The digital-first, student-run magazine of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Journalism Department

Amherst Wire

College relationship ideals from freshman to senior year

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Photo by Kristin Sanderson

Photo by Kristin Sanderson

Photo by Kristin Sanderson

Hae Young Yoo, Editor in Chief

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As this school year comes to an end, freshmen and seniors have different priorities and decisions to make, one of them pertaining to the romantic relationships in their lives. Seniors in relationships will have to decide whether they want to maintain them, while those who are single might want to give a thought to settling down. On the other hand, freshmen who have engaged in the hookup culture at school will see if that is something they want to continue to do next year, or if committing to a relationship is a chance they want to take.

Without much hesitation, University of Massachusetts Amherst freshmen Peter Sullivan and Ali Hagenburg said that they did not want a relationship their first year of college. They also did not think other guys and girls their age wanted a relationship either.

“I think that freshman year is a time where people want to explore and they don’t want to be tied down,” said Hagenburg. “Both guys and girls have different interests and priorities and I don’t think that putting a significant other before anyone else is possible. I think it’s a freedom thing. People want and get the chance to be crazy.”

But interestingly, they both said that they would want a relationship their junior or senior year.

“Just because I’m older, and I got to experience college being single,” said Sullivan. “I wouldn’t have been tied down and I’d have gotten to meet more people.”

“It’s about the maturity level,”  said Hagenburg. “I think you have to find a certain part of yourself as a younger college student and once you’ve matured by junior or senior year, that’s when you can start looking for someone serious and into the same things you are.”

According to a study put on by the American Psychological Association, 60 to 80 percent of North American college students have engaged in some kind of hookup experience as of 2013, and 70 percent of sexually active 12 to 21-year-olds have had uncommitted sex within the last year.

Barbara Tomaskovic-Devey, a sociology professor at UMass Amherst who has done extensive research on college relationships says that despite such high statistics, many college students report in confidential interviews that they do not find the hookup culture as appealing as the numbers show that they do.

“What a lot report is that they don’t particularly like it and they wish that it were different, but they feel that they have to put up with it,” said Tomaskovic-Devey. “A lot of them also believe that this is the way relationships start now, so if they want to be in a relationship, the way to do it is to be casual in the beginning. But I think that for the segment of the population, especially for freshmen, the hookup culture is attractive to them because the media makes it seem attractive. And makes it seem like, ‘Well, this is just what everyone does when they’re in college, and it’s fun!’ ”

UMass seniors Amanda Dickinson and Carl Hebert  are both in relationships now and they started dating their significant others in their senior and junior years. They plan on staying in their relationships after they graduate.

Dickinson said she did not make it a priority to be in a relationship her freshman year, but she would not have turned one down. Hebert said he did not really want one. Their views also differed in whether relationships formed later in college had the potential to last longer than ones formed earlier, and if that was the deciding factor in when to get into a relationship.

“I don’t think it matters when a relationship happens,” said Dickinson. “I think it’s about the opportunity to meet people. By junior or senior year, you have a set group. There is less of an opportunity to meet new people when you get older.”

However, Hebert believes relationships formed later in college often do last longer because during freshman and sophomore year people are not as focused on the future, they’re more excited about the college experience.

Both Dickinson and Herbert were then asked which gender they thought wants a relationship more. Dickinson said she thinks neither wants one more, but Hebert said girls might like being in one more because they like having someone there, almost like a safety net.

“I know just as many boys who were as committed in a relationship once they were in them as I know girls who were,” said Dickinson.

It is often perceived that girls want a relationship more than boys do, but Tomaskovic-Devey says there are many more young women today than in the past who don’t want a serious relationship yet because they want focusing on their academics without distractions. And contrary to popular opinion, many men have reported in private interviews that they like being in relationships and if they are not in one, they would like to be in one.

“They feel it’s very difficult to openly admit that because they’re supposed to be instead interested in hookups and being casual,” said Tomaskovic-Devey.

“That winds up meaning that the reason people in relationships mess them up is because there is less support for being in that relationship, and more support for cheating on that person.”

Hebert noted that “People probably want a relationship their junior or senior year because they know college is going to end and a lot of people think college is their shot to find the right person.”

However, there is less of a need to settle down at the end of college now than there was in the past. By the time college students are seniors, many have found someone they like being with and someone who likes being with them, but the others who are not in relationships, say they will be serious when they are 26 to 28 years of age.

“They’re not looking for permanence,” said Tomaskovic-Devey. “A lot of them don’t know where they’re going to be, and again, where our culture is defining it for them is that they still have time, and after they graduate they have to focus on their careers.”

But there definitely is a difference between the romance ideals of freshmen and seniors.

“There’s research on it,” said Tomaskovic-Devey. “Freshmen in particular are out to enjoy themselves. Everybody has told them, ‘These four years, this is when you get to have a great time and have fun,’ and so they’re sort of looking forward to that, but after, most students, including a lot of the guys that have been interviewed, are tired of it. And many of them have spent some time in a serious relationship, and by senior year, what they report is that they really do like being in a relationship. They think the sex is better even, and the ones who aren’t in one are kind of wishing they were.”

Hae Young Yoo can be reached at [email protected]

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The digital-first, student-run magazine of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Journalism Department
College relationship ideals from freshman to senior year