A(n) (academic) year of love

Laura Shannon explores the love lives of four college students and uncovers how different each experience is

In an age where dating is done mostly online, casual-flings are revered, hook-up culture is glorified, and STDs are rampant, finding love is a tricky feat. Love can be found somewhere amidst the chaos, but for many, love is a rare thing to come by in college. I wish I could call myself an expert on love, and maybe I can, because who’s checking credentials? Having gotten into a relationship in my first year of college and now being in my final year, I like to think of myself as an unqualified spokesperson for finding love in college. I spend a lot of my time analysing my closest friends’ relationships and interactions with love.

While my own experience with love in college has been (perhaps unusually) positive, I have experienced countless variations of love through the eyes of my friends. I’ve seen them be desperately in love, pining, in pain, heartbroken and even being the heartbreaker. I’ve been there when they fell in love and fell out of it and have then seen it happen all over again. After every summer when we come back to college there’s a new set of romantic goals. I want the best for my friends; it’s a great feeling to be loved and an even better one to love. From talking to some of my closest friends, I’ve gathered some words of wisdom about their romantic experiences from the past seven months and how their perspectives on love have changed. (All names shown below have been changed for the purpose of this article.)


What was your outlook on love like?

A: “I was and always have been quite cynical about romantic love, even though I was in love at this time. Sometimes I think it’s because I don’t believe I deserve it.”

B: “I wasn’t feeling great. I had just found out that I had an STI and put a lot of my self-worth into what value my body had. I found the real value of love from my female friendships, we had an STI-themed party to laugh about it.”

C: “I focused a lot on physical affection as a way of wanting to be loved. I was having sex with random people and I felt like I wasn’t getting anything from it.”

D: “I was freshly out of a breakup and felt aware of being single. I felt a lot of self-pity and I tried to find ways of filling the void. I drank and used drugs a lot which was an unhealthy coping mechanism.” 

What did you learn about love?

A:The person you love shouldn’t make you feel anxious, stressed or like you’re not good enough. Things should be easy, you should want to see them and miss them.

B: “I learned that I can over-romanticise people to the point I get hurt and that the value of friendship will always trump romantic love.”

C: “I needed to love myself more and have more boundaries.”

D: “That when you’re young, if you don’t feel that the love is real then there’s no point in pursuing it.” 

Do you regret anything?

B:How much value I placed on sex, I thought I couldn’t feel good unless someone was desiring me.”

C: “I regret making myself so available to different people.” 

D: “At the time I regretted ending my relationship because it felt like a loss.”


What was your outlook on love like? 

A: “I started realising I was falling out of love with my boyfriend. I felt like love was a complete lie. I couldn’t understand why my feelings were changing.”

B: “I went on a date that gave me hope for mankind – he was nice, funny, polite, normal… Until he ghosted me. It made me doubt everything about myself.”

C: “I started taking better care of myself and to love myself more. I wanted to be respected and I went on a really good date.”

What or who made you feel the most loved during this time?

A: “My boyfriend at the time always made me feel so loved.”

B: “I found love from my family, homemade dinners at Christmas, arguing over board games and seeing my pets every morning.”

C: “Buying myself nice things made me feel loved. I loved myself.”

What did you learn about love?

A: “People and relationships can change in a short space of time without any clear explanations.”

B: “Dating apps began to bring more feelings of emptiness than joy. I learned love can’t be forced and love can be found in abundance in other areas aside from romantic love.”

D: “I didn’t regret my breakup anymore, I learned alone time was what I needed.”


During this period were you feeling positive about your outlook on love and why? 

A:  “I couldn’t understand how I had fallen out of love when I really didn’t want to, my self-love fluctuated but my friends made me feel so supported. I felt special to have a group of people who love me.”

B: “At long last, I deleted dating apps (for a while…). They made me feel perceived beyond my control and I was valuing my self-worth from matches and likes.”

C: “I went over to a guy’s house and didn’t want to have sex, he shamed me for that and it made me feel shit. I knew I only wanted people in my life who wanted me so I ended situationships.”

D: “I began appreciating celibacy as a healing method, I didn’t feel like I needed anyone and wanted to prioritise what I wanted to do without thinking about others’ perceptions of me.”

What did you learn about love?

A: “I had no concept of how long it would take to get over someone. I also learnt that leaning on your friends is something way more accessible than I thought.”

B: “Having a crush and someone to talk to is fun, I can try to be independent and single but I’m 22 I’m allowed to be careless, flirty and awkward.”

C: “That situationships are difficult, when they end it feels like you’re sad about something that never fully existed.”


How do you feel about your outlook on love now? 

A: “I’m in a new phase of looking after myself instead of drinking excessively to fill a hole of a relationship.”

B: “I learned nothing by being celibate for a few months and it’s okay to admit that we need sex to feel a bit more human. You’re not any less of a feminist for breaking your celibacy or wanting to have sex.”

C: “I have hard days when I wonder why I’m not good enough to be loved, but that reminds me that I’m not loving myself enough and to keep flourishing myself with kindness.”

D: “I’m aware of big changes coming up in my life and I’m happy that I only have to think of myself during these changes and not a romantic partner.”

What makes you feel the most loved now?

A: “My friends and my family.”

C: “When I’m surrounded by family and friends.”

D: “Doing small, simple, simple things with my friends and appreciating these moments.”

Do you have any regrets?

B: “No, I am convinced that all experiences – good or bad – are what life is all about.”

D: “I feel like I didn’t find self-love until very recently, I searched for validation from others because I wasn’t giving myself that. I think if I had more self-love previously I would have made different decisions.”

If I have learned one thing from these conversations, it is that there is no linear map or trajectory for someone’s experience with love. Finding love can be romantic, platonic, the most wonderful feeling or a soul-crushing experience – or all of these at once. There is no right or wrong way to do it. All of the friends I spoke to have one thing in common, and that is that the love that you receive from your meaningful friendships can provide as much happiness as the love of romantic relationships – if not more.