A spinster and her goldfish – college marriage woes

Elsa Maishman 30 January 2015

Sometimes I am overwhelmed by a terrible fear that I will end up alone. Single, lonely, gathering dust on the shelf. I won't even have the spinster's cliché of cats to keep me company, as the only animal I could realistically conceal from my bedder would be a goldfish. Not an ideal substitute for a spouse.

College marriages are a strange Cambridge tradition. During the Christmas holiday, I made the mistake of mentioning my college parents over a family meal. The following 15 minutes of awkward explanation ensured that I will never mention the phenomenon at home ever again. The idea of 'marrying' one of my friends had never seemed in the slightest bit odd before that point, but after being forced to stress more than 20 times that it ''isn't weird, I swear'' my conviction began to wane.

Although the same system operates in countless other universities, instead of 'parents' students are called 'mentors' or 'buddies', and do not tend to go through a ritual of marrying one another. This seems to be yet another tradition that continues because nobody feels like changing it, and because frankly, college marriages are a bit of fun. At least, they're fun for the lucky few who manage to actually find themselves a spouse.

Over the last few months I have watched my friends go one by one from extravagant, rose-petal strewn proposals to spontaneous weddings, to the prospect of a long and happy marriage and four perfect little fresher-children. The most elaborate wedding I have so far witnessed involved a drunken science quiz in the early hours of the morning (I don't think it gets more stereotypically 'Cambridge' than that) followed by an illicit trip to the library for the official ceremony.

The problem is that I am a wife-to-be with a catch. As an MMLer at Emmanuel, where college parents are traditionally third years, my male friends have all refused to marry me on the claim that I won't be here to help them raise the kids. Logically, considering that each college family comprises four children to every two parents, half of the people who want college children will be denied them. And yet, no-one I know is prepared to sacrifice their chance of parenthood, however slim it may be.

On top of this, nobody seems willing to wait in Cambridge until I return from my year abroad to join them in mature parenthood, and so my marital future is looking bleak. I suppose it can't be helped, and I shall have to get used to the company of my goldfish.