The language of love

By Wynn Van Dusen '15

The following article was inspired by the popular “Modern Love” column published in The New York Times. Here, a Hamilton College student discusses her own perspective of and experience with romance in the contemporary age. If you’re interested in contributing your own “Modern Love” style piece, please don’t hesitate to contact spec@hamilton.edu.

I used to be one of those girls who hated Valentine’s Day and made a public affair of it. Buried in the depths of my Facebook timeline are Feb. 14 statuses about how Nutella and a bottle of wine were all the love I needed and how men just didn’t “get” me. I recognize now that this is a disturbing thing for a baby-faced, sweaty teen to post on the Internet. Alas, hindsight is 20/20.

Though I mainly did this to be funny, my hatred of Valentine’s Day was more than just a bit I exhausted. It stemmed from a deep resentment I held for the holiday my entire life. Without an ounce of hyperbole, I’ll admit that growing up, my household didn’t have a lot of romantic love in it. My siblings and I loved each other, our parents loved us unconditionally. But my parents didn’t love each other, and my young mind had no trouble picking up on this. Passive aggression became a first language to all of us, and bright red tension punctuated every conversation in the house.

As a kid, Valentine’s Day felt to me like a cruel joke that I wasn’t in on. The language of love was one that I did not speak, and I didn’t think I’d ever be capable of learning it. Sort of like how if you didn’t eat dairy growing up, you’d probably have a hard time digesting it in your twenties. So, I became one of those 16-year-old girls who loved to pretend that she’d scoured all the land and seen all the men, and had decided that they were all primitive wastes of time. Truth is, at the young age of 16, I had only ever dated one guy, and he was a clown. Literally, a clown. This isn’t a metaphor. He was a clown. And he broke my heart, thus confirming my pessimistic theories on love.

Then, at the beginning of my sophomore year at Hamilton, I fell in love with the greatest guy I’ve ever met. A year and a half of dating later, I’ve never been happier. When we first starting seeing each other, I knew I had found something special, but I didn’t think I was capable of sustaining it. Being as in love as I was didn’t seem like it could possibly be in my genes, and I anxiously awaited the day that I would flinch and break this fragile gift I was given.

In many ways, I had every reason to be scared. As children, we learn from patterns: smile, someone will smile back. Extend your hand, and they’ll extend theirs. One of the distinctly sad patterns I learned early on was that fighting with someone meant that you’d lose them. Period. I saw this with my parents, I saw this when two members of my family became permanently estranged and I saw this in multiple petty fights I had with friends whom I haven’t spoken to since. When I applied this logic to my budding relationship, I was terrified. The idea of getting into an argument, of misspeaking and losing this person, even after a few weeks of getting to know him, gave me this gut wrenchingly awful feeling, and I almost pulled myself away right then and there.

But then it all made perfect sense. Yes, my anxiety was irrational, but I was actually doing everything right. Love should be a little scary. Too often we’re told that you never really know if you love someone until you lose them, but I wholeheartedly disagree. Being nervous to lose someone is a feeling you should strive for, because it means that what you’re feeling is real. Love is hard, and it can hurt, but if you do it right it’s one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever experience.

So go discover that fear. Pursue what terrifies you, romantically or otherwise. My argument for love extends to anything that you’re passionate about. If the prospect of not becoming what you tell yourself you want to become doesn’t fill you with at least a twinge of fear, then figure something else out. If you’re nervous about your grad school application because you’re afraid of getting rejected, that’s a really good way of knowing that you should absolutely send it in. If you’re truly nervous about not getting a Mango Brie Panini, then that’s your body telling you that you really love Mango Brie Paninis and that you should probably go get one. So let yourself be nervous, and as someone in an improv class might say, “follow your foot,” because there could be no greater privilege than that of finding something that you’d fight for with all of your heart. Happy Valentine’s Day, Hammy.


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