The May Balls in Cambridge are not events to which one flies solo. This is especially true for the Magdalene one, the only white tie ball in Cambridge (and maybe Oxford too) which takes place once every two years, thereby heightening its prestige. I didn't want to go at first due to my lack of a date, but I thought about it some more, decided it was silly to waste GBP185 (I'm not even kidding about the price) and a potential good time just because I didn't have a man on my arm; and so I went.
It was one of the best nights of my life in Cambridge. I couldn't understand why the ball cost so much...until I got to my college and saw how it had been magically transformed into something that looked like a fairy tale in just 2 or 3 days. It looked magical, whimsical, romantic, and the white tie dress code made it look so classy and elegant. The array of food and drinks and activities (such as mini golf) on offer also made the price of admission more or less worthwhile.
There was something quite moving about it, this feeling of stepping into an alternate reality, one that I would have believed was populated by fairies. It was surreal seeing my college swathed in a murmuring glow of purple, lit mainly by fairy lights; but because the place that I knew like the back of my hand had been transformed into a sight so magical, the stunning beauty of it all left me in considerable awe. Although I didn't drink that much (three cocktails, two glasses of champagne, and a shot of cinnamon-flavoured whiskey) and barely ate anything, let alone partook in the activities except for this somewhat lame 'ride' that lasted for 30 seconds and for which I queued maybe 30 minutes, and 45 minutes of KT Tunstall (seriously?!?! KT Tunstall?!?!), I think the price of admission was more than justified.
I felt apprehensive initially, going to this event by myself, and I even spent the first twenty minutes wandering around by myself. I eventually saw familiar faces though, and latched on to them. I ended up hanging out mostly with Ardie, a guy from the PhD, and his friends, though I did go to KT Tunstall with some college people. I thought I would leave at around midnight; but I ended up leaving at 4.10am.
It was just lovely. I'd initially thought that I would do it 'properly' two years later, i.e. go with a guy on my arm; but that's a flawed way of thinking, is it not? What is so improper about going without a male date and bringing yourself to an event like this? More than anything else, I am quite proud of myself for having the gumption to do this, and genuinely believing what I told myself when I found myself wavering on this: 'If anyone can pull this off, you can.'
I have come to realise over the past year of being single and dating a string of men that I subconsciously seek validation from my romantic partners. Why do this? What can they possibly tell me that I don't already know about myself? Cambridge has been a journey of self-discovery, both good and bad; but last night/early this morning, I discovered something good - that I have enough self-confidence to commit the horrifying social faux pas of going to a white tie May Ball by myself; indeed, that not only did I do that, but I had a great time. I will always look back fondly on it, and perhaps more so than I would if I had gone with a guy whom I wouldn't be with anymore a few weeks or months later anyway. But I will always have my own company, for better or for worse, and so I did this May Ball in the best possible way.
After I left the ball, I walked around town - or rather, I hobbled painfully around town, all dressed up, because it was 4 in the morning and Cambridge was transforming into a new dawn. It was bright as if the sun had already risen, and despite the few drunken revellers that passed through otherwise empty streets, there was this sense that Cambridge stood still in time, frozen in its benign, regal imperviousness to the flashiness of modernity. King's College Chapel stands guard against the tides of change, steadfast opposite contemporary and up-to-speed high street shops and cafes along King's Parade. The imposing beauty of the facade of its colleges, housing such a vast and rich intellectual history, looks tranquil and all-knowing in the gently settling morning.
All-knowing, that is, in its wisdom, as if imparting a message that I didn't know how much I needed: this, too, shall pass; so many have come before you, and so many will come after you; but an innumerable more others have tried and failed, and will never be in your position; and so this, too, shall pass; it is already passing; we have seen triumph, failure, heartbreak, success, and none of this matters, none of it matters one bit.
All that matters is what you do with the time that you have been given; the privilege to walk these hallowed grounds, in the footsteps of the intellectual giants that have traversed these same grounds before you. This is what you are inheriting. There is nothing trivial about this. Cambridge survives and thrives to this day because it is great; and it admits to its exclusive club only those with the unique potential for greatness.
All that matters is what you do with it.
On another note, Matt is taking me punting tomorrow.
Without undermining (or meaning to undermine) the rah rah independent woman tone of this entry, I did find myself thinking about how cool it would have been if he'd been working the Magdalene May Ball last night instead of the one at Trinity Hall.
At 4.20am, he texted me to ask if I survived and that Trinity Hall had finished early. I asked if he wanted to come hang out but he was already home. We texted for like 20 minutes; I was procrastinating on going back to Barry's where I crashed for the night (well, morning) because I felt bad for disturbing him. Just before we said goodnight, Matt said, 'I'm off the next two days if you want to meet up :)'
'Yeah. You have to take me punting!' I said.
And so we're going punting tomorrow. He claims competency at the activity. I can't wait to find out.
Still confused and surprised at what is going on. But it's a pleasant confusion and surprise. I think it's gonna be fun tomorrow.