There are so many issues students must deal with while attending university: deadlines, debt, fights with friends, bereavements in the family… and break-ups. Unfortunately, we’ve all been there and perhaps even just the words “break-up” are dragging back memories of dark nights spent listening to depressing music and crying into your Ben & Jerry’s ice cream (although most of us can't afford that luxury even at the worst of times – thank god for Tesco value). Anyway, I digress: it’s a shit time. But looking at what the University, and the government, certify as appropriate “personal circumstances that affect your academic performance”, heartbreak certainly isn’t an acceptable reason. So, there are many of us out there who are suffering in silence and have no safety net to fall back on.
It's particularly common at university-age that people begin to enter into their first long-term, serious relationships. Gone are the teenage flings we all thought were true love, but later realised were just hormone-fuelled, sickeningly cringey romances. Just before moving to university, or while actually attending uni, many people enter into relationships which are the real deal. It’s not just about the tummy flutters or the electricity of physical contact; it holds a deeper passion and is rooted in a bond of friendship that makes you feel like it is the two of you against the world. This person often becomes your whole world, in fact, and each day that passes binds you closer and closer until you’re pretty much one person, bumbling your way through life. To truly be in love really is all it’s cracked up to be, and you haven’t been in love if you think it isn’t. You share your darkest secrets, you become part of one another’s families, you become friends with one another’s friends, every song becomes about them, you head out to explore the world together, collecting countless memories along the way, and their happiness ultimately becomes your happiness. So when it all comes crashing down, you’ve not just lost a partner, you’ve lost half of yourself.
Trying to take the first few steps alone again can be some of the hardest. After perhaps years of walking with four legs, you’re suddenly back to two and you stumble about like a toddler. It’s a painful loss and the pillars of your existence seem to start crumbling around you. This person shared with you some of the most important moments of your life so far and then, in the blink of an eye, they’re all just memories.
The thing is, going through a break-up can be embarrassing and seem so menial to anyone outside the bubble you once shared with that other person. Friends tempt you with alcohol and the prospect of a one-night stand to numb the pain, even if only momentarily. Family try to support you but are suffering the loss of an extended member, and strangers try to humour you with jokes of what a shitty person your partner must have been to let you go, while simultaneously holding you on a pedestal and reminding you of how young you are and how you’ll eventually “find someone who deserves you”.
But, sometimes, these thoughtful acts can be just noise in your already crowded head. Everybody means well, but often all you want to do is turn to that special person, confide in them and be comforted by them; however, that person is the one who has hurt you and so you feel you have nowhere to turn.
All of this is going on and, in the meantime, university obligations are sitting in the background frantically waving at you to pay attention. You know how important your degree is and you know that you cannot be missing lectures or deadlines to sit in bed, unshowered, curtains closed, feeling sorry for yourself. The soul-crushing hurt from a break-up doesn’t equate to a diagnosed mental illness; the not eating, the headaches and the feeling, or being, sick don’t equate to a diagnosed physical illness; and the person you care so much about isn’t dead so despite the loss feeling like a bereavement, it isn’t one. So, with no “legitimate” reason for your grades to dip and your attendance to suffer, you end up bearing both a crisis in your academic life, as well as your personal life.
Unfortunately, there is no way the University can actually include a break-up as a special consideration. Even if they tried to police it by getting you to provide evidence, that would be painful and intrusive enough to put you off completely. And who can really judge what a long-term, serious relationship is? Somebody’s one-year relationship could have contained the same number of feelings and experiences as someone else’s five-year one. And what about the people who are actually happy to be part of a break-up? The instigators of one or someone who has suffered so much at the hands of their partner. If they’re not feeling the horrific effects of a break-up, but have the “evidence” to prove they’re going through one, then surely that would be effectively cheating. And, of course, there are those who don’t even feel the side effects of a break-up until many months have passed and then, suddenly, it hits them like a ton of bricks.
Overall, there is no practical solution to this problem. The world keeps spinning and life goes on, whether we’re ready for it to or not. There are good days and there are bad days, and maybe some leniency can be offered for the odd lab or seminar session, upon a tutor’s personal discretion; but other than that, we’re now on our own – in all senses of the word.