The woes of using dating apps in CamEden Keily-Thurstain

The past year has brought us many historic events: the passing of her majesty the Queen and the coronation of her Cantab son, for one – while also having provided me with some of the worst dates I have had the misfortune to be on.

Dating beyond the reality checkpoint could be described as a herculean feat. Rather than finding the love of your life or potentially someone to copulate with – one finds themselves in the predicament of attempting to navigate the fact that everyone knows everyone within the Cambridge bubble.

The folklore perhaps rings true that you are only ever two people away from someone you have slept with in this town. There is a delightful parallel to be made between this myth and only ever being six feet away from a rat. Ironically, six feet is the minimum height I have set my Hinge preference to – an excellent segue (if I do say so myself) onto the theme of this piece: dating apps. The necessary evil we must all grapple with in the weeds of dating in 2023.

The app-based phenomenon adds a hefty bit of debauchery to the quagmire of dating anyone in Cambridge. It is at my own peril that I set my location to CB3 upon matriculation. I should have noticed the blinding red flags of this error when my first Hinge date gifted me a tin of baked beans on meeting (fear not, it was Heinz). Unfortunately the dates have only gone downhill from there (with not even a baked bean in sight to aid the sad sausages we’ve had to contend with). And thus, to make us feel somewhat better about our dismal dating despair, we have opted to transform comedy to tragedy and select some of the finer shenanigans to share with you.

Pillow wall man

My first tale to provide warning before anyone starts swiping their little heart out is the tale of the affectionately known, “pillow wall man”. Meeting at the Grain & Hop store on Regent Street, I didn’t realise what was in store for me until all too late.

“A pillow wall that could give Hadrian a run for his money”

After the delicious but dangerous granny smith infused gin-and-tonics, I pottered back to his college where conversation continued to flow merrily. However, the first jarring incident occurred when the chap in question had identical bedding to another man I had recently “seen”. Despite me trying to suppress the shock at the sight of another bedding set adorned with stags (if this doesn’t scream alpha male, I don’t know what will), you can then imagine my somewhat perplexed state when the guy in question hands me a set of pyjamas.

In my now delirious state I uttered the iconic line: “it is rare that a man asks me to keep my clothes on”. If nominative determinism hasn’t happened to give you any clues as to what was about to occur, let me tell you through clenched teeth: a pillow wall, which could give Hadrian a run for his money, was constructed between the two of us, with no signs of life from the other side.

As soon as a glimmer of sunlight broke through the curtains in the morning and the sound of a cat (that I claimed to be the dawn chorus) sounded, I attempted to say a less than awkward goodbye – to absolutely no avail. Alas, despite the evening ending in a construction that Kevin McCloud would be proud of, I did go on to see pillow wall man again; purely out of intrigue – I promise. I’ll keep it to myself as to if I ever found out what lay on the other side.

Hamming it up

While these stories are a little on the hectic side of the spectrum, it perhaps does highlight that, to be a Cambridge student, you may have to be a little eccentric, or it could just highlight my arguably poor taste. I will let you be the arbiter of that.

There is a slight theme that most of my Hinge dates tend to start in a place which can provide me with an abundance of alcoholic beverages, as a necessity to help see me through the extraordinarily dry chat that some chaps offer up. So, on a balmy April evening, I found myself lurking in the Bathhouse; happily the lighting was so dark that the lack of concealer and the circles under my eyes were completely hidden. I couldn’t tell you in much detail about the PhD student who sat opposite me that eve, as what I encountered next has suppressed all other memories of the evening.

“I implore all, please hide your Percy Pig memorabilia”

We all know that M&S have gone “ham” on their branding, and I am personally partial to a cheeky Colin the Caterpillar on occasion. However, I implore all members of this university – if you are to bring anyone back to your room, please hide your Percy Pig memorabilia. It was a set of Percy Pig pyjamas folded neatly on a pillow that I was faced with that evening, and that image is now burnt onto my retina. Apart from me questioning my faith in the dating pool yet again, I now cannot enjoy a cheeky Percy without it leaving a bitter taste in my mouth. At least this suitor didn’t ask me to put the pyjamas on.

The Wicker Man

For a bit of variety and to prove that it is not just me (I swear there is something in the water from the Cam), Vulture Editor Emily Lawson-Todd also shares a particularly unique experience of the Cambridge dating scene.

“Mr ‘tall, dark and handsome’ used to be in a cult”

Like every good party, every bad date usually has a surprise. Sometimes the surprise, while truly ick-worthy, is benign, such as realising your Tinder date is a Camfess top fan, or that they own a college-branded scarf. However, in the case of one of my more unfortunate dates, the surprise was a little bit more dramatic – my Mr “tall, dark and handsome” used to be in a cult. He showed me photos of him wearing robes while on his gap year in a commune in the middle of nowhere; in a way that was a little too eager for someone who literally admitted that he spent six months in the mountains chanting.


Mountain View

‘Let’s get icky with it’: the biggest Cambridge icks

I thought gap years were something posh people did to “find themselves” (i.e. develop a personality outside of Schöffels), not enact The Wicker Man. For about half an hour, I truly believed I was going to be the next “virgin” sacrifice and mentally came up with a plan to seduce the cult leader in an “if you can’t beat them, join them” moment of desperation. Luckily, my date decided that this would not be my fate, telling me over text that it seemed as if “I was judging him for vaping”. Hmm, yes. It was definitely the vaping that did it for me.

If these tales sound too ridiculous to be true, then you clearly have not been so desperate as us to form any kind of human contact that you have found yourself in one of Dante’s levels of hell; Hinge, Tinder or Bumble. While dating apps in any location can throw a rogue individual onto your path, the Cambridge bubble does allow for things to become a little more unhinged. If you are one of the rare few to have somehow fostered a blooming (and Bumble-free) romance in your time here, please do share your secrets to those of us clinging to the hinges of dating sanity for dear life.