A week or two into my freshman year of college, I joined a campus scavenger hunt and ended up in a group with a sophomore boy who stuck near me the whole time. When he added me on Facebook the next day and messaged me to ask if I wanted to eat lunch in his dorm's dining hall, I responded that my afternoon classes were on the other side of campus so I wouldn’t be around. It wasn’t until a few days later when a friend clued me in that I realized that had been his way of asking me out.
There are a lot of things I wish I’d known about dating in college — how to recognize when people were into me, how to be brave enough to ask out the people I was interested in, and how to spend time alone with a date when you share a dorm room. I asked current students and recent graduates for their college dating advice. Here's what they said.
Put yourself first
“I wish I knew that it’s okay to let good people go if in your heart you know they’re not right for you. They may be an amazing person, but you deserve to put yourself first and not settle,” says Megan Crayne.
Annabelle adds, “What I wish I had known about dating is that I shouldn’t have to change myself for someone. College is full of beautiful, interesting people, and that can be intimidating. I wish I had known that my individuality is enough, and the one who matters wouldn’t want me to change at all.”
Some people want to hook up, but not date
“One of the most important things I wish I knew about dating in college is just because boys kiss you, doesn't mean they actually like you!” says K. College may be the first time you encounter people who are looking for a hookup but not a relationship — so if you’re looking for something more, it might be a good idea to have a conversation about your expectations first.
Ask for what you need
“I’m disabled due to chronic illness, and I had a really hard time navigating the initial stages of relationships and flings. There’s a lot I have to work out with people (how to safely be intimate, what dates I can and can’t manage going on, etc.) and I really wish I’d been told it’s okay to speak up for all my needs and try to make myself as comfortable as possible,” says @ornamentalia, who asked to be credited by her Twitter handle. “I made a lot of compromises in that regard and I want people to know it’s valid to speak up about those things.”
Your education comes first
If your partner wants you to skip class to hang out with them, they might not be a great partner. “I wish I’d known to only date someone who prioritized my grad school education as much as I did,” says Chancey. “There were times when [my partner] forced me to choose between my studies and social outings or household chores, even though I was in school full-time and working a part-time job.”
A recent law school graduate, Haley, adds, “I wish I knew you needed to be on the same page, especially because career goals change. Law school in particular is so demanding that you need to communicate; realize you and your partner aren't going to always be [each other’s] top priority.”
Don’t let your relationship take over your life
Even if you want to spend all your time with your partner, that isn't necessarily a good idea. “I wish someone had told me that college relationships require a time commitment that is different than what you’d expect,” says one anonymous senior. “It’s easy to fall into this pattern where you spend every second of every day with this person when you’re not in class because you can. But your friends will hate you for it.”
It can be isolating
Two Black students mentioned how hard it is to date while attending a PWI (predominantly white institution). “I wish I knew that dating in a PWI was going to be extremely hard,” says Nyria.
“Dating at a PWI can make you really feel undesirable, even in Black spaces on campus where Blackness has to reach a certain proximity to the surrounding whiteness,” adds Morissa. “Then going back into real Black spaces makes you recognize all the politics that surrounds desirability.”
People might gossip
If you’re at a small college, or even part of a small community at a larger college, people might gossip about your love life. (Just like in high school.) “Dating another student at a small college means that everyone else will know about your relationship, some of which they might know before you do,” says one anonymous junior.
Have safer sex — your student health center can help
“If you’re going to hook up with people to release your tension and stress, BE SAFE ABOUT IT and get tested consistently,” the same junior adds.
Recent grad Sophie Siegel says, “I learned that you should take advantage of your on-campus sexual resource centers. They provide a lot of information on protection, space, and emotional health. I took advantage of these learning opportunities before I met my partner.”
It’s okay to break up with your high school significant other
Siegel adds, “I also broke up with my high school boyfriend before I went to college and it was a good choice on my part. I started fresh and I highly recommend coming to college single. Wait and see what happens when you get there, because you truly never know.”
Abuse might not look like you think it will
“I wish I had known that I shouldn’t water myself down for my significant other,” says Val. “I was told I was ‘too much’ constantly and it took me two years after the breakup to fall in love with myself again.” She adds, “As a queer woman, I wish there had been more representation about emotional abuse and manipulation in queer relationships. It took me so long to realize what I was facing because it wasn’t the man-abuses-woman relationship I had grown up being told was the one to watch out for.”
Nam adds, “I wish I had known that you may love your partner and expect them to love you in the same way, but if your friends let you know of red flags, then you need to listen to them. That small tiff you got in? It was just a miscommunication, until you vent to your friends and realize too late that your partner is gaslighting you. The ‘I’m sorry, it won’t happen again’ will happen again. If you’re in a cycle of abuse, you need to get out. Use school resources. Your friends, professors, and counselors aren’t going to judge you. They’re on your side.”
You don’t have to date in college
“I just graduated, and I wish I knew that you didn't have to date in college, it doesn't have to be ‘the best years of your life,’ and that the first person you meet who you vibe with isn't necessarily a good match for you,” says Rae. If your college dating life isn’t what you imagined it would be, you have your whole life ahead of you. While I did date in college, particularly during my senior year, my post-college dating life is much better than my college dating life. And after graduation, dates get a bit fancier than the dining hall, too.