Q&A: Relationship expert talks Valentine’s Day, college dating

When it comes to relationships, Esther Boykin is a real life love guru.

She’s a licensed marriage and family therapist and private relationship coach. When she’s not in the office working with clients, she’s writing freelance for publications like Glamour and Bustle or recording her podcast “With That Being Said” with her friend, who is also a relationship therapist.

In honor of this week’s romantic holiday, The Hatchet sat down with Boykin to talk dating in college, how to take a relationship to the next level and Valentine’s Day date ideas.

What trends do you see in dating for college-aged people today?

Esther Boykin: One thing I’ve noticed quite a bit is a lack of definition. It’s not just that people aren’t putting labels on relationships but they’re also not having conversations to define the relationships. No one is talking about things like each other’s expectations. There’s just a trend, frankly into people’s 30s, where they aren’t having these conversations, which can lead to a lot of uncertainty that will ultimately hurt the relationship and sometimes cause it to end.

I see a lot of young people who seem to be avoiding the conversations, but also they tend to be taking the relationships they do have more seriously. When they start to think about having a committed serious relationship, they really care and are really invested in them. It’s an interesting conundrum because people are taking relationships more seriously and I think generally they would like to take relationships to the next level, but they don’t have the skills to have these meaningful conversations.

What advice would you give to people who are in this “conundrum” you mentioned and don’t know how to take their relationships to the next level?

EB: Figure out what you actually want first. Most people don’t spend enough time thinking about what they actually want and then they find someone, they have pressure from friends and family and even society to get into a relationship. But just because someone looks good on paper – that’s not enough.

Also, practice being a little vulnerable. My son and his friends always say things like “I don’t want to seem thirsty,” but you need to step away from that mindset where you don’t want people to know that you are interested in them.

When you finally are having conversations about your relationships with people, don’t try to be subtle or manipulative, and don’t drop hints. This is one of those things I say to clients of every age: It’s time to be an adult and have an honest conversation.

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, what are your best Valentine’s Day date ideas?

EB: If you’re in a more casual relationship or something that is just starting out, go for something that feels fun, adventurous and shows who you are. Do something you’ve never done before because it’s exciting but also gives you a window into the other person. If you really like art, go to painting class or a museum. Picking something where you have to work together is perfect because it’s a good test for how well you can get along.

If you’re in a long-term relationship, plan something that shows how well you know your partner. Something that says you’re paying attention. The longer you’re in a relationship the easier it becomes to be mindless and not pay attention to little things so you can reverse that on Valentine’s Day. The best dates are those that show you care about the other person and want to make them happy.

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