How to Navigate Casual College Hookups When You're a Hopeless Romantic

Everyone says dating in high school is one of the most confusing times of your life, but TBH, I think college isn’t much better. We’re constantly told as teenagers that once we go to college, the dating pool naturally grows and the people you’ll meet will be far more mature than your former crush from fourth period math. However, once you get to college there’s an added layer to the dating scene: potential partners that are just looking for “something casual.”

If you’re a hopeless romantic, the idea of hooking up most likely doesn’t appeal to you. Casually seeing someone hinges on being no-strings-attached, all the time. And while taking complete and total agency of your dating life is empowering, just hooking up with person after person may not be the best fit for you—and that’s totally okay! If you’re the type of person to daydream about a total cutie who held the door open for you or cry over Peter Kavinsky in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (no shame), you may need some extra guidance when it comes to exploring college hookup culture.

Whether you’re trying to break the pattern of being a serial monogamist or are simply trying to be more casual when it comes to dating and sex, there are a few ways you can seamlessly integrate yourself into college’s ever-present hookup scene. Here are the best ways to explore the fun opportunities that college dating can offer.

  1. 1. Simply put yourself out there.

    The best way to explore your options when it comes to hooking up is just making yourself available! This doesn’t have to be something high pressure, in fact, you can ease yourself into it. If you’re already going to be out with friends and you know you want to chat someone up, ask your friends to be your wingmen. If you introduce yourself to people together, it’ll be less scary and you’ll be able to meet people you’re attracted to naturally. 

    College senior Veronica* says putting yourself out there is a risk, but that you shouldn't be afraid to shoot your shot. "It's scary and uncomfortable, but I'd always rather go after what I want than feel regret about the 'what if.'"

    If you’re dipping your toe into casual dating, lessening your lofty expectations of meeting the potential love of your life is a must. If you typically gravitate towards relationships, you’re programmed to think your next meet-cute is around the corner. While that may be true for some people, if you consistently go out and think that every person you talk to could be a potential SO, it takes away from the fun of just dating and enjoying yourself. Don’t put too much pressure on your bar crawls and rooftop drink sessions. If you meet someone and you want to hook up, don’t let yourself think beyond that present moment.

  2. 2. Trying things that scare (but excite) you.

    You may have high hopes that you’ll just lock eyes with someone at a party or fall into someone’s arms accidentally. Though I hate to say it, meeting people in real life often doesn’t happen so fatefully and effortlessly. If you keep waiting to meet the perfect person, you might not meet anyone at all. By going out of your comfort zone, you can find someone you have a physical—and maybe even emotional—connection with.

    If you’re interested in finding people to hook up with, one of the best ways to do is to sign up for online dating apps. Though this feels like a betrayal of every great rom-com (what great love story starts out with a “u up?” text?), this is a low-pressure way to explore who’s out there around your college. DMs may not be the most romantic, but it’s fun to talk to and potentially meet up with someone who’s mutually attracted to you. Additionally, if the conversation isn’t going well, you don’t have to reply.

    Online dating is super casual nowadays and allows you to meet a ton of people—and hey, it may not be the plot of your favorite rom-com, but apps like Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge can lead to healthy, long-term relationships!

  3. 3. Don't overthink it.

    One of the struggles of dating around is constant overthinking. Though it’s natural to wonder about what someone you’re into really meant by their text, it literally kills any chance you have to hook up with them or keep seeing them. If you’re talking to someone in a bar and they give you their number, immediately jumping to the conclusion that they want to date you will disrupt any connection you two could have. Putting those unrealistic expectations on someone you just met or analyzing their every move will only put pressure on whatever your relationship becomes.

    If you start hooking up with someone and you’re equating their actions to that of a committed relationship, you’ll need to hit the brakes. It’s hard to not overthink, but not every action requires an analysis. College senior Allie explains one thing that helps her keep her casual relationships in perspective is reminding herself that anyone she's talking to could potentially be talking to "two or three or five other girls at the same time." That way, she is able to catch herself when she starts overthinking a text or a Snapchat. 

    If you’re trying to navigate your first casual relationship, just let things be what they will be, rather than focusing on the little details. By doing that, you will enjoy yourself so much more!

  4. 4. Set your boundaries early on. 

    If you know early on there are certain things you can’t do, you need to be honest with yourself.

    If you know you won’t be able to have sex with someone without developing feelings, you need to draw that line early, hard, and fast. If you know that hanging out outside of their dorm room or bedroom will feel more like a date than anything else, say that you’d rather keep your relationship physical. If you’re talking to someone on a dating app or hooking up with someone and you catch feelings, you need to assess how they feel as well. If they’ve made it clear that they’re not looking for a relationship, you have to respect that and end things before you truly start falling for them.

    College senior Erica* says that setting physical boundaries is important when it comes to hookups, as "being intimate with someone creates emotional bonds." Though she said that some people are able to have purely physical connections, she believes it wasn't the "healthiest thing for her." "If you're trying to not get attached, don't jump into anything physical too quickly," Erica* notes. 

    Trying to force someone you’re seeing to fit the mold of your envisioned perfect relationship will never work. By being honest with yourself early on and knowing what you can and can’t do with someone you want to hook up with, you’ll be able to save yourself from getting hurt.

  5. 5. Assess what you truly want.

    If you’re navigating the local college hookup scene and you’re just not vibing it, that’s completely okay. You have to do what is right for you—don’t pay attention to what other people are doing. Your best friend may thrive off of meeting new people every night, but if you want to wait for someone who wants a relationship, that is totally valid as well.

The college hookup scene can be thrilling and fun to take part in. But if you feel as though it’s just not for you, don’t force yourself to do something you won’t be comfortable with. You can still have fun looking for the person who will be the Harry to your Sally!

*Names have been changed.