The Post-Collegiate Dating Handbook

Chapter 1: Farewell, College

Senior year of college was a blast. All of your friends were 21, second semester classes were cut short by graduation, and the future looked bright thanks to that stellar internship you nabbed. Only one thing is amiss. You're single, and you now have to say goodbye to friends, sports teams, extracurricular clubs, and lastly that person you had a crush on for years. What's next?

According to the Facebook Data Science study as reported by USA Today, about 28% of college students will marry someone they went to college with. Facebook then noted that this percentage was largely dominated by people who attended a religious institution, or an institution where the percentage of men outnumbered the percentage of women. While this data is drawn from Facebook users only (which still boasts over 1.35 billion active users), the statistic proves that people do indeed meet their future spouses in college. But that still leaves 72% of college grads single.

Being single after graduation is a good thing. You are free to live where you want, explore endless job opportunities, and meet people beyond the comfort zone of a few square miles of campus territory. Many people will argue that being single in your 20s is a privilege, something to be harnessed and cherished, while others are frantically seeking "the one." Others are jaded by dating flops or cheap dating apps, and prefer to stay single. Either way, dating after college is a normal, healthy activity. Dating expands your worldview as you date people from different backgrounds, and most importantly, dating allows you to look inside yourself and define who you are, so that you can be confident when you meet the right person.

Chapter 2: Hookup Culture - to do, or not to do?

In March of 2014, NYU instructor Zhana Vrangalova started The Casual Sex Project, an online collaborative effort to exchange stories of different sexual encounters of the fleeting hookup nature. Stories range from short, innocent flings to raunchy one-night stands, and are exclusively for non-college students. As a sex researcher, Vrangalova knew there were plenty of studies done on the sex and dating lives of college students, but what about life after college? The Casual Sex Project explores the hookup lives of all college grads of various ages, race/ethnicities, genders, and sexual orientations, and is worth reading if you're curious about hookup culture.

Still, hooking up is not for everyone. Many singles prefer not to engage in hookups they deem meaningless. Hookups can allow singles to engage in "no strings attached" intimacy, but many singles feel that hookups don't improve their dating life. When going on dates, know what your intentions are, and what your date's intentions are.

Chapter 3: Factors that Influence Your Dating Life

For better or worse, the following factors will greatly influence the course of your dating life. There's no magic formula that will guarantee you a date by the end of the day, but being aware of your external surroundings and personal choices may help you re-evaluate your habits.

  • Work: Work can positively or negatively affect your dating life. For some, work is a way to network, meet friends, meet friends of those friends, and to pair themselves with like-minded young professionals. For others, work interferes with having a social life, and doesn't allow them to branch out beyond their mundane 9 to 5 lifestyle.
  • Fitness: Regular exercise has numerous benefits that will positively influence your dating life. A healthy adult who takes care of themselves is more attractive to potential partners, and regular exercise increases stimulation and arousal.
  • Proximity: This is known, psychological fact. The closer you are to someone in literal proximity, the more likely you are to spend time with them. People are much more likely to date someone who lives close to them, or someone who is within their circle of local friends.
  • Social Media: Social media apps and websites are increasingly popular, making the dating game easy and accessible, so long as you stay behind your keyboard. Many anti-online-dating proponents will argue that we've lost basic social cues thanks to social media, but social media can be a very smart way to observe your date's behaviors, or find out what your mutual interests are with the click of a button.

Chapter 4: Meet People You Like

Dating isn't hard...when you meet people you like. The more you connect with someone, the easier a date will feel, and the more likely you'll go on a second date. Don't go on a date with someone out of obligation, or because you feel badly saying no. Choose to go on dates you're excited for. Dates that don't give you any negative gut feelings. It's ok to be nervous or to treat the date as a casual outing, but if you're dreading a date with that rude person you met at the bar, chances are you won't enjoy your time together.

Meeting people, of course, is easier said than done. How do you meet people you like? The simplest answer is to go somewhere where you know you'll meet others with similar interests of lifestyle standards. Going to bars and clubs are surefire ways to meet others however, and they may even remind you of your college pursuits, but they are not the only way to connect. You can join athletic clubs (there are many post-collegiate sport teams), sign-up for a charity fundraiser, or join an activist group. You can even join online groups on Facebook, LinkedIn, or community forums for everything from Paleo dieters to reality TV show fanatics, and get tips on local meet-ups or events. It doesn't matter what you like, there are outlets for every kind of interest, both mainstream and obscure.

Chapter 5: Defining Priorities and Values

As a college graduate, you have likely met a variety of people from all over the country, and perhaps all over the world if you studied abroad. Consequently, your perspective on life may have changed, and you may have let go of certain beliefs you grew up with, or fostered new beliefs as a result of your experiences. Many college students report a decline in religion or spirituality, while many others say that college's intellectual atmosphere inspired their belief system. Whatever your experience was, consider these two dating outcomes as you define what's most important to you:

  1. Finding someone with similar values and beliefs: Finding someone who shares similar views on matters such as religion, politics, family values, financial planning and saving, health, nutrition, and even pets, allows you to find common ground.
  2. Finding someone with opposing values and beliefs: You might meet someone who differs from you in many ways. Perhaps they do not want children, but you do. Maybe they're more conservative in their beliefs, but you consider yourself more open-minded. While opposing values and belief systems can certainly clash, it is possible to come to an agreement and learn to love somebody who differs greatly from you.

Chapter 6: The Date

Tips and Tricks for Successful Dates

As a twenty-something college graduate, you should go on dates. Lots of them! The more people you meet, the more you will narrow down what kind of relationship you want, and what kind of relationship you do not want. Try these trick and tips for an enjoyable date experience.

  • Don't cyberstalk before your date. Do you really want to scroll through old high school pictures of your date on Facebook?
  • Dress for success: When you look good, you feel good. Dress up in your favorite attire to feel confident and to wow your date.
  • Break the ice by asking questions. Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school? Questions initiate conversation, and your date will love talking about his or herself.
  • The power of touch: Lightly brushing your date's arm, putting your hand on their shoulder when you laugh, or playfully nudging someone show signs of interest.
  • Be confident. Probably the least attractive quality is when you put yourself down.

Places to Go

Movies and restaurants are so old-fashioned. Try some new, fun places or activities that allow you to do more than sit and stare at a screen, or sit and stare at each other. Be creative with your date selections. Here are some of many ideas:

  • Salsa dancing
  • Cook a meal together
  • See a public speaker or presentation
  • Go on a brewery tour
  • Find a Groupon or Living Social deal you both like
  • Visit an art gallery, take notes, and share your thoughts
  • Go for a trail hike

How to Recover from a Dating Flop

Why do some dates go badly? When a date is unbalanced, one party usually ends up unhappy or annoyed. Dates who talk to much, don't talk at all, are critical, make rude gestures, act bored, lack social etiquette, or come on too strong often don't get a second date. Going on a few bad dates, however, is all part of the dating game. It's best to know what a bad date entails, so that you can be thankful for the good ones.

Recovering from a bad date can be awkward. Ways to combat the dreadful aftermath? Use humor to make jokes about your less than spectacular date. Acknowledge that some situations are out of your control, and that one date does not define the future of your romantic relationships. Take a break from calling or texting your date, and see if it's worth another shot later down the road. If you no longer wish to see the person you're dating, it's best to be honest and up front.

Chapter 7: Knowing When to Pursue, and When to Let Go

Ah, you've reached the point where things could start getting serious. It's round 3 of date night, and you're more excited than you've ever been. This is a relationship worth pursuing. But how do you know when to keep going, or when to let go? Basic social cues, attraction, and gut feelings should give you obvious hints and confirm whether or not you like someone. Consider these additional tips to spur you forward, or let you re-evaluate a relationship you might not want to get into.

Yes, go on another date!

  • You frequently exchange text messages and are already connected an various social media outlets. You even "like" each other's posts.
  • Your values match up, and you both feel grounded in your beliefs.
  • You have mutual friends or acquaintances you might be able to hang out with.
  • Your best qualities and interests are enhanced/highlighted when you're around this person

No, hit the brakes.

  • You're unable to laugh with each other, or when you do, it's forced.
  • You feel uncomfortable being intimate.
  • Your date acts needy, and grows resentful when contact is limited.
  • You do not trust your date, or your date does not trust you
  • You're not attracted to your date, but you feel compelled to give it a try

At the end of the day, dating is a highly subjective, unique experience. It depends on what kind of dating relationship you are looking for, your sexual identity, your intimacy expectations, and your availability. Not all dates need to have an end goal of a lasting relationship. Use dates wisely as a way to appreciate and learn about other people, and most importantly, to discover your confidence by simply being yourself.

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