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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Maryland chapter.

From the beginning of time, people have always wondered why they were single. 

In 1958, McCall’s magazine published a listicle titled, “129 Ways to Get a Husband,” a guide to help their readers find the perfect man. Later in the century, Bridget Jones chronicled the dilemmas of dating in her iconic diary and Carrie Bradshaw typed it out on her in her column.

When we’re single, we wonder how to be in a relationship. When we’re dating, we wonder if it’s better to be single. Dating culture has been a perpetual question mark over our heads, and for the modern singles in college the question mark is doubled. From hookup culture to “situationships,” the 21st century dating world resembles a lawless Wild West. Without a Victorian flower language or a going steady pin, we’re wandering with a blindfold on, aimlessly groping our way to find true love. To understand how college students navigate love, I asked two of my friends who have very different perspectives on modern dating culture. 

Sam Otazo, a first-year engineering student at the University of Maryland, wears cynicism as armor into the battlefield of war. Or perhaps she’s just a realist. 

“If I go looking for a serious relationship, I know that’s not what I’m going to find,” Otazo stated. 

She reflected on the superficialness of college relationships, saying that it comes down to looks. 

“The people that come up to you when you’re out don’t know anything about you,” Otazo said. “ It’s just about what you look like,” 

Popular dating apps such as Hinge or Tinder, reward this shallowness that Otazo is worried about. A dating app user simply swipes through a series of potential matches, gauging their interest on nothing more than a gym selfie or Instagram picture. It’s not uncommon for a dating app user to be seeking a “short-term relationship,” one of the options you can choose to label yourself by. Or, in other words: a one-night stand. Sam got deep, accrediting the surge of casual hookups to our fast-paced world. 

“I think this is a symptom of the instant gratification that our world has come to.” Otazo noted. “I order something on Amazon, it’s there in a day. I can watch something on TikTok, it’s only fifteen seconds. We just consume, consume, consume.”

The thoughtfulness of Sam’s response to hookup culture was interesting, yet a little depressing. Have we destroyed serious relationships in the name of short attention spans? 

To see if long-term relationships are really over, I talked to Makenna Culver, a freshman at American University who has been dating her boyfriend for over two years. Her secret to her long-term relationship is compromise and communication. 

“Try to do certain things that your partner values,” Culver advised.

Whether that’s watching Scream when you hate horror movies or buying flowers when you’re allergic, compromise shows respect for your partner and a sense of selflessness.

However, the beauty of hookups and dating apps is that it’s devoid of the elbow grease that Makenna said is the key to successful relationships. But Makenna also said it’s important to acknowledge that real life relationships are not like the Disney movies that taught many viewers about love. In short, it’s not going to be easy.

“When you’re in a long-term relationship, it’s easy to get in a lull. But your relationship is going to go up, it’s going to go down,” Culver said. 

Again, that seems to be the appeal of modern dating culture and how it shies away from traditional relationships. Instead of seeing your ship through the storm, Gen Zers jump ship as soon as there’s a dark cloud in the sky. While Sam attributed this to our dwindling attention spans, Makenna took a more philosophical approach. 

“College students get all this freedom and they’re, like, I can do whatever I want,” Culver mused. “You don’t want to be tied down.”

We decide when we eat, when we wake up, who we’re friends with. Maybe our culture’s distaste of monogamy is just a love of the freedom that comes with being young and living on your own.  

If you’re navigating the confusing world of dating in the 21st century, it’s important to remember that no one has it figured out, even your friends in relationships. There are no shortcuts to love because there are no rules. While this can be frustrating, it can also be freeing. Instead of marrying and settling down at an early age, people now have more time to figure out who they are and what they want in a partner. It also allows us to make mistakes, like texting that person who isn’t good for us, so that we can grow from our mistakes. 

Throughout the ups and downs of loving other people, we can learn to love ourselves too.

I'm Maxine, currently a freshman double majoring in English and Classics here at UMD! I'm from the Eastern Shore of Maryland. In my free time, I love reading, hanging out with friends, and listening to podcasts. I hope to go into publishing after graduation and am so excited to be a part of Her Campus!