My friends at English universities find many, many things about life in St Andrews more than a little perplexing, but the thing that seems to confuse them the most is the sheer quantity of single-sex flats. Before I begin, I must confess that while I have never actually willingly shared a university flat with a member of the sterner sex, I still feel I have some authority on the matter - my cohabiting credentials include having an older brother and sharing an annexe corridor with predominantly boys in my first year. That, combined with visiting friends, was enough to put me off for the time being.
Now, it would be totally futile for me to pretend that life in an all-girls flat is totally plain sailing. I can’t deny that I love the fairy lights, always having someone around who's willing to fake tan your back, and forty-seven different kinds of plant-based milk in the fridge. However, this comes at a heavy price - namely a whole load of boy drama (can guarantee he’s never worth it), long hair stuck in the shower drain and the inevitable panic that someone’s burnt the house down because they forgot to blow out a candle.
We’ll start with the décor, shall we? It’s a firmly held belief of mine that there is no demographic in the country which is a more keen and more enterprising group of upcyclers than the female uni student. Someone bought a bottle of Freixenet to a dinner party? Excellent, it’s now a candlestick holder and the centrepiece of your kitchen table for the whole of the next year. That shiny foil birthday banner originally whipped out for a celebration in September? It’s now a non-negotiable part of the furniture and is the closest you’ll get to having art on the walls. Any spare inch of space will have a polaroid from first year, a flat-wide calendar or a copy from a page of Women Don’t Owe You Pretty adhered to it. Call me basic, but it’s surely preferable to the scuffed, what one can only assume used to be white, walls with that one poster that every boy over the age of 15 owns (seriously, are they automatically given them by the government or something?) - yes, you know the one I’m talking about.
Another of the most obvious disparities is, of course, the catering. It might be that I’ve got lucky, and just had a series of female flatmates who are blessed with culinary skills and boys who, well, weren’t, but I’m not sure that’s the case. After a long day at the library, I know that I can count on coming home to cook together, preferably with a bottle of wine and plenty of Britney on in the background, catching up on our day and making plans for the rest of the week. It might be a simple routine, but it’s comforting and one I can only assume comes from innately understanding each other. No matter how close you are to your guy friends or male flatmates, there’s still a fundamental difference in the way we operate emotionally.
It seems that boys take a slightly different approach to the food question. Two weeks into first year, I was asked in hushed tones how to make pasta, and did it go in the kettle? I couldn’t bring myself to ask quite what he’d been feeding himself prior to that conversation, but I did later have to remind him that aluminium cans can’t go in the microwave so perhaps it’s fair to say it was a lost cause from the start. Before you accuse me of being woefully unfair and generalising, our very own entirely competent Alex Beckett has just informed me that his “diet” comprises only raw peppers - supplemented occasionally with a hunk of raw salmon, skin on - I’ll take my lovingly cooked fajitas and half a bottle of ‘chicken wine’ (La Vielle Ferme, for those wine aficionados among you) any day of the week.
If living in a mixed flat works for you, great. Personally, I’m far too attached to my morning debriefs with a cup of coffee on the sofa, knowing that I’m a stakeholder in a communal wardrobe, and fairy lights galore to introduce a boy into the equation. Perhaps it is a little sensitive, relying so heavily on the truly nurturing environment that’s created in an all girl’s flat. Or, perhaps Mr Gray was right after all, and men just really are from Mars.
Illustration: Maya Marie