‘I’m going with the flow’: how to navigate dating at university | Universities

Finding love doesn’t count towards your final grade at university, yet for many it’s an integral part of the experience. With students often living in halls and then moving to adjacent streets in second and third year, there is plenty of opportunity to meet people and enjoy some local, old-fashioned romance.

But according to Tinder, 18- to 25-year-olds are embracing a no-pressure style of dating, with 80% saying that their own self-care is their top priority. With a surplus of options available online, is anyone keen to settle down on campus? And if they are, is it worth investing time and energy in a long-term relationship during these precious years of self-discovery?

Where to meet
Although freshers are more likely to meet people in halls or on their course (which can be ill-advised because you’re stuck with them for three years), it’s rare for students to meet in a real-life setting, like at a club night or house party, and enter into a long-term relationship. Most people just use apps.

Students often match online but never say a word to each other. Perhaps it’s too awkward or you don’t know what to say, but the upside is you’ll both know that you find each other attractive if you bump into them when you’re out.

If you do end up arranging to meet, be aware that your date might cancel at last minute – so confirm the meeting time and place on the day. “You decide to go for drinks at a set date and time, but literally, right before, just ghost and don’t reply. I’ve done that,” says 21-year-old Louis Rudnicki, who studies English and drama at Manchester University. Don’t take it personally – dating is fun, he says, but it can be hard psyching yourself up to sustain conversation with a stranger when it could go really horribly.

Endless scrolling can leave you feeling disillusioned. Rudnicki says there can be a sense of detachment with dating apps where people are just in it for casual flings and there is “no real desire” to get to know someone. Take a break if you need it.

Alternatively, meeting through extracurricular pursuits is a way to avoid this. Northumbria student Liv Bird, 24, met her boyfriend of four years, Tom, at the musical theatre society. “It’s a place to meet like-minded people. A lot of my friends have found relationships this way.”

Be open-minded
Students often find themselves in situationships, which are informal relationships without commitment. Erin Botten, a 22-year-old second-year history and sociology student, says casual dating like this can be a change from having a boyfriend or girlfriend in sixth form. “If you ignored someone or got with someone else, you’d be held more accountable in a year group of 200. At uni, no one cares. Everyone carries on hanging out with them.”

With many more people to choose from, it’s also easy to be put off by minor things, but there’s value in keeping an open mind. “There’s this whole ‘ick’ culture,” says Rudnicki. “I absolutely hate musical theatre and if their profile says ‘my ideal date is going to watch Wicked’, then I’m immediately going to say no. But say we met at a bar, I wouldn’t know that or could overlook it.”

Stay safe
If you do end up going on a date with a stranger, then a lot of trust is involved. Meet in a public place and tell a housemate or friend where you are. “One guy tried to walk me back to his flat with no mention of it,” says Botten.

Some students allow their friends to see their location on Snapmaps or Find My Friends. Although it means you can see if someone has stayed somewhere they shouldn’t, it also enables your friends to look out for you. Be mindful of how many people, and who, have access to it.

Most universities also offer consent training and talks on topics such as female pleasure, as well as having anonymous reporting tools for inappropriate behaviour on and off campus. Be careful, too, of drugs and alcohol, as they can create situations that feel out of control. Amanda Major, head of service quality and clinical practice at Relate, says although life is there to be experienced, make sure it’s on your terms. “Whether you’ve had loads of sex before you go or nothing, don’t be rushed by anybody.”

Find your community
In-house dating options, such as Tinder Uni, make it easier to connect with other students and Hinge voice notes and prompts (short questions that allow you to showcase who you are) can be a fun way to meet people with the same sense of humour or interests.

For queer students who don’t feel confident going on dates outside campus, which can be especially hard at rural universities, LGBTQ+ societies are safe places to be your authentic self. Look out for queer spaces in your town or city too, including non-drinking options such as queer yoga, LGBT gyms and book clubs. For support, Jay Brown, president of Queen Margaret University students’ union, recommends engaging with wellbeing services. “They will listen without prejudice.”

Go at your own pace
According to Rudnicki, there can be a fixation with finding a partner towards the end of the third year. “The panic sets in of ‘oh god, I haven’t really had a proper relationship’, I’ve got my dissertation happening. It’s time for me to settle down.”

For Rudnicki, who saw second year as purely for having fun, this approach has worked out. “I’ve got a girlfriend, Hinge is deleted on my phone and I’ve just graduated. I’m fully committed.”

Others think if you’ve got a connection with someone, there’s no point waiting until the end. “I got with Tom halfway through my degree and although it’s fun to meet new people, it’s nice to have someone who helps motivate you, someone to go to the library with and have that person that you can rely on,” says Bird.

Botten, who is casually dating, says she’s just going with the flow. “If it turns into something then great, if it doesn’t then it’s not the end of the world. I’ll get a better sense of self by the end of it, no matter how well or badly it goes.”



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