Love is an elusive beast. It creeps up on you when you least expect it and generally, it messes with your plans. I’d always planned on being single when I arrived at uni – I pictured myself sitting in a lecture swapping coy glances with a handsome stranger, or making eyes over my laptop at a cute fellow intellectual in a chic café. Basically, I predicted a lot of meaningful eye-contact and wooing straight out of an Austen novel. But in my final year of school, I met someone and fell promptly (and inconveniently) head over heels.
We were together for nearly a year, but within three weeks at Oxford it had come to a slightly devastating end. I know it’s not just me and that many people arrive at Oxford determined to maintain long distance relationships that aren’t destined to make it past first term, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less. When you’re battling an onslaught of essay deadlines, societies and socialising, the distance between you quickly shifts from geographical to emotional. I hate to take the stance of a cynic but does Oxford make it easier to lose love than find it? Urban myth tells us we have roughly a 30% chance of finding the person we end up with at Oxford – a statistic that half makes you want to run out and meet as many potentials as possible just to hedge your bets – but the odds still feel fairly stacked against you. Between the bizarre complexities of clubbing culture and hectic Oxford days, it can be difficult to meet the one and harder still to make it work.
I’ve long held a theory that you will only ever meet someone clubbing if you’ve already met them. Sure, you may flirt with a stranger, you may even go home with them, but I think I can confidently claim that no one has ever found true love in a club. The scene really isn’t set for romance between the inadequate lighting and the antisocial music. It does frankly nothing for me when being hit on equates to a guy bellowing the lyrics to Kanye’s “I love it” in my general direction. If by some miracle sparks start flying, it’s more often lust than love. But going clubbing with someone you’re already interested in is a completely different kettle of fish. Suddenly, you have an excuse to hold their hand whilst you’re navigating through the press of people at the bar and if your hands still happen to be holding later… well, who could blame you? When there’s already been some small-scale flirting, Bridge suddenly transforms into a realm of tipsy possibility, where you can make a move and excuse it on a drink too many if it happens to backfire, or, conveniently, forget it ever happened?
But say you do the impossible – maybe you meet them at a society, maybe they ask you out for a coffee and you get butterflies, dating at Oxford also comes with its own unique struggles. I don’t know about you, but frankly I don’t have time to be interested in anyone at the minute. I’ve got essays, the occasional lecture and potentially a gym membership to maintain this term and I can’t see myself making time for an actual date. When an Oxfess about feeling guilty about taking a shower strikes a chord, you shudder to think about the self-flagellation that would arrive with the time it takes to prepare for a date. So dating at Oxford inevitably becomes a rather casual affair. Maybe it’s just spending some time alone watching a film, or a late night catch up, but it’s unlikely to happen at a time you could be working productively.
So it’s a late evening, probably in your room or theirs, where – if you’re unlucky and you live in a broom cupboard like me – the room is mostly taken up with a bed. The issue quickly becomes clear. Lots of Oxford relationships therefore tend to move quite quickly and a date can turn into a ‘booty call’ in the time it takes to scan the room for a place to sit that isn’t The Bed. But if you’re only seeing each other in snatched moments between essay dilemmas and attempts to have a social life, it can be hard to be truly intimate in a way that isn’t just physical. We joke, but an intercollege relationship often sounds almost as challenging as the long distance relationship that I was in.
However, if you’re in the same college and the person you’re seeing is practically a neighbour it can become harder still to define what you are. It’s almost impossible to ‘date’ if you’re simultaneously sitting next to them in the library or opposite them at dinner. Add onto that the potential triple threat of them being in the same year, the same college and the same course. Whilst that means you’re spending plenty of time with them, if anything were to go wrong, you’re, well… spending plenty of time with them. If nothing else it’s frankly cruel to subject a Tutor to that palpable tension once a week.
So why do we do it? Losing love hurts worse than a scooter to the ankle and the chances of it not working out seem horrifyingly high. But that’s not just the case at Oxford. Maybe here we’re fighting against low lecture turnout, busy schedules and awkward living situations, but we are still fighting. Emblazoning our initials onto puffer jackets and braving the Bodleian in the hopes of an Oxlove. Pre-ing for Parkend or Plush with our hopes high. Maybe even attending a 9am lecture. Because ultimately, we know it’s worth it when it’s real.