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A Blue & White

Valentine’s

2.14.24

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Valentines Masthead

TARA ZIA, CC ’26, Editor-in-Chief 

JAZMYN WANG, CC ’25, Managing Editor

SAGAR CASTLEMAN, CC ’26, Deputy Editor

BETEL TADESSE, CC ’25, Digital Editor

JORJA GARCIA, CC ’26, Illustrations Editor

PHOEBE WAGONER, CC ’25, Illustrations Editor

 

HENRY ASTOR, CC ’24, Issue Editor

IRIS CHEN, CC ’24, Issue Editor

ANDREA CONTRERAS, CC ’24, Issue Editor

ANOUK JOUFFRET, BC ’24, Issue Editor

MISKA LEWIS, BC ’24, Issue Editor

BECKY MILLER, BC ’24, Issue Editor

VICTOR OMOJOLA, CC ’24, Issue Editor

CLAIRE SHANG, CC ’24, Issue Editor

MUNI SULEIMAN, CC ’24, Issue Editor

 

CHRIS BROWN, CC ’26, Issue Writer

SCHUYLER DAFFEY, CC ’26, Issue Writer

JAKE GOIDELL, CC’24 Issue Writer

MADISON HU, GS ’24, Issue Writer

GEORGE MURPHY, CC ’27, Issue Writer

EVA SPIER, BC ’27, Issue Writer

VIVIEN SWEET, GS ’25, Issue Writer

ALICE TECOTZKY, CC ’24, Issue Writer
 

ISABELLE OH, BC ’27, Issue Illustrator

JACQUELINE SUBKHANBERDINA, BC ’27, Issue Illustrator

EMMA FINKELSTEIN, BC ’27, Issue Illustrator​​

 

Table of Contents

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A Love Letter From the Editor

On finding your love language

I fell in love with poetry by first falling in love with translation. I am fascinated by the notion of crafting a relationship between two texts, which becomes an act of cultural and temporal border-crossing. In a class on Persian poetry and translation, I recently encountered a description of this passage by the philosopher Walter Benjamin, who wrote that languages are “not strangers to one another” but rather intrinsically “interrelated in what they want to express.”

 

In some ways, writing about love, which we try to do annually in the Valentine’s issue, is a kind of translation. Translating something as ephemeral as a feeling or as fleeting as a moment into lines, verses, or phrases can feel like an impossible undertaking. Parsing it through word counts and edits only further standardizes experiences that are anything but standard. 

 

In this issue, our writers undertake this translation by grasping for particulars. In our Heart Bweats they type out text messages in Italian, romanticize their couches and beds, and cling to old journals. By steeping their affection in spaces and objects, our writers access a universal appreciation for love’s physicality. 

 

Other writers explore this translation through a linguistic lens. Becky Miller digs into etymological archives, illustrating our absurd yet longstanding appreciation for pet names. Anouk Jouffret explores the musical archives of her college career, transcribing her love for her friends through the songs that have soundtracked their shared years. 

 

Falling in love in itself represents an act of translation: a sharing of oneself with another. Jake Goidell explores this process as he tracks how Columbians of years past have transitioned from strangers to lovers. He analyzes how breakdowns in communication, like poorly translated lines, lead to breakdowns in comprehension. Meanwhile, Alice Tecotzky examines her position as a hopeful romantic, learning about love through the great loves of her female relatives.

 

At the risk of overextending the metaphor, I will conclude with this: To translate, we need to open ourselves to understanding. Understanding our peers, our surroundings, and ourselves is hardly a passive act. It takes a great deal of courage to send that text message (in English, Italian, or any other language) to let people know that we need them and that we love them. Perhaps upon breaking that wall, we realize that, like translated languages, we were never really strangers after all. 

 

It is an honor to be The Blue and White’s Editor-in-Chief for the 2024-25 cycle, and I am so grateful for this opportunity to connect with my peers in this magazine and with you, the reader. I hope you enjoy this issue as much as we enjoyed creating it.


 

Tara Zia

Editor-in-Chief

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Illustration by Emma Finkelstein

Bwecommendations

Tara Zia, Editor-in-Chief: Cinema Paradiso (1988). Dick Davis (translator), Faces of Love: Hafez and the Poets of Shiraz. Gallery hopping with strangers. 

 

Jazmyn Wang, Managing Editor: The Cranberries, “Linger.” Laufey, “From the Start.”

 

Sagar Castleman, Deputy Editor: Anton Chekhov, “The Lady with the Little Dog.”

 

George Murphy, Publisher: Ultracrush, “Swimming.” Mina, “Città vuota.” Mary Renault, The Charioteer.


Jorja Garcia, Illustrations Editor: You've Got Mail (1998). Todd Rundgren, “I Saw the Light.”

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Annie Poole, Layout Editor: One Day (Netflix). 

 

Kate Sibery, Layout Editor: Yo La Tengo, “I Can Feel The Ice Melting.” James Tate, “Stray Animals.” Taza chocolate. 

 

Henry Astor, Senior Editor: Alice Phoebe Lou, “Open My Door.” 

 

Andrea Contreras, Senior Editor: The Sundays, Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. Blur, “Girls and Boys.” My keffiyeh. 

 

Anouk Jouffret, Senior Editor: “Nick Cave–Loss, Yearning, Transcendence,” On Being with Krista Tippett.

 

Miska Lewis, Senior Editor: Chelsea G. Summers, A Certain Hunger. La Ciénaga (2001). Chocolate covered strawberries.

 

Becky Miller, Senior Editor: I am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco (2002). 


Victor Omojola, Senior Editor: Losing Ground (1982). Samba Traoré (1992). Lingua Franca (2019). Teju Cole, Tremor.

Illustration by Jacqueline Subkhanberdina

Claire Shang, Senior Editor: Pet Shop Boys, “Love is a Bourgeois Construct.” Edward Albee, The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?

 

Muni Suleiman, Senior Editor: David Archuleta, “Crush.” Laufey, Bewitched. Natalie Diaz, Postcolonial Love Poem. Love letter earrings.

 

Chris Brown, Staff Writer: Anderson .Paak, “Might Be.” Faye Webster, “Jonny.” Candy hearts.

 

Schuyler Daffey, Staff Writer: Elton John, “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.” Sleepless in Seattle (1993). E. M. Forster, A Room With A View.

 

Sam Hosmer, Staff Writer: ABC, The Lexicon of Love.

 

Maya Lerman, Staff Writer: Before Sunrise (1995). Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. E. M. Forster, Maurice.

 

Gracie Moran, Staff Writer: The Carpenters, “Close to You.” David Sedaris, “How to Eat a Tire in a Year.” Heart printed clothing (and everything). 

 

Sofia Pirri, Staff Writer: John Coltrane, “Central Park West.” 

 

Eva Spier, Staff Writer: Gwendolyn Brooks, “when you have forgotten Sunday.” Kings of Convenience, “I’d Rather Dance With You.” 

 

Siri Storstein, Staff Writer: Bell Hooks, All About Love. Sitting on benches.

 

Vivien Sweet, Staff Writer: Erik Satie, “Je te veux.” Being chalant. 

 

Alice Tecotzky, Staff Writer: ee cummings, “If.” Fountains of Wayne, “Valley Winter Song.” My red heart necklace, made of glass and matching with a friend.

 

Cecilia Zuniga, Staff Writer: Elis Regina, “Ela.” La Marr Jurelle Bruce, How to Go Mad Without Losing Your Mind. Kiki’s on Division St. 

 

Selin Ho, Staff Illustrator: When Harry Met Sally (1989). Laufey, “Lovesick.” 

 

Derin Ogutcu, Staff Illustrator: D’Angelo, “How Does It Feel,” Fire of Love (2022), David Wojnarowicz, Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration

 

Isabelle Oh, Staff Illustrator: Jhung, “SEE ME.” The Last Dinner Party, prelude to Ecstasy


Jacqueline Subkhanberdina, Staff Illustrator: Ichiko Aoba, “Dawn in the Adan.” Pears.

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Heart Bweats

Miniature vignettes about moments of unexpected, unusual, or endearing campus connections. 

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A Devoted Listener

“I’m so excited for the show tonight,” Thomas professes. It’s Saturday, almost midnight, when my roommate and I descend from our Woodbridge suite before heading our weekly radio show segment. We stay for a bit to chat with Thomas, perched at his desk in the lobby. He tells us about his night; we reciprocate and promise that we’ll play him some good songs. He has a warm, rumbly laugh. Later into the WBAR mic, we give our loyal listener his shoutout. Thomas sends us a smiley face into the livestream chat in response. He’s listening—he always does. At 2:30 a.m., when we finish our set, Thomas gives us a review of his favorites: The Fugees, William Onyeabor, and Erykah Badu. He calls FKA twigs “interesting.” His eyes crinkle at the corner. — AC

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Mi Manchi

It’s my first day back after winter break, and campus is dark and empty. Little flakes of snow are falling from a sky that’s empty except for a few washed-up stars. At some point I start texting you, in the mixture of Italian and English that we’ve been using more and more lately. We talk for a while, but I keep dancing around what I really want to say, which is that I miss you. It’s like the words are locked up somewhere deep in my chest. Suddenly, out of nowhere, other words appear: mi manchi. I wish I could say these things in English, but I can’t yet. And like you tell me, va bene, it’s okay. — GM

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Appalachian Adrenaline

Fire escapes, scaffolding, overhangs, Columbia students are constantly finding new places to dangle their feet from. I’ve always been afraid of heights, going out of my way to avoid them. On break, finding myself in rural north Georgia driving up into the Appalachian mountains, I encountered what my adrenaline-seeking friends sought. As the trees cleared away, revealing hundreds of miles of lakes and greenery beneath, I understood. There is a beauty that can only be seen from above and can only be appreciated when your mouth dries up and your heart beats out of your chest. Maybe fear and love aren’t so different. — CB

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Illustration by Jacqueline Subkhanberdina

A Love-Hate (but Mostly Hate) Relationship

On Jan. 4, 2024, X (formerly known as Twitter) user @passthechill posed the following question: Does anybody actually like their sports team? The post is ultimately a philosophical query about the very nature of love. I’ve found myself struck by it ever since. How can something that occupies such a large and permanent place in my heart simultaneously bring me so much heartache? It seems that the structure of professional sports—just one winner at the end of each season—lends itself to the unfortunate statistical likelihood that the vast majority of fans will be left unsatisfied by their team. My relationship with the Boston Celtics (who, according to the pundits, should have won at least five championships in the past decade) is no exception. Year after year, our superstars underperform, opponent benchwarmers overperform, and I am left with heartbreak of a magnitude that would make Shakespeare himself shudder. And still, I return the following season with renewed hope, ready to love again. 

 

Not too long after I finished writing the above, my league-leading Celtics were handily beaten by a LeBron-less, Austin Reaves-led Lakers team. Will the pain ever stop? — VO

a LOVE AND HATE

Ins and Outs

Ma said that nostalgia is out in 2024. As well as sweet treats, AI, and ethical non-monogamy, but I don’t think hedonism—in moderation—is all that bad. It’s only February, and giving up nostalgia is proving to be the most difficult. Under my bed, there’s the journal you gave me in which you recorded every day we spent together for over a year before you left. Strange to think that we never biked across the Kosciuszko Bridge. Strange to think that I’m not meant to think that. It’s hardly dark out when I ask you to read that bit of the poem I like: I like you / so much I want to see you / even when I am inside you. No—really? Credo quia absurdum est. I believe because it is absurd. — VS

ins and outs

The Velvet Green Couch

During the first few weeks in the apartment, my roommate and I gather for pasta dinners on the floor. My future roommate, abroad for the summer, and I, on a journey to end Floor Dinners, stumble upon a listing for a free couch: Pick up is in an hour from a sixth-floor walk-up, which I alone will lug from Brooklyn. As I head out the door, I get a video call from my current roommate—on the screen is a green velvet couch sitting on the sidewalk, in perfect condition. I bound down the street to meet her, all three of us on conference call. That night, we share the first meal of many on the couch, careful to keep pasta sauce off our first piece of home. — MH

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An Empty Bed in a Full Room

Two weeks into last semester, my roommate’s dog allergy made him move out. During the first few nights without him, I stared at the stripped black mattress and bare wall on the other side of the room and felt terribly lonely. But soon, my clothes and books started to spread around the room, the other mattress turned into a blue couch, and art calendars and postcards filled the space where my roommate’s race car posters had been. Out-of-town friends had a place to stay, as did an in-town friend who sometimes would rather sleep over after a night of revelry than walk a few blocks in the cold. And best of all, you could come over whenever you liked, throw your coat on the couch, and we could sit on our chairs and work at our desks and then talk quietly until we fell asleep, holding each other, knowing the room was ours. — SC

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Cats and Company

My friends and I were naive and had nothing better to do, so we signed up for the Tu B’Shvat seder on a Wednesday evening. We sat next to an old couple; she wore a black velvet hat over dark gray curls, and he had bright white hair, which we saw a lot of because his head was frequently tilted downwards over his falafel. We made shy conversation over dried figs and apricots until it slipped that they owned cats. Suddenly, we were Greek heroes fated to unload camera rolls and unleash anecdotes. One of their cats was a Republican—they assured us—and another had her nails clipped by a woman named Claudia, amusingly—but inaccurately—nicknamed De-clawdia. The couple giddily recited a quote from their favorite play: “I want to be with you. I want to have cats with you.” We agreed that it spoke volumes. They finally admitted that because one of their cats’ fur patterns looked like a hot fudge sundae, they served hot fudge sundaes on their wedding day instead of white cake. On the walk home, we smiled in the dark at how the same love that punctuated a couple’s married life brought together a group of strangers at an unfamiliar dinner. — ES

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Illustration by Isabelle Oh

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Pink Notes

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I Lief You Flittermouse

A historical examination of terms of endearment.

By Becky Miller

 

Lief is an obsolete adjective meaning precious and beloved. Old English derived the word from the Germanic root that gave way to the words believe and love. Picture this: an old Anglo man lives in Bernicia, a Dark Ages kingdom in modern-day Scotland, with a beard so long it trails on the floor of his abode, nearly catching fire in the embers that stir beneath a clay pot. He is fluent in the Old English jargon that is spoken at his cushy job at the local mead house. He is tucking his children into bed one dark night when he whispers, “Sleep well, mine lief” to his dozing offspring. The epic poem Beowulf won’t be written for another few hundred years, but here is a man who knows how to nurture his relationships through language, sculpting words into tender caresses. 

 

Terms of endearment appear in the earliest records of the English language. The Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary houses a treasure trove of strange, antiquated words that English-speaking peoples have used to indulge loved ones for hundreds of years, thematically categorized under “the mind > emotion > love > terms of endearment.” Our current lexicon has abandoned these addresses in favor of the bland, ubiquitous sweetie, honey, and babe. Language use follows uncertain patterns, and revivals can come from nearly any source; I’m not above encouraging the English-speaking world to return to the untapped promises of pet-names like golpol, ding-dong, and flittermouse

 

Dating back to Old English, the most antiquated term of endearment in the HTOED is darling, which establishes dear love between speaker and recipient. Middle English saw the rise of the endearing belamy, which sprung from Old French and first appeared in writing in 1225, denoting a caring friendship, and culver, a term that grew out of the Old English signification for a dove or a pigeon and into an appellation of tender affection later on. Although these words are now passé, the veteran sweetheart appeared not long after in 1290, combining sweet, a pleasant flavor or sensation, and heart, the locale of emotions, creating a portmanteau that signifies a loved one. Farther down the line, sweetheart adopted connotations of illicit love and sarcastic, contemptuous meanings; “Try harder, sweetheart, or I’ll plug you in the guts,” wrote Frank Parrish in the 1977 murder mystery Fire in the Barley

 

Other gendered terms of endearment have toed the line between compliment and insult, with natural language change over time driving terms of love and hate into a complex entanglement. Mopsy appeared earliest in 1582, a derivative of mop meaning “fool,” and was used to talk to or about a small child or young girl, alongside mops and moppet. Mopsy remained popular in northern and eastern dialects in England, and can be heard today in the pejorative use (“a dowdy, dirty, or untidy woman”) that developed in the seventeenth century. Wench was originally associated with an endearing address to a wife or daughter, but had morphed into a racialized American English term for a woman in servitude by the eighteenth century. 


Besides gender, we see edibility emerge as a theme among historical terms of endearment across the HTOED. Cinnamon, angel pie, powsowdie, sucket, bag-pudding, cabbage, pumpkin, sugar, and lamb-chop have been used to describe loved ones in the English tongue, subcategorized by fish-related names: prawn, whiting-mop, and sparling bridge the gap between land and sea. Among the 272 terms of endearment on the HTOED’s list, however, my favorite remains bawcock, popularized by Shakespeare in Henry V and Twelfth Night, importantly borrowing the words “beau” and “coq” from the French. Long live the Bard!

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Illustration by Isabelle Oh

Alma Wants You (for the Marriage Pact)

The faces and feuds behind Columbia’s marriage pact. 

By Schuyler Daffey

 

Alma Mater had never looked more majestic. She held court, one metallic palm outstretched, haughtily gazing at students walking up Low Steps. Red roses adorned her throne, and a giant QR code sat at her feet like a sacrifice to Cupid. All in service of the mighty Marriage Pact. 

 

Initially launched at Stanford University in 2017 and at 85 more schools since then, the Marriage Pact has become a time-honored Columbia tradition. Come October, students are inundated with emails, and campus is peppered with flyers proclaiming the return of the great matchmaking algorithm; by the end of the month, they receive the name of one fellow student with whom they’ve matched. But few people know the faces behind Marriage Pact, those employees responsible for generating the buzz among the undergraduate student body. Nor do they know the lengths to which organizers must go to make the Marriage Pact a campus success. The original success was when Joshua Park, CC ’26, proposed to Julia Sherman, CC ’26, several days prior to Marriage Pact’s first marketing efforts. That is, asked her to join him as a Launch Partner (a student hired specifically on Columbia’s campus) in an incredibly romantic manner: “It’s been a long time coming, but would you be willing to embark with me on a journey to launch Marriage Pact?”

 

Part of this journey entailed Sherman buying 12 bouquets of roses, which she then hauled from Westside Market to Low Steps to the delight of people around her. “I passed someone and they were like, ‘Wow, someone has a lot to apologize for.’” Recruiting friends to join her, Sherman stood on Low for two hours, dispensing roses and asking disgruntled students if they had filled out the Marriage Pact form. Her primary role, assigned to her by Columbia Marriage Pact supervisors, was to maximize sign-ups. Despite being given a $1000 meal budget during the week of Marriage Pact’s release, Sherman and Park were ultimately not paid for their labor by the group they dubbed ‘Big Marriage Pact.’ Sherman facetiously demands compensation because, in her words, “I’m pretty sure I lost friends when I had to text them to send Marriage Pact in their group chats.” 

 

For Marriage Pact employees, the goal is to make Marriage Pact the biggest topic of campus discussion in the weeks leading up to its release. From texting the form to their entire contact list to handing out roses in a Bachelor-esque fashion across campus, the outsized promises made by the Marriage Pact are reflected in the extreme tactics Launch Partners must employ for students to sign up. But why go to such lengths? If Marriage Pact were so well-established and its algorithm truly successful, would engaging students require such extreme marketing? 

 

Launch Partner Abner Gordan, GS ’26, traces his own meet-cute with the algorithm to his freshman year at the University of Pittsburgh. It was an instant success, with 4,000 people signing up to be matched to their “marital backup.” However, such a metric of success seems questionable. Arguably, Marriage Pact appears more preoccupied with superficial markers of success, such as the number of sign-ups, rather than the efficacy of the algorithm in genuinely helping students find their perfect match.

 

When I asked Gordan why he decided to continue the legacy of Marriage Pact after transferring to Columbia, he replied that “it’s so fun to facilitate positive experiences for people.” So, while there is no guarantee that Marriage Pact will find you true love, at its core, it attempts to build community and drive connection. You may not find passionate romance, but there is something to be said for the embarrassed eye contact you make with your Marriage Pact match on campus or the knowledge that you share a perspective on whether you would rather leave someone or be left at the altar. This Valentine’s Day, remember that roses are red, violets are blue, Alma loves you, and Marriage Pact does too.

Features

How We Met

The history of Columbia’s couples.

By Jake Goidell

My grandparents met on the Q train somewhere above Brooklyn. They had known each other from various neighborhood groups but had never spoken. My grandfather even hitchhiked halfway across the country with my grandmother’s younger brother, but they still only had a faint idea of each other’s existence. They shared a commute, but he got on one stop earlier and stayed one stop later. He was a chemistry standout, and she was a literary prodigy. Heading home from school one day, she asked for help on her physics homework, and they never stopped talking.

 

“How We Met” stories are some of our dearest personal histories. They are the foundational myths of our lives: The pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock and Fred met Mary in study hall. Still, some myths are just that—myths—unconnected with any real past. Aeneas did not actually flee the burning Troy to found Rome, nor did George Washington actually chop down his father’s precious cherry tree. However, all “How We Met” stories are so deeply connected to facts that they become a type of history. The Mayflower did, in fact, land at Plymouth Rock and Fred really did meet Mary in study hall. These histories teach us something fundamental, but precisely what kind of truth they reveal varies from couple to couple.

While studying history is a relatively new academic profession, people have been practicing history for eons. In his course on the philosophy of history, Columbia professor Mark Mazower explores these various conceptions of history that reach beyond the conventions of academic history, seeking to imbue the (human) past with meaning. The “How We Met” story is one of these types of histories. Their endless retellings crystallize them into more than memories, and their connection to fact and the present makes them more than mere stories.

 

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HOW WE MET

Illustration by Jacqueline Subkhanberdina

While studying history is a relatively new academic profession, people have been practicing history for eons. In his course on the philosophy of history, Columbia professor Mark Mazower explores these various conceptions of history that reach beyond the conventions of academic history, seeking to imbue the (human) past with meaning. The “How We Met” story is one of these types of histories. Their endless retellings crystallize them into more than memories, and their connection to fact and the present makes them more than mere stories.

“Falling in love,” Mazower explained, “is the archetypal extraordinary moment. And yet it happens to a lot of people, so it’s both extraordinary and a social phenomenon.” Studying these histories reveals the intricacies of campus life, the changing nature of love over time, and how these stories connect to the truth of the past. 

 

Former Columbia professor Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi wrote, in a work on Jewish historical memory, that “with the departure of Adam and Eve from Eden, history begins, historical time becomes real, and the way back is closed forever.” In reality, however, history begins as soon as Adam and Eve first meet and an “other” is introduced. Able to now compare their memories with one another, they forge a new type of knowledge, a new kind of history—one that has always been and will always be a social activity. 

 

Campus romances are particularly Edenic. After graduation, these relationships spin off in all directions. Some lead to the altar and picket fences, while others to irresolvable disputes and separate lives. Nonetheless, there is something wonderful and irreproducible about the love that is fostered within the 116th Street gates. College is a purgatory, a dividing line, and a buffer period between childhood and adult life. To look back from outside this protected bubble is to recreate the history of a singular time, unique in its inability to be recreated. 

 

 

Mary-Ann, CC ’90, and Mitch Feller, SEAS ’89, met pledging the same co-ed fraternity in the fall of 1986, but their story, according to them, does not begin there. It does not begin with Mary-Ann singing in the glee club and Mitch playing trumpet in the marching band. Instead, two decades earlier, the two attended the same base nursery at Andrews Air Force Base. “We joke around that we were like little ducklings and imprinted on each other,” Mary-Ann shared.

 

After graduation, they got engaged. With Mitch in Poughkeepsie and Mary-Ann in New York City, they dated long distance. They were removed from the protective bubble of campus where they had grown close and thrown into a new and unpredictable world. After a year of long-distance, they broke up.

 

Now separated, Mary-Ann and Mitch’s perception of their time together on campus was different. Previously, their “How We Met” story had led to a couple, while in this newer version, it led to a separation. The effects of an event change not only our perception of it, but what really happened and how it connects to a wider history. Their true history had literally changed. This is because history is always an interpretative act created by the present. “The present, in a way, helps to shape what one sees as important to talk about,” commented Mazower. “One doesn’t always understand how and why it does, sometimes that only comes later on. But I think the best history is responding to some kind of present concerns or present needs.” 

 

History, then, isn’t written by victors; it’s written by us. Divorcées, happy couples, and widows—amid the dust of bygone battles and forgotten wars—stare back into the morass of the past waiting for it to transform into something coherent, something that speaks to us now, and something that explains how we ended up here.

 

Tanner Chen, CC ’23, and Madeline Wang, CC ’24, met for the first time during a club meeting in the fall of 2020 (Tanner and Madeline are pseudonyms). Both were in their childhood bedrooms: Madeline had never left hers, and Tanner had returned after only a semester and a half of pre-Covid Columbia. They have no recollection of that first Zoom meeting. 

 

When they tell me this story, they share a smoothie, each taking sips from the straw. Both get a sandwich. Madeline, after eating half of hers, silently passes the other half to Tanner. It’s so regular, so expected. It’s things as they should be.

 

Tanner and Madeline became closer during that first semester though they had no romantic interest in one another. When Tanner visited campus during spring break and had no place to crash, Madeline offered him the unoccupied second bed in her room. Tanner did not have meal swipes (and was not “legally” allowed on campus), so Madeline brought meals back to her room for him. Sometime during that week—neither has a clear idea of when—they shifted from being friends in a club to something more.

 

… 

 

After a year apart, Mary-Ann and Mitch were both in New York City again and found their way back to each other. “What’s unique about it is that we did find each other, and the relationship was right,” Mary-Ann told me. “When we first got engaged, it was probably the wrong time. We had some more maturing to do. We had some more growing too, in this case apart, but because it was the right person, we ended up back together.”

 

It is odd that, in most histories, we search for examples of human agency and freedom; yet in our relationships, we comb our past for signs of fate. This is a truth we feel that history, uniquely, can reveal: what had to be and what merely is, what is necessary and what is contingent. History and historical narratives show us a truth about, as Mazower noted, “the various paths people have taken.” These paths are never entirely determined and never entirely freely chosen. In history, “It’s the balance between what’s necessity and what’s freedom. They’re there together in such a strange way,” Mazower said. We are bound to history just as we are bound to nature. And yet, somehow, within both those spheres, we strive for a sense of freedom. 

 

History enables us to see the bounds of action and the limits of agency. For Tanner and Madeline, looking back on their own history has only solidified their perceptions of the present. In efforts to make their story more digestible for their audience, they have simplified the narrative. “You get better as you realize people don’t care,” they told me. But this narrative choice comes with consequences. “In simplifying the retelling, the emotion feels more certain,” Tanner elaborated. The doubt in the early days of the relationship either becomes a core element of the story or is cast aside. This, like all history, may change with time. As Mary-Ann expressed, thirty years removed from undergrad life, “The older you get, the more you hone in on what’s really important to you. And what’s really important in life.” Mary-Ann and Mitch’s pause may be a case in point. “The further we get away from it,” Mitch recalled, “the more of a little hiccup it becomes, but at the time, it was kind of an earthquake!” From a hiccup to an earthquake, the historical reality of an event changes.

 

 

Beth McCoy, BC ’84, met Carl Haber, CC ’80, GSAS ’85, in a woodcutting class in 1983. Forty years later, they sit side by side at the kitchen table, still doing art together. After meeting, however, it took them three years to date. The first year they knew each other, it was only as friends. A few times, they would “walk all the way down Broadway and,” as Beth remembers, “end up way down at the bottom” of the island.

 

But a year later, both were gone from Columbia and the places that had fostered their relationship. Beth joined the Peace Corps; Carl did a postdoc in Chicago. Three years later, both ended up in Berkeley, California. Beth had grown up there and returned home while Carl was working in the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Physics Division. One evening—Jan. 10, 1986—he was waiting for the bus and she was walking down the hill. They looked up and saw each other. For Beth, it wasn’t out of the ordinary to see an old friend. “Oh, hi. How are you?” he said. “Oh, hi. How are you?” she replied. 

 

Beth and Carl’s story has not changed much in the decades they’ve been together. Similarly, Sherri, CC ’90, and Doug Wolf’s, CC ’88, story has stayed mostly consistent. They met moving into their randomly assigned Hartley suite in the fall of 1987. Doug remembers perhaps meeting Sherri the year before, though Sherri, when I speak to her separately, does not mention this. 

 

They became close friends that year. In the spring, they took a sociology course together, sitting next to each other every class with Doug doodling in Sherri’s notebook. The summer after Doug graduated, they became even closer. Removed from campus, they slowly started dating. 

 

Soon, the relationship became serious, and, in 1992, they were married. The day after their wedding, they moved to Boston. It was the first time since Hartley Hall that they would live together. Away from campus and New York, their connections to Columbia faded. They had kids and settled into their careers, leaving Morningside Heights in the past.

 

Slowly, however, they became more involved with their alma mater. Eventually, they became a core part of the Columbia College Alumni Association, both serving as its president. Columbia, Doug explained, “was a mutual identity for us. We have always appreciated the school and what the school has done for us, our network, our professional network, our social network.” 

 

For Doug and Sherri, history is a communal activity that requires constant effort to maintain. Casual acquaintances of the Wolfs on campus have become some of their closest friends in the years after graduation. Their stories overlap, meld, and transform into a shared history of the time and place of campus, reinforced by their present efforts to shape campus.

 

What Beth and Carl have taken from Columbia, however, is less a network or a collection of stories, but an orientation towards the world. Columbia’s knowledge-seeking ethos fits into the broader history of their lives—lives defined by constant questioning and learning. They read their kids the children’s versions of Shakespeare and Homer, describing the Greek poet as “our family mascot.” Carl, in a convocation address to GSAS in 2013, told the graduating class that “curiosity is the gateway drug to creativity.” For their relationship and their lives, this connection between curiosity and creativity, between art and science has been there from the start, from the first day of woodcutting class in 1983. 

 

History is another type of education: It teaches us about who we are and what to value. The stories scaffold our wider beliefs and conceptions about the human condition through particular lives and particular stories. Who we are is revealed to us through the actions of previous generations or, for the couples, previous versions of themselves.

 

The “How We Met” story and the history it reveals changes based on the present and defines who we are, becoming a type of active mythmaking. 

 

In each story, however, there is an inherent tension between the history and the reality it seeks to capture: The stories often end with the narrative assertion that the end was written in the beginning all along. History, meanwhile, must continue eternally. The “happily ever after” of our most famous relationship stories speak of a new Paradise, a place once again freed from the burdens of historical time. But this cannot actually happen. Time moves on and relationships continue to grow and change.

 

The individual histories contain, within their particularity, wider histories of the time and place. The entire world is contained within a single individual, a single moment, a single story. All we could ever learn about ourselves and an era, we could learn from examining one couple’s story. “We don’t go to history to be bound,” Mazower told me, “We go to history to be freed from our preconceptions.” At its core, history teaches us about who we were, who we are, and our possibilities as societies, individuals, and couples falling in love. 

 

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Illustration by Phoebe Wagoner

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Essays

Lineage of Love

At 22, my grandma, mom, and sister were all in love. Where does that leave me?

By Alice Tecotzky

 

“I’m more in love now than I have ever been in my entire life,” my grandma told me on a recent Zoom call, less than a month after transitioning from wife to widow. By their own admissions, my mom and my older sister, Julia, are, too. 

 

At 22, I am in love with parts of the world—sunlight filtered through leaves, a perfectly balanced sentence, the sound of my friends laughing at the same time—but not with another person. Yet when they were my age, all three of these women were already entwined with their lifelong partner. What wisdom lies in this lineage of love found and kept, through life and through loss? And have I relinquished this inherited blueprint, knowing it will likely not be the timeline of my life?

 

My matrilineal model starts in the fall of 1952. The driver of a crowded New York City bus wasn’t letting any passengers on, not even the group of young kids pleading with particular earnestness. My grandma, 17 at the time, watched as a fellow City College student approached the back door, which could be opened from within if you stepped in the right place.

 

“Grandpa stepped on the step,” she said, “and let the kids in. Everyone on the bus started to clap.”

 

People began to talk to each other, and my grandpa and his friend, Fred, struck up a conversation with my grandma. When the three of them got off at the same stop in the Bronx, both my grandpa and Fred asked for her number.

 

“Don’t ask me why I gave it to him over Fred,” she said. “Maybe because he was much cuter.”

 

Like her own mom, my mom met her eventual husband early in college. It was a hard time in her life. She was 18, had just transferred from Barnard to Yale, and, despite appearing successful on paper, was very ill. Not only did she have a significant eating disorder, but she also had an undiagnosed tumor on her spinal cord that was paralyzing her body and, in some ways, her life.

 

As my mom attempted to find the dean’s office to make an introduction, a man with a scruffy beard and leather jacket ambled toward her. “He looked incredibly cute and sexy and accessible,” she said. “I felt safe asking him [for directions] … And he just looked at me. In that moment, I thought, ‘He notices that I’m not entirely well.’ He was just extremely kind. He just pointed me in the direction of the office, and that was it. That was the moment.”

 

My sister’s “moment” took place in a high school gym in 2012. She was 14 and wearing head-to-toe Urban Outfitters when Sammy, also a soon-to-be ninth-grader, approached. At least that’s according to Sammy—my sister doesn’t remember their first meeting.

 

She does, however, remember the many musicals they acted in, including when they played a married couple in Once on this Island their freshman year. She remembers Sammy finding excuses to be near her, to take the same subway line, to appreciate her before she could appreciate him.

 

Unlike Julia, I do remember meeting Sammy. It was the summer after they had graduated from high school and, finally, the two of them were halfway dating before separating for college and a gap year and, presumably, life. He came to our house for dinner and brought boxed Ghirardelli brownies, much to my younger brother’s delight. Apparently ignorant of how a box mix works, my brother asked for the recipe, which Sammy wrote down on a Post-it note. Seven years later, my sister still has that Post-it, kept in a safe spot in their shared apartment.

 

“At that point, I felt so overwhelmingly in love with him. I also felt like time was moving so quickly and was fleeting,” Julia said when I asked why she kept the recipe. “So I was grasping to anything that Sammy touched, anything that sort of was a relic of his existence I would hold on to. I’m glad I did.”

 

Whether they were on the bus, or at the college gates, or in the stuffy gym, none of these women, whom I’ll call my women, knew that they were meeting their partner. Given my genetic predisposition to shockingly young love, I used to expect that I would serendipitously meet my guy in college, too. Our story would be cast in the only mold I know: campus lawns, tentative affections, a naïve trust that it all will work out. It was, and in some ways still is, difficult for me to imagine how people meet in any other way and at any other time. 

 

There is, according to my grandma, a unique passion to this age, and, according to my mom, a boundless faith in love’s capacities. “It felt like a blossoming. A blossoming that was perpetual,” she told me. “When I was 22, it felt like … I can’t find the word.” 

 

My mom, a walking thesaurus, rarely struggles to find the word. Youthful love is at once vulnerable and invulnerable. It feels too big for language, much like our hearts feel too big for our small bodies. To grow up with another person, no matter how much you adore them, is to realize all that love cannot do, she advised me.

 

“That’s the pain of getting older with someone,” my mom said. “There are things that are just my stuff. They have to do with me and I have to figure them out. Dad can’t help me.”

 

I am beginning to feel that truth now, having been both in and out of love. But I haven’t yet felt how love can heal, perhaps because I, miraculously, have not yet been broken.

 

During her first year at Yale, my dad would visit my mom in the library as she studied, or the dining hall as she worked her shifts. He would ask about her writing and her classes, and through that became her friend.

 

“It wasn’t pity… He was just interested in me as a person. He saw the part of me that was not hurt,” she said. “He saw that, he valued that, and he was able to touch that through humor and kindness and questions that made sense.” 

 

When she became unable to walk by the end of the semester, she was admitted to the neuro-psychiatric evaluation unit at Yale New Haven Hospital in a last-ditch attempt to treat what doctors assumed was a delusional disorder. My mom didn’t actually have any sort of psychiatric illness, yet she sat in the ward, completing her finals, until they discovered and removed her spinal tumor. She recovered, swiftly and remarkably. She returned to school. She let herself imagine a future and my dad, with his scruffy beard and leather jacket, featured in that imagining.

 

“The dormant feeling of loving him was suddenly apparent to me,” she said.

 

My grandma, too, realized she loved my grandpa through illness. She had broken up with him after, on a date, he peered into a store window and started talking about furniture for their future apartment. His seriousness scared her into saying goodbye. But then she developed mononucleosis, rendering her bedridden. He asked to come visit, promising he wouldn’t stay too late, so as not to interfere with her healing.

 

“He went home about three in the morning because all we did was talk,” my grandma remembered. “We talked, we caught up, and I think if maybe there was a moment, that was the moment that I knew I loved him beyond.”

 

All three of my women say that talking, or simply being together, is the easiest part of their relationships. Julia put it well, saying she and Sammy could “hang out forever.” That’s not to say they don’t face challenging realities that persist despite effort and time. Sammy has ADHD. Julia doesn’t. They operate differently in the world in some fundamental, chemical ways.

 

“We have to work to really understand each other sometimes,” Julia said. “I also have been working on not insisting that a neurodivergent person exist in my neurotypical world.”

 

My parents likewise move through everyday stress differently, with my mom needing more order and control. I saw it growing up, the way their organizational styles bumped up against each other.

 

“I wish I could tell you that after all this time, I’ve arrived at some sort of strategic way to keep that from muddying or distressing the nature of our love,” she said. “I think the love we have can tolerate those kinds of incursions and breakages and sort of knit itself back together.”

 

And it’s that knitting back together—that embrace of the whole person—that seems so crucial after talking to my three models of love. From the 1950s, to the 1980s, to the 2010s, these relationships lasted because my grandma, mom, and sister have always felt entirely accepted for who they are, at whatever time and in whatever place.

 

For each of them, at one point or another, that place was Columbia, where my grandma and grandpa both got master’s degrees. During her year at Barnard, my mom was subject to sustained male attention for the first time, and from that discovered precisely what she didn’t want from a partner (“to be objectified and valued and thought I was a prize”). Julia went to Barnard herself, but was in a long-distance relationship with Sammy the whole time. Even though she didn’t love someone at the school, the school taught her how to love in a particular way.

 

“And honestly [how] to lean into myself as a queer person and into myself in this relationship with a cis, straight man,” she said. “Those things sometimes used to feel conflicting, and I think at Barnard I was able to understand how they weren’t. How it was just my existence in my relationship.”

 

And now I am here, too, though not for much longer. I have no idea what role this school will play in my love story, and neither do my guiding women. They stumbled into their loves without expectation or forethought, whereas I, often organized to a fault, actively plan the shape my life will take. Until recently, I imagined it would be linear, with straight edges, sharp angles, clear beginnings and ends. Now it’s seeming more fluid, the sharp angles softening into rounded and less obvious turns.

 

Careful not to exert any pressure, my women don’t typically express their aspirations for my future relationships. But they revealed hopes when asked, which are earnest and specific and make me cry. I don’t feel sad about love right now, though. I feel hopeful, and maybe that’s where the tears come from. To borrow a line from my mom about the day she met my dad, I am “feeling frightened and excited at the same time, but also lost.”

 

My grandma wants me to find someone who has the same optimism about my future that my grandpa did, who believed in me without fail. She wants whomever I love to be passionate and also to be smart, to encourage me in whatever it is I pursue.

 

My mom, having found her words again, wants me to meet someone who is “kind,” “brilliant,” “intuitive,” “exuberant,” “strong,” “curious,” “sexy”—it sounds as though she’s at Build-a-Bear, except it’s Build-a-Boyfriend. Really, though, she wants someone to challenge me.

 

“Know the things in you that you struggle with, accept those things, but not capitulate to those things,” she said.

 

My sister added “silly” and “hot” to the index of desired attributes. But above all, she wants me to be open to whomever and whatever comes, even if it gets in the way of what I thought I wanted.

 

“I think that you are too competent and capable,” she said. “And I think that maybe love is the only thing that could stop you. And I kind of want it to stop you for a moment.”

 

These women have taught, are teaching, will teach me how to love. Largely, and perhaps only, because of them, I think I will let myself be stopped.

LINEAGE

Illustration by Emma Finkelstein

High Fidelity

An archive of college love songs.

By Anouk Jouffret 

 

The movie adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel High Fidelity opens with the stereo blaring the 13th Floor Elevators & Erickson’s “You’re Gonna Miss Me” before the camera pans to a sullen Rob Gordon—owner of the failing Chicago record store, Championship Vinyl, and recent breakupee. As his now ex-girlfriend packs up her things from his apartment in the background, Gordon, played by John Cusack, addresses the camera:

 

“What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands, of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?”

 

These questions frame the rest of the film. Through an innumerable number of Top Five music lists, he walks us through his Top Five Breakups as he reflects and reconciles his romantic blunders. While Gordon gets most things wrong, to our comedic relief, High Fidelity hits the nail on the head when linking music and heartbreak and love. The association is so obvious that it verges on banal and yet it is compelling. 

 

Inspired by this issue to reflect on the love that has colored my time in college as it nears its end, I’m taking a page from Hornby’s book. So here you have it: my Top Five College Love Songs. 

… 

 

1) “Angel From Montgomery” by John Prine. I celebrated my 18th birthday with family friends in upstate New York just days before the start of university. Two weeks prior, Bob—my mom’s former boss and the first person aside from my parents to meet me as a newborn—had called to ask me if there were any songs he should learn on the guitar in preparation for my arrival. I requested “Angel From Montgomery” by John Prine. In a live version, John Prine and Bonnie Raitt sing together, alternating verses; I thought we could do the same. “Whatever you want, doll,” he replied over the phone, with the thickest New York accent he could muster. By the time I got to Woodstock, Bob’s youngest daughter Anna couldn’t stand to hear the four chords that made up the song, but she allowed it, knowing how much I loved singing to Bob’s strumming. Bob lived and breathed music. He produced the radio concert programs the King Biscuit Flower Hour and the Silver Eagle Cross Country Music Show, served as director of A&R at A&M Records, and put together seven installments of In Performance at the White House. When Bob died three years later, his nieces Lily and Lucy performed the song at his memorial, and I wailed along. Make me an angel that flies from Montgomery. Make me a poster of an old rodeo. Just give me one thing that I can hold on to. To believe in this livin' is just a hard way to go.

 

2) “Plenty of Music” by the New York Dolls. In March of my sophomore year, my friend Becky (who will become a household name by the end of this piece) and I attended an in-process screening of what is now Personality Crisis: One Night Only. The documentary followed a performance that musical chameleon David Johansen performed at the Café Carlyle in 2020. There he sang repertoire from his illustrious career—including tracks from his time as the leader of the early glam-punk band, the New York Dolls—as Buster Poindexter, the musical persona he donned years after leaving the Dolls. Becky and I were giddy as we stepped on the subway heading downtown. Would Fran be there? How about Marty? As two nineteen-year-olds infatuated with a New York that must have died sometime in the 80s, this was IT. I remember sitting in the dark theater listening to Johansen’s rich, deep voice as he leaned slightly back, rocking his forearm back and forth to the beat of “Plenty of Music” like a slick hepcat. For me, the song was an ode to a New York I wanted to know. I would experience a thrill each of the many times I heard it over the next few months as I interned on the documentary, and Becky and I would continue to chase the New York that the song represented throughout our college years. Through this chase our friendship bloomed. Days later, Becky and I sat in Arts and Crafts Beer Parlor across from campus when the co-director/editor called to hear our thoughts on the project. Among our other notes, we told him how much we loved that song.

 

3) “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd. We met a few weeks after the Personality Crisis screening and the phone call at Arts and Crafts. With the computer perched on her knees, we watched Muscle Shoals, a documentary about FAME, the renowned recording studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, that put Percy Sledge on the map and produced albums such as the Dire Straits’ Communiqué. We listened as session guitarist and producer Jimmy Johnson described learning about Lynyrd Skynyrd keyboardist Billy Powell’s background as a concert pianist. Powell, then only a “roadie,” had sat down at a piano and banged out what he felt was missing from the song they were rehearsing, a riff that is now the unmissable guitar solo on “Free Bird” in the studio album Pronounced 'Lĕh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd. Eventually, we got distracted, and the computer found itself at the edge of the bed. The next day it rained when we ran down Amsterdam Avenue into the deli on the corner. Standing at the register, a voice behind us called out “put your arms up and freeze.” My heart pounded in my chest, but as I looked up at her face and saw a smile stretch over it, a wave of relief fell over me. The voice belonged to her neighbor, whom I would run into on her stoop in the days to come. In her room, she sat on my hips in her wet clothes, laughing, the computer and the documentary relegated to the edge of the bed. Then her phone rang and after a minute she disentangled herself and continued the call in the adjacent room. Like some odd form of whiplash, panic rose in me, and I ran out of her room, down the stairs of the building, and onto the street to catch my breath. “Free Bird” pounded in my ears as I sprinted up Broadway, an irony that has not been lost on me. While I had been flighty, I felt nothing resembling freedom, only the reminder of how beholden I was to the beam of her attention, one that didn’t belong to me in the first place. You can find a version of “Free Bird” with Powell on piano on the live album One More From The Road. It is nothing short of anthemic. 

 

4) Claiming the fourth spot on my Top Five College Love Songs is a subcategory of three tracks that I have coined Becky’s medley. Indeed, this is cheating.

 

“Helpless” by Neil Young and the Band for The Last Waltz. In 2022, I left Butler Lawns on Bacchanal with two things: a hangover and Covid. Grasping at something with which to structure the interminable hours of our quarantine, Becky and I made a date to watch The Last Waltz on WatchParty. There we sat, each on our computers, grinning at the messages in the sidebar that read: “Rick Danko is definitely the hottest” and “no way The Staple Singers were there.” Frankly the dweebiness is repulsive to think back on. But, on any given subway ride and with an earbud each, I might queue “Helpless,” and Becky will mouth along to Neil Young’s coked-out words: “It is one of the pleasures of my life to be able to be on this stage with these people tonight.” 

 

“You’re Getting Married (Solo Home Demo)” by The Replacements. A month after Bacchanal, Becky became obsessed with a band that was obsessed with Big Star’s Alex Chilton. After a night of listening to album after album on the carpet below the Jimi Hendrix poster in Becky’s dorm room, I too was hooked. There was something furtive and reckless about this band that we couldn’t get enough of. The Replacements have a different sound on nearly all of their albums. In the home demos on the deluxe edition of Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash, that sound is screech, evoking a dingy suburban garage. The song that most captivated us from the album was “You’re Getting Married.” The lyrics are ridiculous and haunting; You’re like a guitar in the hands of some fool who just can’t play, you’re like an inmate counting off the days … Well you say you’ll both be real happy, you forgot to tell your eyes. You’re like a bird in a cage watching a flock fly on by … if you get married, don’t you get, married, oh no. I laugh at how this horribly depressing song became a staple of ours, but I think we loved and maybe even resonated with their youth and delusion and the wonderful sound of our shared obsession.

  

“Here, There and Everywhere” by The Beatles. In November of our junior year, Becky and I found ourselves at the Paley Center for Media listening to director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, Apple Corps’ Jonathan Clyde, and Rolling Stone’s Rob Sheffield speak about the promo films for the singles “Paperback Writer” and “Rain” from the Beatles’ Revolver era as well as the 1969 rooftop concert. Our cheap tickets explained themselves soon enough; we wouldn’t be sitting in the room where the talk was taking place, but in a separate one a few floors above where it would be streamed. If it weren’t for Becky’s fallen face, which made me collapse into laughter when the usher broke the news, I would have been disappointed too. On the subway ride back up from the event, after getting a picture with Lindsay-Hogg (Becky claims we’re not chasing an old New York but old men), we posed the dangerous question that had landed Becky and her brother in heated arguments (What are your Top Five Beatles Songs?). “Here, There and Everywhere,” which my mom had played most mornings driving me to school, made it onto both of our lists.

 

Note to the reader: Becky’s medley could just as easily consist of the Hairspray soundtrack.
 

5) “Enjoy the Silence” by Depeche Mode. Late August between my junior and senior year was just as hot and sticky as can be expected of a summer in the city. Regardless, Mia and I exited our apartment wearing our matching black leather boots and pounded the pavement to Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence”; All I ever wanted, all I ever needed, is here in my arms. Words are very unnecessary; they can only do harm­. These lyrics had been my motto that summer. At the time, they were words of denial that were complicit, perhaps even encouraging, of my unwillingness to accept a situation for what it was. But as we entered our last year of university, Mia and I brought the song with us, to the grocery store, out dancing, to class, and during the walk up to Riverside Church to take our bartending exams. The lyrics became words of trust and mutual appreciation. I could, in fact, not say a word and she would understand. So we keep pounding that pavement, in our boots, to that song.

Illustration by Betel Tadesse

Our Funny Valentine

Are We Dating?

By Madison Hu and Miska Lewis

 

Affirmative 

 

My man stares at me. To his right, a man that is not my man sidles into the frame. Both of their hands are on the back of the chair. Who will win? It’s a quintessential John Jay Sunday staredown. Men used to hunt and fish, now they side-eye each other over sitting in the same dining hall chair. 

 

We win and I am proud of him. I am just so glad my man loves me. He hasn’t said it yet, but I’m sure of it—I’ve seen the signs. 

 

I look around and realize that in my embarrassment over having to ask him for a guest swipe (it’s only February 13th, and I’ve already run out of my Flex 35 Meal Plan swipes), I hadn’t realized that John Jay looks like the Trader Joe’s Valentine’s Day seasonal items section vomited all over it. 

 

Only this year, the decorations do not fill me with dread. 

 

“Just The Way You Are” crackles over the speakers, Bruno Mars’ voice crooning over the crowd of artsy freshmen trying to avoid the football team. Why do all 98 of them eat at the same time? From the rafters, pink and white streamers have started to break, fluttering in the breeze from fans that are trying their hardest to keep us from overheating. They are, alas, unsuccessful. 

 

I feel a bead of sweat trickle down my spine. I flutter my eyelashes at my man, hoping he thinks I look adorably rosy-cheeked. He sits down, knocking his head against hanging glittery hearts that have not been made for any student over 5’4”. Above us, red balloons make the space look like something out of It (2017). 

 

“Is this seat taken?” a girl asks, laden with a puffer, a scarf, two hats, and earmuffs. My man doesn’t look up at her when he says, “Sorry, it is.” I choke—everyone knows this is a John Jay date.  

 

The girl walks away and only I watch her go. Sweet boy, he only has eyes for me. Is he brushing his knees against mine under the table? Flirty in public, I see you, man. I almost reach my fingertips out towards him but hold myself back. We have not labeled things yet, but we love each other; I know it.

 

My man’s mouth is full of lemon butter cod that they’ve somehow dyed pink, but he doesn’t break eye contact once. I pray he’s not allergic to Red 40. Direct eye contact while chewing usually freaks me out, but he must be too in love to bear to look away. His deep brown orbs seem to glow. I picture what he’s seeing when he looks at me. Surely our first couples vacation on an island in the Caribbean, strawberry daiquiris in hand, wading to the swim-up bar. His hair is dripping. He shakes it like Zac Efron after he jumps into the pool to impress red-swimsuit-clad Vanessa Hudgens in High School Musical 2

 

The Columbia Dining employee in a historically accurate Cupid costume shuffles around the corner and interrupts my daydreaming by handing us vanilla ice cream topped with pink goo. My man takes one with glee. I like that he is so fearless, that he knows what he wants. Me.

 

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Illustration by Emma Finklestein

Illustration by Emma Finkelstein

Negative  

 

“This is some good cod …” he says, spewing bits of pink across his plate. Pink sauce almost hits the vanilla ice cream melting inside its clear plastic cup. I break eye contact. His orbs sear into mine, but this was not what I wanted to hear. I gnaw on my Beyond sausage. 

 

“Yeah.”

 

“They always have such good fish here …” I struggle to not roll my eyes. Has he never been to Faculty House?  

 

“I like all the heart decorations …” I try again, gesturing above our heads at the deflating balloons. 

 

He nods again. I die inside. 

 

How can he be so nonchalant? I brush my hair out of my eyes, and he does the same with his brown locks. I’ve heard that mirroring gestures is a sign that someone likes you—that’s the first thing that comes up when you Google “What kind of body language means your man likes you?” This gives me peace. But it is only temporary.

 

“So … tomorrow …” I finally announce, as we get up and head over to grab a helping of red velvet cookies. Our hands brush. Do I feel him pull away as we pass the criminally underrated Action Station? 

 

“What?” He leans in.

 

He’s playing stupid already.

 

“It’s fine.” I concede. If he forgot, then there’s my answer.

 

“Wait, no, I can’t hear you over ‘Starships.’ It’s blaring.” 

 

He has a point. It’s practically rattling my bones. I resist the urge to rap along. Jump in my hoopty, hoopty, hoop, I own that … Nicki never misses.

 

“Every man for themselves,” I announce, as if I am not about to cry. 

 

We split up, and I shovel chickpeas into my plate, suddenly hungry for a second dinner. I balance a bowl of broccoli cheddar soup and almost knock into historically accurate Cupid, whose toga is coming undone. His arrow is dangerously close to impaling the guy who came to dinner in a full suit. 

 

I get back to our table first. A man has sat directly next to us, four pink cods stacked on his plate. 

 

My man gets back, his eyes floating over to the cod. Not me. He excitedly talks to the stranger about the cod. His eyes are filled with more love and adoration than I have ever seen. 

 

“So …” I say, and he snaps back to attention, as if caught in cod infidelity. I take a deep breath and go for it, asking casually, “Whatcha up to tomorrow … I’m feeling so …. ughhhhhhh I just like need cuddles … and a Hallmark movie.”

 

He looks up and to the right, which I heard one time online that it means the person is lying. 

 

“Do you wanna hang out?” he asks.

 

What does this mean? Hang out as friends? As lovers? As dalliances? 

 

“Where?” I blurt before I can play hard to get. There are hearts practically beating out of my eyes. One more word and I’ll look like those toys you squeeze to make their eyes pop out. I’d make a cute frog. 

 

“I don’t know …” 

 

No reservation? No knowledge? No plans? Maybe it’s true, maybe he doesn’t want to be with me, maybe he never was with me in the first place—

 

“Wait, hold on,” he buffers, as if waiting to break my heart.

 

“We’ve been hanging out for three months,” he says, internet theories about the “three month rule” swim in my head, “and I really like you,” my heart ascends, in a scary way, in the way a balloon you really wanted to keep floats out of your grasp. “And I’m sorry for being confusing, but I guess,” I inhale, at least I try to, “I guess I’m just confused.” 

 

He exhales. I don’t. This is our dynamic, isn’t it? He can breathe easy, be so flippant, so pretty, and so in love with everyone and everything that isn’t me— 


“Like. I guess I’ve just been wondering. What are we?”

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