I’ve always been a bit perplexed about love. It’s hard to understand a primal emotion in its entirety — when it has the power to numb the rational centres of your mind. In my angsty twenties, I wanted to stay away from it. I couldn’t have my mind clouded by frivolous emotions and lose focus from the bigger picture. I had watched many around me succumb to love and it didn’t seem like a state I wanted to be in. But you know what’s the funny thing about love? It just happens.
But could it possible that we’re programmed to believe in a kind of ‘love’ that’s meant to boost the sale of consumer products? Could it be possible that we have forgotten what love really is? Could it possible that even if it’s staring at us, we’re looking somewhere else because it’s not what we expected it to be? And could it be possible that we’ve forgotten how important it is to feel loved because we’re just too busy trying to fall in love?
As a child, I felt love all around me. It was a good place to be in and those were possibly the happiest years of my life. But when you’re the youngest (amongst siblings and cousins), you live in a surreal bubble of cotton candy and all things pretty. You’re the last to find fault in parents. You’re the last to discover the harsh and grim realities of life. You’re the last to leave home. And yes, you’re also the last to grow up.
Once that bubble pops, it’s hard to feel that kind of love again — or at least the way you felt before. As I keep getting older and the physical distance that separates me from my parents keeps increasing, I find myself yo-yoing between pangs of nostalgia and an empty void. I convince myself this space exists because of who I’ve become today. On a recent trip back home, I found myself observing my parents minutely. I was so much like them that I realised how wrong I was about being different. There was nothing original about me and my pride was just childish stupidity. I am one part dad’s quick temper, one part mum’s sensitivity; one part dad’s rationality, one part mum’s creativity; one part dad’s love for simplicity, and one part mum’s obsession to accumulate. It’s possible they alway knew it and kept it to themselves, while I dwelled on the growing space between us. That’s why, they always welcome me with open arms and no matter how old I’ll be, or how many grey hair I’ll have, I’ll still be their youngest kid.
As an expat, love is a tricky situation. It’s hard not to be swept by the wave of isolation and loneliness. And it’s equally likely the other person is being swept by a similar wave. I’ve found most people taking refuge under the safety net of language — not necesarrily nationality. I’d hear words float around me in Korean, different English accents, French, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, and even Portuguese. As groups formed around me, I was always the odd one. Language has never been my identity and I always fell in love with people rather than their identity. As an introvert, I struggled to be a part of any group. I’ve never been a person who could follow a group and most group interactions have been disastrous for me. Thankfully, over time, groups disintegrated or dwindled in members. I finally found acceptance in these groups and my friends have been kind to translate every sentence — so that I don’t feel left out. We forget how important kindness is because we’re looking for love.
There are so many acts of kindness that I see around me. Most of the local shop owners and bakers recognise me instantly. There are very few foreigners where we live and it’s easy to stand out. Over the years, I’ve become a regular at these shops. I don’t have to be the first to smile or say hello. I’m always greeted by a smiling face on the other side. Acceptance is also a building block for friendship.
As an introvert, I’ve also found it hard to make new friends and even harder to keep them. I’d like people to understand me and accept me the way I am. But, more often than not, I find myself becoming a people-pleaser in the process. And when you become a people-pleaser, it’s very easy to lose yourself. Days are built around loving everybody around you and that just keeps adding pressure on being the perfect person. But, no one really talks about learning to love yourself first. Self-acceptance is the hardest quality to have today when you’re always being told you’re never going to be good enough. It’s never possible to have it all and why should we have it all? Why can’t we be happy with what we have and learn to cherish it without feeling empty? The long winter is nearly over and spring is a month away. The sun will be out more often and the birds will sing again. And that’s a good reason to smile today…