Yes, there are differences. Oh mama, are there ever.
Dating in college consisted of drunken hookups, meeting up at the cafeteria, and seeing each other between (or sometimes in) classes.
Once you graduate and are living on your own in the big city, with a full-time job and bills to pay, the dating scene undergoes some drastic changes. Those changes might sound scary, but I assure you: they're for the best. Here they are in a nutshell:
Once you graduate, you don't have classes, extracurriculars, and a huge network of friends to rely on for meeting potential dates. This means you have to take advantage of every chance you get to meet new people. Dive into your hobbies. Join Meetups. Go to parties you're not that interested in, but willing to suffer through just for the sake of possibly meeting the love of your life. Diversify your friend group as much as possible, and try to make lots of new friends. You never know when one of those friends (or one of their friends) will turn into something more.
Yes, you'll go on actual dates. These weren't all that common in college, but now, since you won't have sweaty basement parties, libraries, nor all-you-can-eat cafeterias to meet up at, you'll need to work to spend time together. This is actually a great thing. Dating can be a lot of fun if you let it. Just always remember – the point is for you to enjoy yourself, so put that first, and try to get to know your date at the same time.
You'll probably be broke, and that's okay. You might not have a ton of money to blow on dates. That's fine! Some of the best things in life (picnics, galleries, starlit nights, walks at sunset, window shopping, watching Netflix on your couch) are free. Or very nearly.
Suddenly, the pool of potential partners gets way bigger (and way smaller). You don't have a whole campus of eligible singles; you have an entire city. The only problem... you somehow have to MEET these people. (Hey, you'll figure it out.) But don't be afraid to date people older or younger than you. Or people with divorces or kids or "baggage." Say yes to these experiences, even if they're a bit outside your comfort zone. Maturity in a life partner is definitely not a bad thing.
Seeing Multiple People
It's the norm. It was tough in college, because everyone's tangled social lives made it a bit sticky. But in the real world, dating is casual. Just because you go on a few dates, or even sleep together, definitely doesn't mean you're exclusive. You'll be seeing several people at once in an effort to find a good one. Embrace it! Dating can be a ton of fun.
Also the norm. Coffee Meets Bagel, Hinge, Bumble, OKCupid... how else do you think busy professionals are going to find time to meet people? Online dating just doesn't carry the stigma it once did, so don't be afraid to give it a try. You might just meet someone special!
What people wanted out of a relationship varied in college. Now, in the so-called "real world," it varies EVEN MORE. And since your time and heart are precious, it's even more important not to waste your time dating people who have different expectations than you do for the relationship. By the third or fourth date, you should definitely feel comfortable slipping in a casual, "So, what are you looking for right now?" Hey, you can't be wasting your precious time. Make it clear exactly what you want, whether it's something casual or serious – and don't accept anything else. It's not worth the time and energy, and it keeps you from finding what you really want.
The definition of the word "dating" changes after college. No longer do booty calls and late-night hookups count as a "relationship." In the real world, when you're dating someone, it means you're going on dates. Spending actual, non-drunk time together. Getting to know each other, as well as each others' goals, dreams, desires, needs, and habits. Sure, some people will still just want to have a good time, but it's also okay to break out of the college hookup mindset and seek out something a little more committed and a little more mature.
You met at a frat party, hooked up three times, slept over his place once, and now you're his girlfriend. That was college dating. Post-college life happens a little differently; you'll probably be going on dates with multiple people, until you find one that's worth pursuing with your all. So you let the others drop off, and see just that one person for a while. You figure out if they're the kind of person who's special enough to be worth your time. And if they are, you have that conversation – the one about being exclusive and defining the relationship and all that. In adult relationships, communication is key – and the tempo of courtship might be a little slower than you're used to. It's okay, who you date is a huge decision – and one that should be made cautiously.
Texting was once the only, and I mean the ONLY way to do things. Phone calls? Ew. So 90's. But once you're an adult, the phone isn't as scary or random as it once seemed! It turns out that one five minute phone call can do the work of about three dozen text messages. Who knew? Strange as it may seem, you'll have people wanting to call – and sometimes just to talk. Getting to hear the voice of your cutie isn't so bad after all! And no more misinterpreted text messages? Sign me up.
Maturity and Goals
Dating after college can mean the same sort of tentative having fun getting to know each other thing, but it can also mean figuring out when you're ready to settle down (and who you're ready to settle down with). Don't be surprised if you date someone who's thinking about their future in the big picture sense – marriage, kids, etc. It's coming soon. Of course, the average age of marriage these days is way later than it used to be, so don't put any pressure on things. But if you ever felt weird for thinking too far in advance, take comfort: suddenly, you're not alone.
Those are some of the many differences you can expect to see in the world of post-college romance. Got further questions? Or want to know about other areas of the post-college life? Ask me in the comments! I graduated about two years ago and have done everything from serial hookups to serious soulmate lovin', so let me know what I can help you with. :)