We Met at John’s: Oliver and Joanna

We continue our We Met at John’s series with a spotlight on Oliver and Joanna Robbins, who were at John’s together from 2018 to 2022, and got married in August! This article is written by Oliver himself.

Joanna and I came to John’s from different places. She came from Cumbria, I came from Nottingham. She went to a state school, I went to a private school. But we had one immediate similarity: our love for music. Indeed, it was Music that we both chose to study at university, and we made up half of the Music students in our year at John’s. The first time we met, Joanna met me, but I didn’t meet her. It was a group academic advisor meeting, and I was too busy rambling about something boring and trying to seem clever to notice her. Truthfully, her first impression of me wasn’t altogether positive.

Although our course wasn’t able to bring us together, we had John’s to do that. The second time we met was at the John’s freshers formal, and it should be noted that this second meeting wasn’t by choice. Joanna had made a few friends during freshers week, and so she was going to the formal with them. Unfortunately – or, as it turned out, fortunately – one of her friends took a little too long to get ready, and so their group was the last to make it to the dinner. As Joanna walked in, there was only one seat left in Leech Hall: the seat directly opposite me. “Oh no,” she thought. “Not him again.”

Luckily for us, we both really enjoyed that formal. We spoke about schools, subjects and Stockhausen, over good food and subsidised wine, and although we had never spoken to each other before, I couldn’t help but think that this was all surprisingly easy, a rare thought for someone so socially awkward. Of course, the wine may have helped. We both went away that evening having made a friend. Little did we know that friendship would be just one step on our journey together.

Although we spoke a few times after that, our friendship didn’t really blossom until I received an unexpected email from Joanna, asking if I would join her and another student to look for accommodation for next year. Relieved that I wouldn’t be living in a studio apartment in my second year, and optimistic about at least one of my new housemates, I agreed. According to Joanna, that moment when she walked down the stairs, to find me waiting at reception to start the house hunt, was the first time those dreaded words entered her head: “Oh no. I fancy him.”

It would be about a year before we actually got together. We were a bit useless like that. Much of our university experience took place together, if not together, with perhaps our most notable joint endeavour being our shared presidency of the New Art Music Ensemble, an experimental music group that put on exciting, engaging and challenging concerts to depressingly small audiences. This year is the first since 2018 that neither of us are involved in the running of the ensemble, so we are excited to experience a concert without the stress of having to put it on!

Once we were actually together, it all happened quite quickly. 2020 brought COVID-19, and March brought lockdown, which we chose to spend together. When you’re spending that much time with each other, it can really go two ways: you end up hating each other, or you end up loving each other more than you ever thought possible. For us, it was the latter. News of our engagement was a surprise for some, but where we were standing, it felt like the most natural thing in the world. Seven weeks into marriage, it still does.

John’s was the community that brought us together and it continues to shape our lives today. While Joanna studied, she worked in the Learning Resource Centre (the impressive, purpose-built library that was completed in 2019) and then as a college intern. After graduation, while Joanna trains to be a teacher, I now work for John’s full time as the Alumni and Communications Administrator. If we have any advice to give to new Johnians, it is this: engage with college. Get involved with as many societies as possible. Put yourself out there, make friends, but never forget the value of alone time. And please: if you fancy someone, and you have an inkling they might feel the same way, don’t wait a year to say something. Don’t be as awkward as us.

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