Love at first London — how I spiraled into love for a city

The difficulties of being in a long distance relationship with a place

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I fall in love with places far too easily — it’s a weakness of mine. When people start dating, their imaginations run into ideas of what their wedding, family and lives would be like together. When students graduate college, they begin to see visions of where they want to work and what they want their careers to be. When I visit a new city, I piece together scraps of my observations and create a mirage of a life I want to live. 

Maybe these are all cases of people hopelessly falling in love with their imaginations as a result of feeling stagnant and unsatisfied with their own lives. Or maybe it’s indicative of a feral ambition that propels their lives forward. Either way, as you could probably imagine, studying abroad is dangerous for me for this exact reason — it drives my mind wild with possibilities.

I spent my June studying abroad in London at Regent’s University through the Culture of London: Past and Present summer program. Although you probably already have some guesses as to how this column ends, it is not your average love story.

My first evening in London was spent eating dinner cross-legged on the freshly cut grass of Regent’s Park, right next to Queen Mary’s Gardens — London’s most extensive rose garden housing over 12,000 roses and 400 varieties. With names of rose breeds like “Velvet Fragrance,” “Lovely Lady,” “Thinking of You,” “Deep Secret,” “Remember Me” and “Sexy Rexy,” you’d think that you were reading titles of the top sappiest love songs. In hindsight, it seems serendipitous that my first night was romantically spent amongst the sweet aroma of roses and vibrant beds of color that looked almost unnatural under the soft glow of the setting sun.

The next day, on the very first day of class, Professor Levenson introduced London as “a city where you can feel alone without feeling lonely.” It didn’t take long for me to be convinced. Between conversing with strangers on the tube and listening to the Paddington Band publicly play next to the escalators of Paddington station, I felt my aloneness preserved from the puncture of loneliness.

I thought about it when I went on romantic dates with London — when I stood at the pinnacle of the London Eye 443 feet above the city, when I saw hit plays in Piccadilly Circus for 40 pounds or less and when I strolled through the Tate Britain. I thought about it when I heard the story of a woman widowed from the man who was behind the voice of the Tube, and when she returned to London to ride the Tube to hear his voice again, she was surprised to find a new female voice over the loudspeaker. After asking if the conductor could play the old voice for her again, they did on the specific tube line on which she was riding. Alone but not lonely.

When I was asked in class why I chose to study abroad in London, I said that London was like a person I hear about so often I feel like I know them despite never having met them. I was anxious to meet London and when I did, our personalities clicked. Hampstead’s narrow, winding streets and nooks and crannies where roses somehow bloom out of the cement in between bricks of old buildings show London’s shy, yet intriguing personality. 

Meanwhile, Shoreditch’s Brick Lane where layers of street art cover every corner of every street led me to explore London’s grungy, hipster side. London’s a place where you’ll find a blue dot plastered on buildings at every bend commemorating another scientist, author or artist who lived there — it’s a place where the humanities aren’t looked down upon as an assumption of future unemployment, but is instead respected as an indicator of intelligence and scholarship.

I have fallen in love with far more places than I have with people, yet there is no word in the English language that describes that feeling. There is a German word “sehnsucht,” which is literally translated into English as “seeing addiction,” but means something more closely to a longing, pining, yearning or craving for a place or goal. This is the closest I have come to describing what I feel for London.

A recent study conducted by Rutgers University established that there are three stages to falling in love — lust, attraction and attachment. In my mind, London began as a distant daydream, but soon spiraled into an emotion more intimate than admiration, ultimately luring me into Anglophilia. Sometimes, studying abroad can lead to much more than temporarily studying in a different city — there’s a risk of falling in love, except it’s not a matter of who, but what you fall in love with.

I still feel “sehnsucht” for London. I imagine myself situated in a cramped writing studio one day, sitting at my desk that faces a window, slightly cracked open to let in a cool breeze, overlooking a quiet London side-street. Perhaps there is the self-taught violinist playing somewhere down below, the writer who never “made it” writing poems for pounds or the street artist silently etching miniature portraits in wads of gum stuck to the sidewalk.

Maybe this is my calling to pack my bags and settle in London the day after I graduate from the University. Maybe it’s just a summer spell and means I have to travel to a different city so I can fall in love with somewhere else. College students nowadays are so overwhelmingly focused on finding the right major and career, but the truth is that is only half of the love story — finding the right city is an equally important piece of the intricate, confusing, anxiety-inducing puzzle.

Victoria Laboz is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com

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