I know the kind of love story I’m expected to tell. Barren, fringe faced, split open by vodka eyes, busy green text messages, sheets that smell like wet dog and roses after he leaves. I know the story that’s supposed to fit with our time, tying up single living and Red Solo drinking with its tongue, like what that sorority girl in the scratchy pink halter can do with a cherry stem.
You’re right if you think that boy meets girl stories belong in John Hughes’ movies; this is a person meets person era. Sometimes a cell phone meets cell phone one, too. You’re right if you think that college culture catches on the pulse of beeps and buzzes, an underlying lingerie factory lacing together the warm beer belly dancing, the locked lips and keyed up DJs, the neon lights that make you feel young but look old. The psychologists and reporters and mommy bloggers are right about all of it – the intense, violet fuss of vapidity programmed into our phones and apps and “selfies.” But you’re wrong if you think that love can be upgraded and tossed into tech hell with the iPhone 4S.
There’s no such thing as modern love. Just the stuff that’s been here always. The stuff that makes you crave a pain with its own domain name. The stuff that whistles through the throb in your stomach and, in the bends of the rolled air, couriers the precise sadness of being happy. Happy and unalone. Modern love is simply the bookcase for the love stories of today. But, if you do it right, love is supposed to transcend today. What makes the love story of your parents, your grandparents, Oprah and Oprah’s boyfriend any more modern today than they were when they first began? Certainly not an app that morphs your voice into a robot’s.
I’m in love with a boy whose favorite book is The Giving Tree. I’m in a love with a boy who’s okay with being the stump at the very end even though that’s the part that makes him cry. I’m in love with the stuff of him that makes me scared, the real blown out, split open truth that gnaws my fists away into fingers that fall, fall open against themselves into the words you see here.
Words – not abbreviations or slang but full-lipped, frantically ordered strings of what is gaping inside of you and refuses to be filled. The language of love simply doesn’t sound the same typewritten as it does mindwritten, but words – words are the way to love when your body forgets how, or maybe just wants to take a Netflix break. The world is rooted in madness of the mouth and ruled by tongues that snag onto the pulse of the unTindered and the unscreened. The “techie” (science) vs. “fuzzy” (humanities) dichotomy that exists on modern college campuses invites a Frankensteinian concoction: love, a burgundy radiance in intent but cold and the color of nursing scrubs in execution.
I met my love at our elite university. The one known for the sunshine. Our rooms were separated by five doors and ten beds and they all warned us of “dormcest,” perverting the possibility of the literal boy next door. We met out of proximity. Matched in our pretentious pasts at New England boarding schools, where we had both adopted tall and blonde holograms of ourselves to suit the sad, the snow, the calculus, the people fat with future-lust.
But we threw ourselves mercilessly into our love because the depths of our souls, or whatever it is that drives a person, were equal in their tangled vastness. The peaks and valleys of our personhood carved and curved around one another until nothing was graphical and everything was cliché; as serious as we were, we couldn’t take ourselves seriously. A first date under arches that look like upside down chins, a long walk towards the time capsules of graduates a hundred years gone. Short white dress. Blue-checkered button down. First kiss on the space where our capsule will one day be buried. We’re gross – we know. But isn’t it better that way? Isn’t it better to be gross than sad?
Ours is a story of the anti-college. Saturday nights spent in flannels and glasses. Reality TV so bad that it’s good. Trips to sushi boat restaurants. Calling each other “bae” in jest because we can’t think of a legitimate pet name that isn’t totally diminutizing to women. Dancing together in the middle of Kappa Sigma totally sober in love (Sorry Beyoncé).
I asked him once how he knew that our relationship wasn’t just an extension of a love of place, an infatuation with the stage of life we’re in and have always wanted to be. His response: “Because you’re not my college sweetheart. You’re just my sweetheart.”
I’ve come to believe that love isn’t as much about certainty as it is about certains. Certain people are capable of different degrees of love, and the ones who match in mind and thermometer are those who tug the longest haul. A haul that lasts longer than any of the couples on US Weekly’s “Longest Marriages” list. A haul that includes heads hunched over bookish bombs. More school. Maybe law. Maybe not. Fighting in bent stairwells that throw your voice back into your throat. Bhutan. Somewhere else far, far, far. More fighting – the kind that’s actually a disguised “check in” to make sure you still care enough to do so. Babies you don’t know but already love. Karate classes. BandAids and hand sanny in the glove compartment. Hands that look like crumpled up old love letters. Faces that look crumpled up like old loves.
There’s more hype now surrounding the dissolution of monogamy and marriage than ever. It’s a hype concocted by people who literally care too much – caricature activists who combat loneliness, a symptom of an ever-expanding world, with loudness. But love is louder, even when it’s quiet. Even when it’s dying, or changing, or growing in the opposite direction. Love isn’t in the time capsule kiss or the number of Millionaire Matchmaker episodes you can watch together with a straight face (Answer: 0). It’s in the candles in a hospital church. The fingernailed outlines of stars on soft thighs. A half hanging sort of smile when you can’t decide why you’re so happy – you just are. The feeling of wanting to fight for someone who can fight for himself. The way the bottoms of your feet fold over the tops of his and you feel like a little girl dancing at a big girl party.
I used to think love would be this big event. A “here’s a name-tag and clipboard, welcome to being cool and being a grown-up. Have a cell phone and a set of hoop earrings” event. Needless to say, it’s not, or I definitely missed my Evite. But love isn’t a state of mind, either, like they say happiness is. Or a lifestyle like they want soul cycle to be. Love is a heightened version of self-love, an extension of your eyes and your ears that elasticizes the world while simultaneously pulling everything into focus. It makes you want to cry when you hear a James Taylor song and suck on the funny stories from your day, all day, so that you don’t forget to share them and laugh on the outside. Love is wanting to translate the soft ache of living into the softer ache of loving.
You’ll want to remember it all. Especially the first’s but also the after’s. You’ll want to remember the seven-hour conversations, decaying against one another in the dim 5 am hallway like the Cup O’ Noodle someone left in the microwave. Editing each other’s essays – his on food as a North Korean political pawn, yours on the accidental female empowerment in Camus’ The Stranger. Sneaking red wine and chocolate truffles into Fifty Shades of Grey on Valentine’s Day, laughing in coughs of grape and sugar. You’ll want to remember the moments you showed your teeth, and the moments you gave one another fluttering and flustering mouthfuls of passion.
But the human memory isn’t built for all that remembering, or much remembering at all. The human memory is nothing but a pit stop for your wildest thoughts, the wild pricks of the present, a corridor that seats the ones who plant themselves squarely in the circle of life, or at least yours. Like anyone truly in love, you’ll believe that your love is greater than everyone else’s whose ever lived and you’ll want to remember that feeling more than anything else. More than a new profile picture. More than a tight one-night body. You’ll want to remember it and so you’ll press it, fold it into yourself where it can’t crisp and crumble into air that isn’t sustenance if it’s not filling both sets of lungs.
I know you. I am you. But in your quest to remember, don’t be fooled by a future mascaraed and masqueraded in the present. You don’t love with the memory. You don’t even love with the heart. You love with the mind; don’t let it turn to Silicon.
I know the kind of love story you expected me to tell – I could have told that one, too. But the one who has your mind is the one worth the words.