What Freshmen Should Know about Dating in College


College is a whole new ball game compared to high school. Living in the dorms, or away from home but near campus, means that for the first time, you are really out on your own. You don’t have to answer to your parents. You don’t have a curfew. You can do what you want, pretty much whenever you want. This is especially true when it comes to relationships. Colleges may not have rules or ways to monitor where you spend the night, and they certainly don’t restrict who you are allowed to see.

Here are a few tips on people that you may want to avoid when you’re starting to date at college. As always, you know your boundaries best. If you ever feel unsafe, talk to an RA or an administrator.

1. The Kid Next Door

A blonde girl saying "I loved the way you looked at me."

The Girl Next Door / Giphy

It can be really tempting to get to know the cute boy or girl who lives in the dorm room next to yours. Maybe you feel like you instantly connected the first time you talked. Maybe you bonded during dorm orientation activities. Maybe, like me, you fell asleep next to your neighbor on a couch after a day full of freshman activities, missed dinner, and then mutually decided you were dating when you woke up. On, like, the third day of school.

Don’t do it.

Yes, there is a chance that it could work out and the first person you date in college actually turns out to be the love of your life. It happens. But not often. More likely than not, you’ll break up or fizzle out, maybe with some drama, and then you still have to spend the rest of freshman year living next door (like me). Not only that, but in a dorm, everyone really knows everyone else’s business. So, not only will you have suffered through a breakup, but everyone else knows it too. It can get embarrassing and awkward, so it’s best to avoid the situation entirely.

2. The Older Student

Receiving attention from an older student is flattering, no doubt about it, but be wary of differing expectations. An older student is going to graduate earlier than you and may be more interested in one or two dates than actually “dating,” so getting attached may not be your best choice. By all means, explore the dates, enjoy dinner together at the dining hall, and stop to chat when you pass each other on campus, but be sure you understand what he or she wants before you fall head over heels in love with someone who has no long-term relationship plans.

When dating in college, you may feel like Schmidt from New Girl when he says "There are youths everywhere."

New Girl / Giphy

Older students also tend to be more experienced and have different expectations about how far a night will progress. If you meet at a party, an older student may expect that the fling will end when the party is over, while you may hope for a few more dates. Chances are, it’s not going to happen. Again, trust me on this one. I was definitely more interested in an older guy than he was interested in me. Nothing happened beyond a couple of dates, (and I don’t even know if you can call them dates, more like chance encounters), and somehow, I still had a crush on him for a good year and a half.

Now, older students do date younger students all the time, but in order for the relationship to be successful, you have to take the time to get to know each other first. Mutual interests, not just “hey, I think you’re pretty” are the basis for a real relationship. Maturity differences may also come into play. Female brains develop an average of two years earlier than male brains, and most brains aren’t fully mature until age 25. Later in life, many couples do have an age difference between them, but the fact that their brains are fully developed when they make that decision lends to relationship longevity.

Some good dating advice comes from Chuck Bass of Gossip Girl: "If two people are meant to be together, eventually they'll find their way back."

Gossip Girl / Giphy

3. The One Who Kisses and Tells

Let me tell you a little story. I met a guy in the Facebook group for my school before freshman orientation, and we started talking. I liked him. He was very nice. We chatted on the internet and exchanged phone numbers. We’d even talk on the phone. I was pretty excited to meet him when I arrived at school for orientation. But when I showed up on campus and learned that the entirety of a sports team thought that we were dating, it came as a bit of a shock. We didn’t really talk much after that.

Justin Bieber looking smug, as viewed through a window

Justin Bieber / Giphy

The point is, even if nothing is happening, if someone is gossiping about you, you’re going to develop some sort of reputation, and it’s likely not going to be a good one. If someone is talking to you about other people, it’s probably safe to assume that if you were to get into a relationship of sorts with that person, he will also be telling other people about you. Save yourself the drama and find someone who knows how to keep his mouth shut.

Real Advice from Real People

I asked ten men and women this question: “Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your freshman self about dating in college?” Here are their answers.

Larry David explaining "A date is an experience you have with another person that makes you appreciate being alone."

Curb Your Enthusiasm / Giphy

“Don’t date someone new as soon as you get to college. Loneliness is normal for that first month, but it goes away. Focus on friendships, not relationships.” - Elise N.

“I would tell myself to slow down and realize that college is not your last chance at finding someone. Regardless of the number of people you see around you in relationships, you don’t have to be in one yourself. While I certainly encourage dating, don’t put too much pressure on yourself one way or the other.” - Adam D.

“Dating in college? Don’t. Guys don’t do dating anymore. If you’re happy with just hooking up, cool, go for it. But if you want to date, you have to ask for dates and be willing to walk away from all the guys who aren’t willing to give that.” - Lauren C.

“While still trying to discover who you are as an adult, it is best to have your freedom and individuality and to not necessarily start a relationship until you find yourself.” - Thomas M.

“Don’t date your high school boyfriend, because it limits your personal development and you need to experience new things.” - Alejandra S.

“Be honest and realistic about relationships and your expectations. College is a time for learning and you’re going to make mistakes. That’s okay; try to learn from yours.” - Chris C.

Hannah Montana complaining about guys: "I don't know. Maybe I should just give up guys for good."

Hannah Montana / Giphy

“I would tell my freshman self not to jump into a relationship immediately upon arriving to campus. Wait a while, meet people, make friends with your hallmates, and focus on classes before getting into anything serious. When I look back now, the relationship defined who I was, and I didn’t like the person I became. I regret not listening to my friends and family when they said that person was not good for me, but I learned the hard way with a bad heartbreak.” - Haley A.

“I’d have told myself not to settle for less than I deserved or give up my happiness for someone else's.” - Devin C.

“I would say focus on yourself. If I had to do it over again, I’d spend a lot less time worried about a guy and more time making myself happy. I wasted a lot of time on guys who quickly disappeared, when I could have been focusing on bettering myself. The best relationships come when you are at your best.” - Hannah H.

Lola Rabbit proclaiming that she is a good girlfriend

Looney Tunes / Giphy

“I would tell myself to be patient and to learn and understand myself fully before trying to date seriously. And that you do so much growing between 18 and 25 that to find the right person, you have to find yourself first. Dating can be a constructive part of the process, but if you’re not growing and changing in a positive way, be sure the people you’re surrounding yourself with, especially a significant other, are not a part of the root cause.” - Brian R.


About Megan Clendenon

Megan C. is obsessed with Cincinnati-style chili, Louisville basketball, and Scandinavian crime fiction. She has lived in six different states and held 12 different jobs since beginning her undergraduate degree at Carleton College in 2008. The wanderlust abated somewhat in recent years, as Megan settled in Texas from 2013 to 2016 to finish a master’s degree in geosciences, write a thesis on the future horrors that stem from climate change, and get married. During her free time, you will find Megan sitting on the couch, cheering for her Louisville Cardinals, planning future adventures abroad, and snuggling with her dog, Tiger. She currently lives outside of Washington D.C.

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