In my years as an undergrad, I made a lot of mistakes—and put in a lot of energy attempting to navigate the confusing word of dating post college. Sometimes I learned right away when I made a mistake—while other bad habits took me years to break.
I’m back on campus again these days—but this time not as a student. And on campus I can't help but overhear the students conversations about dating. Most of the time I just smile and remember what it was like to be 20 years old. Other times, I cringe hearing some of the things they are dealing with.
It often prompts me to reflect on how much I've changed, only a few years later. And reminds me how glad I am that I learned how to date like an adult—and found my husband as a result.
Wondering how far you have come since graduation? Here are 5 signs you're still dating like you are back in college.
01. You spend too much time overthinking texts.
A few months ago, as I was standing in line on campus to get glasses for the solar eclipse, a group of freshman girls lined up behind me. They giggled together as they analyzed a texting conversation one young woman was having with a guy she met the previous weekend. Among topics of discussion were when to text him back (not too soon, of course!) and what to say to be as coy as possible.
In my opinion, this is the number one red flag of immature dating. This young woman was not at all concerned about being herself or getting to know the guy she was texting. She appeared to be primarily interested in pushing the line of how long she could keep his interest while presenting herself as uninterested as possible. I remember this act all too well—and remember girls doing it with guys they were genuinely interested in, as well as guys they wanted to keep around, for the sake of their egos.
While flirting is fun, breadcrumbing is a sign that you're still dating like a kid for kicks, not like an adult looking for real love.
02. Trying to make him jealous is a wooing tactic.
With the abundance of single men on campus, it is all-too-easy to use this method when trying to get a guy’s attention. In my experience, it might work to get someone’s attention, but rarely as a way to ignite an actual relationship.
That said, this is actually something I see women even older than me still doing. And sure, maybe it does sometimes yields results. But are they the results you want? Too often it backfires, and even if you can get him to react to the situation, it's never as fruitful as letting things develop more authentically.
It can be intimidating to be honest about where you hope a relationship is going, but it’s better than trying to manipulate the poor guy into action out of ego or jealousy.
03. You don’t go on actual dates.
No, a date doesn’t have to be a candlelit dinner or a trip to the movies—but actual dates are so important!
When I was in college, I tried to get to know guys by going to parties they hosted or, if it was really serious, silently studying in the library together. My one serious boyfriend and I would go to the dining hall for dinner together, but even there, we were likely to be interrupted by friends. As an adult, this might look like meeting up in larger friend groups, or overdoing ‘Netflix and chill’ instead of exploring other interests together.
Getting to know someone in a group setting isn’t bad, but it’s hard to advance a serious relationship without spending one-on-one time together to talk and really come to understand each other and see how your personal interactions happen when you're alone.
Consider going for a walk, a breakfast date before work, or trying something new together to really find out if you guys can connect during the everyday.
04. You think attention is more valuable than personal relationships.
Valuing the attention I received from the relationship, more so than the relationship itself, was possibly the biggest mistake I made in college when it came to dating. And it’s a mistake I am constantly reminded of when I see female students walking across campus in 20-degree weather in a tiny dress, no coat, and strappy heels. Brr.
Don’t get me wrong, I love getting dressed up for dates—especially for my husband! But it wasn't until I learned that it mattered much less about one's physical appeal, and much more about being one's true self, that I really started to date better. This might sound obvious, but it can be hard in the college culture to realize that looks can only go so far. Sure, I might have turned a few heads at a bar or house party, but that attention was fleeting; it was when I was able to connect with men through conversation that revealed who we were as people, that really sustained interest.
So yeah, go ahead—definitely look nice and present yourself beautifully. But don't put too much energy into trying to wow others with just your exterior because what's inside will be what really intrigues and allows for connection.
05. You end relationships by ghosting.
There’s nothing like hearing a girl in the dining hall advise her friend, “Just don’t respond.” Who knows what they were actually talking about, but if it was to ward off a potential suitor, that is never the right way to go.
No matter how old you are, the best thing to do is be upfront if you aren’t interested. It’s a sign of maturity. As Kathleen Mesterharm tells Verily, ridding herself of her ghosting habits also taught her how to handle uncomfortable conversations with grace in other parts of her life, too. "No matter our relationship status, we all should strive to put out into the world what we want to get back." Amen.
Sometimes, college can seem like a faraway land of bad mistakes and embarrassing gaffs. But as we grow up, it's important that we face those mistakes and grow from them. Just as your resume evolves, your dating habits need to mature, too.