This fall will be my first time at college, and I’ve been thinking a lot about dating on campus. I can’t help but anticipate meeting the love of my life here and spending a long and bright future together, but I’m worried I’m getting ahead of myself. How should I approach a relationship as a first year?
— Date Dreamer
Dear Date Dreamer,
Starting college opens you up to so many opportunities to try new things and meet interesting people, so it can be quite an exciting time! The possibility of exploring a romantic relationship adds another layer of emotions and questions about what to expect in this new environment. Perhaps you are excited about opening yourself up to your first romantic relationship, or maybe you dated in high school and want to see what college has to offer. Whatever the case, when entering this opportunity-filled environment and thinking about all the new people you are going to meet, it’s understandable that you might think about meeting someone you could eventually marry.
It’s great that you are taking some time to think about approaching relationships before entering one, because it gives you space to think about what you want. You may be coming in with a whole set of expectations for dating and finding a partner with whom you can have the perfect relationship (i.e., free of conflict and effortless, etc.). After all, these kinds of relationships are shown in TV shows, movies, and social media all the time. You may have even had your relatives ask about your love life and make assumptions about things. This can cause you to put some pressure on yourself and bring on feelings of anxiety on what your relationships should look like or might make you feel that looking for a partner and getting married should be your priority.
Unfortunately, it can also feel like if your first relationship in college isn’t perfect, then maybe you never will get your “happily ever after.” Realistically though, there are many ways and places to find a long-term partner, and college is just one possibility.
That is not to say that you cannot find a long-term partner in college. Princeton and other colleges host a big concentration of people with common interests and future goals, and it is not unusual for people to marry their college partner. Some students use surveys like DataMatch and Marriage Pact, normally released in the spring semester, to connect with potential partners (or just make new friends!). However, the fact that it works for some people does not mean it has to be how you find your partner. It can be helpful to ask yourself what being single or in a relationship means to you, especially at this point in your life, and maybe even make a list of what qualities you look for in a partner. Spend some time reflecting upon where you got these ideas, and if they are in fact what you are looking for. Knowing what you want in a relationship helps improve communication and contributes to relationship satisfaction for all partners involved.
It is equally important to think about and respect the wants and needs of your partner (or potential partner). Relationships, especially committed ones, are an investment and serious time commitment when on campus, and not everyone wants to or is ready to enter one. People may also be looking for different kinds of relationships — open vs. monogamous, casual vs. committed, sexual vs. non-sexual, romantic vs. aromantic. Whether you have figured out what you want or are still thinking it through, make sure you communicate your hopes and expectations clearly before entering the relationship, so that you can be on the same page as your partner. Check out the UMatter website to explore more elements of healthy relationships.
If you are looking for a relationship that involves sexual activity, you may want to seek out University Health Services with any questions you have or to learn about protecting your health and safety. You can make an appointment with a Sexual Health and Wellness (SHAW) provider through MyUHS. As a first-year student you will also have the opportunity to participate in the Safer Sexpo, a peer-facilitated interactive FYRE program on sexual and reproductive health and wellness in your residential college. You can also make an appointment for an individual counseling session with CPS on MyUHS if you would like to talk through your relationships, as well as your personal wants and needs.
Remember, college is a time of change for many people. It can become overwhelming to try to make friends, get acclimated academically, find social groups, and discover activities you like, while also trying to find a romantic partner. Trying to focus on these activities first can allow you to get to know yourself, so that there’s more space and time for relationships later. In your first year of college, try not to put pressure on a relationship. Instead, focus on finding things you can enjoy on your own, and let a relationship with a partner happen naturally.
— The Sexpert
The Sexpert is a monthly column done in collaboration between the Prospect and the Peer Health Advisers (PHA program). For more information, you can visit the Sexpert’s website. If you are interested in submitting a question, you can send it through this form: tinyurl.com/princetonsexpert.