This article first appeared in the Oxford Student on 15 January 2015. This was an idea that Marcus suggested when we became Features editors – a short humour column about the etiquette surrounding Oxford student life. One of our editors suggested I write it, and so this series was born. Every week I’d do a bit of Lady Bracknell-style vamping on a given topic. These were fun to do (I consciously lent into a lot of the Oxford stereotypes) people seemed to like them well enough, and the series came back a couple of terms later. I’ll be posting them in one long stretch so we can get to the other stuff I did that term.
An Oxford student must be careful about relationships. Romantic attachments between students of the same subject or college are generally a bad idea. They lead to all sorts of difficult circumstances for the people involved and for those around them. This sentiment is often expressed in the rather crude and loutish phrase “Don’t dip your pen nib in office ink.”
Now, this expression is imperfect in a number of ways. While I will not presume to psychologically analyse the choice of image (sometimes a pen nib is just a pen nib, after all), the analogy does imply a somewhat questionable attitude towards romantic relationships. The analogy of the ink is a little problematic, implying as it does that all romantic partners are interchangeable, and easily acquired from a number of high street retail outlets, among them such respectable establishments as Blackwell’s and WHSmith’s. Furthermore, it betrays the somewhat flawed line of thought that the group of colleagues and fellow students comprising the pool of potential sexual and romantic partners exist for no other reason than to satisfy the needs of the “nib”– after all, what else can one do with ink? Perhaps a more apt phrase would resemble something along the lines of “don’t glue your pen nib to a different pen nib without the other party’s full consent, and be careful that your new double-pen does not negatively impact the productivity of your colleagues”. But I digress. Suffice it so say that Oxford etiquette precludes the viewing of other human beings as items of stationary.
Nevertheless, the observation that romantic relationships within professional or academic contexts are often ill-advised is a sound one. These relationships create many tricky situations, as academic pressures can be exacerbated when a classmate is also your bedmate. But if you truly believe that your relationships can weather such storms, please consider the feelings of those around you, and those of your partner. You may enjoy flirting outrageously under your tutor’s watchful gaze, giving each other meaningful glances over dog-eared copies of Beowulf and making lewd comments about the eponymous hero’s sword, but doing so in a tutorial is distracting to say the least. And for goodness’ sake don’t go…carrying on in the library. Especially when it’s three a.m. and I’m trying to find one of the more obscure works of T.S. Eliot, which is currently located in the same general area in which the two of you are engaging in heavy petting.
All of which is to say that, like any relationship, a tute buddy romance must be undertaken with no small amount of consideration, politeness and tact. Just think about whether or not such a relationship is healthy, sustainable, and mutually respectful before entering into it, and be as thoughtful about the feelings of others as you would otherwise. You may also wish to invest in a fountain pen. It’s 2015, no-one uses quills any more.