JC) was originally seen not as “the two years before A levels”, but as “that land of the other genders”, filled with people whom we have not interacted with (on a daily basis) since primary school. Armed with rumours and vague estimates of relationship statistics, as well as stories of famous senior couples who have survived JC together, many of us waded into Orientation and found ourselves submerged in a new world, complete with wafting clouds of pheromones, awkward silences and sundry glances. Before we knew it, that one new word “relationships” started being thrown around; and now, it seems like nearly everyone we know is either in a relationship or knows a couple in the school. Indeed, if you are one of the lucky lovebirds, you might have had to deal with floods of such comments from the adoring masses:
Pursuits in the amorous department have always thrived despite numerous wise sages telling us that our main purpose in life is to study. That is easier said than done when they conveniently miss out on teaching us some ancient method of disabling emotions and setting aside romantic wishes. As the favourite retort goes: students have lives too! — and it is hard to deny our feelings during this fleeting, golden period of our youth. But despite the known risks of engaging in a relationship, such as the baggage of confusing feelings and emotional commitment, why do couples still get together in JC? Do both sides desire the same qualities, or are they looking for different things to gain?
These questions are hard to answer as there is a distinct lack of empirical knowledge about relationships. We are, after all, a school and not a dating agency. But thankfully, with a new survey, we have attempted to remedy that situation, and hopefully shed light on a part of school that is very much inherent in our daily lives (albeit overshadowed by all that academic mania).
In our questionnaire, we asked 77 interviewees questions about their relationships, and what had attracted them to their partner (or ex-partner) in the first place. Most of the participants were speaking from past experiences, although some were still in a relationship. The results were ranked according to frequency, as shown below:
- Personality (with a marked preference for traits like “patient”, “kind-hearted”, “compassionate” and “genuine”)
- Looks (though it was usually stated as a “bonus” or as an initial reason, not as a deciding factor)
- Character (with a marked preference for traits like “responsibility”, “humour”, and “confidence”)
- Ability to demonstrate physical affection and emotional vulnerability
These results were intriguing, particularly in the way that the boys tended to use the words “personality”, while the girls wrote “character”. The adjectives used to describe what they preferred speak for themselves, and without trying to stereotype the preferences of all specimens of the same gender or orientation, we can see that boys usually go for females with an amalgamation of Snow White characteristics while girls tend to find confident and emotionally open males really attractive.
A majority of people also stated that it took less than 3 months for them to “get together”, with the next closest duration being 3 – 6 months. We can understand why they took such a short time. The reason why people proclaim things like “it was like something out of a chick flick”, or “I feel like I’m in a romantic novel”, is because a romance is simply exciting. Everyone hopes to find The One amidst the flurry of lectures and tutorials, and everyone secretly wishes to have a better love story than Twilight.
However, not all fairytales come true. As we begin to delve deeper into our analysis of relationships in JC, we must confront the inevitable truth: most of these relationships do not succeed in the long run, and the countless examples of the screenshot shown above may disappear en masse as their accompanying photos are quietly deleted after 6 to 9 months, which was the most common length of time respondents said their past relationships had lasted. Why is that, though?
Perhaps we ought to take a moment to think about those 3 – 6 months it took to enter the relationship in the context of a year, as well as the disparity between the reasons that both sides have stated above. How long does it take for us to truly determine if a person is a compatible partner? Do we really enter into relationships thinking the other has the same reasons for doing so? What happens when wit, intelligence and that initial spark of chemistry runs out? Just like one respondent said, “Most of what had attracted me to my ex-partner wasn’t her personality, but rather her looks and ‘dressings’ –– all things superficial. I wouldn’t say that her personality, her smile and her quirks weren’t part of what attracted me to her; it was more like they weren’t factors as significant (which I regretted)”.
Inevitably, these short-term reasons might result in a short-term relationship. But is that solely why relationships end in JC?
Not entirely. A variety of other reasons for breaking up were stated, with the top few being:
- Different schools/JCs
- Stress from academic matters
- Eventual incompatibility (with reasons like “character changing”, “misunderstandings/disagreements” and even “different political views” being cited)
- Emotional distance (“losing the ‘feel’ for each other”)
- Parental objections
- Religion (to a lesser extent)
It is a sad truth that, in this high-pressure environment, it can get rather lonely dealing with all the stress by ourselves. Most students would then innately desire mutual comfort, support and security (whether or not they are conscious of that fact). In the glorious light of a physical or mental attraction, we are vulnerable to jumping the gun and assuming that this initial chemistry means this could be our other half, and this could be the end to all the empty nights staring at pictures of your friends, who seem much happier (on social media) with their partners. Although this yearning for a special someone can come as a natural need, the very word “need” demonstrates that, perhaps, we are not yet prepared to be emotionally strong for ourselves. This realisation was echoed in reflections by several of our survey respondents in the wake of their break-ups. “Come to think about it,” one of them said wistfully. “I don’t think we should have gone into a romance so quickly.”
However, The End is really just another page –– all we have to do is flip it.
Whenever a relationship ends, our next logical decision should be to move on, but that is definitely not easy. We are largely a goal-oriented, hardworking bunch, and the very fact that we are in Raffles Institution suggests that we may not be very well acquainted with personal failure –– so the end of a relationship may hit one hard and precipitate self-recriminating thoughts on failing to do “damage control”, or recognise some supposed “signs” that had foretold the break-up. It may also be possible that your now ex-partner may be from your CCA, your orientation group, or –– horror of horrors! –– your class. How, then, do people deal with the emotions that will inevitably stem from this soup of awkwardness?
The most immediate thing after a breakup is to have a good cry, of course. Throw yourself down and sob your heart out.
No, seriously. Crying about it will do you a world of good, instead of bottling up any negative emotions and pretending like they do not exist. The second thing to do would be to distract yourself. Go out to the park, read a book, play games, study, or just sleep. Slowly, you will rebuild the life you had with yourself before the relationship happened, and re-establish yourself as one whole instead of one half of a whole.
The final and most important thing to do is to reflect upon this experience and accept reality. The truth is: you two were either going to stay together forever, or break up. A happily-ever-after is not that easy to attain, and it is what happens after ever after that matters. Love has never had a guaranteed success rate, and that shouldn’t scare you. Neither does it mean that you should aggressively interrogate every potential partner in the future or over-analyse how long your bond could last. As an interviewee stated, “Sometimes, getting to know the person well enough first before delving into a serious relationship is a very important factor of maintaining the essence of it.” Life has many bends in the road, and this particular stretch that we are on –– the teenage years –– can be full of twists, turns and dead ends, so the moral of this story is to take your time and try not to immediately dive into a relationship.
“She changed in a manner that I didn’t particularly like and I didn’t see a future between the both of us … She was not the same type of person she used to be.” As we mature as individuals, we may lose certain traits that we had valued in the past, or our tolerance level could shift, causing us to realise that we may not like our partner as much as we thought we once did. It is not that your partner had lied about their good qualities (though there was one respondent who had experienced that). It is the inevitable fact that both of you have changed; neither for the better nor for the worse, just not for the both of you.
Relationships can be a source of mutual support and comfort, but a large percentage of them end in JC because most of us do not know ourselves or our emotional strength yet. Eventually, everyone lives life alone (a painful truth), and binding yourself to someone out of “need” at such a young age can mean melding yourself so closely to the other that what made “you” you is now inseparable from that of your partner –– and that is not conducive to becoming a well-rounded, independent individual.
As the philosopher Ayn Rand once said, “To say ‘I love you’, one must first know how to say the ‘I’. The meaning of the ‘I’ is an independent, self-sufficient entity that does not exist for the sake of any other person.” In order to carry and support another person, we must first be able to handle our own emotions and baggage. Only then can the “need” for a relationship be transformed into a “want”; where I can live without you, but I would rather not.