One of the things that my friends and family (save for a precious few — and you know who you are ♥!) never fail to ask me whenever we meet after a considerably long period is:
How’s your love life?
Or to be more blunt —
May boyfriend ka na? (Do you [already] have a boyfriend?)
It’s a cultural thing, and so Filipinos generally take this humorously and candidly. This is usually asked by doting titas (aunties) and curious amigas (girl friends) because there truly are few things that are so fascinating than l’amour, amirite?
I struggled a little in how to tackle this prompt of “catching up over coffee”, until I remembered a staple favorite in terms of the informal Catching Up Agenda. I used to roll my eyes over the question and I would subtly veer the conversation elsewhere. For instance: “Oh, a boyfriend? My cat’s expecting kittens!” — I mean, if you’re my friend, you have to like kittens. But now I’ve learned to take it in stride and be humorous about it. Read: “I don’t have a boyfriend right now, but my cat just gave birth to a litter of kittens — would you like one?”
Kittens aside, this is an aspect of my life that has completely changed in the past two years, and I think it’s worth sharing, especially if you’re the type who’s always hounded by friends and relatives about your singleness. Lately, I have come to a kind of exchange where I no longer try to volley the question back and put a premature end to what could be a fruitful discussion. Besides, so long as the person I’m talking to isn’t giving me alien cavities from saccharine lovey-dovey details, or judging me over my relationship status, I know I can learn a thing or two from the romantic facet of relationships.
See, I used to be a bitter little thing. I grew up with princesses bagging their princes without fail, after all — with princesses finding their validation in their princes. Figuratively, I tried being how I imagined princesses should be: pretty, talented, and intelligent. I wasn’t interested in waiting for my prince, however, and I decided to hunt them down instead.
Even in my elementary school years, I never hesitated to let my crush on someone be known. I knew that my “friends” back then would never keep a secret, but I let them know nonetheless. Once the secret made its way down the grapevine, the entire school bus will know, and the teasing will commence. I didn’t mind being teased — I actually liked the attention; but I also got a kick out of seeing the guy uncomfortable in his suspended disbelief, a behavior that evolved to something more… entertaining when they knew that they were being watched or admired.
Obviously, they didn’t return my affections. Little boys are threatened by anyone who can out-read, out-smart, and out-… talent them.
Then living abroad happened: I grew insecurities because I was surrounded by people whom I felt to be prettier, richer, smarter, and more talented than I am. I had a reality check that my perceived excellence was actually mediocrity, and I held myself to a standard I didn’t want to admit I couldn’t reach. I am only thankful for my strong friends and supportive teachers I had at that time, because otherwise, I would’ve wallowed in self-hatred, instead of coming out stronger and battle-hardened.
So in terms of “romantic interests”, high school saw me a different lady. I emulated my strictest teachers. I had the arrogant mentality that no one deserved my attention – and if I do grace you with my attention (in the sense that you were a guy I had a crush on), you had better appreciate it. In hindsight, I didn’t want their reciprocity. I actually reveled in having multiple crushes, and what a scandal it caused among my peers! Again, it was all for attention, all for vanity. It was just like elementary school days – except more amplified, and meaner.
College came along and I had my first boyfriend. I don’t say this with any kind of pride, but I agreed to a relationship because I decided to ride on my ~emotions~. I thought that maybe, I could let go of my Iron Lady persona for a bit, and just be a Princess wooed by a Prince; that maybe, I could actually fall in love. A part of me was also impressed that someone wasn’t flustered by my outer shell, and I thought that it was an improvement from the lemur-like attitude I saw in elementary school and high school.
Thing is, I didn’t love him as much as he loved me. I did whatever I could to see if I could fall in love, if I could feel that thing that love songs and fairy tales described. I only came out dissatisfied, and burdened with the belief that maybe, I wasn’t capable of loving someone else, after all.
It was a liberating thought. From Iron Lady, I made myself out to be an Ivory Tower… or Barad-dûr. I was to be admired, but feared; desired, but unloved; sought after, but distant. Whatever I had going worked for me. No lovey-dovey thing came between me and my fandom, work, studies, and family. Whatever relationship I entertained at that time only fulfilled momentary cravings, and I did my best to be cold and unattached.
Thing is, it was a lie I convinced myself to be true – each encounter had the other person breaking my walls, and I was left scrambling to rebuild what was broken, and to build more and more layers. I was so concerned in doing improvements that I failed to polish what needed to be rebuilt, much more actually repair them. It made for a shaky, and vulnerable structure.
2012 came along, and instead of an “upgrade”, I felt that I had everything figured out. I might not be Barad-dûr, but I was still an Ivory Tower. Whenever the topic of boyfriends came up, I addressed it flippantly. A former colleague enjoys echoing back what I said: “I just stick to crushes, because once I have them in my grasp, once the chase is over, I don’t know what to do with them!” I developed a network online, and I enjoyed fawning over my crush du jour with them, in the same manner I fawned over cute fictional characters and the latest hot shade of red lipstick.
With the exception of my family and a precious few friends, this attitude bled into my other relationships – facetious, utilitarian, civil, and uncommitted.
The update part of this?
In 2013, things started to change. Just when I thought that I was getting into another facetious, utilitarian, civil, and uncommitted relationship, the opposite — what I thought to be impossible — happened. I can already hear the groans and see the eye-rolls from some but bear with me:
I met Someone, and His name is Jesus. I thought I knew Him already — through painstaking traditions, stained glass windows, and disposable missalettes. I found that He is Someone I can reach, and that through all this time, He had just been reaching out for me.
I will be a work in progress until the day I die, but if there’s anything that is changing, I can say that I am able to love again — not the romantic, for-movies kind of love, but the one described in John 15:13 —
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
I thought I would do well falling in love with “love”, or that I could simply withdraw into isolation; but I was made to connect, to make friends, and to love. The verse above surely means dying for someone you love; but “laying your life down” also means spending time with them, engaging with them, opening your heart to them.
The risk of getting hurt is there — people are people, after all; but when I’ve got Jesus in my life. He has been grossly hurt and insulted too, and yet He loves. I am loved by an infinite God who stands well beyond my limitations and yet resides in my heart. I will be okay. In fact, no matter my season, I will be golden! I may hurt, but I will heal, and I will overcome.
One of my prayers go, “Teach me, Lord, how to love like a friend — how You define a ‘friend’.” If I continue using my utilitarian lenses, I find that I am the only one getting hurt. But if I look at people with the love God looks at me, I realize that they have hurts, too — they have joys, principles, beliefs, and a desire to be loved that can be obvious or so very hidden.
This is where I am, now. I am learning how to love, with Jesus as my guide and model.
… and to answer the second question: No, but I am quite open to what God has in His plans for me; and since my way worked sooooo weeelll (not), I’m up to doing things His way.
And here’s a song because I can. 😛
This was my initial draft as a response to a prompt (Day 11) from last November’s Writing 101:
Update your readers over a cup of coffee.
— and this also marks my first post of 2016! Yay :D!