We are sinking into the sofa cushions, two usually assertive women hugging pillows close. I am 20 and proudly independent, fiercely protective of friends, unfazed by critics — but the boy for whom I want the world does not want me in the same way. Somehow, despite my many layers of toughness, that hurts.
“I never want to love again,” I say. My friend nods in agreement. “Imagine how productive we would be.” I think about the problem sets left untouched when I’d seen him, the books I could have read for pleasure in the time spent distracted. My friend and I talk about our future financial security, the respect we want to command in high-powered, hard-edged, masculine fields — international security, economics — and the time and effort needed to build success. The failure of a pursuit so soft and gauzy as love stings with foolishness. “No more feelings,” we promise each other. No more love getting in the way of life.
On this campus built so perfectly for independence, however, I’ve come to think we need more love in order to live more fully. Over dinner one night, a woman asks what the Yale dating scene is like. The students around me generally agree that committed relationships are rare. In my inexpert polling of friends, it seems we have plenty of feelings, yet very rarely act on them. When we do enter a “thing” with someone, we do not usually intend on reaching “love” with its full weight as a verb. We do not say “I love you” while giving explanations: We do not have time, it’s too soon to be so serious, we are independent humans with goals and too much on our plates.
To me, the underlying reason for all this is fear: a paralyzing fear of the vulnerability that love entails. From our vantage points, there is a lot to lose. Because loving is admitting a little bit of dependence upon someone who might reject you, whom we can never simply convince to love us back. Because in a world where we display curated versions of our strengths and struggles, true vulnerability means sharing less-than-sightly insecurities and asking the risky questions we keep to ourselves. We do things here calculating expected returns — apply for fellowships, vie for classes, study for exams, all with the understanding that input relates to output — but love is the vulnerability that giving everything might produce nothing in return. So instead, we spend time on things that make us stronger alone, that make us admirable and quantifiably successful.
Why we avoid romantic love also has implications for the other kinds of love we ought to have here, for ourselves and our friends. Our fear of vulnerability runs deep: We rarely leave time for uncomfortable introspection, and so we lack the sureness of self which proceeds from it. The pressure to only express things that are woke and right makes us alone in our complicated quandaries, about gender, body weight, race, family, imposter syndrome, alcohol, faults in us and the people we care about and things we consume. Instead, we seek affirmation through half-heartedly fulfilling scripts: We grab perfunctory meals and ask bland questions of each other. So many people submit applications and seek out love interests only to hurriedly proclaim, “I don’t really care about it”; others resume drop for jobs and sign up for extracurriculars without deep commitment to “just get something.”
Ironically, we expect people to have interests yet remain aloof; the moment someone professes a deeper love of craft; eagerness to solve problems; or desire for dreams, skepticism rears its head: How impossibly cliche, fake, naive. No! We should care. We should care deeply. We should love each of our passions — whether interests or people or hobbies, all as we change over time — brazenly and seriously, owning their and our strengths and weaknesses, and encourage that love in others.
Maybe the absence of all this would be fine if we were happy nonetheless with our overstuffed plates and risk-aversion and rugged self-sufficiency. Here’s the thing: We cannot build homes without love, without rooms that brim with vulnerability and open doors to each others’ scariest questions, without unconditionally extending shelter and care with no expectation of reciprocity. We cannot build homes without being loved. How can we not make time for this?
It is 2 a.m. and we are on the floor, sides pressed into the rug, two tough and composed women suddenly reduced to wide grins and bubbles of laughter. My friend is describing a newfound love to me, and I am teasing her about these inconvenient emotions, these tiny inconveniences that make us feel as if we are blooming. We are so alive.
Loving is not easy: Caring takes time and emotional weight and fatigue and hurt. We can pour ourselves into our writing, into someone, into addressing some existential threat and maybe do so in vain. But to this campus, I say: Love more, harder, fearlessly. The alternative is a constant internal ache, the sense that no matter what titles or image or success we attain, we have still lost it all in missing something infinitely more valuable.
Liana Wang is a junior in Davenport College. Her column runs on alternate Tuesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .