I am twenty-two and I have… never been in love.
In fact, in all honesty – apart from the guy I’d briefly met and was sort of interested in last summer, I can’t remember the last time I’d ever actually really like someone. You know, in that heart-thumping whatever ways? Which is really pretty funny if you think about it, though unsurprising. Although (my) society at large is sometimes culturally constricting, in my immediate bubble, I grew up with a highly, fiercely independent woman as my mother, progressive thinkers for sisters and attended a very diverse and dynamic all-girls high school, one in particular which provided and encouraged me to not only grow into my own person, but also constantly challenged me to think and act upon my role as a female in a male-driven society.
I hate generalizing and thus, I don’t want to paint a picture of Malaysia as a backward society because I don’t at all believe that it is so, but I will agree that it is still largely very Asian in terms of context, perception and what can be done in public versus what really goes on behind doors. Conservative, I suppose, is the word that while independent women are aplenty, unlike in Western countries where sass is welcomed, in the Asian context this is still typically met with glares, stares, whispers or delight. Whatever the response, there will be some sort of reaction, though not necessarily unpleasant.
So in that manner, I’m definitely unconventional – much too aggressive, too talkative, too opinionated and extremely driven, ambitious almost to a fault. Due to the environment I grew up in, I developed a huge ego early on, I’ll admit now and refused to ever be second best, what more in terms of male-to-female. For so many years, my younger self had always viewed relationships as one in which the girl would lose out – by choice, in the name of love! I hated that with such ferocity. For that reason, while my peers sometimes talked about boys, the dating scene and such in high school – I cared nothing about these issues. Sure, they lingered and yes, I did entertain the thought, but unlike many of my friends, from the get-go, I had A Lifelong Dream and my younger self was obsessed in trying to realize it. It didn’t help that I have such a large family – 3 elder sisters and 3 elder brothers – and lots of family drama that I thought very little of boys, guys, men in general. They never impressed me and I’d never let myself be taken by them, either.
I’ve gone on for many years in this manner, developing a strong sense of self and hating so much, girls my age who would talk about knights in shining armor and especially those who would consciously try to build a life and future around these nameless, faceless figures who may or may not appear. In addition, Real Life taught my younger self that even the best of men are weak and love alone, despite how strong the sentiment, is insufficient; I’d learned this the hard way through observation of my parents’ fractured relationship and grew up largely cynical, though mostly just scarred.
It also didn’t help that for many years Eldest Sis, my voice of reason and soul-sister, who ironically always had her longtime boyfriend of 10 years by her side then, would always remind me, “Don’t get into relationships until you’re certain of who you are. It’s crucial you understand that the definition of who you are isn’t based upon another person and his presence in your life, but wholly because you are who you choose to be. Grow into your own person first, then seek the other.”
Looking back, I now understand that she was speaking from personal experience, having been with him since they were 16 (though she’s now happily married to someone else) but for so many years, my younger self rebelled, refusing to understand. “Easy for you to say,” I would internally retort back, “You’ve always had him by your side.”
Then last summer took place and I realized, with so much gravity, exactly what she meant, and why.
I’d met him very briefly, because I was in a tight fix and needed rides to work for a few days. He did his undergraduate education in New Zealand, where he had of course, gotten to know my brother. Eldest Bro and him, according to stories I used to hear about him, were cycling buddies. Knowing that I was in a fix and that I’m generally unabashed about asking for favors, Eldest Bro had directed me to him because he happened to be in the same town I was at then, though briefly. Without much thought, I called him and asked for a favor, strangers that we were. He lived across town – that godforsaken small town I relocated to for two months for my internship, which I initially hated… but now love with such ferocity – but had kindly agreed, without even flinching, to provide me the rides required. He didn’t even want the gas money I’d agreed to give and offered repeatedly, because to be completely honest, prior to this experience, monetary token was what I was most familiar with.
We were strangers and really, our encounter totaled to only 3, 4 days tops but for some reason… chemistry, perhaps that’s what it was.
We clicked right from the beginning, unlikely as this was, because he met all the criteria of guys I never liked; conservative, strong attachment to the Malay culture, broken English despite his years abroad and his background and mine… they could not be anymore different. He grew up in a village in East Malaysia, where we were then, while I’d always only been a city kid – even moving Stateside for undergraduate, I’d picked my school because it’s located in Philly, a city. My family’s always been very middle-class, but Alhamdulillah, we’ve always gotten by okay financially, while stories from my brother about him gave me enough insights that he grew up having to earn his every keep.
The truth is, all that took place between us were really these: a round-trip ride daily for three days, dinners for two nights – but always in the company of someone, because he’s ridiculously shy – and about a month later, he’d dropped by briefly to say hi when I was in his hometown. That was… all.
Whenever I think back of the brief encounters, I’m slightly embarrassed; I think he didn’t know how to quite handle me, because I was loud, talkative, relatively open-minded while still conservatively religious and I’d continued conversing in a mix of English and Malay – not to be pompous, rather because his brokenness in the former didn’t bother me and I wanted him to know that, so I didn’t dumb down my usage of it. Whenever I think of the brief encounters, really… nothing exciting took place. Perhaps the closest was the last night, when we took a drive and ended up at the beach – it was a coastal small town – and for the first time in my life, having been someone who’d never liked a boy in Real Life and practically swore off them for so long, what more dated anyone, there I was… in the company of a kind young man at nighttime, by the beach.
I won’t lie, my first thought was oh my God, did Real Life just meet drama, specifically Kdrama?
I went to sleep gleefully giggling that night and woke up somewhat sober from the entire experience. The next time I’d met him was briefly, as aforementioned, when I was in his hometown about a month later. I’d dropped by for a weekend getaway and was staying with a friend. We’d attempted to meet halfway throughout the entire weekend, but he had obligations towards his family and when things finally cleared, it was a few hours before I had to leave. As usual, we said hi rather awkwardly and said goodbye just as awkwardly. I’ve not seen him since.
Because I tend to live in my mind way too much and too often, I think these Real Life events morph into fictional stories in my mind; milking them to my fancy, imagining us like fated souls of some sort but the truth is, very realistically – I’m fully aware that we don’t know each other enough to have developed anything. Despite the crazy chemistry we seem to have had going on, honestly, though I wouldn’t coin us strangers – I don’t know what we are, if we could even call each other friends because while something was clearly in the air all throughout our encounters, both of us had pretended not to notice anything.
He was the first boy that I found myself surprisingly attracted to, but to be honest we’re so diametrically different in personality as well as social circle that I wonder if I’d entertained the idea of him in my mind, ergo liking who he is in my mind more than his real self.
I’ve never spoken about him to any person in my Real Life, partly because I’ve never come off as the sort of girl to speak about boys – which I really have never done, honestly – but mostly because I’m embarrassed. I am a scientist with a writer’s mind, meaning that I breathe words and stories to life in my mind – exactly why dramas are my cup of tea – and thus as more time passes, the more blurred it is, that line between what took place and what’s imagined or added. Bad news make for good writing but they’re not the only ones – dramatic, random encounters do, too.
On nights like tonight whereby I let my guard down, I wonder if I will ever be with anyone. I’ve never had anyone attracted to me to be honest, because I’m not pretty, nor do I exude confidence like Housemate #2 does. I’ve always been much too talkative and opinionated, which never help in my situation because I can’t be docile even if I pretended to! While these traits may appeal to more Western folks, in truth my religious practices, viewpoints and such tend to steer them away, as if I carry with me a deathly disease. Thus honestly, I’ve never been courted romantically.
On nights like tonight whereby I let my guard down… I wonder if I’ll ever fall in love. For all my cynicism, I want so badly to be proven wrong. It is the greatest irony that I’m an avid Kdrama-watcher, where it’s always thematically Love Conquers All, because I don’t actually believe in any of those romanticism to occur in Real Life. In contrast to my younger self who was always so proud to be a progressive, independent and highly driven young woman however, my twenty-two year old self, while still wanting to retain these same traits, wonders if there is indeed someone out there who would appreciate the person I am, exactly for being who I am.
On nights like tonight, I sometimes think of him. I know where he’s currently located back home, having started a new job not long ago and informing me about it over Facebook message, but I don’t know anything else. Much like in Real Life, my Facebook self is also extremely unabashed (read: noisy) that I wonder if this would further freak him out, had he any interest in me previously.
Although I would never ever, in a million years, admit this aloud in Real Life because of the sort of girl I’ve always been and my life principles – on nights like tonight, I wonder if making my way home for good come graduation isn’t such a bad thing. I would wonder if we could have a second, third encounter; perhaps then, I could ascertain fact from fiction. Perhaps… Something could happen, you know?
On nights like tonight where I’m deep in thought and all alone, as usual, I acknowledge that I’ve indeed grown up to be a young woman my younger self would approve of. I believe I have a good sense of self and I like the person I am now very much, comfortable in my own skin without needing validation from others. Alhamdulillah, I’m also leading a good life in a good place, with so much love to give…
…but no one to share it with.
On nights like tonight, I think of him, silly as that is, and wonder if our story could have, would have, turned out differently.