From Daddy to Daughter
by Quincy Cooper, '15

My dear daughter,

I remember my first day of college as if were yesterday. Life seemed to be full of endless possibilities and for the first time I was beginning to feel like an adult. It seemed I could control almost everything. However, college has changed greatly since I graduated 30 years ago. You now check assignments on your smartphones; your professors give interactive assignments online, and so on.

But I've noticed something else that has changed: students' love lives. Dating is not what it used to be. With no parents by your side, close living quarters, more freedom and technological advancements, life can be extreme and college is already intense. Being a college student is a fulltime job. Between classes, extra-curricular, work, and studying, how do you expect to maintain a healthy relationship?

Although you may not realize it, you'll want my advice more than you might think, especially when it comes to dating in college. When that time comes, turn to these five pieces of advice to guide yourself toward a healthy romantic relationship.

Tip No. 1: Set Priorities

It's important to know what you want in a relationship before you start to date. This is true for all ages, but especially college students. I understand that my priorities for you might not match your own, but I hope I can help you set yours.

My friend Lori Miller, '84, remembers her dating days well, "Don't date someone you wouldn't want your parents to meet."

In response, her husband, Don Miller, ‘81, said, "Well, don't date someone you wouldn't want to marry!" Lori and Don met when he was a senior and she was a freshman. They were married during Jan Term of Lori's sophomore year.

Both of their bits of advice are paramount in helping you set your priorities. Is there something you so desperately want in a partner that you can't live without it? Maybe it's a similar faith outlook, or the way he or she treats people.

Another dear friend of mine, Alan Mikkelson, '00, professor of communication studies, told me that setting priorities was essential in his dating relationship. "You have to know what you're looking for and trust yourself," he said.  Having majored in communications at Whitworth, Mikkelson has observed numerous student relationships from beginning to end. He added, "Lots of times students don't realize what's important to them until they've already started dating or even when the relationship is over." But that's not true of all students.

As you know, I am involved in an all-men's small group that takes place on Wednesday nights. Last week I was able to talk to one of the worship pastors about his dating experience at Whitworth in hopes of giving you some good advice. Zach Mead, '09, married in his sophomore year. But he also made his Whitworth education a priority, he said. Students like you and Zach pay good money for an education that goes beyond classes. When it comes to prioritizing, focus on the Whitworth experience.  Mead believes, "It's about the small-group time, dorm-room time and the friendships and relationships you create." Don't take for granted the community you will receive at Whitworth.

In today's world, relationships are created differently, and are aided by technology. You know that I'm not the best "texter" and I still don't understand Facebook, so I asked Mikkelson about it.

He said, "Technology and social media have changed the way dating works." Many young people get too close too soon with the aid of social media. Your freedom has been enhanced by technological advances that allow text messages to be sent at any time of the day or night, he said.

Now you have constant ways of communicating, Mead agrees. Texting, Facebook and other forms of social media contribute to the decrease of face-to-face contact, says Mead. "Social media was never a part of my romantic relationships, but I would guess it hurts them. Face-to-face communication is better than online." I must agree with Zach. Do your best to start a relationship face-to-face rather than online.

Mikkelson encourages students to set priorities about how communication will take place during their relationship. So, will you text? Post your relationship status on Facebook? Call each other every night? Because college dating has no rules, priorities can easily be bent and broken, Mikkelson cautioned.

I also had the chance to chat with your cousin Mariah Kym, a current junior at Whitworth. She wishes she would have been more prepared for dating in college. "Your worries, fears and frustrations aren't going to subside when you find someone to love," she said. "You can't rely on someone else to change your life. You need to do that for yourself." Setting priorities also means setting standards for how you decide to live your life.

Tip No. 2: Be Honest

The adage that "honesty is the best policy" is especially true for college dating. You are 18 years old, a time of life in which it seems many people are becoming engaged or even married. If you are looking for that special someone in your college years, being honest with yourself and the other person is the best piece of advice I can give you.

We all wish we could go back in time and change the way some things have happened. For my friend Alan Mikkelson, his change would be being more honest. "Being honest with your significant other is the most important part of dating," he said.  A lack of honesty, whether its withholding information or outright deceit, is harmful in any relationship, he stresses. Sometimes we justify our lies because we don't want to hurt the other person or bring harm to the relationship.

It is important not only for you to be honest about who you are as a person, but about what you want out of the relationship. Mikkelson said, "Being honest will eliminate confusion and lead the way toward a better future."

I know you are an honest person. Don't change that for anyone.

Tip No. 3: Avoid and Learn From Negativity

It's important for you to find out what you like and don't like in a person, but it's also important to remember to have a positive attitude. For one thing, it's more attractive. Remember, you're not the only one in the relationship. The other person is analyzing you the same way you analyze him.

In addition, my friend Lori Miller, '84, stated, "If you only look for the bad in people, you'll never see the good." A big part of why we are attracted to people is because we think they'll make our lives better. The more negative you are, the less likely someone will want to date you, or even be around you.

To avoid negativity, Mikkelson says, "Be okay with the ups and downs." Life is full of highs and lows, but each person has the ability to control those highs and lows if she goes up and down with them.

While dating can bring positive experiences, it can also bring negative ones. We develop and learn from the negatives in our lives when we accept them. Negative relationship experiences can be a fuel to guide you in your next relationships. You have the power to decide right now if negative experiences will predict your future.

Tip No. 4: Foster the Friendship

Joseph Vigil, '93, also a professor of communication studies, and a dear friend of mine, encourages students to engage in deep friendships prior to developing a romantic relationship. "I think it's important, particularly when there is a romantic possibility, presuming you're dating with that potential, to foster the friendships and let that friendship be primary," he said.

College relationships include a certain element of intensity that can cloud the way you think about each other, Vigil said. He believes this intensity "needs to be tempered by friendship cultivation and friendship development." Ways you can do this include getting to know your dating partner's family, friends, and extended family.

According to Vigil, establishing friendships allows you to see a different element of who you are outside of Whitworth. It also enhances understanding of your significant other by looking into his interpersonal relationships, which brings similarities and differences to light.

While a sense of common goals is important in platonic and romantic relationships, your cousin Mariah believes that differences are key. "Be an individual! He is a whole person and you are a whole person, and you can't have a whole relationship until you realize that," she said.

Your mother and I have raised you with the love of God, and we hope you continue to make him the center of your relationship. We also hope that whoever you decide to date will challenge you and help you grow in your faith. Craig and Jane Dietz, '83, met during their freshman year at Whitworth on the cross country team, but they never dated until their senior year. Jane remembers how her friendship with Craig benefitted her relationship with Christ: "It's important to be true to your faith and to yourself; the other person should be there to hold you up," she said. Jane and Craig were able to begin a relationship based on a solid friendship, she added.

Vigil said it is just as important to have lots of friends outside of romantic relationships. If you have good friends, they'll protect you and see fault, or shortcomings, that you may not.

Tip No. 5: Don't Be Afraid of Singleness

Students often enter college hoping to find their true love. While many people do in fact find their spouse in college, you should resist the pressure to become one of them. Even if you're not looking for that perfect someone just yet, it may feel that you're at least expected to date.

But what if you don't date? Being single in a fast-paced college environment can be a struggle. There is a constant desire for acceptance, especially during your freshman year. Dating can be an outlet for that. However, as Mariah said, "Don't be afraid to be alone." It's easy to lose yourself in the pursuit of another person. But you have to value yourself as well.

Part of being in college is discovering who you are. Understanding your own likes and dislikes is essential prior to understanding someone else's. Mikkelson advises his current students, "Embrace the opportunities that come with singleness and don't be afraid of it."

Similarly, Craig Dietz stated, "In life you will go through growth pains and joys." He and Jane have experienced those joys and pains together as a couple. Jane cited one of her favorite Bible verses: "What therefore God hath put together, let man not put asunder" (Mark 10:9). Jane used this verse as encouragement for the future. Opportunity and possibility will come whether you are single or dating.

Possibilities come when you take chances; sometimes you won't be willing to do that. During his college years, Mikkelson dated, but valued his single life as well. "I learned a lot about myself while I was in a relationship, but even more while I was single," Mikkelson said. He is now married to Jen, a non-Whitworth grad. Their story is proof that not everyone finds a husband or wife in college.

These pieces of advice will be helpful for you as your enter college. I know I can't control your dating life, but I hope I can be there for you when you need me. Don't be afraid to make a mistake; that's how you'll learn.

I can't believe how fast youve grown up, darling. I'll miss you more than words can express. Remember, I'm only a phone call away.

Love, Dad