December 5, 2021

DO | What is Love?

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With the colder winter months comes “cuffing season”, a time filled with romantic desperation and the palpably depressing knowledge of our own loneliness. Maybe it’s the dreary winter sky, the grueling end-of-year retrospection or the frigid, icy winds evoking a grave desire for the fleeting warmth and comfort of another forlorn soul’s embrace: There could be any number of reasons, really.

Cornellians should be especially familiar with seasonal depression. In exchange for the beautiful gold and auburn of fall, we spend the better part of five months locked into Jack Frost’s crosshairs. With this comes an extended cuffing season, as students attempt to escape the dread of the Big Red Grind with an equally burnt-out partner by their side.

I’ll be the first to admit that college dating has never made much sense to me. College is an extremely chaotic period filled with transition and uncertainty, not to mention, it only lasts four years. Are the intimacy and emotional connection of romance really worth the risks that come with the impending separation of graduation? Why does everyone else seem to be happy with their partners while my world is a never ending onslaught of emptiness and imagined romantic scenarios? 

These dilemmas have me pondering the question posed by intellectual greats like Haddaway and TWICE: What is love? I’m asking merely out of journalistic curiosity, of course, as I’m perfectly content being single. Couldn’t be happier, really.

It should first be said that there are many different types of love. We love our partners, parents, children, friends and favorite BTS members all in (hopefully) very different ways. I, however, like most other college students, am only interested in talking about romantic love, as it’s perhaps the most difficult variant of love to attain on this screwed-up ball of rock and heartache we call Earth.

Love is, at its core, a feeling of strong affection. It’s a very strange concoction of emotions that makes us desire a certain person’s exclusive romantic attention. Very rarely is love this straightforward, though; problems typically arise once we consider that not only do you have to love the other person, but the other person has to love you back

Countless psychological theories attempt to explain the complicated web of small-spooning and misery that is love. One such theory proposed by Prof. Robert Sternberg, psychology, suggests that the three components of love are intimacy, passion and commitment. I learned about his theory in-depth while taking his class, HD 1170: Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood, which I highly recommend.

Credit to Dr. Sternberg for his decades of industry-leading work in psychology, but as a 19 year-old college student who’s done well in one of his undergraduate-level courses, I think I also have some valuable thoughts to share on the matter. In my formally published and thus supremely insightful opinion, love consists of three main ingredients – friendship, attraction and discernment – and the overarching final touch of time. I call it the F.A.D. Theory, because, let’s be real, that’s what most college relationships are, anyway.

Friendship is a surprisingly underrated element of love, at least in the age of hookups. Rom-coms love their love-at-first-sight and enemies-to-lovers stories, but I’ve always thought the slow burn of close friendship to romance is the ideal path. Establishing a friendship with someone you’re interested in can help uncover a lot of romantic red flags and also ensures that your interest isn’t conditional on reciprocation.

Attraction is a rather straightforward ingredient, and one I’ve discussed at length in a previous column. Despite my stance in that column that the importance of beauty is often inflated, I want to acknowledge that physical attraction to one’s partner is vital to establishing and maintaining love. Not only will it strengthen friendship, but physical attraction is the cornerstone to love’s ‘roided-up, bastard cousin: Sex.

I like to think of love and sex as a brains-and-brawn buddy cop team, à la 21 Jump Street. Sex is the brawn, providing the muscle and adrenaline, while love is the brain, strategically employing the brawn and supplying it with the proper intel. Love without sex is too timid to accomplish anything, while sex without love manhandles everything in its sight, with little regard to long-term consequences or the actual mission. 

Sex analogies aside, we are left with our final core ingredient of love: Discernment. The F.A.D. Theory defines discernment as the ability to frankly assess the prospects of one’s love. Maybe this is just a reflection of my personality, but I’ve always thought that love is often rushed into before factors like values and personal shortcomings can be properly considered.

Bringing such baggage as conflicting worldviews or hidden, shameful imperfections into a relationship practically spells disaster for everyone involved. I don’t want to downplay the transformative power of love, but rather emphasize that true love is a love for a whole person. Young people nowadays are so overloaded with stressful emotions and responsibilities that they often turn to romance as an escape, thinking that love will heal them. In reality, though, love is what comes after the healing. We can’t expect anyone else to fully embrace us as romantic partners if there are skeletons in our closets that we’re not even willing to confront.

I want to close by highlighting the importance of the fourth, overarching piece of the F.A.D. Theory, which is time. I can’t blame anyone for desiring the affection and emotional security of romance, but love that lasts demands time. The best advice that I, a college student with no real relationship experience, can give is to spend your time building friendships and learning about yourself. Interact with new personalities and find out what kind of people you have chemistry with. Once you’re ready to wholly love and be loved, the right person will make themselves known to you. And even if they don’t, you’ll at least have Ithaca’s long winter months to wait some more.

Noah Do is a sophomore in the College of Human Ecology. He can be reached at [email protected]. Noah’s Arc runs every other Monday this semester.