By: MEgan Weimar
I call them The Wonder Years. No, I’m not talking about the 1980s social drama featuring that catchy Joe Cocker cover in the intro. The Wonder Years is that definitive era between effortlessly cartwheeling through college and the fiery demise of marriage and child-rearing. Twenty-somethings often find themselves cut loose from the ever-fruitful safety web of university advisors, family insurance policies, and co-ed extracurriculars and find themselves asking, “Where will I start my career?”, “How do I manage my own health/car insurance?”, “What type of viable living quarters exist outside of student housing?” It’s tough at first; no more pre-determined schedules, no more assigned roommates, no more Thirsty Thursdays. That’s right, no more Thirsty Thursdays.
So how do grown-ups manage to date without the constant social engagement of club promotions, Spring Breaks, and the oh-so-romantic Western Civ group project? Like Charlie Sheen’s Facebook relationship status probably still says, “It’s Complicated,” but here are five cornerstone tips that will help you survive dating after college.
#1: You don’t have to be subjected to unwarranted advice about your love life.
This rule is directed to your self-appointed wedding counsel. We all got ‘em. Grandmothers, aunts, your boss’ wife, your elderly neighbor, Susan from the IGA; they feel it is their own divine prophecy to constantly remind you that your biological clock is ticking and to introduce you to any and every loosely screened bi-ped with a soft pulse and a necktie. Let’s get one thing straight: there is no greater time to be yourself and have some fun than after college. Maybe you let go of your high school sweetheart in college. Maybe you dated around or experimented a little. But things were simple then. You’ve been around the block now and you don’t want a vodka cranberry from looky-loo in the Croakies and pastel Polo. Spread your wings, sample the fares, and trot the globe of the dating world to the voice of your own narrative.
#2: It’s not going to be a cake walk.
Yeah, you heard me. Sure, sometimes the mega babe from the pharmacy next door cruises into your Starbucks, orders a Caramel Macchiato, loves how you spelled her name right and asks you out for Ruth’s Chris and some froyo. But the lack of abundant social interface so easily provided by classes, clubs, and athletics can dry that wishing well right up. For a little while you can cling to the university watering hole while praying your dad’s pattern baldness doesn’t make an early appearance under your favorite Panama fedora. But soon enough the sad cadence of Ladies Nights and last calls will present the profound realization that bar-hopping freaking sucks.
Don’t let it deter you. What are your interests? Outdoorsy folks looking to meet new people can find geo-caching teams, hiking groups and kickball or disc golf enthusiasts to jive with. Lovers of fine cuisine can find themselves surrounded by fellow foodies in exciting cooking classes, culinary excursions and sustainable gardening clubs. What about our literature-centered seekers? Most cities have several weekly themed trivia shows, book clubs, and board-game nights. Join a community-based gym like CrossFit or Orange Theory if you want a little encouragement and support with a side of hot bod. Religious groups are always willing to match like-minded worshipers if The Spirit moves you. Hey, and if you’re looking for something a little more direct, there are always top singles events going on in your area.
#3: DO NOT TALK TO STRANGERS ON THE INTERNET
Oops! Wrong blog. It’s not 1999 anymore, everyone is plugged in now! We’ll never be safe from creeps and cretins honestly, but tons of normal, awesome people use online dating websites these days. Let’s refer back to #2 for a minute and let me remind you that dating can be a challenge, regardless of the ease of access we have these days, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun too.
Be realistic. Tinder and Grindr are mostly used for hook-ups. If that’s what you’re looking for, by all means, please proceed! However, if you are looking to date and get to know someone before throwing your cares to the wind and doing the horizontal polka, don’t send the wrong signal by signing up for a site that lets you do or ditch someone based on their profile pic and their willingness to join a raunchy app.
While there are plenty of vultures on Plenty of Fish and OK Cupid, these free sites tend to have more serious lookers as well. It helps to join a couple of apps so you can see who’s desperately trolling the web space and who’s looking to meet someone outside of his or her 8-5 job. I had two gorgeous girlfriends after college who constantly dated on POF and OKC. Online dating sounded desperate to me. They were so attractive and smart, I couldn’t see why they didn’t just meet people out and about. They insisted there were plenty of normal, genuine people who were tired of the bar scene, and they were right. Teachers, close office staff, military personnel and those who work overnights are often stuck in routines where they never interact with people in the dating pool and these apps are great even for folks who are just plain shy.
And of course, Match.com and eHarmony can’t go without mention here. These apps are inclined to present more people looking to weed out the womanizers and barflies and possibly settle down in the future. Members pay a premium to use these services and generally know what they are looking for in a mate. No harm in just perusing if you’ve had poor luck elsewhere, even if you just sign up to see what’s out there first!
Here are some online dating website resources:
For your standard dating pool these sites serve well and offer a variety of services from free to subscription membership:
For more demographic-specific settings:
For no-strings attached:
#4: There are going to be bad ones.
This one doesn’t come with much fluff. Some dates are going to tank. Between mama’s boys and babes with baggage, there always remains space for halitosis, hoarders, and hypochondriacs to soil a perfectly good date. People are gross and weird, and sometimes you don’t find out until the first or second date. It often starts out great; you’ll find yourself waist deep in a captivating evening, playfully joking and enjoying the ambiance when suddenly a racist or sexist utterance escapes from his lips or she’s downright nasty to the service staff. So be it. Consider this a valuable learning experience and let it teach you how to reject people. It only takes a few awkward instances to beef up your bull crap buzzer, so once you see the gold digging or the crotch talk coming up, excuse yourself from the scenario and tap out.
#5: Look out for Numero Uno.
There will be no other time in your life like this one to discover the elements of your existence and find whatever it is that paints the mural of your soul. Date around, find your soulmate, stay single, or fly by the seat of your pants. The post-college age is tantamount to autonomy and independence. Wander away to Burning Man. Join a sustainable commune in Hawaii. Shove off and drop anchor in a brand new city. The journey into adulthood can be magnificent and liberating, but you can’t be naïve. Being away from campus does not mean you are safe from date rape, STDs, and unexpected pregnancies much less other standard horrors of the real world. Wrap it up, don’t leave safe spaces with someone you don’t know, and HAVE A BACKUP PLAN. There are many terrible people out there who endorse dangerous and malevolent practices and nothing says “buzzkill” like an avoidable tribulation or tragedy.
Unsuspecting romantics are susceptible to anything from scam artists and sociopaths to date rapists and sex traffickers but even in the rarest worst case scenario, notifying at least a couple of friends about who you are with and where you are going before you meet can be paramount. The use of tracking apps and personal safety armaments like mace or a small knife is definitely not out of the question. A couple of other really good details to provide your loved ones with include the following:
Lastly, do you have a friend recommending a blind date? Cool! Make it a double or let your buddy introduce you two somewhere neutral first. Do not subscribe to something you are unfamiliar and uncomfortable with, regardless of how awkward or rude it may seem to back out. Declining situations and making unpopular decisions is part of taking care of yourself. You don’t have to be insensitive, but you do have to be safe.
Here are some safety resources that might be useful:
PC World and The Connection have a great list of "Watch over me" apps, which will report your live GPS location to a list of friends and family if you fail to answer a notification during a predetermined time period. Some of these applications allow users to immediately notify police of their location by opening the program and holding a button. Others establish periodic check-ins and even have features capable of alerting authorities in the event that someone else commandeers your phone in a crisis.
Sometimes dating dangers can occur after you've been seeing someone for a while. There have been many cases of stalking or forced entry after someone gets a little too into it and one party no longer wants the other around. These last two suggestions are last resort ideas that can help you get help discretely without audibly dialing 911 and having to describe your location.
NextDoor, which immediately sends alerts to dozens of people who are in your immediate vicinity, can be used to ask neighbors to people look out for someone or even send an SOS if you need help from someone close by.
Additionally, Waze, a navigation app, allows you to send your planned route and actual location to people on your friends list while traveling. Whether you're going on a date, a day trip, or a hike, you can disable sounds and let your parents and roommates know you're going to send them some pings throughout your trip. At the very least if you lose communication for whatever reason, your loved ones have an idea where you were going.
All-in-all, dating after college is a crapshoot. You win some, you lose some, and you drown some in whiskey and Whataburger. But regardless of all of the trial and error, the passion and pitfalls of your twenties helps pave the way for healthy relationships in the future. Most of us don’t end up marrying the frat find from Thirsty Thursday. Get by with a little help from your friends and leave the lectures behind you—there is no syllabus to life and your biological clock comes with snooze, people!