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Love: the sixth course (Mar. 1993)

In the spring of 1990, this young man became involved in his first Serious Relationship. He called his girlfriend from campus phones, and went with her to jams, parties, debates, balls, and Naples Pizzeria. Then they broke up. If anybody was to blame, he was, but really nobody was; the time simply came when they felt truer to themselves on their own.

I am writing about myself in the third person not just to be precious, but to underscore the point that becoming involved romantically at Yale often means becoming a controlled character. A man or woman with a significant other begins Doing What Couples Do—smooching by the sneeze guard at the salad bar, for instance. Our campus is large enough that it’s possible to meet and become involved with almost anyone at any time, but it’s small enough that love affairs quickly become public property. Whole lives are restructured on the Mornings After. Friends are forsaken, intramurals neglected, gate keys exchanged.

None of this is evil. Love, after all, gets people excited. What rankles about Yale love is its status as a “sixth class,” for which those involved agree to set aside the standard four hours a day. The sixth class somehow becomes just as wearying as the other five. Is this necessary? Can’t love be what the Muzak always said—a many-splendored thing?

Maybe, but it’s especially tough at Yale, where analytical circumspection carries over from classes to courtships. Unlike the life of the mind, the life of the heart is irrational, indefinite, and volatile. Your coursebook may not satisfy all your desires, but it’ll never break your heart.

Uniformly brainy and generally idiosyncratic, some of us choose the security of keeping to ourselves. That leaves some others heading out of bars with strangers from other schools.

Everyone needs love, but for different reasons. Those who need it to alleviate the intellectual and political bombardment of a typical week are doomed from the start. She tries valiantly for a while to indulge his whims, then becomes justly irritated when she realizes he wants her to be a receptacle, not herself. He undertakes to be more giving, then is shocked to discover that he really doesn’t know her. They spend the rest of their college years pretending not to notice each other as they pass on the Cross Campus.

Relationships can thrive at Yale; our tiptoeing around their edges is what makes them frail and corruptible. We’re people with incredible amounts to give, but we focus on being people with incredible amounts to lose. That’s in some ways prudent, but it’s also crippling. More than any place we will go later, college is designed to build bands of companionship among strangers, and memories from meetings.

Alec Appelbaum is a senior in Morse College. This column is adapted from one that appeared in the September 25, 1992, edition of the Yale Herald.

Filed under dating, 1990s
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