“The St Andrews Effect.” We all heard of it on open days from our begowned tour guides as they shepherded groups of wide-eyed prospective students through the town. It’s the way that, no matter where you are in St Andrews, you will always bump into someone you know whether you want to or not. While some of what we heard on those chilly open days may be open to suspicion, it cannot be doubted that this particular phenomenon is true. Decidedly, unequivocally true.
In halls you barely need to leave your room before seeing a friendly face. But even an emergency trip to Tesco will yield results. There’s that girl you met at a party and can’t remember the name of loitering around the frozen foods section; your academic cousin you shared a deep meaningful conversation with one time choosing between biscuit brands; your coursemates and lecturers alike all brought together within the confines of the town’s three streets. The abundance of familiar and friendly faces makes St Andrews truly special. It makes it feel like home.
However, while the St Andrews Effect ensures an inclusive and sociable atmosphere, it is not without its drawbacks. Combine a small and ancient town with modern dating apps and the results are disastrous.
This was exemplified to me recently as I walked through town with a friend. We passed a tall chap who shot a glance and immediately looked down. My friend increased her pace.
“Tinder match,” she explained when he was gone.
As we walked further through town, we passed another guy whom my friend seemed to recognise. He looked at her briefly but, much like the last, passed by without any attempt of acknowledgement.
“Tinder match?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she replied, before nonchalantly informing me that “he messaged me asking if he could eat peanut butter off my body.”
Now, I’d like to be clear that I’m not judging my friend or anyone else who uses these apps. I myself have met some wonderful people through such means, some who I’m friends with to this day. But how is it normal to request to know someone in the most intimate way, then not even acknowledge that very same individual when you see them in reality? We seem to be living in a world where communication of all kinds has never been easier, where we have a plethora of dating options quite literally at our fingertips, but where the audacity to talk face-to-face with someone else is a step too far.
The St Andrews Effect only serves to exacerbate this problem – online conversation is a non-issue, safe in the knowledge you never have to see the person. But when you inevitably bump into them in the line at Taste? Best prepare for the most uncomfortable two minutes of your life.
Online dating provides a wealth of opportunities to meet new people and have new experiences, the kind of opportunities that young and hormonally-motivated students of decades past could only have dreamed of. But it also creates an entirely new set of social dilemmas. The fact is, this technology is too recent to have clearly established social norms or to provide any easy answers over how to act in certain embarrassing situations.
And so the questions remain. Are we destined to be avoiding each other forever? Should we make a concerted effort to actually meet some of the people we talk to online? I’ll be honest, I don’t know. But the next time you offer to eat peanut butter off someone’s body it might be a good idea to consider whether you’d say hello if you saw them on the street. If not, I’d recommend sticking to toast.