The Surprising Uses of Dating Advice – Part 4

Jack is junior planning on graduating at the end of the next year. He is an engineering major, and he feels a lot of pressure to find a summer internship before his senior year. He has worked at a summer camp the previous years, and he has been offered a lead counselor position if he returns this year.

The Tip: Your relationship doesn’t have to meet anybody’s expectations or timelines … except your own.

Why It Works: My campus has a very strong “Ring By Spring” culture, which means most of the conversations around dating inevitably lead toward marriage. By no means do all of the students prescribe to this expectation, but it is common enough to be a question raised in the DTR (Defining the Relationship) talk. While there is nothing right or wrong with getting married right after graduation, the culture of my campus assigns worth to those romantic relationships that are leading to a proposal. This, alternately, can alienate certain individuals, including those who want a more casual dating experience and do not fit this mold. The heteronormative messaging of this dating culture might isolate members of the LGBTQ+ community. Even if a lot of or even most people do something, that doesn’t make it the only or better way to do that thing. There’s plenty of ways to date – monogamously, serially, with the intent to marry, with the intent to have fun, with the intent to understand yourself and others better, with the intent to make out with as many people as possible – and they’re all valid!

Similarly, each campus culture and subculture is going to send various messages about the “right” ways to be successful. In everything from which classes to take to how to get a job, college students are looking to peers and role models to help understand the right and wrong things to do. Unfortunately, these sources can sometimes send the message that the road to success is very narrow. An engineering student MUST have an internship, or they will be underemployed for all of eternity and die a pauper. Or so it can feel. Sometimes students need to be reminded that life is a rich tapestry, and that there’s lots of different ways to be successful. Heck, there’s even lots of definitions of success! Let Jack know he can take that camp counselor job and be a successful engineer. Or let your recently dumped student know that he can be happy even though his college relationship didn’t result in 2 or 3 children. Or share with that student struggling to come out that the “I’ve always known” narrative isn’t the only narrative. There’s lots of ways to be in successful relationships, to be successful students and employees, to be successful Victorian novel characters, and most importantly, successful people. Let’s not limit ourselves by what we think others expect.


I have one final piece of advice to give you: remember to take all of this advice with a grain of salt. I am just one person, wonderfully unqualified to comment on anybody’s dating life. If you heard any of my advice and thought, “Wow that seems dangerously unuseful to my current situation,” then honor that instinct and disregard me. Maybe canoeing is a terrible method to determine your compatibility with someone because you hate canoeing. Find what works for you, and then pass it on unsolicited to the next couple you meet.

I started this article with marriage advice from my mom, so let me end with some wisdom from my dad: when celebrating their 32nd anniversary a few months ago, my dad remarked: “It’s been 25 wonderful years.”

Previous Article: The Surprising Uses of Dating Advice – Part 3

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Ethan Johnson is a Residential Learning Coordinator at Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana. He is a mighty stalk of majestic Midwestern corn. When he is not helping students or catching bats in his building, you can find him reading, watching Grace & Frankie, or tweeting at @ethantjohnson.

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