Archaic Love

By The Columbia Chronicle

I don’t believe in love.  The divorce epidemic, rising instances of domestic violence and bad eHarmony commercials have dispelled the notion that true love in the modern age is possible. I may have aged out of this particular system and that’s fine with me.

But I do believe that love was real in bygone eras. Knowledge, cemented in my memory from exposure to family, literature, history and art, sustains me.

Graduate-level literature studies teach you that love is only true when one is compelled to throw oneself under a train in its honor, and nobility comes from enduring unrequited love or lifelong grief over love lost.

I maintain at least a curiosity about love and its pathologies by regularly reading the Sunday New York Times’ wedding section. Their featured weddings are increasingly based on unlikely pairings in the form of older women and younger men, radical class difference—CEO and doorman—or unexpected cultural pairings—“You’re Jewish? I’m Indian! This could work!”

The details in these narratives tend to teach me that modern love is ultimately selfish. When people indicate that they’re looking for their “missing piece,” what’s implied is that it is only about 5 percent of themselves that is missing. The rest of their identity is intact and settled just fine, thank you.

The happy couples I know are primarily same-sex partners or couples on their second commitment. Another thing I’ve learned—it doesn’t work on the first try.

Romantic love can serve families well by providing a larger support network and more reinforcement associated with “the good times.” Same-sex couples appear to dodge certain essential pitfalls having to do with gender difference. And someone on wife No. 2 can employ a smarter strategy in negotiating hazards based on what went wrong before.

Some people are content to give their love life over to algorithms in the same manner we have given up on slow, curious research. Googling for a relationship doesn’t suit me because the seed of love can’t grow in the matrix. It’s not organic.

The best evidence of love that I have seen in my own lifetime comes from my grandparents, all of whom lived to see their 50th wedding anniversary and the births of great-grandchildren. They believed in love.

I believe that their shared sacrifices during World War II characterized their commitment to each other and to family. Their love was manifested in simple pleasures, best witnessed in their later years. I happily recall my grandparents bickering over holiday meal preparation.

“Bill! I told you to take the potatoes out five minutes ago!”

“Margery, they are not done. You can’t see them. Why don’t you come in here and look for yourself?”

“I am busy making drinks that you’re supposed to be making because you should be finished with the vegetables!”

I really don’t have fonder memories than that.

Encoded in their good-natured nagging was the closeness, familiarity and trust built through decades. They were in love so completely that no boundaries existed. They didn’t know selfishness because they had known struggle so much more deeply. There was no reason not to remain united. And they loved so fully that their lives didn’t make sense once one passed away.

My grandparents’ resting place is a memorial to their love and a warm place for me to reflect. I am certainly open to surprises, if not buying into the ugly modern ways that “matches” are “facilitated.” There won’t be a keyboard click in my love story.

Fortunately, I believe in happiness and the infinite ways that memory and family model love.  I’m listening to voices from the past for clues towards my future.

Jennie Fauls has been a member of the Columbia community since 2000. She teaches in the English Department and serves as the Assistant Director of First-year Writing.