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A Beginner’s Guide to Being Single

Reflections on dating at Oxford and coming to terms with being single.

When my relationship ended over a year ago, I was so good at the breakup. I did everything right. I cried (a lot). I thought about texting him (but didn’t). I watched some awful rom-coms (young Matthew McConaughey, anyone?). I did face masks with my friends and ate ice cream, and for a long time, I really thought my heart would never recover. Of course, as it turns out, this is just how everyone feels after a breakup: I wasn’t the first person to feel like that, and I won’t be the last.

Time passed. I dedicated my newfound time to my friendships, my hobbies (all cards on the table: I row), and my degree. I now look back on what could have been one of my worst times as one filled with memories made with my greatest friends. The novelty of singleness led to a hot(-tish) girl summer (although falling short of the Lily-James-as-young-Donna vac of my dreams). I went on dates. I met new people. But as quickly as it came, the novelty wore off and the reality set in: the dating scene at Oxford is awful. 

It didn’t help that I have no idea how to date. My last relationship all but happened to me during sixth form when a guy I got on with like a house on fire and eventually fell in love with came along to begin our on-and-sometimes-off relationship. Sure – there are worse problems to have, but I’m convinced that I’m not the whole problem here. I’m not too proud to tell you I’ve tried dating apps, and they’re a waste of time at best. And yet, meeting someone in person seems like a romantic notion now confined to late-noughties rom-coms. Most people who have tried dating here have had similar experiences. Like them, in the process of exploring the dating scene Oxford has to offer, I have become disillusioned with the great parts about being single; I became one of those people who is far too often talking about how they miss being in a relationship. But I’m a better feminist than that – I’m sure of it. 

If you’re wondering why this has been on my mind so much recently, it comes back to a conversation I had at a formal a while ago with the boyfriend of a close friend of mine. 

“I was really intimidated by you when I first met you, you know.” He told me. 

This surprised me. I didn’t think I was intimidating.

He continued enthusiastically. “Yeah! You’re really intimidating! Like, you seem to have your shit together, and you call me out if I do something wrong – you can be a bit scary sometimes.” He then proceeded to ask all of our guy friends who sat around the table, who confirmed that I was actually very intimidating before they knew me, and that I would therefore never ever date again.

The feminist part of me was going, maybe you should be intimidating. After all, aren’t all the things he listed good things? But a not insignificant part of me – the part which was told I was ‘bossy’ instead of ‘confident’ growing up – felt overwhelmingly frustrated that I couldn’t just be a bit together and self-assured and not intimidate guys I know with it.

So this is the real issue: I might miss some parts of being in a relationship, but I do not want to change myself, to become less good at what I’m doing, to enjoy the things I like less, to take up less space, just to date again. I do not want to lower my standards either, or to expect less of any romantic interests. But from what I can tell, if a relationship was really what I wanted, then I would have to settle or change some of these things. And given that I have no intention of doing that (nor, I think, do I want a relationship that badly), I’m going to remind myself of all of the reasons that I am lucky to not be in a relationship at this point in my life. And there is so much to love – it’s just about finding it. I can’t be the only one who’s not great at being single yet. But I’ll get there.

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