At the conclusion of any phone call with my closest friends, we proclaim our love for one another. I once made the mistake of doing this ritual farewell in front of my father, which prompted him to cringe.
“Why do you tell your friends you love them?” he remarked. “I barely even tell your mother that.”
Although what he said was questionable in terms of the stability of his marriage, it made me think about love as a 19-year-old in 2022. I feel as though my father may have had a point in his ill-worded response. In my experience, the word “love” and its significance has become desensitized to the youth of my generation.
In my father’s prime, saying “I love you” to your friends in Newark, N.J. would sign your next hospital bill. My father’s father would never even utter the word “love” to his children, in fear of diminishing the machismo he earned on the mainland. That being said, my father made it his job to make sure I felt his love. There is not one day where he doesn’t say that he loves me. I think that is where the problem of desensitizing love began. My parents, and many of my friends’ parents, wanted to shield us from a lack of love, so they filled our upbringing with participation trophies. Their initiatives, however, have proven to have horrific consequences in our college years.
I am certain that I do not know what love is. The word has become so remedial in my vocabulary that, when asked to describe it, I merely say something along the lines of “Love is just that: Love.” I can try to poetically describe love as a fire of unending passion or a willingness to sacrifice oneself for another, but I have never felt that way for anyone except my immediate family. So why do I tell my friends I love them at the end of every call, and why do I convince myself that I am in love with a fluffy-haired 6’0” boy who wants nothing to do with me?
Simply put: I heard the word love too often. Love has surrounded every aspect of my upbringing—from my parents randomly blurting out the word in the middle of the supermarket to attributing a supposedly complex word to irrelevant items like clothes. My parents never had this type of exposure to love, their parents would never utter the word. But, love to my grandparents was presented through actions my parents were determined to put the word to use. “Words have power” is literally a magnet on my fridge at home. Despite my parents attempts to make me feel loved in a more outright way than they felt throughout their childhoods, their bombardment of affection has ultimately left me numb. But even though I am certain I don’t know how to love someone authentically, I still tell my friends I love them, and I still fall in and out of “love” with boys who see me as nothing more than a piece of ass.
I am confident that most people who read this can empathize with my feelings of numbness in a sea of affection. Well, welcome to college in the 2020s. People fall in and out of their treasured love instantaneously. That’s the whole point of hookup culture: to fall in love at night and wake up regretting your existence, as your head dangles in a toilet. This culture only creates a cycle of pain and disappointment in the concept of love.
Hookup culture, however, is not an expression of love or affection—it is rather a search for self-worth. But why would I need to find worth in others when I was showered in love from birth? I believe it is because we have started to question the sources of love and confidence around us. We have gotten older and although some people claim that wisdom comes with age, I am personally more uncertain than ever. I hear the word “love” thrown around to describe instagram filters and the newest skirt from Princess Polly and wonder what the poets would think.
One source of created confidence sprouts from college parties, a chance to prove to others and ourselves that we are worthy of someone’s affection. We venture out onto the dance floor, lock eyes with a usually repulsive man or woman, and move closer in an attempt to say, “Let’s just get this over with.” After roughly 30 minutes of the same lip motion, you move on to the next person or call it a night. Nobody sees a problem with this. Most call it a Thursday, but I’m tired of this fruitless search for affection. This ritual feels more like a chore than a good night out. I want the poets to be right. I want to feel what it’s like to love someone authentically, not just be with a person because I feel undervalued or need a confidence boost. We, as people with emotions, deserve more. I, personally, am excited to find someone I can have a conversation with that expands beyond the categories of my favorite color and what my major is.