The Difficulty of Being in a Relationship in College

What’s true for relationships born out of dating books is true for college students: you have to love yourself before you can love someone else.

As cheesy as that sounds, people go through a lot of change and self-discovery in college. They also want companionship, but don’t always know how to balance that change with that desire.

BU Health & Wellness Center's monthlong series on sexual awareness | photo courtesy of BU Today
BU Health & Wellness Center’s monthlong series on sexual awareness | Photo courtesy of BU Today

In a study by the American Psychology Association, 60 to 80 percent of college students have had a hookup, but 63 to 83 percent of college students would prefer a traditional relationship to an uncommitted relationship. The study shows that although many college students enjoy flings, many students also desire a steady relationship.

Boston University alumni is considered one of the most dateable, but going on a date does not always translate to being in a relationship.

Dr. Emily Nagoski, a PhD sex educator and author of “Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life,” broke down what it takes to be in a relationship, by focusing first on how students need to take a look at themselves.

“The process of becoming an adult is the process of taking on responsibility for meeting your own needs,” said Dr. Nagoski.

She recently spoke to students in BU’s red brick School of Education. The event was sponsored by BU’s Student Services as part of “Frisky February,” a monthlong series of events promoting sexual health.

Dr. Nagoski said that it is important to be in control of your feelings before you begin a relationship. Many students enter their first “real” relationship in college. They may feel shy and nervous, as these feelings are often very new.

Students tend to feel the need to hide their emotions in a relationship, but that won’t help us feel better, she said.

“When you experience difficult feelings, recognizing that is what makes you part of humanity, part of common humanity, helps with dealing with it,” she said.

It is also best to be non-judgmental in a relationship, Dr. Nagoski said. When you are non-judgmental, you will notice what’s around you, which would allow you to accept yourself and accept others, in a calm, compassionate way.

A misconception is that gender influences the outcome of a relationship. “Women are insecure and anxious,” is an example, she said, rolling her eyes. “That is the cultural stereotype…there is zero difference.”

What really matter is kindness and generosity, which are traits that lead to a successful relationship, says a study.

When you open yourself to your partner, your partner is likely to feel worthy of your trust, a trait that Dr. Nagoski explained is “when you feel confident that the other person will max your benefits as long as it doesn’t cost them.”

The maximum benefit is when partners can trust one another, she said. If you are in a relationship, you want to not have to worry about anything and focus on just spending time together.

It can be difficult for students to think about being in a relationship when they are focused on the long-term academic and career goals. While you may not be ready for a relationship, Dr. Nagoski also emphasized that there is also nothing wrong with being single and loving yourself.

Michelle Cheng

Michelle Cheng

Michelle Cheng (COM '17) is the Managing Editor of The Quad. She writes about higher education, digital culture and lifestyle. She has previously interned at Forbes, New York Family and Upworthy. Reach her at mbcheng@buquad.com

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