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An Oxfess on Oxlove

I don’t know if I can truly call this an Oxfess. The presence of my name seems to take away from the anonymity which makes the Oxfess or Oxlove post so entertaining to compose and to read. Be it a heartfelt declaration of passion, or a (not so) subtle ‘up-yours’, this culture of turning to the internet to open up our hearts makes me wonder about this strange modern world that we live in.

The essential idea of Oxlove is great. A community entirely dedicated to thanking friends, celebrating people who make us feel valued, and cathartically confessing the secret longings of the heart is not only a thing of wonder, but also a thing of fun. I like the simple youthfulness of a tendency to fall for people we meet only in passing, who cycle through our lives in just enough time for us to make out the initials on their college puffer. The best posts have got to be the ones which show love for people whose kindness might easily go unnoticed. Team captains who give us a shot. The tute partner who makes you confident to speak up for your ideas, even though that tyrannical tutor was determined to put you down. A third year who gave you some bread when yours had gone mouldy. These brief but meaningful posts are a reminder that it is those small acts of kindness that so easily go unnoticed which ultimately make life beautiful. 

Nevertheless, it seems to me that Oxlove is changing the way we behave when it comes to emotions, which in turn is changing what the ‘love’ we are expressing actually means. By removing the vulnerability that comes with confessing emotion – admitting that you really appreciated help with that tute sheet, asking someone out for a drink, or confessing that you were hurt by the words your friend chose – love becomes a few digital words, without faces or names. Picture me sitting on my bed this afternoon, scrolling through Facebook while the essay draft on my laptop glares at me judgmentally. As I read Oxlove after Oxlove, I wonder why we feel more comfortable admiring the cute guy in red working behind the bar through an anonymous post, a post which is unlikely to be read by its intended recipient. Even if they were to see it, they could not respond. Maybe they thought that you were cute, too. Perhaps it would have been the romcom outcome you were fantasising about as you sat there sipping your drink on the opposite side of the room, admiring how he pulled a pint.

Admitting feelings can be hard because you might not get the reaction that you were hoping for. They might turn you down; perhaps you only liked them from a distance. After all, Oxlove is just a bit of fun. It’s a way of communicating, albeit indirectly, with people who we otherwise might not have the chance to connect with in our busy daily bustles. Yet, however I try to resist finding inspiration in a film that only gets a 49% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I find myself thinking of We’re the Millers and the revelation, albeit ridiculous, of a tattoo which reads ‘no ragrets’. Whilst the tattoo itself might raise eyebrows, its essential message rings alarmingly true. Would it not be better to admit to our feelings, and save ourselves the worries of ‘what if…’

Our little confessions of love would surely mean more if they were spoken out loud, if they were unapologetic, vulnerable, and real. Oxlove seems to suggest that fewer people are taking a chance on love in ways that are genuine, spontaneous, and exciting. Surely what makes love (romantic, or otherwise) so meaningful is the chemistry that comes from face-to-face interactions, and the thrill of the risk of admitting how you feel. 

As I walked back from Tesco this evening (and realised that I had forgotten to get the milk which was the whole reason I had gone out to the shop in the first place), I fell in love with Oxford all over again. The sun was about to set, the golden stone bathed in a glorious May sunlight. Broad Street was alive with the chatter of groups of friends, couples holding hands in bookshop windows, and laughter being shared over beers at pub tables. Life seemed like a simple thing made out of people. It’s a thing that’s happening on the streets, in the shops and cafes, and along the paths of Christchurch meadow. 

I shamelessly confess that Trinity turns me into a romantic, but before you dismiss me and return to Facebook to bury your head into more heartfelt, chaotic, and simultaneously meaningful and meaningless confessions of love (and hate), consider this: next time, instead of reaching for your phone to share your love, take a chance on people in real life. The person who makes you smile each day will appreciate knowing the difference their presence has. Someone who is crying a few seats down in the library is likely to value your smile and kind words more than an anonymous message posted hours later. That person you’re admiring might just be admiring you back. Who knows? 

That simple act of spoken kindness might just change your life.

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