Dating in college is something that can be approached in a variety of ways. Some students find themselves in serious relationships while others enjoy being single. There are even several different ways to meet a potential significant other in the 21st century, especially with the prevalence of technology and dating apps that can be downloaded for free.
Erin Sumner, assistant professor of human communication and theatre, teaches classes on interpersonal communication and specializes in research about the role of technology in relationships, such as text messaging, social media and online dating.
“The changing nature of dating, and what counts as dating in general, is something that’s getting a lot of attention right now,” Sumner said. “There’s some scholars who hold the perspective that dating is dead””that’s literally the terminology they use.”
Sumner does not necessarily agree with this view. She believes that people are still dating, just a little bit differently than they used to.
“You’re seeing more group dates where people arrange to hang out, but not in a one-on-one setting,” Sumner said.
The way romantic relationships are defined is also something Sumner believes has changed over time, and the concept of friends with benefits and hookups is becoming more socially accepted.
“In class, when I say the words “˜go steady,’ everyone just giggles, but why is that a ridiculous thing to say? That just means that two people are together in a committed relationship,” Sumner said. “A lot of people, particularly college-aged, are too afraid to have that conversation, so they’re together but haven’t labeled themselves, which provides a lot of ambiguity and they don’t really know what the situation is.”
Many students agree with Sumner’s observations about the dating culture at colleges.
“I think the reason why so many college students are in relationships without titles is because it’s easier to get out of,” said senior Jamie Banks. “I think a lot of the time, people are afraid to make relationships official in their younger college years and as they mature a little bit they realize they might want a more serious relationship.”
Long-distance relationships are very prevalent on a lot of college campuses in different forms. Some students pursue long-distance relationships during the school year while others are together most of the year and have to spend summer break apart.
Banks has been in a long-distance relationship for eight and a half months with her boyfriend who attends the University of Arizona.
“Although it’s not ideal, a long-distance relationship can be a great option if you like the person enough,” Banks said. “You also have a lot more time to spend on school, on your friends and on your extracurriculars.”
While online dating is becoming more popular for college students, the main demographic of online users is within the 30-50 age group.
“I feel like people at Trinity use Tinder more than any other form of online dating, but I don’t know anyone who’s met someone on Tinder for a serious relationship,” said senior Leia Unger.
Unger has been dating first year Miles Wehner for six and a half months, but they both understand why some people might choose to pursue romantic relationships outside of “the Trinity bubble.”
“I know in my four years here, all of my friends have complained about dating being really hard because Trinity is so small and you kind of just become friends with people,” Unger said. “It would be awkward to date them, or you know someone else who has dated them, so I just think Trinity being a small school is kind of difficult.”
Sumner agrees and believes that social networks play a large role in dating.
“If your relationship doesn’t have the support of your social network, whether it’s family or friends, then your social network might try to tear it apart,” Sumner said. “At Trinity, since everyone is in such a tight space and gets to know each other so well, any dating or breakups are going to play out within the entire Trinity community for anyone who knows the people involved.”
There are also a lot of college students who are just not interested in dating at all or who want to wait a while before they start engaging in serious relationships.
“A lot of what’s going on in college in particular is just a lot of uncertainty about who you are and what the nature of relationships is,” Sumner said. “People are dating for the first time as adults without their parents telling them when they can go out and who they can see, so there’s a lot more of figuring things out. Discovering new things about yourself also changes how you want to date others and who you might want to date.”