Love In A Time Of Camstress

By Ruby Cline

*All names have been changed for anonymity.

“There’s never enough time. There’s always something else to do. Which is extra stressful because you’re already stressed and then I’m like, “I should be with my boyfriend.” But when I’m with my boyfriend, I’m like “I should be working.””

– Do you ever work with your boyfriend? What are your thoughts then?

“Oh, ahaha – then I’m like, “I should be having more having fun when I’m with my boyfriend”, or I just can’t motivate myself to work when he’s there.” – Ella*, second year.

Let’s chat about “should”, here. I firmly believe that nowhere is so insistent than at this university that each and every individual SHOULD be doing something other than what they are doing at any given moment, no matter what it is they are doing. Having a nice meal? You should be in the library. In the library? You should be working harder, rather than clicking through Facebook tabs. Being productive? You should be careful – don’t want to burn out. Taking a break? You should be in the library!

This SHOULD manifests more strongly regarding relationships than anywhere else. Messing with both quality and quantity, SHOULD curdles in your ears until each social interaction is the absolute minimum length it can be in order to maximise time at the desk. There’s simply no space for silent, comfortable company. No time for breaks in conversation. No evenings long enough to justify a lie-in, and all lie-ins too late to allow for enjoyment the next day.

“Cambridge demands too much of people so there’s no time left for relationships.” – Annie, second year.

Often, we will mediate this problem through combination. Yes, we can have a lovely lunch with our friends! At Whale Cafe, provided it is after a lecture and before some catching up with the library. We see working alongside others as a form of quality time. There’s no other choice, as that would rely on facing the fact that most of us, at least qualitatively, spend the majority of our time here alone.

This has the potential to strongly encourage relationships with people to grow out of convenience. If somebody exists adjacent to you already – a flatmate, a coursemate, someone who for whatever reason has an identical library schedule to you – and you have been taught to treat convenience as a fundamental aspect of kinship, of course we end up with relationships that are borne out of convenience. This isn’t inherently a bad thing. I have no problem with the platonic soulmate who happened to be your first–year neighbour. It’s a very lucky and wonderful thing to be able to exist alongside someone who by coincidence you get on well with. However, it is undeniable that a system which encourages any one individual to prioritise convenience over other criteria to judge relationships will, and does, change the nature of relationship–forming.

And this is where we get to the Love element of Love In A Time Of Camstress. How do we reconcile a complete normalcy of treating relationships as something “productive” and borne of convenience, with a highly inconvenient, illogical, emotionally (and often practically) messy phenomenon of falling in love?

“I never would have guessed I’d be able to find the time for a relationship.”

– how did you?

“You just have to, I think. If you find the right person, things just shift around to make time.” – Sam, first year.

Falling in love is as much of a learning curve as any lecture, and many students talked about what it was like to just want to spend time with someone, empty time, more than anything else. 

“I felt really guilty at the beginning. Guilty because I wasn’t being a good boyfriend but also because I felt like a bad student.”

– when did you stop feeling guilty? And what do you think prompted the change?

“I realised that like, she was in the same situation. And so is everyone. So I couldn’t feel bad for like, leaving to go to a lecture. She knew it wasn’t my fault or anything. I don’t know if I ever stopped feeling a bit guilty when I’m not working, but I’m like third year now and I know I have to take time off, otherwise I’ll burn out, so yeah.” – George, third year.

A few students discussed the added pressure of knowing that their parents met at university. This means that, alongside the day–to–day pressure of balancing work and a partner, they also have another dimension of time–based pressure on their shoulders by precedent or expectation.

So what the hell SHOULD we do?

The fact that people do manage to maintain relationships here is evidence enough that it is possible. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be critical, however – for some, love is one thing too many for these couple of years. Many students reported that the time just appears somehow, even if it is often between lectures or has to be organised well in advance. This seems to evidence the age–old claim that rather than being a question of time (or lack of it), maintaining or not maintaining a relationship is a result of prioritisation.

That being said, here are a few key points made by our successful relationship–havers (most of whom have been in said relationships steadily for 6+ months):

  • Both of you will have hard and easy moments, and it works better when they’re at different times. Make the effort to help your partner through a tricky time or be patient when they’re in the midst of an essay crisis – you’ll appreciate the same effort when you’re in the same situation later on.
  • It helps a lot if your partner and your friends like each other. It takes a lot of time and energy to mediate around two distinct sets of people and takes a lot of pressure off if they can hang out sometimes, two birds, one stone (I’d also like to add to this that it’s such a red flag generally if your friends don’t like your partner. There’s usually a reason why!!)
  • Do the little things that don’t take much time. Buy flowers on the way home and try hard to remember the foods they like. Getting into the habit of showing love means that your partner is less likely to question your love for them if you’re a bit time and energy–crunched.

Comment below or get in touch if you have any thoughts, queries, or experiences you would like to share!

Love in a time of Camstress is a biweekly Girl Talk column, written by Ruby Cline and contributed to by lovers across Cambridge.

Feature image credits: Amy F. Hughes via Flickr.

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