A man, his ex-girlfriend and her date walk into a bar. Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, right?
I wish it had been.
Every day I swear that the University gets a little bit smaller, and that Thursday night exemplifies my point. I migrated downtown with an eclectic group of friends to Jazz Night at Miller’s Downtown, completely unaware of the classic Greek comedy I was about to star in. From the moment I stepped foot inside, worlds I considered to be galaxies apart started colliding left and right. In a school of more than 15,000 undergraduates, the stars had somehow aligned to bring people from vastly different parts of my life into inexplicably intertwined orbits. I swear even more friends get pulled into the cosmic mess every week.
I suppose I should be used to this — I’m from a small town. Known for its world-renowned cheese — especially our medium cheddar — my hometown of Tillamook, Ore. fits just about every rural stereotype you can imagine. Students drive to school on tractors and going to the grocery story is a three-hour affair because you run into so many friends. Simply put, everyone knows everyone. And that’s honestly really cool — until everyone starts dating everyone.
Fully describing the complex, overlapping, verging-on-incestuous array of relationships that exist in a small town high school would take years. But to describe it simply, the odds of you dating one of your good friend’s exes are almost as good as the chances you end up with the same school textbook your brother had two years prior — in other words, very high.
When I first came to Charlottesville, you can imagine how massive I expected the University to seem compared to my county where cows outnumber people. In some ways, this assumption was justified. Despite being here for a few years already, every day I still meet new friends and pass by thousands of others that I will never get the chance to know. I can still walk into a classroom and realize I’m staring at a collage of completely foreign faces. There are probably still communities within the University that I don’t even know exist. Yet somehow, despite this massive pool of potential partners in this college town, I continue to find myself entangled in these increasingly tight webs of relationships.
I’m not generally a fan of country music — or in this case, pseudo-country music — but Sam Hunt’s song “Break Up in a Small Town” perfectly describes the difficulty of navigating dating networks at the University. With such a large population of students and townies in Charlottesville, you never expect an ex to “get down with somebody [you] know.” Yet in my experience, it almost seems more likely than not. You can try and avoid it, “but there’s only so many streets, so many lights” and sometimes “[you] swear it’s like [you] can’t even leave [your] house.”
But why is that? Why does Charlottesville get smaller and more claustrophobic every day? Personally, I think it has to do with the fact that similar people are drawn to similar things — and therefore each other. There is a beautiful phrase in Arabic that roughly translates to “God creates people in sets of 40,” and I believe that people become inevitably ensnared in relationship webs as they are drawn to other individuals in their set or one of its close cousins. Just as similar interests bring together the same group of people in all of your classes and clubs, when it comes to the social sphere we are bound to consistently collide with people who are just similar humans to us — for better or for worse.
So if we can’t avoid these situations, the next question is how to handle them. In reality, there is no grand solution to the awkwardness or discomfort that typically accompanies these scenarios. You can run away from them or face them head on, but neither strategy untangles the web surrounding you — you’re stuck.
What I can say, however, is that the threat of becoming a part of one of these ever-expanding webs alone should never motivate you to not pursue someone. Dating is messy regardless of your past, so do your best to not let potentially weird external connections influence your thoughts or feelings about someone.
After all, they are going to pop up whether you expect them to or not, so you might as well ignore them until your life becomes a bad joke like mine.
Correction: The column has been updated to reflect the correct number in the Arabic phrase.