We're fortunate at my college to be able to "live in" for all our years here, so long as we don't do anything silly like getting a postgrad. What's more, unlike some of the unfortunate individuals who applied to beautiful colleges in the centre of town, only to spend most of their time living in some Beckett-esque wasteland miles away, all our accommodation is near the college itself, and, most importantly, the dining hall. All, you may think, is well.
Not quite. First off, there's quite a disparity between the quality of rooms. My current accommodation, epitomising everything that was bad about the 1970s, is where all first years live. Only community spirit saves it from being too dire. Next year, most of us will escape into one of two preferable locations: a relatively modern development with en-suites; or the old, beautiful facility-less heart of the college.
Where we live is determined by the so-called ballot. A list of names is randomly drawn up, with those at the top able to pick first. The "order" is then reversed in a year's time, when we choose where to live in our final year.
We aren't expected to pick rooms individually, though – we're encouraged to ballot in groups (eight is the standard size of a corridor). If, from the social melange of the first term, we had all emerged in clearly defined, tight-knit friendship groups of exactly eight, this would be fine. Of course, we haven't. Instead, people's loyalties tend to be to large, amorphous groups and/or one or two individuals.
Oblivious as ever, I missed the fact that quite a few people made nominal arrangements for balloting groups months ago. Now, however, faced with the prospect of living with the people we ballot with for two years, some are thinking twice about certain friends they made early on, or significant others with whom a messy break-up somewhere down the line is inevitable.
My situation is particularly ill-suited for balloting. I've got plenty of friends, and a couple of excellent ones, but they come nowhere close to forming a coherent group, and I lack sufficient social charisma to unite otherwise disparate people around me. My worry, nay, terror, is ending up balloting on my own, and spending the rest of my time here with those mysterious individuals whose names have become legendary purely because no one has a clue who they are. True, they're probably an interesting bunch, but that much interest, spread over two whole years, might kill me. Fortunately, it hasn't worked out that way, and I'm balloting with a lovely group. Maybe I'll realise I hate them once I'm forced to live with them, but I doubt it.
I'm not going to ballot with my best friend. We're both sad about it, but we know there's no way we could ballot together without sowing major discord elsewhere. Frank and I are a quintessential mismatched couple, which in many ways is lovely, but means we aren't entirely comfortable in each other's "groups".
It has all worked out fine, but has been thoroughly unpleasant. I suppose quantifying who your friends are is always going to be. For all this trouble, I'd better be en-suite next year.