I want to know what love is

A roommate illustrates how to love someone in the long run.

By Sophia Chen

I still remember my first crush—the one I’ll never forget. During superhero make-believe, he used to channel Bibleman, namesake of the overacted, under-produced children’s show loved by evangelicals that featured off-brand light sabers and carefully on-brand lessons. I was always Ice-Skating Girl, prancing around in my only skating outfit from my short stint in a sport I was heinous at.

We were five, but I had long decided that the couple that saved the world together stayed together. I never paused to wonder what would happen one night in the distant future when superhero uniforms were traded for civilian clothes, when someone had to cook dinner and take care of the kids and do the laundry. I never asked myself if, when we finally got bored of talking about our awesome superpowers, we would still care about one another enough to ask about the day the other had, or even to talk. I didn’t realize that according to reality, Ice-Skating Girl and Bibleman had about a 50-percent chance of getting divorced.

Since then, I’ve grown up in a world where couples no longer seem to stay together for long. This is a conscious choice for many (and I respect that), but for others, it feels as if they had hoped for forever and got lost on the way there. It felt to me like sustaining love after an initial infatuation was nearly impossible.

In a Wong Fu Productions video about the stages of a relationship called “Strangers, again,” the narrator tells us, “I was pretty disappointed…. Somehow, the girl I was so crazy about a year ago had turned into somebody who just wasn’t that special.”

I wish that what the guy said in the video wasn’t true. I wish that the entirety of a relationship could be like the start of a new one. I wish a video like this didn’t even have to exist, but it does. Are relationships, then, doomed to repeat such a cycle once the novelty wears off?

In response to this, my faith says many things about how a marriage can successfully endure fading infatuation and survive. One idea that I think is applicable to everyone, religious or not, is striving to love one another as selflessly as possible. But is that even possible these days? How would that even work?

I wasn’t sure about how before, but I’m starting to see what that looks like thanks to my dear roommate—let’s call her M—and the love that she’s shown me, a love which seems so different from what I found in any of my past relationships.

For many, it’s easy to be attentive and loving to a new source of infatuation, whether it’s the next iPhone or the prospect of a budding love interest. The novelty makes every detail fascinating. The chase makes every effort worth it. However, to find someone special in the beginning means nothing, because that’s the nature of this beast.

The easy answer seems to be compatibility in addition to that initial attraction—look for someone you share common interests with and the rest will follow, right? Unfortunately, the problem with idolizing compatibility as the crux of a relationship is that it fosters complacency; it posits that certain people fit better together than others. That may be true, but it causes less effort to be expended to make things work, because there’s the assumption that affection and harmony should just come naturally. Perhaps a love built solely on compatibility is the scariest.

M and I, for example, have nothing in common. She dances. I trip in anything with a heel. She rocks at math. I would sell my hair to keep the answer key with me. But that doesn’t matter, because that’s not what defines our coexistence—it is defined by the nights when I slump back into our muggy dorm room and she recounts to me an anecdote about her day, one that makes me laugh and laugh. I, on the other hand, am not so good at talking—I live in my head most of the time, preferring abstract concepts. But to ignore the mundane and to only look for intellectual compatibilities is the very pitfall I described above. I’m lucky to be learning from a roommate who, instead of hoping that things flow naturally, makes a conscious effort to create everyday memories even when I’m being a bland vegetable.

Being roommates is actually the most similar relationship to lovers that see one another in all their unsavory glories. It’s easy to celebrate parting with a roommate, thinking that we’ll never have to go through such an ordeal again, but marriage is honestly just glorified roommate-hood. No privacy, no masks, no singles in B-J. So then maybe the best way to practice for a lifelong love is to treat every relationship with as much kindness as the most important one. That way, we can sustain respect and affection when our lovers turn boring, unattractive, and mundane, just like our roommates do after the third week of living together.

The truth is, no one is perfect for someone else—at the end of the day, we are all human rather than Vogue editorials that are airbrushed and stagnant. Even if there exists a stunning array of mutual interests that include books and sports and hobbies between us and our lovers, consistently engaging conversations about these romanticized topics cannot be sustained indefinitely when we eat, sleep, and perform bodily functions in the same space. The nights when we are unashamed to scrubbily sit on the couch and vegetate in front of one another increase. See enough of each other like this, and we become ordinary to one another, instead of the special snowflakes we once were.

When it gets to this point, it’s no longer about whether that other person deserves your affection or not. It’s about whether or not you choose to love that person for better or for worse—selflessly. M has shown me the value of creating lasting rapport through intentional small kindnesses, wrenching my chemistry textbook away from my iron grip each night as I half-consciously protest that I’m not done reading, leaving perfume samples and notes for me on my desk when she leaves for the weekend. Love means continuously choosing the other person to create bonds with.

M loves selflessly even after seeing how boring and insipid I am. She’s given me hope for the future. So even if some fellow and I initially seem to be superheroes like Bibleman and Ice-Skating Girl to one another, I believe that we’ll be OK even when we cast off the facades and change into civilian clothes.

Why? Because M is my superhero.

Sophia Chen is a first-year in the College majoring in biology and English