Among the list of red flags of college relationships, there seems to be an ongoing stigma around college seniors dating freshmen. But, in all honesty, the age gap between these two classes might not be that deep. In fact, there are a lot of other factors that are far more risky about the college dating scene than a four-year age gap.
Perhaps it’s the focus on the teens-to-twenties jump, or maybe it has something to do with the power dynamics of this type of relationship. Regardless, dating a college senior as a college freshman (or vice-versa) is a hotly debated topic — and it’s incredibly common in the university space.
So, why do people still condemn the college senior-to-freshman relationship duo? From the warning signs of future heartbreak to what to do if it actually works out, I spoke to relationship expert and coach Helena Roman to find out more.
Dating Between Classes Is Normal.
Given that many successful relationships have significant age gaps, there is no universal reason that senior-freshman relationships shouldn’t be successful, as well. “Historically, many romances, and marriages, began when couples met in college,” Roman says. “While a few years isn’t considered a large age differential, [stigmas] can definitely seem more pronounced in the college dating dynamic.”
It’s important to note that, like any other romance, this relationship comes with a unique set of challenges. Without communication and boundaries, college seniors dating freshmen in college can quickly become problematic for a number of reasons: The younger you are, the more likely you are to rely or depend on an older partner to shape your personality, interests, and mindset. Power, as well as commitment and maturity, might impact different aspects of a potentially long-term relationship. If, at any point during a relationship, you feel pressured, manipulated, or taken advantage of, seek the help of a professional or trusted friend who can give you the tools and support to leave that situation.
College Seniors and College Freshmen Are At Different Places In Their Lives.
A freshman and senior are at very different places in their lives: Not physically, but mentally — especially in terms of commitment. At the start of college, most people are discovering themselves: what they are attracted to, what they want in a relationship, and what they enjoy doing. On the other hand, a senior is typically more familiar with themselves, and therefore is more confident in their expectations, and more interested in commitment. “While a college senior may be organizing their life and career goals, a freshman may still be discovering their interests,” Roman explains. “Couple[s] with this type of an age gap may face differences in levels of commitment, including interest in commitment.”
Whether you are looking for your forever, or if you’re just looking to have fun, senior-freshman relationships require the establishment of boundaries and expectations early on, so as to (mostly) avoid heartbreak down the road.
Things like Graduation can make or break The Future of Your Relationship.
Generally, freshmen and seniors are also in different places on their educational and career journeys. A senior in college is likely looking to move on to bigger things, like grad school or professional life, while some freshmen are still unsure about what they want to pursue at university. Forget about emotional maturity for a second: A senior-freshman relationship faces more practical challenges than most other relationships.
“The soon-to-be graduating senior may be faced with decisions regarding post-grad education, career choices, or even relocation,” Roman says. “Distance relationships can bring a laundry list of problems in and of themselves.”
Consequently, things like post-grad plans should influence your romantic decisions. If you aren’t ready to be faced with a decision this big, it might be best to avoid burying yourself in an older (or younger) partner!
But, If It Works, it works.
So, the relationship between a senior and a freshman is definitely not without its difficulties. However, Roman believes that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all conclusion on this kind of relationship. “Whether the relationship trajectory is headed toward permanence depends heavily on the intentions of the two partners,” Roman says. “There’s no reason why the relationship can’t be deep and meaningful, and even result in long-term commitment.”
So, moral of the story: before sending the first message to that hot senior (or that cute freshman), make sure you really consider what this relationship (or even situationship) can become: establish your intentions for the relationship, and remember that communicative conversations can take you a long way!