What pop culture taught me about love, romance

Scene from Romeo + Juliet 1996

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Valentine’s Day has just passed, and who knows how many ailing hearts missed cupid’s arrow on the day meant to celebrate love. Among them was mine, and Feb. 14 was another day, in which I would assault my eardrums with the gooiest of heartbreak songs.

My shuffle mix produced a familiar and nostalgic acoustic twang: Taylor Swift’s “Love Story”: a song I’ve been (voluntarily) haunted by since middle school. It evoked this template of love I’ve found myself entertaining in my own love life — or lack thereof. I meet that one girl, think we’re going to get married and then have kids; and in 60 years, we’ll be on video chat with our grandkids while sitting on our front porch in rocking chairs.

What do we mean by love when we talk about love? Why am I — and why are we — so obsessed with love stories?

Surely we desire an idea of love that frees us from our characteristic human loneliness. Recourse to academic and scientific studies isn’t necessary to understand the gravity of the loneliness epidemic amid college students and the American population at large. One need only stroll through the unyieldingly honest “Confessions from UC Berkeley” Facebook page to see how lonely and sad the average student is. Emotionally indulgent music by artists such as Drake, The Weeknd, Lana Del Ray, Kanye West and, of course, Taylor Swift all bemoan loneliness and love long lost. We’re all pretty lonely, and it seems our culture recommends love as the antidote for this loneliness. Even linguist Noam Chomsky has said he doesn’t know what love is but contends that “life’s empty without it”; and his remarriage at 85 years old is suggestive of his conviction. 

Our cultural narratives of love suggest there’s something incomplete about ourselves, in which the missing piece is “the one.” But this is precisely the problem with love stories: Escaping our loneliness and emotional barrenness through romantic love is just an idealized notion. The idea of the love story we love so much is actually a vain pursuit that’s propagated by society, Hollywood (and Bollywood, even though nine out of 10 Indian individuals get arranged marriages), marketing and, of course, T-Swift. This is the paradigm we compare our realities to — a romance that’s enigmatic, spontaneous and serendipitous. 

This idea actually exacerbates loneliness and romantic anxiety because we’re pursuing the wrong thing. The subconscious expectations of finding salvation and being complete with “the one” not only perpetuate our disappointment but also weaken the prospects of the best romance a person may ever have: the one with ourselves. When it comes to addressing our loneliness, we should transcend the pitfalls of love stories by understanding we aren’t incomplete without somebody else; we’re our own lifelong companions, advisors, confidantes, cheerleaders and lovers.

Oscar Wilde once astutely penned, “To love one’s self is the beginning of a lifelong romance.” In 60 years, I know for certain there’s one person who will be sitting on that front porch rocking chair — and it’s me. This should mean we take ourselves on more dates, spoil ourselves with chocolate on Valentine’s Day and be kind and charitable with ourselves as we would with the partner of our romantic imaginations. When — and if — we do enter a relationship, it’s important to remember that unreservedly loving ourselves is one of the most important and romantic things we can do for our partner. 

So, Taylor, that is a love story to which I will say yes!

Contact Moideen Moidunny at [email protected].