Dating isn’t what it used to be.
College — or more generally, the 18-22 range of our lives is a transitional period. As undergraduates, we are approaching adulthood and taking on new responsibilities every single day, all while technically still being within the adolescent stage of mental development. We must learn to not only navigate the trials and tribulations of living on our own (read: laundry, scheduling doctors appointments), but also who we are and who we want to become. This struggle manifests itself as we maneuver through coursework, job applications, friendships, and most notably, romantic relationships.
In my high school days, things were so simple in regards to dating culture; there were two very straight-forward labels for relationships: a couple who was either “officially dating,” or “just hooking up.” Sure, there was a fair share of fighting over significant others — people cheated on their partners, and virtually everyone bragged about their sexual conquests — but nevertheless, we were all aware of each other’s rather definitive relationship statuses.
However, as a college student, I often think about how complex relationships at this age can be. The lines are more blurred than ever. The range of potential labels is extensive: “exclusive”, “casual”, “it’s complicated”, “hanging out”, and my personal favorite, “why even label it at all?”
It’s easy to get confused.
Should you shoot your shot with that guy you met in class, even though you heard he’s been seen around with someone else? Can you ask someone you’re dancing with at a party for their number despite your brief fling last week with another girl? What if the person you’ve been crushing on has a significant other back home or at another school?
It only gets more confusing when you factor in social media.
However, the worst part of the college dating scene is probably the pressure to choose between engaging in hookup culture and seeking out someone to take home to your parents.
This can cause confusion and uneasiness about the concept of commitment. Are there certain feelings that should be reserved only for future life partners? Speaking of life partners, should we be looking for them now? Are our biological clocks ticking? Is it too soon to fall in love? Why do I feel like I have to decide what I want before I even meet anyone?
In past generations, people often met and married at a young age — social media didn’t exist — and it was easy to meet at a party or through a mutual friend. Many of us glamorize the stories of how our parents met, and thereby convince ourselves that a similar meeting of our own may be unattainable, given our generation’s different circumstances.
Something that can link past generations to younger ones, however, is the concept of college — particularly the rhetoric that has survived throughout the years about how it is meant to be “the best four years” of someone’s life. Whether or not this holds true for most, college is usually a time of increased independence, where you have more opportunity to experiment and find out who you are and what you want.
Sure, it’s a lot of fun, but take that “experimentation,” mix it with some alcohol and other questionable substances, and you’re left with the average hot-mess of college life. (Not that all we do is drink and have sex!)
According to Kathleen A. Bogle, author of Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus, college students estimate that their peers “do it” on average 50 times a year, which is 25 times greater than studies actually show. The truth is, we’re more busy with school work and handling responsibilities than with sex. Many of us have less game than we’d like to think.
There are obvious pros and cons to college hookup culture: on the one hand, it promotes casual relationships and requires little commitment; on the other hand, it can be intimidating, difficult, and sometimes dangerous.
The social implications that seem to surround the idea of casual sex and hooking up are certainly not to be overlooked. For example, if you are femme-presenting and you do it — you’re a slut, and if you don’t — you’re a prude. And whatever you do, don’t catch feelings because hookups only lead to heartbreak. Despite whatever stigmas and stereotypes that exist, it is important to remember that nobody has it quite figured out yet. We’re all in the same boat — even those kids who try to fool us into thinking they’ve got it all together.
I suppose the beauty of the broad spectrum of dating labels that exist in college is how they’re indicative of the uncertainty and confusion that lies ahead. Intimacy may be difficult to navigate, but this doesn’t mean that you have to know exactly what you want every step of the way. You and your partner have the power to label your relationship however you want.
So do what you want and who you want, as long as all activities are safe and consensual. Before you know it, the four years will fly right by, and you’ll be left with a greater understanding of yourself and your future, no matter what choices you made along the way.
Photos by Sweet Suezy.