It may not be on any syllabus, but college has always been a time for young people to learn about relationships and sex. But as the internet increasingly influences the ways we interact, it also transforms how students date and find partners. We asked students at nine colleges and universities how technology affects the campus dating scene.
No One Wants to Be Known as Tinder Girl
Madeline Apple, University of Michigan, Class of 2018
Dating apps may have killed the college dating scene. Because it’s so easy to swipe left or right on a seemingly endless pile of potential partners, it’s become harder to actually meet anyone. As students, we are told over and over that college is a time for us to expand our social groups, to meet new people and grow into adults. But the indecisiveness that is built into dating app culture can stunt us — we’re trapped in an endless cycle of swipes! Commitment, already a scary concept to many, becomes even more difficult with the false illusion that the dating possibilities are endless.
Frankly, dating apps can also just make things incredibly awkward. My freshman year I swiped through hundreds of people. At one of the last tailgates of the year, a random man walked by me and yelled: “Hey! We matched on Tinder! You are Tinder girl!”
I was mortified. Suddenly everyone around me knew that I was on Tinder. And I had swiped through so many people, I had no idea who this guy was. He was just another nameless “match” that I would never get to know. Because, needless to say, I walked away and never spoke to that guy again.
Tinder is supposed to bring people together, but it actually pushes them emotionally further apart. The fact that there could be hundreds, if not thousands, of potential dates in your pocket gives an illusion of possibility. In reality, students just become more isolated in a world of fake interactions and awkward run-ins with old matches. We’re not getting out of our comfort zone to meet new people. Why approach someone in person when you can hide behind a Tinder profile?
Ladies, Check Your Snapchat Time Stamps
Catherine Gumarin, Mercer University, Class of 2019
In a romantic comedy, the female lead might scribble her phone number on a restaurant napkin to demonstrate interest. In college, asking for someone’s Snapchat is more common than asking for his or her digits. When Brian in the Cosine Upsilon Triathlon Whatever T-shirt starts flirting in Environmental Communication class, he’s after your Snapchat user name, not your number. While single students at Mercer University use dating apps like Tinder and Bumble, Snapchat reigns as the most eye-roll-eliciting app for sparking college romance. To know if Brian is interested in a serious relationship or a casual fling, read the time stamp on his flirtatious Snapchat message. The same Snap asking to “hang out” sent at 2 p.m. can have a completely different meaning when sent at 2 a.m.
We Don’t Date, We Netflix and Chill
Mary Walz, University of Iowa, Class of 2020
College students don’t date. Instead, we “hang out.” One of the most popular ways to hang out is to “Netflix and Chill,” a trope so common it became a meme. A typical hangout of the Netflix variety begins with one student going to another’s residence, which is usually small and in a state of disarray. Next, the couple sit on the bed or futon (in the case of nicer dorms) and decide what movie or show to watch. This decision-making process can take up to half an hour and is often the most stressful time. With so many different genres, there is the problem of choice. But ultimately the most important consideration — the stressful element — is this question: What will be appropriate background noise for making out? The wrong choice could kill the mood. You don’t want to be mid-makeout while the jewel-encrusted crab from “Moana” is singing about how shiny he is.
The Three Stages of Hanging Out
Cache’ Roberts, Miami University, Class of 2021
If I could tell my younger self one thing upon entering college, it would be don’t expect much from these campus boys. My first encounter with college dating was with someone who was the exact Urban Dictionary definitions of unreliable and unpredictable. Eventually his move became frequent late-night messages. He’d text, “You got any water?” What kind of question is that? It’s definitely lame code for “Can we hang out?” and a poor excuse for romance.
Later on I was infatuated with another guy, a charmer, to the point that I thought it was the start of an actual relationship. From this smooth talker, I learned the three stages of seriousness in college dating.
The first stage is “hanging out.” In this phase you get to know each other as friends, and sometimes kiss. (Side note: I don’t kiss my friends.) The second stage is “talking.” In this phase you are not exclusive with the person, but you’re also not on the market to “hang out” with anyone else. The last stage is “snatched.” No, “snatched” is not slang for any dubious behavior. It means “in a relationship” — like Facebook-official status. The charmer never wanted to move past the “hanging out” stage, but I hung on for a while. Hopefully, I’ll never make the mistake of investing my time in someone like that again. The most important lesson in college dating is to make your own experiences, and not let them make you.
Driving Two Hours to Date a Stranger
Emma Thom, Sweet Briar College, Class of 2018
I fell in love with the small classroom environment of Sweet Briar College and the picturesque scenery of its surroundings in the middle of nowhere, Virginia. But as a heterosexual female at an all-women’s college, my dating life was nonexistent until I was introduced to Tinder and Bumble. Initially I hated the concept of dating apps. The upside to them was blind dates (yikes) and the downside was the opportunity to get rejected in three seconds or less by a potential match.
But as I began to create my dating profiles, choosing the most attractive pictures of me and my golden retriever, I started to have some fun. I hadn’t yet warmed up to the idea of driving an hour or two to grab a drink with a stranger, but the conversations were light and the attention was wonderful. After hundreds of swipes left and right — and plenty of opening lines that received no response — I finally matched with a guy I was eager to meet.
He was a Virginia Tech student who seemed intelligent, witty and happened to be 6-foot-4 — tall enough for my highest heels. Conveniently, my best friend is also a student at Tech, so when I told her about this new guy, she immediately responded with “Come to Blacksburg! You can meet up with him, and if he sucks, stay with me.” So I drove two hours to meet a guy I’d only been messaging for a week and a half. I’d never heard the sound of his voice, or seen the way he walked or chewed his food. What would he think about my smile or the awkward snorting sound I make when I laugh too hard?
I pulled into the parking lot of the Thai restaurant hoping that I didn’t have pit stains and flaking mascara. When I saw him waiting for me, I almost did a double take — not because he didn’t look like the guy in the pictures, but because he looked better. He was tall, blond, with green eyes and a smile wider and more welcoming than I’d imagined. We had dinner and drinks, and several months later, we’re still doing the same. Dating apps aren’t for everyone, but they gave me the opportunity to meet someone I wasn’t sure existed.
I Found My First Date on an App
Caleb Keyes, Otterbein University, Class of 2018
In high school I had always wanted to date but struggled to believe anyone would want to date me. When I got to college those fears were compounded by a feeling of trepidation that if I tried to date someone and we broke up, it would be hard to see them around campus. A friend encouraged me to download Coffee Meets Bagel, which was described as a dating app for people who are easily overwhelmed.
I got a date and she suggested we get ice cream, even though it was snowing outside. It was old-school romantic in a way I hadn’t expected. She looked beautiful with snowflakes falling on her hair and her cheeks red from the cold.
Though college is often depicted as a place of sexual exploration, and dating apps seem to encourage passing from one relationship to another, my generation defies that. A study in the journal Child Development found that 18-year-olds today are less likely to have dated than 15-year-olds in the 1990s. The good news is, even if we’re dating later, it’s no less magical to stand in the snow with someone you like, as the world seems to stop.
Losing IRL Relationships to Someone on the Screen
Roxanne Powell, San Jose State University, Class of 2018
There is something to be said for technology and the way it has made our lives easier. But for all the time we spend on our devices, talking and looking at people across the country or globe, we can miss the people right in front of us. Sure, you can be attracted to someone online, but without meeting them in person, looking them in the eyes, holding their hand or giving them a hug, how can you know if that connection holds up IRL?
Someone I was dating made a friend online which developed into something more, and I was blindsided by it. It was painful to see the person I cared about, the person I saw a future with, share more of his time with someone he had never met than with me.
I kept wondering what I had done wrong, what I could have done differently, what this other person might have that I lacked. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the flexibility of an online relationship simply seemed easier to him. I couldn’t compete with someone who could be accessed with the push of a button. Nor do I want to.
Hope He’s Not a Serial Killer
Caroline Roddy, Bates College, Class of 2021
Ping! You have a new match. Be the first one to say hello.
During my first semester at Bates College I matched with a guy on Tinder who plays the same sport as me, ice hockey, and also has a Labrador retriever. Even though he lived an hour away, we agreed to meet at my college, and later go on a surprise adventure. He drove up in a car with a custom license plate and a CD collection stocked with Black Eyed Peas albums and obscure metal bands. We embarked on our adventure and were driving down a rural road in Maine when he suddenly pulled over. “Great,” I thought. “I’ve managed to get into the hands of a serial killer. What will my mother say now?” He led me on a hike along a trail to a quarry. It wasn’t ideal for a first date: The exercise, coupled with the get-to-know-you conversation, left me out of breath and sounding like a dying cat.
As we walked along, I tried to gauge his interest in politics, mumbling something about the upcoming local election and telling him that one of the candidates went to my college. He didn’t seem interested in this tidbit, but otherwise, we had a good time together. We found out we both enjoyed the artist Lorde and shared a love of Thai food. Eventually, we turned around and he dropped me back off on campus.
After exchanging occasional texts for a month, I received a message from him: “Hey so can I ask you something?”
I hesitated, thinking: “Is he defining the relationship already? That was quick.”
I replied with a cool, “yea what’s up?” Casual enough, I thought. Unassuming.
He told me he’s not liberal so we should avoid talking about politics.
Ah, right. Not a serial killer, but perhaps a Trump voter. That relationship ended there.
Snail Mail Keeps Love Alive From a Distance
Kasey Roper, University of Virginia, Class of 2021
I’m a freshman at the University of Virginia, but my girlfriend attends college out West. In order to sustain our relationship we rely on technology and the Postal Service. Technology has definitely made maintaining a relationship easier, since we can talk frequently and immediately. But it is also prone to glitches: Messages sometimes don’t send or they get cut off because of the Apple-Android divide, which, coupled with the fact that I refuse to update iOS, leads to accidental miscommunication.
If we’re in the middle of an important conversation, that “unsent” message can cause a lot of hurt feelings that don’t just disappear when one of us explains that “I wasn’t ignoring you, the message just didn’t send.” It’s a major inconvenience, but we have learned to be understanding about it.
The saving grace of a long-distance relationship is the letters. About every two weeks, I get an email saying I have a package, and, unless it’s the beginning of the semester and my textbooks haven’t come in yet, I know it’s from her. I eagerly wait until my classes are over for the day and rush to the mailroom to pick it up. Then I hide out in my room, my desk full of reminders of her — a pride flag made out of Legos, our initials spelled out in thumbtacks, pictures of us — and read the letter. In these notes to each other we say everything that needs to be expressed more intimately than can be said over a text or a video chat, as well as random thoughts we’ve had that get lost in everyday conversation. We also send care packages to cheer each other up during difficult times. She recently sent me a mixtape of songs relevant to our relationship, and I made one for her, too.