The Middlebury Romantic asks: What is love?

By Edyth Moldow

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s view of love is this: “Human beings are like globes, which can touch only in a point, and, whilst they remain in contact, all other points of each of the spheres are inert.” 

While he is a controversial figure (for good reason, might I add), this transcendentalist literary guru had a unique perspective on love between two people. Connection is signified by two separate wholes that merely meet at one point on the spheres which represent their lives. Whether romantic or platonic, the connection implies that neither person completes the other, rather, each person supports the other so that their lives adapt and grow in unexpected ways with time. 

On Middlebury’s campus, I propose that we are all spheres: complex creatures with detailed interests, weaving and intersecting with the other spheres around us. Our lives become complete wholes when we nourish aspects of our identities and connect meaningfully with one another. Whether we are loving our hallmates, our class material, our extracurricular clubs, our sports, or our romantic SOs, we don’t need that one aspect of our life to make us “whole” again; the comprehensive whole lies in the process of cultivating a connection, the one point on our sphere.

There are a lot of types of love floating around our school: “Love at first sight,” platonic love, “the first love,” maybe even “true love.” Perhaps we have skirted around the very idea of “I love you” for fear of getting too close, for burning ourselves in the heat of romantic seriousness and the prickly fear of commitment in our chests. I have both been afraid to say those three words, and also lived by the phrase “caution belongs to the wind.”

I wasn’t really ready to have a relationship until this year because I used to look at love as a way to complete myself, incapable of seeing my worth on my own. I didn’t understand that love must  be about prioritizing loving yourself first. 

To be honest, my romantic history has had some questionable characters: people who didn’t put in effort, failed to communicate, or hid how they really felt about me for fear of hurting my feelings. Have I been left on “read” for two months before? Absolutely. I’ve also gotten my hopes up only to have the person leave the date thirty minutes in, pushing his chair back exclaiming “I’m finished with dinner” after I admitted I didn’t like a certain Taylor Swift album. I’ve had a date become a “group hang” because my date had internally friendzoned me and was afraid to tell me. But we should not be settling for experiences like these. From now on, no more long wait times, hidden feelings, or lack of effort. 

In my current relationship, we give each other the time and space to talk about what we care about in life, whether that’s as silly as Legos or something as serious as social justice issues. If one of us knows we need to do something for our own happiness, we’ll make that a priority too. Loving someone is wanting the ‘whole’ that is their life to be complete — even the aspects that don’t directly relate to you.

Love is doing everything you can to help someone by adding patches of light into their day. That could be bringing them coffee, writing a sweet note, helping them fold their laundry, or even just listening to them when they need it. Love takes shape in thoughtful action, especially toward yourself. After all, showing love to yourself helps you best extend that love to other people. 

“I love you.”

Everyone says it at different times: sometimes it’s never, sometimes it’s two weeks in (as was the case of my first boyfriend), four months or six, but really, you should say it when you feel it. 

My friends are good examples of complete wholes finding points of connections among our group and on their own romantically. Here’s what they think love is:

  • Love is feeling at home: whether that’s a place or with people, you feel like you can be your true self without having to worry about how you’re perceived
  • Love is cherishing every moment you can with someone
  • Love is a feeling of uncontained happiness in someone’s presence
  • Love is overcoming our fear that we aren’t worthy of connection
  • Love is helping other people get what they want in life

But if I know one thing, it’s that love isn’t an obligation. It’s not something you owe to someone. It’s not something you can always hold onto. It’s something that terrifies us, and lifts us from our own depths, excites us, and inspires us into growing into ourselves in the world. Love is the glue for everything. 

“I love you.”

“Really? I love you too. I’ve known for a while now. I love you…” 

“So much.”