I read a lot of trashy teenage romances when I was a teenager–and several Harlequin Romances as well. I had my first crush on a boy when I was in first grade, and it lasted until I was in seventh grade. It only died out because we went to junior high school, which meant I didn’t see him nearly as often as I did in elementary school. I can still remember his name and how he looked, which is indicative of my passions in general.
My parents did not have a good marriage (and that’s an understatement if I’ve ever written one), but I completely bought into the idea that you had to be married in order to be a complete person. To be fair to me, it was pushed on me by my mother since I was rather young. She might not have explicitly said it, but it showed in everything she did. She had a full-time job, but she did all the housework and parenting as well. She arranged everything around my father, and I can remember the countless arguments when he would come home late at night without a single word of explanation other than he was ‘working late’.
I saw my mother frantically turning herself inside out to try to please him, and when I was a preteen, I became her unwilling confidante, and she poured out her woes to me on a regular basis. She was deeply depressed, and I begged her to divorce my father. It didn’t happen, unfortunately, and I continued to learn warped ideas of what a relationship should be. I had two cultures telling me that it was my job and duty to please my man and to keep him happy at any cost. It was better to be in a miserable relationship than to be alone, and as much as I didn’t want to believe it, it seeped into my soul.
To make matters worse, I was a fat*, ugly**, awkward Asian girl in a lily-white suburb. It was before Asian girls were exotic and hot–back then, we were just not considerable dating material. That’s actually not completely true as I knew a very popular Asian girl who probably had many dates, but it’s true in the sense that we were not the norm, so it would take someone thinking outside the box to ask us out. I had my first date when I was sixteen, and because I had internalized a lifetime of ‘you’re a loser if you don’t have a boyfriend’, I clung to him as hard as I could. The first kiss was disappointing, but it got better. He was a good-looking, smart (fucking smart), kindhearted boy, and I had a hard time believing he wanted to date me. I met him at summer school, and he went to a school thirty minutes away from me. Little did I know that long-distance relationships were to be a staple of my dating life.
The first year was good. I was giddy that I had a boyfriend whom I could smooch every weekend. The problem is, it slowly went from doing fun things like dinner and a movie plus smooching to just smooching in the backseat of his Range Rover. He started pushing me to do more than kissing, and here’s where my own dysfunction kicked in. I was raised Christian and Asian, meaning it was drummed into me that good girls don’t until marriage. I made it clear I wanted to abstain from PiV sex until I was married, and my boyfriend was fine with that. What I didn’t factor in was all the steps in between kissing and sex. Oh, I knew they existed, of course, but I didn’t truly think about what it meant in a practical matter. I didn’t realize it meant negotiating each step, and it made the relationship fraught for me.
I am not good at confrontation, or even honest disagreement. I was taught that my opinion didn’t matter, which was not good to take into a relationship. Neither was the idea that my boyfriend mattered more than I did, so, yeah, it’s a miracle the relationship lasted as long as it did (2 1/2 years). It only ended because he moved to California to attend Stanford, and he told me if I didn’t go, we’d have to breakup. I planned on going and attending a nearby UC, but as the time drew closer, I panicked. Plus, there was this hottie in the mall where I worked whom I wanted to get to know better. I ended up breaking up with my boyfriend when he moved to CA, but let’s back up a minute. He kept pushing more during our make-out sessions (in his car, which was not ideal in and of itself). Half of me wanted to do more because it felt good, but the other half couldn’t get past the idea that I was doing something wrong.
I couldn’t articulate it at the time, but I was not happy that all our time together was focused on making out. I started to feel objectified, but I never once said anything. This is something I want to emphasize in the time of #metoo. We are shitty at how we teach boys and girls to communicate about sex (other things, too, of course, but I’m concentrating on sex for this post). We give toxic messages about heteronormative relationships all the gotdamn time. To boys: Men want sex all the time. Men are animals. You have to keep pushing, and she’s the one to put on the brakes. Sometimes, girls say no when they mean yes. To girls: Men are beasts. You have to control them because they can’t control themselves. You’re a slut if you want to have sex. It’s up to you to say no. We don’t tell girls that it’s natural for them to have sexual urges. We don’t tell boys it’s OK if they don’t want sex all the time. We certainly don’t tell them/model frank discussion techniques for dealing with these delicate topics.
I’m bringing this up because what I should have done back then was tell my boyfriend that I didn’t want to make-out every time we got together and that I was not comfortable with the pace of sexual escalation. Instead, I just put up with it, gritting my teeth, until I started dreading going out with him. I want to emphasize that he was a good dude, and I gave no indication how I was feeling. I’m more and more on board with enthusiastic consent because we are so bad at this shit.
I had several bad interactions in college concerning dating. My one true love, in retrospect, was the relationship that cemented my difficulties with romance. There were several things wrong with it that I accepted as normal at the time. He was my best friend, and he’s the one who told me his feelings for him. I wasn’t particularly attracted to him at first, but I decided to try it since I loved him so much as a friend. That’s another problematic trait of mine–forcing a romantic relationship that shouldn’t be from a solid friendship. Anyway, I had actual PiV for the first time with this boyfriend, and it’s the reason I left Christianity for good. Sex was fantastic. Sex was amazing. Sex was mind-blowing and incredible. Once I had it, the house of cards built upon the notion that sex sends you to hell crumbled, and I couldn’t trust anything else I was told about religion. If something so glorious was the worst thing in the world (as I was taught in my religion), then I wanted no part of it. Religion, I mean, not sex.
Anyway, that boyfriend started the relationship with the premise that we would never be together forever because I wasn’t his nationality or religion (he ended up marrying someone who wasn’t either as well), which was not a good basis for a relationship. In addition, he was very emphatic about how important his family was in his home country, and it made me think I had to impress them (which would never happen), while it took me years to realize that my own family is way more important in our home country, and I never made it a condition of the relationship because that’s not how I roll.
I was my mother in this relationship. I was so in love and so desperate to hold onto my man, I whittled away anything about myself that he would find objectionable just so he wouldn’t leave me. Which he did three times, only to come back to me twice for the sex. I didn’t realize that’s what it was at the time, but it was. He wasn’t a bad man, but he didn’t act honorably in our relationship, and it warped my thinking on relationships even further. Another boyfriend wrote in his LiveJournal that my love was tiring (true, but I was furious he wrote it online without ever once saying it to me), which only reinforced my fear that I was an endless maw of need, never to be satisfied.
You know that saying that desperation is unattractive? That someone who is grasping to be in a relationship, any relationship, will put off potential partners? It’s true, of course, but it’s also frustrating to hear. I knew I was too clingy and needy, but I couldn’t pretend I was not. All the advice of loving yourself first signified that I would be alone forever because there was no way in hell I was going to love myself. That would make me even more depressed and needy, and thus, the cycle would be perpetuated.
I feared I would never be in a romantic relationship, so around my late twenties, I decided the way to deal with it was to declare that I didn’t want one, anyone, so there. I was rejecting romance, not the other way around, and, no, it didn’t make me feel any better about the situation. I couldn’t think of what else to do, however, as I knew that I wasn’t healthy enough to be in a relationship. It did make me angry because there were plenty of unhealthy people who had decent relationships, or so I thought I saw all around me.
I’ve said before that I realized in my early twenties that I didn’t want to children. In my early thirties, I decided that marriage wasn’t for me. In my early forties, I started thinking hard about romantic relationships in general. Are they for me? Are they not? It’s hard to say because I spent my whole life believing I had to be in a romantic relationship in order to be a worthwhile woman. Even as an old broad, it’s hard not to think I’m lesser because I’m not coupled off.
Funny side note: I was going into my local Cubs, and there was this hot guy in his late twenties/early thirties right behind me, so I held the door for him (I hold the door for everyone). He jogged so he could go through the door, and I made some quip about not meaning to make him run. He smiled and said it was OK and went through. I was like, “Come here and let me sit on your face” (on the inside! I would never say that out loud), but I realized that he was probably thinking, “Oh, this nice mom-type held the door for me.” It’s so weird being in my late-forties and still being randy, especially for people ten to twenty years younger.
Anyway, I have come to the conclusion that I don’t want to be in a traditional long-term, monogamous, romantic relationship for many reasons. One, I still am too needy when it comes to romantic relationships. I haven’t broken free of my programming that a partner is the most important thing in the world, no matter how hard I try, and I don’t want that in my life. Two, I have friends who provide me with the emotional support I need. Really good friends, and I don’t think a partner is necessary for that. Three, I like living alone. A lot. Sometimes, I wish I had a roomie, such as when I’m sick and would love for someone to run to crazy auntie’s to get me some noodles, and when Ian is here, I let him do the heavy lifting because, yes, I can do it, obviously, but it’s nice not to have to all the time.*** Four, what I really want, deep down instead, is blistering-hot sex. Raw, feel-it-the-next day sex. Sex that leaves me sweaty, bruised, and wanting more. Dassit.
It’s hard to admit because it seems so shallow, especially for a woman of my age, but there you have it. I don’t want/don’t see myself in a long-term, monogamous, romantic relationship, nor do I see myself in one. I’m down for a hook-up, though!
*I wasn’t fat. Solid and well-built, yes, but not fat.
**I wasn’t that ugly, either, but I certainly didn’t make the most of my looks.
***Yes, it’s because he’s a dude who is stronger than I am.