A cult of convenient romance

This week, Rachel Imrie explores the search for simple love in Cambridge

Rachel imrie

Punting is just one of many romantic activities to do in the citywww.flickr.com

The other day, as I was wandering the aisles of Sainsbury’s, I found myself stood next to a gentleman with his basket rested against the shelf of noodles. Call it chance, destiny, or the act of a benevolent poltergeist, but a momentary glitch in the universe tipped a packet of noodles into his unsuspecting basket. 'Did you want that?' I sniggered. 'I guess I do now.' he replied. We exchanged smirking glances, made our excuses, and bumbled past each other, both of us going on our merry way. As I walked home, laden down by my newly acquired groceries and a cloud of rain and stresses bubbling overhead, I wondered, in a frankly pathetic moment of self-indulgence, 'Did I just throw away my romcom moment?'

Of course, it is highly unlikely that anything to match my Notting Hill fantasy could have come from this trivial exchange. It was, however, tempting to allow myself to be charmed by such soppy romantic sentiments – especially when confronted by these cold Cambridge nights, a fast approaching Valentine’s Day, and an apparently ceaseless milieu of happy couples. It was just the right dose of non-committal wish fulfilment I needed to get myself through those Week 3 blues (at this point, we ought to just refer to Michaelmas blues, Lent blues, and Easter blues).

“The city almost demands that you have someone with whom to share it.”

There seem to be two principal avenues to find a relationship at university. The first option: the perilous decision to pursue feelings for a close friend. Whilst the compatibility of your personalities has been established and this can be a solid foundation for a relationship, you jeopardise both a valued connection and something which is potentially already quite special without added complications. Essentially, it’s a high-reward, but high-risk scenario. Not ideal.

The second option: the elusive prize, which every lonely singleton seems to struggle in vain to claim, is finding and subsequently kindling some rare and intangible ‘spark’. The notion of ‘once you know, you just know’ saturates our culture, having been relentlessly hammered into each and every one of us by everything from schmaltzy Disney movies to melancholic Arctic Monkeys songs. This is even more so in Cambridge with its cobbled streets, punts, and archaic mystery – the city almost demands that you have someone with whom to share it.

Among the most devoted pilgrims of this phenomenon seem to be the philandering rugby boys, who spend their weekly shift at Wednesday Cindies hoping that the girl they take home this time will be ‘the one’. The one who’ll effortlessly reveal herself through her kooky dance moves, luminous eyes, and sparkling wit. The one that’s so perfect that they’ll feel fully satisfied in retiring from the lifestyle for good.


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Yet aside from the allure of having a good story to recount to hypothetical grandchildren, the principal appeal of this sort of attachment seems to be just how low effort it is. The idea that, without any actual effort or pursuit from either party, the perfect person will just stumble onto your doorstep, that your path will cross theirs as you both walk down King's Parade. There is also the implication that the relationship, once established, won’t require any work or commitment, the two of you relying on the strength of initial attraction alone.

However, more often than not, lasting relationships are not founded on a ‘spark’. Relying on such an elusive and often fictitious thing can inhibit us from investing the necessary time and effort required to get to know someone. And even if you do feel such a spark (or imagine that you do), it cannot be assumed that the object of your affection will reciprocate. Nor is it guaranteed that they will be available, perhaps having already established a relationship based on knowledge and loyalty with another. We’re not all Meg Ryan willing to immediately abandon our deplorable and ultimately disposable fiancés for a relative stranger.

Many, if not most, of us seem to be looking for a ready meal of chemistry, compatibility, and connection, pre-packaged for our convenience. Yet, as we all know from lethargic days when we are sickened by the thought of spending any considerable time in our gyps, nutritious microwave meals are not only rare, but they are often full of nasty hidden ingredients that aren’t immediately apparent to our desperate, hungry selves. Although the thought of labouring over a hearty, homemade dish may seem time-consuming and unnecessarily arduous, the end product is almost guaranteed to be satisfying and delicious.

If you spend life waiting to get ‘struck’, not only are the odds against you, but you’re more likely to get burned. So maybe all of us, be it rugby boys or Sainsbury’s wanderers, ought to start making healthier, more reasonable choices.