"I have found that these people tend to make excellent friends and that a successful friendship is less lonely than a failing romance."NBC/Netflix

The most thumbed-through books on my shelf are Heartburn and Emma. I brought my Amelie DVD to uni despite not having a disc drive in my laptop. I am an incorrigible romantic, but the last three years have shown me that, try as you might, you cannot write yourself into a love story.

Among the congratulations I received from my family on getting a place at Cambridge, one comment seemed to recur with surprising frequency: “You’ll get yourself a nice man there, won’t you?” Besides mentally correcting the heteronormative assumptions of my aged relatives, I think I generally agreed with them. Where better to meet someone who shared my interests, was ambitious without being callous, lived in London, knew how to poach eggs the right way, and would write sonnets about me?

I’m now a finalist, and single.

“Being in love is more about noticing than being noticed”

I want to offer an alternative to the usual narrative that seems to accompany this situation (‘before I graduate’, ‘running out of time’, ‘getting desperate’ etc.). I see the relationships I have had here as pockets of happy memories; it’s just that, ultimately, we weren’t right for each other. The world – and Cambridge – is full of good people who don’t quite click romantically. I have found that these people tend to make excellent friends and that a successful friendship is less lonely than a failing romance.

I think that one of the reasons we are so preoccupied with relationships is that we see romance as the highest level of intimacy. A romantic partner, we believe, should know us inside out, and help us to create a coherent idea of who we are. Not only that, but they will love us, or they will love the idea of us that they have helped to create. In Cambridge, where interactions can often feel superficial, this is a very tempting prospect. We want someone to gather up the disparate parts of ourselves which we hand out to others, stick us back together, and tell us that we’re amazing.

It is a strange phenomenon that many of us believe this confirmation must come in the form of romantic love. Being attracted to someone certainly heightens your awareness of their physicality and behaviours. “I love that you get cold when it’s 71 degrees out. I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you’re looking at me like I’m nuts.” And so on. (For those of you who aren’t as well-read in rom-coms as I am, let me redirect you to When Harry Met Sally).


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We are self-absorbed, so we place an inflated sense of importance on the thousands of minute decisions we make every day. Surely we must receive some commendation for our co-ordination of socks and a jumper? Surely someone must be mesmerised by the witty Beckett allusion we made in the brunch queue? The phrase “I’m in love with you” reassures us that we have been noticed in the way that we want to be noticed.

However, our friends perceive a touching amount about us too – there are just fewer outlets through which intense, individualised affection can be expressed on a platonic level. To quote Dolly Alderton (as I am wont to do), ‘When you’re looking for love and it seems like you might not ever find it, remember that you probably have access to an abundance of it already, just not the romantic kind. [...] Keep it as close to you as you can.’ (Everything I Know About Love).

When I started university, being single equalled looking for a relationship. I haven’t actively chosen not to look now, but embracing those scattered selves can be wonderful, and meaning different things to different people is refreshing. It really has taken me this long to learn that relationships are not a substitute for self-esteem.

Being in love is more about noticing than being noticed. Of course, it can be hard to feel like no-one has chosen you to be their person, the one who clearly stands out to them more than anyone else because we all want to feel special. This might not happen for all of us in Cambridge, and that’s okay. In the meantime, we should give more of ourselves to our friends, and not reserve our most sparkling conversation for a first date.

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