I used to think love was all I wanted out of life. Between the ages of 10 and 17 all I could think about was finding someone who could love me. I thought myself unlovable if I went to a party and wasn’t hit on. I dated people I didn’t even like, just so I could experience being loved. Safe to say, this is NOT a good strategy. I wouldn’t recommend it. 1/10. 

I took A Level Classical Civilisation, and in our first lesson we were asked “What is Love?” I went silent, of course, because I was 16 and had no idea what love was. My teacher’s response came through Sappho, Plato, Seneca and Ovid – my teachers in the art of love were centuries old, and quite a lot of the time, total creeps (not Sappho, though. I will defend her till the day I die). Between Seneca’s condemnation of homosexuality and Ovid’s weird fascination with shoulders and general degradation of women, the Ancients didn’t teach me a whole lot about love. I learnt far more from my first ever real crush: someone in my class who I would later find out spread rumours about me and generally trash-talked me. This was not a great experience, but I found out what unrequited love was. The feeling of loving someone so intensely and receiving absolutely nothing back was, quite frankly, more crushing than my first breakup. Maybe that’s on me for first crushing on someone after my first relationship. Oh well. 

I responded to unrequited love as any emotionally stable, completely rational teenager would: I sought out love from whoever would offer it. I’m ashamed to say that I used to lead men on quite regularly, making them interested in me before ghosting them completely. I realised that I didn’t care about them at all, I just wanted to know that I could attract people if I wanted to. I tied my self-worth to romantic partners, feeling utterly dejected when my love life was at a low point and almost euphoric when someone would hit on me or when there was ‘drama’ in my love life. I made many, many bad decisions, chasing the high of being called ‘pretty’, even though I’d never allow myself to believe it. 

I came to uni, still driven by this need to be wanted. I thought that if I didn’t hook up with at least five people, my freshers week would be a failure. I’d heard so many stories of wild things happening in freshers week, wild romps in libraries and club bathrooms and parks, and I assumed that if these things didn’t happen to me, then there must be something wrong with me. The fundamental issue with this was that I am, and have always been, a little bit boring. I don’t want wild romps in a park – I barely like one-night stands as they are. I think the pressure to have a wild sex life can feel really intense, especially if you have older siblings feeding you their chaotic stories (shoutout to my sister for making mistakes so I don’t have to). 

I found something else entirely in Oxford, something I had come so close to realising when I was 17. It hadn’t quite clicked until this Valentine’s day – my first Valentine’s day as a single woman since I was 14. I thought the fact that I was single on Valentine’s day must mean that I’m unlovable and will never find “the One.” 

Then my friend gave me a rose on Valentine’s Day morning. 

Maybe this is my inner selfish, materialistic self coming through, but that rose gave me so much clarity regarding my entire love life. Until then, I had never considered how important platonic love is. I love my friends, of course I do, and I value them, but I had never previously considered how fulfilling my friendships are. I take stock of my life and I find so much love in it.

I love my friends. Really and truly, more strongly than I’ve ever loved anyone. They are essential to my life. Both home and uni friends have taken on a new importance for me. So what if I’m not dating anyone? The best people in the world chose me to be their friend. How awesome is that? I get to be loved by so many people, and all they ask is that I love them back, and maybe get them a cookie in welfare week. And platonic love isn’t my only realisation of the week. I love my degree. I know that makes me sound like a geek, but it’s true. It might be a love-hate relationship, but I get to spend my days going to pretty libraries and looking at funerary practices from Ancient Greek to Viking societies, or considering the social impacts of Elizabeth I’s Poor Laws. Hell, I got to dress up as Charles II hiding in a tree for the subject dinner last week, and people liked the costume (maybe that means they have terrible taste. I’m certainly not one to judge).

I used to think romantic love was all I wanted out of life. And then I realised that this way of thinking was making me miserable. I was never confident, barely happy, starving for attention. I go back to my childhood hopes and dreams, before I had ever considered the possibility of romantic attraction. My nine-year-old self wanted a friendship group she could love, she wanted to write, and she wanted to go to Oxford University. I have multiple friendship groups, all of whom I absolutely adore and would die for (a fact that never fails to shock me. Like, I have friends? I have people who love and care for me? How did I manage that?) incredible publications like The Oxford Blue are enthusiastic and willing to let me ramble about my inane thoughts, and I’m at Oxford, doing the subject I’ve loved since I picked up my first copy of Horrible Histories. 
It’s taken me 18 years to realise what most people probably had all figured out, but love isn’t the same as romance (baffling, I know. I should be a philosopher). As Billy Mack says in Love Actually, love really is all around me. I’m startled that I couldn’t see that before.