Love Games

Two duck lovers walking along a lake

Two duck lovers walking along a lake

Exploring relationship issues at university with someone totally unqualified to do so.

I will make absolutely no pretenses about my credentials as any sort of relationship expert, guru, czar or any other position of relative authority you care to choose. I’m also aware that there are many people infinitely more capable of explaining the various vagaries and complexities surrounding romance, a fact that will remain true for as long as I continue to snore, play Candy Crush after sex, or do any of the one thousand other things that make me a mediocre boyfriend. Thankfully, we’re reminded that within all forms of media that there are thousands of other people who are paid actual money to have an opinion on subjects they know less than shit about. So before I continue, this article is dedicated to Adrian Chiles, Katie Hopkins, and every single BuzzFeed contributor. From your respective fountains of ignorance, I draw strength.

It’s quickly become apparent that, now more than ever, university is being marketed as an experience to prospective and incumbent students alike. It’s not really hard to see why either. Telling a student that your university is the best chance of securing a wide selection of good jobs in a variety of interesting fields sounds like a good pitch, but telling a student that they can drink what they want, fuck who they want, all whilst avoiding responsibilities of pretty much any sort reckons to be at least slightly more effective. Well, effective enough that university enrolment rates are higher than they’ve ever been before, even though the cost of university is so obscene that I’m pretty sure every Vice-Chancellor in the country carries a sieve to the toilet to collect any loose change that might fall out of them. The point is, there are lots of students at lots of universities and we’re (mostly) all here because we’ve bought into the idea of an experience. And invariably we do our best to try and live up to the image of students we see presented to us in the media as the all-drinking, all-shagging future of the country. That’s a problem, but not for the reasons that might appear obvious.

Many bottles of alcohol
Credits: Sakshi Sharma / Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

I should point out here that if you want to read a piece about how students treat university as a non-stop bacchanalia, you’re in the wrong place. If ever there’s a time in your life to do all the stupid shit you won’t be able to do when you’re stuck with actual responsibilities, this is it. It’s a bit more difficult to drink 3 bottles of White Lightning and end up in someone else’s bed when you’re middle-aged with a job and children. Unless you’re Paul Gascoigne. The way we see university now goes something like this: by the time we’ve graduated, we’re supposed to have drunk everything, shagged everyone, maybe ended up with a half-decent job, and look back on it as an experience well paid for.

But if you find yourself in a relationship? You’ve properly derailed the student gravy train. People look at you with a weird expression that’s half disbelief and half pity. What could possibly be wrong with you that you’d voluntarily give up your UNAY experience? You’d have to be an idiot. However, with respect to those who believe that relationships at university are a waste of time , they have a lot to be said for them. In fact, the way that relationships at university have almost become stigmatized in their own way is quite reflective of general university culture and the university experience as a whole. Without wanting to sound like your dad, university is probably the best place that offers you a chance to grow as a person. You succeed and you fuck up, but you do it all on your own terms. So if you go through university living within a set of social parameters and guidelines that prioritise booze and fucking strangers, how much are you actually going to get out of it? Chances are you’ll still be the same immature dickbag you were when you arrived, only with a few more STIs. It’s pretty true that you tend to grow up faster in a relationship because your girlfriend or boyfriend slowly manages to get you to stop doing most of your annoying shit. Good relationships make you a better person, and your goal at the end of university should be to become a better and more complete person at the end than you were in the beginning. With a degree. Hopefully.

Cartoon drawing of a girl and boy speaking to each other through a line

“I’m in a long-distance relationship.”

This is probably the most common worry among freshers’ for quite a few reasons, and although it’s not limited to them, students who have been in this situation for a year tend to be less worried because they know how to make it work. The majority of these worries boil down to the one question, “How can I make this work?” Look, long-distance is the worst. I won’t even bother debating that, because it’s obviously true. Nobody in any sort of healthy relationship says to themselves, “Hey, you know what’d make this better? Moving miles apart, only seeing each other every other weekend, and surrounding ourselves with single people and Jägerbombs!” Some couples break-up before term even starts, because they know it’s a lot of effort to keep things the same. Which they won’t be, by the way. It’s difficult go from seeing a person nearly every day to only seeing them whenever you’ve both got time and money. Which is like, never. If you accept the realities of being in a long-distance relationship, it becomes a lot easier to deal with. Of course it entirely hinges on how secure you think your relationship is. If you think that you’re with THE ONE and you’ll never find THE ONE ever again and you’ll go to the end of the earth for THE ONE and THE ONE would do exactly the same for you because they think you’re THE ONE too, then fine. If you met them a month ago in McDonalds after a night out, and only meet up every so often just to make sweet McLovin you should probably consider things a bit more carefully. Either way, don’t believe people when they say long-distance relationships can’t work at university. They can, and they do, for lots of people. Just be realistic about how much work they take.

“My friends think I spend too much time with my girlfriend/boyfriend.”

REMEMBER WHEN YOU USED TO BE FUN? Seriously though, this is a big reason why people can be so anti-relationship. You have 24 hours in your day, and dividing them up effectively is the best way to avoid pissing people off. There will be times where you have to let people down, and they will hate you for it. But if they’re real friends, they’ll only hate you a little bit. Talk to your girlfriend/boyfriend about this as well, and maybe they’ll realise that they take up more of your time than they thought. The best thing about this is you’re totally blameless. These are the thoughts of other people, not you! Realistically, it’ll probably end up a fair compromise in which everyone shares you nicely because you’re so fucking popular. Lucky you.

“I just slept with my flatmate/housemate.”

Cool. Just to clarify, the “No screwing your flatmates” rule is the fucking dumbest rule of university. Seriously. How else are you supposed to prepare yourself for drunkenly sleeping with one of your co-workers at a Christmas party in 7 years time? As mentioned earlier, university is a time to grow, and nothing says growth like learning to deal with the social fallout that accompanies sex. It’s not a big deal. Either you’ll a) do it again, or b) decide once was enough. Just because you live with somebody doesn’t automatically make them unattractive. Go for it. IT’S ALL IN THE NAME OF GROWTH.

“I’m LGBT+.”

I know even less about LGBT+ relationships than I do about heterosexual relationships. And as you may have noticed, I know shit all about those. So I enlisted the help of our LGBT+ editor Emrhys, who was very kind and patient. So anything that sounds vaguely sensible from this point probably shouldn’t be credited to me. Basically, being LGBT+ at university comes with a different set of problems from a relationship standpoint, aside from dealing with the occasional intolerant shithead. For example, you might not even be out yet. And while it isn’t particularly my place to tell you what course of action you should take with regards to that, I feel that universities in general are a safe place for the LGBT+ community. There are those from small villages and towns with no LGBT+ scene that’ll come to Cardiff and find much more on offer. Not to mention Cardiff as a city is generally quite progressive, another plus when coming from a smaller village or town. Other worries like not knowing where to look for a relationship or worrying that nobody will want to go out with you can sometimes surface as well. Again, it’s important to remember that there are people in exactly the same situation. People inevitably find themselves at university, and eventually you’ll be comfortable enough to start doing things here that you may not have been able to back at home.

A white lily
Credits: Robert Spiegel / Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

“I’m a virgin.”

Chris Rock once said (back when he was funny), “Everybody lies about sex. Shit, people lie while they having sex.” In all walks of life this is true, but probably nowhere more so than university. At some points, playing Never Have I Ever seems less about drinking and more about seeing who can top everyone with the best/weirdest sex story. “Never have I ever had a threesome!” “Oh yeah? Never have I ever had sex with my mates sister!” “Never have I ever had sex with a clown in the middle of Debenhams!” And so on. It’s no wonder that people feel pressured to lie about sex when it becomes more of a competition than anything else. Virginity can be enough of an embarrassing and intense stigma without being exacerbated by everyone else telling you how great their sex life is. If you’re a virgin and you choose to tell people, you’ll probably be surprised how little people care. It just isn’t that big of a deal. Don’t worry about it. Just know that the first time you do it, it will be terrible. Just awful. But at least you won’t know any better.

I can understand why people dislike the idea of being in relationships at uni. Relationships are time consuming, require effort, and there’ll always be people who dislike them just because they go against their perception of how university should be. But ultimately, university is what you make of it. There will never again be a time in your life where you’ll be able to live like with no responsibilities, free to do whatever and whomever you want. But also consider that you’ll probably never again be surrounded in an environment so conducive to helping you grow as a person. You paid for the experience; it’s up to you how you choose to make it worthwhile.