It started with Disney movies. Before I could even grasp the concept of kissing, let alone love, I was engrossed with the tales of “The Little Mermaid” and “Mulan,” stories which tell their young viewers that there is someone out there for everyone. No matter how ridiculous the circumstance or how different the people, love would always find a way. Regardless of the lack of representation for the diversity of relationships in Disney movies, by the time I was in kindergarten, I had been taught that soulmates not only exist for everyone, but that they always find each other, and they always last.
As I grew older, I heard about the real love stories around me, particularly the whirlwind romance of my grandparents. My grandmother was engaged to another man when she met my grandfather, and after quickly realizing that they were meant to be, she soon called off her engagement to marry my grandfather within a year. This November they will have been married for 45 years.
These 45 years show themselves in the way my grandmother has learned to sleep despite my grandfather’s loud snoring and how my grandfather has learned to listen and support my grandmother in her insecurities. They work with each other rather than fight against each other, and possess an unconditional love for their children and grandchildren. If soulmates exist, they would be the picture of it.
While entering adolescence, a time when, let’s be honest, I wasn’t garnering much attention from the opposite sex, I was given lessons on how to pick out a soulmate. These lessons varied from ordering something either of the same price or cheaper while on a date (if he’s paying) to taking this potential soulmate to the laundromat with me to see whether or not he’ll help me with the laundry or just sit there. I was being prepared for a great, dramatic love story.
I waited. And waited some more. There were some instances of awkward teenage crushes, none of which amounted to anything, usually because I didn’t see them as soulmate potential — I had become an idealist.
On my move-in day freshman year, my grandparents met a guy who would be living on my hall and had helped them carry a microwave upstairs. They fell in love. They told me about the boy at the end of the hall and told me to find him and give him one of the brownies that they had left me (they’re those kind of parents). I did as I was told, and if this were a romantic comedy this would have been the meet-cute. What a trope, right?
As the year began, my grandparents would ask about him and tell me to give him their regards. I could count on my grandmother always bringing him up during our Skype calls, of course, and he and I would laugh about it. We were friends, that was all. And now? We’re barely on speaking terms, but that’s not important.
As my time at Stanford progressed, the search continued. I watched as long-lasting couples and one night stands occurred around me. I discovered Stanford Crushes, and set up notifications for when there are new updates because I loved the idea of people admitting their feelings for others, romantic or not. I did Screw Your Roo, and yet … nothing of importance. So, I began an ongoing cycle of downloading, using then deleting Tinder and other miscellaneous dating apps. I’d match and flirt, but that it-factor, for lack of a better term, always seemed to be missing.
My friends and I joke that at Stanford, students seem to only have room in their lives for hookups or mini-marriages. While I was low-key looking for a soulmate, I wasn’t a fan of either of those two options — feeling too young for the long-term commitment of a mini-marriage but too in need of emotional support to go through a series of hook-ups. I was at a loss. The small dating culture that does seem to exist on campus wasn’t very romantic. Dates were formulaic, the focus being on quickly determining the probability of romantic success. If the two of us didn’t share much in common, it was obvious that nothing would continue. There was hardly any exploration of who the other person was as a human being, and if there was, it was too intense, too quickly. Nothing seemed to be paced correctly, nothing was organic.
Then I fell for a friend. It felt natural, real — at least on my end it did. We grew close, and I loved the storyline of realizing that it was the friend the whole time. I fell in love with the idea and not the person. I let myself be whisked away by the romance of the what-if to the point where I didn’t stop to think about the reality of the situation — we were just really good friends with some weird tension.
When nothing ended up happening between us, the loss of that story hit me. While my time at Stanford had previously been chipping away slowly at my romanticism and idealism, this outright made me rethink everything I had thought about love. I had been learning lesson after lesson: not every person you meet will impact your life, love doesn’t always just happen, not everyone will be looking for what I’m looking for.
But until I let that particular love story go, I hadn’t truly faced my romanticism’s problematic nature. I had become too focused on the narrative of love and not the actual reality of it. I was more concerned with meet-cutes, and the narrative pacing of the dates. It mattered more to me that the story was romantic than whether or not the person was an actual possibility for me. If someone or something didn’t fit in with the ideal version in my head, I didn’t want a part of it. I was letting people and opportunities just pass me by, all for the sake of a good story. I was disappointed with myself, but I am glad that I realized what I was doing wrong.
So yes, my eight quarters at Stanford did kill my romanticism. But that was the romanticism of Disney movies and Sarah Dessen novels. Instead, my time here has given me a new romanticism, one of understanding the person, not predicting the story — it’s a romanticism that breathes and stretches, one that can adapt to the real world and real life. It’s the one that I was too afraid to originally accept, the romanticism that my grandparents had been trying to teach me all along.
Contact Arianna Lombard at ariannal ‘at’ stanford.edu.