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Why so many college students are single


In 2020, Pew Research found that 41 percent of U.S. adults between the ages of 18 and 29 were single – up sharply from 29% in 1990. These young non-daters sometimes say they have more important priorities than being in a relationship.

It’s grown into a subculture not many partnered people understand.

Charlotte Perret is a Rutgers University senior preparing for life after graduation. She’s not thinking about finding a partner; she’s more focused on securing a stable life after leaving school.

No, thanks

“Relationships are just distractions to me,” Perret said. “I feel like I have so much going on in this time of my life, and all I want to do is to hang out with my friends.”

Perret finds college culture geared toward doing what we want, without having
to please other people; she believes that sometimes a relationship can interfere with that. Her past relationships were dramatic, she said, with challenges and obstacles that often steered her away from what she wanted for herself.

Perret’s time alone has helped her develop: she says she’s learned how to let things go, how to move forward on her own and how to make herself happy. Singleness has given her more personal time, and peace of mind.

“It seems impossible to give everything to your significant other, and for them to be your whole world, when you have other stuff going on,” Perret said.

People in relationships often allot many hours of their day to their significant other. Relationships are partnerships, and it can be hard to balance life while juggling someone else’s needs on top of one’s personal goals and dreams.

Singledom tends to drive the hookup subculture; it’s allure is that it’s non-binding. Credit: Jovan Mandic /

College student Navya Malhotra agrees with Perrett. She’s never been in a relationship, and says she doesn’t want to be in one. Relationships require too much attention and time, neither of which believes she can spare right now. She recently switched from a pre-med school track to a computer science major. Finding a partner is not on her to-do list.

The need for “me” time

“It would be unfair of me to be in a relationship, because I am unwilling to prioritize the person more than my current priorities,” she said.

For most college students, everyday life consists of maintaining a five- or six-course class load, working part-time, managing an internship, striving for a healthy lifestyle and finding time to socialize. To some, adding a relationship seems more like a maintenance chore than the promise of exciting rendezvous.

“You are growing so much as a person, and you need independence to do that,” Malhotra said.

Students are still discovering their likes and dislikes, whether about their future career or characteristics of a future partner. College is a good time to explore different opportunities and meet different people.

Mary Edegar is a Rutgers University sophomore, majoring in finance and minoring in economics and public policy. She has also never been in a long-term relationship, though this is due to her religious beliefs.

Edegar, who is of Egyptian heritage, belongs to the Coptic Orthodox Church, a Christian religion based mainly in the Middle East and Africa. In her world, dating is called “courting,” and there is an expectation that the courting couple will marry.

It has always been really daunting, because I am not in the stage of my life to choose a husband,” Edegar said. “If the stakes weren’t so high, it wouldn’t be so scary.

She’s single due to trepidation over the next chapter of her romantic life.

Dating with the prospect of marrying from the beginning of a relationship is an unlikely trajectory in college, since most students don’t expect to marry their partner for a long time.

“There are more strings attached for me than for other college students,” Edegar said. “It is hard to relate and connect with people outside of my religion, because my priorities in a relationship are more serious.

Edegar’s current priorities don’t include finding a husband, because she has grades to maintain, and a career to establish. There is pressure from the Egyptian community to find a life partner at this age, but that does not matter to Edegar, because her career is most important to her. Luckily, her family supports her decision to secure her life before securing a life partner.

Rutgers sophomore Christopher Godoy also wants to secure his career, though he would not mind being in a relationship with the right person.

In the past, Godoy, a sophomore double majoring in political science and economics, never had a full-fledged romantic relationship, but did have situations where he spent time with one person for an extended period, with no strings attached. Yet even the lack of a label on the relationship seemed to require so much effort that he struggled to manage his workload.

“There is so much going on that a relationship is just another added-on thing,” he said. “And sometimes so much gets in the way that you forget you are single.”

Godoy thinks being single has taught him that he needs to learn more patience, and to narrow his priorities. Time alone has also allowed him to reflect on what he expects out of a relationship. Singlehood also changes one’s perspective on life. Looking at other relationships from the outside can help determine personal preferences.

Godoy has also noticed that his friendships with people in relationships are not as strong as his friendships with fellow single people.

“My single friends are not worried about relationships like the ones who are in one,” Godoy said. “My friends who are in relationships set time aside for their partners, which just gears toward less time to spend with their friends.”

Godoy also realizes that college students may have difficulty maintaining mutual interest.

“Especially in this day and age, you interact with a lot of people, and social media continuously projects images of others, so interest is hard to maintain, but it is not impossible,” he said.

Hookups: the popularity of not committing

Singledom also opens the door to hookup subculture. Many college students are involved in such relationships, because hooking up does not officially tie one person to another. It is easier to explore an interest in other people without having to devote time and effort to a long-term partner. Hooking up is non-binding.

American Psychological Association studies have found that 60 percent to 80 percent of college students had experienced hook up culture while in their youth.

Dating apps such as Tinder, Grinder, Hinge and Bumble have become platforms where students can swipe right or “like” profiles to meet new people, and “hook up” without a relationship label or any expectation of future commitment.

“I think hook-up culture can either be a good or bad thing, depending on the person and their identity,” Godoy said. “From personal experience, it is a good way to explore, but as I started getting my priorities straight … I never really found the time to partake in it as much.”

Not all students have the same expectations or mindsets. Some stay single to be able to see lots of people; others stay single to be alone.

Many new college students assume they’ll participate in hookups too. But that’s not necessarily so: singleness in college is a subculture as much about self-improvement and self-discovery as the freedom to date many people.

About the Author

Brielle Fedorko

Professor: Mary D'Ambrosio
Class: Magazine Writing

Speaking with my fellow classmates about their relationships and their attitude toward their careers truly resonated with me. This stage of our lives is crucial and it shapes us to be who we are. This was a fun phenomenon to investigate.