Durham is a small enough place that you easily lose your anonymity if you become involved in pretty much any society or sport. Returning to Durham after a year abroad, I expected something different, a freedom that comes from everyone you used to know relocating to the South after graduation. And I have mostly experienced this, personally. However, there has been no escape from the web of mutual connections.
I had never tried Tinder in Durham, hating the idea of finding acquaintances and too-familiar faces. But this year I bit the bullet and downloaded the app. I quickly met someone who I hit it off with and over the course of a few weeks we met multiple times. When gushing about him to my friends I used words and phrases like ‘considerate’, ‘too sweet’, ‘respectful and thoughtful’. All of these were and remain accurate ways to describe him, or at least who he is around me.
A few weeks in though, one of those mutual connections told me what she knew about him. It was less than flattering hearsay. According to her, he more or less slept his way through his teammates. Maybe what made it worse was that I thought her tone of voice communicated that I should be on my guard or that he was bad news. Initially, I was taken aback and my stomach knotted. Was this really the guy I had spent so much time getting to know? The guy who invited me over to his flat for ‘tea’ and it was, in fact, just a cup of tea? His post-date kisses had been downright demur and I had caught him staring at me more than a few times. It didn’t fit that he was known for getting around.
Even as I first heard this, I knew that my reaction was unfair. I knew that he had never tried anything too casual or rushed with me and that all signs pointed to him wanting something more serious. But it still scared me. And suddenly all the confidence I had in his feelings for me evaporated. Now I asked myself questions. Was he only looking for something easy and uncommitted? Just waiting for sex? Had I ignored some sign telling me that we wanted different things?
It wasn’t fair of me to react like this. But in my defense, I quickly realized this and my feelings for him never altered. He had never given me a reason to doubt his interest and genuineness. Just because we had lived our single lives very differently, didn’t mean that he was suddenly a stranger. And just because he had slept with a lot of girls didn’t mean he was scared of a more serious relationship.
What I have since realized is that dating someone with a bit of a laddish reputation is no different from dating anyone else. It requires the same amount of communicating your expectations and desires, the same degree of openness, though, maybe, a bit more initial trust.
In a university town like Durham, it is almost inevitable that you will hear things about your friends or the person you’re dating: truths, exaggerations, or full out falsehoods. What I’ve learned is that everyone has an opinion, and they usually want to share it. To have any chance of a successful relationship these judgments have to be taken with a grain of salt. At some point, you have to stop asking for advice at every turn and focus on your own gut feeling. People are not their reputations, they deserve to be judged on who they are with you, not the stories that acquaintances spin.