Love Is In The Air: Howard Students Talk Romance, Relationships The four college seniors participating in NPR's Howard Project share their experiences with love and dating in college — from first crushes to lessons learned.
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Love Is In The Air: Howard Students Talk Romance, Relationships

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Love Is In The Air: Howard Students Talk Romance, Relationships

Love Is In The Air: Howard Students Talk Romance, Relationships

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Graduation is just a couple months away. The air is full of possibility and springtime and perhaps even romance. And that is where we pick up with the Howard Project - our ongoing conversation with four students at Howard University here in Washington, D.C., as they anticipate graduation. We've been talking with Ariel Alford, Taylor Davis, Leighton Watson and Kevin Peterman. And this week, we asked them how dating and romantic relationships fit into their college experience.


JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE: (Singing) 'Cause if your love is all I had in this life...

MARTIN: By the way, the music you'll hear throughout this story is stuff our Howard students picked out - love songs, breakup songs, thank-God-I'm-single songs and everything in between. We begin this week with Leighton Watson. He met his first college girlfriend before he even got to campus.

LEIGHTON WATSON: I had seen her Facebook picture. I actually - I thought she was so pretty that I thought she was fake. But no, when we got to campus, met up on the first day. And we actually ended up staying together for two-and-a-half years.

MARTIN: Ariel's first crush was an upperclassman. They were in the same class, and they bonded over a book.

ARIEL ALFORD: And I was just, like, oh, wow, we're going to talk about this book, and it's going to be so cool. And also, he would always hold doors for me. So I don't know, I just started having a crush on him, which I don't now.

MARTIN: Taylor met her first college crush during freshman orientation. He was cute, drive, focused on his school work. But she never did anything about it.

TAYLOR DAVIS: I don't really know why. I just - I feel like I enjoyed the safeness of knowing that I could admire him and I can have these feelings without there being - I don't know - the chance of rejection or anything like that. I just - can I admire you from a far?

MARTIN: Kevin was still dating his high school girlfriend when he got to Howard. When that relationship finally ended, he started to notice the range of other options.

KEVIN PETERMAN: There was this Cali cool girl from California. There was a Southern Bell. There was the ambitious, fast-talking girl from Chicago or Detroit. So sometimes you're happy about being single because it gives you time to really, not necessarily play the field, but time to really lookout and see what else is out on the field.

MARTIN: But like any college student, these guys have also had their share of heartache and disappointment. Ariel goes on dates here and there, nothing serious. And she likes serious.

ALFORD: It's like, what are we talking about? I want to talk about Gaza, and you want to talk about - I don't know - the new iPhone.

MARTIN: And when she's trying to shake herself out of that dating funk, her go-to song is "Feel The Fire" by Teddy Pendergrass and Stephanie Mills.

ALFORD: I love that song because I sing it loud by myself in the car, at home. Yep, it just makes me feel like, yeah, feel the fire.


TEDDY PENDERGRASS AND STEPHANIE MILLS: (Singing) Feel the fire. Do you feel the fire? I want to feel you. Feel me. I want to feel you.

MARTIN: Taylor Davis uses a journal to express her love woes.

DAVIS: It also allows me to vent endlessly because I think, you know, you don't want to go to the same person every single time you have an issue.

MARTIN: Kevin Peterman likes company for his misery - one friend in particular.

PETERMAN: What he says, I don't always like. It's always really tough love. And usually at the end of that conversation, he'll usually pat me on the back, and say let's go to happy hour. (Laughter)

WATSON: Hey, this is Leighton. And the way that I always cope with a breakup is a little childish, but it's always to better myself in a way that makes it crystal clear to the other person that they made a mistake.


DRAKE: (Singing) But how about now? 'Cause I'm up right now...

MARTIN: And for Leighton, the song that suits that mood is "How About Now" by Drake.

WATSON: I like that song because it makes you - especially when you end up succeeding after. It's like, I told you that I was a good choice, and you didn't believe it. And how about now?


DRAKE: (Singing) Girl, how about now? How about now, girl? What about now, girl? How about now?

MARTIN: After four years at Howard University, these students have learned more than they can measure about a whole range of subjects. They've also started to figure out what they want in their personal lives. Kevin Peterman says he knows he needs someone who matches his own ambition.

PETERMAN: That lesson really became clear to me in the last few months. And I have to attribute that to the person who I'm with right now who really showed me how someone can truly be your other half.

MARTIN: And, well, when you're in college and you're in love, Stevie Wonder pretty much hits the mark.


STEVIE WONDER: (Singing) From now on, it will be you and I and our ribbon in the sky.

PETERMAN: It's almost as if there actually is a ribbon in the sky, that there is something above saying that we need to be together.


WONDER: (Singing) There's a ribbon in the sky for our love.

MARTIN: Leighton Watson says he has learned a lot about how he'll navigate future relationships. Key for him - ask a lot of questions right from the get go because they could reveal the unexpected.

WATSON: For example, if your girl happens to be into pageants, usually their parents maybe had them in pageants. And so you can kind of predict that if you have a daughter with this person, that's going to be something that they expect. And so for me, it's just asking detailed questions up front.

MARTIN: Ariel needs someone who is driven by the same issues that matter to her.

ALFORD: Whoever I'm with has to care about my people, like, has to care about Africa and the diaspora, has to care about things that are happening across the globe. I'm definitely looking for somebody where that's intrinsic.

MARTIN: Taylor says that over the course of four years in college, she hasn't been on a single date, but it's OK with her.

DAVIS: I got to a point when I realized that I can't rely on other people to affirm me because sometimes they won't. And I can't allow my life to be deterred because someone didn't tell me I was pretty or someone didn't tell me they liked me. So I guess I just - I appreciate what God has created because he said it is good, and truly it is good.

MARTIN: That's Taylor Davis, Kevin Peterman, Ariel Alford and Leighton Watson - Howard students who've been talking with us as they anticipate graduation this spring.


INDIA ARIE: (Singing) ...Supermodel, but I learn to love myself unconditionally because I am a queen. I'm not the average girl from your video. My worth is not determined by the price of my clothes. No matter what I'm wearing I will always be India Arie. When I look in the mirror and the only one there is me...

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