Just messing around and being messed around

Rachel Imrie points out the inescapable fear of commitment that students tend to have in Cambridge

Rachel Imrie

The stresses of uni life can interfere with the search for the person of your dreamsPexels

Perhaps it was our comprehensive investigation into the tangle of feelings surrounding college like a climbing vine, or maybe it was merely a moment of poor, first date-induced nihilism, but a friend and I were recently led to conclude that most Cambridge relationships can be succinctly summarised as follows: “They’re just messing around and messing each other around”.

In most cases, it’s likely too generous to describe these ‘relationships’ as relationships. These sorts of ‘flings’, easily identifiable by their performed nonchalance and prescribed emotional tomfoolery, are probably better described as ‘situationships’. Or at least they would be if Love Island hadn’t cultivated an instinctual (and necessary) cringing feeling upon hearing the admittedly rather juvenile portmanteau.

“Everyone in Cambridge seems to be halfway to being in love with somebody”

We really ought to ask why so many of us seem to fall into these sorts of attachments, letting ourselves be led on, and, more importantly, allowing ourselves to lead on others. Whilst we may blame dating apps, curse the culture of drunken debauchery permeating our nights out, or even claim that our generation has lost its ability to communicate with one another, none of these problems are specific to the Cambridge experience. And yet, these nominally casual but not-quite-casual relationships, at least from discussions with my serially monogamist home friends, do seem to be abnormally common at Cambridge.

Another peculiarity of the Cambridge experience is our notoriously short terms. Although, as every STEM student and their Humanities mum will tell you, correlation is not causation, it is definitely tempting to draw a link between these eight-week time capsules of work and stress and many Cambridge students’ relationship with relationships. The accelerated pace of our terms creates a sense of instability in all aspects of our lives, but perhaps most of all in our personal and romantic lives.

For some, the knowledge that they have only two months together makes them go from passing glances to essentially moving in with one another within a matter of days. For others, it seems to necessitate an emotional distance, unable to trust someone they’ve known for so little time and thus to commit themselves to a relative stranger.

What’s worse, the Cambridge dating scene basically goes into hibernation by the end of week six. By that point in term, most become painfully aware that, even if your date is the embodiment of all your wildest fantasies, in two weeks time you’ll be flung to opposite ends of the country, with five weeks of revision-filled non-contact before you can even consider seeing them again.


Mountain View

Chat of the day

Between all the other stressors that Cambridge so generously bestows upon us, not only is there barely the time to form a genuine attachment with another person, but, rather cynically, it can be near-impossible to even cultivate the effort to do so. Why risk a broken heart when they could intermit tomorrow? No, even considering the weeks of confusion and miscommunication that often characterise these flings and things, a friends with (if only minimal) emotional benefits relationship still retains its certain appeal.

These relationships, situationships, or whatever else they may be called, whilst they are often convenient, are rarely truly fulfilling. Most Cambridge romances seem to be less “Reader, I married him”, and more, “Reader, I led him on for three weeks, then he left me on read for two, and then I just avoided him for the remainder of my degree”.

If there’s anything that I’ve gleamed from eight weeks of thinking about the Cambridge dating scene with a more cynical, clinical eye, it’s that everyone in Cambridge seems to be halfway to being in love with somebody. If only any of us had the courage to do anything about it.