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The Dartmouth
April 14, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Wholeness

One writer reflects on learning to love.

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From Plato to the ill-fated romances of 21st-century Dartmouth students, love has always explained our actions and our aches.

I’ve been thinking recently about what it means to love. 

I suppose I’ve been more attuned to it lately, but it seems like all of my discourses are around this eternal question of love. It’s possible that love and sex are all that 20-somethings ever think about, or that I’m currently taking too many classes on Freud, or that not a single one of my conversations passes the Bechdel test.

It’s tough out there. I get it. I constantly hear these stories of the way love lacks. And, perhaps, it’s because I’m surrounded by a bunch of young adults trying to make sense of something as grand as love. For students who grapple with big ideas all day long, what is it about this one that we just can’t seem to understand? 

Perhaps it’s just an inevitability of balancing an inherent desire to be accepted with the chase to be physically and emotionally satisfied. Or it’s the undue pressure that Dartmouth students place on themselves to find the love of their life in Hanover, New Hampshire. I just think that too often we settle for a love that’s less than what we deserve. There are too many stories of love gone unfulfilled — of casual hookups gone unacknowledged in public, or great romances forgone out of a fear of commitment.

In fact, the force of love has endlessly troubled humanity. You’ll find that it’s all we ever talk about — perhaps all that we’ve ever talked about.

We’ve been discussing it since the fourth century B.C., when Plato wrote his “Symposium” to explore the virtue of love through seven different speeches on the topic. Aristophanes delivers the fourth speech, speaking on the origins of soulmates. He begins by praising Eros, the god of love, and lamenting that Eros’ power to give happiness to humankind is greatly underappreciated. He continues by describing ancient humanoid creatures, which were the literal fusion of two individuals, having four sets of limbs and a head with two faces. 

Apparently, they were also quite mischievous; after discovering their conspiracy to storm into Heaven and overthrow the gods, Zeus decided to punish them by cutting them in half to weaken them, threatening to divide them even further if they contemplated treason again. Aristophanes writes that, once separated, each half rushed immediately to one another in longing — intertwining themselves in an effort to become whole again. He concludes that Eros “unites [their] ancient nature,” serving to “make one from two,” and “heal human nature.” Thus was the conception of a soulmate — the notion that we are incomplete without the love of our other half — and the concession that love “is a name for the desire and pursuit of wholeness.”

Could it be that our divine punishment is to constantly be yearning for another? Is this why we’re so obsessed with love? 

We are constantly inundated with commentaries on love. You’ll find it in anything that human beings have felt is worth chronicling — every song, every movie and every story ever written. It’s at the heart of what guides us in all that we say and do.

Although what a terrifying thought that is — that there is a certain kind of bliss only achievable through being with another. And not just any other, but The One. This is the sole individual who completes us in our love and desire — the one with whom our union transcends the limits of our own humanity.

According to Plato, supreme love is attained not through finding someone new, but rather in rediscovering a soul that was once intertwined with your own. These are heavy expectations to place on our own shoulders, and it’s no wonder that we walk around restless, obsessed with these notions of love and fulfillment. Especially in an age in which perfection is glorified, the pressure to find, and flaunt, the perfect person is more pressing than ever before. 

But who is to guarantee that we will ever rediscover our soulmate? I worry sometimes that I will spend the rest of my life having great love affairs, and yet never find that one soul that I’ve spent millenia searching for. It’s an unsettling thing, to feel as though you aren’t living up to your own potential for love; it’s a disquietude within the mind — a small voice, perhaps, that asks what you may be missing. And I wonder if, perhaps in an effort to drown out that voice, we revel in our dysfunctions: latching onto people we know not to be our one true love, engaging in messy — and supposedly meaningless — hookups, and closing ourselves off from emotional intimacy altogether.

Does it make me a hopeless romantic to hope for a love of this kind? I’m sure that there’s much to learn and enjoy in relationships with those who are not our soulmates, but I can only trust that if I ever find the soul that was once indistinguishable from my own, I will know. Perhaps it’ll feel like an ancient awakening, a homecoming of sorts.  

And I wonder if sometimes we aren’t anything more than imperfect humans searching for a perfect kind of love. A love that we deserve, the kind that satiates. The one that makes us whole.