We millennials are a fickle bunch, both the quickest to support each other and in the same breath condemn those with differing opinions, and I think we’d be the first to admit it. It’s a blessing and a curse – two sides of the same coin. If I had a nickel for every “21 Reasons to Avoid Hookup Culture” article I’ve seen next to something like “13 Pictures of What Pure Happiness With Your Boyfriend Looks Like,” I probably wouldn’t be eating ‘Hot and Ready’ pizzas at such an alarming rate.

The point is, you’re going to meet a lot of different kinds of people in college with a lot of different views on love and romance. Some people are into hook-up culture, and you shouldn’t shame them for that. Some people will stay single throughout school – perhaps to better focus on their studies or perhaps not by choice. Some people will stay in a relationship for the majority of their college experience, and to them, I sincerely wish the best of luck.

I am one of the latter. As long as I can remember, I’ve longed for love. Sure, as a kid, I swore off marriage (and also wanted to be a firefighter), but come middle school, I was ready to begin a decade-long journey with a number of lady friends who would teach me the ins and outs of relationship etiquette. There were girls I’d go back to time and time again and girls who made me wonder if I was destined to walk the Earth alone like the Man of Steel himself. There are even some out there who will never know I had feelings for them.

The point isn’t to marginalize any of these young women (though I certainly don’t want to call any of them out by name). More accurately, I’d like to thank anyone who braved the battlefield and attempted to tango with me romantically. You taught me how relationships work and how to treat others. You played an integral, formative role in my life and most importantly, without you, I wouldn’t have met Jess.

First, some background: I met Jess through two mutual friends, Katie and Emily. I was 17 years old and at this point in my life, I had sworn off relationships for good. I know; 17 year-olds can be silly.

Anyways, she was a year ahead of me and went to a different school. We texted back and forth for a little while and she even sent me a picture of herself in her prom dress. I was unable to accurately tell what she looked like through the pixels of my flip phone.

Eventually, we met at the beach. I am not typically a “beach guy,” but that day I was and I’ll forever be glad for it. She wore a thin, white sundress that reached out and tangled in the breeze. She was amazing. Who knows how that first date really went; the more I try to remember, the more I’m convinced I never thought she would text me again. But alas, in the following weeks, we found ourselves at the movies. And Waldameer. And the zoo. Which led to her making the first move and kissing me in my driveway, an act her friends would eventually describe as “completely uncharacteristic.” I was so stunned, I don’t think I actually kissed her back, and I still feel like an idiot for that.

That was in 2012. Four years later, we’re still together and a little over a month ago, I proposed to my fiancé on the balcony of her Harborview apartment. Coming to the conclusion that I was ready for engagement was a strange and deceiving process, mostly in the sense that there wasn’t much of a process at all. One night over Christmas break, the thought popped into my mind (as it had many times before). The only difference this time was that I wasn’t afraid. Literally, nothing could hold me back, be it the money or my concern over the highly judgmental court of public opinion. Everything just clicked, and suddenly, I couldn’t get it out of my head.

Our friends had to be there. I always knew she wanted people to be around when it happened, but as far as I could tell, only certain people. What I thought would be a simple “tell five friends and they’ll keep it a secret” scheme ended up involving 1000% more work than I anticipated. Between flower duty, cookie cake duty and music duty, there were several close calls and I ended up having to lie about some massive Valentine’s Day plans, of which I had none. But alas, I figured if she said yes, I’d be able to take this Valentine’s Day off.

So the night came and I forged a reason for our group of friends to go to Hibachi. It was, unsurprisingly, amazing. Her friends even convinced her to buy a new dress for the occasion, and while deciding whether or not to wear it that night or save it for our nonexistent Valentine’s Day plans came perhaps the proudest moment of my entire scheme.

“So, uhhh, what should I wear for these Valentine’s Day plans of yours?” she asked me curiously over the phone.

“Oh, I don’t know,” I responded casually. “It’s not like I’m going to propose to you or anything.”

At this point if the story, you can picture me punch dancing silently on the other end of the phone.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a successful engagement story without at least one more hitch. As soon as we returned from the restaurant and I was preparing to puke my feelings right off the balcony, she asked if I could help her unzip her dress so she could throw on some sweats and a t-shirt. Obviously, this was bad news – I mean, she could have been wearing a full chainmail suit and I still would have proposed, but I knew we’d (hopefully) be taking pictures afterwards. It was the principle of the thing.

So I told her that I knew her friends would want pictures before the end of the night and immediately after actually taking those, I asked her to step onto the balcony with me. She had to know something was up by now, didn’t she? By all logic, this is where everything could have/should have gone wrong…

But it didn’t.

She didn’t suspect a thing. We briefly hung out on the balcony while our friends stared on from inside (despite me telling them not to), knowing very well what was coming.

“I have to tell you something,” I said. “I don’t have any Valentine’s Day plans.”

“What?” she laughed. “I don’t believe you.”

“I’m serious,” I laughed back. “All of the plans, all of the sneaking around…that was for tonight.”

She just looked at me quizzically, at this pointing noticing our friends staring and the word “love” spelled in Christmas lights behind her.

“I don’t understand.”

And then, I got on one knee and, well, I did it. Pretty anticlimactic, huh? She gasped and I started cheesing so hard – I was so nervous – I actually forgot to put the ring on her finger until we walked back inside, where our friends were screaming and “The Good Life” (which I handpicked) by Kanye started playing.

So – what was the point of this long-form, two-part anecdote, you ask? Why have I tricked you into reading a brief oral history of Jess and I’s relationship? Well, as mentioned earlier, you’re going to meet plenty of different people at school. Some of my friends have sworn off long-term relationships forever, and others are planning on getting engaged just like me. And guess what? We support each other! I know this is a lesson we all should have learned by now, but sometimes, I think we could all take a deep breath and use a little reminding. Don’t judge each other. Don’t look down on others for their differing aspirations.  Just be cool. One of the hardest parts of proposing was worrying about the backlash from those who didn’t agree with two 21 year-olds getting engaged so early in life and I faced that anxiety until I literally couldn’t anymore. And what I’ve realized since is that their opinion is okay too. But I shouldn’t let it have such a bearing on my major life decisions.

Life is cool because it’s a constant learning experience. We’re allowed to change our minds and opinions based on our experiences. So, without being “that guy” and acting like any sort of guru, I have some advice: Think about what “love” means to you, recognize what it means to others, and rectify those two things. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Listen to artists that make you never feel alone – I recommend Father John Misty and Mac DeMarco, but to each their own. Surround yourself with people who make you laugh and order lots of pizza with them. These are the secrets of my youth, and to those reading who are about to enter college, they very well could be the secrets of yours, too.