I met him at a party during my sophomore year in college. He was a few years older than me, an all-star athlete, and a definite "bad boy" who I knew from my hometown. Our relationship began when uncertainty about my major and over-scheduling led me to withdraw from classes and return home for a semester. At 23, he was still living with his parents, working a landscaping job during the day, and partying at night. At 20, I fell in love, hard, fast, and with devastating consequences.
I was the first in my family to go to college. This might explain why, when I took a step back from school, my parents believed that I would never return and finish. They insisted that I juggle as many paying jobs as much as possible while not enrolled, probably so that I'd be so miserable I would definitely return to school. While I worked full-time as a waitress during the day, then changed uniforms to clean office buildings in the evening, I was also applying to universities that I hoped would be a better fit. I was no stranger to hard work (having worked since my first paper route at the age of 11), but going back to a labor-intensive routine as opposed to an academic one was definitely a shock to my system. I was eager to return to school and was impatiently awaiting mid-year acceptance letters.
I can't remember the specifics of how it began, but I remember that my parents were extremely vocal about their dislike of my boyfriend from the jump. For many women, this wouldn't be an issue, but my parents wielded power over my life decisions in the form of tuition payments and a strict Catholic upbringing. In my parents' eyes, as long as they were paying for my education, they had a say in both my course of study and who I spent my personal time with. They simply did not like the possible influence my older boyfriend could have over me and my life decisions. My parents probably thought my boyfriend was the reason why I'd decided to drop out of school. He wasn't, but having met him and knowing he'd be there in my hometown made my decision to withdraw much easier.
When I moved back in with my parents, I was given an ultimatum: Break up with your boyfriend or be cut off financially, which meant no monetary support of any kind once I returned to school. While it does seem harsh, my parents' concerns weren't unfounded. My boyfriend was a drug addict with no plans for his future, and I, the "good girl," wanted to fix him. Once my parents had made up their minds about him, I knew that no amount of pleading, debating, or cajoling could convince them to change their minds. Their word was final, and I'd be wise to listen. Of course, I agreed to their terms. At 20, I had no idea what it meant to support myself, let alone put myself through college. I agreed to break up with my boyfriend, but I had no intention of following through; we would take our relationship "underground."
My secret relationship drove a wedge between myself and my parents, as my (limited) social life was an entire facet of my life they weren't privy to. I've always been honest, with absolutely no talent for telling even the smallest of lies, so my dating deception made for short and stilted phone calls home when I re-matriculated at a new college a few months later.
A year later, I decided to come clean with my parents over the winter holidays, a decision borne both from a heavy conscience and necessity. I hated living a lie and deceiving my parents, and I would be home from school for six weeks. I was going to want to hang out with my boyfriend and thought I would simply drop the bomb and then go on with my life, enjoying my break with everyone I loved.
Things didn't go quite as planned.
The running joke between my parents and me had always been, "No boys, just study," yet there was a deep truth embedded in the saying. In retrospect, my parents were completely justified in their dislike of my boyfriend (in addition to the flaws I've already mentioned, he ended up not being a nice guy), but I truly believe they wouldn't have approved of any man I dated while in college. They wanted nothing and no one to stand in the way of my earning a degree.
When I told my parents that I had been dating the off-limits guy, they stuck to their ultimatum. After discussing it, my parents issued their edict; they would no longer pay my college tuition or support me.
Instead of relaxing over break, I found myself scrambling to obtain financial aid to finish out the year and making calls so that I could move my belongings out of my dorm room. I never, ever expected my parents to follow through with their ultimatum, and I found myself living in an incredibly tense environment at home. My parents returned my Christmas gifts that year, which hurt more than being cut off, but did allow me to live in their home for the next semester, provided I was still enrolled in school. Once summer came, I would need to move out. Fun times.
I lost credits when I transferred from two private, religious universities to a state school that was more in line with my budget. I was upset that I would have to attend a less selective — but substantially more affordable — state university, knowing that it could possibly hurt my future job prospects by not carrying the clout that my private universities did. I was unbelievably angry: angry at my parents, at my boyfriend, and at myself for coming clean. I was angry that I would, again, be switching universities, and most of all, furious that I was going to have to grow up, and grow up quickly, to support myself and pay my own way through the remainder of college. All in all, it took me five and a half years to earn my undergraduate degree because of lost credits and college transfers.
There were silver linings. While I lost college credits and my parents' trust, I gained much-needed life experience. Working two jobs to support myself through college taught me the value of hard work and how to budget my money. As a result, I grew to become a (mostly) responsible adult. As for the guy, it took me another year to admit that my parents were right and kick him to the curb.
I credit my industrious nature to my parents finally cutting the cord. As a result, I took jobs more seriously and had an immense sense of pride when I finally, after five and a half years of studies, received my undergraduate degree. What felt like a horrible experience at the time became one of the most positive, life-changing experiences in my early adult years. Believe it or not, I'm grateful to my parents for cutting me off (just not my student loans).