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By Adam

I fall in love on a daily basis, many times with the same person. This has been a constant source of personal turmoil for me. Much of the time, my love goes both unspoken and unrequited; this is to be expected, because I am cowardly and vainglorious and stupid. But girls don’t make it easy.

When I was in the third grade, the librarian at my elementary school, a warm but homely woman named Mrs. Adams, stormed into my class and sternly asked me to join her. Because I was a nerd, this immediately reminded me of the scene in The Empire Strikes Back, in which Darth Vader unsuccessfully asks Luke to join him on the dark side—ha!—and rule the galaxy together. I was never interested in sleeping with my sister, so I would have gone with him. That inclination proved well-minded.

Our library was relatively small, but only when you weren’t looking. The stacks held all the usual suspects—Shel Silverstein, Bernstein Bears, etc.—along with a small bank of computers used primarily to kill daughters of dysentery in Oregon Trail.  Tucked away behind the furthest wall, past the “big kid books” like Dune and such, was a dusty old door. Through this door was a small, windowless room filled with ancient machinery used to test the senses; basic visual tests, hearing tests, and the like were performed in here. When I walked in, I was administered these tests, and I assume I had passed, as Mrs. Adams seemed coldly placated. She then sat opposite me at the tiny table in the room, and asked me some of the toughest questions of my life.

“What is a group of crows called?” She asked.

“Spell ‘garage’.”

“What’s the square root of 64?”

And so on. Although I spelled it correctly, the fact that I had to think about how to spell “garage” and eventually pinned my success on a guess wakes me in the night. After she was finished, I was sent back to class with a terse “Well done,” and that was it. Or so I thought.

The next day, Mrs. Adams appeared to me, this time much more excited to see me. After lunch, she told me to meet her in the library. Met with a brief wave, I was whisked to the opposite corner of the library that hid a massive staircase cordoned off with a velvet rope. How I had never seen this before, I have no idea. She led me up the staircase to a loft littered with real books—dictionaries, thesauruses, collections of poems—globes, maps, computers, and a large round table, around which sat five kids I had never seen before.

This was my first introduction to ELP, the extended learning program, a new initiative at our school that sought out the brightest kids and brought them together to thrive. It was in the fucking loft of our library! The librarian was the group’s administrator! J.K. Rowling would have creamed her jeans if she knew. It was incredible; we’d do mind-teasers, engineering projects, algebra, and general smart-kid stuff. We probably solved a crime or two, I don’t know. But none of that interested me. I was interested in Laura.

She didn’t exist in my universe before then. She had a soft personality, delicate, and freckles on her nose. She was constantly brushing her hair behind her ear. Almost twenty years later, I remember how she chewed on the end of her pencil, not out of frustration, but out of a kind of curiosity. She was quiet, and we had shared classes since kindergarten. During ELP, we would share jokes about transcribing miles to kilometers and planetary orbits. She would smile, and softly tap the back of my hand with her pencil. It was a whirlwind romance. It occurred during a single day.

The next day, at lunch, I looked for her, hoping to sit next to her and be smart together. And, from across the lunch room, we locked eyes. They widened slightly. Although I knew who was there, I couldn’t bring myself to look to her left. She said nothing, but her eyes desperately sent me a message, which I received. These unspoken things have a bizarre capacity to unleash oceans of pure pain upon a person.

At ELP, she sat next to me, took my hand, and squeezed. We never looked at each other, but she squeezed my hand the entire forty-five minutes. Third grade was psychologically destructive. I saw her everyday over the next four years, and every day I fell in love with her again, sometimes for weeks, but mostly for minutes. It was the same with Amanda, and Theresa, and Nicole, and Sara, and all the rest. The times I’ve been legitimately in love were similar, but stretched out over months and years. I like to think my real relationships could have worked, had I gotten the unspoken things. I like to think that.

I’m not complaining. I love the girls I’m interested in today, mostly because I can be myself around them. And that cowardly, vainglorious, stupid man will always love them, because he can’t help himself.

When I visited Alaska, two years after I had abruptly moved, I saw her again. At 16, she was industrious; she made sandwiches at Subway. She recognized me, she had to, but clearly she didn’t remember. I ordered my sandwich, and like always, she was delicate: tenderly laying the ham in the bread, spreading the mustard, sprinkling the lettuce. It was just like our first encounter, shifted a few degrees to the left. When I paid, she gave me the scripted “thank you” her employed required. The restaurant was empty, and I could have eaten there, but she didn’t want me to. It was in her eyes. It was one of those unspoken things.

Just like that: in love, and out. A terrifying oscillation.

By Nicolle

I turned on the TV on Saturday to watch Northern Illinois beat Kansas (and ruin my bracket), and one of the most well-known cosmetic ad campaigns appeared. Eva Longoria floated across the screen telling viewers how great her L’Oreal hair color was (even though I’m fairly certain a star as big as Eva would never trust a box color to intensify her dark locks). She finished her seductive monologue with L’Oreal’s famous catch phrase: “Because you’re worth it.”

That’s what our generation has been inundated with: Worthiness. We’re worth that brand-new car, the expensive overseas vacation, that couture dress, those season tickets to Target Field. And we’re worth it even if we can’t really afford it.

I’m not saying any one of those desires is bad, or that no one should ever travel outside their home country or experience baseball outdoors. But what can be extremely detrimental is when our personal L’Oreal attitude carries over into our relationships.

A friend of mine dated a guy who her friends deemed “not good enough for her.” They said he wasn’t as smart as her, he wasn’t as attractive as her and he didn’t have as much ambition in his career as she did. So she broke up with him to look for someone better.

She’s still looking.

Another friend of mine dated a girl who was crazy about him. He wasn’t sure about the relationship, and thought he deserved someone who wasn’t so worried about his whereabouts and for whom he had equally intense feelings. He broke up with her, only to discover a few months later that she was the person who’d been keeping him sane and out of trouble. When he tried to explain that to her, she wouldn’t take him back.

He’s still looking.

Ad campaigns like L’Oreal’s have given us a distorted sense of self and relationships. If we think we’re worth everything, then we’re not willing to take a chance on anything. If something is not quite good enough, we convince ourselves that there’s got to be something better – and if we don’t hold out for that “something better” we’re not doing justice to our worth.

When we cling to that mindset unknowingly, we end up with a “why suffer?” mentality. If we’re not completely satisfied with what our relationship is providing us, or things get rough for a period of time, or someone questions us, we bail. We tell ourselves that we don’t deserve to suffer; we’re worth more than the pain this person or relationship is inflicting on us.

But we’re wrong.

Does anybody deserve love? The simple answer is no. No one really does because no one is perfect. What’s so great about life and people is that we can choose to overlook those imperfections and to love individuals despite their unworthiness.

But, to accomplish such a daunting task, we have to realize that we’re in the same undeserving place as everyone else. Once we put ourselves on that level, we’re more capable of empathizing with people, of seeing our brokenness in them and expressing our love in unexpected ways.

Our sense of entitlement has to be curbed in order to have relationships that really matter, relationships that can impact and change us. Without those kinds of relationships, we’d all be hermits, further indoctrinating ourselves with undue worthiness. No one would ever be good enough.

I don’t ever want to hear that I’m not good enough. I’d much prefer to hear that I’m worth it. But if I can’t look past what I “deserve” and take a risk on a relationship that might cause me some pain, I can’t ask anyone else to do the same for me – no matter what L’Oreal says.

By Nicolle

For those of you living under a rock, Twilight is the ridiculously successful book and movie series about a small-town teenage girl who falls in love with a vampire. I’m ashamed to admit that I have read all four books. I was an outspoken advocate for avoiding the pop culture phenomenon for the exact reason I now lament: It provides young women (and young men) with an unrealistic paradigm of love and relationships.

I like to consider myself to be fairly levelheaded; my greatest strength, according to the StrengthsFinder test (if you haven’t taken it, go buy the book now – it will change your life) is intellection. “Intellection” basically means that I really like to think. I can’t turn my brain off as it internally processes conversations, ideas and reflections, and my lengthy thought process usually leads to a practical, pragmatic solution that is free of emotional confusion. I’ve even been know talk myself out of a panic attack if need be.

Photo by Kelly Cole

Because level-headedness abounds, I rarely let myself get sucked into idealistic dreaming. I focus on the present and the realistic, sometimes to my own detriment.

But, there is a hopelessly romantic side of me that my rational personality has successfully squelched. The main male (vampire) character of Twilight, Edward, mercilessly attacks this rational side of my personality and painfully lures my more idealistic, vulnerable feelings out into the open, creating an unnatural longing in me for some guy to sweep me off my feet.

Some days, I love to dwell in that place, to picture my own white knight whisking my heart away, fixing all my problems and making my life complete. But on most days, that fantasy quickly dispels into a kind of despair I know can’t be fulfilled by any one person – people are imperfect and to expect perfection out of a relationship is naïve.

In Twilight, the main female character, Bella, falls “irrevocably” in love with Edward within a few weeks of meeting him. Their relationship progresses at an unnatural, lightning speed as they begin to spend all their time together. Bella neglects her friends and her father as Edward consumes all Bella’s thoughts and feelings. Like Prince Charming, he rescues her from more than one perilous situation, and each encounter only leaves them more closely bound together.

Their relationship is built on the intense emotional feelings and connections they make in a very short amount of time. It’s an emotional lust that deceives each of them into thinking they physically can’t live without the other.

In the second book, New Moon, Edward attempts suicide when he thinks Bella has died. While I won’t disagree with the fact that separation from someone you love can feel unbearable, the implication of Edward’s choice presses false messages into the thoughts of Twilight followers. Succumbing to emotional pain to the point of suicide is a dangerous idea to hand to young readers who likely don’t know what love means.

Love in Twilight is presented as an uncontrollable and unquenchable physical and emotional longing for someone – and some parts of real love encompass hints of such desire. But, love can’t only be that fiery passion; it has to simmer at some point to allow for a deep, unconditional love to flourish.

The sarcastic fake news outlet, The Onion, recently demonstrated how Twilight has taken love too far. The story pokes fun at a fake vampire-human married couple who’ve lost their romance. The wife dives into the more “erotic” story of Twilight as an escape from her vampire husband who is no longer dark and mysterious and doesn’t often risk his life for her as Edward does for Bella.

The fictional vampire love story of Edward and Bella is just that: fiction. It doesn’t give enough credit to true love, love that realizes that life won’t always be full of adventure, and understands that the loss of intense, passionate feelings doesn’t mean love has crawled into a corner and died.

Twilight isn’t all bad. Its ideas just need to be balanced with realism in a way that promotes more of a discussion about what love is and how it manifests itself in healthy relationships.

The Twilight series is compelling and a great way to waste a weekend. What I didn’t enjoy was the aftermath of corralling a wave of emotions surrounding my love life and feeling forced to think about why my romantic relationships have never looked liked the one Edward and Bella share. And if that’s hard for me, a perpetual thinker, I can only imagine the difficulties is produces for a true romantic – or a young reader who doesn’t know any better.

By Anna

While staying at my grandparents’ house last weekend I overheard their 6:30 a.m. conversation concerning names of grandchildren’s’ significant others.cvbridaldreamweb

Poppo: What’s the name of the young man downstairs?

Grandma: Alex.

P: I thought it was Joel.

G: That’s Holly’s boy.

P: I know, I thought there were two Joels. We don’t need to remember these names until we know they’re going to stick around.

G: And even then who knows how long they’ll be around.

Being just as capable of divorce as the next wedded person (though A, I’m not married and B, statistically I am not as likely to divorce because my parents are not divorced), I am still not an advocate for divorce as an option. We laugh about the guy who has had five wives (Grandpa Charles on my dad’s side) and laugh at films where divorce is a theme, but the excruciating emotional pulls divorce brings is no laughing matter.

In Hungary people joke about being good at burying the dead (because they’ve lost so many wars), well in America we can joke about being good at keeping divorce attorneys employed (because we love to divorce!)

Unsurprisingly, White Americans are more likely to be for divorce in an unhappy marriage than Black Americans. Statistically, White people have more money to afford the expense of divorce. Though when we talk about divorce in statistics race is always a factor, it is not my main focus for today.

I’m talking about marriage and divorce because I will be attending yet another wedding this weekend (though I doubt it will end in divorce). And I have at least two, if not scores more, weddings to attend next summer as I am in peak wedding stage of life (21 to about age 30).

Here’s what I know about divorce based on The Pew Research Center’s research:

  • Divorce is highest among White and Black Americans.
  • Divorce is highest among 50-64 year olds.
  • Divorce is highest in the $30K/year income bracket.
  • Divorce is highest among non-college graduates.

Since divorce rates have doubled in America since 1960, I suppose my grandparents should be a bit concerned about learning names (even if that’s a bit cold) and us young folk should not be so eager for marriage, after all one has their whole life for the opportunity.

Though divorce disheartens me and is a very real fact for Americans, it is not divorce that I want to talk about, but I want to know why Americans (and Christians) tie marriage to success. Why do most Americans who are not married want to be married? Why is there not just as much gratitude and appreciation for single people? Why are single people older than the age of 30 pitied for their singleness? It seems to me that we put too much emphasis on marriage and end up with a lot of irresponsible people playing house.

By Ashlee

I wrote this poem after falling for an engaged man (I was unaware of his relational status at the time).

“ The Awards Show” 

Dark cocoa eyes shadowed by a strong brow

Perfect, smart, suited

Falling for you and finding out you are

Betrothed

Well, the award for

“The Fastest and Most Swift”

goes to you in the category of

“Stealing and then Breaking My Heart.”

 

Dismal gray eyes and near white hair

Rugged, soft, barefoot

Wanting you until finding out you are

Dull

Well, the award for

“Suave and Smooth on the Surface”

goes to you in the category of

“First Impressions of Future Lovers.”

 

Daring blue eyes dance and catch light

Rare, beautiful, natural

Loving you until I find you are

Lifeless

Well, the award for

“The Most Epic Love Story”

goes to you in the category of

“Love That Will Go Down in History as Legendary.”

 

 Companion Poem: “The Betrothal” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Oh, come, my lad, or go, my lad,

And love me if you like.

I shall not hear the door shut

Nor the knocker strike.

 

Oh, bring me gifts or beg me gifts,

And wed me if you will.

I’d make a man a good wife,

Sensible and still.

 

And why should I be cold, my lad,

And why should you repine,

Because I love a dark head

That never will be mine?

 

I might as well be easing you

As lie alone in bed

And waste the night in wanting

A cruel dark head.

 

You might as well be calling yours

What never will be his,

And one of us be happy.

There’s few enough as is