Why I gave up the man who might’ve been the love of my life
So Here's The Thing
You either hate them or you love them. While it may not be a topic as divisive as same sex marriage that splits the nation like android and iOS, though it doesn't elicit as heated a debate as avocado toast, or cause the degree of mass hysteria Chris Pratt and Anna Faris' split announcement last weekend was responsible for, its emotions runneth over the couple whose names are stencilled on the ecru card.
My affirmation or denial depends on the day — and quite frankly, the time of the month — but I have to admit that my heart belongs in camp love. It's not that I think romance is the be-all and end-all of my existence. Alright, my Netflix 'Watch Again' carousel contains more romantic comedies than I'm proud of (Twilight is camp gold and you know it), but it's also laced with political dramas, the odd documentary or two, and the kind of sick stuff that haunts James Wan's dreams. Read: Basic b*tch, I am not.
It's just that weddings, I cannot resist; not even the horrible Chinese soirees that double as open mic night, with poorly dressed waiters serving shark fin soup (WTF) and boiling hot tea in narrow drinking glasses (no seriously, WTF). My thinly veiled "it's not a wedding if there's no dancing" cynicism is no match for the tacky video montage of the couple's travel exploits either.
Because at the end of the day, love triumphs. No matter how devotedly and passionately I wear my scepticism nine to five, weddings are the excuse I need to die by cake and safely overdose on cheese — I'm a bit of a fangirl like that, and I'm not afraid to show it.
That's not to say all weddings are created equal.
As a bridesmaid, I ugly cried at my dear Whitney's* simple, but beautiful marriage solemnisation. Knowing their love story and then being a part of it thawed my reservations about public heartfelt proclamations. My feelings at my childhood friend Mabel's* wedding dinner was a different story. I was happy for her, that part's a given, but seeing her walk down her rose petalled aisle conjured a reflection of my own. My aisle. My dizzying aisle littered with confetti and Skittles Sour that I continue to march on, solo.
With no guests to usher, no dessert table to decorate, or date to amuse, I had time to indulge in old habits. I mean no disrespect to the bride when I say at every wedding, I imagine myself as her, the pretty lady in the great white frock. It's my version of a litmus test, my way of checking in with my singlehood; to see if I'm really happy in it. As far as I know, there exists no greater assessment of romantic independence than my twisted little experiment. Nine out of ten times, I am triumphant. Single Teresa wins.
So here's the thing: One out of ten times, I imagine Tyler* standing by my side.
I don't know what you call us. We were years shy of the college sweetheart status. We were what happened after your college sweetheart cheated on you with a leggy brunette all over your house. You've heard that story. Having met during my final semester at our small university town, we didn't have time on our side. I had a job waiting for me across the globe; he had another year of academia to go. I jetted off hours after I tossed my graduation cap in the air, but not before spending three months with Tyler, inseparable — not lengthy by epic love story standards, but long enough for my heart to fall, long enough for me to shred his.
"No matter how devotedly and passionately I wear my scepticism nine to five, at the end of the day, love triumphs."
Like the protagonists of a millennial music video, we met at an electronic dance party. His first words to me forever etched in my mind: "You don't look like you're having a good time." Acute, he caught on more then than we both realised. Never mind that I was ill, I had just emerged from the ashes of the explosion that collapsed my prior relationship. I was in no position to make my bidding with a new love, but there I was, looking up at him, at his six-foot frame covered in glow in the dark paint, unsure if the thumping in my chest came from him or Steve Aoki's beats.
We went to Life In Color with mutual friends, so we found each other easy enough through tagging of our party photos. I fired the first flirtatious banter. Tyler was more conservative. I fired again. It didn't take long for us to have dinner together. Sushi. Then shawarma. Then spaghetti with meatballs — homemade. Tyler was always better in the kitchen than I was. One night, as he found out I had missed dinner, he sent me dozens of pictures of the entire content of his kitchen to tease me. Ramen noodles and a movie were already waiting for me when I showed up at his apartment.
He barely wore a costume at Halloween, but my white face, black eyeliner and red lips more than made up for the both of us. I still have the pictures — of us clashing cups with our friends, posing with Winnie the Pooh, dancing to Usher and David Guetta, my mime hands in the air, the lipstick I playfully stamped on his skin, visible on his neck. I don't think he moved an inch when I brazenly kissed him that night. After a mumble goodbye, he left me, speechless at my door. Minutes later, a knock. He came back to tell me he was in love with me.
"I was in no position to make my bidding with a new love, but there I was, looking up at him, at his six-foot frame covered in glow in the dark paint, unsure if the thumping in my chest came from him or Steve Aoki's beats."
The next few weeks were a blur, a blur I can recall only with the help of alcohol as I type this column.
I remember him driving me to class, though we were in walking distance. At traffic lights, he cupped my face with his hands and kissed my temple. It was a Tyler thing. I remember him looking at me with kind eyes when I told him about Jacob. I didn't cry very much about it before, but with Tyler by my side, I wept for hours. I remember his assurances, "It's okay, I'm here" and his pleas, "Let me love you", despite my convictions that I'm not ready. He would hold me until I fell asleep, then I'd wiggle away from his warm embrace to climb out of his bed before dawn, sure that I was unprepared, undeserving of this man who wanted to be with me.
His texts would come later.
Where did you go?
You should have stayed.
Come back to me.
I remember the music in his house; John Mayer's work in Continuum was our unofficial soundtrack, particularly 'Slow Dancing In a Burning Room'. I thought to myself, how appropriate the lyrics were: "I'll make the most of all the sadness... and you know that we're doomed, my dear". To date, I'm unable to enjoy it objectively; with each play, our song without fail teleports me to a cold November day in Michigan, in a place they call Kalamazoo.
I didn't stay sad for long. For any relationship, that would be identified as a crucial turning point. Tyler and I weren't so lucky. My recovery from Jacob's infidelity and the emotional trauma it inflicted didn't signal a fresh start. Instead, it marked the beginning of the end.
To stay true to our story, I must come to terms with my faults, and with Tyler, I had many. You see, the less I was sad Teresa, the bigger the room there was for regular Teresa. And the regular me, the me who's not clouded by anger or lessened by grief, was and still is, an opinionated, independent, sassy, female incarnation of a kamikaze. Tyler came into the picture when I wasn't myself; he held my hands while I learned to breathe again. The truth is painfully corny: He loved me back to life. But the girl that emerged wasn't the girl we both thought I was. She was not the one who fell in love with Tyler. And she wasn't the one Tyler fell in love with either.
It didn't take long for our previous compatibilities to turn their heads on us. The things that I thought were cute before — his forgetfulness, his simplicity — now annoyed me. On my end, the personality traits that were so dominant in my character prior — sweet Teresa, quiet Teresa — were nowhere to be found. I tried. I tried to respond emotionally to the cute cards he painstakingly made me. I willed myself to adore the origami flowers, the charm bracelet, the expensive birthday dinner. As appreciative as I was of his affections, of his generosity, I couldn't do it. I felt nothing.
The guilt that came from feeling nothing for his wonderful gestures ate me up. There he was, the perfect boyfriend, offering me everything a girl should want and I couldn't bring myself to be happy. The hearts and flowers kept coming and, with them, an increased intensity in the guilt I harbored. It didn't disappear; it manifested into frustration. Frustration lingered, until it poisoned what little hope I had that I could find a way to fall in love with him again.
"He would hold me until I fell asleep, then I'd wiggle away from his warm embrace, to climb out of his bed before dawn, sure that I was undeserving of this man who wanted to be with me."
Mismatched chemistry aside, we had other things working against us. I was young and starting a new chapter of my life. Between my relocation to Singapore and my terrifying yet exhilarating first job, regrettably, there wasn't much room for a disintegrating relationship.
I don't know if we would have had better odds if we spent more of the one year we were together in the same city. Though the distance couldn't be helped, I made sure to highlight it every chance I got, made it an arsenal to every fight I picked. He wanted to return home, to Malaysia, after he was done with school; home was never in the cards for me. I was raised to build my career, chase it as far as I dare go. Staying in the same zip code with my parents wasn't something they wanted for me, nor was it a plan I had for myself. I scoffed at my father, who always had a mystifying premonition about my dating life, when he said to me many a month before my disintegration from Tyler: "I like Tyler. He's a solid kid with a good head on his shoulders. Just not the one for you." Little did I expect that daddy indeed knew best.
Though it was clear that Tyler and I weren't going to work, we attempted to keep it up for a few more months; the last of which were an alternation of passive aggressive text messages and silence that stretched for days. It doesn't matter whose phone rang first, but it was I who called it quits in December, mere days before his final exams. This one was on me. In this story, I was the a*shole.
And a selfish one at that. Familiar as I was to the rules of a breakup — you break someone's heart, you don't get to stay in it, or come and go as you please — I could barely hold up my end of the bargain. Through his strained responses, I could tell Tyler wanted me to leave him be, but he was a gentleman, so he took my teary calls anyway despite the fact that I was hurting him more than he was hurting me. In retrospect, I'm grateful that he kept me at arm's length during our separation. Not for once did he lead me on. Thanks to his maturity, there were no undignified exchanges, no sour words to taint what we had while it lasted.
"I willed myself to adore the origami flowers, the charm bracelet, the expensive birthday dinner. As appreciative as I was of his affections, I couldn't do it. I felt nothing."
You're familiar with my dating history post-Tyler — the likes of Rob*, Jeff*, Dominic* and Preston* were just some of the many who've come and gone. Tyler's bout with Tinder was considerably more fruitful. From what I can tell on Instagram, he is in a happy relationship with a lovely girl, whom I don't have to ever meet to be sure she will love him better than I could have.
Despite my involuntary imaginary wedding role play, I'm not in denial, nor am I crazy. Tyler and I have remained cordial, but our time was up, our chapter over. Done. Finito. We had our shot and we blew it. I regret many things — my inability in returning the grandeur of his love, the manner of which I ended our relationship, et cetera — but letting him go was not one of them.
I don't suppose I cross his mind, the way he crosses mine at weddings, when John Mayer comes on the radio or in the snow. And that's okay. He did right by me and maybe, in a way, that is how I finally do right by him.
*Names have been changed.
Tune in to the next entry on 31 August.