Before there was Crushbridge, there was...varsity archives

Before there was Hinge, there was Varsity; the student paper has played cupid for 1950s suitors and noughties singletons alike. In honour of Valentines Day, I delved into the archives to see how the Cambridge dating scene has changed over the past 70 years.

"A Varsity issue was the perfect place to beg Lynne to “start again”, the equivalent of asking to get back with your ex via Crushbridge"

In 1953, a Newnham fresher moaned in ‘Veronica Varley’s vice Column’ “this term only five men have asked me out.” Worse, none of her dates had proposed. Though Veronica’s suggestion “if your friend was born under Taurus, it might account for your relationship taking this course”, resonates with 21st-century horoscope girlies, it’s hard to imagine how this student would have survived the Cambridge of today. Nowadays, proposals for exclusivity have replaced proposals for marriage, and you're lucky if you manage to match with five different men on Tinder. 

varsity archives

Fast forward to the 1980s, and Varsity was Cantabs’ wingman of choice. Charging 10p per word, the paper offered singles like Tarquin a forum to ask: “WHY does nobody send me Valentines?” Meanwhile, loverboy Mike felt a Varsity issue was the perfect place to beg Lynne to “start again”, the equivalent of asking to get back with your ex via Crushbridge. Not everyone was as lucky as ‘P’, who professed he loves ‘H’ “twice as much as cornflakes”, and John of “B20 Cripps, St. John’s” didn’t mince his words when he advertised “VACANCY for a girlfriend. Apply.” Hardly Austen, but John’s directness would be a welcome respite from the world of Instagram story-liking and Snapchat half-swiping.

"A welcome respite from the world of Instagram story-liking and Snapchat half-swiping"

By the early 2000s, Varsity’s matchmaking had reached new heights. The ‘Date of the Week’ section, advertised as “Your chance to date Cambridge’s most eligible singletons”, was the University’s answer to Take Me Out. Each week, the paper published a profile on a student looking for love, asking them their favourite song, to describe themselves in three words and how best to “pull them”. If you were enticed by Sara from Caius, a multifaceted lover of both Plato and ‘Milkshake by Kelis’, you would simply email in your answers to the same questions, and Sara would choose her date. In this case, Phil was the chosen one, and he reflected on their date in La Raza in the following Varsity issue. He said:“Sara was a top girl”, adding “I love Brummy birds!” I like to think that Phil and Sara are now happily married, and still make time for the monthly La Raza Funk Jam.

But the paper was not just an outlet for Cantabs looking for love. Since the 1950s, Varsity has published articles on the importance of self-love and the joys of singlehood. In 1959, Cecile Sullivan poked fun at the archaic courting conventions of her time. In her “symposium” of what men want in a woman, she chastised English girls for being “appallingly dressed and [having] no idea about makeup” and advised that they should “learn how to scrub floors” to better their chances of marrying a duke. Another issue from the 1950s denounced the commercialisation of Valentine’s Day, arguing that the history and essence of the holiday have been lost. 

In the 2004 Valentine’s issue, Ellen Jones contrasted Varsity’s “top tips on romantic rhymes” and exposé on “Cambridge’s racy side: getting hot under the gown” with a call to “Adopt rampant self-love as your default mode of interaction.” Ellen advises her fellow students to “wake up in the morning [and] decide you’re bloody great” in an uplifting article on finding happiness from within. Though her suggestion to walk into a room and convince yourself that “everyone in that room is desperate to sleep with you” could complicate supervisions, her general message – that a touch of delusion never hurt anyone – rings true.


Mountain View

An AskVulture Valentine

So, from matchmaking lovesick students to defiant defences of singledom, Varsity has guided students through the perils of the Cambridge dating scene for decades. Though Hinge has replaced ‘The Date of the Week’, professions of love have moved to Crushbridge, and we now look for college spouses, not real ones the archives provide comfort for Cambridge students of today. If this Valentine’s isn’t as romantic as you’d hoped, you have 70 years’ worth of Cantab company. And if you are keen to find a date for Wednesday, there’s a chance that John from John’s is still on the lookout.