The Lonely Smoker

The university midlife crisis: are you a victim too?

My friends and I are presently entering what I have come to endearingly call, the university midlife crisis. Predominantly, but by no means exclusively, third years across campus are waking up to the hideous realisation they are old, and also to the experience of waking up with someone from the year below lying beside them.

In an attempt to cling on to our youth, we’ve become rapacious stalkers of the younger years, as if by osmosis close proximity to such carefree individuals will transport us back to the days when it was just about OK not to do your reading, it didn’t matter if your supervisor still hadn’t got a clue who you were, and you were blissfully ignorant of the existence of Key Texts.

Flailing merrily in one of York’s delightful establishments the other night, I slipped briefly out of my pleasantly inebriated haze, only to clock that the number of people I knew in the club had diminished so significantly that outside of my immediate housemates, (also contorting their bodies in variously undignified poses) there was no-one in the place that I really knew. What was this? Where were my friends? My drinking buddies, fellow flailers, and, most importantly, my smoking comrades?

Gripping my cigarettes like the undoubtedly poisonous comfort they were, I headed outside to locate people that I knew. The panic in my stomach (by now beginning to congeal unpleasantly with the latest drink) turned immediately to outright fear as I realised I was one of only a few third years still around. Everyone else had gone home. Or, more significantly, had never come out in the first place. Uncontrollable panic set in.

Immediately, I resolved to make friends and start talking to people. Upon surfacing the next morning, (thankfully in my own bed sans a baby-faced first-year) I realised I had become the latest victim of the university mid-life crisis. In the real world, people face midlife crisis when confronted with the awful knowledge their career means nothing to them – translate that to uni and you understand why yoga classes are suddenly filled with groaning and moaning third-years. Third-years sharking in Willow are the equivalent of 30 something singletons: time is running out, and no-one wants to be ‘that person’ left on the shelf come graduation.

As I pondered these developments over the necessary (and calming) hangover cigarette, I came to the conclusion that it is not the attraction of those younger that is itself the problem: it is the lengths that we are prepared to go that’s the snag.
After an amusing night out I no longer wake up feeling relatively nubile and fresh, instead, I surface feeling akin to Jabba the Hut after a binge, and with a temperament to match.

This does not aid the studying I am obliged to do as I haul my still battered body into the library. A hangover is significantly less amusing when confronted by a intolerant tutor informing you that insufficient knowledge of the Indian mutiny of 1857 is, frankly, not acceptable. And she’s got her eyes closed when she says this. Terrifying.

The desire to close your eyes and just let it all rush past is a tempting one. We are daily confronted with the knowledge we should be applying for jobs, careers, and some kind of sustainable employment in a few short months. We’re unprepared for such realities. And the net result ain’t pretty.

For a friend of mine, the stress of it all was just too much. After a spectacularly irresponsible evening he provided the piss-de-la-resistance by emptying his bladder on the floor of his own bedroom, before crumpling into a damp unconscious heap.

This was the University equivalent of getting a boob job, or having a midlife gap year; undignified and desperate, but wholly necessary to come out the other side and realise, that actually being old, having a routine and listening to the Archers, instead of drinking Archers, is really, actually, ok and the sooner we come to terms with that, the better.

One comment

  1. 13 Nov ’12 at 11:16 am

    Michael Butcliffe

    I think the solution is to start sleeping with third years as well ; )

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