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Sex + Relationships

Here’s How to Date in College Without Past Experience

If your past romantic experience is anything like mine, you probably didn’t have an awkward slow dance with someone at your junior prom, or even have a sweaty hand holding session in the schoolyard.

I didn’t start dating until I went to university, and there was definitely a period of time where I felt like I had to play “catch up” with my peers – I didn’t know how to use dating apps or even how to flirt, I hadn’t had my first kiss yet, and having a significant other seemed like something so far out of reach.

More than anything, it felt like I was alone in how I was feeling.

It’s easy to feel that way when your friends, classmates, and even favourite movie characters already seem to have loads of exes and experience when it comes to romance and relationships. But the truth is, you’re not alone! Entering the dating world for the first time in university can definitely be scary, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.

1. Don’t accept the bare minimum

One thing that I learned the hard way is that it’s easy to accept the bare minimum (and sometimes, admittedly, even less) when you don’t have any other experience to compare it to.

What’s the bare minimum, you may ask? The bare minimum can be considered things like communication, patience, and understanding –– AKA all the things that create a foundation for a trusting relationship.

This doesn’t just apply to romantic relationships, either. Relationships with friends, family, and even with yourself should go beyond just the minimum standard that is expected to create a relationship at all.

You should never have to beg or hope that your partner/romantic interest will provide these things to you. Instead, communicate your boundaries early on, and if they respect them and work to learn more about you, then they’re a keeper!

Try phrasing things like, “Hey, I’d really like to solidify our plans ahead of time so I can stay organized on my schedule. Would it be okay if we figured out a time to meet together?” That way, both you and your partner can go beyond the minimum of romantic interest and practice solid communication and boundary-setting skills together.

2. Figure out why you want a relationship

There’s a variety of reasons why you might want a relationship, but some of them might be better indicators of your actual readiness to date than others. For instance, if the only reason you want a relationship is that you’re feeling insecure (which was my case back in my first year of university), there’s a chance that the problem goes deeper than romance and that a relationship might only be a temporary solution.

In my own experience, I thought that having a boyfriend would make me feel better about myself, but it was only through therapy that I realized I had really only wanted confidence in myself. I had thought that being in a relationship would fix that, but it didn’t!

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to explore your sexuality and what kind of relationships you envision yourself having in your romantic and personal life, and if you feel ready to date, then go for it! But I definitely recommend taking some time to solidify exactly why you want a partner in your life, whether that be through your own self-reflection or professional mental health help.

3. Put yourself out there (as safely as possible)

/ Unsplash

Going on dating apps can definitely feel fun and, unfortunately, a little too addicting. If you find yourself spending a little too long on them, set limits for yourself like only going on them on certain days or even having a harsh cutoff time for answering messages. Your mental health and wellbeing always come first, and dating apps don’t always tend to respect that, especially for those who might not have prior experience.

Let’s say, for instance, that you hit it off with someone and you decide to meet for coffee. Nice!

Your next steps: let a friend know the time and day of your date, as well as the name of the person you’re seeing. Even though it might seem like personal info, it’s always a good idea to have someone else in the loop when it comes to dating for your own safety’s sake.

Furthermore, if at any point you feel some kind of bad vibes or you’re uncomfortable, always let a friend know and even leave the date if you have to. You definitely don’t owe anyone your own well-being.

4. Reel it in

So you just had a stellar first date – that’s awesome! At this point, it’s easy to envision how you’re hoping it might turn out: spending weekends together, meeting each other’s families, and maybe even wedding bells… but you’ll have to stop right there!

When you’ve never dated before, it’s not hard at all to fall into the allure of what could be, mostly because it’s fun and it feels good to imagine. But, try to stay grounded in the moment. Focus on what went well on the first date, and what makes you want to go on a second date with this person. You can plan the second date, but try not to go too far beyond that.

Instead of hoping that they like you, remember to ask yourself if you like them!

5. Have fun!

Van-Gogh Exhibit
Original photo by Saina Varghese

Without a doubt, the best part about beginning your dating journey in university is meeting new people and having new experiences! It’s easy to get caught up in your head when it comes to being a first-timer in the romance department, but there’s no need to stew around in it.

As long as you’re feeling safe and happy with the romance you’re pursuing, nothing else matters! Set your limits, communicate, and enjoy the ups and downs of college dating.

Dating in college is no walk in the park (unless you actually go for a walk in the park!). You might come across some weird or awful experiences, and you’ll also certainly have some really fun and memorable ones.

Entering the dating world without past experience doesn’t have to be any kind of limit on what you can do. In fact, let it be an open opportunity to try something new and maybe meet someone who was worth the wait.

Rianna Lim

Carleton '23

Rianna Lim is a journalism and political science double major at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario. She is a Her Campus National Writer and the 2021-22 Senior Editor for Her Campus at Carleton (and loving it!). She is a passionate reader, London fog lover, and baseball fan. Be sure to send her your book recommendations and follow her on Instagram @riannaway!
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