The College Relationship Timeline


Do you remember that first boyfriend of yours in middle or high-school? You met him in a big group of friends, he got your number, and started texting and calling you. Soon rumors started swirling that he was going to ask you out. He finally worked up the courage to say those five words: Will. You. Be. My. Girlfriend? Then maybe you put his name and date on your AIM profile or maybe you even (in my opinion, stupidly) requested to be in a Facebook relationship.

But now you are in college, and unless you have met Prince Charming there is a long series of unofficial steps on the way to the relationship. This path outlined below is what my roommate would call “the unnatural path”, because it begins with some game-playing and is unlikely to go anywhere, though it’s not impossible. Patti Feinstein, America’s Dating Coach, acknowledges that this list has some merit—continue reading for her expert opinion on the college relationship timeline, and to start preparing yourself for your next journey.

Disclaimer: The unpredictability of college men will lead to unexpected rearrangements of this order. Be aware.

Step 1: Meeting It’s almost always unexpected. It’s one of those nights when you’re content just to be out with your girls. Then you see him. He walks over to you and strikes up a flirty conversation, maybe offers to buy you a drink, maybe asks you to dance. By the end of the night you’re making out and numbers have been exchanged. This interaction often begins drunk, and Feinstein chalks this up to the insecurity of college boys and their dependency on the liquid courage. “They get rejected more than you know, more than you realize,” Feinstein explains. “So they get drunk as a way of getting up their confidence to go for that girl. We like strong men that will take the risk. They need to be drunk to have the nerve to start and then what they’re looking for is her reaction.”
Once they have the reaction they want, they can move on to communication.

Step 2: Drunk Communication If he isn’t sure about his feelings (or he only likes hooking up with you when he’s drunk) then so begin the text messages at 10 p.m. or later (unfortunately, the later, the worse). If he’s creative he’ll send more than “hey what’s up?” but don’t expect too much. You’ll meet up after your independent nights. Watch out for this red flag, warns Feinstein: “If he can only do it when he’s drinking that’s a sign of an insecure guy that just has zero confidence.” Moving on to Step 3 is necessary for his progress as an adult and yours as a couple.

Step 3: Sober Communication All of a sudden the texts start coming earlier in the evening—at 8 p.m. he’s wondering what you’re doing that night and intending on going where you’re going, not just meeting up when the night ends. Then the texts come in the middle of the week, he’s thinking of you when he’s in class or the library. This is a good sign.
Feinstein emphasizes how important frequent communication can be: “The guy should be initiating contact a lot, which is more than once a week. If you’re not getting contacted more than once a week it’s not working for him,” she says.

Step 3a.: The Formal Invitation This can be a good thing (but isn’t always). A formal invitation can mean “I simply want to invite you because hooking up with you at the end of the night is better than bringing a friend.” Or it can be that he genuinely does like you. It’s a toss-up. But what can be inferred is that he doesn’t hate you nor is he 100% embarrassed of you, given that pictures of the two of you together there will invariably end up on Facebook.

Step 4: Sober Hanging-Out It will start out awkward. You’ve only hooked up when you’re intoxicated so now you’re much more aware of everything you do. The initiation comes from an invitation to “watch a movie.” Classic. Note that this is usually just a euphemism for hooking up. Still though, you get points for the fact that you’re sober.

Step 5: A Date If you’ve made it here, congratulations. This classy boy has stepped up, asked you on a date, and spent time with you while sober. Unless he is some sort of sneaky slime-ball with expensive ulterior motives, this guy likes you. In so many college girls’ opinions, a date seems far off and unrealistic for most college guys. But Feinstein says, “If he’s really interested then the woman would be saying ‘he’s moving so fast, it’s a little too fast for me’ and that’s a normal thing,” she says. “You know this guy’s for real if he seems genuine. Moving too fast is a good sign. You would think the opposite but it’s not true.” “If a man is just not seriously calling you and giving you a date and a time and a place and actively pursuing you,” Feinstein warns: “He’s just not that into you.” Reminds us of a movie…

Step 6: Exclusivity This is promising, as you now commit not to hook up with anyone else. This is the final step on the way to being in a relationship. People who don’t go to college DO NOT understand this step. Even foreigners are unfamiliar with this. One Canadian asked my friend “you had the same boy sleep here all weekend. I don’t get it. How he is not your boyfriend?” But as you probably know by now, it’s not that simple.

Step 7: The Holy Grail Somehow, miraculously, you made it here. Best of luck. And in case you didn’t get my cue from before: please, please don’t be in a Facebook relationship. There is no way that’ll end well. We like to hold out hope that soon some of these steps will be eliminated as we graduate college. Unfortunately, Feinstein warns, this is not the case. “[Men] still share the same dynamics regardless of age.” For everyone, Feinstein explains, there will always be mitigating factors that keep people from wanting to be in a relationship. But it seems to be the case that if a boy really wants you, he will fly through these steps. My fingers are crossed. Good luck.

Sources: My roommates at Cornell University
America’s Dating Coach Patti Feinstein (
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