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.