Takeaway: Post-college dating comes with a different set of challenges and freedoms, but the best part is, you don’t have to figure it all out by yourself!
In college, finding people to date is fairly simple and straightforward. It’s easier to meet like-minded people because there’s a built-in social scene and plenty of groups, clubs, and activities to join.
Life – and dating – after college is a different experience in many ways. Getting involved in social scenes requires more effort because you have to go out and search for the community, people, and places you want to be involved with.
In addition, it may be your first time holding down a full-time job, coupled with more financial and life responsibilities. Figuring out how to date suddenly intersects with learning how to live and succeed in “the real world,” and this can feel like a lot of work and pressure.
And all of this is okay! As you develop more life and relational skills, you’ll have a better feel for who you are in the world – and how to navigate things like who and how you want to date.
As a therapist for 20-somethings I’ve seen so many young women struggle with the post-college dating scene. Learning how to date after college can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be shrouded in mystery. Here are some of my best tips on navigating dating after college that have helped my clients.
Dating after college is different from dating in a younger phase of life. Post-college dating comes with a different set of challenges and freedoms.
One thing about post-college life that’s both challenging and freeing is that you’ll need to put effort into finding and maintaining satisfying communities. Finding groups of people who share your passions and hobbies isn’t a given anymore. If you want to meet people to date, you’ll have to expand your circle of friends and acquaintances.
Balancing work and dating can also be a challenge. When you’re just out of college, you may find yourself totally in charge of all your own time for the first time in your life. Learning to find a good work-life balance takes time, but it’s an important skill to develop.
Don’t be afraid to get involved in hobbies and activities outside of work in order to meet new people. Taking part in activities in your area is a fun way to make friends, learn new skills, and find like-minded people to date.
After college, you’re still developing your sense of identity, values, and who you want to be in the world.
Be gracious with yourself as you learn who you are and what you want. Your values, beliefs, and sense of identity will drive many of your decisions after you graduate, including dating. However, these take time to develop and may change as you learn and grow. So don’t put too much pressure on yourself to get it “right.” Do what feels right for you, and allow yourself to explore and experiment with dating after college.
The best part is, there are no rules when it comes to dating after college! You get to decide what you want your dating life to look like.
Not sure when to have sex with someone for the first time?
Don’t know whether to introduce a date to your friends or family?
Curious about exploring an open relationship?
Use your best judgment as an inner compass for these questions, and be willing to learn and change as you gain more experience. As long as you keep comfort, safety, honest communication, and consent in mind, you get to do whatever you want. After all, it’s your life and your relationships.
And if you aren’t sure whether you’re on the same page about something with your date, just ask them. It can feel vulnerable and awkward to be direct with people you’re attracted to, but being direct is much easier (and less likely to lead to unwanted drama) than beating around the bush, making assumptions, or trying to read someone else’s mind.
Finding people to date requires putting yourself out there and opening yourself to new experiences. This can feel awkward, but with practice, it gets easier.
The more time you spend doing things you enjoy, the more likely you’ll find someone in those communities to date. If you like going to the gym, strike up a conversation with someone you always lock eyes with across the room. Or if you love painting, join a local artist club on Facebook. You never know what may lead to a lasting friendship or a dating opportunity.
Being introduced to friends of friends can also be a great way to find dates. If your friend wants to set you up on a blind date with their friend, be open to that. You shouldn’t do anything you’re uncomfortable with or that feels unsafe, of course, but being open to new experiences is an effective way to meet people to date.
There are also plenty of dating apps out there. Once you leave college it can be hard to meet people, and these dating apps can be really helpful for finding people you may not otherwise have had a chance to meet.
Don’t be afraid to make the first move and ask someone out. In this scenario, the worst-case situation is rejection. Rejection can feel like a personal failure, but don’t attach your self-worth to the outcome of your dates or inquiries.
Rejection doesn’t mean anything about you or your value as a human. Facing your fear of rejection will help you build resilience and confidence when it comes to dating. Working with a therapist can help you build these skills.
In order to enjoy post-college dating, you’ll have to ask yourself who you are, what your values are, and what you want out of a relationship.
Consider what you want when it comes to dating:
Maybe you’re not ready for a serious relationship, and you want to date around to see what it’s like. Maybe you want to date multiple people at once so you can figure out what you want in a partner. Or maybe you want multiple committed partners at a time. And maybe you don’t know what you want. That’s okay, too. Working with a therapist can help you sort through your dating desires.
What you want will ultimately guide who you will date. For example, if you’re looking for a long-term, loving relationship, you should seek out a partner based on things like emotional compatibility, shared values, and mutual respect. Without these qualities, a long-term relationship won’t be able to survive.
If you want to explore what’s out there and have casual fun, then you can simply focus on partners who you feel safe with and who make you feel good. You don’t need to focus as much on shared values because that’s not as important in short-term relationships.
There are no wrong or right ways to date someone, so whatever you decide you want is okay. But make sure you’re on the same page as who you’re dating about things like exclusivity and relationship expectations.
Lack of communication in a relationship can lead to feelings of hurt and betrayal, so make sure you’re having regular check-ins and conversations with one another about what each of you wants and needs. This is important in any relationship, whether it’s a one-night stand or a five-year committed partnership.
Building up the skills, resilience, and healthy coping mechanisms to have a fun and successful dating life takes effort. It can take a lot of trial and error before you figure out what you want from your dating life – and that’s okay. As long as you act with good intentions and do your best, you’ll have experiences that will help you learn and grow. And the best part is, you don’t have to figure it all out by yourself.
Dating after college can be confusing, stressful, and difficult to manage. You don’t have to navigate it alone.
Talking to a therapist can help you understand what you want from the post-college dating scene. It can also help you build the necessary life skills, confidence, and emotional resilience for successful relationships. Together we will work through your values, interests, and desires and you’ll walk away feeling more resilient and better equipped to handle any dating situation.
If you’d like to learn more about how therapy can help you figure out how to date after college, reach out today (I help teens and adults in the state of New York). I also launched my first online course for anxiety management called “The Path to Peace.” This course gives you easy, step by step evidence based strategies to help you manage worry thoughts and anxious feelings so you can feel more confident and secure when taking on new challenges that may make you feel nervous, such as dating! You can check out The Path to Peace here!
Justine is a licensed mental health counselor with a private practice in White Plains, NY. She helps teenagers, young adults and families struggling with anxiety, depression, family conflict and relationship issues. Justine is also the host of the podcast Thoughts From the Couch.