The Cambridge Break-Up

How to deal with the very unique Cambridge break-up.

break up Cambridge Relationships

I guess if you’ve been through a break-up recently – a break-up where both participants met in Cambridge, went out in Cambridge, broke up in Cambridge, and yep, still continue to bump into each other in Cambridge – you might just get this a bit more than the average Tab reader. If you haven’t, try and imagine the situation.

And it gets worse! Try and imagine that you and Mr/Miss Ex don’t just bump into each other on the odd night out. No, rather you have the same group of close friends, do the same subject, live in next-door colleges, and bump into each other at the ADC, the Union, the college bar, on swaps, in Cindies, even outside your faculty toilets.

Don’t get me wrong, four months post-break-up and things are pretty fine. My ex-boyfriend and I broke up at the beginning of this past Michaelmas term, after a great summer together. On the one hand, I could feel us drifting; on the other, when it actually happened, it hit me like a stinging and bewildering bitch-slap. Like any break up you feel the familiar anxieties: the hurt of rejection, the acute physical pain you get when you want to send a funny text to your ex before remembering you’re doing the ‘not-speaking’ thing, and the constant stream of ‘what did I do wrong’ thoughts. No break up is easy. When I read about Billie Piper getting married for the second time in her ex-husband’s back garden, or see pictures of Bruce Willis grinning away with ex-wife Demi Moore on the red carpet, I have to laugh. Like, what?

So we can accept that in ordinary cases, break ups are hard. But they are not a patch on the dreaded ‘Cambridge Break-Up’. Trust me. I’ve had two pitiful break-ups before, and they did nothing to prepare me for this situation. A Cambridge break-up is a hilarious tragedy like no other because of the limited social life, stifling proximity of everything, and the fact that there’s enough angst in this student community for there to be scarce room for any more. Inside, you’re ok. You don’t love each other any more and it’s great. But constantly bumping into each other is irritating and unnecessary and makes the ‘break-up’ steps just a little bit more complicated.

To illustrate my point, I consulted the ‘How to get over a Break Up’ Wikihow page. It’s pretty inspiring stuff. I particularly enjoyed the motivational cartoons, and the stirring YouTube videos of girls emerging from their pain looking like the Sex and the City girls (albeit in Primark and Boots No.7) which accompanied the step-by-step advice. Basically, it’s bullshit.

‘How to Get Over a Break-Up’ Step #3. ‘Keep your space’. Advice includes not seeing each other, no facebook, and staying away from each other’s regular haunts. Do I really need to explain why this isn’t plausible in Cambridge? We bump into each other EVERYWHERE. Our shared subject is one of the smaller courses at the university, our joint love of drama means I once found myself sitting next to him at a play, and of course the Cindies/Life episodes are a weekly interaction of polite grimaces and quite literally dashing out of the room the minute the other enters.

Number 9. “Out with the old and in with the new”. Number 10. “Remove Memory triggers”. Are you serious? If you’re both in a city like London and your ‘memory triggers’ are niche exhibits, secret parks, and a cubbyhole of a café – brilliant. Avoid them. If your ‘triggers’ in Cambridge include Jesus Green, Jesus Lane Pizza Express, and your college gardens – good luck to you.

When two people break up, it is unhealthy and unfortunate to be pushed together in social situations four times per week (minimum). Newsflash: break-ups only get easier over time with lots of space, and lots of distance. Forced together – mainly because I’m not missing lectures because of it – and because our mutual friends are still my very closest friends who I refuse to lose over this, is not ideal. It creates an on-going strain, a ‘situation’ where one should no longer exist, where things are probably amicable deep down, but remain unpleasant on the surface. Wikihow advises me to ‘Keep my dignity’ at all times. Thanks, Wikihow. Given the circumstances, I think I’ve got this.

And for us? Well, we don’t talk about it. Neither of us are the types to have a domestic in the queue at Fez, or get our friends involved in an on-going and ultimately hopeless civil war. Instead we politely avoid eye contact and stumble our way through layers upon layers of awkward, sometimes angry tension. A tension which seemingly arose from nowhere, because we don’t really hate each other. A tension which only increases as we continue to avoid each other, a cycle of awkwardness that maybe, just maybe, will ease after graduation.

I accept that some people find their life-partners at university, but after my recent experiences I would advise you all to err on the side of caution. When thinking about dating your best friend, your college husband, your lab-partner or fellow Footlights enthusiast, try to leave a few sections of your life not completely intertwined with theirs. Cambridge just feels that little bit more stifling when you’re sharing it with someone you’re trying to avoid.