Down With “Just” Love
A Thinker’s Defense of Feeling, Emotions, and All Things Angsty
Several years ago I meet this girl online who lives on the opposite side of the country. I’m into her; she’s into me, but we don’t do anything with it because it’s totally impractical and we drift off on our separate ways.
Or rather, she does. I hold onto the idea for a couple years despite never having met in person, totally sold on the gal. I don’t mention her to my friends for the most part, and when I do, I use words like interested rather than infatuated because I’m embarrassed about the whole thing.
My friends discover that interested was maybe an understatement when I later fly across the country to woo her, a move that totally blindsides the girl and surprisingly doesn’t end in a Happily Ever After. Afterwards, I’ll downplay the saga, saying, “I just wanted to give it a shot.”
About a year later, I’m sitting next to a different girl in a bar. She’s facing me, her shoulder against the wall, one leg propped up with her chin resting on her knee. Open body language. Lots of eye contact. I’m on my second drink; she’s on her first. She mentions that she feels like we’ve covered more ground in our four-hour conversation than she did in the entirety of her last relationship.
“We’re just friends,” I’ll tell my friends later, as they question whether or not the evening was a date. It was probably a date, of course, and if it’s even a question it may as well have been one. Labeling it that feels like pressure, though. Once you’re in Date Territory, there’s no turning back. So yeah, we’ll say we were just hanging out.
I’m a pretty pragmatic dude. In fact, I’ve been criticized before for being unemotional, calculating, or cold. I can be somewhat emotionally stingy. That said, I’m here to argue in defense of romance and against minimizing feelings.
The sneakiest way we do it is with words like ‘just.’ It’s a word that downplays. It subtly makes anything smaller, tinier, less significant. A few examples:
- It’s just a conversation. No big deal.
- You just swipe through.
- We’re just friends.
- I just wanted to give it a shot.
- She’s just a girl.
- It’s just casual.
- It’s just fun! It’s chill.
Hm. Is love chill? Is the search for love chill?
Or, is it achingly excruciating? Breathlessly exhilarating? A puffy-eyed, dark-circled, voice-cracking, anxiety-inducing, life-altering, eye-contact-avoiding, not chill journey? I’m not advocating for needlessly over-dramatizing or immaturely self-indulging, and I certainly don’t mean to nit-pick. However, if there is anything upcoming in the next five or six decades of your life that should not be downplayed and is actually a Really Big Deal, it’s the struggle to find and love another human until death. Romance—from the initial search to the final culmination—shouldn’t be minimized with flippant ‘justs.’
We’ve all seen people whose identity gets too wrapped up in relationships, people who are dependent, emotionally immature, or simply overly dramatic. That’s unhealthy for sure, but I wonder if now the pendulum has swung too far the other direction for many of us. People shouldn’t have to justify intensely feeling intense feelings.
Obviously no one is consciously on a campaign to minimize romance. We do it in subtle ways. I’ve found when I present myself with cavalier disinterest or enlightened maturity, I’m usually just hiding inside an emotional fortress to stay safe. By “safe,” I mean actively avoiding the risk of seeming too emotional, too clingy, or too desperate by openly caring a heck of a lot.
Of course, given the right moment, even the most risk-averse of us can transform into an emotional puddle of tears or a dramatic eruption of feelings, complete with 3 a.m. phone calls, lovesick playlists (preferably pop punk), and sleepless nights. Yet, later we’ll simply return back to the fortress and dismiss the emotional saga, labeling ourselves “angsty” and slapping a series of ‘justs’ on everything.
We belittle it all to justify hiding in the fortress. It’s true, you are safer inside. You can get attacked if you’re vulnerable, which is often why we withdrew to the fortress in the first place. We call ourselves, “hardened,” or “jaded,” “thinkers” or “realists,” but really we’re as soft and squishy and feelsy and romantic as anyone else.
Is it possible that people would actually like the real you, though? In fact, is it possible that people would like the flawed, quirky you more than the Super Mature you or the It’s No Big Deal You? Could being a human actually make you more endearing?
I’d like to see fewer apologies for getting ‘angsty,’ fewer ‘justs,’ and fewer cavalier shrugs at rejection. Give me the frustration and anxiety and gut-wrenching moment when you admit you care. Confess that you’re afraid to die alone and that you’re losing hope searching even though you’re only twenty-two. Embrace the emotion and feeling and mid-2000s pop punk. I want to see the real you, not the shiny, plastic, TV-ready you.
When you’re unashamedly yourself — complete with flaws and talents and quirks and insecurities and overly-emotional reactions—it frees me to be myself. Good luck. I’m rooting for us.