I turned 21 last month; turning 22 this year.
Up until now I’ve never had an official girlfriend. Then again, I’ve never had an unofficial one either.
I’ve also never held a girl’s hand, much less kissed one — but that’s not to say that I’ve never thought about it, for I have, many times, just never had the opportunity. Or if I did, I didn’t take it.
My love life had always been rather barren. Like a desert that requires no water but always welcomes rain, I’ve lived a perfectly normal life without romance, though always harbouring a secret longing for it.
Have I ever fallen in love with any girl? Yes, of course; a few times in fact.
Old Flames… Fluttering, fluttering
I was once deeply infatuated with a girl in primary school (Rosyth Primary). I was in Primary Five, 11-years-old at that time. I cannot recall ever having had any proper conversation with her.
After the PSLEs we went our separate ways; still I longed for her, often thinking of her as I drifted off to sleep.
I went to Montfort Secondary School, an all-boys, missionary school, for four years. Throughout those four years I do not believe I made any new female friends.
As far as I can remember I stayed well within my comfort zone on the social front, having neither interest nor desire in expanding my social circle beyond what it had set itself to be naturally.
The lack of contact with the opposite sex ensured that she remained in the box in my brain labelled “love”.
“What box in your brain?” I hear you ask.
The Vacuum Theory of Love
Allow me to explain to you my philosophy on love. It’s been with me ever since I’ve ever seriously thought about love.
When you fall in love, you automatically slot that person into a grey little area in your brain, specially set aside for the love of your life. It is there that the person will remain until someone else comes along and fits in better.
Sometimes though, perhaps through a falling out or other some other reason, you take the girl out. When you take her out, it creates a vacuum that desparately seeks to be filled.
You start falling in love with almost every girl you see, every girl who pays the slightest attention to you. Doesn’t matter if that girl isn’t much to look at, by the time you’ve exchanged glances, you’re in love — or at least you think you are.
Primary School Love Moves Along
After my four years in Montfort, I went to SRJC (Serangoon Junior College) for a few months. It was there that I learnt just how much I lacked in the art of socialising, especially with the fairer sex.
I found that I had nothing in common with most of the girls, except that the girl I “loved” was from the same school as three of them. These three girls were to be the ones I came closest to in my three months there.
It was here that I fell in love once again, with one of those three girls. It wasn’t love at first sight; she was not the most attractive, and her introverted nature did her no favours in making my acquaintance. I was at that time rather introverted as well, so we didn’t really talk much.
It wasn’t until a class outing at East Coast Park, where, out of boredom, we started kicking a ball around to each other, that I really noticed her as R, as opposed to “that girl with the rectangular frames“.
She was the first and thus far only girl I know who has had the audacity (this is Singapore, we generally don’t do this here) to use self-deprecating humour — something I found absolutely adorable and fascinating.
Over the course of the evening, she told me about her family, her fears, and her ambitions. Without much thinking about it, she slowly grew on me, and I think I grew on her, too.
The $64,000 Question
The day after, I asked if she would be my girlfriend, through a third party: a mutual friend.
I know it’s a social faux paux, but allow me to explain: I was too bashful to ask directly. I had never done this sort of thing before, nothing even close. Call me a wuss if you want, but my children’s lives were at stake here!
Through the mutual I learnt that she had declined my invitation. She felt it was “too early for this kind of stuff”. She wasn’t ready for anything like this.
Hell, neither was I. A part of me was glad she did what she did.
Nevertheless, we kept an e-mail correspondence, which lasted for almost five years. The first e-mail she wrote me after my girlfriend request was one I would never forget. In it, she accused me of wanting her out of convenience: since “she’s right at my doorstep, why not?”
She might have been right.
Stale Letters in Australia
In late 2002 (or was it early 2003? I forget) she sent me through the post a small hand-made card, saying she was going to Melbourne, Australia, to study. I can’t remember exactly how I felt. I do remember feeling a little upset. Upset that she was leaving (and to so far a place!), and upset that I was never told about it earlier.
But mostly, I felt envy. I quote Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Romeo’s soliloquy after he learns of his banishment, on how unfair it is that lesser beings than him get to enjoy Juliet, but not he:
‘Tis torture, and not mercy. Heaven is here,
Where Juliet lives; and every cat and dog
And little mouse, every unworthy thing,
Live here in heaven and may look on her;
But Romeo may not. More validity,
More honourable state, more courtship lives
In carrion flies than Romeo. They may seize
On the white wonder of dear Juliet’s hand
And steal immortal blessing from her lips,
Who, even in pure and vestal modesty,
Still blush, as thinking their own kisses sin;
But Romeo may not — he is banished.
This may flies do, when I from this must fly;
But this wasn’t my only point of envy. Sure, I felt envy that the unworthy would be able to see her in Melbourne, and not I. But there was another sinister kind of envy insidiously plaguing my mind: Why should she go? Why not me? I want to go to Australia.
I wanted to take her place.
The months after she went to Melbourne were filled with wonderful e-mail correspondence. Letters were more personal, and she seemed genuinely happy to hear from me.
But then the e-mails started getting less frequent. I was busy with my Final Year Project, and she, with her examinations. Through her e-mails, I could sense that the stress seemed to be getting to her.
The fortnightly corresondence became monthly, sometimes a little longer. All my energy was being put into my Final Year Project, and I had little mental resources left to write anything worth writing. Her e-mails themselves seem rather forced and impersonal, almost as if they were something to be gotten over and done with. Perhaps mine were too.
Nothing Left to Say
Sometimes I wonder if it it wasn’t energy that I lacked. I had simply exhausted all topics of conversation; it had been years since we last saw each other, since we last had any shared experiences. We could only go so far talking about the limited number of mutual friends and acquaintances.
She mentioned in one of her e-mails too that writing to me was like writing to a stranger; I could do no better than agree but wish it wasn’t so. It was one of the last e-mails I ever received.
The week before my enlistment, having not heard from her for three months, more or less, I felt I needed to write to her. The days leading up to my enlistment were terrible. I felt like a prisoner on death row anticipating his execution. I was scared.
I wrote her an e-mail just before I went in. In it, I hinted strongly that I still had feelings for her in some of the worst prose I had ever written. I think I might have included a poem too. In a nutshell, I’d cringe if I had to read what I had written now.
Her reply to that e-mail was the very last e-mail I would ever receive. She said, in effect, that she couldn’t believe that I felt whatever I felt for her, and that it was quite strange. It could be summarised in four words: Please stop loving me!
I was hurt by the e-mail, and wrote her an apology, signed off with an ultimatum: do not reply to this e-mail and you’ll never hear another unsolicited word from me again.
She took me up on that offer.