Editors are always looking for ways to tie ideas into the larger themes that sweep through our lives. It’s not so much an impulse now as it is a habit: How can I add to the conversations? In the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day, I was thinking about love a lot. I think about love every single day, but as I thought of the holiday, my thoughts darkened. I hate Valentine’s Day and this year proved no exception. Instead of stopping there I began to prod deeper, what lurked under my disdain? In excavating that feeling I realized I dislike Valentine’s Day for the way it portrays love; for the way the holiday presumes a peaceful, prudent and cheerful portrait of monogamous bliss. That has not been my experience with the force that we call love.
So instead, I decided to curate a series of essays that more accurately reflected my experience with love. I wanted to call the series Unlove Me, partially to convey an opposition toward hackeneyed portrayals of the subject, partially because the heart of my own essay’s struggle was seeking to give up love, and partially because it’s the title of a devastating, beautiful Julie Roberts song I’ve (un)loved for years. We ran five essays last week in the series, and I think they contain some of the most brilliant personal writing I’ve had the privilege of publishing. Moreso, the series elicited a response from readers that floored me. Turns out, many of us don’t connect to the oblivious contentment this holiday presumes. Below I’ve excerpted my favorite paragraph from each essay and linked back to the full piece. I love the way these essays darken the topic of love a bit. What is darkness for if not to make the light around it seem brighter?
Maris Kreizman: I Found Love Because I Got Lucky, Not Because I Changed Myself
“First, I’d like to say fuck off to everyone who constantly told me to “put yourself out there!” I mourn for all of the books I could’ve read, for all of the TV I missed, simply because I was so determined to be out every night, socializing and meeting people. Yes, being around other humans is a great first step in trying to find a mate, but still, the pressure I felt to be constantly out and about could make a sometimes-introvert feel guilty for scheduling some much needed recovery time. I’d have a full-blown panic attack if a Friday night came around and I didn’t have plans, so then I’d be sitting on my couch chugging wine and frantically swiping through Tinder when I could’ve been relaxing and reading a significant portion of the modern canon all while keeping up with the Kardashians.”
Caitlin White: Love Is A Weed
“I grew fond of it in a new, distant way. I learned that you can love someone but not respect them; you can love someone, and not want to be near them; you can love the parts of them that may never surface again. Some love won’t be melted down and recast, some love insists on existing in its original condition, useless or outdated though it may be. Love like an antique; useless, but still beautiful, and still worth something. I learned too, that love doesn’t always get in the way of other love. They can fall in line, tucking like feathers in a peacock’s tail, increasing in splendor and fanning out wider than seems possible, as if to impress one another. So I fell in love with someone else, too. The loves did not displace one another.”
Charlotte Shane: Too Big Not To Fail
“I still loved Max, but I was practicing what it would be like to no longer have this love. When philosopher Gillian Rose wrote, “There is no democracy in any love relation: only mercy,” she was pointing to the truth that mercy is not only bestowed but withheld. I wanted to be ready for the mercy to leave me, so it would hurt less. So that it would leave less of a scar.”
James Rettig: All My Ex-Boyfriends Are TV Shows
“The few notable relationships I’ve had have been short and painless, largely fizzled out over time due a perceived mutual disinterest. Looking back on those failed connections, I wonder how much of it was on my end. Has TV always taught me to race towards the conclusion of things? My mind tends to run in circles, tossing and turning and playing out every logical conclusion. A date turns into a boyfriend turns into a marriage turns into a divorce. All those neural pathways firing up–I’m binging on the possibilities of my life before I even get the chance to experience it for myself. I’m bored of it before anything even began.”
Sam Escobar: Bending Backwards Into You
“This went on for months, each visit feeling like a breath — or maybe a gasp — and increasingly, a polluted one. I fantasized about not picking up the phone, not answering the door, meeting someone new — but starting over is so exhausting. So we make the pieces fit as best we can, even if the pieces are unwilling. Indeed, it is more trouble to buy a new book than to simply cope with a beloved copy, full of earmarked and highlights and notes in the margins. As long as it’s legible, it is worth keeping, we tell ourselves. And I kept you, or tried, as I watched you wonder whether you should hang onto me.”