Expectations vs. Reality of Relationships at Uni

To be honest before coming to uni I had very high expectations of what the whole experience was going to

Tara Blois

To be honest before coming to uni I had very high expectations of what the whole experience was going to be like.

I had this idea that I was about to embark on the best 3 years of my life, make loads of friends and have tonnes of fun. I had no-one to really tell me otherwise. Everything I thought I knew about uni I had seen in films or on TV, which painted it out to basically be total fun and freedom. I don’t think anyone really prepares you for what university is actually like and no-one ever talks about how often it isn’t fun, it can be lonely and you don’t always make life-long friendships or relationships.

Looking back now as an almost-graduate, I can say that while I have enjoyed my time at university, the reality has often not quite lived up to the great expectations that I had as a pre-fresher. The problem with having great expectations is there is greater chance for disappointment, which is why we’re often told to lower our expectations to avoid this. While this may be true, I don’t believe it’s a practical way of thinking, especially when it comes to such a new and exciting life chapter such as uni.

Having chosen to apply and worked hard to get the grades needed to go, it’s hard to not have high expectations about what the experience is going to be like. It’s unlikely that you willingly move away from home and throw yourself into an unknown city (whilst putting yourself into debt) if you believe the experience is going to be bad from the offset.

Despite unmatched expectations, my view on uni hasn’t been hindered and I have no regrets about coming. What I’ve found is that you just adapt to the reality and make the most out of the experiences you’re given. Ultimately though everyone is different and has different experiences. While some absolutely love everything uni life has to offer and never want to leave, some are literally counting down the days until it’s over. Everyone’s reality is different.

Below are a few expectations that you may have prior to uni alongside the realities of myself and other past and present students’ experiences.

Expectation #1: You’ll meet your future partner at uni.

Reality: Nope. Well, for some people this may be the case but I think this is a lot less common than it used to be. It seems that the current generation of students are more interested in short-term flings and just having fun rather than settling down into serious relationships and if people do get into relationships at uni, the question remains – what will happen after graduation?

Some relationships may last after leaving uni, some may last for a bit but then fizzle out and some may fizzle out before graduation has even come around. What a lot of people forget is that as students or as graduates we’re still in our early 20’s trying to figure everything out, and this is the same for relationships. I think the ‘together forever’ narrative or finding “the one” at uni is a very outdated expectation and one that most people aren’t actually looking for at uni.

If you want to read more about the reality of dating at uni, you can read my other blog here.

Expectation #2: You’ll make friends for life at uni.

Reality: This is a tough one and one that to be honest I’m still yet to discover. I know people who will say they have made their absolute best friends at uni, who will stay best friends when they leave but for me personally, I don’t feel as though my uni friendships are strong enough to last forever. I don’t doubt that I’ll keep in touch with the friends I have made, especially thanks to social media letting me keep track of what everyone is up to, but the reality is that we probably won’t end up speaking or seeing each other that frequently.

This seems to be the case for many people after they leave uni, Holly aged 24 says:

“I enjoyed meeting new people at uni and whilst I’m still in touch with some of them, they’re definitely not my closest friends. Nothing bad happened, we just drifted apart as we all went off to do our own thing, which I think happens quite a lot. I think this is because uni can be a bit of a bubble and you’re kind of oblivious to the real world and how different things will be once you’re no longer a student. During uni you’re still an awkward, growing, unfinished version of yourself and so when you leave, you end up becoming a completely different person to the person that formed these friendships in the first place and so they just naturally fizzle out.”

That being said, a lot of people do in fact find their closest friends whilst at university and everyone’s experience with this is different. Living together with friends, for most likely the first time, can bring a whole different dynamic to friendships that in fact make people closer.

Josh, aged 20, who is graduating soon, says:

“The friends I’ve made at uni will definitely be my friends for a long time after we’ve left. Living with each other and going through the whole uni experience as a group has definitely bonded us together for life. I can’t imagine drifting away or not staying as close as we are now.”

Expectation #3: Your pre-uni friendships don’t last.

Reality: For me personally, this couldn’t be further from the truth. I still speak to my closest friends from home pretty much every day and when we can we’ll organise to spend a weekend together. Of course there are friends from school that I may not necessarily speak to all the time but whenever I do go home, it’s as if nothing has changed. I think it all depends on the strength of your pre-uni friendships and for me I’ve been quite lucky in finding and keeping a close group of friends from a young age.

Jess aged 23 says:

“My pre-uni friends have definitely remained my closest friends during and after uni. They’ve lasted I think because we’ve moved through the times together and built foundations from a young age that have withstood going to different universities, varying relationships, living abroad and even some of us coming out! We just get each other on a level that I didn’t necessarily find with people at uni and I think that’s what friendship is all about, accepting your friends for who they are and understanding that although things may change in life, the friendship doesn’t.”

Expectation #4: You lose touch with your family.

Reality: Family dynamics can be tricky and can vary so much for different people in different situations. For some, uni can actually make family time more difficult especially when returning home and not enjoying the same freedom they have at uni. Even if this is just for a short period of time, it can cause clashes.

But for others they may stay in regular contact with their family and nothing really changes. For me I probably get on better with my family, my brothers especially, since coming to uni I think because it gave us a bit of a break from each other and so when I am at home, (for the most part) we don’t argue as much. Everyone’s family is different and adjusts to the change in family dynamics in different ways.

Uni can also in fact act as an escape for many people who may have difficult relationships at home or for those without a family. Instead they take uni as an opportunity to build their identity as an adult and their own version of “family.”

While the prospect of uni is definitely exciting, it’s actually a lot more common than people think to not enjoy uni or to not enjoy it as much as they thought they would.

People only ever talk about the good parts of uni or hype uni up to be something that it’s not as a way of making themselves feel better, making it hard for expectations to not be high. There’s a lot of pressure and such a strong narrative about having the BEST time at uni, making the BEST friends and having LOADS of experiences but this just isn’t the case for a lot of people.

For me, it took me a while to really find my feet at uni and feel settled as it is such a huge life change. While uni for many people is everything they thought and more, I think it’s also important to know that it’s okay if it isn’t. At the end of the day it’s just 3 years, which may sound long before you start, but trust me it is the quickest 3 years of your life.