A Game of Dates

To prepare myself to write this post I am listening to the Beatles – nobody knows love like the Beatles – and I feel some preparation is necessary here because talking about affairs of the heart does not come naturally to me. More than this, I loathe writing about it because it only reminds me of cringe-worthy articles in women’s magazines. But love is an inescapable and enjoyable experience for all human beings and so I think a few words should be spent talking about it, especially in the run up to Valentine’s Day, but also with this massive change in the rules of the dating game since secondary school.

I grew up with ‘Friends’ as my educational source for adult life and what I’ve noticed is that relationships seem to have moved towards the adult ‘realm’ or ‘style’ called ‘dating’ that Rachel and others always seemed to be doing. For me, this is completely alien. I was used to a system where you were ‘asked out’ (one of the bizarrest phrases in human history) by a boy/girl and that was it – you were an item. You tended to label yourselves boyfriend/girlfriend from the off and monogamy was generally assumed. Here, at university, the old system has gone out the window. You can technically ‘date’ (also a strange and vague term) multiple people without causing offense and there are generally stages of seriousness (I have one friend with a hot chocolate stage; I’m not sure what this means but, for me, anything with chocolate is serious business). You might work up towards becoming someone’s boyfriend/girlfriend eventually, although I couldn’t tell you how.

To conclude the sociological-style analysis, I really don’t like this new style. Maybe I’m just being conservative of my secondary school principles surrounding love but what doesn’t sit with me well is the lack of clarity in the new system. Perhaps it reduces the chance of being rejected straight from the off, although this benefit doesn’t outweigh the awkwardness you might have to suffer later. Nobody wants to ask someone if they can call them their significant other (the fear, I guess, is that your feeling may appear too strong and creepy) and, to a far greater extent, nobody wants to ask someone if they are seeing other people or even to stop seeing other people. At least the old system avoided this – we had clarity – even if you suffer some embarrassment along the way. So, what I want to say to all the forlorn and heart-sick students is to reject the system, revolutionise and ask that 3 month long crush to be your girlfriend if you are like me and hate the ambiguity.

I’ve learnt a great deal more about affairs of the heart since being at the university just by studying my two best friends (whom I call my Exeter parents). They are an exemplar for me when it comes to relationships and I think what makes them so strong is the fact that they are each other’s best friends. This doesn’t mean ‘hit on your existing friends’ (that seems to be a quick way to lose them) but your significant other should become your best friend as you get to know them. In the meantime, while you wait for your best friend to walk into your life, enjoy your crushes. Having a crush on someone is the only enjoyable pain I have ever experienced! It’s nice just to like someone from afar without the pressure of waiting for them to fall in love with you. I have a crush, I can admit that to you freely because I’m not entirely sure he even remembers who I am, and I am enjoying the heartache while I listen to soppy songs. Maybe I’ll ‘ask out’ my crush if I get brave enough but I won’t let my feelings consume me because that is how to get hurt – we fill ourselves with affection for another person and when those sentiments aren’t returned, that’s when we experience rejection.

As a last note, celebrate your singledom. You may think that people might think there is something wrong with you if you are single but this is not the case. It just suits some people. Being in a relationship is never a necessity. What always brings a smile to my face is the thought of how much money I save not buying presents for someone else (which can now go on chocolate)!

The Keyboard is Mightier than the Sword

I have been contemplating recently (considering the effects of the Charlie Hebdo attacks and to a far lesser extent my last post) about the impact of non-verbal human communication meaning writing, drawing, music, art, theatre and even just body language. Words and pictures can produce a greater reaction sometimes than what we say to each other and for that reason they are powerful tools – tools for positive change if we use them correctly.

My aim in writing myself, however, is not to empower the average person protesting but to express my newfound appreciation and value in writing. What I have learnt over the Christmas holidays is that not only is writing making changes in the world around us but within ourselves also. I’m very fond of writing letters for this very reason; when I am worked up about something they help me clear my thoughts and organise them coherently so I can understand clearly what I’m feeling (and whether those feelings are justified.) They also give me time to choose my words carefully because, as I have learnt from studying English and painfully analysing author’s words in minute detail, they can have a huge influence on the overall effect of what you’re writing. When I’m writing to myself I need time to select the word that most accurately describes my emotion because pinning and encapsulating such an abstract thing in language is cathartic in some way. Even now I’m picking my words tentatively to explain to you this experience, but I fear I might not be doing a good job!

When I write to somebody else, on the other hand, the words are also cherry picked not necessarily to express how I feel but in the best way to make them understand, empathise, or react. Let me give you an example and I can hope that clears things up. Someone I used to know said some things to me that were quite hurtful and I didn’t think it was fair of them to make the excuses that they did. It made me so angry that I just couldn’t let it go! I felt like I wanted some kind of justice or justification for what they said – so I wrote them a letter. Without sending it and capturing all my thoughts on that page, the anger went away. But it seemed to me the letter must be sent otherwise this person may say the same thing to someone else and, to my surprise, they were completely apologetic. It was a small win but one that made such a difference to my mood. The key here was not sending them hate-mail (no matter how tempting it is at the time – and, believe me, it is hard to stop yourself going on a mad rant) but manipulating your words to make them understand.

So here is my real message to you students: write more! You don’t have to write letters but a diary would do. If you’re feeling brave enough for the public to peep into your private life then keep a blog. Some people find writing to strangers oddly liberating – I know I do. Also, be careful of those words of yours. How many times have we been in arguments where we have said something hurtful or something we didn’t mean? Writing allows us to blow off steam or say what we really want to express without hurting anyone. Being a student is stressful enough as it is!