Day 145: The Man and the NaNoWriMo; Not All Happy Endings

Never Ever After

‘The saddest thing about love is that not only that it cannot last forever, but that heartbreak is soon forgotten.’

-William Faulkner

Lessons Learned: Memory

I still have the memory jar from our first anniversary in college. It has a special reserved spot on my nightstand. In a box I keep on my bookshelf I have every card, note, Post-It, drawing, scrap of paper she ever passed to me. I have our travel itineraries from Philly and Cabo, along with the hotel reservation confirmations, map of the resorts, and souvenir coasters we snuck back to our room. When we started taking those Instax photos of our dates when we got back together, I kept them safe too. One of the very last and most precious things she ever made for me was one half of a red heart shaped pillow. She made two and put magnets on the edge so when they were brought together it would stick and look like one big soft heart. On one side she had sewn on ‘I love Baby’ and on the other, hers had a cartoon drawing of me and mine had a cartoon drawing of her. It now rests with a collection of stuffed animals by my bed. After we first broke up, I kept all these things as a reminder. The worst thing then for me was the fear that I might one day forget the intensity and passion of our love. I had been part of something great, gained insight into a love and experience that people dreamed about. I was the protector of our love, and these were the precious artifacts that served as evidence of who we once were. For four years after we separated in college I lived with these in my room. I held them dear to me and even though it pained me to see them and even though the sight of them would sting me with longing and sadness, they were irreplaceable. Sometimes, when I felt despair or disappointment, when another girl had gone and left and another relationship inevitably dissolved, I would dig up all the old letters and read the promises we made to each other long ago. I just wanted another chance, another life of love.

When we got back together later on in life, I did ask her if she still had any of our old keepsakes. She was not as kind or merciful. Secretly my heart sank when I heard that she had long ago tossed everything out. Our stuffed bear, the one she slept with every night in college, was in some landfill somewhere, never to be held or cared for. The memory box I had worked so hard on to create and personalize and memorialize our love had been scrapped. No record or trace of any love letter I had written every month exists, recycled a long time ago. I did try to understand it from her perspective. I knew why she felt she had to do this. While my memories were tinged with shades of longing and regret, hers were tainted with disappointment and betrayal. After all, I was the one who left. She told me she felt it necessary to help her move on. She couldn’t bear to be around so many reminders. Just because I could understand didn’t mean it didn’t hurt any less though.

I’ve learned how important is not only to remember, but to think of why and how we remember. Unlike the inevitable future and the immutable present, we have liberty and power over our past. We can shape these memories, sometimes without even knowing, to fit our designs. I spent four years romanticizing and idealizing this young woman into the pinnacle of romantic love. All I could do to continue on and move forward was to continue to lay tribute to her. I accredited every failed relationship to some magnified, gilded version of who she was. My memories of her were the fuel upon which I built up my old love and burned any chance of the new. I wanted everything to be as it was. To return to the source of what I could only remember as pure love. She had no place for such memories. She needed to cast them aside. They burned too bright and too hot for her to hold. I left Beautiful when she was still a shining pristine version of herself and believed in the best version of our love. She had no chance, no opportunity, to disappoint or hurt me. I built off of that, year after year, until I could think of nothing but her in every romantic desire. I left her with no warning, no explanation, and with too many broken promises. She wanted, needed, to forget me. Maybe she regretted it later, when we were together again, and she had to face that all of these precious objects we had shared were gone, and all of her memories were too faded. I tried to revive them. Share with her all I had held onto. Told her stories and brought her back to who we once were. Maybe I had made it so the real her could never have compared to the Beautiful I had enshrined in my memories.

The last time I saw her, all she could say was what I was just too naïve to know on my own. She was not the Beautiful of so many years ago. She was a completely different person now. But she also told me to forget about her, to forget about us, as if that were possible, and as if that would help. I know she took that route. I see where it took her. I wanted nothing of that. I could never forget love like the love we had. I would never relegate it to the dark recesses of my mind, never bringing it back out to the light of day if just to breathe a little bit. Maybe I had doomed myself from the start with this impossible standard, but I couldn’t ever say I would have been better off to forget about her. I know she threw away everything that had ever meant anything between us. But that was all the more reason that I needed to hold onto what I still had managed to save.

What is painful about all of this is how she left me with such bitterness. She’s tampered with too many of my memories. I can no longer simply long for her. When she left me she tried her best to take everything. I have so few memories that I can look on still with uninterrupted happiness. Everything is just a few shades darker and grayer, the life slowly leaking out. I don’t want to forget what we once meant to each other. I don’t want to forget what I once had. But that means I have to constantly live with the reminder of the pain and the disappointment. I don’t hate her. I have written off many people in my life because of hate. I’ve thrown away their memories, forgotten their names and faces. I will not surrender what love I once had to hate her because it would be easier. I will keep every thorny memory and hold it in my hand, tightly, clutching it to my heart, and I will squeeze it until it cuts. I will cut myself and the scars will remind me of what love is supposed to be. I will take all the hurt and the scarring because when the time comes once more, I will remember not only the love but the pain and I can give someone all of one and protect her from all of the other. I never really wanted to relive the past. I never asked to have to be put through all this. I wanted to protect my past and these memories. I wanted to be left alone to cherish and savor them. To have a story for my friends, my family, my children, and my children’s children. I wanted to know how to tell them about love. Maybe what I was left with after college was too idealistic, too rooted in fantasy, to benefit anyone. Beautiful tainted our story. Now I am haunted by the ghosts of our past, fearful of letting the memories get too close and losing myself to them again. At least before in my world I could have lived in the comfort of who we once were. It was an ethereal fantasy built more on illusions than substance at this point, but it was my illusion about love. The real world disappoints me, disappoints me in who we actually turned out to be. But I will never forget. I still need these memories. Love once lived here, between us. It may never grow again, but it was once special and wonderful and beautiful and I had the opportunity to experience it all. Sadder than forgetting would have been to never had had it at all.

‘I know so many last words. But I will never know hers.’

-John Green, Looking for Alaska

Lesson Two: Words

More than the ruined memories of the past, I pain the most for the future Beautiful and I will never get to have. I will never get to dance with her at our wedding, or even plan a proposal. I will never get to build a home with her, or watch the years go by, side by side, or watch as the passing seasons slowly paint across her face. We had, at most, only five years together. It seems like such a tiny speck now, but it was ours. Of course there is still so much love in me to have and to give. I just really wanted to be able to give it all to her and when we were reunited, I thought I had finally gotten my chance. It hurts to know that the love you have to give is not the love someone wants to have. There are so few remnants now of the beautiful words we once shared with each other. All of the letters I wrote her back then are gone and I imagine she has no place for the ones I wrote her later on. I think of her now even and wonder, when she speaks of love, if she ever speaks of me still. The last words I ever heard her speak were of her telling me to forget about her, that I had wasted the past five years longing and pining for someone who no longer existed. The last words I ever read of hers were of and for another man. I know the inspiration that comes from love. I wrote and spoke of it for years. I can recognize it in others. I don’t think she ever wrote like that for me, and I don’t know if she ever could have. A few times, some months after it all, I would still visit her website, hoping and wishing to see her mention me. Of course it was just wishful thinking. She had moved on. It was just me still lingering in the past. Even now, I find myself sometimes imagining her voice, trying to hear them say my name once more. Instead I hear her talking about her ex over and over again. I imagine the words she says to him, of him, for him. Of anyone else but me. For all my sweet and romantic and moving words of love, I could do nothing to keep her. All of the promises we made to each other were carried away with the wind.

For better or for worse, I may never hear her voice or read her words again. There isn’t anything left for her to say that her actions have not already driven across. I know she has nothing for me, that there is nothing left there between us. I am the one who remains burdened, because I cannot and will not love her, but I cannot and will not forget her either. I can’t find in me words of anger or bitterness. I cannot find the vitriol that would make this easier or relieve me of this weight. I carry not only all the words we once spoke, but all the words I never got to say, and all the words I will never get to hear. Our love was too short, and I will carry it for too long. I will continue to write of love and higher and nobler beautiful things, and hopefully maybe one day I will be able to write them of someone else as well, but I know right now I speak only for myself; a sad, one-sided conversation of love.

I think it is important that those who experience love and those who lose love never lose their ability to speak of how they felt and what they experienced. Some of the most moving pieces of writing I have ever read have stemmed from either tragic heartbreak or great love. What we romanticize and idealize about love is too sickeningly saccharine sweet we find it hard to digest. Real love is more than enough but it is too easy to want to forget or to move on. I thought that the great words of love would be enough to protect what we had, to strengthen and ensure what we had. I think the truth is love finds its voice through great honest and pure relationships. I spoke of real things when I loved Beautiful, yes, but I can still one day say the same things of another who moves me in the same way. Until then I can speak of what there was to cherish and value.

I speak better now of love and loss because she gave me both. Though one day, I hope to write my last lines of her.

‘Perhaps some day I’ll crawl back home, beaten, defeated. But not as long as I can make stories out of my heartbreak, beauty out of sorrow.’

-Sylvia Plath

Part Three: Where to Go Now

The two greatest lessons I learned from my experience with Beautiful was 1) that I could not survive by consuming relationship after relationship as I have been and 2) that there were no guarantees about what made a great love last.

The last time I was in Philly I was there for a work trip. I decided to walk around the city a little bit on my last day before heading back home and ended up back at Shane Confectionery, the chocolate and candy shop I had taken Beautiful twice before. I wanted to make a gift box to take home. Here I was, on a quest, striding from one display to another, inquiring about the flavors of different chocolates, buttercreams, truffles, and ganache. I wanted to know taste, ingredients, popularity. I wanted to build a bouquet of the best they had to offer. When all was said and done I had a gift box filled with their best and we wrapped it up in a pretty white bow and I was on my way to…

To..what? To give it to whom?

The situation at the time was this: Beautiful had broken up with me about a week prior and I had just met an attractive coworker and we happened to be talking and exchanging messages with increasing frequency. At the time I did not know about Beautiful’s real, hidden feelings still for her ex, that she was already recanting everything about us to pine after him again. To give him the honor of calling him her greatest mistake. I did know that my coworker was pretty and single and looking and active on dating sites. I did not know that she was also already talking with someone from the city, or that they had already set up a date with each other that weekend and that he loved to make silly puns and play her favorite games. The only think I did know was that my heart gave me equal reason to give this box to either of them.

See I could give them to Beautiful, remind her of the times we spent in Philly, and maybe try to change her mind and convince her there was something here worth wanting, worth working for. I could surprise her at her place on my way home and overwhelm her with chocolates and a rose I could pick up along the way. I was always sweet to her, always the romantic, always wanting to surprise her with unannounced visits. What better way to show her than with this gesture. That I was thinking of her even when she wasn’t thinking of me, and that I see her beauty in everything I do and every place I visit. I wouldn’t make a big show of it. Just show up at her door, hand her the chocolates and the rose, and leave. Acknowledge that we are no longer together and therefore have no obligations to each other. Let her think about the weight of the gesture and her decisions.

But that wouldn’t change the reasons why we were separated. And even though at that time she was hiding the most egregious and painful reasons why, what she fed me was still relevant, still bitter enough, delivered still with enough sting. So no, perhaps this was really not meant to be, and maybe I would be fighting for borrowed time, and maybe I really did not want her back. Had I really thought about what it was I wanted to save. Was it her or the relationship or just me from being alone?

So I could instead give them to this new person in my life. I’d show up at her office, stroll in, leave the chocolates at her desk with a cleverly written Post-It ‘don’t let the others give you flack for eating like a Bird’ which she would love because it worked on so many levels and I was such a clever bastard for coming up with it. The office would make fun of her for loving to eat and always having food and snacks around, which is torture for a self-conscious young woman who has to live under the constant watchful judging gaze of a Korean family and community. And her name is a type of bird, hence her nickname, and it’s ALSO a play on the fact that people say ‘eating like a bird’ means you eat very little even though factually speaking birds eat twice their body weight during the day to handle the intense metabolic load of flight. It would have been a tactically brilliant move to undercut all the digital suitors after her and remind her that I was here, physically, immediately available, and clearly interested. The chocolates would segue into future interactions and I wanted to take her to a Filipino restaurant (she had expressed interest in trying Filipino food as she had never had the opportunity before). I would drop off the chocolate, give her the note, and she would of course mention it and thank me later on that night when we would normally start exchanging messages. She would mention she owed me, and I would tell her she could buy lunch. Filipino of course.

Bird represented a new start. A chance to get over old pain by opening up the potential for a new wound. I thought the best way to get over a stubbed toe was to cut your finger. The idea was new pain helps you get over old pain quicker. I was ready for another mistake.  She was attractive, into video games and anime (Beautiful never was, and I never pushed her into it), was an adventurous eater, and had a similar sense of humor. When I first met her I was single and too self-conscious and self-deprecating to do anything about a very strong initial attraction. So I was my usual cold and stupid self, which she verified once we actually got closer and started talking. She thought I hated her for some unknown reason. We discovered that we had lived in the same town our entire lives and even went to the same elementary school, but she was four years my junior so I had never noticed her (as is appropriate, I honestly wouldn’t want to have thought about a sixth grade me going after a second grader). We had the shared experiences of youth and the present, working for the same company. I was attracted to her and I knew she was attracted to me because she had said so. You never forget that rush you feel when someone you like tells you they like you back. Well, to be fair, she admitted that I was cute and attractive and that if I weren’t she wouldn’t have been talking to me anyways.

But the timing was just never right. When I first met her we were both single and available but I couldn’t make the move because I wasn’t confident enough. By the time we met up again and actually got to know each other she was still single but I was in a relationship that (I thought) was going to last the rest of my life, so this was an attraction that would go unreciprocated and unpursued. When I was ready (I thought) to pursue her, I was just out of another relationship. Whether my interest was honest or not, whether my feelings were legitimate or not, it did not change the fact that I was superseding honest, genuine interest with a desire to cover hurt with more hurt. I was just running away and doing what I usually do hopping from one to another and despite how honestly and intently I felt these feelings, it would have no chance to blossom or grow under those circumstances. My wounds were too fresh and needed proper dressing. It would have been awkward and unfair. And though I thought I was ready I really was not, and though there may have been something, there was no reason for her to wait around and so she pursued something else with someone else to leave me my space.

So what happened to the chocolates?

They melted. They rotted. The box was never even opened. The ribbon turned gray. The box is bent and creased. The insides have long lost their appearance, their sheen, their appeal. I wasted money, time, effort, and valuable commodities. I pondered and considered my options the entire drive back home and couldn’t come to a satisfying solution. I had bought these candies for the sole purpose of giving, but I had no one to give it to and no one who would want it. So it went bad, unappreciated and unenjoyed. Neither of them even ever knew I had bought it in the first place.

I have spent my entire life trying to be a better person. I have cultivated the best parts of me and I have, through reflection and honest introspection, come to terms with my shortcomings. I have gained the wisdom to accept the things I cannot change about myself and the humility to amend the ones I can. I believe that every good person in this world has lived a life of betterment and self-improvement, and that we are all incredibly appealing packages of a wide assortment of goodies wrapped up in a pretty white bow.

But do not do what I have done. Do not throw your package at the first hungry passerby. Do not let yourself be consumed by those who wish to just consume. Love yourself, appreciate what is inside of you, know the assortment of sweet, bitter, salty, and rich that makes you so enticing. Know who this was all meant for, or at the very least know who it is you want. I was at first content simply to offer what I had to anyone who would have me. I would continually throw myself at the masses and make destiny out of chaos. Until there came the point when no one wanted me, and not knowing how to move forward, how to measure my worth, I spoiled and went bad.

The second lesson I learned was not to believe in all of the representation of love and relationships I had seemingly built my entire knowledge off of. The tragic misunderstanding and misrepresentation in the media is that the ingredients and the story come first. We spend so much time trying to find just the right pieces, meet in just the right way, and date just the right person, that we mistakenly fool ourselves into believe that having all the right ingredients mean that this is love.

Love is not a recipe. It is not a formula or a plot with just enough variables to keep the story fresh and the audience hungry. Love is not like baking. You cannot expect that just by having all the ingredients in one bowl that what will come out will always be a cake. Add too much of one or too little of the other and you can end up with anything from a very cakey omelet to a very runny pancake. I just wanted the story, to collect the pieces, and turn them in for my reward. I bought into every story and every iteration of the same story. Love never promised me a return on my investment.

Love is more like alchemy. It isn’t a matter of having the right ingredients and mixing them up together. It is a matter of transforming the ingredients into something completely different. This is why I could either be inspired or bitter of relationships that seemed to have so much more but started with so much less than what Beautiful and I had. There is an undercurrent of hard work, determination, cooperation, and compromise that runs steadily but strongly underneath every relationship. Though Beautiful and I had ever element seemingly necessary, though we had the story to tell of love, we did not have the ability, or perhaps the strength of will, to transform what we had.

I still choose to live in a world of soulmates and meet-cutes and ‘types’ and of romantic do and don’t lists. I can still reconcile the bleeding heart romantic in me with the man who had to seriously reconsider his understandings and assumptions of love in the face of sinking disappointment. I live in a world where true love can exist and Beautiful can break my heart like no other. This is not a love story. It was a lesson. Of how to construct a much more convincing love story. The mathematical odds, the history of stereotypes and tropes, the science, even the crippling betrayal, are not enough to deter true love in the world. I have to admit I still wander around wondering how I will meet the one I will love for the rest of my life. I wonder if she is exactly as I pictured her to be or if we will do everything right or make it up along the way. I remain blissfully indignant at the bitterness of disappointment. I am just much more wise now, and I can speak of Love in gentler terms. This is not a love story. But it is a love letter to Love. I know what she looks like now, what she feels like, what she sounds like. I can see love for all of her flaws and imperfections and still, I love Love. Beautiful and I was not the story Love wanted me to tell. This was me wanting to share it all. I sincerely and desperately hope that Love still has greater plans for me yet.

Final word count: 57189

Day 144: The Man and the NaNoWriMo; Not All Happy Endings

Girl Meets Boy

‘The heart dies a slow death, shedding each hope like leaves until one day there are none. No hope. Nothing remains.’

-Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha

Unlike the dark rainy night Beautiful showed up at my doorstep, it was a bright and sunny day when she left me. Work had taken me all across the country, and I was spending less time at home and less time with her. I could hear the strain in her voice when we spoke at night over the phone. I felt terrible for being so distant, so I wanted to spend that weekend doing something she loved. I had hoped that going for a hike together would brighten her mood and give us some nice alone time enjoying the woods. There was something different about her that day. There was no happiness in seeing me. She was in a rush to leave, a rush to get started, a rush to be away, that she hadn’t even found the time to say hello or for us to kiss. We had been apart for two weeks.

I have to admit, hiking was not something I ever saw myself doing, and I had no personal interest or passion in it. I had no hopes or ambitions of hiking the Appalachian Trail or backpacking in desserts or canyons or state parks. I was a five-star hotel in a major city man. But I did know that more than anything else, I was her man, and I loved her with all my heart, and what passion I lacked for these activities, I had more than enough of simply for being with her.

Or so I thought.

The trail was rough and unexpected. I was so focused on catching my breath and finding my footing that I very soon lagged behind. I couldn’t find joy or pleasure in the journey or the destination. My struggle was very evident on my face. And her disappointment was very evident on hers. When we finally reached the end and could rest before the trek back, we had a small lunch overlooking the water and the trees. It was too beautiful a setting for what was happening to us.

I knew where we were headed when she started talking about how important this was for her. How she would go backpacking and camping with her ex and her best friends every year and often multiple times within the year. I could see it hurt her to say it or even hint it, and that there was pain and fear and sadness catching the words in her throat. I knew what she was going to say, I had been on both sides of that conversation so many times since we last saw each other. I saved her the pain and the shame and the indignity. I said what she felt but was too afraid to share with me, the person who loved her.

She saw her world set out in front of her, and she saw the paths that she wanted to take. In our time apart she hsad to change and grow as well, and she had new goals and ambitions and pleasures. She saw camping trips and backpacking and summers spent in hostels and tents exploring woods and out in the wilderness. And she didn’t see me. I could no longer follow her where her heart wanted to go. I was no longer the journey or the destination. Like a good sport and a good boyfriend I would go with her on local hikes, maybe I could even enjoy myself on three or four day excursions. But I would never be able to handle weeks on trails. She could either go, and spend her precious time with other people, and maybe worse yet meet someone in that manner and risk us, or she would play the role of dutiful girlfriend and stay behind, but foregoing her passion long enough would eventually turn her bitter and resentful of me anyways. She had dreams of hiking impossible trails and exploring rare and exclusive locations. Sleeping on top of canyons and applying for limited acceptance trails that would take her away from here for months at a time. I had had enough of my wild and single life and wanted to build a home and a family. No matter what, she had gone as far as she could. As far as she would.

Beautiful was, to me, the love of my life. I had made too many mistakes to think I could ever deserve such immense happiness. I never stopped thinking of her, I never stopped looking for her. By the end of it all, I knew her so well that I could anticipate when and how and why she would break my heart into a million pieces. My last, greatest act of love, was to spare her the pain and indignity of having to hurt me in order to pursue her happiness. I let her lie there, resting on the rocks, quietly sobbing as I killed myself, my chances of happiness, for her.

We drove home in silence. We didn’t hold hands getting to the hiking location but on the ride back we held each other. I realized, as we cuddled on her living room sofa, that this really would be the last time I would ever hold her like this. The last time I would ever enter this home. The last time she would ever be mine. We were tired and dirty and sweaty and hurting. Despite the pain and the tears and the sinking feeling of inevitability, we made one love one last plaintive, empty, desperate time. I really wanted it to be her. I had placed every hope and every belief in us. We cried onto each other’s shoulder in one last embrace as I left her. That night I emptied myself of love and hope and brightness, and the tears stung my face like a thousand needles.

I wish I could say her story ended there, but it doesn’t. For as much as she taught me of the greatest heights of love, it seems she was determined to also show me far I could fall.

First, a confession.

I am not a good person.

I am likely to succumb to all the same base moral flaws and shortcomings of any man.

One of them being vanity.

Beautiful always kept a diary. In fact for her birthday in college I gave her the same diary that she uses right now. I never asked her, nor did I pressure her or even insinuate I was interested, but she willingly and enthusiastically gave me the special privilege and honor to read her diary once a week. It was like being given the keys to her inner world, one that I was interested in as one who loved her and wanted to take care of her but doubly so because it was also a world I found out I inhabited. I reveled in reading about my adventures in her mind. I saw how she saw me, I counted my victories and my losses. I knew exactly how she was remembering our relationship. I was the hero in her story. No one had ever written about me before, and I loved the version of me she had created for herself. As much as I wanted to make this not about me and more about learning how best to be there for her, I found myself spending most of my  time reading and re-reading every one of our interactions.

Beautiful’s voice had always been soft and light. She had yet to learn how to assign weight to her thoughts and desires. Reading her diary helped me to take a temperature reading of our relationship. The deepest, heaviest, most transformative conversations of our relationship were between me and the pages of her book. I would read, absorb, inhabit, her thoughts and then speak to her. In this repeated manner over the years I became able to anticipate her thoughts and needs. No one knew Beautiful better than I did, and my words spoke directly to her heart. I had made her heart second nature to mine, and I could read her heartbeat in her eyes, her voice, her touch, and yes, especially her words.

When we got back together, I was surprised to see how much of her voice she had found and developed. She was clear, eloquent, direct with what she wanted. I didn’t have to try too hard to know how she felt because she had learned to give of that freely and openly. Our relationship blossomed and grew fast.

I was surprised, but excited, to find out that through all these years she had kept her diary and had kept up writing in it regularly. But this time, because she was more able to speak about the relationship, and because we were different people, this was to remain her diary. It would have chronicled everything since our breakup. Every bad decision. Every failed attempt at romance. Every shameful hookup. And the story of her three year-long love with her ex. Things that were vital to her growth. Scars that needed to be felt and growth that needed to be fulfilled. And thoughts and situations and memories that she did not want me to know of.

One weekend while her family was away and we were sleeping together at her place, I took her diary and read it in the middle of the night while she slept.

Yes, there were the nitty gritty of things she did not want me to know about. Yes there were memories and stories of her with others that hurt me to read. But honestly, all I really wanted to do was to hear more about myself.

I went to the dates that corresponded with our reunion. And, I am ashamed to say, I read her diary. I voraciously took it all in like I did back in college. The words were so similar. The emotion so familiar. She told of how over the years the one thing that never changed in her life was how she felt about me. How excited she was for this second opportunity. How different it felt to be with me. Both familiar but also better. She acknowledged how different our passions and hobbies were but she was appreciative of how enthusiastically I was willing to try out her interests and accompany her on some of her excursions. She talked about feeling wanted again, feeling like a priority, being with someone who understood her so deeply and profoundly.

I broke a key part of her trust for my own vain purposes, to hear the words she spoke to herself about how much she loved me and how happy she was to be with me again.

Publicly, she also now maintained her own blog. It was primarily pictures and videos of her pet bunnies and food she made/ate. Nothing ever really about relationships, so it was just a fun read.

Until we broke up.

And then, one day, it just…poured out of her. Some sudden wave of inspiration and want drove her to write publicly and openly.

It was all about her ex.

About how much she loved him.

About how much she missed him.

About how, through everything, he was the man she truly loved, and how everything had been a mistake.

Post after post, day after day, so many beautiful and eloquent and open thoughts about him. Words she had never said about me to herself or to anyone.

And I am a vain man.

So I read them.

I was vain, and thought she would ever still want to write about me, and I hunted down her words, and I opened up the possibility for me to be hurt because I openly and willingly looked up a place where I did not belong to read the words of one who did not love me.

She had never written of me in the way she wrote of him. I never saw her weave together such thoughts and emotions when she thought of me or felt for me. I had to realize that this separation was more than just about the man I couldn’t be for her. It was about someone else who was.

I was a temporary distraction. A sample size for something greater. This hurt more than the breakup. I read all this during the day at work. I took an early lunch and raced to her home. She wasn’t there. I waited on her doorstep until she came back. I think she knew what I was there for based on the look of shame and guilt in her eyes when she came up to me.

I told her I had read everything. Everything she had put up publicly and openly for all to see about how she must have truly felt. I couldn’t tell her I had secretly read only what she could ever write and admit to herself. I couldn’t tell her how much worse it felt because the same words were there again, or how I felt like some shameful secret buried now in the greater narrative of someone else’s love story. But what I still had was enough. I knew there were times when she still missed him. I used to cringe whenever she clearly recreated dates that used to mean so much to them and purposefully avoid going to those places. I would not be a version of someone else’s love.

I just wanted to know why. Why she could say such beautiful things about someone right after being silent and letting me carve my own heart out. Why I no longer felt like myself but just another phase, a demo version of something else she really wanted. I wanted to know, if she truly felt this way the entire time, why she had taken me out of my own life to be dragged into hers again. I was living with my own failures and my own follies but they were mine and I still had hope. I never asked her to leave him. I never asked for our love again. I never asked to reopen every wound and love and trust her completely again. I never asked to be hurt this way.

I would do her no favors this time. I had no words to give her to rely on. It was up to her now to explain it all, to justify this pain. I would have taken anything. I would have accepted the misdirected and misguided anger of reading her blog and being upset at her for it. I would have accepted the tired clichés, even lies. I hoped for the truth but I just wanted to be met somewhere along this downward spiral. She had nothing for me. No words, no explanation, she couldn’t even look me in the eye. I studied every inch of her face and every curve of her body. This was not the Beautiful I had fallen in love with. She had nothing for me. Not an explanation, not an apology, she couldn’t even fully admit or own up to how she felt. This was to be the true very last time I ever saw her or spoke to her. Calling her out on her lies, telling her I never wanted any of this again, demanding an explanation. There were no sweet final parting words. No remnants of hope. Nothing to sustain anything beautiful survived between us. Our love’s still warm corpse hadn’t even had the chance to be properly buried.

Our love couldn’t barely last six months.

Word count so far: 52541

Day 143: The Man and the NaNoWriMo; Not All Happy Endings

SIDE NOTE: Back in high school I used to text my girlfriends ‘143’ as a secret code that meant ‘I’ (1 letter) ‘love’ (4 letters) ‘you’ (3 letters). Day 143. Did anyone else ever do that?

Boy Meets Girl Again

It wasn’t me who reached out to her again. I hadn’t even seen her since we broke up. After five years of having successfully avoided ever running into her and resisting the urge to contact her, she ran into my mother at a TJ Maxx. I remember my mother telling me the story when she got home that day, and my heart hurting again. I felt a slow, sinking depression in my heart remembering everything again, realizing how close we had been to each other all this time. She told me that she was there in the houseware section, that she was seeing someone for a while now, and that they were thinking of moving in together sometime in the future. I’m surprised I caught all that, because what I really remember is a loud, low, persistent buzzing in my ear. The truth is I knew she was dating someone; we weren’t friends on social media but I would look her name up every now and then just to see her face again. She took all the photos when we were together, and she took them with her when she left. I didn’t know the extent to how serious they were, and quite frankly I didn’t want to know. I felt nothing but pain when my mother shared her information with me. I don’t think she really understood that. I had dated so many girls since, seemed so enthusiastic and eager with each one, been able to create a normal life with healthy romances. For a few days I tried to continue on with a feigned indifference. I had to convince myself that nothing in my world had changed just because I could no longer live in a limbo where I knew nothing of Beautiful’s life after me. But one evening I received a message from a nameless number. I recognized the number immediately. After all these years she still had the same number, and I could still recite it by heart. She said how long it had been since we’d seen each other, and wanted to know how I was, and let me know she saw my mother the other day, and wondered if we could meet up sometime.

I wanted to throw my phone into a river or a bonfire. I honestly did not want to read that or deal with the situation. I had no idea why she wanted to meet all of a sudden or what I was expected to say or do. It took me a day to reply. There was a very significant part of me that wanted nothing to do with this. I had been trying, with little but still some success, to move on and live a life without Beautiful. The life that she had been building with someone else. I didn’t want to hear about her happiness. I did not want to know what kind of man I should have been, could have been. I on the other hand had nothing to show for the years we spent apart, to justify the hurt and the pain. I had left a string of broken romances and equal opportunity injuries between myself and other women. I was no longer the romantically idealistic teacher she once loved. I could never be her friend, not after everything that had happened between us. I had no delusions about being able to live that lie.

And yet…

And yet there was still that romantic in me. There was still that part of my heart and soul that yearned and cried for a second chance. Was waiting for the second half of our story, the part in the film where the lovers reunited. I had seen it happen before to lesser men and with lesser loves. After all this time, after all this skepticism and cynicism, I wanted to believe in soulmates and stories. But I wouldn’t try and steal her. I couldn’t do that again. I had no intentions, hopes, or designs to come between her and him. Of that at least I was sure and of that at least I could show I was different, better, bigger than the man I was before.

I decided to agree to meet.

We met at a small coffee shop halfway between both our houses. I had on a v-neck sweater and her favorite blazer, black jeans and leather boots. An extra spray of the same cologne I had been wearing all these years. I saw her first. She was sitting at a table outside, focused on a coloring book. I didn’t mean to sneak up on her but I guess I was just too quiet because when I sat down at her table she jumped a little. It was adorable. There were no hugs or kisses. But I could have sworn I saw a familiar shine in her eye. The small talk was generic and forgettable. But then it started to rain. The inside of the shop was too small and too crowded to accommodate us, so we decided to move to a bigger location near the highway. We left in separate cars. As I was walking to mine, I passed a group of teenagers who were hanging around outside the shop. One of them, completely out of the blue and honestly at random, told me I looked good, better than what they usually saw go to this place. I told him, honestly and plainly, ‘when the love of your life asks to meet after five years, you make sure to look your best’. I had no idea what was in store.

We tried to continue on in the new location with the same small talk one would have asked of a long-lost acquaintance or at best a casual friend. We were both of us too afraid to reach out first, reach out further. Inevitably the conversation turned to the circumstances that led to our meeting, and of course she shared she saw my mother, and of course I shared she told me of what she was doing and how she was doing. So it was out there now. Her relationship. They met online. After her own series of bad experiences she met someone who was kind and gentle and shared her interests. New interests. Different interests. They were hikers and bikers and campers and outdoorsy people now. They had been dating for a couple years now, and she was practically part of the family. His sister was a good friend of hers, and her mother had even hired her to create invitation cards for the family’s graduation party. She was happy.

I wanted to be happy for her. I honestly did. I wanted to find some shred of joy. I thought that loving someone meant you loved their happiness. I was struck with a selfish side of love, I could not find joy in what she had found in another. I unburdened myself of the weight and told her a terrible thing. I told her I still cared about her, that there was still always a part of my heart that had its home in her, and that as much as I could try, I would never be able to nor want to be happy for her being with someone else. I was tired and weak and hurt. I had no energy or strength to put up an act. Just being that close to her again, seeing her, smelling her, hearing her, I thought I would have been invigorated. I was instead drained. I needed her to tell me why I was here, sitting next to her, after five years of nothing. I told her she would not be able to find a friend in me, I had left that a long time ago, and I loved her too deeply to ever go back. I told her I was glad that she was happy, and that was true. I never wished any sadness or hurt on her. But that I found no joy in having to listen to it or know too much. If she wanted to know how I was, or wanted me to know how she was, she had accomplished that, and whatever she needed from me she had gotten. I needed to be saved from the pain and torment of more of her words. She wanted to know why it was so difficult for me to share. I told her I still remembered the night I came to her work. I still remember every word I wrote in the letter. I remember every cold minute I spent waiting outside. I told her that even still, as much as I tried, I had never really fully moved on, and like a dog on a leash I could only ever go so far each time. I had never given up hope, and though it was a slow and steady and persistent bleeding, I had grown accustomed to the pain. I didn’t need this moment to rip the knife out.

I honestly, and this is so important, I honestly never wanted or intended or designed for anything to happen between us. This was her world now, her chance, her happiness. I gave up my claim when she wanted nothing to do with me. She asked to move closer. She asked to feel my arms around her again. She was the one who needed to stay there. I held her in my arms for the remainder of our time together. She held tightly, and I tried my hardest not to read into everything. My hopeful romantic mind saw too much possibility in this. If I was a lesser man, I would have kissed her. Told her to run away with me. Told her we were meant to be. But I had grown over time. I told her my love was only mine to bear. That she was happy now, and that was what mattered. I kissed her, yes, but only on the forehead, as I had done so many times before, and only when we parted, like so many times before. I knew we were done as she drove away in that empty parking lot, but in the deepest most hurt and pained parts of my heart, I still hoped.

It was raining the night she showed up at my door again. It was a little after a month since meeting up at the coffee shop. I could see the little drops of rainfall reflected in the light on my porch as she stood there, alone, tears in her eyes, fearful and unsure, to tell me it was over. I didn’t know what to do or how to process all this. For a moment we were just standing there, frozen, two people unsure of how to proceed. We stood on opposite sides of the door, the cold and the rain and the dark behind her, and the warmth and comfort of home behind me. We stared at each other, not knowing how to move. Finally, I stepped aside, put my arm around her back, and let her in.

We spoke together until the sun came up. She told me how whenever they fought, she was thinking of me. How she told him we had met up, how angry he had gotten, and how scared she now was. She told me that she needed to see me again because she needed to know if there was ever still a possibility between us. If I still felt the same. That she had read the letter years ago, but was too afraid to do anything because she was afraid of being hurt again. She told me she had tried to convince herself to move on, but that it was still me, had always been me. She said all the sweet and wonderful and longing things I had almost closed the door on. I was still so afraid. I couldn’t believe the situation I had found myself in. I spent countless sleepless nights staring at the sky thinking and wondering about this moment, and now it was right in front of me. She said everything I had hoped and wanted her to say. As the sun came up, I had to decide what new world we would be a part of.

The first two weeks were just trying to catch up. To bridge five years in ten days, it took many sleepless nights, many visits that lasted until early the next morning. Innocent, sweet, loving, and tender discussion in each other’s arms. Sometimes I wouldn’t even listen, just feel the vibration of her voice with my head as I rested on her lap. I just wanted to hold her tight, to remind myself that this was real. Not in any lifetime had I given my hope any possibility of turning into a reality. I was afraid and excited and wary of how desperately I needed this.

I thought, when I finally decided to share the news with my family and friends, they would help assuage my fears. I wanted their giddy cries of excitement and delight to spur me on with confidence and resolve. But they too were wary. Was this too soon, was this some sort of mistake, had I done something. I didn’t want the dissolution of a three year relationship on my head, nor did I want the new void it had created to be the only thing for me to fill. A temporary space. No one desperately, maddeningly, pleadingly wanted this more than me, but still also no one was as afraid of it all as me. I just needed the strength, the resolve, the commitment to convince me to let go if it all and allow myself to be this happy once more.

We had every intention of taking it slow. She had just had to deal with the stress of social media and informing her family and friends that she had broken up with her boyfriend. She didn’t want to then add that we were planning on seeing each other again. I respected her space and was there to comfort and console her when her family and friends doubted her intentions or her judgement. She told me her best friend knew of their problems and could immediately understand but that the others needed more explanation. Then there was the drama of him furiously and constantly pleading everyone they knew to convince her she was making a mistake, was acting rash, and was being manipulated into not being able to make her own decisions. I said nothing, did nothing, asked for nothing. I only comforted her when she came to me and reacted to what she was willing to share.

Slow didn’t last very long. Our first date was a comfortable and casual affair of brunch and a leisurely walk in the cold winter air around our park. She showed me one of her new favorite toys, an Instax Polaroid camera, and she took the first in a series of captured moments of our new romance. I was standing at the register paying for our meal. I took her back to my place and I surprised her with a Christmas present. Our first every Christmas together I gave her the fluffiest, softest, most luxurious white bathrobe. She told me when we met up again that her mother had accidentally mixed it in with some colored laundry and that it was ruined, so our very first Christmas back together, I gave her a brand new purple robe. Our second ever captured moment was her wearing it. She looked like an adorable eskimo, with her bright red face wrapped up in the robe’s hood. I had picked her up at 10am and had her back by three in the afternoon. It was simple, casual, and the pace we needed.

As luck would have it though, very soon after my family left for a week’s vacation to Las Vegas. I had the house to myself and invited her over. The first night was just dinner and some late night conversation. We had found no trouble at all going back to those nights where we could talk until three or four in the morning. But by the second day, she was staying over. She taught me how to make ricotta cheese and we made homemade ravioli. We ate at midnight because it took so long and we were starving but we had the time of our lives laughing and moving our hands together and dancing around each other in the kitchen once more. She loved to tease me during this time too. Blowing on the back of my neck, nibbling on my ear, lingering over my body when we slept. The first time we made love again was an accident, way before we thought it would have happened. She was on top of me, loving the sensation of running her bare skin against me, my harried attempts at self-control in the face of pure lustful temptation. When it happened we both froze for a moment, but we knew we were just delaying what we wanted because we thought it was the sensible thing to do. We made passionate, eager, aggressive love to each other. I had missed every sensation, every scent, every taste, every sound.

I was ready for this. I couldn’t deny my heart any longer and gave into the maddening euphoria. She was mine once more and I would never let her go. I knew the pain and folly of indecision and ingratitude, and I would never again commit its sins. I was resolved to love her and cherish her. I would be the protector of her heart and her memories.  I shared with her everything of the past five years. Everything I was proud of, but more importantly everything I wasn’t. I wanted her to know the real me, the me who had spent five years in repentance, building a home that hopefully one day she would choose to want to live in once more. Meanwhile, she was showing me the new woman she had become. She had this confidence and purpose she never had in college. She was assertive and resolute. She had hobbies and interests outside of our own and she loved them and grew them into beautiful parts of her life and I fell in love with a brand new person all over again.

For once we were going on dates that she wanted to organize, with itineraries she had planned all on her own, doing activities near and dear to her. She took me snowboarding for my very first time and was very patient and understanding and encouraging as I continued to fall. Honestly the snow was soft and my pride was hurt more than my body, but she was there to nurse both. She took me to her favorite local hiking trail and we stopped on a rocky outcrop that overlooked a beautiful lake. I loved breathing in the fresh air and having her close to me and the seclusion and quiet of it all. Most of all I loved telling her much she had grown and how proud I was and how amazing she always was and had become even more of.

I never let go of my old rules or lost my old rhythm. Still surprising her with visits and gifts. I had to find a new florist because my old favorite had unfortunately gone out of business. But I very quickly built up the same rapport with my new provider as I did with the old. I was there often enough again after all. I was there to celebrate when she got her maternity leave position. I was there to cheer her on when she signed up for graduate school. I was there to encourage her, motivate her, comfort her as the classes and work wore on. I was there when family issues came up. I was there to give her mother flowers on Mother’s Day, give her grandmother oranges on Chinese New Year, help her father unload supplies for their store, was there with them when they had to say goodbye to her younger brother as he left for Australia. I was there with an ear to listen, a shoulder to lean on, a heart to give, and hands full of fried chicken or roses or candies or chocolates or warmth.

For Valentine’s I decided to recreate our Philadelphia trip from college. It started on Saturday night, after I finished at work. I rushed home, changed, grabbed my bag, and went to pick Beautiful up. The sun was beginning to set and we had a beautiful backdrop of sky as we went down to Philly. Our first stop would be Pho Ha to warm ourselves up. What Beautiful didn’t know was that I had secretly brought along seven individually wrapped long-stem roses that I would surprise her with along our journey. We had our delicious pho, and while she was in the restroom (I can always count on her tiny bladder) I rushed to the car, took out one of the roses, and in very hurried broken English explained to my waiter that I wanted him to bring out the rose and present it to her when I asked for the check. She had no idea. Afterwards she told me that as the waiter approached with the check and the rose she thought it was sweet that our waiter had a date and was probably on his way out after giving us the bill. When he handed the rose to her instead and the restaurant started clapping I have never seen her face so red with embarrassment. It sounds almost cruel but that alone was so totally worth it. It was adorable and sweet and it went off without a hitch and I loved her. Afterwards we checked in to the Hilton Penn’s Landing (highly recommended, the only waterfront hotel in Philly with a great view and excellent location) where, once again, unbeknownst to her I had already coordinated with the concierge to have another rose presented to her upon check in. That was two so far. I had her put the room key in and enter first. This way she could see that I had also arranged for the petals of a dozen roses to be scattered across the room. A trail of petals led from the door to the bed where there were more arranged in a giant heart on the bedsheets. The bathroom was also adorned with petals around the sink and the bathtub. We didn’t linger too long in the room (yet) as I wanted to take her to a new attraction very seasonally appropriate, the Waterfront Winterfest right across the street. Firepits, little private mini-cabins, spiked hot chocolate, an ice rink and a giant Christmas tree, we snuggled against a fireplace with hot cocoa and listened to the music from the rink. I stroked her hair and kept her warm in my embrace. After a bit we walked to Market Street to pick up some cheesesteaks (we were big on the midnight snack thing). In case you didn’t already expect it, I of course had planned this part of the itinerary as well so another rose was waiting there for her. Three, not counting the petals in the room. We went back, I opened a bottle of champagne I had chilling in the fridge, and we feasted on cheesesteaks and chocolate strawberries that I had brought from home. We toasted to our love, laughed, and exchanged gifts. She gave me romantic scratcher cards, playing on my love of gambling and assorted amorous activities of a rather adult nature. I had bought her a book, Totto-Chan the Little Girl at the Window, about a young girl who goes to a very unique school, and I was going to read her a chapter each night on the phone or in person. That night we had incredible, passionate, loving sex on a bed of roses. I held her against me and we made ourselves inseparable. I fell asleep inside her with her clinging to my arms, her head buried in my chest.

The next morning we had breakfast at the Franklin Fountain. Warm apple cider and apple pie with ice cream. I told her to ask for the ‘Beautiful special’ and it came with another rose. I had woken up an hour before her and ran to every spot we were going to hit that day. After breakfast we went shopping for chocolates and candies at Shaw’s Candies. Another ‘Beautiful special’, another rose. Took a picture in front of the LOVE statue in Philly. It was freezing that day and her cheeks were so red. Nearby was Reading Terminal Market where we walked, browsed, perused wares, and had our lunch. No need for a big plan here, there’s a florist in the market so I simply purchased a rose on the spot for her. There are so many different vendors all with their own style and specialty. We visited the Magic Gardens, just like in college, and when Beautiful got her ticket, there was a rose that came along with it too. The Magic Gardens is a giant indoor outdoor mural project started by a local Philly artist using bits of recycled materials. Glass bottles, broken tiles, bike wheels, all of these are valid mediums for what has become a living artwork, slowly growing and spreading beyond the borders of the artist’s work space, which is a modest indoor studio and an outdoor exhibit. We ended the night at the same place we went to so long ago when we could only afford one brat for the two of us, a romantic Valentine’s dinner at Brauhaus Schmitz, a wonderfully authentic and lively German restaurant and bierhaus with an excellent array of cured meats, sausages, and of course, beer. And you know a rose came for her when the bill came for me.

I loved planning that weekend. One night and one day in Philly and we were able to do so much, share so much between us and our love. I believed I had truly made her happy that weekend. And I thought it would last.

We went to Cabo together as well. It was both our first time in Mexico and her first time at an all-inclusive. I had been able to secure three free nights thanks to my job. It was a beautiful resort with incredible food and our room had a balcony overlooking the resort’s pool, over the beach, and straight out into the ocean. During the morning we’d enjoy breakfast on the balcony and during day we’d swim and drink and eat and at night we would walk along the beach barefoot before heading back to the room to make love. We went on adventures together, driving ATVs across the dessert and on the beach and through small dunes and hill tracks. We zip-lined across canyons hundreds of feet in the air screaming at the top of our lungs and encouraging each other to be brave and grab life and enjoy every moment.

We made plans. We told ourselves that this was our forever. I wrote letters to her again. This time she started writing back. We started collecting new memorabilia. Instax photos. We were rebuilding and then on top of that we were already creating the scaffolding of newer and greater additions. I let myself see things I had been blinding myself to. I saw our family growing up in the house we built together. I saw a long and beautiful life. I saw her hopes and dreams manifest. I saw mine take shape and light and life once more. I saw the gloriously brilliant beginning, the painful yet necessary middle, and the justly deserved reward of an end. I talked to her of forever and of love and of hope and family and marriage and home and destiny. I promised to marry her every morning and every night. We spoke of finding a place together, our finances, our plans. I captured the poetry in her heartbeat and translated it into words and actions of love. You could see it, that bliss, that happiness, that madness, when we were together. We reconnected with old friends from college. I once again opened myself up to the possibilities and promises I could have only ever held for Beautiful and myself. I said things about love, silly, stupid, hopeful things I only ever could have believed in when I was with Beautiful. I stripped away the scars and the bandages, exposing the raw, open, bleeding heart I had triaged over the years, parsing away the parts that no longer worked without her. As quickly and as intensely as possible I went back to the beating exposed nerve. I forgot about all reserve. I surrendered my foresight. I wanted to find once more, to prove it still existed, the bleeding heart romantic. Years fell off like dried withered skin. I scraped till I saw red. Through it all, through everything, through every failure, we had built ourselves up to this moment.

I never asked for any of this.

Word count so far: 49921

Day 142: The Man and the NaNoWriMo; Not All Happy Endings

Boy Meets Other Girls

The world changed when I had to realize that it would never be about the story of Beautiful and I. We were not meant to be. I had to pick up the pieces of what was left and continue on. I became restless and insecure. My confidence was shaken. I had held the greatest love in the world in the palm of my hands and let it slip through my fingers like fine sand. I was even given a second chance, but not knowing or not realizing the significance, I only came to truly miss it when it was finally, and completely, out of reach. My love for her had been one of the strongest foundations of my existence for the past four years. I had constantly leaned on it for support during times of struggle personally, academically, or professionally. She was one of the few, if there even any others, who truly understood me and to whom I could trust to help relieve the weight on my shoulders. My life had been built on three legs. My love for Beautiful, my future career as a teacher, and my small but still critical social circle. In a perfect world, I would end up being married to her and we would have created a family and home together. I would have a steady and reliable and respected career as a high school teacher. My friends and family would be there always to support and to celebrate through good times and bad. But then I had to realize Beautiful was completely out of the picture, and like a stool with only two legs to stand on, I fell. I had had plans to marry her, find a home and live together, and after a few years of bliss just being completely engrossed in each other, we would start a family. It was all supposed to be a part of my grand master life plan, which saw me supposedly happily married by twenty-eight. I have of course learned since then that while the idea of having goals and aspirations can be useful and in fact motivational in creating and finding and recognizing opportunities, the strict idea of ‘having things done in a specific order over a specific period of time’ can only cause stress, grief, and disappointment. Very soon after, the second leg of my stool was knocked off as well. In May I learned from my school that I would not be asked back for another year and that they would not fully sign off on my teaching license. If I wanted to continue on this path I would have to go through the gauntlet of applications and interviews and demonstration lessons and join a large population of hopeful potential teachers vying for more than just a maternity leave only unlike them I would not have a full license, which would mean having to go through another year of development, increased visits, and extra scrutiny. It had been a tough year in a school I had never experienced myself, full of students who I could not fully and personally relate to, and I was terrible at balancing the fine line between my professional life and my personal life. It pains me to say this, but for as much as I loved and was passionate about English and literature, I had turned out to be one hell of a disappointment as a teacher. To not sink into despair and debt, I took on a job purely out of necessity. There were no illusions of nobility or grandeur. I did not love who I was or what I was doing. Although I could see it in the way my parents and my friends saw me, I did not need their stare to feel the judgement of how low I had gotten. So much of the spark that was lit because of Beautiful had died within me. And now not only was I a shadow of the lover of life I once was, I was living an illusion of home in the tepid shell of a career that held no possibility or pleasure for me. I worked because I needed to, and because it allowed me to afford the luxury of pursuing that which did make me happy. If only I could find something again. Without the one leg, everything else just was not strong enough to support me. I was always, and still am, a man who defined himself by the love he had in his life. I was always a believer in the ‘missing piece’ story, that one day someone would come along and teach me how to feel whole. Without Beautiful’s love to define me and to strengthen me, my resolve weakened. I could not turn my passion and energy and vigor to my career because I was in one I had none of that for. My friends and family were having to take on the excessive brunt of all my frenetic frenzied energy but even they could not handle it. I lived too much for relationships, too much for love. I could not release in myself the dreams and hopes and aspirations I held privately and exclusively reserved for my relationships. I had to begin again.

The question was of course, of where and when and how. It had been years now since college, and I could no longer rely on the comfort and convenience of classes and clubs. I had to relearn how the modern world connected with each other and how I would find a partner who could help me. Since up until this point my experience had been exclusively schoolyard dating, I went first with what was most comfortable and most natural for me. I went back to school. I decided that perhaps I would want to re-enter the education field but at a higher level. I would pursue my Master’s degree and perhaps apply to teach at a college level. The dignity and pomp and prestige of a college professor still held the romantic ideals and notions I once had for high school teaching. I could imagine my closet full of brown blazers and turtlenecks already. I lasted only one semester. Eventually my guise was thrown and the veil lifted. I couldn’t fool myself any longer. I knew that I honestly had no more ambitions or hopes for an academic career. I had tasted the water of the well and it was now bitter and tainted. I wanted nothing more of observations and other people’s expectations. And once I could no longer fool myself, I realized what I was really doing was setting myself up to be paying upwards of tens of thousands of dollars for what was basically a glorified dating simulation with a diploma at the end. I didn’t sign up for a second semester and saved myself the money; there were cheaper and more efficient ways to meet women and I did not have to stay up writing papers to do so.

Many said to me to try and meet someone at work. It isn’t like I didn’t have any examples to draw on either. My parents actually met in the workplace. Let us not forget that Bill and Melinda Gates met in the workplace as well, and they are now one of the wealthiest couples in the world. Former president Barack Obama met Michelle when she was her superior at a Chicago law firm, and they were for eight years the most powerful couple in the world. Dating in the workplace can seem like an irresistible and sometimes inevitable temptation. Outside of home or school, work is perhaps the third place we will spend most of our lives. It is difficult not to imagine that in the often eight hours a day, usually five days a week, that one spends in the same place over and over again that certain connections and relationships would arise. Interestingly enough, up to sixty-percent of adults will have admitted to ‘dipping their pen in the company ink’ but eighty-percent of the very same adults will say that they believe office relationships are often a bad idea. I think this is perhaps due to a lot of regrettable office Christmas parties and messy breakups that result in filing in together at the unemployment line. Of course meeting in the workplace is just like meeting anywhere else. As long as two responsible mature adults can agree on certain things, working on communication, space, and avoiding conflicts of interests, it can be just as viable an option as any other. The problem for me was that the workplace was never an ideal possibility. As a teacher I was only surrounded by young students, angry parents, and other stressed out teachers. I wouldn’t ever dare risk my career for one, risk my life for the other, or risk my sanity for the last. Teachers are one of the professions with the highest divorce rates. As a travel consultant, it would have been grossly unprofessional for me to date my clients, and being the youngest in my office by decades, I was a bit starved for choice for any possible romps in the copy room. Honestly this wasn’t exactly a great loss. While the appropriateness and legitimacy of office romances have been set and made credible, I remain skeptical of their longevity and practicality.

I thought of asking my friends for advice, as that seemed to make the most sense to me. After all, apart from my family these were the people with whom I’ve spent the most amount of time. I have known my best friend only three years less than I have known my own brother. They know my interests and passions and they have their own social circles beyond my own, which is admittedly very small. The women they could recommend to me would already have passed their own credentials and would have my friends already to vouch for them. I’d imagine we would have a lot in common and have the support and encouragement from our friends to succeed. But behavioral sciences would say otherwise. For one, having friends try to set up friends can often hurt friendships. There is the unrealistic idealism that comes from having someone you know and trust vet for someone. It is dangerously easy to fall into a daydream about double dates and joint weddings. When expectations fall short, you could take it out on the friend who was trying to help. This could then affect your relationships, as you question why your friend would ever have recommended someone clearly so disappointing. Dating someone who is perhaps already a part of your friends group can also make it harder to break up, as you feel obligated to soldier on just a little bit more for the sake of your mutual connection. And when it does eventually end, there is only bitterness and awkwardness as you are forced to draw borders and draft friends on each side, and no one wants to be put in such a situation as to split friend groups. I chose to recuse my friends and save us all the potential strain.

Ultimately, I decided to rely mainly on online dating. The marvel of modern technology. This was more than the questionable online chat rooms or forums of the desperate and needy. For most people, modern online dating has removed the stigma of earlier versions by focusing on creating lasting, legitimate relationships. Between 2005 and 2012 thirty-five percent of married couples say they met online. With the numbers only going up, more and more adults are relying on online dating services to meet people. By joining this community I would have access to a far greater potential dating pool than my local neighborhood Barnes and Noble could ever provide me. Obviously the global nature of the internet was appealing and promised me more opportunities: a definite plus. Because of the purpose and specific goal of online dating sites, I also never had to worry about wondering what the other person was looking for. For the most part I could feel confident knowing that anyone I would or could meet was single and looking and interested in a relationship. There are of course some services and sites that offer alternatives other than relationships, like casual hookups or simply meeting friends, but I steered clear of those and only went where it was very clearly understood what each party was interested in. It was also great for my social anxiety/awkwardness and reserved nature, as I could project myself in a certain way and manner and carefully approach someone with the benefit and comfort of distance and time. I set certain rules for myself as well. One, as I mentioned, was to make sure I only contacted people I could very clearly see were seeking a serious relationship. Second, when meeting up in person for the very first time I made sure it was during the day, in a public area, and close to where they lived. I knew the fears and worries of women on these sites, and I wanted to help them feel safe and comfortable. Third, I always made it very clear up front what my intentions were and what I was hoping to build. I didn’t want any confusion or false pretenses. Of course I also knew of the downfalls that I would need to avoid. The very same variety and infinite possibilities promised by online dating were also one of its worst features and most difficult obstacles to staying happy. A large body of studies has shown that when we are given with too much choice, we lose the ability to find lasting happiness in one. With how easy it is for someone to continue to keep looking and finding, especially given more distance or less characteristics, it’s hard to shake off the idea that perhaps there’s someone else, someone better. I also found that most profiles on these sites relied heavily on physical appeal. Perhaps buying into that idea of ‘love at first sight’. I would hate to ever consider it, but I should probably admit that I used physical attractiveness as the first and most important characteristic when viewing potential online matches. Only when they might be very clearly presented as highly likely matches or had some other very interesting or significant feature would I stay a bit longer to browse and read and learn if I initially found someone physically unattractive. I maintain no illusions that I’m by any means an Adonis. I am at best average. So I would hate to imagine how many potential matches I may have had or have reached out to who have rejected me for the very same reason. And I can’t ever hold that against them. But if my best feature is my sense of humor, cooking, and great storytelling, sometimes an average face can’t suffice on online dating. I also sometimes missed the pace and patience of real life versus online. I happily courted Beautiful for four months before even our first official date. I doubt anyone who is enjoying the speed and convenience of online dating would have been happy with that.

Ultimately I did meet some very wonderful, attractive, interesting women. I went on countless first dates and got to have that rush and feeling of excitement and anxiousness all over again. I got to meet women from Connecticut, New York, and all parts of New Jersey. They were anything from accountants, secretaries, bankers, to artists. Of the many matches, many exchanged messages, many calls, many meetings, and even many dates, there were even a few budding relationships and romances. I was a hurt and broken man but I could never live without love. I was hoping any one of these incredible people could give me the same. I dated a few of them for a while, and one or two even lasted longer than a couple months and met my friends and family. But there was always something to shoot down. She lived too far, and I would remember how often I would visit Beautiful and loved spending time in her living room lying on the floor watching movies with her. I wanted that same luxury of seeing her as often as I could and would want to. Or maybe another one was too giving. She would constantly inconvenience herself to help her friends and family, taking them out or spending on their behalf or devoting of her time to those who needed it. It brought up my insecurities about Beautiful not making us a priority or spending more time with others or using what little she had for others and not us. She was too boring, or too unpredictable, or too wild, or too safe, or too clingy, or too aloof, I could never find my porridge or my bed. I had shot myself in the foot too many times, seen myself sabotage too many possible romances, and even seen a few be ruined all on their own. Infidelity, insecurity, I experienced it all. The truth was, they were all of them not Beautiful, and could never be. After all these years I wasn’t looking for love, I was still looking for Beautiful.

Word count so far: 45046

Day 140: The Man and the NaNoWriMo; Not All Happy Endings

Note: This has been hard to write. And I am not proud of the things I have done or the person I was. Also, the story isn’t over yet.

Boy Loses Girl

‘[Our love] had burned itself out, like a forgotten candle in an empty room, leaving behind a ravenous discontent.’

-Paolo Giordano, Solitude of Prime Numbers

Beautiful and I broke up on a cold, dark night in March, just a few weeks after Valentine’s. We did not go gently into that good night. We burned and raved, and if there was any rage, we would not in the time after turn it to the dying light, but instead inwards at ourselves. And it is here, after meeting Beautiful, after believing she was my soulmate, after falling in love with her almost immediately, after finding her exactly my type, after the courtship, the gestures, the acts, the language, the signs we were going to be together forever, that I must admit and own up to the greatest and worst and most tragic mistake of my time.

I began to develop feelings for someone else.

It didn’t matter that she was Filipino, like me, or that she was an English major, like me, or that she was planning on transitioning to Education, like me. It is not relevant to the story that she was into comic books and anime and manga and read all the same books and had seen and loved all the same movies and played all the same video games. It really wasn’t even a matter of her being this younger, cute, spunky tomboyish girl with a soft voice. It ultimately, definitely, really didn’t matter when after all the dust had settled in the uproar of our breakup because the only reason why this other girl had even been around was because she was actually attracted to my other friend.

What matters is that I cared.

To be honest it was nothing more than a silly, fleeting, schoolboy crush. She was just another face on the playground that I happened to like, but in the context of it all it shook my beliefs to its very foundation.

It wasn’t supposed to happen. I wasn’t supposed to feel like this. She shouldn’t have mattered to me in the least. I had done all my research. I had searched and fought and worked for this. I sat through countless hours of the same romantic comedy plots. Watched every ‘every man’ and every ‘every girl’ fall madly, hopelessly, blissfully, and (this was the important part) completely in love. I had read every article and pored over every word. I listened to their songs and I invested in their images. I bought what all of these sources were selling me. There was supposed to be a better result than this. I had put in the time and money and effort. There was supposed to be a contract between me and love. I listened to love’s sweet song because it promised me at the end I would have my chance at it as well and I thought Beautiful was my reward.

It was never about who this other girl was. As difficult as it may seem to understand and convince others of this, it is the ultimate truth. She was nice enough, sweet enough, pretty enough, for a good-sized crush to entertain the whimsy for a little while, but ultimately deep down, there was nothing that could have sustained a relationship. In retrospect, she was a fun distraction, with some great conversation, but I would have been kidding myself to think it meant anything, or could have meant anything, especially in comparison.

For as spectacular and intricate and show-worthy as our romance was, our relationship deserved more than this two-dollar drugstore cliché ending. You know the story. By the end of our junior year in college we had become both familiar with each other and preoccupied with the increasing pressures of school and work. It was time to start looking for a school that would host our senior year student teaching experiences and taking certification tests. Meanwhile I had been promoted at my job and she was taking more hours and more weekends at hers in order to earn more money. Naturally the time we spent together began to wane, and the time we did have was spent more like doing work in each other’s presence. The other girl, being two years our junior, was still just enjoying the leisure of freshman classes and no work responsibilities. When Beautiful had to take night shifts or night classes, I would stay on campus waiting for her to get out and spend most of that time with the other person. We talked about our similar interests or our similar experiences, drawing on the cornucopia of things that now suddenly were so important to me and clearly relevant and pertinent to my partner. I was spending the time waiting for someone who mattered to me with someone who was becoming more important and I was talking about things I normally never really divulged or went into with someone who could listen and relate.

I knew what was happening. I could see it in the signs and I wanted nothing to do with it. Up until the very very last moment I knew in my heart there was no one I could ever love as much as I did Beautiful. She was the one for me, the one every song alluded to and every movie was about. We had done everything possible to fit into the mold, to offer our love to the romance gods and be blessed by them. So why suddenly did I feel sick and cursed. In the same way lovers can look at each other through rose-colored glasses, perhaps there should be a term for the tainted vision of looking at someone you are falling out of love with. What color should those be, I wonder. In my heart I was holding onto Beautiful, working to keep our love alive, believing in still what great wonders our love could accomplish. But my mind was slowly turning against me. In the same way I used to look at her as nothing but beauty and perfection, my mind was searching for the cracks and focusing on them. I think many can relate to this feeling. There is no helping that, during those twilight moments in a relationship, your perception is suddenly twisted and tainted and, I am ashamed to say, cruel. I saw the split and dry ends of her luxurious hair. I saw the cracks and lines in her porcelain skin. I heard shrill cacophony in the symphony of her laughter.

I demanded better. Not of her or me, but of love. Where was my bliss. Where was my happy ending. Why should the heart have to work against the mind when it comes to love. I saw nothing of the same brilliance or brightness in this other girl, just the shortcomings of the one I had loved for so long. Blindly, stupidly, naively, I saw nothing wrong with continuing to drink from the same well that had satiated me of my thirst for all things romance and love. I thought everything was supposed to easy. I thought the flame of true love was an eternal one. I felt alone and abandoned in every hour I was not with her because of her other obligations. I saw her spend hard-wrestled time and hard-earned money with friends but wondered why she couldn’t seemingly find a weekend night to spend doing nothing with me. If I could be this unhappy at this moment, and if I could even allow or entertain the notion of another, even in this paltry imitation I had met at the same club that gave me Beautiful, maybe this was all wrong after all. Maybe Beautiful wasn’t the one. Maybe I’m too young to have found her. Maybe I’m supposed to keep looking. Maybe this, this happiness and care and warmth and understanding and passion and romance and love, is supposed to end.

Why can’t humans live in eternal happiness? Why is bliss so foreign and pain so familiar? I was giving up the treasure for the hunt because I found the map too easy to read. All of the voices that had ever spoken to me of love and bliss and happiness, they were voices of pursuit. I never saw a movie after its ending. I only ever knew the chase. But I must have known that this was wrong, all wrong, because when I went to her dorm late at night after yelling and screaming at the roof of the parking garage, even before saying anything she could see the resignation in my eyes, and I could see the devastation in hers. It wasn’t her pulling away or devoting less time for us. It wasn’t her who was slowly killing our love. It was me.

During all the time I had spent waiting for her after classes and after work, focusing on this time of absence, I never realized that between the two of us, she was the only one who completely and absolutely devoted every free second to be together. While I was internally contemplating our relationship and secretly forcing it and her to show me its worth and prove its strength, I was the one shutting down the communication lines and pulling away, withholding the care and affection that we had grown together. I was starving the one person who meant the most to me because I was too concerned with making sure I had the best and biggest and fullest plate. I never thought to reflect that while I was judging her to be my soulmate or not, she was still absolutely and completely convinced of this as truth. She was exhausting herself to the very limits of her being to devote everything to work, school, and me while I measured each offering. She had to sit back and watch, helpless, as my eyes began to gray and darken and my hand became cold and distant because I didn’t want hers to be. Through doubt and selfishness, my mind worked to try and transform her into something I couldn’t love. But with just her eyes and her ears and her heart, she watched me change all on my own.

There were no sweet words for what I was doing. The language of love that danced off the tip of my tongue was found dumb and lame when it came to how to hurt someone. It was all just clumsy, cliché, and crass. There are no eloquent ways to carve your lover’s heart out. The cuts are jagged, crooked, and mercilessly deep. It felt like an out of body experience. This man standing in front of the love of my life, trying to convince himself he is falling out of love with her, cannot possibly be me. These words that sting and feel heavy and bitter cannot be my words; my words are light and carry to her heart sweet and lovely things. These hands so nervously wringing themselves and struggling awkwardly to find their place cannot be my hands; my hands’ home is on the small of her back. These tears that fall like bombs onto the floor, burning a trail down her cheek, cannot really be hers; I promised her back when I loved her that I would be there to kiss her tears away and that they would never be able to reach the ground again. These tears that cloud my vision and taste salty on the corner of my mouth cannot be mine; I am supposed to have believed I wanted this.

Our breakup was abrupt, sloppy, and painful. We each dealt with it as best we could. For those in the relationship, I believe it is seldom ever true that a parting could ever really be ‘completely unexpected’. Depending on the circumstances and the extent and depth of that relationship, most often partners can sense the horizon looming ever closer, despite hoping and praying to be wrong. There’s no way to prepare for the flood or to handle the results. There is no dignity in pain, no beauty in sorrow. There is no romance to heartbreak. It is the ugly, raw, and exposed wound whose scar we come to appreciate only over time. But in that moment we were just two very young, very confused, very hurt people. She cried. I cried. I made excuses to try and make things better, but there was no way to improve what was happening. She was stronger than I was, the last one of us to hold onto our love. She refused to suffer the indignity of having the man who had broken her heart bring her back to her dorm. I had to leave her there alone that night, hoping her roommate would come to pick her up, wiping away her tears by herself, while I drove home in the world I had created for myself.

It wasn’t a nice world. And it was never my own. In my mind I was still living in another cheesy romance plot, and I was waiting for my second act. I still believed in all the stories, wanted to be a part of this machine. Beautiful was everything to me. All my hopes, all my dreams, all my love. But all I ever knew until her was to love the chase, to live through the seeking and the courting and the falling. There were no stories of the after, no counseling for those who had found everything and had to live with the unbearable pressure of happiness. I had sabotaged the greatest thing in my life for the familiar and comfortable pain of longing. I was desperate, stubborn, to get back to what I knew and to prove after the fact that I had done the right thing. Very soon, too soon, after I began seeing someone I had known back in high school. She was the complete opposite of the free-spirited light of my life. She was entirely too self-conscious, full of bitterness and vitriol, and had neither the expressiveness nor the range of my Beautiful. But she was pretty, smarter, we could talk about books and movies and interesting papers, and I could step through familiar movements all over again. The courting, the falling, it was rushed and frantic. Love as commodity, mass-produced, one every season. It was much too forced, too manufactured, to last. Beautiful was pure inspiration. This was rote memorization. I thought love had let me down, let my wandering eyes fall too hard and too long on the same person. I didn’t know if I was living in the movie where the protagonist is tempted by another, only to realize and deepen his feelings for his true love, or if I was the one who realized he was chasing the wrong person all along. Still I had nothing but the tropes of love to fall back on.

Still, Beautiful’s love endured. She was the last hurt, bleeding, pained bastion of the greatest love of our lives. I couldn’t find the decency in me to completely cut her off. Somehow I felt that to be kind and gentle and optimistic to her was to show more mercy. Even as I was pursuing this absolutely doomed romance with her antithesis, she loved me, and willingly suffered to show it. She tried to move on, like I seemingly had. She went on a few dates. She wanted to tell me. My ears couldn’t handle what she was saying, so I did the only thing I knew how to do. I kissed her. For a brief time we were nothing but an insult to the love we shared and deserved. Late night rendezvous after work sneaking into each other’s homes. Quick, furtive, messy trysts in parking lots. We were just young and confused and trying to process the hurt. I was mad, messed up and misreading all the signs, and when she reached her hand out to me in forgiveness and absolution of all my wrongdoings, when she offered her love again, I felt indignant and ashamed. I had lived my life supposedly devoted to love and all of its promises. I was supposed to love her like no one could, and I was supposed to love her the most. Yet I was being overshadowed. I had done everything shameful and wrong that a man could do. I broke her heart, lied to her, misled her, and used her. Why, how, could she love someone so unworthy. I don’t know who she saw anymore or why it still looked anything like me. I rejected her salvation to continue my punishment. The other girl, she never knew of the time I spent with Beautiful, but I found out about the nights she spent with someone else, someone she would leave me for, someone who was in her words, ‘richer, had a better body, and was Chinese’. It didn’t even last seven months.

Eventually I realized what I had had in Beautiful. She was the greatest story I could ever tell. I didn’t want our chapter to end. She was still the only person I could ever talk to when it came to love. I could never find someone who would understand the depth of what I felt aside from the person I felt it with. We started this conversation together as partners. In the end she was the only one maintaining that communication. It was time for me to speak up once more. Two years after our breakup and a year after the last time I saw her, leaving the hotel we secretly spent the weekend in together, where she asked me to come back to her and I was too stubborn to prove I wasn’t making a mistake, I was ready, and wanted, to resume our story. I wasn’t fooling myself. I knew it was a long shot. I knew very well that someone as incredible as Beautiful could never be alone for too long. Not if her heart would allow her to love once more. I wrote one last, heartfelt, emotional letter and folded it into one more perfect heart. I couldn’t call her ‘my dear sweet beautiful girl’ anymore but I wrote to her as if she was. I told her of how wrong I was to cast away our love. How undeserving I was and how strong she was by the end. I told her she was the last thing I could ever learn about what true love is. How I live in a smaller shell of a world because the ghosts of our happiness haunt too many places special to me. The park, the secret deck behind the mall, the spot underneath our tree, they were hers now. They survived in memories still too potent for me to be able to handle. I told her like many lesser lovers, I never knew how to appreciate what was mine. But most of all, I told her that despite the last half of what had happened between us, I had, did, and would always, love her. I told her that I was always taught that love made soulmates and that we all had the capacity for great love and simply needed the right vessel in which to capture it all. I told her that I had been so wrong all this time, and that it was the other way around. She made me who I was. She taught me to love. She was the lesson, the inspiration, and the audience. I loved her now more than I could have before, and that all I wanted was for her to be happy, and hopefully find that happiness in me once more.

I wrote this letter, sprayed it with my cologne, placed it in an envelope, and went back to her workplace. It took a few tries and more than a few days to finally find her there working. She looked completely different. Her hair, the long locks I had always fawned over and begged her never to cut, now fell just a little over her ears. The eyes that had once looked so delighted to see me were apprehensive; she was looking at me like I was a stranger. I gave her the letter, begged of her to read it, and left. It was January. I waited outside, like I always did, on a bench by the entrance. And I continued to wait. Three hours later after the mall had finally closed, employees began filing out into the dark parking lot. And I continued to wait. Full of fear, shame, and trepidation, I could not meet the gaze of any of those who passed by, just hoping and wishing and praying that she would come out and greet me, even just a word, to know that she had read and heard my plaintive cries. And I continued to wait. An hour passed. My hands were numb. My lips frozen. I had long since stopped feeling cold enough to shiver. And I continued to wait. Until the reality became unavoidable. She had walked right past me. This was my last play. I had nothing left but my one-sided love now. I had to let her be, let her live the life I had affected.

I have never been proud of the things I did during that time. I have never maintained any illusions of any romance, love, or noble saving grace in my actions. I was young and insecure. I did not yet know of the work of happiness. It was one thing to ruin my life in pursuit of some unachievable ideal, but it was an entirely different matter altogether that in order for me to learn the most important lessons of life, love, and happiness I had to drag the one person who had mattered the most to me through the mud and dirt as well. There was no second act for me now. I was offered it not once but twice. Somehow I had defied the odds and then, because I must have been a glutton for punishment, I doubled down. And the house won. I must have seemed to the rest of the world a daft fool, but to the person whose heart mattered the most to me, I feared how she must have seen me. The ultimate betrayal of every promise I had made to her with only the noblest of intentions, ruined by the most base of emotions. Fear. There would be no love left for me in her story. I could only hope that the damage I had caused would be deep enough that she would never think of me again. I couldn’t bear the idea that the man she once loved and cared for was naught but a negative memory. A villain in time. A disappointment. Me, I would continue to be haunted by the ghosts of our relationship. My heart would still sink every time I looked at the moon, wondering if she could see what I still see. I would steer my life clear and away and far from the places we once were. Once I started my student teaching I almost never went back to campus. I left our club. Barred off our mall. Closed every door she opened. She would no longer be on the other side waiting.

Word count so far: 42162

Day 138: The Man and the NaNoWriMo; Not All Happy Endings

Part Three: The Lasting of Love

First of all, to assuage the many doubters and the many who are fearful, the reality of lasting love is that it does happen, and more often than you might think. Despite its constant use in political fearmongering and the love skeptic’s handbooks, the divorce rate in the United States is not, has never been, and has never even been close to fifty percent. It isn’t even going up to try and reach that number either. The actual reality is that right now in America the divorce rate is actually low and has no indications of going anywhere but lower. My parents have been happily married now for twenty nine going on thirty years. All of my friends were raised in two-parent households and all of their parents are still together even now. I have only one friend who is already married, but they have been married now for more than two years after almost a decade of being together. Now I do understand that marriage does not necessarily equate to love, nor does the success rate of marriage necessarily relate to the lasting power of love. But it is an unshakable union (pardon the pun) that nonetheless many have joined together and so it is worth bearing and repeating: true, profound, deep, intimate, personal, affirming love can and does last.

All love, regardless of its origin or its inception, goes through very much the same stages though maybe at different times. We all know and love the honeymoon phase of love. That giddy, euphoric, blissful state that blinds us in its brilliance and intensity. It is lustful, idealistic, and romantic. We fall head-over-heels in love with the object of our affections and through our rose-colored glasses, they can do no wrong. We feel as though we have been searching for this one moment our entire lives and after finally finding ‘the one’ we feel as if we would die if we ever were to part. We shower each other with gifts and affection. We desire, crave, thirst, hunger, consume each other’s bodies in excited, passionate love. We wish we could feel this way forever, but the truth is we can’t, and we shouldn’t. What greatly contributes to this overly-excitable, hyper-intense level of love is the freshness insecurity, and unpredictability of new relationships. We see the best versions of ourselves because we only present the best version of ourselves. We are so worried about where this relationship may go or may not go that it becomes our driving force to work tirelessly and ceaselessly to ensure its proliferation. But true, lasting relationships cannot hope to be built on something as weak and unstable as our insecurities and fears. We are bonded in the early stage by fear of what might unbond us. This cannot be our foundation though. Long-term relationships crave comfort, security, stability, and routine. And it is such that relationships that are able to last beyond the honeymoon stage, or more accurately it is such that relationships find themselves in when the honeymoon stage inevitably ends, that this comfortable stage is where conflict arises because we let it, we let our guards down enough to see problems. The honeymoon stage lasts on average six months to a year and at best, perhaps a few years altogether. Inevitable and irrevocably, it must end though. For better and for worse. It ends because we become comfortable around our partner. We humanize them rather than idolize them and it unlocks deeper levels of understanding, compassion, and even love. But because it ends we also see the flaws we were trying to protect ourselves from. The blinds have been opened. Trying to hold onto intense, romantic, beginning stage love is like trying to hold onto the sun while staring directly into it. To last, love must change, and we have to realize that it is not about perfection but about understanding and acceptance. It is not destiny, it is effort. After a year of knowing each other and two and a half years of dating, Beautiful and I were nearing that transition phase. We were still madly in love with each other and looked up to one another, we were still craving each other’s company and touch. But we had become comfortable and secure around each other, and we were not only ready but excited and looking forward to this new level of love. I can’t, unfortunately, say much of if we would have been able to last. But if the so-called experts who seemed to be able to identify so-called signs of so-called lasting love could dissect and create the qualities and characteristics of what lasting love could and should look like, it certainly felt for damn sure like we had it all.

That was the great shame of it.


DO maintain positive illusions about each other. There is no denying that as couples spend more time together and become more comfortable and natural around each other, that certain flaws and shortcomings will arise. It is important for a relationship to last that we make sure to always be aware to cherish more than criticize. As these issues arise, it is those who are able to continually find their partner attractive, funny, kind, and ideal in every way despite them and not in spite of them who are most likely to succeed long-term. It is also important to remember to focus on the unique, distinct, wonderful characteristics that only they possess that attracted you to them in the first place. I am a very quiet and reserved person. I prefer peace and quiet over too much noise or stimulation. Did I sometimes find Beautiful’s energy and outbursts and uncontrollable emotion overbearing? Yes, I must admit. But it was also that same energy that first made me notice her. She was, is, uninhibited in her joy and in her expression. If she was surprised or happy, you would know. It was refreshing, invigorating, and liberating to live life through her with all of the emotion and passion she brought forth.

DO act with forgiveness and loyalty. The Puritans were not perfect people. Among their list of contributions to society would be Thanksgiving and the Salem Witch Trials. But of love, the Puritans considered marriage the ‘little church within the church’. Lasting love is both an institution and our salvation. When we know our partner is committed to us and sees the best in us, we are motivated to live up to their expectations and become better people because they believe we already are. Love as manifest destiny. But when we fall short, love is also the fountain from which we draw the forgiveness of our partners’ flaws and the foundation of loyalty that allows us to soldier on, to remain true, to not defect and to not stray, no matter what trial, struggle, or shortcoming. We were never perfect people, but we seemed perfect for each other. I am irresponsible and terrible at time. Beautiful had the patience of a saint but also helped me become even a tad bit more timely and considerate.

DO laugh. I could never be with a woman who had no sense of humor. Being funny is perhaps one of the best things going for me. The correlation between attraction and humor has been cited in numerous studies. Men prefer women who find them funny, and women prefer men who can make them laugh. In the words of Joanne Woodward, ‘sexiness wears thin after a while and beauty fades, but to be married to a man who makes you laugh every day, ah, now that’s a real treat’. Laughter truly is the best medicine. We could look to each other for a good laugh whenever we felt stressed or down. It was an open, honest, and pure act. I was a silly, awkward boy who made terrible ‘dad jokes’ but she laughed at every one of them. That made me feel special, and she always appreciated how I could lighten her mood.

DO keep things fresh. Often, many couples struggle to maintain their relationships beyond the honeymoon stage because they are too tempted, too comforted, by the luxury and security of routine. What is the landmark point of a lasting, established relationship can also be the point of its undoing. There is a fine line between the comfortable and the mundane, and it is important to always skirt the line as best as possible. Sometimes this can be the simple spontaneous act of bringing flowers for no occasion or picking up a little trinket you came across because it reminded you of her. Sometimes it is difficult to truly ‘see’ your partner again after you’ve been together for so long. You’re no longer doting on and fawning over each other. These little simple surprises can be a simple and effective way of reaffirming that spark, that attraction, that fire that still does burn within us. Sometimes it can also mean actually rolling up the sleeves and going on an adventure. Try a new restaurant or cuisine when the same old dinner dates become too familiar. Or try a completely different dish, one you never would have normally ordered. Go to an amusement park. Walk in the rain. Go left when you normally go right. These little risks, these adventures, they re-release the oxytocin and other excitatory hormones and chemicals that we initially felt from the surprise and rush when the relationship was new and you were new to each other. Trying new activities also helps to strengthen and heighten the bonding process, as you are both on equal level for once and are working together to achieve a new goal. I was always surprising Beautiful with little gifts, and Beautiful had a wonderful habit of surprising me with notes and doodles.

It was a little while after we started dating that there was an event on campus on a day I had no classes and therefore no reason to be there. I knew Beautiful was going, and I knew she wanted me there, but she knew my schedule front and back and knew that it would have been completely out of my way. And I texted her exactly that even though I was already secretly on the shuttle bus to campus from the garage. The other members saw me arrive first. They slowly parted to open a path for me to go straight to her and there I was, standing in front of her. Her face burned bright red just like the first day I asked her out. Her eyes looked at me as if I hadn’t just seen her yesterday but it had been years. Her smile beamed, and she was so taken aback and happy she became like a giddily nervous little kid again. I went up to her and hugged her tightly and told her there was no place I’d rather be that day then right there with her. To this day, no one, not family or friends or other loved ones, has ever looked at me with that same amount of happiness and love. No one has ever been as happy to see me as she was. I haven’t felt the brightness of that gaze in a long time.

DO fight, but always less often than you love. According to relationship studies by Dr. John Gottman, the golden ratio for successful long-lasting relationships is five positive exchanges for every one negative. Relationships are most successful and most stable when they maintain this balance. I think what is especially important about this is that it allows for the very real possibility that couples do not always agree and that conflict will arise. No one should try to maintain the delusion that the happiest and most successful couples do not fight. Like the ‘perfect soulmate’ illusion, it is often those couples who try their hardest to avoid and ignore conflict that will struggle the soonest and the most. I may be tempted to say that we never fought. I may want to continue this picture of perfection under the guise that we always agreed. But the truth is, to be the best, and to be believable, and to be real, of course we fought. Never dishes being thrown or burned clothes but just…miscommunication. Misunderstanding. It is important to acknowledge and to experience conflict because it is important for couples to flex and have the ability to exercise conflict resolution like a muscle. For us, usually it was when one of us tried to hold back our feelings or thoughts, even though we wore our emotions on our sleeves. Or it could be about unrealistic expectations or disappointment when we felt we weren’t finding the time or opportunity for each other. It was important to air out these feelings because a) they continued to express and strengthen that we desired so greatly to be with each other and b) it offered us a chance to improve our relationships. Conflict isn’t a negative. It is an integral part of the experience, frgrrom which we can often gain the most but when we ignore it, lose the most also.

DO date your best friend, or make sure your best friend is the person you are dating. First, unlike committed long-lasting love, you are absolutely allowed to have more than one best friend. Past sixth grade, playground rules no longer apply. Second, having said that your only best friend should be the person you are dating, it is important that the person you are dating is at least, one of them. Friendships are built on respect, trust, and confidence. Any relationship, romantic or not, would benefit from these elements. Best friends are open with their feelings and thoughts because of a shared sense of security. Beautiful was for all intents and purposes my best friend, and I was hers. We didn’t have very large social circles so we really were sometimes all we had, so it was important that we could be everything for each other, whenever we needed.

DO be intimate, often and openly. Let us not create illusions or pretend here. We’ve discussed the importance of physical affection: holding hands, hugging, touching when we speak and to convey emotion. This is the under, over, and between the sheets horizontal tango, the crouching tiger/hidden dragon, the beast with two backs, the good honest hard foxtrot uniform Charlie kilo. There is plenty of research that shows sexual satisfaction promotes relational stability and decreases chances for breakups. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have more reasons to be g physically intimate. Blame it on our youth, blame it on the honeymoon stage, but we were ceaselessly, tirelessly, voraciously all over each other whenever we could. It wasn’t just about the physical pleasure, though there was definitely plenty of that to go around. There was something about the openness and intimacy when we started to become more exploratory, more honest in our preferences and in what we wanted. For those who have ever been left wondering or feeling awkward trying to figure out the best ‘bedroom talk’, I can personally and professionally attest, there is nothing more stimulating than being told what to do, and being encouraged when you are doing it right. No need to break out the Fifty Shades of Gray playbook or the script of Big Bottom Booties 3, just that comfort and confidence in being able to communicate what works and what you want it just…it works. And it works. We loved each other and we loved what we did together. The fact that most successful relationships maintain a healthy sexual appetite certainly didn’t hurt. Or it did sometimes. Depends. Don’t judge.


DON’T break up with your friends. An interesting sociological study found that for every new relationships, people had to give up two to three friends, or four to five acquaintances. This is because the human mind cannot maintain and process a social circle beyond an optimal range. It is important to be aware of this because it is important for people in romantic relationships to remember, protect, and cherish the relationships they formed before their partner came. It can be as simple as the act of giving each other that space to be an individual once more and to catch up with others that can strengthen and reattach that bond. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, after all, and there is no harm in her having a few mimosas at brunch with a friend or for the guys to have a poker night. Oh who am I kidding. A board game and video game night. We would often make sure that we never forgot to make time for the other people in our lives. I was always more than happy to give her the time and space to catch up with her best friend from childhood whenever she came home from college. And I made a regular habit of meeting up with my friends in town whenever they were back as well. And when it came to maintaining friendships without sacrificing time together, I have always been a strong proponent of including partners in your circle of friends. No night or gathering was ever off limits to Beautiful, and she was always invited to spend time with my friends. In fact I encouraged it because as small as my circle was, it was never beneficial to be parsing off the time I had. It is also important for couples to make time for their families. Having shared experiences and shared family values strengthens a relationship, potential marriage, and possible future family. It is from family that we draw strength in the hardest times.

DON’T lose your sense of individuality. An important extension of the prior. When relationships become long-term, people begin to view couples as a unit rather than two individual parts. This identity crisis then extends to the couple itself, and then believing that the relationship is a threat to their identity, take it out in the wrong way. Yes it is true that as we dated people began to regard us as one. It never really drives the fact home as much as when you receive your first couple’s gift at the Christmas party. Brangelina, Bennifer, TomKat, these are not identities to be desired. Especially when you consider each one of those has already ended. A long-term relationship does not have to mean the end of the individual. It just means that just like time with family and friends, time to yourselves is just as, if not more, important to maintaining a sense of happiness and contentment. She always had her crafts and her Chinese school and her biking. I had my martial arts, my video games, and my movies. We both also had our own jobs that we maintained nights and the odd weekends. It was enough opportunity that we always had spaces we could retreat to to be our own selves.

DON’T ever stop courting each other. You may think that all those small gestures and sweet words went with the wind when Beautiful became my girlfriend. They never disappeared. Yes, they were very much transparent attempts to curry favor and court her heart. But they were still rooted and inspired and motivated by care, affection, and eventually love. For that there is no reason why it should disappear once a relationship becomes stable and familiar. And yet the tragedy is it often does, much to the dismay of many failed relationships. ‘S/he just stopped trying’ are terminal diagnoses. We still stayed up til 2am sharing secrets and thoughts. I still stayed on campus just for her and she still took naps with me (and kissed me in my sleep). What couples experiencing this break in the fantasy have to realize is that the person in front of us is still the same one who seemed to rise and fall with the sun. Just because their real selves and the real relationship have leaked into the real world does not mean we cannot till maintain a piece of that fantasy when we are together.

After two and a half years, we were successfully and consistently displaying all of the great signs of a potentially life-long relationship and had successfully avoided all of the pitfalls. As our graduation fast approached and we began considering future careers and life changes, we looked towards the future together, knowing and feeling like we would have this happiness and love to cherish forever.

Word count so far: 38267

Day 137: The Man and the NaNoWriMo; Not All Happy Endings

Part Two: The Acts of Love

It wasn’t just the words I spoke that became better through love. The person I had become, and the things I did to show for it, were made better too. Just like the letters every month and the long texts after each date, the things I did came freely and naturally. There was no real forcing of the issue. I never struggled or wanted for some new way to act on, or express, my love. If I had to try and describe or prescribe certain actions, I would probably start by saying that love is both cause and effect, action and reaction. When you love, you act, and when you act, you love. It is deceptively simple and maybe even frustratingly vague for those who struggle to understand but you know when you are in love the actions speak for themselves. I would try to explain and convince someone, assuage their worries or fears about not knowing what to do, because love inspires love. But if I had to try and explain the method behind the madness, the inspiration for the action, it might break down like this.

Never show up empty handed. I am an old-fashioned soul in a very young man’s body, or so many have claimed. It would however explain why I still believe that a gentleman calling upon a beautiful young woman should never arrive at her door without something to give. It was a simple and easy gesture to very vividly deliver the message that even in the time leading up to the date, I was already thinking of her. My favorite was to stop by my local florist on the way to her place. By the end I had become a regular customer and they knew my order as soon as I came in. A single long stemmed red rose with a white ribbon tied around the middle. No awkward to carry bouquets or gaudy plastic wrap with ‘baby’s breath’ or green fernlike things. I liked how easily I could hide the rose behind my back, even though I know she must have expected it after all the time we were together. Still, bringing it out from behind me and into view, her eyes would light up and the smile would break across her face. I would press the rose against her cheek before giving it to her. Always a great, and classy, way to start a date.

It wasn’t always a rose though. Sometimes it would be gummy bears she mentioned she wanted. One time I happened to be at a community event that had a guy making balloon animals. Asked him for a nice big pink heart and showed up at her door with that instead. Food was, and is, always a great option for those looking for something that everyone can benefit from. In college our biggest guilty pleasure aside from mall Chinese food was Popeye’s spicy chicken with a side of gravy to dip the chicken in. I taught her about that pairing. There was a Popeye’s only ten, fifteen minutes away from campus and sometimes I would surprise her with a big box of chicken and we’d have dinner at her dorm.

The surprise itself is always the best part. It’s never about what you arrive with. It’s that you are there and that you are thinking of them. This was never about wandering the aisles of some gift shop poring over each option and wondering what to get. It was about the message, and if the message is love, the delivery becomes much clearer. One day I saw Beautiful crying, clutching her messenger bag, the one I saw her with the first time we met. She was visibly upset, and I came over to console and comfort her. Eventually she calmed down to tell me that somewhere somehow during the course of the day she had lost that Eeyore pin on her bag. It was a gift from her best friend from their trip to Disney together, and she was devastated that she had lost it. I felt terrible that she lost something so important to her. The pin was a special collector’s pin, nothing your friendly neighborhood Disney store would just have by the register. It took me a couple months, going on a couple online boards, ultimately I finally found someone who had a whole collection binder of these pins and was willing to sell me the Eeyore pin. She never knew how hard I worked to find that pin again. She never knew how much I had made finding her the pin that meant so much to her my personal mission. She never knew how happy it made me to give it to her on one random day, out of the blue, like I had just plucked it off the ground or something. I had never felt more alive or more purposeful. Her happiness was my greatest reward. My only regret was that it took me so long to find it for her.

When possible make, not buy. I am not a very crafty person. I barely know how to work my way around a pair of scissors without cutting myself. I have burned myself grabbing the wrong end of a glue gun more times than I would like to admit. I am terrible at planning, designing, and implementing. I am a terrible details person. But you might not know that if you looked in my closet. You’d find the mangled cords of a well-worn glue gun, covered in glue remnants. Piles of brightly colored construction paper. Red, pink, and white ribbons. Styrofoam display boards. Stickers, stamps, stencils, it would look like a crafts store had unburdened itself of years of back stock in my closet. I had never really tried to make things before I met Beautiful. But she was so into arts and crafts and she was so skilled at them too. I wanted to try and be like her. Wanted to give her something on the same level that she gave me. She would make these incredible cards with designs and glitter and pictures. When I would hold them, read them, I could imagine her in her room, late at night, desk light on, working on these things for me. In the words we spoke, the things we gave, and in the things we made, we were always talking about love.

Sometimes making something was even the objective of our dates. For Valentine’s our first year together I took her to Build-A-Bear Workshop. We picked out a teddy bear skin, she rubbed the little fabric heart and kissed it and we placed it inside her bear, she stepped on the pedal that stuffed it until it was just perfect for her, not too hard, not too soft. We aired it, fluffed its fur, picked out some accessories, and then she named it and gave it an official Build-A-Bear birth certificate. She named it ‘Baby (my name)’. She slept with that bear every night, sent me pictures with it, jokingly making me jealous because the bear got to spend every night with her while I was back at home. She spoke to it, traveled with it, treasured that bear.

When she moved to a new dorm on campus I helped her move in. To celebrate, I gave her a card I had made. It was a little model of her new room, complete with her desk and chair and bed and even a little model of her wood dresser made of brown construction paper. You could open the dresser doors and inside you’d find, hanging on a string from a hanger made of paper clips, paper versions of some of my favorite outfits of hers. Dresses, jackets, things she wore on our dates. For Christmas one year I made her a pop up card reminiscent of those art projects I used to make in elementary school. The centerpiece was a heart shaped paper ornament that dangled from the top of the card and she could take it off and hang it on her Christmas tree.

My absolute crowning achievement though was what I made for her on our one year anniversary. Compared to the lightning flash puberty-driven high school relationships of my past, successfully maintaining a relationship with someone for as long as a year was a huge accomplishment for both of us. It needed, required, an equal object of significance. Over the course of the year we had amassed a good sized collection of cards, letters, little objects and trinkets, all souvenirs of our love. I wanted to give her a safe place to store them all, something to hold all these important objects. I started with a large hat box as my canvas. It was pink and had a striped pattern on the outside and the lid was large and flat and white, a perfect starting point. On the outside I used markers and a knife to stencil out a little forest made of trees I cut out of brown felt craft sheets. Hidden amongst the trees I placed stickers of fairies and sprites. Her favorite Disney character was Tinkerbell, and so I wanted to give her her own Neverland with fairies hiding in the forest. On the top of the lid I placed a large white painted wooden ‘C’ and ‘J’. Our initials. I decorated them with fake games, ribbons, stamps, and designs. I put a large heart in between our letters. I absolutely loved what I did on the inside. I got some of my favorite photos of us printed at a photo shop on actual high quality glossy sheets. I made duplicates of each one, and then cut out the different parts of the pictures. There was one of me asleep in her dorm, covered in Post-It notes of little ‘I love you’s and hearts and cartoon drawings of us. I was a heavy sleeper and she loved to take advantage of that. I cut out each of the Post-Its, mounted them on  little Styrofoam blocks, and then put them back right on top of the original photo for a 3D effect. I did the same for a picture of frozen yogurt (with extra mochi) and green tea bubble tea: our favorite dessert. The inside of the box was lined with these 3D popup versions of our favorite pictures. On the inside of the lid I placed magnets, and the magnets held up a giant heart, cut out of display board. On the display board I wrote my heart out. I spoke of the magic of a year and the promise and hope of forever. I told her she was the love of my life, that I had never been so complete as when I was with her, and that I wanted to chart the rest of my life in her direction. She was the sun and the moon and the stars and the wish I made whenever I blew out candles or saw a shooting star. I saw the rest of my life calling me to her and spending its entirety happy in her embrace. Inside I also placed a leather photo album I decorated and filled with the pictures of us. This was to be the place for her to safely keep all the most important things to her that reminded her of our love, and at the rate we were going, she was going to find it completely filled with no trouble at all.

Plan things for her. As much as I am characteristically and naturally not crafty, I can say with the same amount of certainty that I am most definitely, a planner. I love planning things. When my friends and I go out, I plan the night’s  activities. I plan the hangouts and the parties. When we travel I plan the itineraries. And when it came to Beautiful, I loved being the one planning the dates. I became famous for my trademark ‘marathon dates’, where I would pick her up sometime around eleven and wouldn’t have her back at home until two or three in the morning, with every moment in between filled. It is a known statistic that most women, when asked if there was anything they wish they could change about their partner or any act that they believed would show their partner’s love the most, stated that in both cases it would be if they planned the dates. I don’t know why more people do not see this as the golden opportunity it is to express the depth and inspiration of their love. I acknowledge it is perhaps a huge responsibility, but it’s nothing that the heart doesn’t already know and the mind can’t put together. Beautiful always loved going on these long adventures, and sometimes I would tease her in the week coming up to the date by dropping hints but never giving away the whole game. Meals were always her favorite restaurants or new places that she might have mentioned wanting to try or places that specialized in something I might have heard her craving before. Activities were seasonal, interactive, unique, but most of all, fun. The dates moved with the seasons. In the summer we would go to the park or stay someplace nice and cool. In the winter we would stay in, watch movies, cook together. I never wanted to let her go, and the world was so full of things to do and places to go that I could have filled twenty-five hours if I had the chance. Every travel show I watched, every new restaurant I read about in the paper, every new activity and exciting venue that opened up in the area, all of them were reserved for us. I never ran out of opportunities to plan more dates.

One of our biggest adventures ever was a day trip we took to Philadelphia. The City of Brotherly Love was a landmark for Beautiful and I. We were dirt broke, just kids, and a day trip to Philly was like a week in Monte Cristo. It was a big, bright, and beautiful adventure. Waking up early that morning, heading out, our first time ever to Philly I had my GPS, my cell phone, I even printed out the MapQuest directions We were excited and giddy. We had no idea what to expect. We got into the city around noon and started at the Visitors Center. We grabbed a map of the city and planned everything right there. We played with the toy muskets in the gift shops. Walked around Independence Hall and saw the Liberty Bell. Visited Franklin’s old office. We went to Sonny’s, a place that the Visitors Center staff recommended as having the best cheesesteaks. They were delicious, with heaps of fresh flavorful beef and shameless piles of melted Cheese Whiz and sautéed onions. Not one for tradition, I added bacon and mushrooms. From there we hopped on a bus and visited Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens. A wonderland of art made from reclaimed materials. It was an intricate, complex exhibit that wound and weaved in and around the artist’s studio and even leaked out into the lot next to it. It was a playground of wine bottles, old bicycles, shards of glass, and tile. Across from there we visited the comic book store, drooled at the menu of a German bierhaus we were too poor to afford, and warmed ourselves up at a pho restaurant in south Philly. Best pho in the world. Since then I’ve been to Singapore, Saint Lucia, Cabo, Jamaica, Toronto, and all places in between. No trip has touched my soul more than that first visit to Philadelphia. The only thing better than the rush of planning all these dates was seeing them come into fruition and watching how much Beautiful enjoyed the adventure.

Cook. To be fair, I had been cooking long before I met Beautiful. I started in middle school, learning how to cook a traditional Filipino breakfast for my family every Sunday. My aunt showed me how to fry an egg, cook sausages and sweet pork, and make garlic fried rice. By the time I had met Beautiful I was making Italian, Japanese, Chinese, and Filipino dishes. But to also be fair, I only ever learned because I knew a guy in the kitchen was, pardon the pun, hot. I liked the prestige and the attention I got for being one of the few guys in my group of friends who knew his way around a kitchen knife. Cooking can be a mutually beneficial skill and activity for all parties involved. Yes, I enjoyed the spectacle of me in the kitchen working around multiple dishes at a time. Beautiful would always tell me how much she loved to watch me cook or talk about my cooking and even my future aspirations, perhaps in some parallel universe, to run and operate a restaurant of my own, cooking my very own creations. I was very acutely aware of her gaze whenever she sat at the kitchen table and watched me. I could feel her falling in love with me each time. But I loved to get her involved as well. It was our bonding time, an activity and discovery for us, and sometimes when things went awry, an improvisation game as well. If I didn’t already know her favorite dishes, I would tirelessly research online the best versions of the dishes and then commit those to memory.

When she moved to her apartment style dorm, cooking for each other became the highlight of each evening. I would make pasta sometimes, or roast a chicken and make some vegetable soup. My favorite meal of hers was simple, homey, it was comfort food that fed my soul. Rice, Chinese sausages, and bok choy all steamed and cooked together in the same rice cooker. She’d cut the sausages with scissors and then scoop it out onto our plates. Then a big boiling pot of spicy ramen with an egg stirred in. It wasn’t anything gourmet or fancy, but it was her heart doing the cooking, and it fed me like no other dish could. When we would have dates at my home, the dishes I made would always vary. For our anniversary I made spinach crepes stuffed with sautéed mushrooms. We started with a caprese salad drizzled with a pomegranate balsamic reduction. Even though our anniversary was in January, I grilled Korean style barbecue short ribs because, well dammit, I knew that was what she wanted. They were sweet and sticky and flavorful and burst with juiciness. For dessert I recreated a green tea parfait we used to share at a Japanese restaurant. Green tea ice cream, sweet sticky rice balls, red bean paste, sugar frosted corn flakes, and green tea covered pretzel sticks. I served them in these keepsake cups I bought on Valentine’s Day. I still have mine, I use it to hold souvenir chopsticks I gather from my travels and little charms and trinkets.

Be affectionate. This is more than a personal characteristic or preference, it is a positive affirmation of love. We are physical beings, our skin is covered in nerves that race and jolt based on circumstances. There is no better feeling of electricity than the spark of your lover’s hand as it runs across your arm or bare chest. Being affectionate conveys closeness, intimacy, and love. It is a very necessary and physiological and biological urge that is hard-wired into our psyche. Physical affection releases all those ‘feel good’ hormones we associate with love and relationships. It also helps to predict the success of long term love. While it is true that the feelings of love between partners often predicts the level of intimacy between two people, the reverse is also true. That is to say, the level of physical intimacy and comfort and generosity of affection can help to deepen and determine the lasting effects of love. For many people who are not normally physically affectionate, such as Beautiful and I, the level of physical affection we expressed with each other was also a very significant indicator of trust and comfort and intimacy.

One of the things Beautiful loved was for me to give her piggy back rides. After we started dating it was not uncommon to see us running through the quad with her on my back or to hear her delighted and giddy laughter. There is this picture that I particularly love of her on my back, her head pressed against mine, her lips close to my ear, and we are both just positively beaming, broad smiles across our face. We were always walking around campus and during our dates holding hands. She loved when I would gently kiss and blow on her neck and ear, and I would always melt whenever she would run kissed up and down my back. Sometimes I would just lie on my bed, begging for more, just melting into the sheets. Nowhere felt more perfect, more like home, than the small of her back, where my hand would just naturally fall whenever I held her tightly, and there it would rest comfortably as we embraced and kissed.

Listen. More than anything, more than any of these other acts, there is no greater or stronger indication of love than to just simply be there 100% for your partner. I was there, always committed to the moment, present, listening to her, and everything else fell in place. She would always wonder and ask me how it seemed as if I knew what she needed or wanted before she knew herself. But of course the truth is I am no mind reader. I was never ahead of her, I was just right there with her at each time so as soon as I heard something I could act on, a hint, a request, a comment she never would have attached any value to, I was using it to help me love her more and better. It was like a fun game to play. A completely open ended quest with no rules, no guide, and no hints or tips. I would have to use my wits, but mostly my ears and my heart, to know how best to proceed.

Like I said, the truth is mostly no one has anything to worry about, provided the love is real and strong and communication is clear in both knowing how to speak to one another and knowing how to listen to one another. Loving Beautiful was never some greatly complicated matter. I am proud, and happy, to say and know I loved her to the best I could. All these things, the roses at her door, the handmade cards, the marathon dates, the meals, the piggyback rides, on its own, each of these acts would have required a great deal of time and effort to come up with and to execute. If you were to try to replicate each one individually, you might be tempted to wonder how any of it could be possible. How could someone balance school, family, and still find the time to write handwritten love letters, or create homemade meals, or dedicate more than twelve hours in a single day to spending time with someone. But they never stood alone. They were never separate entities or instances of different loves. There was only one love, only one Beautiful, and that love was greater than the sum of its parts. Doing one thing for someone you don’t love could feel like a burden. But doing everything for the love of your life, that is as easy and as natural as breathing. She was the words on my tongue, the driving force of my actions, and the air in my lungs. I had never felt this way before, and never had anything come so simply, so effortlessly, and so vividly to me as the actions of love did.

Word count so far: 34841

Day 136: The Man and the NaNoWriMo; Not All Happy Endings

In Love

Part One: The Language of Love

By the end of the semester I had amassed a sizable lead in our little ‘points’ game. After fifteen weeks of midnight bowling, card games, and random points being awarded for overall cleverness, it was very clear that I would be the one who would be able to make a wish by the end. I knew what I wanted, and I knew what my wish was. So one very cold December evening after we had had dinner together, I took her to one of my favorite, secret spots in my neighborhood. I had found it while wandering around the shopping mall by my high school. In the back of the mall’s parking lot was a little park that ran along the river. There was an old wooden dock hidden behind some weeping willows, completely secluded and it went right out and over the water. I used to go here alone and just listen to the cars rushing by on the highway in the distance, watching the current, looking out for disturbances in the water from the fish. It was night time, our favorite time, our private time, and I took her to this spot I had never shared with anyone before. There was a bright full moon and I could clearly see the frost in our breaths. Her bright red cheeks. How adorably breathtaking she looked with her flush face and big, beautiful eyes looking up at me and her long black hair pressed against her head by these big puffy white earmuffs. I told her how much I’d enjoyed getting to know her this semester. I told her how important she had become to me. And I told her that my greatest desire and wish, was that we could try to become more than friends, and if she would do me the immense honor of going out with me.

When she started crying my heart sank in my chest and my greatest fear was that I had grossly misread these past few months and had just put her in the most awkward and uncomfortable position of telling someone that they were completely wrong about them. But then she hugged me. And held me tight. And told me she was crying because she was happy and overwhelmed, and that this was what she wanted too. I put my finger under her chin and lifted her delicate face up to me. She was so happy and so embarrassed she couldn’t meet my gaze. The moonlight reflected off the tears that ran down her cheek. I pressed my lips to each one, moving up, until I was kissing right by her eye. I kissed her tears away, and promised her that as long as I was there for her and for as long as she would have me, I would never let a single tear fall to the ground.

Our first date would be the week after. As first dates go, it was rather simple and understated. This was a girl who I had become best friends with over the past months but looking at her now as the open and honest object of my affection, she was like a brand new, brighter, more beautiful light in my life. Every hope and desire I had secretly held onto was now out in the open, and I was excited to go where my heart had been wanting to go for so long. I picked her up at her house with a single long stemmed rose hidden behind my back. Took her to a casual restaurant, like we’d done so many times before, but now I was giddy and jumping and could not stop holding onto her hand. After we left the restaurant I took a photo of us with my phone and sent it to her with the caption ‘me with the girl of my dreams’. She blushed when she saw it on her phone. I would soon become addicted to finding new and imaginative ways to make her blush. It was the cutest thing in the world to me.

Very soon after I started calling her ‘dream girl’, and then ‘beautiful girl’, until finally I settled on ‘Beautiful’. It was a journey in and of itself. She would always blush and deny and call me crazy but I would never stop telling her that she was the most beautiful girl I had ever laid eyes upon. This was not some cheesy name reserved for just making people unfortunate enough to be around us uncomfortably awkward. My parents have nicknames for each other. My mother is ‘butterscotch’ and my father is ‘honey fudge’. They like to write the names on cards for anniversaries, birthdays, and Christmas but I have never actually seen my parents address each other as such. They like to bring it out to up the cheesiness of an occasion because our discomfort is their entertainment. I genuinely, honestly, and frequently called her ‘Beautiful’. In fact after we started dating I probably called her that more than her actual name. Everyone in the world knew her as her real name. But only I called her ‘Beautiful’. I was her ‘Baby’. She somehow found something cute and childlike and silly in this hulking, large, mass of a serious-faced man. I don’t know if she called me that because I acted like a child sometimes (don’t take me to a Lego store unless you plan on buying me something or I will get very cranky) or because there was a deep desire in her to care for me. I never cared because I was happy to be her Baby. It was easy for me to let go of my guard and be that excitable giddy child I used to be again, and I would never tire of how she would dote and care for me. Just as I was happy to have this chance to see her as my own beautiful girl, she was happy to have this private, whimsical, sometimes ridiculous side of myself.

After every date, dropping her off at her home, the tight hug and the lingering kiss goodbye, she would ask me to text her as soon as I got home to let her know I arrived safely. I found things like that simply rolled off my tongue with little effort. I would compose these long, elegant, beautiful passages. I would share with her my most favorite memories from that night, and how I would protect them and engrain them into my mind and in my heart. I would recall how beautiful she looked, how she always made my heart skip a beat, and how happy I was that we were together. Whether I was at home, on the bus from the garage to campus, or waiting in between classes, my thoughts and my words were always of Beautiful. Events that took place during the day, observations that suddenly came to light, every high and every low moment, were all I wanted to share with and only her. You know the reality is I am a very quiet, very reserved person. Back then and for the longest time, I used to just bottle everything, every thought, every story, up inside of me and I would just compress it until it had the density of a dying star and tuck it away into the vast recesses of my mind. But when I was with Beautiful it was as if the flood gates had burst. It was through her that I had found my voice, and never did my language fall so singularly into focus as it did in trying to capture my feelings for her.

I spoke to her in ways and of things I had never spoken to with anyone else in my life. My language was changed because of her. I could write poetry about her hands. Epic ballads about the infinity in her eyes. I could speak of things like ‘love’, ‘passion’, ‘warmth’, ‘forever’, ‘companionship’, and ‘soulmates’ like I was describing the clothes on my back.

For as much as Beautiful inspired this creative spark in me, I had equal opportunities to practice too. Our official anniversary was January 23rd. (1/23 had a special meaning to us because we used to always try to catch the clock whenever it was 1:23 or 2:34 or any sort of sequence like that so we could make a wish. We would sometimes text each other whenever we saw the time at the right moment so we could both wish. It would be great to have our anniversary be an occasion for a wish too.) But on February 23rd, a month after we started dating, she would find a handwritten love letter, folded carefully into the shape of an origami heart, sprayed gently with my cologne, hidden in her bag. And this would soon become a monthly tradition between the two of us. Every 23rd for as long as we were together, without fail, I would find an opportunity to slip a handwritten love letter somewhere for her to discover. I loved writing those, and she loved reading them, or even sometimes having me read them aloud to her. Only a few people ever knew of this private tradition of ours. We weren’t very public or explicit with our romance. The few who did know would catch me writing sometimes and wonder how I could still find enough to fill both sides of a regular sheet of paper month after month after month. I told them the same thing I always told Beautiful. I never had to worry about the well running dry because for as much as I kept drawing out of it, she kept filling it up. I never so much as even saw or brushed against the bottom. Every month was a new revelation. A deeper and more intense understanding of the complex beauty of love. She had filled my heart, my mind, and my mouth with words I had never put together before. As the time went on, and my vocabulary got richer, I became better at capturing the infinite expanse of the universe that she had managed to fit within a single kiss. The only reason why I could ever even attempt to write and do our love justice now, was because I had had months of practice with her.

The way you speak and write to someone you truly love will always be different from anyone else. When you enter into that special, sacred, heartfelt bond with someone, you learn a completely different language. Sometimes it is a language of affirmation. You quickly come to realize that the old standby phrases and compliments that worked for other people don’t hold as much with someone who knows your heart. It’s okay because you don’t praise them the same way because the good you see in them is different from the good anyone else sees. Beautiful knew I didn’t find her beautiful because I liked her eyes or her lips or her hair or her body. I found her to be the most beautiful woman in the world because her eyes showed me the future of all my hopes and dreams. Her lips were messengers of love and happiness and promise wrapped in smooth and luscious silk that sent shivers up and down as she kissed my neck and lit my cheeks on fire and sent jolts of electricity sparking on my mouth. Her hair smelled sweet and tickled the space between my fingers as I ran my hand through it. Her body was an entire world that needed to be explored and treasured, and I was the moon, hopelessly and happily caught in its orbit. Sometimes it is a language of promise. In those same letters that I wrote dedications to our love, I also wrote of all the things of forever that I wanted to give her and share with her. Her love taught me the language of humility and compromise. I could never be too proud or too stubborn to tell her how she made me a better person, or how I was wrong, or how I needed to let some things go. She taught me to speak with gentleness and firmness. Love, our love, inspired me to write.

Word count so far: 30837

Day 135: The Man and the NaNoWriMo; Not All Happy Endings

Part Four: What Was Happening

I had found in Beautiful my ticket to the secret world that before then, I might have caught glimpses of but permanent residence in, seemed exclusively for sappy pop stars and characters in books and movies. Deep, profound love, is entrance and membership to a community that is responsible for some of the most beautiful creations of performance, poetry, and prose. You don’t really know, can’t really find the words to describe it, until you fall in love yourself. It is afterwards when everything becomes crystal clear; all the lofty lyrics and wonderful words that seemed so unrealistic are suddenly part of your own story and what was once just abstract concept and clumsy descriptions becomes physical reality and your voice finds its eloquence. Falling in love with Beautiful wasn’t only changing me mentally and emotionally, but something very real and very visceral was happening too. Love wasn’t just an idea or a concept anymore. It was a physical reality.

‘Quiero hacer contigo lo que la primavera hace con los cerezos. Translation: I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees’

-Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, Pablo Neruda

Falling in love with Beautiful was my opportunity for rebirth. I was no longer just myself, living for myself. I was newer, better, my world had expanded to unknown limits and depths. And this was a very real experience. When you are single your world is only as big as you know it to be. It comprises of your experiences, emotions, lessons, people, places, etc. With nothing else to put into perspective you find that you fit within your world in a comfortable way. But when you find someone and embark on a relationship, you have to realize that you are not only dating that person and learning more about them, but you are also learning about their world. Being with Beautiful exposed me to double the size of my world. As two people begin a relationship, they will often embark on new experiences and seek out activities beyond their individual ranges. There are the new experiences that one party can bring and share with the other that strengthens understanding and there are the mutually new experiences altogether that encourage further bonding. A sure sign of the reality of falling in love is when you feel that growth in experience and insight that comes from having someone so important in your life. She had so many stories and interests that I was so happy to ravenously consume. She told me about her weekly Chinese school lessons and lion dance group. I actually attended one of their practices and even got to try moving around with a lion’s head (very difficult by the way). She had also been playing piano almost her entire life. I was musically disinclined and never had the chance to learn. She invited me to her performances and recitals. I loved watching her perform. Her fingers would just dance over the keys and there was this look of concentration when she played and when she finished this rush of relief and enjoyment would wash over her entire expression and I was so proud of her and moved by her. Part of falling in love with her was falling in love with her world. It was a slow and gradual process as I explored and loved everything I learned until one day I just realized that I was a bigger, better person, just for having known her and fallen in love with her.

‘And what did I want? To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.’

-Late Fragment, Raymond Carver

There is no doubt in my mind that as I fell more in love, my desire for her increased beyond being able to continue the delusion that an unrequited love could ever be enough for me. As much as I loved the process of falling in love, I know it can account for more sleepless nights in that semester than any class or project. Neurological studies have actually found that the experience of falling in love results in higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. As the days went on, I would be thinking of her more and more throughout the day. I would see her more often, interact with her more often, and since her opinion of me and reactions became increasingly more important to me, I felt more anxious and jittery around her. Until I knew for sure how she felt, I hung on every individual interaction and exchange, clinging to her words for some special secret meaning that might hopefully hint to me that she felt the same way. In the moment I would be trying my best to be hilarious and intelligent and wise and smooth and all those great things I hoped she would see in me and afterwards I would toss and turn each moment in my mind, dissecting it and hoping it was the best it could be. It is also known that the beginning of a new romance reduces serotonin, a hormone key in balancing moods, in the brain. This can lead to increased feelings of anxiety and stress. It wasn’t anything like school stress or work stress though. This mildly-induced self-inflicted form of madness was bliss. That insecurity and unsureness just made me desire more time with her. I was happily driven mad by her. She was both my inspiration and motivation as well as my guidance. She made me want to be better for her, encouraged me to do better, and it was for her that I moved forward. In regards to creativity and personal growth, there are few stronger and more lasting incentives and sparks than that of the pursuit of love. The only one greater, ironically, is perhaps the depression of lost love.

‘Here is the deepest secret nobody knows (here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows higher than soul can hope or mind can hide) and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart’

-I Carry Your Heart With Me, e.e. cummings

Falling in love is the world’s greatest and least kept secret. It is not that those who love and are loved and are in love do not want to share with others. It is that without having experienced it yourself, it is difficult to understand what might seem like the ramblings of crazy, irrational people. Love is one of the most important and significant parts of the human experience and yet we lack, even in the highest moments in the midst of its throes, the eloquence to convey it and the knowledge to understand it. It’s something we have to feel deep within us, in the wiring of our brains and the pulsing of our blood and the every twitch of our nerves. That moment of brilliant clarity, that lightning strike of revelation, is also, and you understand this after you finally get to feel it, more than just the artistry of words or the delusions of romance. It is physical. It is revelatory. Dopamine fires up in our brain in the beginning stages of love, rewarding us and motivating us. The capacity for passion, for anything and everything, is increased just by falling in love. Love is the source of modern-day superpowers. Along with fear that is. Everyone has seen stories in the news of parents who can suddenly lift entire cars to save a child pinned underneath. The adrenaline that rushes when we see someone we love and fear they may be hurt or in danger propels us to superhumanly feats. I felt when I was with Beautiful that I was capable of great and many things. In college you could have tasked me with any form or task, and I would have happily, and maybe mistakenly, believed that nothing was impossible as long as she was by my side. When we spoke to each other it always felt like we knew the greatest secrets of the universe.

‘Nothing is sweeter than love; all other bliss comes second. And compared to it, even honey is too bitter to hold in my mouth.’

-Ancient Greek, Nossis

Perhaps though the greatest and most evident physical truth of falling in love is the bliss and happiness that you experience during the process. It’s a frantic and sometimes overpowering experience. Your palms sweat, your cheeks flush, your heart races, your hormones are all over the place. You look and sometimes feel like an absolute mess. But it’s so worth it. It’s that madness that spoils everything in life that isn’t love but at the same time elevates it because of love. It’s a hard sell for anyone who has never experienced it but it is a drug that those who have would happily and readily and willingly take over and over again. My friends have seen me gone through many relationships. They see the ups and downs and the frenetic frenzied energy and anxiety that comes from dating and love. They look at me like I am some sort of madman, and whenever they catch me on the brink of starting something new or risking another venture, they shake their heads in wonder and amazement and question, dumbfounded, how and why I would keep doing this to myself. But what they do not realize, what they cannot realize, because they have not yet experienced the profundity of love, is that this is the only drug worth devoting your life to taking. The effects are real, the emotions are real. Even the butterflies are real (cortisol, the stress hormone previously mentioned, causes the contraction of blood vessels around the stomach, which create that feeling of nausea and uneasiness). Time and emotion, hardship and struggle, all these things will slowly wear away the memories. The image of Beautiful in my mind. Skeptics will always wonder if love is just a mask for our madness. But no one can deny the physical effects, the markers of love. I will never forget the feeling of butterflies when I first saw her, spoke to her, and how they continued to live in my stomach all those days because I loved her so much. I will never forget, though eventually I may one day struggle to convey, why I loved the stress and anxiety and madness of it all. Falling in love with Beautiful was a wonderful and incredible experience. I knew how I felt. I knew it was real. Even if I wanted to question my mind, I couldn’t deny what has happening to me physically. It was all there. And as the semester was coming to an end, I had fallen about as deeply as I could, and it was time for me to act on that love.

Word count so far: 28784

Day 134: The Man and the NaNoWriMo; Not All Happy Endings

Part Three: What They Saw

We were so caught up in secretly falling in love with each other that we didn’t realize we were doing a crap job of actually keeping it a secret. Looking back on it now, the reactions of the others, our friends, was both entertaining and rather telling.

There would be plenty of times around campus when she and I would be hanging out, spending time together, chatting, when friends and members of the club would spot us and just have to say something. I could not tell you how many times the two of us heard ‘god why don’t you guys get a room’ or ‘when are you just gonna come out and say you looove each other’. We would often just laugh it off or joke that they were just jealous, but honestly it put us in an awkward position. In a way it was forcing the reality of the situation on us way sooner than either of us was actually comfortable with, and so each time these people would jokingly call us out, we would have to play dumb and deny that there was anything going on. Even if we might have secretly felt a certain way, we weren’t exactly rushing to say or do anything, so we would have to deny anything, and I know for me, every time I heard her vehemently reject the notion I would wonder how true that was and it would just hurt my confidence. I imagine the same was going on in her head. The other issue was we were both honestly trying to just get to know each other better, lay a stronger foundation of friendship before moving forward, and so in a way we were trying to prove a reality that so many people would otherwise deny: that men and women can in fact be platonic friends. So there was a part of us that wanted to deny any romantic intent because we wanted to prove that two people could just be friends, and it bothered us that everyone seemed so convinced of the contrary. We would be sitting back to back under the tree in the Quad and we’d dread when we spotted someone we knew because they would inevitably work their way over to our spot and bring up the awkwardness we were trying to avoid. Whenever there was a project or group activity during club meetings we would always pick each other as partners, much to the smug amusement of our peers. If we did what we wanted and picked each other, we’d have to endure a few jokes and jeers first. But if we picked anyone else as partner, we both wouldn’t enjoy it as much or be as into it, or worse yet the club members would force us to switch anyways and we’d end up together again. There was no denying that Beautiful and I were attracted to each other, and for me at least I knew that ultimately, my highest desire would be to be with her forever. But I was stubborn and steadfast in my resolve that I did not want to rush into a relationship. Part of it was because I wanted to savor this moment right before, when I could be lost in my hopes, dreams, and idealizations. Like the rush before the fall, I was enjoying the anticipation and build up. The stronger the connection between us, the wider and deeper the foundation, the better I believed our chances were of something truly significant. But I will be honest, because as much of a romantic as I might be I am also a realist, there was also a part of me that believed there was significant benefit in spending this time together because, if it turned out she did not and would not ever feel the same way as me, I wanted to convince myself I would ever be happy simply being her best friend. I wanted Beautiful in the most selfish and selfless ways possible.

But could men and women ever be just friends? There must be a reason why so many people are convinced that  romance, or at the very least sex, always gets in between relations between men and women. The complexity and variety of human emotions and relationships should practically guarantee that there must be some form or iteration of cross-gender relation that doesn’t necessarily equate to or result with romantic involvement. Yet if you were to ask the majority of people today, I believe you would still find a surprisingly large majority of people believe that you can have as many different kinds of connections with people of the same sex as you please, but cross the line and it is almost exclusively for romance. Part of the reason why we have so few examples of male-female platonic friendships is because we lack the understanding, the protocol, and the exposure to create and or maintain them. And of course part of the reason why we lack the understanding, protocol, and exposure is because there are so few examples. Like the snake swallowing its tail, we are stuck in an endless loop with no benefit or escape.

If you’ve watched television or film, or honestly even read a book, in the past twenty or so years as I have, you’ll know that the media would have the odds stacked heavily against you being able to maintain a platonic relationship with someone of the opposite sex. I watched Ross and Rachel and Chandler and Monica end up together. I watched Harry after he met Sally. I’ll be honest, I was rooting for them to stay friends. Just once, I wanted someone to take the seemingly revolutionary stance that it was possible for two people to be friends even after recognizing that there was some form of attraction between them. I don’t know why Hollywood thinks that the only happy ending for two people could ever possibly be to end up together. The movie would have been just as sweet and just as memorable if Harry and Sally’s happily ever after meant lifelong friendship, camaraderie, and platonic love.

There are certain challenges that present themselves when trying to maintain a friendship with someone of the opposite sex. The first is what to do with the feelings that rise from the relationship. Platonic love, a deep and profound connection that is completely void of any romantic intent or sexual desire, can and does exist. The bond of friendship is easy to understand. I feel many of my male friends are like brothers and we have no problem defining the extent of our relationships. But it becomes much more difficult when it is cross-sex because we find it difficult to define what is appropriate to feel. The line of differentiation between friendship, sexual desire, and romantic intent becomes blurred because unlike with friends of the same sex, the other possibilities can exist. When you love someone deeply, and enjoy and desire their company, but you do not want to marry or date them, even though that possibility exists, what do you call that? The other very obvious challenge is that sexual attraction is often a component that is inevitably factored when it comes to these friendships. Whether you want to act on them or not, it is difficult to play dumb to the attraction. In fact when men and women were polled about their cross-sex friendships, most women claimed that dealing with sexual tension was their least favorite part, while men claimed that the attraction was perhaps the most important incentive for initiating the friendship in the first place.

Still for whatever challenges a cross-sex friendship may present, there are equal, or perhaps even more, benefits. It is no surprise that male friendship and female friendships are very different. Male friendship centers around the group dynamic. It is formed and bonded through mutual and social interaction. Teams, bands, fraternities, men gather to interact in groups around mutually shared interests and engage with each other. For women, this can present an opportunity for escape from the often much more emotionally involved and exhausting facets of female friendship. Women will often describe their male friendships as lighter, more fun, simpler, and less sensitive. They often also enjoy the familial and even protective feeling, much like having a surrogate brother. Female friendships are much more emotional, sentimental, and personal. Men find that they can enjoy the intimacy of deep conversation, which is often overlooked or underrepresented in male friendships. Overall though, most male-female friendships closer resemble the female dynamic. In fact most male-female friends spend their time together talking one-on-one. Any activities they may engage in, such as dining out or grabbing some drinks or going someplace together, are often simply to further facilitate that conversation. It is very clear what those who do have male-female friendships are seeking. Men enjoy the opportunity to discuss, examine, and share their feelings, opinions, and ideas. They feel nurtured and comfortable sharing, often something they cannot feel as much amongst other men. And women appreciate and enjoy the ability to see into the male insight. After all most women would say that their romantic relationships often suffered most from lack of communication. But devoid of the sexual tension and attraction and responsibilities, having a male friend to bounce ideas off of and to gather insight on is a valuable and mutually beneficial relationship.

So yes, perhaps it is possible and perhaps it is in fact beneficial for more men and women to engage in platonic friendships. And yes perhaps our minds and preconceived notions about this concept are misconstrued thanks to popular culture and social pressures and lack of exposure to the contrary. I still think it doesn’t mean we should have had to endure so many awkward glances and comments about the friendship Beautiful and I were trying to foster. But unfortunately I cannot speak too deeply or too convincingly to this matter. As much as I would have loved to be able to expound on the higher and nobler aspects of cross-sex friendship and why the only thing preventing us from enjoying the mutual benefits of such are our immature and ill-informed prejudices, the truth is I really was just trying to create the first step to a romantic relationship with her. Though I was also trying to create a friendship that would last regardless of the outcome, the more time I spent with Beautiful the more I realized that her heart was my ultimate goal and destination. I loved her, and was falling even more madly in love with her, and I had crossed the terrain of friendship long ago. My heart and mind would never be able to settle for anything less than a love that would define the rest of my life. I loved her more than I ever could a friend and I could never just be that. She was either going to give me life, or this love was going to destroy me.

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