How do you find a real relationship in college?

Hi Meredith,

I'm in college, but I know I want a serious relationship. I've never really dated anyone before, and the only "dates" I’ve been on were when I was too naïve to recognize it was anything beyond that. My parents always tell me I'm too jaded and need to let loose more, and my mom, much to my dismay, constantly encourages me to put myself out there. But I've always found myself focusing on school and my future career. In a recent phone conversation, she even asked, "When are you going to stop using school as an excuse for your vulnerability issues?" I know I'm ready for a relationship, but I feel like I’m struggling in the hookup culture of college.

I’ve tried keeping myself open to new people from classes or work, and have even tried online dating. On Tinder and Bumble I've never felt comfortable enough to meet up with a stranger, and when I begin to consider it, they become creepy or make unwanted sexual advances with unsolicited pictures. I find myself getting frustrated and deleting the apps only to download them again two weeks later. I am the "mom friend" and often find myself giving great (if I do say so myself) relationship advice to those around me, but never find myself moving past a fling with anyone in my own love life. It’s become a joke amongst some of my friends from home that "coaches don't play."

I know I am young and have the rest of my life ahead of me but I want to date, experience the ups and downs of young love, and have someone to go through this phase of my life with. There's a whole timeline I had for my ideal love life, but I feel behind. Your Season 3 episode of the podcast, Friends (Without) Benefits, hit a situation I was going through a month ago right on the nose. I guess I'm writing to you for validation that there's hope. If anything, what would you suggest for new ways to meet people, or what overarching advice would you give to someone in my situation?

– Jaded but ... hopeful?

"Coaches don't play." Sometimes that is very true!

But it's not a rule, you know. Some of the best coaches are really good at the thing they help others do.

Some thoughts:

1. Tell Mom that your vulnerability issues aren't stopping you from dating. This letter is so wonderfully vulnerable. You're putting yourself out there all the time, and you're not afraid to admit you want a partner. It's not your fault that some strangers have sent you unsolicited pics, and that you're around people who aren't looking for anything serious. Your inability to find love doesn't seem to have anything to do with some hangup you have to fix. Tell Mom you're trying and would like her to believe in you. (I do assume she means well.)

2. "There's a whole timeline I had for my ideal love life." Delete that timeline because you can't force a schedule. It's a surefire way to make yourself miserable. Instead, surrender to all of the unanswerable questions. There are no deadlines right now. You don't know what will happen.

3. "Your season 3 episode of the podcast Friends (Without) Benefits hit a situation I was going through a month ago right on the nose." For those who don't listen to the podcast, that episode was about a woman who has a long relationship with someone – an almost relationship. She subject spends all of her time with a we-can-talk-all-night soulmate type, and they kiss, but then they never quite date. It's always a "not right now." In the end, the woman leaves the "friend" behind for someone who wants to be with her now.

Jaded, if you've just been through this kind of experience, it might be messing with your perspective. You wouldn't spend the same kind of time on an almost relationship again. You'd want more than bonding and maybes. You're moving on from that experience because it wasn't vulnerable enough. Again, you weren't the problem.

4. It's frustrating, but keep looking. Try to be patient and to enjoy the moments in between. Take your own advice. It's difficult to pull off, but I swear it's possible.

– Meredith

Readers? The LW feels behind. When did you start dating and looking for a more serious relationship?