The most important dating lesson I’ve learned so far
So Here's The Thing
Do the books you read or were read to as a child ever cross your mind? Do you ever think about why they still have mainstream presence, though so many of them were published decades upon decades before we recognised alphabets? Watching my nieces grow up from afar, I'm comforted by a roundabout way in the fact that many of the stories I know by heart, they will too. My favourite authors will colour their youth, and possibly guide them beyond those short years, as they have mine.
Take Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. It's essentially the literary prelude to that Daniel Powter's 'Bad Day' (I know you know it), reminding us that even the worst ones end and tomorrow breathes new, infinite possibilities. The Little Engine That Could — before I became acquainted with Nike and Adidas' Just Do It and Impossible is Nothing campaigns — taught me that the mind is the engine of the soul; overcome it, and the world is your oyster. And though my recollection power of the movie adaptation of Horton Hears a Who! is significantly stronger than the paperback, its core message of unity, acceptance and loving thy neighbour, is both evergreen and timely. "A person's a person, no matter how small," wrote Dr. Seuss.
If only the morals and virtues pulsing through my love life 20 years later are as easily digestible. When it comes to love, there are so few truths universally agreed upon within my circle alone, what more Singapore, what more the world. If anything, they are proof to our polarising perceptions of the date-o-sphere, and against the beliefs of the Asian fashion blogosphere, one size does not fit all here.
My friend Chloe* and I embody this disparity in our approach. The dreamy Little Prince to my rioting, rebellious Matilda, she sees the world — and the men inhabiting it — for what it can be, not just what it is. Hopelessly hopeful, she trades alcohol for fairy dust, runs towards and not away from feelings, and never gives up on the people that come into her life, no matter how undeserving (I think) they are of her affections. And it's not because she's never been wronged. She has, like I have, but against all odds, her innocence, her open heart, has remained largely intact.
"When it comes to love, there are so few truths universally agreed upon. They are proof to our polarising perceptions of the dating world, and against the beliefs of the Asian fashion blogosphere, one size does not fit all here."
So here's the thing: I haven't been that lucky. While we have high-carb dinners, trashy TV shows — we can recite lines from The Hills by heart, and we trade notes on the most scandalous episodes of Catfish — and Topshop in common, there exists little overlap in the vocabularies we employ in the narratives of our love lives. Nevermind the fact that she favours "ah boy" to my "motherf*cker" and "aww" to my "wtf", our vantage points and the views from them have been sometimes humorous, often sobering.
For instance, I take all my experiences with men at face value. When my ex-boyfriend Preston told me he had his New Year travels with his buddies all sorted out, without extending an invitation to me or asking me what my plans were, I deduced that he (a) didn't think our relationship would see to the next year and (b) didn't want me to go with him. I was right two times. Warranted or not, I'm quicker than Chloe to link infrequent text replies to lukewarm romantic interests and replies with the word "man" attached on every other sentence to being friend-zoned. I also spend a lot less time forgiving men as I do judging them, and I'm certainly more in favour of the no frills (convenient?) "what you see is what you get" rationale over the kinder (naïve?) "let's give the man the benefit of the doubt" philosophy. I hesitate to say I'm right; I'm reluctant to say she's wrong. We've both been spot-on and out of the ballpark about the same man before. His name was Dominic*.
It feels strange to say Dominic has been my most constant romantic male presence this year, but it's true. We never officially dated. Far from it. We spent our weekends boozing, not handholding; Netflix and chill instead of Films at the Fort; innuendo over intellect. We're both a hit at our hangouts of choice — pool parties for him, museum exhibits for me — but we just never saw reason to be brilliant together. It just wasn't that kind of a vibe. A good thing too, since his relocation to Singapore isn't for the long haul.
"I'm quick to link infrequent text replies to lukewarm romantic interests and replies with the word "man" attached on every other sentence to being friend-zoned."
I've never wanted more from Dominic but I've been given reasons to believe he tried to take our chemistry outside of the bedroom. At his suggestion, a couple's weekday lunch came and went without repeat. We also gave the old beach date a try, during the latter part of which he did hold my hand. We were both equally noncommittal to the cause. There was even that one time he volunteered information about his unfortunately cancer-stricken ex-girlfriend. When I proved to be more taciturn about my past, he commented, "I learned more about you from your friends than I ever did from you" after we had a brief bump in with my college buddies at Boat Quay. I give him B- for effort.
Needless to say, I wasn't in love with Dominic. Hence, I didn't mind that we only texted right before we wanted to see each other — about once every couple of weeks. I certainly didn't bat a lash upon finding out his active status on Tinder (we re-matched over a glitch, and I spotted new photos). His chain-smoking had no effect on me either. But there were things I struggled to tolerate, even of a fling as casual as he was. For one, I hated the occasional mansplaining. It beguiled me that his studio apartment was constantly messy especially since he had a helper. His lack of eye contact during moments of intimacy left little to be desired too. Pun intended.
But nothing trumped the events that unfolded over a recent Ramadan evening.
I already had plans to check out the Geylang Serai market, so when Dominic asked to see me that same evening, I invited him to crash my food party, knowing that his American taste buds would find the local fare a thrill. It was his idea that I drop by his place first and while he had previously decreed that we would take it easy, we sipped through half a bottle of vodka before eventually heading out. The heat and the walking burned most of the alcohol in me; I assumed the same of him. Some grease and sweat later, we returned to his again for reruns of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. It quickly went downhill thereafter.
"I spend a lot less time forgiving men as I do judging them."
Tired from our outdoor excursion, the conversation between us grew thin, slack. Aside from me telling him I wasn't going to stay the night as I had to work the following morning, and him asking me to stay anyway (I would later regret saying yes), the silence was welcomed as I surrendered all my attention to the television, not noticing that he was making his way around that half bottle of Absolut we cast aside earlier. If he was drunk, it was unbeknownst to me at the time.
In hindsight, there were clues. He had always been handsy with me, but never intentionally rude. I should have been startled when he grabbed me not gently into an uncomfortable (for me) cuddle position that something was off, but whatever little shock I had grew into annoyance swiftly when he did this again and again, every time he got back into his seat from pouring another drink, adjusting the screen, changing the channel.
What felt like hours later, we hit the sheets. As droopy as I was, the very long black hair resting on the white pillowcase he gave me came at me like a flashing neon sign on a highway at midnight. More emotional women would raise the single strand along with a series of questions at Dominic. Me? I picked it up with two fingers, flicked it on his floor and tucked in. Apparently, I was not adamant enough in staying at my side, because his next move was to drag me (I'm very pointed with my choice of verb here) to his, and position my hand over his chest in a way that my head would have to rest on his shoulder. I told him in no uncertain terms to not be so rough. He didn't reply, so I rolled my eyes and reached for the skanky pillow, only for him to swat it away. "Come here, you don't need it," he said.
"I hated the occasional mansplaining. It beguiled me that his studio apartment was constantly messy; he had a helper. His lack of eye contact during moments of intimacy left little to be desired too. Pun intended."
In no mood to fight, I closed my eyes and prayed to fall asleep.
Impossible. His heart was beating so fast (because of the alcohol, not his infatuation with me, I'm afraid) it felt like a drum had relocated to my right temporal lobe. Still, I tried for a few minutes before starting to toss. I moved my head left, so I would be spared the orchestra going on in his upper body. He must have found my new resting place a sore, because he would then move me. By lifting my head. By my hair. With his hand. Think of him as Kathy Griffin in the infamous photo of Kathy Griffin holding Donald Trump's severed head. I never thought I would make this close an association of myself to the bigoted American president, but there it is. My dating life, quite the bloody mess.
I promptly rolled off him. In the end, he was the one with the rougher night. Drifting in and out of sleep, I heard him in the bathroom twice, regurgitating the clear liquid he had liberally consumed over 6 hours. When I slipped out the next morning, I had no intention of speaking to Dominic again. He was returning to Boston soon, and there was also the matter of him treating me like a corpse, so a proper farewell was beyond comprehension.
"Think of Kathy Griffin holding Donald Trump's severed head. I never thought I would make this close an association of myself to the bigoted American president, but there it is. My dating life, quite the bloody mess."
My friend Juliet* texted me after dinner to check in with me, and to solidify our barhopping plans the next week. I wasn't in the mood to delve into Dominic, but I had let on that the man I had been sort-of-but-not-really seeing was mean to me, though it didn't matter as he wasn't going to be around for much longer. Then, horror.
Me: I don't think I'll want to hang out with him again. He's going back to Boston or move to San Diego because his contract is up anyway, so it's not like I've to deal with him.
Juliet: Wait. Boston? His name isn't Dominic, is it?
Me: OMG. Babe. You know him?
The conversation went on for a while, with a lot of profanities. Juliet proceeded to tell me that he continued texting her before bed (while we were laughing at Will Smith circa 1990. Well, I was anyway. He was busy flirting). It was innocent, but we both agreed it wasn't cool, since he had company, and he requested for said company to hang around despite the fact that she had to wake up at the crack of dawn in eight hours. To work. To warn the female population about men like him.
And call him out I did. See my text exchanges with Dominic, below.
Was his answer disappointing? A smidge. Was I surprised? No. Did I expect more? Yes. Have I heard from him since? Honey, don't be ridiculous.
Truth be told, I have no animosity towards Dominic, the way I have no animosity towards Rob, Jeff or Steven. If there's one lesson to be learned in dating, it's this: You can't take any of it personally. It's almost counterintuitive, I realise, but though I may be in the centre of Dominic's chivalry deficiency, Rob's shady business, Jeff's deception and Steven's boyish silliness, their shortcomings and their vices, are a reflection of them, not me. The dating game in the millennial age is not a sprint; it's a marathon. You have to pace yourself — slow down where necessary, take a water break when your lungs are on fire, and then get back on the road renewed. The rush is a feeling that comes from your joy in the process, it is not the method. And if all else fails, a wise guru Dave Harken (aka Kevin Spacey in Horrible Bosses) once said, "You can't win a marathon without putting some Band-Aids on your nipples."
Whatever that means.
*Names have been changed.
Tune in to the next entry on 20 July.