In Cambridge, they say that, by the time you graduate University, you should have achieved one of the following:
- a First – this is the best UK grade ranking that you can graduate with
- a Blue – or your ‘colours’, something you can achieve by representing the University on one of its sports teams
- a spouse
This is a tongue-in-cheek jibe that we pass between each other, joking, yes, but also slightly anxious that, if we don’t achieve at least one, we’re not living the university experience right. This is because, in Cambridge, pursuing any of these three things can feel like a full-time job. If you, by some miracle, achieved all three, I think you’d probably just ascend right to heaven.
It’s the sad realisation (and the classic admonishment) that you can’t have both. In Cambridge – where the workload is large and the pressure to do more than just that is even larger – I can’t help but feel like my love life will always be sidelined.
I could talk for hours about how romantic relationships shouldn’t define you – especially as a woman – but that doesn’t quench the unignorable craving to love and to be loved in return. It’s something that, for whatever reason, humans have evolved to want. The power of attraction can be traced back to reproduction, but why, unlike with other animals, does that translate into love?
Love is strange. I’ve been in relationships – whether that’s explicitly defined or a bit more blurred – and felt infatuation, desire, passion. I’ve experienced the modern, murky region where you like someone – where it’s implied that ‘like’ means a lot more than just enjoying their company. I’ve definitely loved people, and felt love in return. I’m not sure, however, that I’ve ever been in love.
As an English student, I can’t help but be pedantic and analyse the language of love. For one, the preposition is weird: we talk about being in love – inside it, surrounded by it, consumed by it. It’s as if love is a location that you suddenly find yourself in – as in, ‘I am in Cambridge’, ‘I am in love’. Love is also a place that we fall to, unable to rise in love and be made stronger because of it, but expected to be weakened, baffled, crushed.
In my nineteen years, I’ve felt all of these feelings. Being at university, though, I feel like I don’t have time for them. I’ve been in casual situations, more serious situations, and situations that just completely confounded me. Most of all, though, I’ve struggled to really connect with people in Cambridge. University is a ‘get with’ kind of time, where people meet on nights out but never really meet again. It’s a time to experiment, and committing to someone at such a young age feels like denying yourself the time to explore and grow.
They also say that knowing someone for a Cambridge term is the equivalent to knowing someone outside of Cambridge for a year. Everything is so intense here, and I rush through life, Week 1 a distant memory even by Week 2. It’s sad, because it makes my experience feel more like a tick-list: finish that essay, sit my exams, find a spouse, get an internship.
In a place chock-full of beautiful minds, it’s sad that we rarely get the time to properly talk and to connect. We’re all so caught-up in essay crises and extracurricular commitments to engage in conversations that delve deeper than talking about subjects and/or which colleges we attend within the University.
I’m not sure which I’d pick if I got the choice: a First or a spouse. (Having a Blue would be cool, but we can rule that out immediately – I’m not the sporty type.) Having a First would be gratifying and justify all of my work – but, equally, so does a Cambridge degree. Having someone to love forever would mean someone to lean on when things get tough – someone who understands. But, as I get older and wiser, I realise that this love comes from within.
I really do think self-love is something that you have to achieve before you can even begin to think about loving someone else – at least, loving someone else in a way that is healthy for the both of you. Then again, traversing the rocky road to loving myself also taught me that love isn’t – and was never – a destination at the end of that road. It’s more like a state-of-being that runs in-parallel to the rest of you.
Maybe it’s because I’m more committed to self love than romantic love that my love life is lacking. My moments of self-care and time-off enjoyment (the moments that keep me sane) are more like watching a movie alone or hanging out with friends than actively addressing my love life and finding someone to fill it. So, in the same way that I don’t have time for a first, a blue and a spouse before I leave Cambridge, I’m starting to think that self-love and romantic-love are a similar you can’t have both situation.
And maybe that’s OK. If I had to choose, I’d be happier to find self-love than romantic love in Cambridge, any day of the week.
“happy v day to me, myself and i. she’s p cool if u ask me.”