As an essential part of a college student’s experience, romantic relationships are preceded only by academic success. Joining the dating world brings emotional and physical satisfaction, a sense of belonging, and excitement.
Some relationships formed in college fall apart within weeks, while others keep going strong even after graduation.
So, what causes the failure of some relationships and the success of others? How to make them last, and what mistakes to avoid when dating in college?
Let’s look at some relevant college relationship statistics to find the answers to these questions.
How Many College Relationships Last After Graduation?
Relationships that start in college don’t usually last for most people.
A recent study found that approximately 28 percent of college relationships that lasted were formed between students from the same institution, with most of the top 25 colleges in terms of successful relationships being institutions with religious affiliations.
The relationship’s longevity largely depends on one’s beliefs and expectations. According to one survey among college students conducted by researchers from the Wisconsin and Illinois universities, there are two approaches to romantic relationships among young adults.
The first is a soulmate theory when the person believes there is a limited number of suitable partners for marriage. The second is a work-it-out theory based on the idea that it is possible to build steady relationships with many different people as long as both partners put forth enough effort.
Out of 527 students that participated in the study, 44% were in romantic relationships. For those who believed that their current partner was their soulmate (263 students), the relationship lasted another at least 8 more months after the survey.
It can be explained by a stronger desire to compromise and stay together in soulmate believers than in work-it-out theorists.
How Long Do College Relationships Last on Average?
College is the time for experiments for most people. They develop their unique views and attitudes toward social relationships, form life values, and learn to interact with other people in different circumstances.
Late adolescence, which starts at approximately 18-19, coincides with the first years in college. By this time, most American teenagers have already had some dating experience. However, when they come to college, the nature of romantic relationships changes.
They tend to become long-lasting and exclusive. In late adolescence, the average length of relationships is one year. Then, in early adulthood, starting from 20-21 years old, romantic relationships last four times longer than at age 15.
Naturally, the more satisfying a relationship is, the longer it will last. Scientists found a link between the level of support between the dating partners and the longevity of their couple. College relationships with a high rate of support, intimacy, and selflessness have more chances to surpass the one-year milestone.
In addition, those students who had previous dating experience in early and middle adolescence are more likely to develop a steady relationship in later years, e.g., when they go to college.
In addition, a 2009 study found that 60% of those whose previous relationships were highly supportive and emotionally intimate were more likely to marry in early adulthood.
Overall, the quality of previous relationships and the dating attitude influence the duration of college relationships and their outcome.
Marriage Statistics for College Students
Marriage trends among young adults have been changing gradually since the 1990s. For instance, 20 years ago, the median age when Americans got married was 25-26, a couple of years after graduation from college.
However, if we look at the same data from 2019, we’ll see an increase to 28.4 years for women and 30.1 for men.
It means that in the earlier days, people were more inclined to find a mate during their college years and get married soon after they graduated. In recent years, Americans have been more focused on building a career and gaining financial stability before getting married.
But these days, only 20% of adults (18-29) are married. Almost 60% of the same age group were married in 1960.
However, the marriage rates for people with higher education have dropped less dramatically than for adults with less education. According to Pew Research data, 65% of 25-year-olds with a Bachelor’s degree tied the knot in 2014, compared to 53% of those without higher education. The gap could be partially explained by higher financial stability and earnings of college graduates required to support a family.
Interestingly, the type of college also plays a significant part in how many students get married. In a 2014 research, Dr. Robert Kelchen from Seton Hall University analyzed marriage rates in public, religiously affiliated, and private nonsectarian colleges.
He found that the highest marriage rates were among the students who attended private religious institutions – 14%. Public colleges were second – 12%. The lowest score belonged to private nonsectarian colleges – only 5%.
Why is it Hard to Build Long-Lasting Relationships While in College?
Finding a suitable partner and developing a steady, long-lasting relationship can be challenging with so many distractions around.
In addition, college students are in that life period when they have recently left adolescence and parental control and entered the semi-adult stage, with much fewer responsibilities than a postgraduate adult life requires.
Some scholars call this stage “emerging adulthood” and believe it lasts until the late twenties. This age is no longer normative for entering into marriage and is more about exploration and identity formation.
During this time, many romantic relationships are subject to the changing moods and worldviews of the partners as they mature.
Each person matures in different ways, and couples who were compatible a month ago part ways to find someone more suitable to their new views.
In addition, the significant number of alternatives to relationships that most campuses offer (i.e., a lot of other people to choose from) is the main predictor of a breakup, according to research. At the same time, the variety of people makes it easier to find the right person.
Reasons College Relationships Fall Apart
Let’s now explore the leading causes of why most college relationships don’t last.
Most relationships don’t pass the hook-up stage
Dating is no longer the standard way to start a relationship. Instead, as research shows, college students mostly meet at parties and engage in hook-ups (casual sex). Such interactions may or may not progress into romantic relationships. And most of the time, hook-up partners split up after one night.
It can be explained by gender imbalance. There is an oversupply of females on a typical campus, making it easier for a male student to jump from one woman to another.
Consequently, it lowers commitment and responsibility and creates less favorable conditions for women who want to find a life partner.
It’s hard to maintain a balance between studying and dating
Another reason college couples break up is the inability to balance their time. Many students are so busy studying that they only have time to meet basic needs or visit the gym a couple of hours a week at most.
Studies show that, on average, college students studied 15 hours a week in 2017, which is 10% longer than in the previous two years. And those who also work part-time and engage in social life on campus barely have time to sleep.
Creating and developing relationships requires much attention to the other person and precious time, which is often devoured by homework, volunteering, and finding an internship.
Couples are geographically separate after graduation
Graduation is the end for many couples since many start working and living in different places. Any healthy relationship requires frequent physical contact. Thus, distance and long periods apart usually slowly kill seemingly strong couples.
Long-distance relationships are connected to high levels of distress, especially for women, and impact physiological health. Partners develop many negative emotions, for example, feeling unloved, lonely, or forgotten.
It’s no wonder that many such couples prefer to split up and choose another partner from their geographical area.
Positive Effects of College Relationships
Such harsh statistics of failures in college relationships shouldn’t stop young people from forming romantic bonds.
Although there’s only a relatively mall percentage of college relationships that end in marriage, as we’ve seen before, they have an overall positive effect on the person’s mental health, mood, and self-esteem.
A survey conducted by Scott Braithwaite, PhD., and colleagues examined 1,621 college students aged 18 to 25 years old. The questions that the participants had to answer concerned their mental and physical health.
The research results showed a strong connection between the relationship status and the student’s well-being. Those in committed relationships had fewer mental health issues, used alcohol and drugs less frequently, and were less likely to suffer from obesity.
Those who decide to marry during college years (although experiencing several unique issues at first) have a longer lifespan and lower morbidity, according to some studies.
However, in reality, there are not so many marriages among students. As of 2016, only 1.7% of 18-year-olds and 6.9% of 20–24-year-olds were married.
Characteristics of College Relationships that Could End in Marriage
Similar life views and cultural values
Good compatibility is critical for successful romantic bonding, thinks Susan Heitler, Ph.D. The similarity of views in the couple is the key to a more harmonious relationship. At the same time, the exact coincidence of the character traits of partners is not mandatory and even harmful.
For example, two extroverts don’t always get along well, and neither do two introverts. Yet, compatibility is very individual for each couple. As long as they share common interests, they have a chance to stay together for a long time.
Cultural background is also essential. Since American colleges admit thousands of international students every year (914 thousand in 2021), many interethnic couples form on campuses.
However, sometimes the differences in views are so significant that it’s challenging to find common ground.
Friendship, sympathy, and trust
Scholars distinguish two types of love. The first is based on infatuation and is fleeting unless the couple develops trustful relationships before the passion is gone.
The second type is based on friendship which then transforms into attraction. Couples whose relationships began with friendship have fewer problems resolving conflicts and can compromise faster.
Trust is also the foundation of strong relationships. It is a dynamic process that must be constantly worked on. Couples who manage to trust each other are more likely to have a long-term relationship.
Positive patterns of communication
Positive communication in a couple is the basis of a healthy and robust relationship. It includes the ability to listen, attention to the partner’s problems and opinions, and respect. Also, effective communication is not the absence of conflicts but the ability to resolve them.
On the contrary, such negative patterns as criticism, lack of respect, and shutting the partner out are responsible for low levels of relationship satisfaction.
Interestingly, according to studies, negative communication leads to dissatisfaction between the partners and vice versa. So, it’s a vicious circle. To break it, the couple should learn to encourage and support each other, acknowledge the weak spots, and fix them.
Sexual satisfaction and fidelity
The quality of sex life and the romantic relationship is closely connected. Sexually compatible partners experience more satisfaction from their relationships and are less likely to cheat.
Sex is not only an essential part of any relationship - but it is also a way to get closer with a partner physically and emotionally. The stronger this connection, the longer the couple will stay together.
Thus, the quality of intimate relationships is much more crucial than the quantity, especially because every person has their standards of good sex life. And the key to good compatibility is the coincidence of these views in both partners.
College is an excellent place to find a partner as there is a wide variety of other students in roughly the same age group with similar levels of education.
And although building romantic relationships is hampered by lack of time and gender imbalance, about a third of students find a suitable partner and stay together even after graduation.