Dating and romance in their many forms are as quintessential to the archetypal college experience as prom is to high school or commutes are to an office job. As with any other college experience, the number of different expectations is the same as the number of people entering school each year. People come in expecting everything from “Animal House”-style sexual revelry to idyllic, long-term, serious relationships they see older friends from high school announcing on Facebook.
In reality, it can be daunting, it can be exciting, it can be disappointing, it can be heartbreaking, it can happen a lot, it can not happen at all, it can capture your whole experience, or just be a small part.
I know some people who have been together since college and got married, some who kept their high school relationships going strong, some with broken hearts, some who aren’t interested and some who are more into short-term flings. For me, my high school romance eventually collapsed due to long-term challenges. I dated a bit then realized I wasn’t ready yet, leading to a tough breakup. I later had feelings that were hard to put in the right place or act on due to the pandemic and other life circumstances. I do at least have a good track record as an accidental matchmaker among my friends, so take that as you will.
It can be tricky. Unlike in high school, when you first come to college, you don’t have the same level of reputation and familiarity to work off as you did when you would take a classmate or a friend’s friend out to a movie or school dance. Ask people out, but keep yourself safe and learn what you can about the person you’re going out with. While it may feel more ‘adult’ being on your own and living away from home, remember everyone is still figuring things out. You can get hurt and, if you’re not careful, you can hurt others. If you get intimate, communicate. If you’re not sure what you or a romantic partner want, ask them. Even if it might be awkward, consent and trust are the biggest things to keep in mind.
The pandemic of course added a whole other layer to it all. The complexities of the virus and what people do and don’t feel safe with still affects people. In my WICB piece for Valentine’s Day, it really became clear to me how scattered its effect was. So many people found love in ways they never would have before while others were forced to hold off. Before the vaccine came into play, meeting up with any new person was a hard decision to make.
If you aren’t sure that you want to be in a relationship right now, that’s okay too. You’re not alone. Young people are having less sex than they have in the past, whether that be from digital distractions, pornography, empowerment to be selective, fewer in-person interactions, career goals, generational shifts, economic stress or other reasons — I’ll leave that for you to ponder.
My advice essentially is that using apps or going to bars can be good and all, but the best strategy is to meet friends of friends, join clubs and get familiar with people in your classes or living area. Remember, no one really knows anyone else when you first get to college, so don’t hesitate to just strike up conversations and see where it goes. You may not find your soulmate immediately, but at the very least you’ll probably get close to some good people that share your interests, and that’s a great start. If you do find the right person, having someone to be with and share your experiences with, either over text or in person, can add so much to your life.
But basically, if you haven’t picked up on it, college romance isn’t one thing. It’s everything. It’s transitional flings and long-term true love. It’s comfortable and it’s dangerous. It’s a place for hookups and a good place to find a spouse. It’s heartbreaks and triumphs. It’s what you make of it and where you find yourself, and I wish you the best of luck getting what you’re looking for.