Love U: A labor of love
Relationships are hard. That’s an easy lesson to learn. What makes a relationship worth all of the labor that goes into building it? That’s a much more difficult question to answer.
I didn’t have an answer to that question when I came to college. In high school, I was always guarded. I kept my emotions extremely close to the vest. When I came to USC, that mindset didn’t change. I was dating more, but I hadn’t found anyone worth keeping around for particularly long.
During my freshman and sophomore year, it was easy to remain detached, so it took me falling flat on my face for someone that I was crazy about to realize that I needed to change. It wasn’t hard for me to be interested. We had a startling amount in common. Similar personalities, backgrounds, likes, dislikes, she almost seemed like my female counterpart. After going out a few times, she left me feeling completely entranced.
But even though I was enamored with this girl, I could never feel completely comfortable with where I stood. For every great date or conversation we would have, there would be broken plans or a missed text to counter it. While the highs of our relationship would feel euphoric, the lows were soul extinguishing. The rapid oscillations between the two would regularly consume my thoughts and leave me confused, frustrated and exhausted.
I realize now that I spent far too long trying to figure out what we were on my own because I was too scared to ask her what she thought about what was going on or what we were. Months passed, summer came and went, and I still didn’t have a clear answer. Eventually it got to a point where I couldn’t wrap my head around what was happening anymore, and I finally had no choice but to ask her how she felt.
We talked that night for what felt like an eternity, but I finally started to see the full picture. To put it in the most blasé of terms, we wanted different things. I finally wanted a standard relationship with someone that I liked and felt like I could rely on. We had both had our fair share of crazy relationships and hookups in the past, but I liked her enough to be willing to put all of that in the rearview mirror for something more stable.
Suffice it to say, she didn’t feel the same way. She still wanted to have “experiences,” to take advantage of what USC could do for her. Being in a serious relationship wasn’t a part of that plan. I couldn’t blame her for that. After all, everyone wants to come out of college feeling like they got more than just a diploma and a desire to evade their loan officer at all costs. The college experience is singular and the adventures that can happen at a place like USC rarely happen in a person’s life again.
But what I didn’t understand was why she thought being in a relationship would somehow take away her freedom to have those experiences. I was crushed. That I couldn’t make it work with someone that I was so clearly compatible with made me feel like a failure, and I couldn’t help but feel like it was my fault that things didn’t work out.
We didn’t really talk after that night. We would run into each other on occasion, talk briefly and part amicably. I didn’t mind these encounters too much. Even though there wasn’t anyone new in my life, I was having great semester without her and always had something to do or somewhere else to be. I thought that meant that I was over things.
Right before the semester ended though, we decided to take a break from the madness of our lives and catch up for a bit. I told myself it wasn’t a big deal. It was just coffee after all. Plus, it would be nice to talk to her again. But within 15 minutes of being out with her again for the first time in months, she nonchalantly mentioned her plans to study abroad the following semester.
I felt absolved when I first heard it. Her exiting my life for a foreign land would finally put an end to the run-ins at parties, the “he said she said” between mutual friends, and allow me to finally move on to greener pastures. But after talking and swapping stories late into the night with her again I had a startling realization. Despite the lows that our relationship put me through, I had missed her, and it made me sad knowing that after that night was over it was going to be a very long time before I would get the chance to talk to her again.
The struggle of romance in college is just that, it’s college. People are going to disappear from your life. That can be for the summer, a semester abroad or even forever after graduation. The more you care about these people, the harder it is to say goodbye, if you’re lucky enough to even get the chance. Some could interpret that as cynicism, but I don’t really see it that way. Caring about someone is beautiful, and it’s always better to have had those people in your life than to push them away out of fear that they’ll leave you.
I think Daniel Jones, the editor of The New York Times “Modern Love” column that actually inspired Love U, said it best: “People work really hard trying to game out how they can avoid heartbreak or pain or unpleasantness, thinking life is best without those things. Others, meanwhile, seem to approach life with an eager curiosity, wanting to experience it all, good or bad. Bring it on, they say, whatever ‘it’ may be. Those are the happy ones.”