One hundred and sixty-eight years ago this January, Leo Tolstoy wrote what is possibly the greatest diary entry of all time. It read:
Jan 25th, 1851
I’ve fallen in love or imagine that I have; went to a party and lost my head. Bought a horse which I didn’t need at all.
Tolstoy might have well been a senior at Duke University, because these days my journal reads almost the same, except for the horse part.
Parties I’ve been to have often left me with a dramatic story to tell my friends about the person I made eye contact with across a crowded room and fell in love with at first sight—or imagined that I had—and then woke up the next day feeling like I’ve lost my head.
For as fun as college is supposed to be, a time of self-discovery and exciting new relationships—it hasn’t always been easy. I haven’t had the Blue Devil love story that the alumni magazine will chronicle a few years from now, the one where we met the second day of O-week or had our first date at the Nasher. My college love stories require a little more imagination and a slightly different map of landmarks.
A picnic blanket on the Chapel quad, a field playing frisbee, the couch where I’ve spent a lot of nights in the company of friends and occasionally more-than-friends. All the places where my cheeks have burned bright red and I’ve awkwardly smiled to cover it up. All the benches where I’ve sat inches away from someone who made me laugh. Every dance floor where I’ve shed my cares, let my hair down, and moved to the beat of the music until the stars came out.
The sum of these are not nothing.
It’s our imperative as college students to get wound up over labels, obsessed with the heightened drama of will we or won’t we. I can’t tally the number of times I’ve listened while a friend has spent hours debating whether or not to text a potential love interest first, or wondering if both parties are in agreement that it is, in fact, a date. Multiply that by the number of romantic partners that the average college student has and it’s hard to believe that we have time to talk about anything else.
So, how do you decide if you’ve fallen in love, or if you only imagine that you have? I read once about a sort of litmus test for a relationship in the form of the following question: “If I get the flu, are you bringing me soup?”
I can look back on college and think of a half-dozen ‘soup-bringing’ relationships. Times when I’ve depended on another person for encouragement, entertainment, advice, and, sometimes, soup. In sickness and in health.
And maybe that’s enough.
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Not being in a long-term romantic relationship at Duke has pushed me to seek out treasured friendships, ones built on mutual trust and love and openness, relationships that will stay with me far beyond college. These might be the truest love stories of them all.
Tolstoy said something else about love that I also think is true. “If it is true that there are as many minds are there are heads, then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts.” There are as many kinds of Blue Devil love stories as there are students at Duke: love stories that begin in a tent, or over a coffee in Vondy, or at a jazz concert. Love stories that change and grow, and are serious, or hilarious, or only last for as long as the song is playing. Love stories that involve a little bit of magic, too.
When I began Duke, the following words could have described me: uncertain, insecure, awkward, single.
Four years later many of those things have changed. I am: curious, confident, ambitious, happy. And single.
Four years from now it’s possible that that last one will be completely different, that the biggest love story is one that’s ahead. Though, when I think of the many people who have come through my life along the way I’m not sure that it’s a word I’d want to trade for one perfect Blue Devil love story.
For now, I am still becoming me: stuck somewhere between the right-now and the not-yet. I’ve got mistakes left to make and a ten-page bucket list of things to do before I settle down into a long-term relationship.
I’ve got horses left to buy which I don’t need at all.
Janie Booth is a Trinity senior who is currently looking for a date to E-ball. Her column runs on alternate Tuesdays.