(This is the fourth in a four-part weekly series about dating and relationships at the University.)
Justin Ferko and Craig Foster have been together for 10 months. They met the first day of classes last semester and immediately clicked.
"It took about a week for us to know we'd be together," said Craig, a second-year College student. Despite their instant attraction and obvious commitment, both Craig and Justin, like other members of the University gay community, have encountered numerous hardships. They also say their long-term relationship is not the perceived societal norm.
Craig laughs about the non-stereotypical nature of his relationship with Justin, a fellow Pennsylvanian. "Ten months is a long time for two gay guys. It's like we are married," he said. Justin, also a second year in the College, agrees that being in a long-term relationship has made it easier for friends and family to accept the pair.
Both Craig and Justin have come out to family and friends and despite a few hurdles in the road, they have experienced a fairly positive reaction so far.
"When I first came out to my mom two years ago, she sent me to a priest," Justin said. He walked into the priest's office, which was in a trailer, and he gave him a book called "Prayers for Prisoners," telling him that his feelings were okay, but suggested he not act on them.
Justin said the priest hugged him and told him to come back for more sessions, but he never did. Justin had faith his parents would eventually understand who he was.
"My mom eventually accepted it, but I didn't come out to my dad till this summer. With him it's 'Okay, but let's not talk about it,'" he said.
Craig wears a look of amusement when he remembers the brevity of the coming out conversation with his father this summer.
"Right before I left, I said 'Dad, just for the record I am dating Justin,' he said 'Okay' and I went back upstairs."
Craig's father had met Justin before, but did not openly acknowledge the two guys were dating until Craig told him.
"Once you tell your dad, you can tell anyone," he said.
But not every gay couple feels so comfortable with their family members. Kim, a third-year student who did not want her last name used for fear that the article might reach her parents, said her family knows she is a lesbian, but they are unaware she has dated anyone.
"My parents are not too crazy about it, but it's not like they have cut me off," Kim said. She says if things with her current girlfriend, Sonya, last through college, and she is financially independent from her parents, she might decide to tell her parents about the relationship. But Kim said she feels the process of informing her parents about her relationship should be a gradual one.
"I just don't see any reason to make any more waves right now," she said. Kim says she has met Sonya's parents. They do not know she is Sonya's girlfriend.
But her friends have been very supportive. Kim lives with six other girls, and she slowly came out to each one of them. "They are totally cool with it and really like Sonya," she said.
Kim explains that Sonya, 26, lives close by - in Rappahanock, Va. - so she stays over almost every weekend. "We sleep on an air mattress in the den sometimes and my roommates are fine with it," Kim said.
Public display of affection is another issue facing many of these gay and lesbian couples. "I am very comfortable doing anything in public," said second-year College student Mike Maszaros. Mike is president of the University Fashion Club. Even on a typical school day, Maszaros is dressed to the tee, wearing a starched button-down shirt and sleek gray dress pants.
Maszaros continued that with his last boyfriend they would hold hands and often kiss each other goodbye in public. With his current boyfriend, Matt Baldwin, a sophomore at Piedmont Community College, he is less sure because they have not gotten much of a chance to be together in public yet. The couple has only been dating for three weeks.
"We are both incredibly busy during the week. We see each other a lot on weekends, but all we want to do is sleep," Mike said.
Still, Mike is not worried about their level of openness. "I get the feeling he would be comfortable with open signs of affection because he has told everyone about us," he said.
Craig and Justin on the other hand, both say they don't really show their affections in public, but say they have become more comfortable. They laugh about jumping apart when people pass.
"Oh, we've gotten looks," said Justin. He looks at Craig, smiles and says, "Remember that time when I picked you up at the airport?"
"It was the first time we had been apart for more than like a day and we were in the car kissing. There was this older woman just sitting there, staring with a very shocked expression on her face," Craig said.
The two claim they were not embarrassed. Actually they though it was kind of fun.
Kate Ranson-Walsh, the president of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Union, said if you see two women together all the time you might not know they were a couple.
"People don't predict it as much, so you might assume that they were just good friends," she said.
Kim said people have a set stereotype of the way a gay or lesbian couple might act, so when a person does not fit that picture, they might not recognize it.
Dating and roommate issues are already complex enough, but when it's with gay and lesbian couples, matters become much more sensitive.
Craig insists his roommate last year did not really know about Justin. But Justin said, "one of his suitemates last year asked me, 'So are you and Craig just good friends or what?' I started laughing."
The couple agrees that for the most part, there hasn't been any negativity, but there is always an issue of privacy.
"If his roommate is in the room, I might feel like I have to move over. It's not what I want to do, but I have to respect his space," Justin said.
Mike claims the University is very good about dealing with awkward roommate situations.
"Being gay is like your trump card for U.Va. Housing. If you want to move, all you have to say is 'I'm gay,' and boom, you're out," Mike said.
He himself has not had any major problems with his housing situations. "I lived on a hall with all jocks last year, but it was a very positive experience," he said. Mike remembers that at some point he probably sat down with each and every one of them and answered all the questions they ever had about gay people.
This year things are slightly different though. Mike lives in Lambeth with three other guys, two of whom are also gay.
So how do these couples fit into typically heterosexual situations such as date functions or formals?
"When you want to go to a formal, it becomes a sticky situation of who to bring. It's interesting that a lot of people chose to take friends of the opposite sex, rather than who they are dating so that they can just avoid the issue," Kate said.
She attributes this to the fact that social functions at the University are emphasized to be heterosexual. "The Colonnade Ball, for instance, has a picture of a man and a woman dancing and that can be silencing to people," Kate said.
"Last year, I went to the Colonnade Ball with my gay friend Danny, and I would probably have not felt comfortable bringing a real date," Kim said.
Kim later changes her mind. "Come to think of it, if I went to the Colonnade Ball again this year, I would probably bring Sonya. You don't need to write it on your forehead, but you don't need to be embarrassed about it either," she said.
Craig and Justin have slightly differing opinions on going to an event like the Colonnade Ball together. "I don't think we are that political," said Justin, explaining people would think he was making some sort of political statement.
But Craig gives Justin a sideways glance in disagreement. "I wouldn't call it political. I just wouldn't feel comfortable," he said.
But finding a date for a formal event such as the Colonnade Ball can prove troublesome for many gay students.
"Meeting people is very, very difficult here. It could be easy, but I choose not to take that route," Mike said. Mike claims that much of the gay population here at the University, particularly the closeted portion, goes online to sites like gay.com to meet people.
"It's a real shame because it's very dangerous and it means that the majority of the gay population is not going to be visible," he said.
Some of the couples were initially hesitant to be interviewed. Craig said, "I think what made me the most hesitant was issues with hate crimes," Craig said.
But when it came down to it exposure and raising awareness about homosexuality took precedence over personal concern.
"I wanted to show the gay community you can have a long-term committed relationship, because there are not always a lot of positive examples out there," Justin said.