First Blush of Love

Throughout our lives, we pass certain milestones that were set for us at birth — start school at 5, start driving at 16, “start” drinking at 21. But what’s never charted on this map of life is when we are supposed to fall in love for the first time.
Ahh, love. That romantic time when your head is in the clouds, thinking about someone back on the ground. Your heart races, butterflies tickle your stomach and your eyes are as starry as the night sky. And although your first love is a major milestone, there is no standard time for it to blossom.
[love] Because of this, people experience their first loves at all different ages. For some it’s a high school sweetheart, others encounter it in college or after graduation when they have settled into a job. But does first love last forever, or is the first heartbreak another milestone we must all surpass?
It was during her sophomore year in high school that Katelin Ripmaster met her first love.
“I never really thought of it as love until six or eight months into it,” Ripmaster, interior design senior, said. “I realized I couldn’t be happier with someone else. Someone who made me feel really happy and proud of who I was, and I was proud of who he was.”
Ripmaster’s relationship lasted two years, ending during her first semester at MSU. Though she has moved on, she still finds herself thinking about that first relationship when she dates new people.
“Four years later I still look at what we had and I’m so proud of it, and I miss him in certain ways,” Ripmaster said. “But I’m glad we’re not together; I know we’re not supposed to be together.”
[kids] For others like Ripmaster, who experience first love at a young age, that relationship can often have an effect on future relationships.
“Very often, even if the relationship ends, people retain for much of the rest of their life fantasies about that first love,” Dr. Barnaby Barratt, certified psychoanalyst and sex therapist in Farmington Hills, said. “Obviously it’s not about the person as they are in the present, it’s as they were back then.”
Ripmaster said being in love makes dating after that relationship harder, because you are used to being so close and open with one person. But she also sees a positive side to it.
“I think it’s a good thing because you are more knowledgeable, and you know what you want and what you don’t like in a relationship and a partner,” she said. Though her feelings were strong for her first love, Ripmaster doesn’t think first loves always last. “If you break up, deep down you’ll always have fond memories and admiration for that person, but I don’t think that holds as love.”
Futhermore, after having a serious relationship, Ripmaster said she prefers dating at this stage in her life. “Three months away from graduation, there’s so much that we can do and experience, and I would rather be single or simply date and have fun with someone, but still be able to focus on myself and my little dreams before I commit myself to someone else’s life.”
On the other hand, some MSU students prefer committed relationships to the dating scene. Julie Wallace, education senior, has been in a relationship for over two years with her first love.
“There’s never been a point in our relationship when I’ve questioned whether or not I wanted to be with him,” Wallace said. “He never makes me sad, only makes me happy.”
Strong relationships are hard work and there needs to be openness and understanding from both sides, Dr. Eric Howard, a licensed sex therapist in Lansing, said. It’s also important not to take things too seriously.
Wallace believes her first love will last forever because of their strong connection. “We’re really honest with each other and have good communication,” she said. “We never hold back our feelings about anything.”
Barratt said couples who want to maintain a strong long-term relationship need to allow room for the other to evolve. “If two people who fall in love at a young age stay together forever, it’s only healthy if they grow and develop together.”
But many MSU students have yet to experience their first love.
“Some people haven’t fallen in love, at 21 and 22, just because it hasn’t happened,” Barratt said. “The right person hasn’t come along, they haven’t been sparked in that way.”
Although he has never fallen in love, Deepan Patel, microbiology senior, said he is open to it when it comes. “I think you need to be ready for it,” Patel said. “You have to be emotionally ready.”
While most of his friends are also single, Patel said this has had little influence on his dating life. “I’m enjoying the benefits of not being tied down, not having to worry about another person,” Patel said.
He also believes love can happen at any age, as long as you have finished school and are self-sufficient.
Despite their different experiences, Ripmaster and Patel agree that dating is the most fun and least confining romantic program for college students.
“I love going out with my friends and meeting new people,” Ripmaster said. “And it’s nice to be able to do what I want and not have to compromise for someone else.”
Getting over a first love can be difficult and the aftermath can linger long after the relationship is over, but heartache is something we all have to go through at some point in life.
“I don’t know what age is best to fall in love,” Barratt said. “But what matters is the quality of that love.”

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Step Into the Sun

Sitting at a small table in the back of the Women’s Lounge in the Union, Kim Shaffer closes her eyes and tilts her head up toward the window. The sun’s warm rays shine down on her face, making it easy to forget the bitter temperatures lingering outside.
[try] Though she appears asleep, interior design senior Shaffer is taking in the sunlight to elevate her disposition. “I once heard that standing in front of a sunny window and closing your eyes for a minute will boost your mood,” Shaffer said. “And in the winter you’re inside all day, so I find it to be soothing.”
The cold air and cloudy skies can make anyone feel gloomy during the winter months, but for some people it causes severe mood changes, known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). People affected by SAD suffer from symptoms of depression during the fall and winter months, such as Mike*, a criminal justice junior at MSU.
[sun] Although no official cause has been determined, the National Mental Health Association reports a link between SAD and melatonin, a hormone released in the brain that may be attributed to symptoms of depression. Produced in higher amounts in the dark, officials believe the darker winter months cause increased production of melatonin.
“A major symptom is a shift in their mood,” said Dr. John Lee, a psychologist at the student counseling center. “And the mood is just how you feel about yourself and about life. So, it’s not just whether you feel happy or sad.” As with depression, changes in appetite and sleeping patterns are also symptoms of SAD, but these actions subside during spring and summer months. “Pay attention to your appetite,” Lee said. “Has it increased or decreased? Is there a change in your weight?”
Mike went to a therapist in January of his freshman year, because he noticed an extreme decline in his mood, and he had also gained 20 pounds. “I ignored the weight gain at first, I thought it was just the ‘Freshman 15′,” he said. “But I was rude to my friends and family, and I didn’t want to socialize or leave my room. My mom finally suggested I go talk to someone about my feelings.”
So how is SAD treated? “If someone thinks they have the disorder, they need to see a professional,” Lee advises. “There’s a variety of ways you can deal with it once you get a professional assessment. The professional recommendations will vary depending upon the perspective.”
Common treatments include medication, therapy and self-help books. A newer method is the use of full spectrum lighting that simulates sunlight in a dim room. “The lights help to replace the lack of the full spectrum of the sunlight getting into your eyes, providing vitamin D,” Lee said.
In addition to sessions with a psychologist, Mike finds running outside to be extremely therapeutic. “The majority of my day is spent inside, at class and work, so the hour I take to jog outside is important to me,” he said.
While more women seek treatment, Lee believes men suffer from SAD just as often. “There’s a huge biological component to SAD and I can’t see men necessarily having a different chemistry with regards to how they respond,” Lee said.
Mike agrees with Dr. Lee in that a lot of men suffer from SAD. “Guys are less likely to admit to something like depression becuase they want to appear emotionally stronger.”
For those who suffer from SAD, Lee siad the mental disorder does not necessarily last a lifetime, although there are some cases that do. “Only one third of the people might deal with it all the time,” Lee said.
But in the mean time, he suggests preparing for the season ahead of time in addition to therapy.

*last name not provided upon request of the source.

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