Love Stories

Romance at Harvard

Rebecca J. Margolies

“People would never fall in love if they had not heard love talked about.”

François de La Rochefoucauld’s 17th century words continue to echo on the 21st century campus of Harvard. Here, love remains a timeless, elusive, and much talked-about ideal for young men and women hoping to make a bright future for themselves.

“I believe that romantic love is a social construction of the past few centuries,” says Social Studies Lecturer Bonnie M. Talbert, who taught a freshman seminar this fall about developing notions of romantic love in Western thought. “Romance the way we perceive it today in American culture has certainly not existed in all places in all times, and it also presupposes other concepts about the definition of the individual, marriage, and other ideas that we take for granted.”

And then from the trenches: “On my very first date at Harvard, I was asked out to a dinner and a movie by a guy that I really liked, but I thought it would be a friendly thing at first, not really a ‘date’ date,” says Philip de Sa e Silva ’13. “When the check came and he was offering to pay it, I was like ‘Oh my God—if he pays for it, it means I’m going to take my clothes off later and everything. Retrospectively, I realized that dating doesn’t have to be what you think you’re supposed to do; it’s really what you make of it.”

Indeed, all the talking about love can grow a bit cacophonous. We’ve tried here to cull some voices from the masses, lending some order to the madness.

On a campus where humanities devotees work to decode Montaigne’s writings on love, where science students learn the chemical underpinnings of our romantic tendencies, is there still a place at Harvard for romance—the unmistakably love-struck laptop-lit smile of an industrious Lamonster, that banality of butterflies in the stomach?


A 160-minute drama biopic about the tragic life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart may not be every Harvard student’s film of choice for a first date. Not only is this 1984 movie, also known as “Amadeus,” so long that it comes in a two-disc DVD set, but throughout the film, the melodious strains of Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” and “The Magic Flute” are punctured by the lead character’s eardrum-shattering, flinch-inducing, high-pitched laugh. We can only hope Mozart didn’t really sound like that.

“That laughter definitely dispelled the awkwardness,” Cullen D. McAlpine ’11 remembers as he sits in the Dunster dining hall with his girlfriend, Mackenzie J. Lowry ’11, reminiscing about their first “date” three years ago in Greenough Hall. Through the large window looking out onto the wintry courtyard, one can see students slipping or eating the ground entirely as they try to navigate along icy pathways in Hunter rain boots. “Awkwardness” can be found all over campus—whether in a Greenough dorm room at 10:00 p.m. on a Friday night or on the way to the dining hall at 1:15 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon.

Yet the “awkwardness” does not begin or end with the fact that the two freshmen watched “Amadeus” for two hours and 40 minutes on their first date. Both Lowry, who hails from Iowa, and McAlpine, originally from Alaska, agree that their first date three years ago was also not the smoothest for other reasons. When the two freshmen began the movie, they mistakenly played the second of the two “Amadeus” discs first, remaining in a state of utter confusion for some time. They would have to return to “Disc A” later to fully understand the plot.

Despite the uncomfortable nature of that Mozart-filled night, the two remained close for years and became an official couple in the beginning of their senior year. From the spark in their eyes, it seems their prolonged courtship has made them all the more devoted to one another now.

“Even though we haven’t been in a relationship until this year, Cullen has always been someone very special to me at Harvard,” says Lowry.

Coincidentally, both live in Dunster House. When asked if being in the same house gave rise to their full-blown relationship, McAlpine answers: “It helped things along. It still took three years, though,” he says, pretending to be angry but smiling all the while.

Lowry lets out a laugh as she gazes down at the table and toys with the black plastic thermos in front of her.