To be a college student is to feel that you know everything and nothing at once. I sit in my Directed Studies philosophy class and feel heavy all over. Heavy eyes from too little sleep, sore back from too many books and the kind of weight in my chest one encounters when they reach the overwhelming question: what do I know for certain?
My professor talks of love, specifically that for Aristotle’s “unmoved mover.” Simply in loving this origin of the universe, we can actually sustain it. I see my peers begin to breathe easier; we’ve found a sense of peace with the hopeful prospect of answers. Maybe all of this — the conflicting contentions, confusing semantics and strange notions of infinity — can become harmonious with the one thing we all have the capacity for.
Love has never seemed a greater salvation. But at Yale, all too often the language of love feels cheap and insincere.
I should feel relieved to encounter such a sentiment at every campus juncture. On Old Campus, my suitemates call out “I love you” as the lights go out. At the corner of Elm and York, my new friends and I part with the same three words. Late in Bass, the emotion comes via text, usually missing an “I,” sometimes spelled with a “u,” but always with the word “love.”
And yet, the question still remains: how can we love after only three months of being at Yale? My cynicism sounds the alarms — the dreamscape in which we’re all miraculously in love cannot possibly be true.
Popular media has trained me well. I know that in romantic relationships an “I love you” in so short a time would spell disaster. Cue the pithy blonde discovering her dreamy architect’s double life, his proclamation performative, a red herring of the heart. Is romantic love so different from the platonic kind that what foreshadows disaster in one legitimizes relationships in the other? I think most would disagree. Sure, there is sexual attraction, but love, the kind Aristotle is concerned with, is an opening of the heart that both gives and receives light whenever one is conscious enough to open the door. There is no asterisk. Love is love.
Why, then, am I so hesitant to reciprocate when my friends share their feelings? Sometimes the words come out choked and awkward, and sometimes they don’t come at all. What’s my deal?! I’m not co-leasing an apartment or getting married, I’m just communicating something I think I really do feel. When I think about it, I can find good reason to love every person I come in contact with, friend and foe alike. The problem I have is saying it.
I worry that with these constant declarations we cheapen what might be the only real thing we have. So I use love sparingly, perhaps with the hope of preserving its power.
It’s not that I don’t love my new friends, it’s that I don’t want to conform to the expediency of the environment, the omnipresent rush I feel on campus. We move so fast, our ability to be precise and purposeful decimated by our desire for everything all at once. When love becomes a dime-store catalyst to progress relationships at the impossible Yale pace, we have a problem. I don’t want the people I meet to think that my “I love you” is just a symptom of the sickness; they deserve better.
I want my friends to know that when I talk about love, I mean it. Love is freedom but only as far as we believe it to be. Maybe we are lucky, and the plentiful declarations of “I love you” are also the real ones. But if they aren’t, and love really is as transcendent as it seems, I want to know it when I see it.
ELLA ATTELL is a first year in Davenport College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .