I started the manila folder dubbed “The Love File,” a record of my search for romance, at a major inflection point in my life. The idea struck me in the weeks after I graduated from Princeton and moved to Brooklyn in June 1980. I read an article in New York magazine, “A First Avenue Romance,” about the adventures of 20-somethings Barry and Debbie in the New York singles scene. The article whispered about the potential of my new urban life after affection-deprived college years. I thought, “I’ve got to hang on to this for future reference.”
For eight years, the Love File swelled with articles, letters and pictures related to my quest for connection. Meandering through its pages, I feel like an emotional archaeologist. Every scrap of material hints at my hopes and anxieties. The files include articles that rocked nervous singles of the mid-80s, such as the notorious Newsweek “Marriage Crunch” cover article from June 1986 warning that college-educated women “still single at the age of 35 have only a 5 percent chance of ever getting married.”
What quirk spurred me to start the Love File? I’ve stored away items with emotional weight since I was a kid – letters, pictures, articles I wrote as a journalist. It had a precedent – in 1973 I started a literary folder called "Projects, et. al." to hold poems like "Junkie's Lament," "A Watergate Trilogy" and "Faded Ponies on a Merry-Go-Round." Short stories included "Our Trip to the Mortuary," about an imagined grade-school field trip, and its delightful sequel, "Our Trip to Reynosa," about a sleazy town on the south side of the Texas-Mexico border.
Some content makes it an ur-Love File, with melancholy teenage poems like "Just Friends" and this note from November 1972. Probably stuck in my locker at Mission High School, it sounds remarkably like emails I would linger over 35 years later:
"Van, it is late! I am just thinking about your call. I want you to understand that I have nothing against you and I would have gone to Homecoming. But understand a girl needs time to get ready and make plans. Believe me, Van, I'd love going with you but – but; I don't know how to put it. Van please excuse my writing as well as this letter, I mean I don't have a way with words! OK! If you would have asked me a week before I would have gone with you. I like you as a friend Van. I want you to understand that! I think you're swell. I really dig you. And I hope you and I can become best friends. Also understand that I have a crush on [name omitted] and I can't help that. But I really do like you. Van I hope that you and I can become pals and whenever you have a problem I am here to help! I hope this goes the same for me! Thanks for asking me!"
The Love File extended my organizing mindset to a specific topic. Maybe the Love File reflects my highly literal mindset; if part of my life exists in a tangible, printed form, then it really did happen. The quip of late New York Times columnist James Reston describes me perfectly: “How do I know what I think until I read what I write?” I never did trust my memory, hence my reliance on a camera, a journal, a letter to capture the light of an incandescent moment of high feeling. I don’t want to die having forgotten my memories; rather, I want them to surround and wash over me and testify that, yes, I did all that.