Are Relationships Fall-ing Apart?
Stephanie Sowa ’25 breaks down how students’ complicated D-Plans can strain their relationships.
This article is featured in the 2022 Homecoming special issue.
Hanover is a magical place in the fall, with burning red and crisp orange leaves gracing our campus. Pumpkin spice, rustic farms, a warm drink in hand: the perfect autumn combination. Despite this idyllic vision, though, Dartmouth fall isn’t always everything it seems to be. Just as the fall leaves are crushed underfoot, so are the hearts of some Dartmouth students grappling with the impacts of the D-Plan.
Flexibility with the academic calendar is often considered a positive aspect of the Dartmouth experience. Taking winter off? An absolute dream for most California students like myself. Securing that elusive internship? It’s easier when you can do it in the fall. Having the D-Plan play an influential role in our institution also allows for an epic sophomore summer, when we all remain on campus for a couple sunshine-soaked months — the perfect time to fall head-over-heels in love floating on the Connecticut river or making prolonged eye contact during Masters.
The Class of 2024, who are now juniors, has recently come down from that summer high: Students from all years have returned to campus and the juniors no longer dominate the social scene. Many are studying abroad this fall or taking the term off, and as they embark on adventures across the globe, it is difficult to remain the close unit that was cherished during sophomore summer. Alexandra Salyer ’24, currently studying abroad in London, reflected upon the challenges of the D-Plan for keeping up friendships and relationships.
“I think it’s hard to truly realize how annoying the D-Plan can be when you first apply to Dartmouth, and it’s not until you aren’t seeing friends for over a year or having to do three terms long distance with your boyfriend that it really hits,” Salyer said.
Some may perceive the D-Plan positively in an academic sense, but it can wreak havoc for students’ social lives. Alexa Lomonaco ’24 expressed frustration with the D-Plan in regards to straining friendships, as it can create prolonged periods of separation between peers.
“There are people who I said goodbye to at the end of sophomore winter, and I’m not going to see them again until senior fall,” Lomonaco said. “I definitely feel like it makes it hard to have anything more than acquaintances outside of your close friend group because everyone is off at different times.”
Romantic relationships also characterize social dynamics on college campuses, especially in tight-knit communities like ours. Perhaps it’s not even fair to use the term “romantic relationships,” as many individuals find it difficult to date someone seriously with the pace of the quarter system and the influence of the D-Plan.
“I think it promotes a hook-up culture a bit more just because you have to be together for less than 10 weeks and then you might be doing long distance, and that’s very hard at the start of a relationship when you don’t necessarily have that foundation,” Lomonaco said.
Hook-up culture is often prevalent on college campuses, as students are constantly meeting and socializing with new people. Who has time to be in a serious relationship with two midterms and a paper that seems to repeat every other week? The D-Plan certainly doesn’t help — if you do indeed miraculously locate a significant other with potential, the quick quarter turnarounds make it difficult to solidify anything of substance and often lead to heartbreak.
“I know lots of people who start something one term but break it off the next due to differences in the D-Plan,” Salyer said.
But enough with the pessimism: Let’s instill some hope in Dartmouth love. RC ’24, who requested anonymity for privacy reasons, said that they successfully maintained their relationship with their long-term partner despite being in different places this term. Their love story began freshman spring and became official the summer following their first year.
“We were both on [campus] our entire relationship so far, so that’s been really nice,” RC said. “In fact, during all of sophomore year, the housing was in our favor in the sense that we got assigned dorms right on top of each other: I lived in Smith 103 and he lived in Smith 003.”
With the housing gods in their favor, RC and their partner’s magical love flourished despite anxieties regarding relationship longevity and hookup culture that make dating difficult at Dartmouth. The D-Plan, however, has attempted to dim their sparkle as their academic schedules will not align for this school year.
“[My partner is] off in the fall, on in the winter, on in the spring, and I’m on for the fall, off in the winter, abroad in the spring, and then also off in the summer,” RC said.
After living together for so long, being physically separated and facing the obstacles of misaligned schedules is difficult. Geographic differences pose logistical challenges, too, especially when the distances are accompanied by major time differences.
“It’s been hard because he would go to bed when it was 7 p.m. and then he’d be up at 3 a.m. my time and I'd just wake up to a stream of texts,” RC said.
Based on RC’s experience, coordinated efforts to communicate and plan future visits make long-distance manageable and allow couples to continue despite their challenges. RC said that his partner is visiting Hanover soon to soak up the autumn vibes that grace campus this time of year.
“He is coming during Homecoming… which I’m really excited about,” RC said. “It’ll be nice to see him for the first time in a minute.”
Maintaining relationships under the D-Plan is difficult — but it’s not impossible. As the bonfire burns on the green, so too will the hearts of Dartmouth couples reunited during Homecoming weekend. I’m sending love to all the relationships, broken or not, struggling to keep their spark alive; they warm my heart.