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ISSUE 117 VOL 14 PUBLISHED 3/19/2004

Codependent Campus

By Jennifer Hancock
Contributing Writers

Friday, March 19, 2004

The Wellness Center sponsored a talk on codependency last Tuesday. It's good to know they acknowledge the same problems of codependency that I see at St. Olaf almost every day. It's essentially a campus-wide epidemic -- perhaps a national one. I'd like to figure out why it happens here. What is it about St. Olaf that perpetuates so many codependent romantic relationships?

According to, "the codependent person tries to provide and control everything within the relationship without addressing their own needs or desires; setting themselves up for continued un-fulfillment." According to the same website, some of the symptoms of codependency include controlling behavior, distrust, perfectionism, avoidance of feelings, intimacy problems, care-taking behavior and hyper-vigilance. While these characteristics are generalized, you get a basic idea.

There exists a codependent personality disorder characterized by living vicariously through another person, attempting to control others, blaming others, victimizing others and feeling an intense anxiety about intimacy. Perhaps you're thinking, "But you could say that any St. Olaf student embodies some of these traits!" I agree. You could say that any human being reflects some of these characteristics -- read on.

The codependent partner bases their happiness, self-worth and major decisions on the state of their relationship and, more specifically, on how their partner behaves toward them. The codependent partner may negate their feelings, values and even friends to take on those of their partner. I hope this sounds familiar, because I see it everywhere -- especially in heterosexual relationships in which the male dominates and the female is codependent.

Part of this is basic sexism. But it's more specific to our campus than that. St. Olaf, as a community, values tradition musically, religiously, academically and romantically. Historically, Western conceptions of romance reveal a strong-willed male and a submissive female. Look in Fireside when you have a chance, and I'm certain you'll find something of the same model there: for example, a submissive female led to the P.O.s by the guiding hand of her boyfriend.

Our school's traditionalism is also based on fellowship and giving, on being kind to one another, going into the Peace Corps, being Christian. While I admire the impulse, I think it's messing up our relationships. At least in part, the relationships of St. Olaf students suffer because students are too nice.

St. Olaf (and other overachieving colleges, Carleton included) perpetuates an absolute fear of failure or rejection. Have you noticed that regardless of what happens in people's lives, they seem to have their homework done? It's ridiculous. I have counseled friends through various traumas, and despite their significant emotional hardships, none of them ever missed a single day of class.

With everyone living in constant fear of screwing up, it's no wonder we become codependent in our relationships. I think this also ties into why I see many miserable relationships last so long. No one wants to feel the rejection of being alone. After all, rejection is what we Oles fear the most. People are so terrified of being alone that they settle for inadequate relationships that quickly become codependent when one or both partners feel unfulfilled.

St. Olaf teaches people to be good people. But at what cost? Having been through a number of codependent relationships, I realize that I have often felt obligated to please my partner to the degree that I forgot what I wanted out of my relationships: love, support and compassion. But how much love, support and compassion can we give without, in turn, receiving it? Codependency is a problem for everyone, but for some, it starts on the Hill.

The Manitou Messenger's resident sex columnist offers weekly commentary on all subjects sexual and otherwise. Contact

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