Widgets Magazine


The Young Adult Section: What is love?

What is love? (“Baby, don’t hurt me.”)

No, seriously. Searching after this question’s answer has dominated much of my time here in college. Once upon a time, I thought I knew the answer: love was a thing to be discovered, waiting within special people I encountered.

As a result, I’ve spent my life loving people I already know I like. Maybe this is normal. But all this time, I’ve been practicing how to love my friends and family first; how to reciprocate love to those who are nice to me; how to publicly love the less-fortunate in big ways. That’s all acceptable. But, honestly, it only reflects the assumption that love is limited. Thus, the best of me was reserved only for those relationships that garnered me the most in returns. Even if I never realized it, I was discriminate about who most deserved me. And still, left to my own broken ideas of what’s best, I revert to this strategic kind of life.

Actually, I’m sure this is normal.

Even my college-level economics and international relations courses try to teach me similar things. They are often based on perceptions of people as purely profit-minded, designating their scarcest resources in places that minimize loss. Naturally, believing myself to be a good person, I would never say that I was like that. Yet a scarce resource is exactly how I regarded my ability to be compassionate: I showered it on a select few who returned the favor. How efficient, how rewarding. Haddaway’s song, ultimately, is more than just the soundtrack to a funny skit. It’s the summary of this world’s “fair” aversion to loving people who have hurt us in response.

But here’s where I draw a line. Because I’m convinced that deep down, we all know this kind of humanity isn’t inevitable — that there must exist something better, eternal, omniscient. And there’s a community of remarkably unsuspicious-looking people, here, on this campus, who believe in that. They act on a commitment to see beyond achievements, faces and flaws to accept who someone really is. And geez is it a struggle.

Why? Well, think of the classmate who shamelessly dropped the ball on your group project, or the dormmate who trades your smile on the stairwell for an vacant nonresponse, or the boy who suggested hopeful things to you and promptly forgot them all. Personally, I’m used to responding to these people with harsh words behind their backs. I’ve laughed countless times with other friends about a perpetrator’s wrongs against me to support my own self-righteousness. I’ve cut so many people off from my life so that I could ignore that my treatment of them was still an integral part of who I am. Because, just as easily as I shower loved ones with understanding and empathy, I regress to hurting those who hurt me.

Let’s be real. The norm is every man for himself. And I always reasoned that no relationship was gracious enough that I should give more than I get back, or get more than I give. The highest ideal I could think of was equal give-and-take.

The love that challenges me now is different. I have to will it, because it’s completely against my nature, making it the most difficult thing I will ever opt into. It’s the challenge of remembering that those people who keep witnessing the worst of me, with whom I feel incompatible, are truly filled with the same inherent value and beauty that I see effortlessly in my closest friends. The challenge is running into them on the street and drawing up a smile or a nod for them and, in my heart of hearts, honoring them with respect. To remember that there’s a beating heart, and sad and deep and important stories, hidden within the person who hurts me — that’s the hardest to do.

This perfect love is really not humanly possible. But there are people putting all their bets in life on that single love, and more than anything in the world I want to seek what they seek, too.

Ultimately, this isn’t a challenge I can absolutely accomplish. I know it takes more than the lifetime I’ve got. But there’s no way could I settle for the love I once thought was good enough, now that I’ve met the greatest kind there is.


Email Nina if you’re curious, if you wonder, if you don’t understand and totally disagree, or if you agree and know how happy she’ll be that you told her!!! Find her at ninamc “at” stanford “dot” edu.