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Dating at Oxford

Phoebe Walls describes the emotional rollercoaster of dating as an Oxford student.

The dating scene at Oxford can feel very strange. In my first French tutorial the tutor told us how he met his wife in fresher’s week, bonding over a forgotten jacket and they’ve been together ever since. Yet dating in Oxford seems to be full of extremes. With students often left feeling overwhelmed by Oxford’s workload, a common tendency is to swear off relationships altogether. The word ‘relationship’ nowadays has a vastly different meaning; many people avoid relationships because the label to them means a life partner for eternity. Yet on the other hand, hook-up culture in Oxford is very much real. Students manage to fit no-strings-attached casual sex into the small hours of the morning, around busy social lives and academic schedules.

Some Oxonians consider dating within college to be as extreme as incest, yet other students report sleeping with their college grandmother or son. The college family system in Oxford creates a precariously platonic arrangement. Going out with someone in college is easy while it lasts; breakfasts in hall, constant bumping into each other, gazing through a candle at a formal dinner. Yet when the inevitably short-lived relationship ends, living in such close proximity creates awkward encounters or apathy. Taylor Swift’s All Too Well (the ten-minute version) becomes startingly relatable on walks through Christ Church meadow. Colleges are close-knit environments, but this also leads to gossip. From my room in Bear Lane, I have heard every single word of a two-hour long conversation about my peers’ love lives and now have enough content to write several novels.

Once the novelty of people in college wears off, students tend to look elsewhere for love interests. There are endless ways to meet new people in Oxford from libraries, cafes, and society events to clubs. It is impossible to kiss anyone in this city without seeing them again. Inevitably in a matter of days, hours, or weeks you’ll see them en route to the same careers fair or lurking in a Tesco aisle.

A common alternative to snogging a stranger against a sweaty wall is dating apps. These apps used to scare me but over coffee a friend told me she had met a nice boyfriend online. Tinder provides an empty void of swiping past faces. It’s like a cattle auction. Boys declare they don’t believe penguins are real and the biggest risk they’ve taken is going shopping on acid. Some men will message saying they just want you to come to their hotel and hook-up before their girlfriend discovers their account. For the about me section one boy wrote ‘The last time I was someone’s type I was donating blood.’ Another bio read ‘I am a student, I live in a room, and I happen to have feet.’ I’m not going to fall head over feet for that. I get the ick from reading the descriptions. My irritational ick list includes empty rucksacks, not using a mouse, the slow tying of shoelaces, caffeine-free coke and buying a pint of milk from McDonalds after a night out. Meeting people for the first time from Tinder is nerve-wracking. It’s a relief when it’s not an elderly catfish arriving at Turf Tavern. That’s if they arrive, of course. It’s even easier to ghost someone you’ve met online and cancel at the last minute to get a train back to Clapham to see your dog. Dogs are an effective way to lure people into your profile. Stuffed cats can also be intriguing.

Dating in Oxford can feel like a minefield. It’s a world of extremes with most people appearing to just be either after friends with benefits or a soulmate to settle down with. I struggle to find the in-between. History repeats itself. I matched with dozens of people with the same name as my first Oxford boyfriend, back as a naïve seventeen-year-old fresher. Miscommunication is a big problem too. For Oxonians it seems to be all or nothing. Amongst our jampacked days surely there must be some time to meet new people while we’re still in our prime.

Image credit: Danny Lines

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