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Dating in College: Starting Your Freshman Year

A couple dating in college sitting on a rock by the library watching the sun set on campus.

Dating has changed a lot over the yearswhat used to be an experience filled with courtship rituals, well-defined roles, and a set of unstated rules that (for the most part) people agreed with has been replaced with the wild world of dating apps where just about anything goes. (And it often goes to some interesting places.) But it’s not just a change in technology, dating has gone through a generational shift as well.

Dating in college used to look very differentwomen attended a university expecting to graduate with a MRS degree, and likewise men went expecting to find a wife. Now the vast majority of women go to college for the same reasons as mento get an education to help advance their careers. And contrary to what older generations may have thought, graduating from college as a single man or woman isn’t the end of the world anymore. In fact, it’s just the beginning.

College was and still is a time for exploration. In addition to academics, you learn more about  yourself, how to be independent, and how to interact with the world. Your relationships are a huge part of that. And how to form them, mold them, maintain them, and even end them is a huge part of your college experience.

I went to a traditional four-year college. During my time there, my views on dating and relationships changed as I progressed through each year of school, freshman to senior year. To give you an idea of what dating in college is like and help you master the art of navigating the somewhat muddy and confused waters of the college dating experience, I’ve put together this helpful guide. This four-part series will cover the dating trends you’ll experience during each year of college, the different things you and your friends will go through, what you can expect, and some tips on how to make your way.

In this article, I’ll be discussing the beginning of your freshman year, what for many is the single best year of their life and for others is the single most terrifying year of their life. (And for others is both terrifying and amazing at the same time.) 

The Three Types of Daters You’ll Meet Freshman Year

You did it. Good for you. You made it through those four long years of high school. You pack up your bags and get dropped off at your new home. You’re free. You can do whatever you want. Be whoever you want. You don’t have to report back to your parents every time you head out of the house. You did it.

But with all this freedom comes great responsibility. You don’t have mom or dad there to help guide the way. You’re on your own, and it’s time to make friends and meet new people. And let’s admit it, you’re going to be meeting a ton of new people.

The interesting thing is, when it comes to dating and relationships, many of the new people you’ll meet will fit into one of these categories…

1. LTR-ers
About 10% of people you encounter in college will be in the Long-Term Relationship (LTR) category. These are people who go to college while in a LTR/LDR (Long Distance Relationship) with their high school sweetheart. Now there’s nothing wrong with this. Actually, you know what, I’m just going to say it, there is. Don’t do it. You’re going to meet so many different and interesting people in college and you don’t want to miss out on someone who could be really amazing for you, or someone who (at the very least) you can learn a lot from because you’re trying to make it work with someone who lives far away. Wouldn’t you rather be going out on a Friday night instead of sitting inside your dorm FaceTiming someone?

I know when you’re in the middle of a relationship it can feel like it’s going to be forever, but the reality is that it probably won’t be. Both you and the person you’re dating are going to change a lot in the next four years and even though some high-school sweethearts grow closer together, the majority grow apart. And that’s not a bad thing, it’s just a life thing that happens. If you’re in an LTR think about why you’re with this person. Is it just because they feel safe or that this relationship is what you’ve always known? Because now is the time to venture into the unknown a bit.

2. The Relationship Romanticizers
These people are the worst. About 25% of people you’ll meet freshman year will fall into this category. These people are obsessed with finding a boyfriend or girlfriend, so much so that it literally takes over their lives. Admittedly,  I was that girl for a split second during my first year. But as it turns out, not seriously dating anyone during my freshman year was the best decision I ever made. If you go to a frat party set on finding your husband, well guess what, you’re in for a world of disappointment. Finding the love of your life will happen when you least expect it, so try not to force it. If you’re approaching your college dating experience with the mindset that you have to be in a relationship, or that you can’t be alone, you’re going about it all wrong. Meeting someone and starting a serious relationship can obviously be a great experience, but you shouldn’t force something because it feels like you should be in a relationship. Relationships are really only fun if you genuinely care about the person. Serial monogamy during your first year of college is only going to make you regret you didn’t take advantage of this time. Trust me, enjoy the freedom while it lasts.

3. SingleAF
Ah, yes. The third and final category of people you’ll meet during your freshman year of college. I’m biased, but this category is my favorite. The people who are single and don’t care about dating are seriously the best. They’re in college to live their best life and have fun while doing it. The final 65% of people you meet will fall into this category. It’s because they’re always down to do something. They’re down for the adventure. There’s nothing holding them back. They’re not obsessed with finding ‘the one’ and because of this they meet a lot of people and form a lot of different relationshipssome romantic, some sexual, some friends that will last a lifetime, and some (ok, a lot) that are somewhere in between. Not all of these relationships are even good, some may even be bad or be huge mistakes. The point is that when you’re SingleAF, you’re also free AF and open to experiencing and learning from everything your college life has to offer. If you aren’t one of these people, then align yourself with one. If you are one of these people, get ready for a fun time.

Being unattached during my freshman year was the best decision I ever made. During my single years, I was able to learn a lot about myself. These aren’t things I could have learned if I was tied down or if I was constantly obsessed with trying to get a guy’s attention or chase after a relationship. Some of my key takeaways include:

  • I figured out who I was and who I wanted to be.
  • I learned more about who I was attracted to and who was a good person for me to be in a relationship with.
  • I had a lot of fun. No reporting back to anyone, no making compromises, or having to set aside time for someone. I did what I wanted, when I wanted to.

By not tying myself down I was able to learn a lot about myself. I learned about what I liked. What kind of guys I was attracted to. How to craft the perfect booty-call message. (Just kidding… Ok, not really.) By being single and embracing it, I learned so much more about myself in one year than I had all the years prior. I had fun. I shed tears. I broke hearts and had my heart broken. I gained a ton of experience that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

Discovering What You Want 

Now I’m not saying being single was always a blast, or that it’s the only way to experience your freshman year. Relationships are great because you have someone that will always be there for you, and you’re there for them. It’s nice to have someone to snuggle with, who cares about how you did on your Shakespeare paper, or who waits for you after class and walks you back to the dorms. There are a lot of great things about being in a relationship. And ya, I was experiencing a lot by being single and learning a lot about myself, but there’s a lot to experience and learn about yourself while you’re in a relationship with someone too. In many ways, learning how to be with someone is just as important as learning how to be alone.

I know the SingleAF life isn’t for everyone, and I’m not saying that people in relationships aren’t independent or don’t have fun. Obviously, you can regret not being with someone just as much as you can regret being with someone. I’m not saying you should walk away from someone amazing to experience the so-called ‘single life’ of going out every night and flirting/hooking up with as many people as you can. Being single, or SingleAF, isn’t about sleeping around. (It can be, if that’s what you want, but that’s not all it is.)

Some people go to college thinking that going to a lot of parties and having booty calls is the only way to have fun or the only way to enjoy being single. Like it’s just ‘what you do’ the same way people used to say going to college to find a husband was just ‘what you do’. It’s what I did and I had a blast, but I wish more people would approach college as an opportunity to figure out what you want to do. Not what your parents want, your high school boyfriend or girlfriend wants, your old friends or your new friends want, what you think you’re supposed to want, or what you feel like you should want… What you actually want to do. What you want to get out of this experience and this time. Because here’s the thing…  it’s your time.

Four years seems like a lot when you start college but it goes by fast. You are in the middle of a rare moment of your life where you can be totally and completely focused on yourself. When it comes to dating and relationships, it can be easy to get lost in another person or in the experience of dating itself. (And, hey, that’s even part of the fun.) But as you enter your freshman year and begin to meet people, go to parties, stay in to snuggle, start relationships and end them, remember to keep asking yourself What do I want?

It’s not always an easy question to answer. But now’s the time to start figuring it out. 

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