College will be some of the best years of your life, and for many, it’s also a place to find the person who you spend your whole life with. This adage has been true for generations; however dating today is much different than it was in our parent’s or grandparent’s time. With the introduction of new technology, applications like Tinder and OkCupid have given us the ability to talk to people online before we ever meet them in person. The hookup culture popularized by media has made it easy to find someone to spend the night with, but won’t necessarily call you back the next day. These factors among others, make finding a relationship today more complicated than ever before. In this post, I’ve created a sort of guide for navigating the dating world in college for women.
What is a relationship?
To begin our discussion on dating in college, let’s explore what a relationship actually is. To many it is still defined as an intimate sexually-exclusive bond with someone who you plan on making a long-term commitment with; however, this definition does not apply to everybody.
Traditional views of relationships are changing, with the majority of Americans in the new generation rejecting marriage. Long term commitment is still sought for many, but with the understanding that it may not last ‘until death do us part’. Some people see relationships as nothing more than a way to get to know someone sexually. Others see it as a shared bond between more than one person, otherwise known as a polyamorous relationship. Of course there are still plenty of people out there who believe in finding a long-term monogamous relationship based off of love, but keep in mind that this is not everybody’s mentality in the dating world.
You may already know what type of relationship you want, but more likely than not, you don’t and it’s okay! You should make your expectations clear, to avoid confusion on both sides. College is a time for exploration, so if you don’t know what you are looking for then start finding out. Ask yourself the following questions to get started:

• How serious do you want to get involved? Are you searching for a committed relationship from the start or are you exploring your options and dating multiple people? Are you expecting to get engaged in a year, or do you want to spend several years with someone before you commit to them soley?
• How sexually involved do you want to be now or eventually? This is an important question to ask yourself because many make the decision to get sexually involved before they ever consider if it’s the right choice. Don’t feel pressured to do things before you are ready; just because everyone else is having sex doesn’t mean that you have to. On the other side, don’t let gender stereotypes hider your sexual exploration.
• What is it important that you find in a partner? Are you looking for someone that shares similar morals and ideologies to you, or is it important that they share similar hobbies and a compatible lifestyle? Is religion very important to you or is it more important that your find someone that your friends and family like? Maybe you want some or none of these things, either way think about what matters to you and how important it might be that you date people who have what you are looking for in a relationship.
• Why do you want to be in a relationship? Are you dating in order to find a lifelong partner, or do you feel insecure without being in a relationship? Don’t feel pressured to find someone just because all your friends are getting engaged.

Perhaps your lack of experiences in the dating world make it hard for you to answer these questions, or you honestly haven’t thought about them before- either way you might not know what you are looking for and it’s okay. The most important thing when dating is communication; be earnest about what you are looking for or that you don’t know what you are looking for. Either way, if you never convey what matters to you in a relationship, then that person will probably never know- most people can’t read minds.
Going out and playing it safe: finding what you want
Once you know what type of relationship you want to have in college, or have come to terms with the fact that you do not know what you want- find people! There are many places to meet people in college, from classrooms to coffee shops, but certain environments create the setting for certain types of relationships to form. For example, a volunteering event is a great way to get to know someone through conversation. A loud club or bar, on the other hand, is perhaps a better place to gage physical attraction. Wherever you choose to seek potential dates, be careful and play it smart.
Dating apps and websites of increasing popularity make it easy to find other singles in your area. Each dating website has a specific reputation attached to it so keep that in mind when you are creating your profile. Online dating allows you to find people with whom you are compatible, thus opening your dating pool to a much bigger sea. It offers a chance to chat with people before meeting them in person, thus taking the edge off of total blind dating. The problem with these applications, however, is that most never get past the chatting stage which means a lot of time is potentially wasted not meeting people. The attraction in using social media is that it allows people to build profiles to make themselves appear as they want to be seen. Filters, camera angles, and photoshop has made it easy for us to hide our self-described imperfections which can cause radical differences between our online selves and our physical selves. Also, it’s easier to bend the truth to someone while chatting than in person and if these truths get bent far enough, people may get ‘catfished’ into believing someone is a different person than they say they are. When it comes to dating online, try to meet the person you chat with within a week. That way you know who you are talking to online is the person they say they are, and you can find out if the chemistry that you feel behind your smartphone translates to real life.
As a woman, living in the world today means accepting the gender differences that still divide our culture. Traditionally in western culture, men have been the breadwinners- and not in the literal sense. Historically, men have been the sole providers of food, shelter, and financial stability in the last few generations. While these norms are changing, sexual bias and gender stereotypes run rampant in our society today. Don’t let being a woman define your choices; only you have a say in how you get to live your life. With that in mind, be conscious of the fact that not everyone will have the same respect for the modern women’s rights.
If you do decide to go out and party, make sure to play it safe. You shouldn’t have to worry about safety in a university setting, but the reality is that rape is extremely common and offenders don’t always get punished. Go out with friends you trust and be conscious of your surroundings. Listen to your instincts- if you feel unsafe or threatened, get out of that situation before it really becomes a situation. Alcohol clouds judgment, so stay conscious enough to know what’s happening. Movements like “take back the night” and new awareness of “slut-shaming” are changing the way we view sexual assault, but it is still very common and more times than not, victim’s never speak out. Sexual assault is not the victim’s fault, but it’s better to be safe than sorry so stay alert.
When it comes to hooking up, be responsible about birth control. If there’s even a chance you might go home with someone, carry condoms with you. If you have sex regularly, talk to your doctor about finding a birth control that is right for you. Remember- you are in college to get a degree not have a baby. Almost all colleges offer some form of health insurance to people enrolled to take advantage of it and see your doctor often. STD’s run rampant in colleges, so make sure to get tested after you’ve had unprotected sex- but please try to avoid unprotected sex altogether. Birth control and protection is both parties responsibility, so don’t assume that the other person will have you covered.

Now that you’ve read a little bit about how to approach dating in college as a women, let’s recap on some of the most important take-aways.

Make your expectations clear from the start. Decide what you want, or come to terms with the fact that you might not know what you want yet. Exploring what it is you are looking for in a college relationship is just another way to grow, but make sure the people you date are aware that you are not exclusive. If have clear notion of what you want, convey that to people you date so that expectations are clear to avoid any confusion or misinterpretations.

Don’t settle for less than you are worth. The biggest lesson I’ve taken away from being a recent college graduate souring the job market is that only you can judge your true worth. If you don’t believe that you are smart enough or capable, then nobody else will. Don’t waste time on someone that doesn’t value you for you, and most importantly learn to love yourself first.

Get involved and have fun!… but be safe.The best relationships happen when you aren’t looking for them, but you sure won’t find any sitting in your dorm room all the time. College is an amazing time in your life, so take advantage of it as best you can. Join clubs and organizations and get involved in whatever way you can. The more you join, the more people you will meet- but remember that certain environments attract certain people, and not all of them may be long-term relationship material. When you do go out and party, be prepared to be protected.

Love is messy. It’s complicated and there’s a lot of uncertainty and risk involved. There is a certain amount of vulnerability present in the dating world; you are opening yourself up- the deepest most sincere parts of you- to total strangers in hopes of finding something bigger than an interaction. Putting your feelings out there is hard, and it’s easy to get taken advantage of or hurt, but don’t let that deter you. You are young and the world is yours for the taking so put yourself out there and don’t be afraid of it not working out, because you’ll never know what might have been if you never tried.

College is a time to find out what you want, but also who you are. Never settle for less than you are worth or stay with someone because you are afraid living without them or insecure in being single. Stand your ground with what you want, and realize that college is just the beginning of your life. It may feel like you should have everything figured out by the time you graduate- your career, your relationship, yourself- but people bloom at their own pace. Take dating slow, there is enough time in your life to accomplish everything you want to.