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Sex + Relationships

To Get Tied Down or Shop Around?: Navigating the Conflicting Messages About Dating in University

People talk about university being a time to find yourself and explore everything under the sun, including relationships. Some say that in university, you’re going through so many changes and that you’re not mature enough to find ‘the one’, so you need to date around before you can settle down. Some say it’s best to forego dating in university. Other people, such as the infamous Princeton Mom who made headlines in 2013, preach that university should be used by women for the sole purpose of finding a husband, suggesting that getting tied down early is essential. No matter what you’re doing, everyone seems to have an opinion on what university women should be doing in their dating lives. So, who should you really be listening to? Who is right?

The idea of staying with the same person throughout college, is considered by some to be limiting yourself. I’ve had people tell me, “you have to date a lot of people before you find the right person,” but what if you find that right person after one or two tries? Sure, it might not be common, but it does happen. I’ve been with my boyfriend since the end of grade 12 and before him I had only ever had one boyfriend who I dated for only about six weeks. My current boyfriend and I successfully maintained a long distance relationship when I moved away in first year, and now we’ve been together for four years. I don’t feel a need to explore any other options because I don’t want to lose what I have, and I can see it going somewhere. So, if you’re in a relationship with someone who makes you truly happy, who treats you right and who you can genuinely see a future with, then don’t give that up because you feel compelled to explore other options. If you feel like you’re missing out, ask yourself why: is it because there’s actually something you’re missing out on, or is it because social cues are suggesting that you’re missing out?

I’ve also heard the message on many student forums and blogs that it’s better to stay single in university and focus on academics and personal growth. The idea being that you have the rest of your life after university to date and that energy spent dating will take away from your achievement. This suggests that dating is inherently draining and just adds one more item to the massive workload that university students already have. It also assumes that a significant other will hold you back. Of course, heartbreak and fighting with your significant other can make a stressful week even more stressful but cutting yourself off from the possibility because you’re afraid that dating will kill your GPA can be stressful as well. Relationships require effort, but they can also be an invaluable source of support at a time when you need it the most. The right relationships will help you grow and introduce you to new possibilities. They’ll encourage you to join that new club and will respect that you need to dedicate time to it. If staying single is your preference then keep at it, but don’t believe for a second that you can’t be as successful in a relationship as you are when you’re single.

On the other hand, women constantly receive messages from society that dating around or sleeping around too much makes them less valuable and less worthy of respect. If a woman falls in and out of love too much, then she’s seen as untrustworthy or as someone that any respectable man or woman should stay away from. When it comes to university, these messages may be combined with the words of Susan Patton, also known as Princeton Mom, whom urges university women to find a husband now, because there will be no better opportunity to find someone you want to spend the rest of your life with. In fact, a few decades ago it was not uncommon for women to go to university for the sole purpose of finding a husband (also known as getting your MRS degree). This messaging puts a whole different type of pressure on young women. It tells them that if they can’t find someone now, then it probably won’t happen later. Oh, and that they’d better not check out too many potential partners, or else they’ll never earn enough respect to be considered ‘wife material’. This message is wrong in so many ways. University is definitely not the only place to find a potential future spouse. Many people meet their significant other outside of university, especially with the abundance of dating apps and social media in today’s society. University can be a great place to meet someone but it’s not the only possibility. As for the whole sleeping around thing, I can promise you that no one worth dating will care how many people you’ve been with.

Something that all these pieces of well-meaning, but problematic advice is that everyone’s lives are different. Everyone has different dating situations, different goals, and different preferences. For some people, it takes many years and many heartbreaks to find the right person. On the other hand for some ,it only takes a few. Some people have no desire to spend their life with one other person and that’s fine, too! What works for you may not work for someone else, so we shouldn’t be telling people what the right way to date is. Giving solicited dating or relationship advice is one thing, but acting like there’s some universal prescription or  set of rules for you should always follow in your love life is just unrealistic. In this day and age there are so many ways to live your life, so you should always go with the way that works best for you and don’t listen to what other people say. They’ll always have their opinions, but only you can know who and what truly makes you happy.

Photo courtesy of Pexels





Adrienne is a law student at the University of Alberta. She was born in Vancouver but Edmonton is where she was raised and is where she calls home. When she's not buried in casebooks, she enjoys video games, dungeons and dragons, makeup/fashion, and creative writing.
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