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5 College Dating Mistakes You’re Making (& How to Avoid Them)

By now, you’ve probably realized that college dating—if we can even call it that—can be a total nightmare to navigate. Between trying to figure out what you want and understanding how to get it, your love life is full of traps that are all too easy to fall into. We talked to experts and collegiettes to help you make sense of a bunch of sticky situations—and avoid them in the first place.

1. Leading a nice person on

The situation

When you’ve been single for a while (and possibly watched too many rom coms), it’s totally normal to want a special someone in your life. A problem arises when the person who is directly available is the not the right one for you. So many of us have been there: the nicest person is head over heels for you, and sometimes you wonder if you don’t feel the same way—even though you just like that person as a friend.

“Sometimes I want to slap myself silly because I have such a wonderful opportunity to be in a relationship, but I have NO attraction to this man, Michael*,” says Emily*, a senior at the University of Scranton. After months of trying not to lead Michael on, Emily began to find his presence reassuring. “I’d rely on the attention Michael gave me,” she says. “One year I even made the huge mistake of making out with him on my birthday and on New Year’s Eve.” Emily and Michael have gone out a few times and are great friends, but she doesn’t want anything more—and he doesn’t know it.

Why it happens

We all want attention and reassurance, but we sometimes seek it in the wrong places. “I think there’s probably a thrill for some women to be admired, liked and desired, even by guys/gals they are not interested in,” says Neely Steinberg, a dating coach and founder of The Love TREP. “It’s an ego boost to be liked. It reminds you that you are desirable. It could also stem from a place of insecurity and low self-esteem.”

How to avoid it

Leading someone on can be way too easy to do, especially if, like Emily, that person is part of your friend group. “The best way to go about dating is to get clear on why [you] are dating in the first place,” says Lesli Doares, Marriage Consultant, Coach and Licensed Marriage Family Therapist. So if you’re seeing someone simply because you’re feeling lonely or you enjoy the attention, you might need to question your motives. Spend more time with your friends instead, or join a new club—fewer feelings will be at stake.

2. Hoping someone is the right person when you know he or she isn’t

The situation

On the other hand, sometimes you actually really like someone, so you overlook his or her flaws in the hopes that you two can build something together.

“I remember this guy my freshman year,” says Nina*, a sophomore at Gettysburg College. “We did nearly everything together, from homework and trips to just hanging out on campus. I was constantly asked if we were dating but never knew quite what to say, as I wasn’t sure myself! I’d made it totally obvious that I was into him, but he was sending constant mixed signals.” In the end, Nina couldn’t deal with this guy anymore and met someone who was actually good for her.

Why it happens

Obviously, your dream SO is pretty hard to find, so you convince yourself that the person you’re seeing is good enough, or will change in time. “Some women may really want to believe in a guy/girl who they really like, as in believe in their potential to be a great boyfriend/girlfriend,” Steinberg says. “They may like a lot of things about the person and want to be in a relationship with him/her, so they brush certain red flags (like bad behavior) under the carpet, desperately hoping that nicer qualities will emerge eventually.”

How to avoid it

Truth is, the chances of someone changing drastically are slim to none. “Hoping for a person’s potential is a pretty futile endeavor,” Steinberg says. “Unfortunately, potential isn’t the basis for a solid relationship in the here and now, and who knows if the ‘potential’ ever comes to fruition. Better to find someone who can give you what you want/need now than to wait around for him/her to eventually get there.” Read: Don’t stay with someone simply because you think you can’t do better. You can do better—trust us.

3. Taking things to mean more than they do

The situation

When it comes to dating in college, we seriously never know what the other person is looking for. Of course hooking up with someone at a party or going out with them for dinner can turn into more—it often does, but it’s not safe to assume it always will.

“I’m guilty of taking dates far more seriously than they need to be taken,” says Amy*, a senior at Messiah College. “I can’t just go on a date and relax and have fun, I’m always just thinking about the future and what will happen next, and so I get too caught up in that rather than just being in the present moment.”

Amy is so not alone; we all have a tendency to take things to mean more than they really do, whether it’s a date or sex.

Why it happens

Guess what? Like with so many other everyday issues, the media could be to blame. “Young women might get the wrong messages from movies, TV and pop culture, where sex may be confused for two people being in love,” Steinberg says. Often, a hookup is just a hookup—even if it does feel like more. As for some dates, sometimes they really only amount to a casual “hangout” sesh. So how can you tell if there is a future or not with this person?

How to avoid it

First things first, you should know what you want before trying to figure out what the other person wants. “Don’t be afraid to ask for and communicate about what you want in your dating life,” Steinberg says. “Don’t be so terrified of telling people what you’re looking for. Being vulnerable is the key to making an emotional bond/connection with someone. And communicating and standing up for your needs builds confidence and self-esteem.”

So instead of trying to make things work with someone while wondering if the two of you are on the same page, discuss it! If you know what you’re looking for, make it known. If your hookup or SO feels the same way, great! If not, you will find someone better suited for you when the time is right.

4. Giving into the hookup culture

The situation

Boston University senior Jenna’s* biggest regret as far as her love life goes is “hooking up with guys in frats as a freshman because [she would have] to live with that for three more years.” To be very clear, hooking up can be perfectly enough in itself—just not for everyone. Jenna was conflicted because she didn’t want anything more with these guys in particular, but she “wanted to be respected and treated as more than a hookup, because [she’s] a human too.” Not to mention she didn’t appreciate the word going around about her and said frat boys.

Why it happens

According to Doares, women can often get “sexually intimate early in the hopes that something deeper will develop or out of fear the guy won’t want to be with them. This is often a case of insecurity about who they are and what they have to offer in a relationship.”

The biggest problem with this is that “getting physically intimate or emotionally attached too quickly can end up with seriously hurt feelings,” Doares says. “This can lead to focusing more on the relationship than on why they are in college in the first place. Relationships should add to the experience, not make college more difficult.”

How to avoid it

Once again, it really depends what you’re looking for beyond a hookup. “If a woman wants to be in a relationship, it may behoove her to wait awhile and get to know if this guy/girl is on the same page as her and to get to know him/her outside of the bedroom,” Steinberg says. “That builds confidence, self-esteem and trust.”

But even if you don’t want a partner right now, casual hookups may not be the right thing for you. For Steinberg, “thinking anyone can have casual sex” is one of the biggest pitfalls for collegiettes. “We see women on TV and in the movies and pop stars having causal sex, and we think ‘hey, I can do that, too, no problem,’” she says. “Some young women can and more power to them. But it’s a raw deal for a lot of women, too. They realize that casual sex isn’t for them and isn’t as fun and carefree as they thought it would be.”

Whatever you do, you should never feel like you should have sex with someone or that it’s expected of you. If you don’t want to hook up, then you have no reason to do it.

5. Overanalyzing everything

The situation

Let’s face it—we’ve all found ourselves reading our crush’s text 800 times over to make sense of that extra comma or the conspicuous lack of emojis. “ I analyze text messages like crazy,” Amy says. “I’m also guilty of spending an excess amount of time analyzing the text messages that I send guys too, since I feel like I’ll be walking on eggshells if I say something stupid that could be misinterpreted.”

And it’s not just texts: if there’s a communication problem somewhere, you can quickly start to question everything—from why your hookup or SO didn’t call you to whether he or she really meant that last compliment.

Why it happens

For Steinberg, the problem may very well lie in the education we receive as women. “Perhaps if girls were raised to simply ask for what they want/need from a guy and taught how to communicate these feelings to guys, they wouldn’t need to spend so much time overanalyzing,” Steinberg says. “But perhaps we are raised to not ask for what we want/need, and there is always the fear that if we do, it will scare the guy away. So we end up overanalyzing instead to try to figure things out, which, ultimately drives us nuts and is often counterproductive.” Wow, we’d never thought about it that way!

How to avoid it

The solution is intuitive: “Instead of being subtle and dropping hints with guys, girls would save themselves a lot of angst by asking for what they want/need,” Steinberg says. “Then they won’t have to spend so much time wondering if the guy [or girl] is on the same page.”

In the end, you will always benefit from being honest with yourself and with the person you’re seeing. If your openness scares him or her away, then he or she obviously wasn’t right for you anyway. And it will save you a whole lot of anxiety.

Although making mistakes like these ones can allow you to grow, not making them in the first place is always preferable. Hopefully, we saved you from learning the hard way what works and doesn’t work when it comes to college dating. Good luck navigating the shipwreck that is dating these days, collegiettes!

*Names have been changed.

Iris was the associate editor at Her Campus. She graduated from UCLA with a degree in communications and gender studies, but was born and raised in France with an English mother. She enjoys country music, the color pink and pretending she has her life together. Iris was the style editor and LGBTQ+ editor for HC as an undergrad, and has interned for Cosmopolitan.com and goop. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @irisgoldsztajn, or check out her writing portfolio here.