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Modern Love

This one time in college, I made a stab at writing a Modern Love piece for the New York Times. I think they were having a college and technology competition or something--I do not 100% remember. Anyway, they (very rightfully) rejected my piece, and now that I am a bit older (yet still slightly embarrassed by the fact that I ever wrote this), I have decided to share it with my non-existent readership. 
Is this a shameless plug for more page hits? I lie to myself and pretend I am above such things, but let us see how this experiment goes.

I used to like this boy so much that I knew the exact date he changed his Facebook privacy settings. My disclaimer is I only knew this because upon being denied access to parts of his page, I sent my friend a message written entirely in capslock, which I later discovered Facebook had saved. Deprived of the ability to analyze the semantics of every post a double x-chromosomed harlot had left on his Wall, my message may have had “WOE” as the subject line.

Never mind that my own Facebook settings were as private as possible; my obsessive tendencies at that point were rendered even more pathetic by the mere fact that after three months of distant infatuation, this boy and I had yet to meet.

It began on a November afternoon. I was taking organic chemistry at the time—although it was more like organic!panic all the time—and had resigned myself to a semester of solitary confinement in the bowels of the library. I would sit with a Tupperware container full of names of reaction mechanisms printed on small slips of paper on the weeks leading up to the second midterm, looking miserably out at a courtyard where a lone tree stood, unwavering, surrounded by gravel.

Back then I used to take over the table under a heating vent in the second row of a rare sunny nook. The second row detail is particularly important; I could never sit in the first row in fear of getting distracted by my reflection in the window. In those sleep-deprived, makeup-less days, I looked like a contestant on Beauty and the Geek, yet of the two types of contestants on that show, I unfortunately was not in the running for Beauty.

People would come and go from the nook; however, I was usually the first to arrive and the last to leave. Engrossed in the pop vocals of Taylor Swift as I toiled away at memorizing my mechanisms, I once was asked to turn down the volume on my iPod because “Love Story,” embarrassingly enough, was leaking out of my headphones.

So it is unsurprising that I did not notice him—Library Boy, we shall call him—at first. The easiest excuse is that I was simply too pre-med to care about anything without a visible carbon-carbon double bond around me. But as I would spend upwards of ten hours a day in the nook with my textbook and Tupperware, the routine appearance of this tall boy sitting in the far corner hunched over a book did not evade me forever. Especially as he often outlasted me for the unofficial title of Last One in the Nook—or as I sometimes liked to think of it, Most Hardcore.

He wasn’t terrible-looking, but what intrigued me at first was his unwavering attention to his studies. What exactly was he studying for hours at a time? I didn’t see a yellow organic chemistry textbook, so I could only hypothesize about what he was reading. Engineering, perhaps? And of course I wondered: did his back not begin to hurt after spending entire days hunched like that? Filled with questions about my kindred library-bound spirit, the obsession slowly began.

Courtship in the twenty-first century is strange because none of these modern technological aids are of any use when it comes to face-to-face communication. I managed to find out Library Boy’s name, which led to a Facebook and inconclusive Google search, but for all I knew about his favorite books, movies and interests (“basketball and soccer”), the fact remained that I did not actually know Library Boy at all. What did his voice sound like? Was he listening to Jack’s Mannequin as he claimed to like on his Facebook profile or was he also jamming to the dulcet tones of “You Belong with Me”? And even though he did belong with me, had he heard Taylor Swift leaking out my headphones? I would pull my ear buds out every three minutes just to check if I had any chance at feigning street cred.

I began going to the library on non-exam weeks just to be in his presence, but contact was always minimal. He would look up when I would stride by, upwards of three times an hour, to toss blank sheets of paper into the trashcan by him, vainly hoping that he would one day notice me. And while he probably was aware of my existence, it was most likely more as that annoying girl who couldn’t sit still than as a viable romantic interest.

Meanwhile, I became more and more infatuated as I delved deeper into his Facebook profile. It didn’t matter that we shared almost no interests and our book and movie tastes were as different as different can be—he liked “The Matrix,” I like “The Royal Tenenbaums”—I was convinced we were destined to be together. He had attended an all-boys high school, which I assumed would be comparable to my estrogen-laden girls’ boarding school experience. We were both fated to be awkward around the opposite sex, how great! We could attend our twenty-fifth reunions together and then brainwash our children with phrases like, “the joy of a single-sex education.”

But while Facebook and other forms of social media made it easy for me to gain information about my crush, at what point does “gaining information” turn into stalking? We throw around the phrase “Facebook stalk” jokingly, but is all that information-gathering and hours spent poring over “Profile pictures” albums just paving the way for greater heartbreak? Would Library Boy turn out to be less-than-perfect in reality?

I reached an impasse. I needed to befriend Library Boy in person, to discern for myself if his voice was girlishly high-pitched or if he possessed a deep tenor, but how would I make this happen? I had clued my friends in to my crush but had forbidden mutual friends from introducing us, fearing that they would let details of my neurotic Facebook-creeping slip.

“He’s really nice,” some of them told me. “He’s kind of a bro,” others said. I looked up the Urban Dictionary definition of “bro” that evening and Google-searched the rules of beer pong, determined to make our non-existent relationship work.

It was around that time that he changed his Facebook settings, and I fell further into a pit of despair. It seemed our first conversation would never happen. After all, what would I even say to him? “Hey, I’ve been stalking you in the library for months now”? Lame, pathetic, and slightly scary. And his Facebook privatization added another level of complications. Once we actually met, who would Facebook friend whom?

Winter break came and went, and I had little excuse to be in the library for hours on end anymore. The notorious “real world” started to infiltrate my friend circle as we frantically applied for summer internships. Instead of twenty-somethings, we joked that we were twenty-nothings, adding the seeming bleakness of our future to the nomenclature of our age group. “fUNemployment” an imminent reality, taking surreptitious iPhone photos of Library Boy in the dining hall was moved to the back burner of our collective minds.

Another semester passed, the campus market ran out of Red Bulls by the first day of reading period once again, and I could count the number of times I saw Library Boy on one hand. He would turn his head in my direction the paltry few instances we managed to cross paths, and I would hum The La’s “There She Goes” in my head, knowing that I would have to keep going because I would probably never be brave enough to ask him out or even approach him, and slowly I began to convince myself that my infatuation was tragically one-sided anyway.

Occasionally my friends and I would discuss love interests and our “plans” to ensnare the affections of a cute co-ed. In addition to our bachelor’s, we could also graduate with the MRS degrees our mothers had joked about. I would listen to my friends and laugh at the ludicrousness of it all, but privately think that Library Boy and I had dwindled from a three-year plan to a two-year plan to a 1.5-year plan, until all that could possibly be left for us was the ill-reputed “Senior Scramble.” Instead of creating everlasting love, it seemed, at best, that we were destined to “hit it and quit it.”

I like Taylor Swift (ironically, I tell my friends) and have a deep appreciation for the sarcastic Gchat retort, but because I have made a conscious effort to develop a cynical façade, often evading companionship in favor of solitary confinement, I wonder if I will ever be capable of expressing sincere emotion to an actual person, face-to-face. The Library Boy Saga abruptly went on hiatus months ago when I heard he was in a relationship. Since this was around the same time I was grappling with my decision to give up being pre-med, I was so overwhelmed that I cut my hair as per what basically every 90’s romantic comedy protagonist has taught me to do in the face of major life changes. And looking like a twelve year-old boy, the next day I deactivated my Facebook account.
Shara4 Comments