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Monday, Apr 22, 2024

What is love (at Middlebury)?

<span class="photocreditinline"><a href="">SARAH FAGAN</a></span>

The more I reflect on my four years at Middlebury, the more I am overwhelmed by how much love I felt for my friends and how loved by them I felt in return. In honor of this week’s Love Issue, I reached out to a few senior friends and asked them to answer a couple questions: how they defined love at Middlebury, if there was anything they wish they had realized sooner or done differently with regard to love during college, and when they felt most loved at Middlebury. 

When I reflect on those questions,  I always gravitate towards two moments. The first was during the last week of my junior fall, when I was living in Palmer. One night, my friends congregated in the suite across the hall from ours, about 15 people were seated around the room in a loose circle, on the floor, on top of desks and on chairs we had crammed into the suite. One friend, splayed on one of the room’s two twin beds and with a beer in his hand, was receiving a stick-and-poke on the back of his calf. Conversation zipped by and around me as I sat on a lofted bed, next to a best friend and a more-than-a-friend. I felt like I was being held in place by the threads that wove around the room, in between people, across my lap and through my two shoulders. It was quintessentially, even obscenely college-esque; still, it remains one of the best nights from the last four years.

The second moment that comes to mind is from the last week of my senior year. On Wednesday, the day following the announcement of our untimely departure from campus, my friends and I rallied for a 4 p.m. Mad Taco salute. Over margaritas and overpriced but decent Mexican food, my six closest friends and I tried to come to terms with what it meant to say goodbye to Middlebury, well before any of us felt ready to leave it behind. When I asked everyone to remember when at Midd they had laughed the hardest, we were left in hysterics remembering all of the famous and infamous moments of pure, belly-shaking, tear-inducing laughter we’d had over the years. Someone once observed that my friends and I are always laughing; until then, though, I never realized just how apt that description was. Right then, as we felt our collective chapter at Middlebury closing, I felt unmistakably, completely loved. That moment with my friends is one of hundreds that I can think of where I felt completely loved, but this one just happens to be my favorite memory of a chapter closing.

If nothing else, college helped me understand how I love. I guess that is how I define love at Middlebury: putting aside your time and stress to take a moment to care for someone else, whether that is making them a cookie, or just taking the time to be quiet and present together. In my experience, I have felt the most love in quiet, routine moments: mornings in bed with someone, homework in the library, rambunctious lunches in Atwater and prolonged dinners on the Proctor terrace. I wish I had realized sooner that these small moments of love would be what I would carry with me after I left Middlebury, but I am so grateful to always carry them with me.

Without further ado, here is how people responded to my prompts. When asked how they define love at Midd, they answered:

For me, love at Middlebury is defined by my incredibly kind, smart, funny, thoughtful, perceptive closest friends who, after four years, are like an extension of myself. I wish everyone at Midd the same deep-rooted, immutable happiness of knowing, beyond all doubt, that you’ve found your people. I still can’t really believe that we all ended up here together— what are the odds? That infamous Middlebury statistic proved true for me: here, I found my soulmates

I define love at Middlebury the same way I define it everywhere: an intangible sentiment that draws us to people indefinitely in both romantic and platonic contexts. 

A meaningful and fulfilling connection between two people that allows each individual to bring out the best in themselves. In essence, love is when two (or potentially more) people come together and are more than just the sum of their parts. I would actually say in my time at Middlebury I have more often come to love someone or some group in a non-romantic way than in a platonic way. 

When asked what they wished they had done differently or realized sooner, they answered:

At several points, I remember saying to friends, “There’s just no one left here that I’d be interested in dating.” Of course, that never turned out to be true, and a week or two later I’d meet someone great who I never knew existed. I wish I had had more faith in the dating pool at Middlebury. It’s a cliche, but when it feels like you’ve exhausted your options, do try to keep an open mind— you truly never know who you’ll hit it off with. 

I was single for a lot of Middlebury and for some reason I always felt this kind of guilt. I knew hookup culture wasn't ideal, but I always felt bad for getting into brief one-to-two month relationships, only to bail out before it got really serious. Now that I'm really happy in a relationship, I see how stupid that mentality was; unless things really feel right, its pointless to feel guilty about not wanting to commit to something, as long as you communicate with the "other" partners ahead of time. 

I wish I hadn't felt so rushed to find a long-term romantic partner. This had little to do with Middlebury itself, but I came into college on the back of a long-term relationship, and the only kind of relationship I was interested in was one where I could fill that deep void I had for a very close romantic partner. I think I missed a lot of the growth and learning associated with more casual dating and romantic encounters, and I wish looking back I hadn't been so concerned with something you ultimately cannot force. It either happens or it doesn't, and I shouldn't have been so caught up in it all.

When asked about when they felt the most loved at Middlebury, they responded:

One friend would make me soup whenever she noticed I was sad. There is no sadness that cannot be eased (at least in part) by a cup of hot, homemade soup. 

I think it was after I went to Nationals this senior year, and all my friends were hitting me with a slew of supporting messages, asking me how it went. It showed me how much they care and it hit me in a really special place.

The moment I felt most loved at Middlebury, though there have been many other instances where I've felt loved as well, was on a day of no particular importance. I had been feeling a bit down on my luck for a variety of reasons, and I had gotten through the week just putting my head down, not saying anything to anyone else, and keeping all that sadness to myself. I didn't think anyone would really notice, but that Friday morning when I walked into the dining hall, someone had thought to bake me a batch of cookies because they thought it would be a pleasant surprise and make me happy. I highly doubt they knew I was having a rough week, but the reminder that there are people out there, and especially my friends, who do genuinely care about me, changed my entire week. Sometimes it's the smallest acts of kindness that go the farthest. I still have the ribbon that tied that bag of cookies shut to this day.