February 7, 2019

JEONG | The Paradox of College Romance

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p class=”p1″>One warm spring afternoon in 2015, I sat in the bleachers of The Harker School in San Jose, California with my best friend, who was then negotiating the terms of his impending long-distance relationship with his girlfriend. Magnified by the omnipresent backdrop of John Legend’s “All of Me” and the hormones of nostalgic teenagers, I spoke to him with the same oratory fervor I had recently seen from Tom Cruise during the final scene of Jerry Maguire. I promised, “You guys can totally make this work out. Atlanta to Chicago isn’t a long flight — you can see each other all the time.” Under the influence of soon-to-be-legalized medicinal inebriants and the clear ether of youth itself, I delivered my speech oblivious to the imminent scandals of college and with all the unironic conviction of an 18-year-old who thought The Killers were the greatest band of all time.

The relationship crumbled in a matter of weeks — as these things usually do — once it turned out the flight from Atlanta to Chicago wasn’t as short or simple as it looked on Google Maps. Though we laugh about it now, I think back to this time when I look at college relationships. Seeing friends travel across the country, move in and plan lives together with their boyfriends and girlfriends brings up either approving smiles affirming the sweetness of love or concern over the inevitability of heartbreak. We thought we knew the world in high school — but who says we know any better now?

College is a strange time to explore the idea of love. Perhaps it’s because it is the time when many of us form our ideations of love. Liberated from parental supervision looming two doors down the hallway, we date, sleep around and repeat until we finally find someone for whom we can muster an “I love you.” Then the first person that we love is not just an embodiment of our love, but becomes love itself. This person will be the standard to which all other loves will be compared to and the life-long reference for what love is. And during these four formative years of self-discovery, your college partner becomes a formative figure in forming not just your conception of love, but your conception of self. We fall, and we fall hard, for not only a person, but also for a far more selfish vision of what you want out of our lives.

Yet, as 20-some year olds, our age gives us the perspective to make monumental professional, academic and personal decisions, but not enough to wrestle the inescapable ambiguity of our futures. And it might be because we know nothing that college couples think in a language promising permanence. Grandiose ideas of happily-ever-after and everlasting fidelity are blind to the reality that all jobs aren’t located in one city and the ever-increasing opportunity cost of other partners.

There is nothing new about not wanting to get hurt. Therefore, it makes sense to be cautious when falling in love with the idea of love. We are raised on a strict regimen of Disney movies and indie rom-coms, and as a result, the promise of finding “the one” is enticing and addicting. There is an urge to tackle the world together with that special somebody, but the immutable “what-ifs” in our head nip away at our faith in love that has been ingrained in us since the first time we watched Beauty and the Beast.

However, I still believe in my love. I am hyper-aware of the irony that will come with revisiting this column in five years. Because no matter what happens, I will look back and cringe while reading the romantic ideology of a naive 22-year-old who had only recently stopped using an old t-shirt as a hand towel. But it just sucks to know that I will be so wrong.

Because to dismiss my feelings today as the behavior of childish impulse would be to dismiss the gravity and seriousness of the love I’ve come to feel this past year. To dismiss college love would be to dismiss the countless hours of midnight FaceTimes, the small fortune in plane tickets and all the gustatory and nostalgic warmth I feel every time I use the sandwich press gifted for my birthday. Hindsight bias could leave us with regret and remorse about decisions from our youth, but regret and remorse will only come from not having given everything. Things will invariably end up differently than I plan, but relationships are worth pursuing because there will be no question more cripplingly unsatisfying than “what could have been?”

Reconciling this divide is messy, difficult and often laborious — but it’s not something we do because we’re young and naive. It is something we must give for having to grow up.

Jason Jeong is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at jjeong@cornellsun.com. Jeongism appears every other Friday this semester.