As background conversation and karaoke music fill the packed room swarming with students, red plastic cups are scattered across a beer-flooded wooden table. Everyone is having a great time, until Jack Freeman notices the view of Etienne Bean’s fading smile. Freeman sets down his drink and decides it’s time to part ways with their friends, acknowledging that his partner’s well being is more important than a typical night out.
Once Jack and Etienne met in Portland, they moved in together in Eugene for school after committing to a 4-year relationship. Shortly thereafter, they realized that their relationship helps balance the burden of everyday life.
“It’s convenient when it comes to chores, it’s convenient when it comes to financial responsibilities and sharing those,” Etienne says. “It’s nice generally just having somebody to talk to at all times when I’m having a bad class or a bad day.”
Other couples in the vicinity recognize the convenience a relationship can offer with respect to their daily lives.
Just a few blocks down the road from Jack and Etienne, Noelle Petrowski and Paul Metzler have constructed a lifestyle that redefines traditional notions of the college experience.
Each day, Paul returns home to Noelle, his best friend and high school sweetheart. They talk and laugh, while cutting vegetables on a cutting board Paul made with Noelle’s name embedded in it. At night, they retire to their room, decorated with a record collection and artwork including mod podge shadow boxes commemorating the first two months of their relationship. To this date, they say their relationship is as strong as it was from the beginning.
“Yeah, I’m still not sick of him,” Noelle says. She never regrets their decision to leave the dorms and move into their upstairs apartment in Eugene’s business district.
“It was a better fit for everything,” Noelle says.
For Paul and Noelle, other than some slight criticism from close friends, they both agree that there’s been no difference in their social life.
“I think that the college experience is more relevant to people who are trying to find another person and I already have one,” Paul says.
Since they’ve already found their special someone, the couple doesn’t feel the need to actively go out and socialize with others. Instead, they choose a stay-at-home lifestyle, which focuses their priorities on school and enjoying their time together.
For Paul and Noelle, the act of moving out of the dorms was also a way to declare their independence. As current students at the University of Oregon, they cook for themselves, do their laundry in their bathtub, and balance general life. Committing to this relationship provides a balance to their lives.
On the other side of the spectrum, some students believe living with a significant other impedes one’s college experience, and the opportunities presented in college manifest—a genuine opportunity to discover the identity of oneself.
“Everyone says that’s when you figure out who you are and I just wanted to experiment a lot, like, try drinking,” says Anna Crist, University of Oregon senior. “Just have that freedom of not being at your parents’ house and have them know where you are all the time.”
Anna lived with a boyfriend during her sophomore year at the UO, but immediately felt tied down upon signing the lease.
“It was basically signing a contract, like, I’m going to be in a relationship with you for a whole year, at least,” she said.
After digging the pen on the X line, the situation turned sour. Anna felt increasingly more detached from her friends and social scene. Towards the end of their lease, they separated and decided to pursue different paths.
Today, Anna lives with two roommates in a small house close to campus, where she enjoys going out with her sorority sisters. She finds empowerment in the ability to make independent decisions about her future.
Jack and Etienne never had to choose between cohabitating and living their typical college experience. “As much as a person individually can learn about themselves from the college experience, going out and partying and drinking and learning your limits and your abilities, we’ve been able to do that exact same thing, but together,” Jack says.
When going out, Jack and Etienne enjoy their time, but also remain conscious of each other’s feelings and limitations. If one of them is sick or tired, the other has no problem going home early instead of going out. In the end, their commitment to each other remains their most valuable attribute.
“Maybe I’m missing out on some experiences, but I don’t feel that way,” Etienne says. “He’s not a rope. He’s just – he’s very open and an easy partner to have.”
Making the Decision
Love is not the only reason students are shacking up. The rising cost of a college education also serves as a contributing factor.
“I think we’ve chosen to worry about it and try to find ways to live cheaply,” Paul says.
Other couples, such as Jenelle Barzola and Tim Andrew, recognize the ways their commitment to each other can benefit them, like when filling out their financial aid to attend the University of Oregon. Currently registered as independents, Jenelle will receive more aid after they’re married this summer.
“We both thought that it would be a lot easier to do them together because we would receive more aid,” she said. “That was the first moment I thought we should get married.”
For Etienne, Jack’s support and the willingness to share costs has helped him towards graduation from the University’s School of Architecture and Allied Arts with a bachelor’s degree in architecture. “I will be the first in my family to finish college,” Etienne says, “It’s kind of a big deal.”
A changing experience?
As the needs of the modern-day college population change, so do the experiences. “If I did have the funds to go through it and breeze through college without fear of loans and debt, then I’m not sure if I’d appreciate it as much,” Etienne says.
Pursuing financial stability, independence, and future careers, couples in committed relationships view their decision to live together as the best way for them to manage their goals. Some choose a more stay-at-home style and others value to social sphere.
“I don’t think there is just one college experience,” Jack says.