At the beginning of my first year at St Andrews, I broke up with my girlfriend. I had been worried about our relationship during the transition to university, and my worst fears were confirmed: we didn’t make it to Thursday of Freshers’ week before we’d decided that we were better off apart. I don’t regret the decision to split up, but I do wish that it could have gone differently.
My first instinct was to totally remove her from my life. I took down Instagram posts that she was in, deleted her contact from my phone and all of our text messages, unfriended her on Facebook. I thought that if only I never saw her face again, I could put that whole period of my life behind me, and move on to bigger and better things. There was just one problem: she also goes to this university.
As anyone who lives in St Andrews knows, a clean break is impossible in such a small town. There’s no way to avoid running into each other, whether in lectures, pubs, or Tesco. Even removing her from social media hasn’t been totally smooth: sometimes she’ll get tagged in St Andrews Crushes or show up in a photo with a mutual friend of ours. If I could, I would divide the town in two: she’d get Starbucks and the yoga society, I’d get Costa and St Mary’s College. In practice, I’ve taken to avoiding events that I suspect she’ll attend. I scan a room when I go in, just to see whether she’s there.
If I were giving myself advice, I’d say this: don’t just cut her out. Sit down, talk about it, and leave on peaceable terms. This is a very small town, and you’re now going to be sharing it for four years. We’re all in this bubble together, uncomfortable as it may be to admit. And when you run into her, remind yourself that she has just as much right to be around town as you do, and she is entitled to friends too.
Sometimes, breaking up can involve learning to share in a way that never comes up during the relationship. When we were dating, we were always happy to share with each other: drinks, vacations, classes. Now that we’re apart, though, we need to try even harder to share, exactly because we don’t want to. This bubble of ours is very small, but it is big enough for the two of us. We just have to learn to have it in common.