Rebekah Barnes / Senior Writer

Although some students prefer crazy nights in bars, hooking up with strangers or swiping for matches on Tinder, Sarah Vaughn and Alexander Mundziak would rather stay in together, order a pizza and watch a movie.

They admit they’re not the norm. And they’re not the only ones wanting to spend life on the bricks — and beyond — with someone by their side.

There’s OU freshman Kayla McNeal, who is learning how relationships work long-distance and outside of the high school setting. There’s Vaughn and Mundziak, who are engaged and are planning their wedding as juniors in college. And there are the alumni, who have found ways to make their love last and hope to raise the next generation of OU students.

Couples have just found ways to make it work.

Because the thing is, when you’re in a long-term relationship in college, “you never have to go at anything alone,” Vaughn said.

The Transition -- Some coming to OU still keep ties to home

Starting at OU as a freshman studying strategic communication, Kayla McNeal had at least one thing to keep her connected to home: her boyfriend. 

“I was terrified going into college, but it also helped knowing that I had him back home,” McNeal said. “I have my own family supporting me, and I have his, so that helped a lot.”

McNeal and her boyfriend, 16-year-old Daniel Stewart, are both from Oak Hill, about an hour from Athens. 

They met at a “sweet sixteen” party for McNeal’s sister and have been dating for about a year. Now, they are balancing McNeal’s transition to college as well as a transition for their relationship. 

Kimberly Rios, an associate professor and director of experimental training in OU’s Department of Psychology, said relationships in general can be a source of security or certainty. 

“This is particularly pervasive among college students because students are dealing with a lot of sources of uncertainty,” Rios said. “There’s a lot of emotional uncertainty from moving away from your hometown. So I think … for people in various stages in life who are dealing with all of these external sources of uncertainty that attack the self, having a monogamous, committed relationship can help achieve certainty in a least one area.”

McNeal and Stewart are getting used to finding different ways to communicate, since they no longer see each other every day in the hallways. To make up for that, McNeal said the couple typically spends their weekends together either in Oak Hill or in Athens. 

No matter how many times it happens, the goodbye never gets easier, McNeal said.

“I just think that she is a loving person with a huge heart, and I can just see myself with her for the rest of my life,” Stewart said.

Looking to the Future -- Bobcat couple looks to maintain committed relationship throughout college and beyond

Getting past the first year and now sitting in their upperclassmen seats, Sarah Vaughn and Alex Mundziak are involved in extracurriculars, working through their junior year coursework, getting used to living off-campus — and planning their wedding. Mundziak said Vaughn “has been driving the boat” when it comes to planning the wedding.

“It’s a different kind of stress, but it’s a welcomed stress because it just keeps your mind off of schoolwork and stuff,” Vaughn, an education major and a former Post columnist, said. “There’s wedding planning time, and there’s school time — just finding that balance so I don’t fail school (while) planning a wedding.”

The two, from Pataskala, met in second grade but started talking in high school after Mundziak asked Vaughn about where to get senior pictures taken (which he now admits he already scheduled “weeks” prior). Then, Vaughn, the extrovert of the couple, took matters into her own hands. 

“He would not ask me to homecoming, so I asked him,” Vaughn said. “He asked me out at homecoming, and we’ve been dating ever since.”

Six months into their relationship, Mundziak’s mom, Carolyn, died. Vaughn described it as the most challenging moment of their relationship. It was also the moment that completely solidified their love for each other.

“If we broke up at any point after that, no one was going to be able to connect with him on the way that we connected and built and grew through that situation,” Vaughn said.

As Vaughn talks, the ring on her left hand glitters in the light. Carolyn’s stone sits in the middle of her engagement ring. 

“That was an idea from my dad,” Mundziak said. “I think that alone was something big that showed me he kind of approved of it.”

The fact Mundziak’s dad thought Vaughn was “worthy” to have the stone humbles her.

They’re excited for the future — living together in an apartment as seniors, finding jobs (and compromising on their post-grad plans) and getting married on June 30, 2018

Although it can be difficult to explain why they are so serious in college, they’re in love. 

To Mundziak, love means “patience.”

Vaughn’s definition goes back to the core of what her and Mundziak feel together: comfort. (And a bit of silliness.)

“(Love is) when you burp around someone and they don’t get disgusted,” she said.

Reflecting on the Past -- Alumni know firsthand what love on the bricks can bring

Amy and Scott Barrah owe a lot to Ellis Hall and taking English 321 their junior year — enough to give their 12-year-old son, John, the middle name “Ellis.” 

As alumni from the class of 1990, the two graduated and decided to keep dating after college. What became challenging was leaving the isolation of Athens — where a significant other lived within walking distance — to commuting between Dayton and Cincinnati. Even though it was less than an hour-long drive, they wouldn’t do it again. Scott said they spent pretty much every weekend together.

“I have no idea why we did that,” Amy said. “We were like, ‘Why didn’t we just (get) married? That was weird.’ ”

The two remember trips to the Athena and soaking in the City of Athens. 

Valerie and Matt Horton share similar memories of their time together in Athens. 

Their “meet cute” happened after Valerie saw a “good-looking” boy in a picture on her resident assistant’s door. 

“That was in the day of instant messenger, so she was like ‘Why don’t I give you his information, and you guys can start talking?’ ” Valerie said. The two first met in Columbus in July and started dating in August. 

Matt graduated in 2004 and Valerie in 2007. One of their first pictures together shows Valerie in the Rufus mascot costume at the OU-Miami game in 2003. The two were married in 2006, while Valerie was still in school. 

They now have an 8-month-old son, Vinny, who is expecting a sibling soon — and, like Amy and Scott, the Hortons hope to raise children that go to OU . 

Amy and Adam Rubin can connect with Sarah and Matt, as the graduates from the class of 1994 were engaged on Amy’s 21st birthday. They met as freshmen at Hillel’s Rosh Hashanah services.

She had to keep it quiet, though, when they went out for the night of her 21st birthday. She wanted to wait to tell her friends during a candle circle with her Sigma Kappa sorority sisters. 

“So I had to go on my 21st birthday to go the Pub and all of those places with this ring in my pocket and not being able to say a word,” Amy said. 

As they had to figure out life in the post-grad world, each couple echoed the same sentiment. 

“When you turn that corner on 33, and you can see all of campus — that’s really home,” Valerie said. “I think it did make it easier (graduating together), knowing we had this life ahead of us, but we can always go back to Athens.”