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During high school, relationships can feel idealized, almost like a fairytale—because of things like first love, and the general lack of complications that comes with dating in your teens. But when it comes to relationships in college, you start to deal with adult responsibilities that can make your love life a bit complicated: busy class schedules, jobs, unique personal viewpoints. Needless to say, many aspects of dating change between high school and college—but don’t stress. It may seem like a drag, but welcome to your guide! From hook-ups, to making time, to staying safe, we’re here to walk you through the major differences to anticipate, so that time with bae in college can be just as sweet as those high school years.

1. You have more freedom

In high school, you likely had a set schedule determined by classes and your parents. Maybe you didn’t have your own car, and maybe you had a curfew, so you couldn’t hang with your SO after hours. Your parents would always ask questions like, “Where are you going?” and “Who are you going with?” to make sure you were staying safe—you know the drill. Obviously, the limitations of high school made dating complicated AF, because you couldn’t always spend time with your SO or do whatever you wanted with them.

Dating in college is a whole different ballgame, mainly because you have a lot more freedom to make your own schedule and choices. Sure, you might have an RA which means no sneaky sleepovers, but you choose who and when to date—it’s all totally up to you. The extent to which you keep your parents involved in your dating life and decisions is dependent on your personality type once you begin school. But the main difference is that you don’t have to wait for anyone’s “go ahead” to make moves in your relationship. With college, you also need to figure out how to make time for your bae. Especially if you want a serious relationship with someone, it can get much more complicated. You’re all over the place, focusing on a million things at once. Serious relationships are more difficult to maintain. Still have questions? We’ve got answers.

2. You have to set aside time for your SO

During high school, odds are that you and your SO went to the same school. But, when you move on to university life, there’s a big chance that you’ll both going to different colleges or dating someone with a conflicting schedule. That means you probably won’t see each other as much. Instead of your lives revolving just around each other, you have to learn to balance new aspects of your life like work, studies, friendships, extracurricular activities and keeping in touch with your family. When you’re juggling all of that, both IRL and long-distance relationships can be hard to handle. This means that you also must find middle ground. For example, if your new cuff and you are both stressed about midterms, head to the library and study together! If you’ve been meaning to see your friends and your SO, plan a night out where you can all hang together.

3. Long-term relationships are on the table

Real talk: High school relationships just weren’t that serious. Sure, your sophomore-brain may have been convinced you were with the love of your life, but as soon as you start dating in college, you quickly realize there’s a lot more potential for long-term love. In high school, it felt OK to use up time on partners that you might not spend forever with, because it’s high school. It’s low-stakes. In college, time feels more precious. Whether you’re looking for commitment or looking for an FWB, people are usually more open and honest about what they want and for how long.

Plus, it’s only natural that you’re looking for more serious relationships in college because planning out your love life in tandem with your career, where you want to live, etc. tend to go hand-in-hand for some women focused on the big picture.

4. Hook-up culture is more pervasive

Just like some students might be looking for very serious commitments, there are a lot more who are into casual hook-ups. Obviously, this connects with our earlier point about having more freedom. During high school, you didn’t necessarily have your own space and free time to bring home hook-ups and have it be chill with your family. But in college, you have your own space and opportunity to have sex without your family supervision around.

Hook-up culture isn’t for everyone, so during college you could learn that you’re into casual relationships, or that you aren’t into them at all. Either side is fine, but the most important thing in all these romantic interactions is make sure everything is consensual and that you’re staying safe.

If you’re into the hook-up scene or want to try it out, here are a few things to keep in mind: 

  1. You need to know if they want to be sexually active with you too. It’s also important to be honest and vocal with your partner about what you want and don’t want. Consenting and asking for consent are all about setting your personal boundaries and respecting those of your partner – especially checking in if things aren’t clear. Both people must agree to sex—every single time.
  2. If you’re casually hooking up, make sure you’re using some sort of protection to keep yourself healthy. Condoms will prevent against sexually transmitted diseases, and birth control (in its various forms) will protect against unintended pregnancy.

Being sexually active can sometimes come off as something that’s assumed in college, but it’s also perfectly OK to not be interested in sex at all. Figure out what makes you comfortable, and if it’s something you really want. Don’t let yourself be caught up in the crowd if you know you’d rather have something monogamous or long-term. Through dating, you may encounter some people that don’t agree with your choices. Ultimately, it’s your body and your life. People who are worth your time will respect whatever decisions you make!

5. You get to know yourself

high school, you tend to be stuck in one thing, or one mindset—maybe you’re devoting all your time to band or to art club. Whatever it is, when you to go college, you start to grow out of whatever type of person you thought you were. Maybe in high school, you were shy, because you were scared of whatever judgement was bound to come from your peers. In college, there’s still that pressure. The difference is that you stop caring. You’re on a path to self-discovery and you learn that your inner god/goddess/godxss is what matters! Staying true to yourself will pay off in the end.

The freedom in college lets you settle into who you truly are, outside of high school peer pressure or your childhood self. College is a time to reinvent how you want to be known, and that comes into play with dating as well. You don’t have to date someone you were on the track team with or did the school play with—you can experiment, get acquainted with partners from all walks of life and use the freedom of college to determine a dating identity and relationship style that’s comfortable and 100 percent you.

Instead of viewing dating in college as something scary or something to worry about, embrace it! You’ll learn about yourself, and what you like. The new experiences will help you grow.

Antoinette Luna is a Performance Studies and Comparative Literature major at the UPR. Her passions include writing, reading, and anything crafty. She loves to sew, write, and make things from scratch. DIY is the name of her game. Around campus, she is known as a bubbly young woman who goes by just Luna. Her future goals include traveling, traveling, and more traveling. Outspoken transfeminist, and wannabe activist, she's out to set fires.