He buys the first round. Two pints are placed carefully in front of us, a self-made barrier to hide behind. We awkwardly sit, avoiding eye contact and shuffling our feet. Then it begins: What do you do? Do you play sports? Favourite film? Music taste? We go through that cycle of never-ending menial questions, always prompting stilting discussions over and over again, hoping to find commonality or something that clicks.

It’s hard enough to meet people nowadays, let alone get a date or (god forbid) an actual relationship out of it. It seems like we have been conditioned to cycle through people as we would clothing trends. Picking and choosing one another when it tickles our fancy. Perhaps it’s selfish, but unfortunately, it’s an unsaid prerequisite for many Oxford students who barely have time to sleep amongst our ten tutorial essays and endless lectures. Sparing a few hours for a date that could very likely not go well is a real challenge. Arguably, this is an influence of modern dating’s intertwining with technology – Hinge seems to be the Oxford campus’s main perpetrator. A medium where we can heart or X whomever we want, where people are just pictures on our phone screens, profiles which often add little to any understanding of who that person is. Moreover, it becomes a space where we can build an image of ourselves through careful image selection and crafted prompts that again say little about us as people. It’s surface-based and unserious, yet we hang onto hope nonetheless as it seems to be the only option, or at least that’s how we are made to feel. So we download the app, we make the profile, we heart and we X, and we go on dates with random people and just pray it won’t go disastrously (or if it does that it was at least funny enough to make a good sconce). 

With a swift eight-week term turnaround, you’re in Oxford and then you’re out, going from the intensity of term time to endlessly boring vacations. So it feels like for most students – or at least for me – that we end up living a double life between our university selves and our home selves. For me, these conflicting personalities are always fighting it out internally, hoping to grab my attention. How could we possibly squeeze another individual into our lives when we can barely manage the fluctuating breadths of our own? 

Don’t get me wrong, I am a romantic at heart (I have watched Notting Hill one too many times not to be), and I love that many of my friends are in happy university relationships that have stood the test of the vacations and came out all the stronger for them. But at times it feels so all or nothing. When you’re in your early twenties the question on the tip of everyone’s tongue seems to always be centred around romance and dating. It is as if these aspects of your life should overtake all others as if there isn’t space for it all to coexist succinctly. Sometimes this feels so true, because how do we juggle university, jobs, hobbies, passions, and dating all at once? I am certainly yet to master it. But it still doesn’t hurt to give it a go. Sometimes leaving the laptop behind for the evening and getting drinks with a stranger is just what your mind needs; to take a mental break and do something spontaneous that disrupts the work-based cycle that we so often find ourselves stuck in.

Oxford can be a Romantic city. With its stunning architecture, cobbled streets, and beautiful meadows and parks, it takes an active effort to view the city in an unromantic light. Who wouldn’t want to experience romance in a city that is so effortlessly capable of perpetuating it? Of course, this can also be depressing when you are not the one holding hands with another walking through the meadows, iced coffees in hand, laughing at inside jokes and sharing romantic stares; but instead being the looker-on, hurrying through the city to your next class, headphones on, blaring the new Lizzy McAlpine album on full volume in the hopes of relishing in its catharsis. (We’ve all been there!) But the vision is there. 

Am I still confused by modern dating? Certainly, but it doesn’t mean I won’t try. For better or for worse, I fear my inner romantic will never cease to pester me to keep going forward.