speaking of Love

Thursday, September 19, 2019


"Oh, you're like – the career woman type," a friend says.

Her eyes light up in amusement — like she's got me all figured out.

I laughed, "Really?"

"Yeah! You know, the type that's like, independent??" she continues.

If I had a dollar every time I hear this, at least I'd also be the rich type.



Independent lingers in my mind and I try to convince myself it was a compliment. But I begin to realise this means I don't look like the type to need other people.

Independent, as most people put it, is Cool Girl. And Cool Girl doesn't have time for ~a boy~. Cool Girl does her own thing, lives her own life, doesn't care about love and dating.

Does she?

Funny fact – I get paid to write about love. I work in weddings, I see and approach Love often like a business partner. Industry knowledge, not affinity. A formal handshake, rather than a hug. I greet Love by flashing a smile, and sliding them a resumé.

But I couldn't stand romance novels. The section I pass at every book fair. The back covers I would roll my eyes at. However I'm fully devoted to the New York Times Modern Love column. This means I still like a good love story – just in one page, rather than 400.

And I like rom-coms. If this makes me a softie, I'll gladly claim the title. I won't lie, I spent years preaching that I'm "more of a mystery thriller historical fiction kind of girl." But let's get off the Cool Girl high horse. Who cares? Love Actually is a masterpiece.

I've watched spoken word videos about love, over, and over again. I've travelled distances just to hear poets perform their poetry on love. Something about how heart-gripping it feels – when you couldn't express certain feelings, seeing someone articulate it for you is solace.

I've never voluntarily written about Love, though. Only a couple of times for the past 3 years. Even then, I don't explicitly talk of Love. The last time was when I turned a break-up into a vague-sounding think piece.

It's because I have much rather written about feminism, politics, or other feature pieces. It's safer to try and act knowledgeable, rather than push myself to vulnerability.

I don't know why the love and dating topic is so sensitive. Why we're so repulsed by the smallest thought of being vulnerable.

Vulnerability, by the way, is the fear of all Cool Girls.

The fear that wearing hearts on their sleeves would make them easy target. This, I admit, is also part of why I haven't written about Love in so long.

--

It's funny being a woman in the 21st century. They applaud you for being career-driven and independent, but shame you if you won't have children because of it. They cheer for you on your wedding day, but give you the side-eye if you're openly looking for a relationship.

We walk on tightropes – slip a little, and it's a dive into public scrutiny. Either that, or we get a lot of break-ups on the way, which then also leads to more public scrutiny.

Cool Girl is the armour a lot of us wear to protect from this.

Hearts tucked in. Detached. Distant.

No one can define us, if no one can get to us.

But this year I challenge the idea that "independent" women are indifferent towards their feelings. That Cool Girls sip coffee at a work desk, cancel appointments with Love because they've got better things to do.

Stern, they say, unapproachable. They'd wave romance away, the way you turn down a street flyer.

Rom-coms help paint this too. Manhattan office lady with a high-paying job rolls her eyes at a co-star whining, "Ugh, who has time for dating!" 

It's outdated, hey. And a bit derogatory. Seeking out love shouldn't make you less of what you are.

I also don't like how men are painted as heroes when they manage to get a Cool Girl to pause being busy and fall in love with them.

What's that got to do with anything? Who's to say she's a secret damsel in distress, needing a man to save her from the perils of being a "career woman"? (What does that term even mean? Women who have jobs and care about it?)

Who's to say Cool Girls can't agree to meet with Love in an underground bar? Who's to say she can't experience butterflies in her stomach? Moments where her cheeks flush and her mind goes into a spin?

Cool Girls are allowed to love. Wildly, or in secret.

She can laugh at Love's bad jokes, or wait for Love, if she chooses to.

Cool Girl is allowed to greet Love at her doorstep. To serve it tea on a silver platter. To dance with Love to her favourite songs.

And she should always be allowed to look for it.

---

I've been seen as many things.

First, a mystery. 

The first boy who said he loved me thought my quiet was part of the allure. We barely knew each other, yet took a leap, because we were 16 – an age where we leap into things we don't know much about. Although it was beautiful, when things fell apart, I was broken but not surprised. We ended up messy and unravelled. Mystery is not a forever thing.

Then, a scholar. 

The guy who liked me for my "knowledge." He observed my 18-year-old thoughts like I was a kaleidoscope in a science fair. This makes you feel smart. Then it messes up with your psyche. He asks about my future and I give him answers I wasn't sure of. He asks how many views my blog gets. I fumble because it never mattered to me. He then asks me what I thought about motherhood. 18-year-old me bolted as quick as I can.

A blank piece of paper.

A boy I knew asked me out for coffee, and I said "yes" because he asked in person – a rare occasion in the 21st century, most people opt to text out all the hard stuff. He lit up a cigarette and told me it's weird I stay home in weekends. He looked at me, a white sheet of paper, wondering why there isn't as much writing on me as he thought there'd be. I tell him I don't drink much. He tells me that's boring. Pen in hand, he says, "You could use a lot more scribbles."

I've been seen as many things. As a result, many things I've become. This often happens when ambitious Cool Girl meets Love. Every story a challenge – a character for her to fill into.

The difference now is I can solve my own mystery. Claim my own knowledge. Write on my own paper.

But this isn't about being Cool Girl. I do not come out of this a glowing heroine.

I come out of this, still, confused, frustrated, and – can I say it? – longing. Because don't I, and billions of other people, long for nothing but to be understood? To be seen as more than a two-dimensional idea or a projection of expectations?

Because that's what Cool Girl is. A walking, talking figurine, containing everything they ever looked for.

500 Days of Summer is one of my favourite movies. Not just for its filmmaking charm – but for the accurate picture about the danger of expectations. What is hard for me to admit here is I've been both Summer and Tom, throughout my life.

After everything, I don't place any blame. On people for having expectations, on myself when I try to fulfil them. Or even vice versa – being human is nothing to be sorry for. People are complex. And a bloody mess. And that is okay. I'm reminding you that whether or not Love made your mess, Love is not meant to clean it up.

It's not designed to fix you. Much less to define you. And despite the intricacies found in romance storylines, Love is actually the simplest thing in the world.

Love looks at you straight in the eye and assures you, "If it hurts, it wasn't me." It hurts when we don't get what we want. But Love just gives and gives, unconditionally.

Love demands nothing. Love is unfazed by whether or not it's reciprocated. Love can be cast away, disappointed, yet Love nearly always stays.

Love doesn't ask for happy endings. Often doesn't need to. Love only gracefully lets go.

---

So I throw you this harness, for your walk on the tightrope. Maybe I'll have it in me someday to give more big-sisterly advice.

But for now, I hope you hang on. I hope you know how to catch yourself before you fall. 

At least that's what the world will tell you. To hold on tight, if heights scare you.

But after all this time, if I were you, dear,

I'd take the leap anyway.


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