Relationships at University: From a Student Who's Been Through it!
Updated: Apr 14, 2021
With the end of Covid-related restrictions beginning to appear on the horizon, I hope for the freshers of 2021 that the ‘university experience’ will be much closer to normality. With that said, everything about moving away from home is a big change, not least if you’re moving into student accommodation. Sharing a house or flat with people you’ve never met before is a whirlwind of an experience all on its own, but I think it’s worth discussing intimate, romantic and sexual relationships as well. Navigating friendships and relationships is a skill you learn over time, but there are definitely some hard mistakes that you could end up making along the way. Having a partner while you’re studying can be fraught with difficulties at times, so I thought I would share some insight into what I’ve learnt since becoming a fresher in 2016.
I’d say that the majority of relationships have moved online this year, and mine was no exception, but it’s also worth thinking about whether it’s wise to continue your current relationship after you make the move to university. Unfortunately, I can’t give you an answer on whether it’s advisable to split or to stay together, but there are a few questions to ask:
· Are we suited to a long-distance relationship?
· Do we trust eachother to remain faithful?
· How will visiting work, and how often are we planning to see eachother?
I’ve seen relationships weather the years, but honestly, most fall apart before the start of the second semester. Some find that they don’t want to be tied down, or struggle to manage visiting when studying a challenging course. Expectations may change once you’re there and settled in, and I’ve seen many relationships crumble simply because the distance made a partner realise that they weren’t that interested. It’s a difficult conversation to negotiate for sure, but if you are going to embark on a relationship while at separate universities, it’s really important to set out clear expectations for eachother to minimise heartbreak. Honesty really is the best policy, so if you decide that you want to head to university as a single person, you must discuss this with your partner as soon as it’s appropriate.
[[This is my partner, Dan. We met at university while sharing a flat together, and have been together for 18 months at time of writing. We're currently long-distance, but lived in university accommodation and dated whilst living alongside others. Flatmate relationships are possible, and it's a great test for the future!]]
No matter where your partner is located, it’s important to balance study and your time together. Forcing a partner to neglect their work, or guilt tripping them to hang out with you is toxic and manipulative and will cause a lot of bad feeling on both sides. If you’re studying different courses, take the time to explain your workload as well as any work commitments or friendships you want to maintain. Alone time is important too, so don’t be afraid to vocalise that you need time away. If you live together, this can be a little more complicated, but I promise you that it’s possible to maintain a healthy relationship while putting boundaries in place.
There are many negative connotations surrounding starting a relationship with a fellow flatmate, but in my opinion, it’s really none of their business, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make the effort to make people more comfortable.
Some tips for maintaining a relationship within a flat are:
· Be upfront with your flatmates. It’s hard to keep many secrets in such a small place, and after a few drinks it’s sure to come out anyway. Whether it’s something casual or you’ve put a label on it, just let everyone know.
· Make time for your flatmates. Becoming ‘the couple’ can sometimes alienate others, and you might not even realise that you’re doing it. Make sure to spend time with your flatmates both together and apart and be upfront about any time where you may need the kitchen for yourselves. If you don’t have a friendship with your flatmates, it’s even more important to be clear about sharing a space, as otherwise you might cause some upset if they feel they can’t use a communal area while you’re there.
· Ask for respect and set some boundaries. A lot of people will be wary of your relationship, as they might be concerned about how the dynamic of the flat may be affected if you were to split from your partner. While this is understandable, repeatedly moaning about your relationship is bound to get old, so be gentle and firm and explain that what you do is none of their business, and don’t be afraid to shut down teasing if it annoys you.
· Accept that not everyone will be okay with it. I found that most people were respectful, if a little surprised, but there was one flatmate who was not so kind. I surmised it was probably out of jealously, or a reaction to some personal things going on in their life, so tried not to take it too personally. After explaining that their comments were unkind, we minimised contact with that person and the problem eventually resolved itself.
· Be appropriate. Sexual acts don’t ever need to happen in a communal space. I can’t believe I have to say this, but walking in on intimate activities in your own home is awkward at best, and offensive at worst. Keep clothed in communal spaces and be wary of noise levels.
The most important thing to remember is that not everyone in your flat will be your best friend for life. Putting up with someone who doesn’t approve of your relationship can be irritating, but there’s no pressure to live with them next year. Be firm, and don’t be afraid to let them know if they’re being offensive.
If you’re dating someone who lives outside of your flat, these tips still apply, so make sure to ask them to be respectful to the people who call your flat home. Some of your flatmates may be uncomfortable with having strangers inside their space, so make sure to introduce your partner so you can clear up any confusion. I find that dressing appropriately, not disturbing anyone else and making sure to be tidy are easy ways to make your presence minimal and unobtrusive if you’re visiting. It might be useful to set out some rules for visitors when you’ve all arrived, and then the air is clear for the rest of the year.
This is vital for maintaining trust and communication. Use protection and get tested for STIs. It’s an awkward topic, but diseases do run rampant around universities. I’ve never caught anything, but I know that it’s an easy way to get a bad reputation right off the bat. Stay clean and be honest with potential partners about your level of activity, and if you’re not sure, just walk away!
Make sure to look after each other while out at night, and ensure that no-one leaves with a partner that you don’t know unless they are sober. I don’t care how boring that sounds, but you can’t consent if you’re drunk, so no-one should be leaving the club with someone they don’t know after a wild night out. University towns and cities are full of weird and random people who love to prey on drunk students, especially women. I’ve been harassed and cat-called while walking at night, so I can’t imagine running off with a stranger. Even if you’ve only just met your flat, agree to look after eachother and swap numbers just in case of emergencies.
Defining whether a relationship has a future or is simply a hook-up can be difficult, but make sure to stick by your morals. If you feel pressured by a partner, this is a massive red flag, and never has a good outcome. Let friends know if you think they are being manipulated or gaslighted, as this is often hard to spot from within. I’d always err on the side of caution, and if someone gets offended, then they’re obviously not that bothered about your welfare! If you’re heading out on dates, make sure that you let a friend know where you’re going and what time to expect you back, and never be pressured by your date to change your plans unless you’re happy to.
Dealing with disappointment
The truth is, many people head to university with the intention of sleeping with as many people as possible. I don’t think that’s an unfair statement, as I’ve met many a thirsty guy trying to ‘collect the set’ by romancing an entire friendship group or set of flatmates. Even if you’re not set upon by creepy people, there can be some ups and downs to finding a relationship that works out alongside your university life. Many aren’t looking for anything serious or want to keep their options open in case anything better comes along; that’s definitely common during the first year. You might fall for someone who sees you purely as a friend (a classic friendzone moment we all try to avoid) or find your prospective partner isn’t ready for a relationship right now. Emotions run wild in those first few weeks, especially if you’re anxious to make new friends or feel pressured by news of your friends from home finding new partners, but I’d take it as slow as possible.
There’s a big difference between adding someone on Facebook with the hope of going on a date to hooking up with them and regretting it later. I’ve seen many good friends get hurt by what was often a simple misunderstanding due to a miscommunication, and I’d hate for you to feel the same!
There’s never any rush to find a relationship, and there will probably be a few false starts as you start to date, especially if you come from a small town with a small dating pool. The older you get, the more likely you are to find someone who fits with your expectations, or a friendship might gradually evolve into something more. Know that there’s no right way to begin, but as long as you’re respectful and honest, you’re likely to have some fun along the way. It can be hard to process feelings of jealousy if your new friends begin romantic relationships, but there are plenty of single people to be friends with at university if they don’t make time for you. I had an amazing group of girlfriends during my experience, and we all navigated the road of dating together, usually accompanied by a glass of wine after an embarrassing encounter, so I’d encourage you to surround yourself with friends who love you for who you are, not for your relationship status.
A word of warning also is to not forget your friends! A fling can be exciting, especially if it gets serious, but remember your friends will probably be either cheering you on or picking up the pieces if it goes wrong. Make time for your friends, always.
That’s it! I don’t write many life skills posts, but I’m definitely going to do more, as it breaks up the study tips and also lets me share some real-life advice about navigating the social side of university. Hopefully our social lives will be back to normal by later this year, and we can get back to where we were before all of this kicked off!
I also want to say a big thank you for the support on my Instagram account over the past ten days or so. I haven’t started an account from scratch in a long time, and I’ve really enjoyed interacting with everyone over on the #studygram. If you’re new, I post a daily picture chatting about myself, my research or some short tips and tricks which are explained in my blog posts. You can find me @tibbotttalks_study and my DMs are always open!