When we step through the doors of the dining hall, it’s just the two of us — there are other people around, of course, but none of them matter tonight.
Any friends that we run into will most likely pause for a quick chat, a hug, “Happy Valentine’s Day!” and be on their merry way, leaving us to our companionable silence. I love them, I really do. I love the way they respect my introvert boundaries while remembering to invite me over for game night, and I love their willingness to organize and participate in group cram sessions for organic chemistry exams. (What I don’t love is when they blow up the group chat for a week straight because they’ve discovered a new anime to binge, one they love more than sleep.)
The buffet-style serving area offers its usual variety; after adding two slices of cheese pizza to my plate, I head for the salad bar to pile up some of my favorites. Recently I’ve been trying to eat more vegetables, less meat, for both health and environmental reasons.
Figuring out whether I have any mild but avoidable food intolerances and/or if certain foods are contributing to the acne that has recently returned to plague me, is an ongoing personal project as well as a present to my future self. I can wink at the mirror, tell the girl reflected there that I honestly believe she’s cute and deserves the world, and still improve my lifestyle habits. (Also, I bought myself dark chocolate sea salt caramels a few days ago — the bag is still half full, and waiting by my bed. Treat yo’ self sometimes!)
(And if I can do my part to decrease the rapid growth of landfills and carbon emissions, that’s a huge bonus. Maybe it’s a little cheesy, but I do want the next generation to be able to enjoy tall strong trees and gorgeous purple sunsets and fresh air. “Love” isn’t a strong enough word for how I feel about nature and our wonderful, singular Earth: it is quite literally everything, and none of us could live without it. So I go the (literal) extra mile to pick up and throw away litter, reuse and recycle everything I can, carry around my reusable bag and coffee cup. Yes, it’s a little extra work for me, but at the end of the day it matters to me, and I believe that it does make a difference.)
Returning to the table with my dinner plate, I’m relieved that it’s once again just me and you. You, who stayed by my side through years of social isolation and anxiety when no one else was there; you, who made my Christmas when I found you under the tree: ordered by my father after careful research, wrapped by my mother with loving attention. Even my little brother played a role, contributing my favorite color and a mixed list of books to prepare you for me … my very first Kindle, already encased in a soft purple faux-leather cover and preloaded with the beginnings of my personal digital library.
We’ve been through a lot together, spilled drinks and tears, cuddles under the blankets, sunken ships and beloved-character deaths, and I wouldn’t give you up for anything. You’re my constant, no matter whether I’m away at school or back at home, and I will always make time for you.
Now, I run my fingers across your case (the third one you’ve had; I’m not a gentle lover, and you’re at constant risk of being dropped or gently tossed across my bed) before I open it and resume the novel I’m reading. Girl has just met girl — an Asian-American poet and a Latina swimmer, childhood friends who lose contact when one moves away; then years later they end up at the same college — and there’s sparks and butterflies and red roses and spontaneous stargazing dates and all those cliches you can’t help but wish for sometimes.
A quick time-check: we’ve been sitting here for two hours, oops. So I pack my things up, pull on my heavy winter jacket — the one I never needed back home, the one my mom helped me pick out especially for these East Coast winters — and head out.
I pass two familiar faces in the line of students waiting to swipe their IDs and enter the dining hall: a pair of friends who have recently realized that they’d rather be together than single. They’re holding hands, as they always seem to be when you see them together; her head rests against his shoulder for a moment before she straightens to make a point. Although I can’t hear the words they’re saying, their smiles are eloquent enough. He pulls her in and kisses the top of her head, and I slip past them without a word, not wanting to intrude on their moment.
Until fairly recently, I had someone who looked at me like that. (So now you’re gone, and I was wrong … I’ve always had a weird fascination with that Linkin Park song.) But I wasn’t wrong — at least, not when I made the conscious decision to say goodbye to that boy. Because as happy as we made each other, we hurt each other in so many small ways … and yet if we were back at the beginning I’d probably do it all again.
Love is tricky that way. You regret it, and at the same time you don’t.
However, for me today is just about me. Me, and all the phenomena for which I live and love, and the stories in the world around me … and in my head, and in my heart.
Happy Singles’ Awareness Day, if your dinner company (like mine) was a good book — or happy Valentine’s Day, if you had a real person to get dinner with! 😜 (By the way, this is a work of fiction; some details are true to life, while others are embellished or entirely made up. But I’ll leave it to you to guess which are which…)
Did you manage to catch the references to each of the 8 types of love and 5 love languages? Which type of love, if any, do you think is the most important? Are there any that you think the average person could absolutely live without? Which is your love language?