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How to Maintain Meaningful Relationships over the Vac

Pretty quickly you realise that Oxford socialising is intense. A week of regular cups of tea with someone can create speculative rumours about your relationship with them worthy of any gossip mag, whilst a minor (or major) breakdown about an essay deadline, tough tutor or dating turmoil in front of a new friend makes you feel like you’ve bonded for life. In the nine weeks I’ve spent at Oxford, I’ve felt at my most vulnerable in front of people who didn’t know me mere weeks ago and I’ve learnt more about the people I’m close with now than friends I’ve known for the majority of my life. 

The reason relationships at Oxford can be so genuine is that they thrive on the close proximity and the shared experiences. The majority of friendships are formed and maintained with face-to-face connections over cups of coffee or behind laptop screens, cultivating empathy as you experience everything about that person, from the way they hold themselves, to the tone of their voice. This allows an unedited vulnerability more likely to generate a lasting relationship and it’s furthered by the unique culture, uniting students through the power of bizarre bop themes and crewdates. Social media is largely reduced to a perfunctory role of facilitating that real-life socialising and in such a pressurised environment, having understanding friends nearby fosters a supportive atmosphere that breeds BFFs.

But friendships that seemed entirely unbreakable in 8th week now appear far more fallible in the wintry light of the Christmas break. Outside of Oxford, friendships are conducted through a minefield of group chats, DMs and Facebook tags – leaving you yearning for the days of 2am catch-up cups of tea or impromptu get togethers. When you’re home for Christmas and you find your new friends far-flung and preoccupied with family and old school friends you can feel at a bit of a loss. It’s easy to be unenthused by superficial chatter about upcoming collections when you’re used to the animated discussions of the last Bridge Thursday or the drama from the latest bop and you can’t be bothered to type out lengthy prose on what exactly you’ve both been up to.

So meet up with them! The happiest I’ve been this vacation was when I was sat around a dining table with my nearest and dearest from College, having dinner and catching up properly. It’s the easiest way to combat that texting lethargy and seeing friends outside of Oxford confirms that you don’t just work in a specific, pressurised setting. If they can’t travel, or you can’t, Facetime is the next best thing and negates that anxiety about slow responses or what a ‘reaction’ to a message really means.

Relationships move fast at Oxford, close friendships are created in the blink of an eye (or the time it takes to exchange lecture notes) and when a week is an eighth of a term, the time you spend with people becomes far more significant. Whilst this means the relationships you develop can be meaningful and worth maintaining, the vacation is also a good opportunity to take some time away from those newly formed friendships and to gain some perspective outside of the Oxford bubble. Over Christmas people may not be reaching out as much, but sometimes it’s this distance that makes you appreciate them all the more. Hilary term will only reaffirm the friendships formed in the first and the vacation can be a time to reunite with older friends who are often easier to neglect when you’re overwhelmed with books and bops come term time.

If you’re missing people, tell them – though beware the landmine of misinterpreted intentions, the ticking time bomb of replying too quickly, or too slowly and the inevitable awkwardness of a read message with no reply. It’s tempting to just wait until they’re your neighbour again and invite them over for a cup of tea. But be brave and reach out to them; arrange a Facetime call or a daytrip to see them, catch up on how their holiday has been and commiserate about collections together. It doesn’t have to be the incessant chatting, meeting up and nights out of an eight week term, but they’ll be pleased to hear from you, I promise.

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