Now that you’re a few weeks into your first semester, you may be anxious to test the waters in your first college relationship. But are you doing it for the right reasons? You may feel obligated to go with the crowd and leave your comfort zone to pursue a relationship; but at the same time, maybe you’re afraid that your hookup(s) will give you an undesirable rep. With the freedom that college fosters, you may be a little overwhelmed. We’re here to tell you that whatever you pursue romantically is not a reflection of your character or aspirations.
1. Not everyone makes romantic relationships a priority
College is a busier world than the familiar realm of high school. Being a college student means balancing academics, work, socializing and clubs. It means developing time management and scheduling skills. It means determining what is important to you and pursuing your aspirations. Michelle Lu, a junior at Pepperdine University, finds the commitment conflicts true: “Everyone is in a different place in life, so it’s hard to date as a freshman.” If you’re anxious to date someone, especially when you’re so early in your college career, be sure you note that everyone has a busy schedule. If someone you’re dating isn’t able to devote time to you sometimes, don’t take it personally! It’s not because they’re trying to avoid you—it’s often because life can be hectic and being in a relationship involves time that some people cannot commit.
2. You are not defined by your sexual decisions
The public perception of a committed relationship and casual sex is very black and white. Many women are torn between conforming to what appears to be the “social norm” of “hookup culture” and not appearing promiscuous to others. Julie Zeilinger, founder of the feminist blog The FBomb and author of College 101: A Girl’s Guide to Freshman Year, shared some insight with us about detaching one’s sexual choices from the stereotypes that women fear becoming associated with.
“I think all freshman women would do well to think about dating and their romantic lives outside of any kinds of constructs like ‘serious’ relationships or ‘casual’ dating — especially stereotypes about what ‘kind’ of girl engages in either,” Zeilinger explains. “The truth is that one’s sexual behavior or choices should have and realistically don’t have any bearing on one’s character who they fundamentally are. As long they’re responsible and safe and feel respected by their partner, young women should feel empowered to engage in whatever type of sexual arrangement is most satisfying to them.”
Your relationship, whether it’s committed or not, isn’t an indication of your loyalty or trustworthiness. It’s not an indication of your reliability or work ethic. It doesn’t define your career aspirations or how much you care about social issues. Your relationship preferences are as personal as your taste in food combinations. “Gasp! You like syrup with your fries? You must be unmotivated, nonchalant and stubborn!” Was that sentence logically sound? We didn’t think so, either.
3. Having more freedom in college changes up the dating game
Depending on your college environment, dating culture can vary among campuses. “It’s hard to make generalizations, but I would say overall the biggest difference is the newfound autonomy students have in college,” Zeilinger mentions. “There are no curfews, you have your own space and a largely unprecedented ability to make the choices you want to make.”
That being said, a difference between high school and college dating is the fact that you can have sleepovers with people you’re attracted to. For example, you might be really into the idea of hooking up with someone who lives on the same floor as you. They’re close by, so getting back to your room in the morning doesn’t have to be an endurance test. The negatively regarded morning stroll dubbed the “walk of shame” ends up being the 15-foot stretch from their room to yours, so that might turn heads as you attempt to inconspicuously dart down the hallway.
Many believe “floorcest” or “dormcest” are basically ingredients for awksauce salad. The concept of “the girl next door” is different when used in a college dorm. Jenna*, a sophomore from Washington University in St. Louis, finds that floorcest can become especially awkward when “one of the residents is more romantically interested than the other.” Additionally, “It’s even more awkward when the couple has the same group of friends.” Definitely don’t be surprised if you find yourself caught in the middle of a few awkward situations when you’re dating. Ask yourself, “Will I feel uncomfortable after the fact?” If the answer is yes, don’t do it.
4. People in college come from various backgrounds, so take your time and learn about where they come from when you’re dating
Sure, it’s true for high school, but even more so in college. People who have grown up all over the world congregate in one central location: your college. The diverse environments that colleges offer make it easy to date different types of people. It’s exciting to be in contact with people from so many cultures. You can learn as much from them as they can learn from you—communicate!
In high school, you probably lived in the same town as your SO. The population is not nearly as diverse as a college population. If you find yourself dating someone who grew up in a different culture, the most important thing you can do for them is to respect the ways they are different from you. Converse with them open-mindedly. Ask them about their hometown. Tell them about yours.
5. Taking things slow is necessary
School, works, clubs—college is a balancing act that takes time to get used to. “Freshman year is such a transitional time where you have so much to figure out,” says Kelly Rourke, a junior from Clark University. It’s important for you to be on top of things, especially when you’re inching your way towards adulthood! Don’t let relationships let you fall behind in school and other aspects of campus life!
If you decide to start dating amidst the rest of your responsibilities, make sure you take the time to really know the person. As mentioned before, they may come from a different city or culture. Rushing into a relationship will only stress you out; you don’t want to be in a relationship with someone who has a different personality than you had thought at the first impression.
6. You’re in college for school
Yes, college is an opportunity to discover yourself and your interests and, ultimately, prepare yourself for a professional career. Relationships—maybe even finding your future spouse—are perks, but not what college is all about. Use the years you’re in school for personal development and learning skills relevant to your dream career. Let hookups and relationships be second-string. “Chase dreams, not boys,” Michelle says. “Because if you chase them, they’ll keep on running.” Besides, you’re more likely to find the person you’re destined to be with when you aren’t actively searching for them.
7. Social “norms” shouldn’t be your motivation to date
When you’re getting dinner with your girls and none of them will stop talking about their last hookup or boyfriend, you might feel like the odd one out. “What’s wrong with me?” or “Why am I so boring?” may be thoughts that linger in your head. It’s important that you only pursue what is comfortable for you and not what the world thinks you should be comfortable with. “I think the biggest thing young women can do for themselves is to really, truly check in with themselves and ask themselves what they want,” Zeilinger advises. “Many women…often feel pressured to conform to trends on campus or to engage in behavior that might not feel right to them just because everybody else is. I wish I had realized that my own happiness was (and is) far more important than conforming to social norms or concerns about what others might think.”
In short, prioritize your own happiness over others’ perception of you.
College has an intriguing dynamic when it comes to dating. Everyone is in a newfound state of independence. They are trying to figure themselves out as individuals. No one in college is finished growing, so the people you date may not necessarily be “the same” a couple of years down the road. A great amount of your personal development occurs in your university years.
In high school, dating didn’t take as much effort. You saw them everyday. You had lots of classes with them. In college, dating involves actively making time for your SO. You might not have as many classes with them. During long breaks, you might be a thousand miles apart. Don’t let a relationship become a great source of stress. Definitely have fun, but don’t lose sight of the real reason you’re in college.
*Name has been changed