Casual sex is way up at college campuses, but students are hardly dating at all. This should all sound pretty familiar, if you’re an urban dweller.

In terms of dating conditions, colleges are starting to look more and more like the cities populated by twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings.

Think of college the college campus as a mini-city. Like the ambitious, career-driven people who move to New York, students come to college to study, get internships, network, and party. City dwellers juggle work and networking and socializing and parties; college students juggle school and internships and socializing and parties. Both groups are fairly transient: people move to and from cities all the time, pursuing jobs and other opportunities. Students are also constantly on the move, studying abroad, leaving campus for vacations and internships. For a relationship to survive in these conditions takes serious commitment: something that most city dwellers and students aren’t really ready to give.

And then there’s the gender makeup of the environment itself — women outnumber men in most cities and college campuses. (According to a US Census, women made up 56% of college students in 2020.) In situations where women have to compete for men, the men don’t have to try as hard. If sex is cheap and available to them, they don’t have to work for it. And work, in this case, often means “date”.

This isn’t to say that the women are swanning around their dorm rooms or apartments, moaning about being single. They’re pursing their goals, they’re enjoying independent and autonomous lives, and they’re having sex with more frequency and freedom than has ever been afforded to their mothers and grandmothers.

But eventually, men and women in colleges and cities usually decide that they’d like to try something a little more substantial, a little more permanent, and no one quite knows how to liaise a casual hookup to a lasting relationship.

Where do people learn how to date? Definitely not in college.

In those four years of education, of learning organic chemistry and Virgil and how to live on your own and how to do your laundry and how to drink and how to walk home to your dorm room in the morning with your dignity intact, and how to get an essay in on time, and how much Red Bull is enough, and how to flirt, and annotate, and smoke and dissect: in all those years, people have neglected to learn how to date.

And the first years in cities aren’t any better: people are focused on their new jobs, new apartments, new friends, and the new city that’s at their feet.

But dating can fit right in with busy collegiate and urban lives. That new exhibit opening? Bring a date. That dorky lecture that you secretly really do want to go to? Find a date to go with you. Lunch on your day off? Study session in the library? Happy hour? Frat party? Bar opening? Date, date, date, date, date.

Romance can be just as analogous to busy, ambitious lives as working or studying or partying. It’s there, it fits, it just takes practice. But it is important to start relating and interacting with people on that important middle-ground between friendship and hooking-up. Maybe it will turn into something more serious, and maybe it won’t. But with a date, at least there’s a good start.

[USA Today]

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