Among my favorite literary explorations of love comes in the form of Virgil’s “Aeneid.” The Lit Hum staple captures many facets of love: love as parental duty, love as patriotic fervor, love as erotic passion, love as self-destruction. Overall, one might say that the righteous love is that which corresponds to fated duty. Love that contravenes duty is quickly dissolved no matter how enthralling. Just think of poor Dido, who could do nothing to keep Aeneas in Carthage. “Forgetful of [his] kingdom and fate!” and unstirred by the “glory of destiny,” Aeneas wastes “idle hours in Libya’s lands,” as well as Dido’s loins, given the subtext (read between the loins?). But when Mercury confronts him at Jupiter’s request, Aeneas quickly realizes the risk his fascination with Dido poses to the larger project of his life as the young leader of the vagabond Trojans. He resolves to leave at once. Dido, with her intelligence and lover’s constitution, senses something is amiss. Inconsolable, she laments, “Will my love not hold you, nor the pledge I once gave you, nor the promise that Dido will die a cruel death?”
It might seem hyperbolic, but the burden of harmony between love and destiny might be a good rule for love in the college setting. If we think about Columbia as the launchpad for the “project” of our lives, then our relationships and dalliances will either support the progression of that project, or take us off the right track. I don’t mean to suggest that we are meant to be looking for the first lady to our presidential aspirations, or the doubles partner to our U.S. Open dreams. Rather, I would venture that the projects we are pursuing here, more narrowly defining our fields of interest while expanding our knowledge of the world, can be broadly considered a “search for beauty.” With this understanding, Columbia is the nucleus from which our hunt for beauty begins. It is where we begin to live life as an aesthetic experience. The pursuit of beauty, however the individual may choose to define the term, emanates from the sights we see, the books we read, the things we do, and—maybe in this contemporary moment—the scenes we Instagram.
We are seekers of beauty, and when we go out on weekends looking for a hookup at a bar, or heading to a date, that search mustn’t cease. Presuming that the experience of love truly arises when relationships get more serious, the burden of duty really comes into play. If we are going to spend hours with our beloved, they cannot be idle hours, for our kingdom and our fate may remain unfulfilled! But who doesn’t like sitting in bed reading, or watching a movie, or going downtown and walking around window shopping and eating ice cream? Who doesn’t like visiting the Met just to look at paintings you have seen tens of times with new, more loving eyes, or to linger over dinner, or to go to a concert and dance while wildly drunk without a care in the world? Should we fear these “idle” hours, or are they somehow useful?
To love at Columbia is to find a person with whom every activity suffuses life with a particular beauty. Yes, I just wrote that. In this rose-tinted view, the movies, museums, magazines, meals, meetings, moments, and meanderings of a life lived with another become the fodder for countless discussions, small and large, that bring the projects of our lives into sharper relief. We ought to love those who help us grasp the gravity of duty, by giving us a small window into what it means to be codependent, be it for one week, one month, one year, or until “death do us part.” We ought to love those whose life’s projects, whether tentative and exploratory or definitive and obligatory, invigorate our own efforts to make something of ourselves. We ought to love those who give us pause and help us to be deliberative in our attempts at fruition. This love doesn’t have to be wildly intense, nor does it have to be all-encompassing. But if it is going to be a part of one’s time at Columbia, it better not be trivial or superficial to the point of waste. Feel guilty for hours spent idly, because if you are discussing Lauren Conrad when you would rather be discussing Joseph Conrad, it isn’t worth a heart of darkness just to roam those hills.
Esfandyar Batmanghelidj is a Columbia College junior majoring in political science and Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African studies. He contributes regularly to The Canon.