Three days before last Valentine’s Day, I found myself with a date. We had taken to studying in a certain corner of the stacks, where the graffiti displayed statements like “If Jesus was Jewish, why does he have a Spanish name?,” “STAY WOKE,” and, fittingly, “I love you.”
Ever the DS kid, I was hunched studiously over my copy of John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government when my friend leaned over to me: “By the way, I have a crush on you.” Flustered, I replied, “You’re lying, before admitting: “I like you too.”
February 11, 2023 marks the one year anniversary of my first real relationship, but the celebration of this romantic landmark is somewhat dampened by my reflective mood. I had to say “sorry, I have plans” to my advisor, who asked if Tuesday the 14th worked for dinner. My professor, happily married, may have mocked me (“you’re one of those people who cares about Valentine’s Day?”), but I am sheepishly glad that I am now part of the club that celebrates this particular holiday. I realize that I have been bound to another human for a whole year.
There are not many things that I have remained committed to for an entire year. My Duolingo streak lasted only a couple of months, my consistent gym-going about half a year, and my commitment to the Classics major just one semester.
Yet for one year, I have learned to go through life with someone else, where before I had been alone. All but the most ideal of platonic bonds fall far short of the closeness achieved through romance. Being in a relationship is learning to truly live together. In some ways, it echoes the grandness of the American paradox e pluribus unum that struggles to reconcile the self with the other. E duobus unum: out of two, one.
Living with love is experiencing the chronic conflict “between the fear of oneself and the fear of destroying oneself,” as outlined in an essay by Polish thinker Leszek Kolakowski. When we are in love, we find in another human the possibility of resolving all of our own tensions, choices, mistakes. We find absolute meaning in loving them. In love we seek to become one.
In the “honeymoon phase,” life becomes poetry. We sketch symphonies across time with the harmony of our coexistence, and we think that we will do so forever. We wish to spend every waking moment by each other’s sides, to never disagree, to change ourselves to better fit each other. I agree to debate politics, and he agrees to watch Star Wars (he becomes eager, like Han Solo, to follow up my “I love you”s with a cheeky “I know”). We reach to close the empty space between us with the vitality of Michelangelo’s Adam stretching towards the hand of God.
In reality, this phenomenon results not in transcendence, but in the terrifying concept of “codependency.” We all have that friend who vanished from the face of the planet post-cuffing season, only to be spotted, like Bigfoot, in rare and fantastical sightings across the distant way.
How do we cope with this magnetic void called codependence, destroyer of a stable social life? There comes a day when we remember that we are still individuals, despite our daily rendezvous in that blessed college single.
In theory, a good relationship inspires personal growth, rather than overwhelming individuality. You have a person who, in the best of cases, will not leave you if you fail immediately to improve your character. Only the strongest, the most mature, and the most open to change will be able to maintain a relationship in the long run, and so you blossom into your best self under Love’s watchful eye. In the last year, I have become more confident, more self-starting, more willing to introduce myself to a new person in class. I have learned all of these things from the person I love.
But the truth is, after a whole year, my boyfriend and I still haven’t learned how to fully live together. On some days, we are sucked into obligations with friends, hunched over work in the library, or tired and in need of valuable alone time. On others, we are compelled to whittle away hours enjoying the exclusive relationship perk of watching a movie and declaring that it is not a distraction from homework, but rather “quality time.” We are still trying to find the balance between couple and self—and that is okay.
Love, for all its joys, is a source of great fear. When we are not together, it is easy to doubt. The utmost romantic will claim that lover and beloved become one, and there is no longer any need to strive to be close. But love is striving. It is effort, it is choice, and it is even being apart. Living together does not mean constantly being together. It means living your own life and knowing you will return to your lover in the end. If we were one, we wouldn’t be able to have our love by our side.
I sit in the stacks often, in the place where we first began. “I love you,” reads the graffiti. “I KNOW,” I have now scrawled underneath.