“When he was just twenty-one, Lawrence was already creating in the substance of his life and his vivid accounts of it material for legends about his adventures and exploits, activities which were, in reality, extraordinary.”
—John E. Mack, A Prince of Our Disorder
Lawrence was not religious; nevertheless he had a strong ascetic streak — a penchant for self-denial, even martydom. It served him well on that first trip to the Middle East, as it would later serve him well with Arab fighters in the desert. Lawrence began to learn Arabic and to develop a love for the people and their culture, which his misfortunes and adventures only seemed to strengthen. “I will have such difficulty becoming English again,” Lawrence wrote his mother.
Indeed, he managed to spend most of the years from his graduation to the outbreak of the First World War helping supervise an archeological dig at Carchemish — near the Euphrates — then part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, now near the border between Turkey and Syria. He began wearing Arab dress. It may have been the happiest period of Lawrence’s life. “The foreigners come out here always to teach, whereas they had much better to learn,” Lawrence wrote his family.
Aside from an unexpected and easily rejected proposal of marriage to a longtime friend while in college, there is no evidence that Lawrence had romantic relationships with women. While at Carchemish, he formed a particularly close bond with a handsome, young Arab water boy, whom Lawrence once took along on a visit to Oxford. However, given the reticences of the time, it seems impossible finally to get a clear picture of Lawrence’s romantic life.