Dating in Law School … is it Possible?

GUEST BLOG Makenzie Way, 2L at the University of Pennsylvania Law School

Dating in Law School? Are you Serious?

Law school has a reputation for being the place where love comes to die.

In general, law students are notorious for being strapped for time, overflowing with stress, and unreliable when it comes to social commitments. Obviously, 1L is the worst when it comes to juggling your academic and professional responsibilities with a relationship, and the general ‘proceed with caution’ warning for 1L relationships is pretty spot on; but many law students still question whether a relationship is feasible in 2L or 3L.

As an upperclassman, you have moderately more time, or maybe it’s just less pressure, which lends itself well to dating. At the same time, we’ve all heard familiar warnings: “don’t date someone in your friend group;” “don’t date someone in the law school at all;” or the classic “just don’t date while in law school.” What truth if any rests in these warnings? Better yet, what are the pros and cons of dating as a law student … or dating a law student?

First off I believe there are three important divisions when it comes to law school dating:

  1. beginning a relationship in law school, versus maintaining a pre-existing relationship;
  2. dating a law-student versus a non-law student; and
  3. committed/exclusive dating in law school, versus more casual dating.

When it comes to maintaining a pre-existing relationship in law school I think it really depends on the circumstance of the relationship – i.e. are you long distance, married, long-term, short-term, are they a student, a professional, etc. However, as a general rule of thumb, if your relationship survived 1L it probably stands to reason that law school won’t be what ends the relationship (if it ends).

With that said, after entering law school, most dating concerns regard beginning a relationship in law school. It’s here that I think the second and third division really come into play. So let’s dive in!

Dating a fellow law student has both its advantages and its drawbacks.

Generally speaking, a law student will better understand your life; they know when the busy times are, what the stress is like, and likely share some similar interests. If the individual goes to the same school as you then you have some added “scheduling” benefits – for instance, instead of having to arrange a specific time to go to dinner outside of school hours, you can grab a quick 15 minute lunch together in between classes, chat during your breaks, or study together in the library. Essentially, with a law student at your school, you get more face time without necessarily having to sacrifice your class/study time.

Remember though, that facetime perk can work against you when you’re in a fight, or if things end poorly since it means you’re going to have to see them and, to some extent, interact with them. Likewise, dating someone at your school is bound to attract some level of attention amongst your peers, so if you like your privacy this may not be the route for you. Finally, dating someone at your law school, or a law student generally, may just be too much law school.

By the same token, dating a non-law student has its perks and downfalls as well.

Most obviously, dating outside of the law school lets you separate your personal life from your academic/professional life. You don’t run the same risk of delving into crim con pro, or reminiscing about those 1L civil procedure cases. A non-law student can help ground you, and remind you that there is an outside world. At the same time, a non-law student may not understand the commitment level that law school entails, which may result in them pushing you to give more than you are able. Likewise, you may find it hard to relate to non-law students, since they likely won’t understand your fascination with SCOTUS cases, or nerdy legal subjects.

Law student versus non-law student aside, another sincere debate involves committed versus casual dating.

Obviously, given the strain of law school, casual dating is technically easier. You don’t need to worry so much about being selfish when it comes to prioritizing your school and other time commitments. You still get the benefit of companionship. Though, casual dating, especially within the law school, can result in added stress if you’re not fully prepared to be non-exclusive.

Likewise, casual dating can lead to drama – in the case of internal law school dating, just remember someday your peers will be your professional connections; you likely don’t want to be remembered at alumni events as the classmate who spent fall semester hooking up with Jess from section 2 only to throw a fit at bar review and spend the rest of the week crying and/or arguing in the hallway. Finally, casual relationships can be financially burdensome since they often require you to eat out, take Ubers, and pay for other date related expenses.

Committed dating, on the other hand, can be seen as somewhat more difficult.

You really need to commit to balancing law school and your relationship. Though your partner should understand that law school is a top priority, you also can’t be completely selfish.  After all, you’re a unit. The security of a committed relationship is nice since stability for some law students is hard to come by. Unlike many casual relationships, in a healthy and stable relationship, you’ll benefit from having someone to rely on emotionally and beyond. That emotional support can be paramount in keeping your mental health at a good level throughout law school.

On the other hand, committed relationships take time and energy that you may not have to give. Jealousy can be a real factor, especially if your relationship is long-distance. And while you shouldn’t plan for a break-up, it’s probably good to note that a committed relationship ending generally hits harder than a casual relationship ending. Finally, entering into a committed relationship in law school may result in you having to rethink your post-graduation plans, since your partner may not want, or be able to go to your desired city/country.

That’s all a longwinded way of saying, dating in law school is certainly possible … it just may not be for you, or what you’re used to. However, if I could offer some limited advice on dating in law school it would be the following:

  1. Be reasonable, know yourself and what you can and can’t handle. Don’t compromise that just because of the law school culture and norms.
  2. Know what you want and seek clarity from others. If you want to be casual then make that clear so you don’t end up saddled with unnecessary drama. If you want commitment, but don’t have it yet, ask. Don’t stress yourself out and inadvertently relocate time and energy that should be devoted to your studies.
  3. Try to keep your dating life and academic life separate, especially if you date within the law school – not to say you don’t bring your person around, just have some level of division. For instance, don’t register for a class just because your current fling or partner is taking it if you’re not otherwise interested in the topic; don’t pick your post-graduation job or city based on someone unless the relationship is sufficiently serious to warrant it; and don’t let your relationship drama becomes the talk of the town within the walls of your school.