Don’t get into a long-distance relationship. That’s the prevailing wisdom. There’s this stigma attached to them that they’re difficult, painstaking, and a bit of a drag. And especially with a Cambridge workload, it seems nigh-on impossible to juggle.
What do you do in the midst of a late-night essay crisis when you hear your phone ringing? “Sorry babe – not tonight – gotta study” only works so many times, and the constant rush in the day from library to lecture to supervision to lab (or back to the library, for humanities students) leaves little time to text.
Believe me. I understand this better than most people. In exam season, I met and fell for a Welsh girl, and we’ve been doing Wales-Cambridge ever since. It’s 200 miles. Four or five hours on a train. Before that, I had done Surrey-Cheshire for two years. I put it down to an incessant travel-bug.
But, what’s worse, we met through Cambridge: I was a NatSci, she was a Classicist. I got in, she was rejected. Same college. We found out at the same time on a phone call to each other.
The next few months were torture. Because what do you do? She opted for a gap year over her Durham spot, and to reapply to the Other Place. I was proud of her fortitude. She was proud of me for getting in, and was happy for me, despite being desperately sad for herself, as I, too, was for her.
This is the key to any long-distance relationship. You’re not with them often. You spend most your time a country apart. They’ve got to flourish in themselves, and, importantly, so have you. It’s incredibly difficult to do that if either of you are putting across feelings of resentment or envy. But simultaneously, brave-facing everyday when you really don’t want to be where you are is immensely trying. It’s all about understanding and mutual encouragement enabling independence.
In a way, the relationship made each of our lives easier than they would’ve been otherwise. Moving to Cambridge and beginning to study amongst the brightest minds in the country was staggering at best and crushing at worst. Having an outside shoulder meant I could go back to my room in an evening, Facetime back to Wales, and forget about the mountain of work behind me for a little while. When I was overworking myself, I was told to calm down. If I was dropping the ball, I was gently led to pick it up.
For her, feeling trapped in rural North Wales, it meant every few weeks she could come to stay in Cambridge with me, read a book, wander the market-stalls, find a library. She got to experience Cambridge life despite having lost out on a place. Cambridge became her monthly pilgrimage.
Despite the trials common to any relationship, and the near-constant feeling of something (or someone) missing, it’s always infinitely better than nothing. It pops your ‘Cambridge bubble’, and keeps you rooted from the outside. The prevailing wisdom about the hardships of long-distance relationships might have a point at times, but realistically, especially in Cambridge, they often have far more power to do good than harm.
So how does this story end? Where are we now?
While she was applying for Oxford, she got some news. OCR had admitted administrative error on two of her four exam papers, and her grade went up to an A*. She emailed Cambridge, and in the blink of an eye got her place back for 2020.
And what’s more: in the middle of January, Oxford gave her an unconditional place to study their BA Classics. There’s only one loophole in the mutually exclusive Oxbridge system, and she found it.
Of course, the choice, for her, is obvious. It’s Cambridge all the way. For neither of us does it feel real that next year we won’t be doing this crazy 200-mile back-and-forth, but living instead almost next-door to each other. Things couldn’t be better. As that Persian adage goes, “this too shall pass”. And pass it has.