Finding love in Berkeley: A new meaning of romance

A potential bae dismissing any of my notions: “Heeral, it’s college.”

My sarcastic inner monologue: “Oh boy, really? I thought we were in Timbuktu.”


Hey hey, raised on a staple diet of Bollywood movies and samosas (stop salivating, the former is more pivotal here), a girl can end up truly believing that at least every Brown Town’s Sally will end up meeting Brown Town’s Harry. Isn’t that what happens in colleges? Or… at least filmic, poster colleges? Well clearly, Berkeley ensured that some of these delusions would rapidly get cleared up. 

Ideally, the skies should start pouring when you bump into your crush, to subtly symbolize the joy reverberating across the universe of two soulmates meeting. Instead, it seems to only rain here when you are fleeing out of your exam hall at 10 p.m. with the universe implying that you just terribly bombed that midterm.

On CalCentral, our life’s biggest decision is picking between discussion sections 105 and 106, because one click can possibly take you miles away or miles closer to the lover of your dreams. You think you made the right choice, until on day one of class, you realize that the cutest boy in the room is none other than your GSI. Then again, does the idea of forbidden love appeal to you? Nah, I figured one has enough fish to fry (like evading armed robbers outside Wheeler Hall).

But, romance isn’t exactly dead for single students at UC Berkeley. Let me tour you through an example:

It was one of those tormenting midterm-prep nights when everything seemed like pure torture. To top it off, one of my friends had her boyfriend run to Asian ghetto to grab them both a hot meal, while I sat there grumpily biting into my cold Californian sandwich from the more time-efficient although emotionally unsatisfying choice: FSM cafe.

Let’s just say that I doubt the icy tomato slice could match up to the cold in my soul at that point.

Just when things couldn’t get any worse, the clouds decided to let their hair down right when I had to take the Moffitt night shuttle at 2 a.m. And, of course, I wasn’t carrying an umbrella. Perhaps seeing my miserable self standing under C. V. Starr East Asian Library, a boy walked over toward me. I was alarmed as he suddenly held his umbrella over my head, and continued to do so until the bus arrived and we stepped inside. Fortunately, he had to get off at the same stop at me and so insisted that he walked me home, given it was still raining. As we walked, he was so quiet that I felt compelled to ask him a bit more about himself. He then began sharing the journey from his Korean military days to his arrival in Berkeley as a transfer student.

When I got home and bid him goodbye, I found myself smiling, and suddenly, the world didn’t seem so bad. Was it the momentary romance that was uplifting? Was it the unexpectedness of it all? Or was it just the realization of what “It’s college” really meant?

Everyone’s not going to find their ideal love story here. Period. For many of us, it’s about changing our perception of romance, as with changing many other things we were forced to change our thinking about. Asking Google to play cupid, one definition of romance is “a quality or feeling of mystery, excitement, and remoteness from everyday life.” 

Romance could be when I unassumingly share my notes with a special-needs student, and at the end of the semester, she hands me a Starbucks gift voucher in an expression of gratitude. Lo and behold, the mysterious world of unicorn lattes that I never even got close to before my splurge. Now, that’s very remote from a regular Jasmine tea boba.

In hopes that someone could appreciate how well put-together I am, I walk out of Gourmet Ghetto one fine day juggling three scoops of mango ice cream. Romance may be in the moment when a complete stranger, breezes past me saying, “You are as cute as a button.” There, I think I melted a bit in excitement! 

But do you know what’s the ultimate unconventional romance? When someone manages to convince you, as I am trying to right now, that you don’t need conventional romance when in Berkeley. To have someone make you recognize that nothing beats the romance of brushing shoulders with different people, each of whom will make you realize an array of different things. If you’re convinced, reading this piece also counts as romance, OK? 

To all those hoping for something just like the movies: Don’t quite believe everything you see at the movies. Yet at the same time, don’t let UC Berkeley kill it for you either. Someday, the genuine roses and chocolates will come through, too. 

Contact Heeral Shivnani at [email protected].