At work, I always end up being the only girl in my sub-division or one of the very few in a throng of male colleagues. This is contradictory to my otherwise all girls boarding school-background. In a way this served as a good thing, as I get to experience the aspects of both worlds. I left boarding school with a surge of female empowered estrogen-clad feminist pride spirit, and when I got to know boys it was almost like watching a National Geographic documentary – what are these creatures and why do they like sports so much?
And somewhere along the line, as chick flicks, dating and hormones came into the picture, it has been drilled into us that guys should be approached with caution; there is the whole ‘hide and seek’ element, the ‘does he or doesn’t he’ mind boggling games and stories about some unnamed jerks going around breaking people’s hearts. All these painted guys as scary, sometimes-intimidating robots fuelled by testosterones about 90% of the time. Fascinating stuff.
Eventually, as I got to know them personally whether they are colleagues, friends, people I dated or even family members, I quickly came to the realization… it is not easy being a guy!
Take the story of Male X for example. Male X is somebody I know from work, and one day he told me about his failed attempts of asking a girl out three times to no avail. I cringed when I heard this story. I can’t imagine how I would feel if I had mustered all that courage only to be shot down by a girl. Yikes. That must hurt. In fact, if I was him I would probably be traumatized and not ask anyone out for the next decade. Male X, if you’re reading this, I solute you.
And even if you did get to ask a girl out, the raging river of challenges had just begun. Do you know how much it costs to take a girl out on a date? Not to mention that unlike women, men are heavily assessed through their assets too, as much as we like to deny it. I once heard a male friend say about his then-girlfriend, “I used to have a lot of money in ASB. Then it all disappeared and turned into her”. I felt pretty bad for this. As much as I know that guys actually do prefer to pay and pamper, the fact is they still do spend a lot of money and energy into this whole process.
We like to also think that when it doesn’t work out, girls take the hit harder. Perhaps this is a true statement to a certain extent, given that guys seem to have an almost default robotic method to cope with it. They submerge themselves in work or gaming or buddies, and seem to be handling it all like a champ (while the ladies cry buckets in the public restroom). But through experience I have watched some male friends I know getting hurt just as we do, feeling sentimental just like we feel and well, in general, are just humans like the rest of us.
What these observations resulted in is a certainly more cynical agreement towards a lot of so-called notions of what men are, as portrayed through a lot of movies and books you see these days. Since women are the more expressive gender it is normal to see/read/watch more snide conclusions be made about men, when come to think of it, there are so many great guys out there. I was raised by a dedicated Father who once worked 2-3 jobs to support us while he was in studying, and has been loving and loyal to my Mother for 30 years. To then settle with a generic opinion that men are awful and non-sentimental even when we had just gotten hurt by one would not be a fair statement. Sometimes a bit of perspective goes a long way to stop us being spiteful and disheartened over the whole idea of acquainting a decent guy.
This is a true story. You can’t make this shit up.
In late 2014 I was in Paris, and where else would I be at sunset if it wasn’t la Tour Eiffel (Eiffel Tower). The weather was perfect and there weren’t a lot of people around since it was summer ending. The sky was filled with streaks of purple and orange and the Eiffel Tower lit up every half hour, sending a sparkle of lights all over it, a shimmering delight. I was walking around the grounds minding my own business, and eventually I ended up at a spacious patch where people were sitting on the grassy floor watching the lights.
There was a girl who sat close to me, looking like she was in her twenties, with a brunette bob and cigarette jeans. She was leaning back and watching the last few minutes of the sparkling lights show. It ended and people started moving away, but she kept sitting and staring. A few moments later a young man emerged, slowly pacing himself and eventually stopping his tracks by this girl.
“Oh, I missed it,” he said regretfully.
The girl quickly paid attention and chipped in. “Yeah, you missed it by just a few minutes,” she said. The guy looked at her, surprised at her response (or maybe he’s just acting like he’s surprised). “I think they’ll repeat it again soon,” he said. “Yep, every half hour,” she said. He nodded in acknowledgement.
At this point I was actively eavesdropping. I felt bad at first, but after convincing myself that I am actually an unpaid social journalist, I carried on. “It’s really nice weather,” he said. This is the part where I knew he was trying to make a move. The girl giggled and agreed. This is the part where I knew she was responding positively. I set my phone to ‘silent’.
“My name is XXXXX,” he introduced himself. I can’t remember what his name was. She introduced herself as well but they didn’t shake hands. She was still sitting down, and he was standing awkwardly. The sunset was really at its peak and it was beautiful out there. “Is it okay if I sit down?” he asked. She said yes almost as immediately as that question ended. He sat down and saw her books and asked if she was a student. They carried on having a pleasant conversation.
I felt like I was in some weird, ideal world movie. A boy and a girl who meets in front of the Eiffel Tower? Are you freaking kidding me? I looked around to see if there was a camera. Maybe this is a filming of a reality show. Maybe I’ll be noted at the end credits as ‘Headscarf Girl #3’ (there were quite a few girls in headscarves there coincidentally). I wanted to take a picture of this pair but decided not to. There was a bomb threat in Paris a few days before I arrived and there were army guys looking out everywhere in public places, so I didn’t think me taking a picture of random strangers will look great given the circumstance.
As I evaluated that situation, I have to hand it to this guy for being pretty smart, despite the fact that the Eiffel Tower is such a romantic place that you could be hit by a homeless man and probably still feel charmed by it. Assuming that his intentions were sincere, I would say that he was an excellent strategist. First, he began with an open ended question. If she didn’t end up responding, he wouldn’t be embarrassed because hey, for all you know he’s just talking to himself. Then, he looked surprised by her response. Whether it was unintentional or deliberate, the girl will then use this to confirm that he probably had not been stalking her for the past hour (and maybe he did!).
He also brought up a series of generic conversations. This is important for him to gauge her temperament, whether she seemed open to talk to him or not interested. Finally, he asked politely if he could sit down. By this time the girl would be flattered at his manners. He could also use this opportunity to observe the way she her responded. If she said yes but sounded like she was dreading it then he would know to not stay long. But since she replied almost before the question ended, he’s got his answer right there.
Well played sir.
As I left the Eiffel Tower, the both of them were still animatedly chatting. I don’t know why, but I felt so glad to have witnessed it. It was actually one of the highlights of my stay in Paris. There is nothing quite like the excitement of meeting someone new and you click right into place. It reminded me of my past encounters and the delightful amalgamation of feelings, and frankly isn't that one of the big reasons why we love love so much? I wonder what happened to them. Maybe they ended up together. Maybe they never materialized. Maybe they part ways and never saw each other again. Whichever it is, I am pretty sure they won’t forget it too quickly. And neither will I.
This post was actually written a few months ago. I forgot to post it and now I feel like I owe it a publish.
I found myself in a place I had been before, one too many times. I was once again the girl who stood in the middle of the dark street, with memories of someone else put in a box, and I carry that box home with me again, alone. These sort of things have happened to me before, some being just mere shrugs of not very significant encounters, and some as let-downs that would last for a few weeks. But this? A few weeks will not cut it.
I hate telling people to move on. Nor do I like being told to move on. What I had come to realize is that a relationship is about two people – only the two of you will ever know the complexities, the depths and the death of your companionship. No one else will ever completely understand it. Therefore listening to what people say you should do is like Kim K telling Kanye West how to make an album. It is with good intent, but it will never completely fit the bill. All you have is your head and your gut.
After all is said and done, many of us end up being in a limbo of emotions. Some days we feel glad that what was not meant to be is now over. Some days, unfortunately, we find ourselves pining over the loss of a soul who used to be someone important in the story of our lives. It is despairing when someone who used to be a part of our memories become a memory themselves. I would find myself to feel like I had somehow fallen down into a deep dark hole, with the pieces scattered around me on the floor. Somehow, I would have to pick them up and learn to assemble them again, albeit broken and a bit bent, and then climb out of that dark hole by myself.
The sad truth about this hole is that nobody can pull us out of it except ourselves. We may have friends and loved ones who would cheer us on to keep climbing out, but it will all need our own doing. Not family, not friends, not even another boy. A lot of people say that you know you have moved on when you find another. This could not be more wrong. I am not a fan of the ‘rebound’ concept. It is not an excuse to delude yourself with other people as a compensation for your own sadness. The real way to know you’re moving on is when you wake up one day and realize that you can think about the past without being emotionally affected by it. With or without someone new.
As you successfully make your way out of this weird, dark hole, the real journey begins. I know people who bounces back as fast as a silly putty, and before you know it off they go again, without much of a pause to reflect on how things have unfolded themselves. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) I am not one of those. As much as I try I always end up preferring to sit in my puddle of thoughts, dwelling on lost words and broken promises, feeling like I deserve to do what I want despite what Dr Phil would tell me. I start picking up the bricks again, putting them up one by one until they once again become that wall I had once smashed to the ground in the spirit of trust. Then I remain aloof towards anyone new, because bitterness is an anxious old man. He cringes at the sight of a possible future repeat of the same hurt.
I was watching The Walking Dead all last weekend. There was a character who was dying, and as she was in her final moments she told another character, “Someday this pain will be useful to you”. I think she was talking about being eaten by a zombie, but whatever. You catch my drift, right?
Because someday, this pain will be useful to me.