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Romance by way of inner turmoil and vulnerability is totally okay

As if the tidal wave of headache I’ve been experiencing the last few days wasn’t already drowning me in bed, the prospect of writing about love—in whatever form it takes—was equally hard to grapple with. 

Over the years, I’ve found myself at odds with the romantic kind of love that most individuals long for all their lives. I grew up at a time when coming to terms with your identity was a little trickier compared to now—when  teenagers tackle it head on with such confidence and self-assurance that I sometimes look at them with jealousy and disdain. 

How lucky are they to have lived in a generation when  the world is moving gingerly towards a greater acceptance of  all kinds of love?

I can’t believe he’s settled into that kind of life. A life that I also want for myself but never got quite close to grasping no matter how far I stretch my arms. 

And then that feeling withers into a softer sigh. Of relief or resignation, I don’t know. But somehow reconciling with all the parts of myself I’ve been avoiding—including my inability to confront my authentic self, personal demons and all the reasons why I am where I am and others are, well, at least in my perspective up on a pedestal—also has its rewards. Vulnerability after all isn’t something we should shy away from anyway. 

In my case, it was a rocky road towards reaching that cathartic kind of vulnerability—both in my own skin and in refocusing how I perceive love (we’ll get to that later). 

At 12, while studying at an all-boys school, it was a game of discovery, of simply allowing myself to feel whatever emotion I had with anyone, only that it’s hidden in plain sight. That was an awkward and delicate phase for someone who sort of knew what his insides were screaming and yet society is telling him otherwise. There was a moment when I knew that this personal struggle would continue to unfold through the rest of my life: I remember being smitten by my Filipino-Japanese classmate—signature blue Benetton knapsack in one shoulder, with warm deep set eyes that seem to glint in the morning light, and that distinct Paloma Picasso scent I could smell every morning on the grounds where we assembled before going up to our classroom.

I knew then I was screwed. 

High school and university life came with fulfilling experiences too, but I was still clinging to the past with one hand while  also slowly letting go, after my fingers started to bleed from the burden of burying who I was and realizing how love should be was willful disservice. A self-censored life is exhausting. And a total, utter waste. 

Which brings me back to the unpredictable emotions that emerge whenever I see young love and real-life romance today. It’s always one half jealousy (for all those years I wasted), and one half wide-eyed, vicarious relief (for the progress we’ve made, however slow it may seem). It’s an unhealthy tug of war between two sides that comes alive every now and then. But the silver lining I’ve realized is that by acknowledging this destructive pattern of behavior, I can visualize a future that’s free from the complexities, longings, and insecurities that have haunted me all this time. 

Sure, I still lose myself in daydreams whenever I rewatch episodes of Lucas and Elliott in the French remake of “Skam” navigating their highs and lows, or Tine and Sarawat in “2gether: The Series,” understanding the concept of compromise. And while I’m neither in any of those imaginary multiverses, what’s clear is that being vulnerable right now creates an entirely different beast—whether it takes the shape of a conquistador vanquishing the ghosts of the past or a gentle kitten that has learned to be receptive to the truest of gestures. Whatever it could be, it’s one that makes sense of the uncertainties, and above all puts the heart front and center. 

That may not be as straightforward on the surface but it’s a lightbulb moment that signifies my late-in-the-game, now bone-deep perception of love: I’m still screwed, but in a good way. 

Read more:

This is an ode to stories, the only way I’ve understood love

The list of people I said ‘I love you’ to is shorter than my temper

Art by Yel Sayo

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