You’re out of college and living in the real world, but, to your dismay, you’re still single. You had hoped you might have met your future spouse on campus while sipping a latté at a local café, staring at each other from across the room in a 200-person lecture or accidentally bumping into him or her at a party. But you didn’t meet that special someone, so here you are back in the dating game, slowly losing your mind after each failed first date and less-than-perfect Tinder match.
The post-college dating scene can be complicated, especially when there aren’t as many single-and-ready-to-mingle twentysomethings at your disposal—and meeting someone at a bar is the last thing you want to do. In the real world, you suddenly realize that all of your friends are getting engaged, and you’re stuck at home with your cat, losing all hope that Mr. or Ms. Right even exists.
Don’t worry, though! We rounded up nine essential rules for dating after college. Read on to discover what you need to know to find your soulmate.
1. Figure out what qualities you’re looking for in a partner
We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if you’re that girl with a super-long list of dating must-haves, you’re probably not going to find the one for you. But it is good to know what qualities you’re looking for in an SO as you enter the real-world dating scene. You probably had a list at one point in your life that included things like tall, dark and handsome—but although physical attraction is important, we all know there’s more to a good partner than just good looks.
Take time to reevaluate your dating criteria after college and discover which qualities are most important and in sync with your own values. “The main thing is not to compromise your non-negotiables or deal-breakers,” says Kim Olver, author of Secrets of Happy Couples. “Know what you want from a relationship partner. Be open and flexible, but do not compromise on those things you previously determined were not good for you.”
2. Find new places to meet people
Change up your routine and explore new hangout spots—you never know whom you might meet. Be open to meeting potential dates wherever you go. Bars seem like an easy place to meet someone new because it’s a relaxed environment and the drinks help give everyone a little liquid courage, but we all know bars can be hit or miss when it comes to meeting a nice guy. Instead, try talking to someone new during your lunch break, on your morning coffee run, in the checkout line at the grocery store or at a networking event. You never know when a chance encounter could turn into something more!
3. Be open to online dating
Online dating can seem a little unnatural and scary—especially if you have to pay to find a date. It might be challenging to differentiate between who is really interested in getting to know you and who’s sending the same cheesy pick-up line to every girl.
Once you get past the initial nervousness and create an online profile, you’ll see that online dating isn’t so bad. Olver agrees that this can be a great way to meet people, but she recommends being cautious before meeting someone in person. “Know that a person can say anything about himself online that may or may not be true,” she says. “Take it slow… email, text, talk often before you actually meet, and when you do, make sure you drive yourself and tell someone else where you are and with whom.”
4. Go on dates with different people until you meet the right one
Are your friends constantly trying to set you up on dates? Do they always drag you along when another single person is expected at the party? If so, enjoy the drinks, dinners and company and use this as a chance to learn what you like and don’t like in a potential SO. As you get to know someone, you also get to know yourself better along the way, so have fun and go on dates with different people. Just because you’re in your twenties doesn’t mean you have to pick one partner right away!
“The advantage to dating multiple guys is that you gain experience and can fine-tune what exactly you want in a life partner,” Olver says. Take a chance and have dinner with your aunt’s coworker, or go bowling with your best friend’s cousin from out of state. If you don’t get good vibes from the date, you don’t have to see him or her again. You might get lucky, though, and find that you have a lot in common with this new mystery man or woman!
5. Remember to DTR
You’ve already been through the whole “What are we?” debate in college, so don’t make yourself go through this pain again. There’s nothing worse than that awkward faux-lationship of more-than-hook-up-buddies-but-less-than-SO. If you’ve been seeing someone exclusively for a few months and you really like him or her, talk to him or her and make sure he or she feels the same way about you. If you discover that he or she is still dating multiple girls, you may want to cut this one loose before you fall too hard. Defining the relationship early on will help erase any uncertainties and give you the fulfilling relationship you want.
6. Don’t settle for the first person you meet just so you can finally say you have an SO
Although there are many perks to being single, sometimes it’s no fun—especially when all of your friends are getting engaged and you can’t even find a plus one to bring to their weddings. The desire to have an SO is even stronger after college because being in a relationship can make you feel one step closer to being a real adult. This feeling won’t last long if you settle down with the wrong person, however. Don’t rush into a new relationship just so you can change your status from single to taken.
“The time between relationships is the time for self-evaluation,” Olver says. “Figure out exactly what you want in a partner, and then, are you the person your ‘perfect partner’ would want to date? If yes, great! If not, you may have some work to do on yourself before getting into another relationship.”
It can be tempting to date someone for the sake of dating someone, but it’s better to wait for the right person.
7. Be honest—with yourself and with your partner
Overall, it’s important to be honest with yourself and your SO.
“Being honest is being true to yourself,” Olver says. “If you are doing things you are ashamed of or feel you need to lie about, then why are you doing them, or why are you with someone who would judge you in that way?”
Before you take your new relationship to the next level, make sure you’re both being open with each other about your values and future plans.
“The first question you should ask is, ‘Do you have any pending job applications out of state?’” suggests recent grad Miranda*. Miranda recently started dating someone who told her two weeks before he left that he was moving across the country for a new job. This would have been less of a shock and disappointment if he had been honest from the beginning.
“The best way to handle a person who has not told you the truth is to decide if honesty is one of your deal-breakers,” Olver says. “If it is, then believe the person when he shows you he is dishonest, and cut your losses.”
8. Don’t be bitter because it didn’t work out with someone in the past
Sometimes a previous bad experience can turn you off of dating for a while. However, even though dating can make you vulnerable sometimes, you do have to put yourself out there and have a positive outlook no matter what dating disasters you’ve experienced in the past.
“There are two things I say about this,” Olver says. “The first is that no relationship is ever a waste of time, because it will at least help you learn about something you don’t want to repeat. The second thing I find extremely helpful is a quote by Dr. Seuss: ‘Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened.’ Remember to learn from past relationships and to deal with each subsequent person in your life with a free mind and open heart. You owe it to yourself.”
You might have gone through a bad breakup or found out that your high school sweetheart cheated on you, but you can’t assume all guys are jerks. Having a negative attitude toward dating will not help at all. Start each new relationship with a clear mind, and don’t bring up any of your exes.
9. Don’t rush your relationship
There is no right time frame for when to say, “I love you” or when to get engaged. Some people might wait a few months, others might wait a few years—everyone’s relationship is different. So stop comparing your relationship to your friends’ or bringing up marriage and kids before you and your partner are really in a place for that next step. Enjoy your relationship for what it is—if you do end up married, you’ll have your whole life to be married! No need to rush it.
If you feel that you’re ready to take your relationship to the next level, talk to your SO about things like meeting his or her parents, moving in together or getting married, and see how he or she reacts.
Dating after college might seem confusing, but with these tips, you’ll end up being that friend giving your BFFs advice for how to date the right way! If you want there to be a future after date number one, remember to stay true to yourself, find someone who has similar values as you, explore different dating options and take it slowly when you think you’ve met the one.
*Name has been changed.