Chances are, if you were a normal college student, you were a terrible person to date. Who really knows anything about being a quality partner at 18, 19 or even 20, 21 years old? Most of us at that age were just trying to find ourselves (or find ourselves in someone else’s pants). Now that I’m safely in my 30s, I would never tell my daughter (or any high school girl) to go looking for a husband among baby-faced undergrads.
But that’s actually how I met my husband.
The last time I “dated,” Baby Bush was president, Twitter didn’t exist and I still had an active MySpace profile. I was 23. I met a 21-year-old chemistry student in a lobby while taking a break from my grad studies. We were so young—babies, really. I didn’t look at him and think he’d be my husband one day. But here we are, nearly seven years married, 10 years together, two kids in. Life, as they say, comes at you fast.
If I had to do it over again—committing to a serious relationship in college—I might tell my alternate-universe self to slow down. But I was never a casual dater in college. I hated the emotional guessing game of dating, so I didn’t do much of it. I fell in love with a man who loved me and was happy to be permanently cuffed up by the age of 25. It turned out to be the right decision for me.
In general, though, it’s a terrible idea to be marriage-oriented in college. Few people are even interested in settling down that early. The early 20s are rife with trifling adventures. We’re financially unstable for the better part of a decade. But when I read today’s horror stories about $200 dates, swiping left or right on Tinder, and d—k-pic-filled DMs, or how degrees don’t keep us warm at night, I am struck by how relatively … easy … dating was in a college town.
Reason No. 1: (Almost) everyone is equally broke and trifling. We (the 25-and-older set) joke about it now with nostalgia, but most folks were living humble some kind of way in school. You usually had a roommate, unless your parents could afford for you to live alone. Living arrangements were notoriously sketchy (mattresses on floors, anyone?). If you had a car, you were golden. People could hit you up for rides home and offer gas money without judgment. But it wasn’t odd to be without transportation.
Mostly everyone was 50 shades of broke and understanding about it. We asked, “What’s your major?” rather than “Where do you work?” We had jobs, but they were highly unglamorous: a campus gig for tuition assistance; a seasonal, retail or food-service job; an under-the-table temp or doing hair in the dorm.
Reason No. 2: Everyone is bored at the same events. Panama Jackson recently wrote on Very Smart Brothas about (presumably professional-aged) men not attending events intended for both sexes. I didn’t have that issue when I was still dating. Classes made it easier to find people who shared my interests. Colleges always have free events on campus, and everyone goes because there is nothing else to do. I actually met my husband at a campus poetry-club open meeting that had a mix of women and men.
Reason No. 3: (Almost) everyone’s expectations are low. Maybe some women in college expected the sun, moon and Starbucks from guys who were funding their dating life from refund checks. But dating expectations were lower overall, and that was acceptable. If he took you to Red Lobster in college, he was flexing. “Redbox and chill” a homemade dinner was a legitimate date. (Just don’t watch the movie Rosewood on a first date. Trust me on this.)
Something about graduation upsets the balance of broke that we experienced in college. Our expectations ratchet up, but our financial and emotional statuses do not always follow. Now you have to worry about appearing “adult” enough with transportation, your own apartment, and a steady and respectable source of income (“career”). We’re dealing with student loan debt and wondering about a potential mate’s financial literacy. And that’s even taking for granted that we can meet like-minded people, since we’re no longer sequestered on campuses pursuing common goals.
While I would never advise today’s college student to attend university looking for a husband or wife, things seemed so much simpler then. Or maybe I’m tripping on nostalgia and I was just one of the lucky ones?
How does your dating life in college compare with dating outside of college? Better or worse?