Us: Americans Talk About Love
One simple question: Whom did you love most?
Whatever form love takes, it is always fascinating to dissect. Alongside death, love is surely the most obsessed-over subject in the history of literature and poetry.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
In his new anthology, Us: Americans Talk About Love, editor John Bowe takes the pulse of American experiences of love won and lost – from teenagers to octogenarians, and across the socioeconomic and geographic spectra. Unlike the typical anthology filled with essays by familiar authors, “Us” offers love stories by nonliterary types, told in their own voices.
In the book’s preface, Bowe writes that this oral history “aims as an ensemble to do justice to the array of voices in our country, celebrating their earnestness, openness, optimism, vulgarity, humor, religiosity, sexuality, and generosity.” He began each interview with the same simple question: “Please tell me about the person whom you have loved the most.” The responses he elicited are rich and varied and startling.
Although Bowe claims to have no special expertise on the subject, he’s quite articulate in describing love’s endlessly surprising nature: “At the heart of the compact between two lovers is mystery code that, for anyone else, reads as kabbala-like, indecipherable gibberish. And yet, for the lovers, it’s transformative, life-affirming, redeeming. It could well be a ghost. It doesn’t matter a bit.”
Love can begin with a mutual spark at first sight. Or, as in the case of 36-year-old New Yorker Jordan Perl, it can be a meandering, confusing road. He recounts his undergraduate years at Yale, when he was fixated on a close friend, Rebecca, who obdurately refused to move their relationship into romantic territory. (She also had a number of other avid suitors.) He persisted; she ultimately realized her feelings for him, and they have been married for 12 years. “[T]he fact that it took so long might be the reason why we ended up together,” he says. “It’s really been the key to our long-term happiness.”
Jack Babineaux of Louisiana has a rather Forrest Gump-like perspective on love, seeing it as “two people each reaching for the French fries at the bottom of the McDonald’s bag … one of them is going to let the other one have it. That’s love.”
San Antonio teenager Celia Menendez shares her hilariously succinct take on a former boyfriend: “I guess the best way to describe us is like Crystal Pepsi. Like, we were this really, really great idea. And then it didn’t really work out.”