I wrote this for the New York Times college essay contest. The subject was "modern love." Like old people say about soda, cars, or anything else from "their day," "they just don't make 'em like they used to."
I am a commodity, a capitalist lover. On the market’s shelves I fight for a location near eye-level. I try my best to stand out as one worthy of being taken through the check-out line.
This market is a free-for-all where the product is also the buyer. Capitalist lovers shop around to make an exchange––me for you. Lovers also spend time on the shelf, waiting. The longer they wait, the lower their price. My value changes each time someone picks me up, compares the costs, and puts me back on the shelf.
I am a twenty-two-year-old virgin, but if you ask me if I’ve ever loved, I will say yes. My time in the market has been profitable, though I’ve made love out of different materials than most.
Driven towards efficiency the invisible hand guides people together, just as it pulls inefficient pairs apart. Beautiful people find an equitable match, while the not-so-beautiful set a lower standard. I stick to what’s affordable and hope that my daily bargaining is profitable.
Following a long personal recession, I routinely made my way down the market’s aisles making offers. A particular product caught my eye. Beautiful? Check. Personality? Check. Affordable? Not sure. Convenient? No. An hour and a half separated us, but the modern market makes equity and profitability more important than distance. Tariffs on distant exchanges are now minimal. I can import, export, and trade almost anywhere.
After bargaining, we agreed on a down payment and made the trade—me for her. We collected our receipts and I kept the change: a market success.
Our relationship built and the value of our mutual investment appreciated. This raised the cost of each decision. Each error held higher stakes.
My mistakes typically involve words. Uncertainty makes proper communication difficult. Clarity flows through emails and messages but speaking aloud is a different language. Backspace can take years if the letters are audible.
My words filled the room with silence as she gathered her belongings to head home, her frustration apparent. She wasn’t prepared to hear the words “I’m not sure.” After the sound escaped, I wanted to reach out my hand and snatch it from the air. I tried to put the words back in my mouth and gulp them down, down where they couldn’t cause trouble. Unfortunately, my regret travels slower than sound waves.
Her belongings were in the car and we both awaited our temporary goodbye. Afraid of more misspoken words I pulled her in, she slowly rested her head on my chest. Still silent. My fear of speaking aloud subsided as the three most difficult words made their way out of my stubborn mouth. Under these conditions the phrase couldn’t be taken lightly. “I love you.” The uncertainty withdrew and our embrace strengthened. Somehow I could commit to love, but a defined relationship uncomfortably scratched and clawed at me. Definitions always leave me unsettled.
The combination of those fearful words added to our investment, I had disregarded my economic reason. Up until now, my best option has always been some of me for some of you. Low costs with quick profits. Capitalist lovers like me routinely hurry back to the store while there is still time to use our in-store credit. The thought of never stepping back into the market, with no more return receipts or cheap pleasure, is our greatest fear as capitalist lovers.
She got in her car and smiled away our good-bye kiss. Distance took the opportunity and stepped between us. I too made my way across the empty highway, the city lights made a splotchy reflection on my car’s windows and mirrors. With each dotted white line that passed under my tires I felt closer and closer to her. My music slowly faded until it was silenced by hopeful thoughts.
The steering wheel disappeared from my hands and I was no longer surrounded by car doors. The reflection on my windows was replaced by daylight. I was standing upright, removed from the warm leather seat and conditioned air. I looked across at her and smiled as I heard her voice make the vows, “I do.” I replayed the “I love you”s that meant something, with no fear of consequence. I watched from a hospital window as she held our first child. I played in the park with our growing family. I grew old with a slight gut, a raspy voice, and a big smile on my face, my wrinkled hand in hers. We laughed often, until it hurt, side-by-side, grey and old.
I reluctantly found my way back into the leather seat. I noticed my hands still placed around the steering wheel, her wrinkled hands disappeared. The reflected city lights crept their way back across the landscape as the last of the white lines passed under my tires.
In moments like these I gather the available materials and build love out of dreams. I make love out of a simple desire to care for someone else, not out of sexual pleasure. Love is a hope to spend every second with the same person even after a bald head, a raspy voice, and wrinkles get the best of me. But I am a capitalist lover and this definition seems inconsistent with what’s profitable. This definition is inconsistent with the modern market.
Even with an hour and a half between us, we grew much closer. The “I love you”s were more common and my dreams expanded from hopeful thoughts to a communicable version of “ours.” We worked together to build our future empire. We talked hopefully of when we would make vows and promise away our forevers. We flirted with the idea of making this our last trip through the check-out counter, letting our return receipts dissolve into meaningless molecules, dust and ashes.
Somehow, amidst our unfulfilled dreams, the market got the best of us.
After some time the “I love you”s became scarce, and for us their scarcity didn’t make them more valuable. A ghost from her past, a previous buyer, haunted her. Luckily for him he had kept the receipt with her name on it. Dream weaving resorted to problem solving. Our conversations became less hopeful. Eventually she looked at her receipt and realized that her time for exchange hadn’t expired.
I am a capitalist lover, a commodity, and so is she.
She made her way to the market and put me back on the shelf. He showed the cashier his old receipt and reclaimed what was once his.
Back in the market, the view from these weathered shelves is different. As a greedy buyer, expectations frustrate my ability to bargain. I’m now afraid of ghosts from each product’s past. I am careful not to dream of castles and empires, of love, because they crumble so easily. I’m no longer sure what makes love. Now, it’s cheap and easy that I want, relationships without definitions. Now, more than ever, that’s exactly what’s available.
I compete and make offers. Success in this market depends on my ability to fit desired expectations. I have to be like fast-food by offering a filled appetite at a low price. No fear of costly disappointment.
I fight for my place near eye-level. Occasionally I make my way through the check-out counter and collect my profits, some of me for any of you. Each time I’m sure to keep my receipt. I go through lots of somebody’s while certain not to overspend.
Unfortunately, returns on these exchanges are minimal and their satisfaction temporary. They fill my appetite but make me sick. I want something real. I finally remind myself that I am human.
I’m more than a product on a shelf. As a capitalist lover I am subject to a changing market but I am the product and the buyer. The invisible hand may dictate what is equitable, but I choose the means of exchange. I choose what makes love.
I am near eye-level, where I once thought love waited. I am a commodity with revised expectations and it’s me that waits.
As I glance down at my feet, dusty from months left untouched on this market’s shelves, my surroundings become hazy. I notice something beautiful making its way down the market’s aisles. I notice the way her dark hair waves its way down her head. I notice her green eyes. She finds her way to my lonely shelf. I disregard my normal checklist of expectations, built into me by years of bargaining.
Her gentle hands wipes the dust off my feet. She picks me up and ignores my price tag.
She isn’t interested in quick profits. She tells me that I should no longer feel the need to compete. She tells me that she has no standardized expectations. She tells me that my heart is all that matters. I no longer fear ghosts from the past. I no longer feel like a commodity.
The market’s daily fluctuations continue. On our way down the aisle, my hand in hers, I watch people bargain with each other. Products actively seeking buyers. The line for returns is out the door with people trying their best to keep the profits they once collected. Somehow amidst this greedy market I was able to make my way through the check-out counter one more time. Neither of us kept the change and we let the cashier hold our receipts.
I am a capitalist lover, and so is she; but for us the means of exchange––me for her––is a hopeful future that we can call “ours.”