On love and other things

My childhood perception of love was one of cosmic nature. I was convinced that my eventual love would rival the devotion from legends. Love would feel like Romeo seeing Juliet for the first time. It would be a holy call to action. I thought it would feel like how music makes it seem. I blame poets for my misperceptions. 

In "Talk," Hozier sings that he would be the "choiceless hope in grief that drove [Orpheus] underground" in search of his lost Eurydice, portraying a love that bridges the land of the living and the dead. In "Sara Smile," Daryl Hall & John Oates simply sing, "It’s you and me forever." a love that can’t be broken by the relentless passing of time because it’s made from stronger stuff. Frank Marshall Davis pens, "I think the summer sun would be jealous of your hair,"  speaking of a fondness that allows a human to rival a cosmic giant. Walt Whitman writes, "There we two, content, happy in being together, speaking little, perhaps not a word." A love that transcends the effort of language. So, for a long time, I thought love shouldn’t have to rely on effort or measly words. I was sold this image of steadfast adoration — almost religious devotion. I believed destiny would sort out the issue of love for me. 

A rom-com recently popped that bubble. It’s called "Plus One."

It’s a 2018 not-so-classic rom-com that follows two college friends who vow to be each other's plus-ones for their summer slew of weddings. Ben, a steadfast believer in soulmates, falls for Alice, an honest non-believer. The movie is a sort of bait-and-switch. The first half feels like a classic friends-to-lovers rom-com. It was rife with over-exposed montages, awkward confessions and comfort. But then came the gut punch. 

In a fight between the newly minted couple, Ben confesses that he’s been having doubts about Alice. Doubts that she’s not the fated “one.” Alice begs him to simply "try." Ben refuses. Alice walks away. 

Then silence. The movie forces you to sit with the loneliness of not being in love. Ben and Alice watch friend after friend get married. We watch them burn through TV dinners, do puzzles alone to distract themselves from the silence and contemplate if they’ll ever find a person to call home. It’s a stunning portrait of the quiet horrors of suburbia. It’s suffocating and poignant and scary. 

Ben eventually comes to his senses. In the movie’s classic "big speech" ending, Ben realizes that love isn’t about soulmates or meet-cutes or destiny. Endearingly, he says it’s about finding someone you want to hang out with for as long as humanly possible. To boil the staggering concept of love down to an eternal hangout session is weirdly perfect. 

Love is not a divine act. There will be no higher voice compelling you to a person. Instead, love is a choice. An action that requires deliberate effort. Marriage is not led by godly intervention. It’s an agreement to simply try. It’s never going to be perfect. It is not a decision pre-approved by destiny.

Ben is a person ruined by his glorified ideal of love. But, I fear most of us are. Most of us tirelessly look for our perfect person. I think eventually, we’ll realize they don’t exist. We chase imaginary ideals that distract from the people in front of us. What a scary thought that is. To be so invested in looking for the right love that you can’t recognize it when it’s in front of you. 

Maybe none of this is novel to you, but I’m young and at that stage of life where the real world looms in the near distance — the uncomfortable stage of chrysalis where fixtures of modern adulthood, like love, beg to be questioned and re-examined.

In perhaps the most stirring part of the movie, Ben realizes that waiting and waiting and waiting for the right love will leave you alone in the end. It’s akin to Sylvia Plath’s fig tree analogy. In "The Bell Jar," Plath’s character Esther imagines her life as a branching fig tree, whose fruit are her possible life choices. Every fig represents a new life she could have: an Olympic crew champion, an infamous poet, a housewife. Yet, in the face of such ample possibility, Esther remains paralyzed by her indecision. So, she sits in the crook of the tree, starving, as she watches figs wither and fall to her feet. 

The tree personifies the feeling of young adulthood: constantly at a crossroads and saturated by possibility but weighed down by hesitation. But "Plus One" says we are not doomed to die at the foot of the fig tree. "Plus One" begs us to pick a fig and see what happens. 

While it's not the most pithy resolution, there’s something quietly radical about it. The carpe diem-esque outlook "Plus One" has on love takes the pressure off of it. And it makes sense. 

We’re in a constant state of flux. Every minute we’re deciding who we want to be this month, trying to figure out if bangs suit our face, and contemplating if we really like our major. All that in addition to the colossal mental effort it takes to simply take care of ourselves amidst the noise of being a student. Being additionally bogged down by chasing the possibility of amorous destiny seems like a waste of time. In doing so, we make love so much more complicated than it should be. Love is not about intertwined fates. It’s so much simpler. It’s about waiting for them to tie their shoes while your group of friends continues ahead. It’s about listening and patience and deep-rooted understanding. It’s about memorizing their karaoke songs and gossiping together after parties. It’s about knowing how they take their coffee and knowing what keeps them up at night. 

Love doesn’t have to be this awful, scary thing. It’s why we were put here in the first place. To bask in each other's presence. To simply exist with our fellow man. 

Maybe you won’t have so many revelations when you watch the movie yourself, but I can guarantee it’ll make you think. Or at the very least, it’ll make you smile.

"Plus One" is intimate and nauseatingly honest. It’s cheesy and gut-wrenching and tangibly real. 

So, this weekend, give it a watch. 

Susan Chemmanoor is a Trinity first-year. Her column typically runs on alternate Fridays.

Susan Chemmanoor

Susan is a freshman in Trinity. Her columns run on alternate Fridays.


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