February Feature: On The Topic Of Love

Illustration created by Nicki Diacik

When we sat down to brainstorm the feature piece for February, what kept coming up was the concept of love. Yes, Valentine’s Day tends to commercially remind us if we are, or are not, involved romantically — but love is a lot more than just that.

As humans we have loved and been loved, and consider ourselves lucky to say that. While romantic love and self love are the most marketed forms, everyday love can take on drastically different and occasionally dangerous faces. These can be much harder to define, understand or openly talk about.

Platonic love, familiar love, heat-of-the-moment love, abusive, obsessive, toxic love, turned vulnerable and tarnished — burn the photos, change the feed. Love is an absolutely undefinable noun, verb and simultaneous adjective that has the ability to change you in so many ways, both the good and the bad.

We wanted a piece that would highlight all sides to love, the result of interviews with people with all kinds of backgrounds and opinions, written by four very separate people who were willing to take a hard look at what lies beyond the rose-filtered lenses of Valentine’s Day. We are proud of the multi-directional ways that this piece came into being, and hugely grateful to everyone who worked so hard to make it a publishable reality.

To push past the stone-cold defiance of romantic tropes for a moment — we believe that love is something we should always be able to talk about, write about, relate to and perhaps most importantly, to learn from.

So here’s to that, and thank you for reading.


Mila Phelps-Friedl, Editorial Director

Kyle Dandrea, Assistant Editor

PART I : In Celebration of Loving Love

Written by Amanda Behnken

Another Valentine’s Day has come and gone and no matter how you celebrated — if you celebrated, we were all forced to acknowledge the holiday in some capacity. Personally, I got texts from my dad and brothers, a card from my mom, and a message from some dude on Tinder saying, “Happy Valentine’s Day beautiful,” followed up by

“Do you eat ass?”

I normally wouldn’t write a piece about love.

Firstly because I don’t consider myself to be a “writer.”

Secondly because I am chronically single. And I don’t just mean I’m in a lull in the dating game right now and I’m waiting to find the right person to get me back on my feet — I mean I’ve never had a boyfriend. Unless you count the one in fifth grade. Which, Ian, if you’re reading this, we could’ve lasted way longer than a week if we tried harder. Other than that, it’s just been me.

So you can imagine how the last thing I needed to add to my plate right now was spending hours listening to people talk about love. It seemed kind of like an annoying topic. You and your girlfriend have been madly in love for five years? Tell me more. Please don’t.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m by no means a cynic. Actually, I’m quite the opposite. I love a good romantic comedy. But what I love more than a good rom-com, are the really, really bad ones. Also anything with Jennifer Lopez in it.

So like I was saying, that “rom-com type” love wasn’t, and isn’t, really on my mind. But I’m trying to step out of my comfort zone this semester, so when asked who wanted to help write the feature piece for the month of February, I shot my hand in the air before I had time to talk myself out of it. I found some people to interview and before we get in too deep, I’ll just tell you right now that I didn’t have any big revelations after talking to them. No one opened my eyes to the love that’s been in front of me all along, and I didn’t fall in love with one of my interviewees after we found out that we have a lot in common. This isn’t a Nicholas Sparks story. But I mean, c’mon, I’m not going to act like I would hate it if it were.

What I did find is that most people don’t confine themselves to the “boy meets girl” version of love. Even if they have that in their life, they also recognize that love can and does take many forms. Now this idea of love is important to me: the idea that love can come from anything and everything, not just a significant other. This is something I’ve known for a while. It is something I was forced to learn.

Illustration created by Nicki Diacik

In middle school and even in high school, it seemed like everyone was having their first kiss and holding hands in the hallway. Not that any of this was necessarily love — but I still wanted it. Maybe boys weren’t into me because I towered over them and could probably embarrass the shit out of them in a game of basketball. Whatever the reason, I got over it and found love in other things. Thank god I did because I probably would’ve turned into a cold, heartless, unhappy person if I didn’t. We all need love in our lives. And here I am, years later, still tall as fuck, still single as fuck, but with so much love.

I love books and movies and shows. I love finding that one amazing song and then obviously listening to it so much that I eventually hate it. I love the way the sky looks in the minutes after the sun has set. I love buying new underwear. I love thinking about the oatmeal I’m going to eat in the morning. I love the candle my roommate lit last night. I LOVE DANCING.

But enough about what I love, let’s see who, and what, other people love.

Meet Burke. He’s been in love twice, but when asked to describe someone he loves, he talked about his mother.

“My mother is literally the hardest-working woman I have ever met. She has an overwhelming amount of love for her family and friends, and she’s honestly one of my greatest role models. She has so much kindness in her heart, and I see it everyday. If anyone taught me how to love, it was my mother.”

Mom, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry I don’t call you as often as I should, but you’ll always be my #1.

Meet Alyssa. She loves her roommate.

“I love my roommate with all of my heart. Her name is Izzy and she is the greatest roomie that anyone could ever ask for. We were complete strangers our freshman year, but now I can confidently say that she is one of my best friends in the entire world. We would both do anything for each other, and if we are both single by 40, we have made a pact to marry each other and move somewhere with a beach. She has shown me the importance of friendship, and I will always be thankful for her. “

Amelia, if you’re reading this, thanks for putting up with all my shit. Especially my sleep talking. And thanks for all the much needed, late night dance parties to Lizzo.

Illustration created by Nicki Diacik

Meet Karen. She’s in love with everything.

“To quote Roman poet Catullus ‘Odi et amo… I hate and I love. Why I do this, perhaps you ask. I do not know, but I feel it happening and I am tortured’. Looking back though, I don’t think I’ve genuinely been in love towards a significant other, but I’ve felt strong connections to certain books, theories, movements, etc. Love has taught me that it is possible to live a lifetime in just a single moment. Love is everything, I answer your question, with a question; what isn't love?”

Albert Camus, if you’re reading this from the grave, thanks for helping me fall in love with the absurd. For assuring me that there is no big meaning to life, but that life can be meaningless and beautiful and lovely all at the same.

Meet Mara. To her, to love means to be human.

“Love means to me that I am human, that I have emotions that are very intense. It makes me feel very successful, sort of like I am accomplishing something. Just the fact that I can have love in my life and be loved, it feels cool. It’s powerful. No matter where love leads, I think it's always a good thing.”

And to you, if you’re reading this, I love you.

Nah, for real, I do.

How crazy is it that we exist at the same time?

Pretty crazy if you ask me.

Thanks for doing this thing with me.

Here’s to more love.

PART II : The Problem with Cinematic Love

Written by Bridget Bright

It seems like every movie I saw from the ages of six to sixteen all followed a similar plot-line. It’s the same old story — boy meets girl, they fall in love, life rips them apart and they almost always somehow end up living happily ever after.

Throughout my life, it seemed like everyone was dreaming about what romance film cliché their next relationship would mimic.

In elementary school, my best friend made me hear all about her fictional boyfriend who just so happened to be a basketball player named Troy Bolton. Sound familiar?

In high school, a friend of mine swooned over the idea of having a wedding the to scale and ridiculousness of the one in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. In college, almost everyone I know has changed their dream man from Bradley Cooper to Noah Centineo, and then back to Bradley Cooper as soon as they watched A Star is Born.

Even my family falls into the trap of conventional models of romance. My sister has forced every guy she’s been with watch The Notebook as a test of compatibility. Worse, my dad always talks about how he would have done anything to date Molly Ringwald’s character in Sixteen Candles when he was in high school. Until he met my mom who coincidentally was a tall and freckled redhead.

Illustration created by Nicki Diacik

Growing up, I couldn’t relate to any of this. I found it difficult to fantasize about the relationships I saw on screen because I simply didn’t think like the characters did. Almost every romance plot-line follows the same structure that conforms to antiquated relationship norms. Also, why does everyone on every rom-com poster somehow look like they’re related to their lovers?

And, of course, all of the female leads have one main goal: to fall in love. Out of all my goals and ambitions, falling in love has never been at the top of the list. Finding some overrated and under-qualified man to fall in love with just isn’t worth top ten.

As I’ve grown up, all I really want to see in a film is a character, or two, that have more relatable perspectives on love. To me, love is when people are fully themselves and I have never seen myself in any of the typical characters in a romantic comedy. All I want is a movie that breaks the boundaries that have been set around white, heteronormative couples being at the center of almost every rom-com. Realizing that everyone had a Troy to their Gabriella, an Ian to their Toula, or a Noah to their Allie, I wondered why I never found mine?

I spoke to a Marc and Dylan about their real life love story, and I asked if they have ever seen themselves represented on the big-screen.

Dylan told me about how when they first met. He and Marc didn’t feel the movie-esque connection right away. They waited months after knowing each other to officially start dating. Their love occurred organically and has been a comfort to both of them for the 2 years they have been together.

“I was in love before but it was nothing like this,” Marc explained, “I was finally able to be myself, so then I was able to show the love that I actually wanted to and not have to hide it.”

While talking to Dylan, I realized that he had a romance film that spoke to him the way that A Star Is Born and The Notebook resonates with my straight friends.

Dylan loves Call Me By Your Name, a novel which was adapted into the award winning film directed by Luca Guadagnino. Call Me By Your Name is a lustful and tender love story of two men. Their love took almost the full film to develop into anything, and (spoiler alert) ends in a heartbreak that is not just devastating, but also enlightening for the main character. Dylan read the book while he and Marc were dating long distance, and it made him miss Marc.

Dylan adores it so much that that he listens to the soundtrack regularly.

“There is one song in particular called Mystery of Love. It’s by Sufjan Stevens. I think that song is quite honestly the most beautiful thing I have ever heard,” Dylan said turning to Marc. “To me it just emphasizes [our] kind of love.”

Marc didn’t seem to really have a film that spoke to him in that way. Although he made a joke that he’s been watching Brokeback Mountain since he was 14, he told me about how he grew up seeing rom-coms and getting angry at the end of them. He wondered about why he didn’t feel the way those people do.

Finally, I met someone who understood my feelings.

“When I was growing up, I used to get frustrated and confused because there were not homosexual relationships happening,” Marc said. “So when I was a kid I was [like] ‘keep it to yourself’ because even TV doesn’t show it.”

And what Marc said next really hit home.

“I get frustrated because these people are so madly in love and it doesn’t feel right to me, so what’s wrong? What’s wrong with me?”

Marc and I had the same question growing up, and Dylan agreed as well, but we all understand it now. Films just didn’t represent us.

In reality, queer relationships and diverse characters just haven’t been written into mainstream films all that much. While this is slowly changing, it’s refreshing to know that some of us will still be watching every new romance movie in the hope that we finally see ourselves in some kind of movie love.

Here’s to Dylan and Marc for making me realize that love isn’t always what we see on the big screen — and that’s okay.

PART III : Becoming Better For Love

Written by Madeline Lester

I’ve never been in love. I don’t know how that feels, but I do know what being in love looks like. I know because the couple I interviewed was able to cut through the chaotic dating discord and find each other.

There’s a powerful quote from Paulo Coelho’s novel The Alchemist,

“When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”

To me, this couple embodies this quote: they bring out the best in each other, and life is happier because of their close bond. They are in an interracial relationship, yet their diverse cultural and societal backgrounds do not create a wedge between them. Instead, they value how different they are. I think their love story is an important one, especially in a time of so much societal division.

Hana is from New Jersey, but her parents are Japanese immigrants. She is the first person in her family to attend university, so she is always working very hard. Ryan is from a very conservative town in upstate New York. He described this as living in a “white bubble.” When Hana and Ryan hold hands in public, they know some people might judge them for their differences but that hasn’t stopped them from expressing their affection.

When it comes to fears, Ryan was worried about bringing Hana to meet his family, scared about what ignorant comments might come from a rural area of New York State.

“I had to learn I can't protect her from everything [...] as sad as that is.”

Before Hana met Ryan, she was afraid to get into a relationship with someone. Her grandfather was very abusive and her friends didn’t paint modern love in a positive light,

“ — and then this guy comes around and changes all of that. Now I think there’s [at least] one guy in the world that's pretty okay.”

Ryan was also afraid because he didn’t know if he really deserved her.

“Why would this super nice person want to be with me? I don’t want to bring my past issues into her life — she doesn’t deserve them at all, she deserves a fresh start, a clean slate and [she] deserves to be loved.”

I couldn’t help but see the irony in both their fears: Hana was afraid of being in a relationship with a jerk, and Ryan was afraid he was that jerk she would fall in love with. Ultimately, his desire to make Hana happy outweighed the emotional baggage he’s been carrying since his previous relationship. And it shows.

Here’s to letting go of our fears, and being better to and for the people that we love.

PART IV: The Possibility of Self-Love

Written by Stephanie Philo

Learning to love yourself hasn’t always been regarded as a necessary thing to do. Think to the story of Narcissus: according to Greek mythology, it was his self love that ultimately brought his death. Until 1956, when Erich Fromm introduced a more positive version of self-love, the concept was associated with arrogance and egotism.

Fromm was a psychologist best known for his work regarding love, introducing the idea that one needs to love themself before they can love other people. Since this reshaping of self-love as a positive concept, having the ability to say “I love myself” no longer immediately means you’re a narcissist — it means you’re doing something right.

The trouble with self-love, though, is how uncommon it actually is. Though it is powerful and exciting to reclaim self-love as something to take pride in rather than something to be shameful of, not everyone is able to hop on the self-love train that easily.

When I asked three of my female friends whether or not they love themselves, I did not receive a single yes. While some were slightly more confident than others in their self love, all their answers were varying degrees of no.

I don’t blame them. I would answer no, too.

When I asked my friend, Acacia, that question—the question of if she loves herself or not—she began to laugh. To her, the idea of loving herself was an absurd concept. It’s a question I knew she’d laugh at. I laughed along with her, but it still saddens me to think that someone I love so deeply doesn’t love herself practically at all. We often say to each other that we wish we’d love ourselves like we love each other. We say it like a joke, but it is painfully true. Maybe that’s what self love is. Seeing ourselves the way our loved ones do.

I know that I’m supposed to love myself. The message of self-love is plastered across the Internet, from inspirational typography on motivational Instagrams, to self-care threads on Twitter with thousands of retweets.

Illustration created by Nicki Diacik

Put yourself first.

You’re perfect the way you are.

You are enough.

These messages are often helpful in bolstering the self-confidence of women who are expected to reach unreasonably high standards in both beauty and temperament. However, loving oneself is something far easier said than done.

I asked do you love yourself?” They answered,

“I’m working really hard on being able to do that, and I think I’m getting closer, but not entirely, no.”

“Working on it. Almost. Some days. I don’t want to say almost, that makes it seem like I’m closer than I am. Some days.”

The reality of self-love is that it does not come easy, even if you desperately want it to. Those with histories of self esteem issues have to put intense amounts of mental and emotional energy into teaching themselves self-love. This self-love work is almost always done by the individual with the occasional help of some sort of support system, meaning that the act of self-love is one’s personal responsibility. It is a process of rejecting the negative self-talk that is so often ingrained in our vocabulary and replacing it with positivity instead.

Illustration created by Nicki Diacik

In my own experience, I have worked hard to build my self esteem, and I’ve grown to love myself way more than middle school Stephanie could have ever imagined. Self-love is not about outside validation, but about validation from within. However, we neglect to address why unequivocal self love is so hard to come by in the first place. Corporations like Dove, with their “Real Beauty” campaign, tell the general public that learning to love yourself is of the utmost importance, while still pushing the use of their beauty products.

Essentially, the importance of self-love is taught to every woman, yet not enough has changed at a societal level to make self-love more possible. Beauty standards are still there. Fat shaming is still there. Calling outspoken women bossy is still there. Loving yourself is your job, even when institutions with power in our society do little to make loving yourself a more feasible task.

Being able to confidently say you love yourself is a true accomplishment and should be regarded as such. However, we should not chalk up the difficulty of true self-love to individual failure. Instead of seeing as a failure, why not work towards lowering societal standards so that self-love isn’t a battle that is borderline impossible to win? Individual work is absolutely necessary in achieving self love. No one else can do self love for you (obviously) but a little more support can never hurt.

I don’t want to speak on behalf of all women by saying self-love is too hard. However, in my own experience, it has been extremely difficult. When I look in the mirror, I’m sometimes able to say I love myself. Sometimes it’s because I have a killer outfit on. Sometimes it’s because my skin has cleared up. Sometimes I love myself for no reason at all. But sooner or later, no matter how beautiful I initially thought I looked, my insecurities get the better of me. In speaking to my friends about this, I’ve learned that this is not an uncommon occurrence.

As much as I wish positive affirmations and self-talk could do all the work, I’m not sure that’s the case. I want all my friends to love themselves as much as I love them. I want to love myself as much as my friends love me. It’s going to take more work than you might think.

We cannot just be working on our self love from within. To work on self love, we must work on beauty standards, too. Self-love should not be just be about rejecting these standards as it suits you, but working towards challenging these standards head on. We feel the repercussions of beauty standards no matter how hard we work on our own self-confidence; it only makes sense that we include wider issues in our emphasis on self-love.

Here’s to myself.

And to you.

Here’s to love.