This post is in response to the article "Why is College Dating So Screwed Up?" from Cosmopolitan, written by Charlotte Leiberman.
At first I was appalled by the title of the article. I thought, "College dating isn't screwed up! I had a very healthy relationship in college." But I realize that I am in the minority, especially when it comes to colleges that have "male-dominated social spaces" (i.e. fraternities and such). I had a few friends who were in relationships on campus, but most were single who complained about the dating scene. I was mostly oblivious. Sure, I did the whole hook-up thing my freshman year, but I totally embraced it. I had this attitude: "All through high school I was too busy with school (and therefore too much of a nerd) to date anyone. Now I'm at a school where everyone is smart, so now people see me as the hot freshman! How cool!" I chose who I hooked up with (not the other way around), and I definitely played the who-cares-less game, creeping out quietly in the morning and following up with an email that roughly said, "We hooked up. No big deal. See you around." I felt totally empowered, and I made my own rules about dating.
I did have one bad hook-up experience my freshman spring. The guy definitely had no respect for me or my wishes, saying things like, "Losing your virginity isn't a big deal. It just means I have to buy new sheets" and calling me the C-word as a term of endearment (WTF). We "dated" for two weeks, which means we hung out a handful of times, and each time I felt unsure of myself and intimidated by this man (okay, a big boy). I called him to tell him that I wasn't into it and I was done. Then I spent the rest of the spring and all summer NOT dealing with boys and just enjoying being a young woman in her own skin.
But once I returned to school for my sophomore fall, I really did want a relationship. I felt that I had "sown my wild oats" my freshman year, and I didn't want to deal with any more jerks like that one guy. But I didn't go out LOOKING for love. I just let things happen, enjoying myself and going out with my friends, figuring I'd meet a guy. And I did. For a couple of weeks I was seeing a senior whom I really liked, but I knew he didn't want a serious relationship for his last year in school. So I kept my options open. I ended up meeting a friend of a friend at a dance party, and that was the beginning of a two-and-a-half-year-long relationship.
What made this relationship work for so long? Several things:
1. Communication: The article in Cosmo mentions the lack of communication, or just brief text/email messages, as a problem with college relationships. I agree, and that is why you should talk in person with the person you have a crush on. There's less ambiguity there: you can read the person's body language, hear intonations in his/her voice, and you don't have to read into what the person is saying like in a text message. And talk often. Soon into our relationship (what, a week or two?) I admitted that I'd like to see him every day since I really liked him. He agreed, and from then on we talked every day. And we were very open and honest, which the article also mentions is not always the case with college students. We talked about things that upset us, what we needed out of the relationship, etc. And while conversations like that can be tough to have, you feel SO much relief when you get it all out there and know that you're both on the same page. These talks show that you both care about each other, and that you're not just playing games.
2. Self-Respect: If you don't love and respect yourself, you are going to have a very hard time finding yourself in a good relationship. If you don't love yourself, why should anyone else? I think everyone agrees that confidence in another person is very attractive, so that's step #1. You shouldn't even attempt to be in a relationship with another person until you know who you are, what you want, etc. When you know those things, you are more likely to choose a partner who is right for you, and you're less likely to compromise on your values. For example (and maybe this makes me less of a feminist but), I am a sucker for chivalry. When this guy walked me home the morning after we first hooked up, I was floored. I was thinking, "Wow, this guy is going to walk me home?! That is so nice!" I knew that I wanted someone who would treat me like a lady. I felt like he respected me and my feelings, and in turn, I could respect him for that.
3. Sex: Although many people claim that casual sex is completely normal and healthy for college students, I'm not so sure. I should note that when I've said "hooked up" previously in this piece, I mean making out and heavy petting. I had a rule for myself that I wouldn't have sex until I was actually in love with someone, and he was in love with me. That way, I wouldn't be hurt emotionally, and he wouldn't see me as a one-night-stand; I wouldn't regret it, and I'd still respect myself in the morning. And that's exactly how it happened. I let myself have physical experiences with other people, but when it came to actually having sex, I waited until I was in a real relationship. We had been dating for ~3 months, we really knew each other, and we were in love. And even though the relationship didn't last, I don't ever regret this experience. Waiting to have sex removes a lot of those chances of getting hurt and being confused about feelings (both your own and those of the other person). AND if he's willing to wait, then he's probably the kind of guy who wants a relationship and doesn't just want to casually date. Once you are having monogamous sex, being open and talking to each other (see 1) about it is very important for a healthy sex life, too.
Again, I realize that my experience is not the norm for college students. I was the girl who had the ideal relationship: My man wasn't a frat-bro, he took me out to dinner and sent me flowers, he was an emotionally sensitive and sweet guy...I know most college boys aren't like that. I still consider myself very lucky and blessed to have had that relationship, even if it ended on a sour note (no need to get into that!). So college dating doesn't have to be "screwed up." If you love yourself, stick to your guns, and keep the lines of communication open, love will happen.
And if it doesn't happen in college, so what? What's the rush? I guess that will have to wait until another post...