Awkward encounters with people best left in the past? Flora Bradwell reveals some survival strategies for the problems of living in a small campus
The price to pay for living in a quaint little city and going to a cosy campus university is the loss of anonymity. This is not to say that those who go round claiming ‘campus celebrity’ status are not completely foolish; but it does mean that no matter where the average student intent on minding their own business may go, they are bound to know, or at least recognise, a few people. Now this in itself would not be distressing, and might even be perceived to be pleasant, but it is usually the case that out of the handful of acquaintances you bump into on a typical day in York, there will be at least one who you wish to avoid.
One thing is certain: from here on in, a simple walk from the library to Costcutters will be fraught with possibly hazardous encounters and the subsequent employment of stealthy schemes in order to avoid them.
It is undeniable that everyone savours that feeling of their first few months on campus, when they can’t move between colleges without dishing out a couple of fond ‘hellos’ or genial head nods, but once the honeymoon period is over, campus can often be transformed from a haven of affable faces and friends you haven’t met yet to a minefield of people who seem vaguely familiar for reasons you would rather not remember. These strangely recognisable faces could potentially belong to a range of figures from your not too distant past: an unfortunate you may have pulled at Ziggys; that disagreeable person who befriended you in week one; or even your seminar nemesis. One thing is certain: from here on in, a simple walk from the library to Costcutters will be fraught with possibly hazardous encounters and the subsequent employment of stealthy schemes in order to avoid them.
It seems that there should be a universal term to describe those people who cause you to bolt for the nearest shrubbery whenever you see them. Initially the term ‘undesirables’ seemed apt for the purpose. However, this word has too many connotations with the Hindu caste system, and it also fails to cover the spectrum of different types of people who warrant ignoring. After all, it is not only the unattractive or unfortunates of campus whom we avoid, there are also those who are too attractive and blessed with every possible endearing quality who cause us to lose our speech and go red in the face. These people are far from undesirable, but conversation with them can often be intolerable. Therefore, it would seem that ‘unbearable’ would best fit the bill, as an unbearable could be either desirable or undesirable, but in both cases will most probably end up being avoided to evade embarrassment.
There are many campus hotspots in which you can never fail to be ambushed by people you vaguely recognise and wish you didn’t. However, within these high risk areas myriad manoeuvres can be implemented to help you steer clear of any disastrous encounters.
The worst place for encountering unbearables is the library. Despite its outward appearance of respectability and the fact that it is a place of general study, the library is seething with abhorrent ex-housemates, unsightly one night stands, and mentally unhinged people who you accidentally befriended one evening and have been desperately trying to lose ever since. However, with a plethora of books just waiting to be hidden behind, you will not find a better place to convincingly ignore the unbearables of your past. Other cunning methods of avoiding detection are to search the library catalogue for made up books until the coast is clear; to gaze at the various signs ‘History, Q’, ‘Religion, C’, as if they were in a foreign language and needed excessive concentration to decipher; or simply, to run away and lose yourself in the labyrinth of book shelves, a slightly less subtle option, but often the most effective. So despite the high density of unbearables the library has to offer, escape is always attainable.
Ziggys is another example of an area highly populated with unbearables, but offering equally as many get-away opportunities. The most obvious way to avoid people in Ziggys is simply to ignore them outright: effecting pronounced drunk eyes whenever you perceive a threat is a sure fire way to blank people without causing major offence, because everyone knows that drunkenness can excuse almost any misdemeanour. Other more fun modes of avoiding perception by unbearables is to make use of the multiple staircases Ziggys has to offer. These produce no end of pleasure, but can be counter-productive, as if you encounter an unbearable on the narrow stairs from the basement to the first floor only very very drunk eyes can save you, and you will most probably have to indulge the person blocking your path in some inane conversation or at the very least squeeze out an insincere smile.
Searching in your bag for an imagined vibrating phone, replying to a nonexistent text message, or talking to your messaging service are all guaranteed to get you through the day without having to exchange words, or even glances, with whatever unbearables fate might throw in your path.
Probably the worst place on campus to be cornered by an unbearable is Vanbrugh Bridge, a surprisingly busy thoroughfare on campus. The only possible way to avoid the tutor who touched your friend up whilst watching porn on a departmental social, or the strangely smelling person who sits near you in lectures, is to gaze intently at the ducks as if transported by their beauty and grace in the hope that your reverie will be respected by all passers-by and you will remain undisturbed. Clearly this avoidance technique is rather whimsical and is seldom, if ever, successful, but the option to use it is always there. Of course, the gazing at ducks avoidance strategy would have been more widely used on campus before the latest advances in technology. Now it seems almost redundant when most students are equipped with mobile phones and iPods. These glorious inventions have not only brought multi-media and text messaging to our lives but have also provided us with the perfect excuse to ignore people. Although it is undeniably good to talk, phones are increasingly being used for not bringing people together. Searching in your bag for an imagined vibrating phone, replying to a nonexistent text message, or talking to your messaging service are all guaranteed to get you through the day without having to exchange words, or even glances, with whatever unbearables fate might throw in your path. Likewise, iPods can be studied for hours on end, ensuring that, unless an unbearable actually approaches you to talk to you, you can journey from place to place relatively unscathed by unwanted acquaintances.
Despite all the methods available to those who wish to travel incognito through campus, the powers of the unbearable stalker cannot be underestimated. A third year psychology student admitted that she and her mates would prey on boys by standing near the boys’ toilets. This technique is employed both in the seedy nightspots of York and even in the seemingly safe environment of the house party. ‘We figured boys like beer so they would end up going to the toilet’ admitted this hardened stalker, who wishes to remain nameless. It is not only the girls who contrive such methods to catch their prey: Patrick Walker and Richard Salthouse, third year Derwentians, confessed to going to LFA in their first year only to gain favour with the ‘Italian bird’. However, their scheme failed when she stopped going. Unperturbed by this failure, they now frequently fabricate reasons to go to the library in order to get a glimpse of ‘fit library girl’. It seems obvious that if there are students out there who are willing to descend to such levels as taking on extracurricular activities and going to the library for recreational purposes, none of us are safe from those we wish to avoid.
Almost worse than being on the receiving end of stalking action is to be the person being ignored. Even though you think you are the coolest individual in the world, and anyone who could feel anything but admiration and affection for you must be clinically insane, there are people out there who might think you are actually not all that. Many find it utterly incomprehensible that other people might not relish the prospect of being in their company; however, even the best of us are unbearable to some people.
This example of mutual understanding between two human beings demonstrates that communication is not dead, but lives on in our communal avoidance of each other.
If you are someone’s unbearable it is not automatically something to bewail. In fact, this state of affairs can often turn out to be fruitful for both parties concerned, as quite often those who wish to ignore you are those you wish to ignore yourself. When this is the case, life can be made a lot simpler; because you are mutually unbearable the burden of avoidance can be shared between you, with you only having to put in half the effort of evasion. There is nothing more heart-warming than when two people pass each other on Langwith corridor, or in the Roger Kirk centre and, without a single word or signal exchanged between them, they both agree to entirely ignore each other, despite the fact that they were best friends in freshers’ week. This example of mutual understanding between two human beings demonstrates that communication is not dead, but lives on in our communal avoidance of each other.
However, this happy collaboration does not always occur. There are times when people you find entirely inoffensive find you quite the opposite. These individuals are easy to spot as they are the ones who speed up as they pass you, grow strangely deaf to your calls of ‘hi’, don’t return your smiles and sometimes even change the course of their journey if they spy you from afar. To be on the receiving end of this behaviour is far from pleasant, but is often unavoidable. The only real cure for this is once you have been snubbed a significant amount of times, take the hint and resolve to ignore the person back. This act of reciprocal indifference will result in you both being happier. Whatever you do, don’t by any means decide to talk to people who ignore you when you are drunk, you will inevitably embarrass yourself and force your ignorer to employ extreme measures to get you to stop. I am reminded here of a friend of mine who, on being confronted by an unbearable, could find no other way of stopping him talking to her other than by kissing him and taking him home, let this be a lesson to those of you considering talking to people who don’t want to talk to you.
Really it seems ridiculous that we spend so much of our time avoiding unbearables left, right and centre. If we go to the root of the problem, the solution soon becomes obvious: we should ignore everybody whether we know them or not. If we get through uni without making any unwanted friends, or interacting with people in a manner we might later regret, travelling around campus would be so much simpler.
Of course this resolution is rather extreme and would probably detract from the whole university experience. So it seems that we all must be content living slightly on the edge in the fear that round the next corner there might be a host of unbearables we wish to avoid.
A quick guide to those we wish to avoid on campus
The First Week Freak – you were young and naïve when you arrived at York. You didn’t know that people who put anti-depressants in their pints probably would not be pleasant company. But now you’re older and indeed wiser – see them and run.
The One Night Stand – you were drunk, it was dark, they’ve seen you naked, what can you say to them?
The Seminar Nemesis – you have had to endure their oh-so-clever observations for the last ten weeks. Now that you have finally broken free from their intensely irritating presence, do you really have to be polite to this blithering idiot?
The Talker – despite his title, this fellow has very little to say for himself. This, however, does not stop him from accosting you in market square to tell you not very much in an excessive amount of words. Soon his store of news runs dry and yet he feels the need to hang around umming and aaahing until you are forced to fabricate a terribly unimaginative excuse to quit his oppressive presence.
The One Date Wonder – after merely one date he was playing it cold rather than cool. You used up all your small talk on that one less than romantic meeting and if you are ever forced into conversation with him the one phrase, ‘what is wrong with me?’, will inevitably be in the back of your mind throughout.