College life doesn’t always prepare us for post-grad relationships. When you're in school, you more often than not end up hooking up with one of your pals, and either it turns into something serious or you enter a friends-with-benefits situation.
Then, suddenly, you’re thrust into the “real world” and expected to initiate romantic involvement by sitting across from a total stranger sipping merlot and discussing your taste in music. You don’t have any friends in common, and you actually have to make plans to see each other again because you won’t bump into him or her in class the next morning.
Post-college courtship can be weird — but it's not all bad (I promise). Follow these 21 guidelines to master the D word and make the most of your real-world romantic life.
1. Pursue activities you enjoy
Maybe you love 19th-century literature, or maybe you’re psyched
to start rock climbing. Whatever your passion, turn it into a hobby and find people
with similar interests. You’ll up your chances of meeting a partner you
actually get along with because you’ll already have something in common.
That does not mean you should show up at book club assuming you’re going to meet your soul mate. “Focus on making friends, not on finding romance,” says Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. (a.k.a "Dr. Romance"), psychotherapist and author of The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again. “If you make the friends, and there are enough people of the other gender, the dating will happen.”
2. “Cultural” events can turn into meat markets
You know how I just said you should pursue enjoyable hobbies as a way to meet potential mates? Do it, but know that
lots of other people are probably doing the same thing. This Men’s Health article tells guys to join volunteer organizations to meet women; this Ladies Home Journal piece tells women to find men at blood drives. (Personally, I
think dating is painful enough without having to stick a needle in your arm,
but who am I to judge?) So don’t be surprised if you get hit on multiple times
while you’re trying to do a good deed by cleaning up your local park.
3. Online dating isn’t for desperate losers
Everyone knows someone who met her husband/wife/life
partner/cat-sitter on the Internet. Whereas online
dating was once a somewhat laughable pursuit that folks were a little sheepish about, today
more than 20
percent of 25- to 34-year-olds have tried it, and that number is only
Sure, it might feel strange to browse photos of eligible people like they’re boxes of cereal at the supermarket. But online dating is a way to simultaneously expand your options beyond friends of friends and narrow them down to people with specific interests, personality traits, or demographic characteristics you're looking for. Worst-case scenario, you’ll come out of it with some crowd-pleasing horror stories.
4. You can date more than one person at a time
In college, it’s kind of tricky to date or hook up with
multiple people at one time — odds are pretty high you’ll run into one of your
flames while making out with another one at a party. But, after graduation,
the rules change. As long as you haven’t agreed to see anyone exclusively, it’s
totally OK to date around (this is apparently known as “multi-dating”). Still, as sex therapist Ian Kerner tells Men’s
Fitness readers, you should assume that your date is doing the same thing to you.
5. Get comfortable being alone before you start dating
One of the worst reasons to start a relationship
is because you’re afraid of ending up alone. In fact, if the thought of flying
solo frightens you, no partner is going to be able to fulfill you emotionally.
According to psychotherapist, relationship expert, and author Julie Orlov, M.A.O.L., M.S.W, if you’re uncomfortable being by yourself when you aren’t
dating anyone, you’re still going to feel alone when you have a partner. Before
you go frantically searching for a boyfriend or girlfriend, Orlov says you should “know that you
can take care of yourself emotionally [and] financially.”
6. Don’t ditch your life for anyone
Dating like a grown-up means
knowing how to set boundaries between you and the people you’re seeing. As a
single college graduate, you probably already have a well-rounded life — a job you love (or at least need), a circle of
close friends, and maybe an exercise routine that keeps you healthy. If you start
noticing that you’re frequently ditching friends, falling behind at the office,
or skipping workouts to make time for dating, something’s wrong. Consider
taking a “dating hiatus” or at least scaling back the romantic activity and focusing on you for a while.
7. You probably won’t get married at the same age as your mom did
you’ve hit the number at which your mom got married and your grandma already had
two kids. Don’t freak. Ladies (and gents) are getting
married later and later, for a variety of reasons.
Right now the average age of first marriage for women is about 27, but if
you’re still single in your late 20s, that’s OK, too. There’s no need to make
every day a speed-dating adventure until you find the one — as mentioned above,
the key is to balance your romantic pursuits with the rest of your (awesome)
8. Things are still complicated
in college is complex (when it happens at all). Are you just hooking up and
free to get with other people? Are you hooking up exclusively, but still not in
a serious relationship? Was it just a one-time thing? If you think that
graduating from college is going to make defining your relationships easier, think again. Suddenly
there are new issues to complicate things, like what it really means to move
in with someone you’re getting sort-of-serious with and disagreements over wedding planning.
Just because we’re a little older now doesn’t mean we aren’t people anymore,
with all those pesky feelings and disappointments that being human entails.
9. Birth control is worth the price
Here’s a stat that might surprise you:
Unmarried people in their 20s are less likely to use
than adolescents are. They’re also at greater risk for exposure to sexually
transmitted infections, which makes sense in light of the condom use stat. Avoid making a common mistake and pick up a pack of Trojans (or whatever your contraception of choice) on your next trip to the drugstore
or visit to the doctor. Condoms may no longer be cheap or free at the campus
health center, but birth control isn’t an area to scrimp and save. Whatever the
price, it’s a lot lower than the cost of a baby or treatment for an STI.
10. Meeting people at bars probably won’t lead to a relationship
college, it might seem like letting someone buy you a drink and trying to chat
over blasting music is the only way to find potential dates. And while this
endeavor can be a lot of fun and a great tool to blow off the stress of the
work week, research suggests these meet-ups rarely lead to anything serious.
According to one
only nine percent of women and two percent of men say they’ve started a relationship at a bar or club. To avoid ending up disappointed after a night at da club, be honest with yourself at the outset about what you’re likely to get out of the evening.
11. It’s (sort of) OK to Google someone before a date
scary to date someone with whom you don’t have any friends in common. What if
he’s a serial killer?! That’s why it can be tempting to type your
date’s name into the search bar and see what comes up — and why nearly
half of women say they do it. But you shouldn’t
necessarily rule someone out based on the results of your Google
As Nicole B. Ellison, Ph.D., an associate professor of information at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, tells Glamour readers, “Technology makes it very easy to eliminate people on the basis of what, in the grand picture of a relationship, might end up being a pretty negligible point.” So take his high-school performance in Rocky Horror Picture Show and her dog’s Instagram account with a grain of salt — you might end up laughing about it later.
12. It’s fine if you end up on an “accidate”
it didn’t happen to you in college, it’s bound to occur at least once
afterward. An “accidate” is an
interaction between two friends that’s actually a date, even though one or both
people involved aren’t aware. More than two-thirds of people between the ages
of 18 and 59 say they aren’t sure what
defines a date — so don’t be totally shocked if you
go for drinks with your “buddy” from painting class and he or she tries to
smooch you at the end.
13. People will bemoan your ability to date normally
mom, your boss, your great-aunt’s physical therapist — sometimes it seems like everyone off the market has something to
say about your romantic life. These days people are usually concerned that all
the kids care about is sex and that, in fact, dating
Which is why, of course, you don’t have an S.O. Whether or not these opinions
have any basis in truth, take them with a grain of salt. The only person whose
opinion really matters is yours — and if you feel like you’re doing the best
you can at this dating thing, then you’re fine.
14. Money may be an issue
Money can totally be an issue in college dating. But many college students don't have much money of their own, so finances don't pose too much of a problem. Once everyone graduates and gets jobs, finances suddenly turn into a
universal hot-button topic. If you thought dinner for two at the campus cafeteria was pricey, "real" dating is a whole lot worse. A Match.com survey estimates that
singles spend about $738 a year on dating-related activities.
Finances can become an even bigger problem down the line: Some women say that relationships can get weird when their male partner earns less or isn’t as ambitious as they are. Avoid these tricky situations by being honest with yourself about what you need money-wise from an S.O. and reconsidering a budding relationship if you notice that someone acts sketchy about finances.
15. Stop judging your friends based on their dating lives
Want to act like a real adult? Make a pact with
your friends not to be harsh on each other when you dish about your
romantic escapades. Research has found that college
students (women and men) lose respect for individuals who hook up with a lot of people. Graduate from this judgmental stage of life by allotting
your friends a little leeway when it comes to love — after all, you wouldn’t
want someone giving you the stink-eye while you’re doing the Walk of Shame back
to your apartment.
16. It’s OK to admit you’re still confused about safe sex
Now that you’re an adult, you should know
everything about the birds and the bees, right? Wrong. In fact, many
20-somethings say they never went through a sexual education class, in high school or afterward. That’s possibly why today’s
20-somethings have higher rates of STIs than pretty much
any other age group. Start fessing up to what you don’t know, whether that
means asking your doctor what it’s like to go on the Pill or looking up what
the phrase “dental dam” actually means.
17. Be honest with yourself and potential partners
Before you start dating around, it’s a good
idea to figure out what you value in a partner and a relationship. That way you
can avoid (or at least try to avoid) getting swept off your feet by someone who
can’t satisfy you in the long run. As Orlov puts it, “You don’t want to get too
invested emotionally in someone who may still be wanting just to have fun if
you’re looking for a more serious … relationship.” According to Orlov, it’s
appropriate to ask someone questions about what they’re looking for by the
third or fourth date.
18. Man (or woman) up and reject people
Because college relationships are often less
serious than post-graduation partnerships, ending things can be easier. Maybe
you start hooking up with someone else or maybe one person graduates. But part
of creating an adult romantic life is having respect for other people’s
feelings, even if it seems overly formal. That means actually telling them when you don't want to go out with them again rather than simply disappearing. As Tessina says: “Plenty of people
who are past school still flake out, but it’s unkind. … It’s much better to be
a grownup and just say, ‘No, thank you.’ Then the other person is freed up to
find someone else.” Look on the bright side: Rejection can actually make
us better people.
19. You might need some time to get the hang of it
So you went on your first real, out-of-college
date, and it sucked. As in, you spilled wine all over your skirt, snorted while
you laughed, and accidentally talked for 15 minutes about the last guy you
hooked up with. Don’t beat yourself up.
Instead, remember that romance is a “learning curve,” according to Peg Streep, an author who blogs about modern relationships and is writing a book about millennials. “The more practice you have at it,” she says, “the better you know yourself and your own responses and the better you are at judging whether or not the person you’re sitting with is actually someone you want to continue to see.” That said, cut the guy or girl who looks like he or she is about to pass out at the table some slack. Says Streep, “the bad news is [your date] probably has just as little dating experience as you do.”
20. Caring is not a sign of immaturity
Some relationship experts say growing up means
quitting the dating
games, and it’s certainly worth trying. But the reason you’re waiting
exactly 3.1 hours to return his or her call is probably because you like that
person, and you don’t want to get hurt. So don’t berate yourself for wondering
if that emoticon means he or she likes you. Those games might seem childish or
college-esque, but they're actually just human.
21. There are no rules
You can read all the dating advice you want, but in the end it’s up to you to
decide whom you date and how you do it. There will be successes and failures,
satisfactions and disappointments. But you tackled college and you can rock this,
too. Good luck!
Image: Dawn Foster/Bustle