My Modern Love submission

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Something a little personal this afternoon. I’d written this essay back in May and am finally able to share it today, if you’d like to see…

No Matter How Near? No Matter How Far?

I’ve never had a boyfriend before and then, I did. I was finally in a relationship after watching as an outsider my girlfriends who seemed to enjoy all the perks that come with a relationship, like going on dates without a slick of makeup on. That was sometimes enviable but, for me, having been single for 22 years was mostly okay. 

To be honest, I didn’t exactly know what a sustained feeling of ‘singleness’ felt like.  Not like how the movies associate singleness with liberation or inadequacy, anyway. But at certain points in my life, like when I decided to travel across Europe by myself the summer after graduating college, singleness meant updating my parents back in America just once a day, if that. It was a wonderful chance for me to build thrilling, personal memories without having a large guilt wound constantly pressing me down, reminding me that I’ve left someone else behind. 

A few weeks after I moved to a new city for my first job, I met a man. By winter, we had started dating. He and I kept only a close group of friends and family in the loop about each other and mostly spent our time shuffling between restaurants, occasional outings and our apartments. By the new year, we had had enough personal rations to stay at his or my place exclusively for at least half a week. In retrospect, I had made a bigger deal about leaving my toothbrush in his bathroom because I had thought that was one litmus test the movies affirmed. Maybe we were rushing into things. Though, I guess one abiding tenement in relationships is to do what feels right. So, we did.  

Around that time, he started contemplating a better professional venture abroad. It would be a joint decision for him to relocate, he’d said to me one evening in February. But really, was it my place to disagree? We were both in our early twenties and I had traveled around a bit to know how much our home countries resounded in our hearts, like an dock to return to. The question would be if he would come back to me.

In early Spring, in the weeks after he left for his months-long stint, I slowly began to acknowledge the fact that we were dating long-distance. In college, this type of dating seemed to me like an odd invention, made even more so clear in large social settings. I remember friends scraping pockets of time and excusing themselves to update their significant others on several weekend nights out. Some of them had to duck into dank bedrooms or brave the cool night air out front in thin clubbing apparel to speak on the phone. Maybe they also enjoyed the immediacy of their surrounding peers on nights like these, but to me, they seemed at once removed and concentrated, committed to an invisible presence and focused on not over stepping boundaries while mingling with mutual acquaintances. I wondered if I would be subjugated to that sense of intimate longing.

I started sifting through blogs and readers’ comments on the matter. The literature was positively encouraging (how can it not be- who dares knock down the already wounded?). I’d come across optimistic spins like “not taking each other for granted…”, “having the chance to thoroughly dedicate yourself to your own interests” and “being able to binge watch Netflix without feeling guilty…”. Ultimately, all these tips centered on “finding a way that worked for us…” to make the relationship meaningful and worth the investment.

All in all, the blogs reaffirmed my belief that my boyfriend and I are in an unusual and downright unnatural spot in our relationship. Even as the circumstances seem unfair and the world so imperfect, we also have to acknowledge, like in any new relationship, the nature of human personalities which occasionally stand between us. Tempers flare, uncertainties arise and joy and tears come and go all in good measure as a phenomenon of becoming more comfortable with one another and for now, even as we’re apart. Dating across an ocean means that we can’t afford to shy away from disagreement. We’re blunter, tending to how each of us feels. We’re taking more initiative to pose poignant questions when we feel the other is clamming up. Either way, we’re trying to dedicate as much of ourselves as we can by showing our intentions to one another over grainy daily video calls and a 12-hour time difference. That’s how we make it work. 

We are a team, we’d constantly reaffirm to one another when we spoke. He reminded me that soon enough will be our vacation, a trip designed to meet halfway between where each of us were. And then, my birthday weekend during which he would visit. The prospect of near-future reunions became a comforting mantra. Still, this is a test, I’d think to myself. We’re going to have to sit it through.

But how do I assess the strength of a long-distance relationship? Should I measure the resiliency of our relationship by his picking up on the first ring? By the thoughtfulness of our talks even after a long day? By the number of surprise cards and packages that come in the mail? All these metrics seemed too circumstantial. These can’t be only the ingredients in a recipe to reconstruct intimacy. Fulfilling them would  only enhance  a feeling of connectedness that already existed.

So far, I’ve developed a habit of counting down the days. Countdowns are a large presence of any young person’s life. I suppose it’s our limited scope of life that holds true a universal and naive belief that there is to be some sort of expected sameness or pattern to each day preceding some major event from which everything will, all at once, change. Sometimes, when I’m on the couch after a workday, I would open up my calendar app and flip through the months ahead, wishfully thinking that a term commitment abroad meant to the day and no more. Will the weeks pass by as quickly as a scroll of my finger? More often, I’d refer to my birth control cycle. I’d wake up to reach for the pill pack on my nightstand every morning in the weeks before we see each other again. Then, almost instinctively, I would locate the day we would be reunited and count by little white tablets backwards, sort of like an advent calendar, at once happy with anticipation and discomforted by the inevitable passage of time and the next goodbye. 

I should be used to this feeling, I’d think. After all, I used to live apart from someone I love. My father lived halfway across the world from my mother and I for three years when I was a toddler and later, child. Like all immigrant stories, it was at once simple and complicated, altogether ignited by a general certainty that better opportunities existed abroad in the US. I remember my parents’ weekly phone calls and the letters my mother and father would exchange on crepe-y beige paper. Each correspondence was pages long and drawn out in slanted, adult script I used to think looked like miniature text architecture. 

“Separation can equal splitting up,” my mother sighed into the phone. “If it had been another three years, I don’t think we would have made it.” 

I had just told her about the start of my own long-distance relationship and her candor shook me. Looking back, I had always been comforted by the fact that I’d been the product of a mutually rewarding and happy marriage. I remember posing large what-if questions to my father during my last year in college. I thought I was gathering wisdom for the unexpected but I now know that I was hungering for reassurance. We’ve never thought about and will never get divorced, my father had said when I’d asked.

That was the certainty I was hoping for when I opened up to my mom. That being apart would be hurt, but that they’ve done it because each of them had succeeded at the many hard things I was aware of even as a child. That due to the generosity of genetics, I would do the same.

“That’s the truth, but only time can tell for you,” my mother concluded.

“Acceptance is a small, quiet room”, wrote Cheryl Strayed in her column Dear Sugar. I suppose having the courage to do so means getting used to being at once humble and proud of how our decision to stick together has made us.  A long-distance relationship isn’t ideal but nor does it seem like a chore; it’s simply something we choose to live with for the moment because, again, it feels right. 

I can’t provide a satisfying ending to this story. Still, even as it’s happening, it doesn’t seem fair to leave off without some resolution of if we’ll stay together or go our separate ways. I’m at a point where, as a twentysomething, my life is fraught with uncertainties, just like every one of my peers. I’m learning to realize that this is what living entails. With uncertainty, there will be resolution only to which many other resolutions will come to amend in due time. It’s the same with loving and having that love go the distance.”

End note: Only very recently, Dan and I decided to take a break. Despite moments of sadness and disappointment, differences and minor setbacks, we’ve very much managed to sustain a perennial feeling of comfort between us. I’m very proud of the both of us for that. It’s fascinating the degree of permeability and understanding between two living objects. And, it’s fascinating just how large the world can be in comparison to the nest two people build together in a relationship. 

As we age, we all come to realize that a lifetime is never enough time. In a long-distance relationship, that understanding is not so much motivating as it can spur emotional distress and whittle fulfillment. Though when all is said and done, a relationship, despite its complexity (as each and every one is), behaves like any other experience. It begins, and then it ends. Each has a plot line, some perhaps too short-lived, yet each in their own way compelling and unique. 

On Loving

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A more thoughtful note today…

Over the weekend, I found my way to Two Days in Paris. I always found Julie Delpy’s works to be cinematically interesting, films impactful in the way that they are dialogue-rich and coated in complexity. So many things heard, so many left unsaid, often over the course of a few hours, a day or so.

At the end, Marion (the woman and Julie herself) had said something raw and wonderful about love:

“It always fascinated me how people go from loving you madly to nothing at all, nothing. It hurts so much…When I think that it’s over, that I’ll never see him again like this… well yes, I’ll bump into him, we’ll meet our new boyfriend and girlfriend, act as if we had never been together, then we’ll slowly think of each other less and less until we forget each other completely. Almost.

Always the same for me. Break up, break down. Drunk up, fool around. Meet one guy, then another, fuck around. Forget the one and only. Then after a few months of total emptiness start again to look for true love, desperately look everywhere and after two years of loneliness meet a new love and swear it is the one, until that one is gone as well.

There’s a moment in life where you can’t recover any more from another break-up. And even if this person bugs you sixty percent of the time, well you still can’t live without him. And even if he wakes you up every day by sneezing right in your face, well you love his sneezes more than anyone else’s kisses.”

Admittedly, finding love is, in its own way, just this simple and just this complicated.

How to have sex all the time

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Ladies! This happened just the other day:

Me: Look at my tan lines! They give the look of me having stomach pudge whyyyy *Proceeds to snap picture, sends photo evidence to boyfriend*

Boyfriend: Huh?

It’s true. We all feel flabby or bloated or downright unsexy at times. And as evidenced from above, we are all our own toughest critic though admittedly, some are probably better at keeping these feelings at bay than I.

It made me think back to this article, which is hands-down one of the best pieces I’ve ever come across and something I still find perfectly relevant today as my self-acceptance is still a work-in-progress.

As Tavi so logically points out: people are, like, beautiful, man. Much love to you and your body ❤

(image via here)

What qualities do you look for most in a partner?

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Once when I was in fourth grade, my homeroom teacher asked us to create a flipbook. “It can be anything you want. Where you’ll go on vacation this summer or what you’d like to be when you grow up”, she described. In retrospect, it was simply to practice writing in future tense.

I took the hint.

“When I grow up, I will have graduated from Yale Law School. After a few years of being a lawyer, I will retire to my cottage in the English countryside. I will then marry someone with a dog.”

You can tell the one thing I really wanted that Christmas.

We’ve talked about the small (sometimes secret!) things we find attractive in a person. Now, I’d like to ask what do you look for most in a partner?

Asking ‘what does this person want from life?’: “In my experience, partners must want the same thing, no matter how infatuated you both may be. In relationships, we imagine our future with that partner and spin up dreams about how our lives will unfold together. When a couple’s values differ, those dreams can look very different. On the other hand, when you and your partner both share the same vision, you reinforce each other positively to bring that dream to fruition.” -J

Stimulating and thoughtful conversations: “I’m interesting if you’re the right person. I hate being ignored and have a strong need to share and discuss things that make me think and that I find interesting. It’s not very common so when you find someone who likes it, it feels more special and rare.” -R

Finding comfort and belonging: “I look for someone who nurtures my sense of presence. I’m often too cognizant of the future, but I find refuge in deep connections. Honest and tolerant conversation has to be there. So does comfort in both silence and frivolity. Bonus points for anyone that looks like John Stamos.” -Anonymous

A simple, straight-forward list: “A healthy and strong body, a curious mind, ambition to have a successful career and positivity.” -M

 Just one thing: “A person who is kind”, said my boyfriend, because he is sweet.
(cheeky photo via Buzzfeed)

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What little things are you attracted to in a partner?

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When I was in middle school, I developed my first ‘type’, mostly because of the music I was listening to. “You seem to have a crush on swoopy hair”, my mom embarrassingly mentioned one time around then.

I’ve come to realize that there are so many little things we can find attractive in a potential partner, things that make us each melt a bit on the inside…

Elevating everyday conversation: I’m secretly a big fan of lexicon (I find the structure of this fascinating). Dropping in rare or academic words like sisyphean or ipso facto as appropriate in conversation can be admittedly tricky to navigate without sounding pretentious, which is why this sort of dexterity is a big plus in my book.

Good grammar when texting: Full sentences can mean alot. I never use this when writing, but somehow, I love it when other people incorporate it into text messages. And using a semi-colon when texting…ah, swoon.

A well tailored button-down: “It doesn’t have to be expensive, but a fitted shirt is insanely attractive” said one friend.

Fleshy legs: “Women who have a smaller upper frame and slightly bigger lower half. Her curves happily surprise me every time we undress” said another.

Tie dimples: A gesture so small I’ve only noticed recently. “It depends on the type of tie, knot and occasion”, a stylish guy friend advised me over text. (how sweet is this video? Truly a science.)

(image via Pinterest)

On marriage

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“We need a witness to our lives. There’s a billion people on the planet… I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things… all of it, all of the time, every day. You’re saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed because I will be your witness’.” -Susan Sarandon, Shall We Dance (2004).

(image via here)