holding on to the starry-eyed imagination
Alone, Annie—a somber Meg Ryan—looks down on New York City from the observation deck of the Empire State Building. Her body seems to sigh into the metal fence that keeps her from the ground below. Sam isn’t coming. She should go home.
But finally, a young Tom Hanks emerges from the elevator, walking out into the world he had only imagined until now—one with Annie in it. There is an infinite moment between the two. It is visibly tortured and longing in the oppressive silence of the nighttime sky deck, all the while placidly content in its breathlessness. Sam utters: “We better go.” No, my body screams. You can’t just leave, Sam! After all this time, Sam: It’s Annie. Annie is the one. Annie’s body heaves again, gently accepting disappointment for a second time that night. She smiles a sad, yet knowing smile. This is goodbye.
But then: Sam lifts out his hand to her. “Shall we?” My eyes well up. Go with him, Annie. She looks into herself for a moment. And then she lifts her hand and firmly places it into his. Their hands lock together in place. I am sobbing at the end of “Sleepless in Seattle,” for probably the 25th time or so, as Sam and Annie’s content silhouettes fade into rolling credits.
As I sit here, blubbering at some impossible, and undoubtedly sexist, romantic fantasy, I realize that I cannot deny it anymore: I am a blatant romantic nerd. However cringeworthy, backwards, and irritating this description is, it is a component of me that is here to stay, for a while at least. The fantasy provided by romantic comedies, Sarah Dessen novels, and Taylor Swift ballads is frighteningly present in my mind, day in and day out. I am the girl who sees a cute boy and instantly pictures our future life together (three dogs and a quaint brownstone in Brooklyn). One meaningless glance from a guy while I walk down the street and I am convinced of his attraction for me. My brain can’t seem to shake a constant momentum to derive romantic meaning in my life. And each frustrating, recycled romantic thought that crosses my mind each day serves as a reminder of a recently made-conscious fact: I am very uncomfortable with the idea of being alone.
But I am alone, at least in the traditional, romantic sense of the word. Sure, I do find happy moments of singledom in which I can’t find a reason to truly need a significant other in my life. Sometimes, there’s a freedom to it. But then there are the times when it is harder. There are the awkward hookups initiated solely with the purpose of evading inevitable loneliness. There are the constant mind games about self-esteem, not to mention the challenge of acting like an emotionless blob without greater romantic aspirations for herself. There is the endless questioning of if I even deserve to be with someone else—if I’m even capable of it.
The ups and downs are hard to track, and their unpredictability is a source of anxiety. I am the first to acknowledge that this mindset is in no way healthy or something to aspire to. I do not claim some sort of breathless, romantic, rose-colored-glasses perspective. I don’t conceive of myself as someone who was born in the wrong time, or who can claim to “bring respectability back” to college romance. Nevertheless, I have been taught, and even have encouraged myself, to seek the romantic validation of males as the sole determinant of my self-worth.
When I first fully realized the problems with the position I was in, I set out to find something to blame for this preoccupation. Could it be my parents (isn’t it always)? The nature of my past relationships? All that chick lit, rom-com, Cosmopolitan brainwashing? While there is merit in searching for an explanation, it often leaves me with more questions than when I began: Why does this have to happen to me? What am I doing wrong? Why am I making a big deal out of this—other people must feel this too, right?
With time and self-reflection I’ve found that my preoccupation with romance has somewhat receded, making room for a more healthy conception of my relationships with others. I can now more clearly articulate my goals for myself as a person, beyond contentment in a romantic relationship, and in turn I find myself engaging less and less in the over-analysis of romantic possibilities in favor of more productive and rewarding modes of thought.
Yet there remains, unprecedentedly, a frustration with the ideas involved in the campus hookup culture that surrounds me. I’ve heard similar reactions—about the exhausting politics of hookups, the unnecessary complexity of forging any kind of relationship—from fellow students, too. While I’ve experienced my share of the hookup culture here, I’ve realized that it’s not for me, no matter how hard I try to convince myself.
I don’t see Brown giving up on hookup culture any time soon, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Having time to figure out who you like, what you like, and what kind of situation is right for you seems like a really healthy approach to sexuality. But this kind of romantic culture can lend itself to the denial of the possible overlap of sex and emotional attachment. It can create anxiety and frustration in the people for whom romantic feelings do surface. Sex and emotion don’t have to come together, but it is dangerous to assume that they only exist together in an entirely separate reality, beyond our campus, in the “real world” of “adulthood.” For those who, like me, tear up at rom-coms, the prevalence of this perspective may be particularly dangerous. And though I’ve had ups and downs, I’m going to hold on to my romantic imagination in some form and leave the preoccupation behind. It may not be Tom Hanks on the top of the Empire State Building out there waiting for me, but whoever it is—or even if it’s no one at all—I’ll be ready.