One Valentine’s Day, I wrote a love poem about a boy, comparing him to the sun. I have now realized that I should have written a love poem about the sun itself. There are days in mid-August when I melt into the excess of sunshine that spills from the skies. I thrive when I’m covered in an abundance of warmth—more like a second skin than a blanket. In August, when the sun departs and night settles over unyielding heat, I look at my arms and see that my skin is darker; some of it is dead and all of it is different. I have given a part of myself to something I love—I willingly continue to do this until the sun loses its intimate warmth to the winter.
The more I think about relationships, the more I understand them in terms of loss. I’m willing to part with my pasty complexion for golden warmth and vitamin D. Conversely, a few hours of ultraviolet rays are not worth a week of peeling red, stinging sheets from my shoulders. If I’m too eager and reckless, a sunburn is imminent.
We talk about relationships like sunburns. Too often, one person has given too much of themselves for the sake of the other. Relationships are often condemned for their sacrificial nature, but they are inherently about sharing. In a relationship, you share your time, your thoughts, and yourself. You become vulnerable and choose to organize your life around another human being. As power-driven creatures, this seems like a terrifying framework to operate within.
However, for most, this self-sacrifice is actually part of a desirable trade-off. If we examine “validation” as a pop culture phenomenon, we can understand that love is a kind of selfishly selfless process. According to a study by Dr. Helen Fisher at Rutgers, driven by a handful of endorphins, love makes us crave the company of someone to whom we are attracted, causing us to give up personal freedom in pursuit of another.
To put it simply: The reward of spending time with our beloved far outweighs all other available rewards. Thus, the healthiest relationships are ones in which both parties are satisfied with their respective sacrifices and ecstatic with the collective reward.
For many of us, committing to a college is our first serious, long-term relationship. We all are, inarguably, committed to this community for four-ish years of our lives. I have given up another potential future and a million other opportunities to be here. I did so because this opportunity seemed more valuable, more fulfilling than all of the other options. I am continuously giving up pieces of myself—time, sleep, sanity (take your pick)—because the benefits presented after spending time in class and in Butler are the most valuable ones available. In a kind of twisted way, I really can’t stay away from studying.
Just like any relationship, choosing this college is an ongoing exchange of sacrifices and benefits, of fleeting endorphin highs and brokenhearted nights. For some students, this exchange means moving thousands of miles away from close family. For others, it’s a financially destabilizing move and an incredible risk. This relationship is often a thinning line between excitement and abuse. Columbia students are often financially and emotionally bound to a culture of excessive stress and neglected needs.
Every day, we ultimately choose to be here, and no matter the publicized sacrifices, the rewards outweigh them. So, there’s really no way to end it with, “It’s not you, Columbia, it’s me.” By this, I mean that breaking up with a school is different from breaking up with a partner. It’s also almost never worth it: The commitment we’ve made to Columbia is fairly permanent and seriously limits other potential choices. This may be why we tend to view our romantic relationships as completely separate from our relationships with education. But shouldn’t choosing a significant other be a rigorous vetting process similar to the one we experience when choosing a college? After all, to be successful in either scenario, it’s imperative to put in hard work and to not settle for less than you deserve.
Acknowledging this, it is important to remember that like in any relationship you have, your attachment to Columbia is ultimately still under your control. You are the agent; don’t let yourself become victim to abuse. Decide what you give to this union, and what protections you need to allow yourself to avoid getting irreparably hurt. Let this school embrace you. Let yourself fall in love with it. Remind yourself that the University is reaping the benefits of your presence—that it fell in love with you, too.
Hopefully, you will emerge from this experience with a new skin: a few new freckles, free of blisters. Bask in the light of validation, and look back on your sacrifices as necessary. This Valentine’s Day, remind yourself that successful relationships are the product of calculated loss, so lean into surrender; but, at the very least, set the terms of how much you’re willing to sacrifice before you fall. Hopefully, eventually, you will look at your degree like a love letter from an ex with whom you actually managed to stay friends, regardless of the pieces of yourself that you’ve left in the past.
The author is a sophomore in Barnard College. She’s currently having a crisis about hating the contemporary message of Valentine’s Day, while loving cheesy holidays AND love. Tonight, you can find her making heart-shaped cookies and lamenting the unfortunate orbit of her long-distance lover. She would like to remind you to value yourself enough for two people and to get enough vitamin D. Miss Interpretations runs alternate Wednesdays.
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