The Performance of Love

Outside of certain core classes, people don’t really talk about love at NYU Abu Dhabi. Most of us feel too old for the elaborate bedroom wedding ...

Oct 18, 2014

Outside of certain core classes, people don’t really talk about love at NYU Abu Dhabi. Most of us feel too old for the elaborate bedroom wedding fantasy where we say, “I do” to the stuffed animal of our dreams and too young for the terrifying implications of admitting that we actually want to commit to one of our fellow classmates. Some of us even feel like the idea of love is impoverished by its long history of being portrayed as a relationship between a gallant masculine man and a wholesome feminine woman. We look around at the kind of people that we are attracted to, the kind of people that we want to be and feel alienated by the prospect of playing Rachel McAdams to someone else’s Ryan Gosling. We would prefer to be a bird.
Being “among the most talented [students] in the world”, we recognize that media representations of love have a deep impact on how we view love and fall in love but the deeper question that rarely arises is whether love can exist at all without performance. Not the performances of actors and actresses in films, but the ways that we perform romantic love to those we love. The conventional way to think about actions assumes that they come from intentions. I love you, so I perform a serenade to let you know how I feel. It turns out that a lot of what we do on a daily basis happens the other way around. We perform an action or act in a certain way and, based on feedback, we decide whether we feel like the kind of person who does that sort of thing. This is complicated by the fact that these performances make us feel like we aren’t performing, but just acting naturally.
To put it simply, I’m worried that the reason people feel like they are in love is just because they have been acting like they are in love. Sometimes, especially in a tight-knit community, being in love feels like such a community project that it is about everyone but the person with whom you’re in love. A performer at an Open Mic night announces to the room that their song is for somebody special and then immediately begins to sing it to a room full of people who are not that someone special using lyrics that somebody else wrote about a completely different person. Who is the performer in love with? Is it the person they said they loved or the audience? How can their special, unique feelings be expressed so perfectly by Ed Sheeran, or more recently, Sam Smith? Who are ballads, proposals and weddings meant for? Could two people in isolation from the rest of the world ever fall in love without these community rituals?
Without clear answers to these questions, it seems like the best that we can do is appreciate how elaborate and cute these rituals are and keep our concerns to ourselves.
Benjamin Leb is a contributing writer. Email him at
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