“Viable.” It was the word he used to describe his new relationship with this girl that he met, a classmate of his in PE. She was a nice girl, of steady temperament, the image of the perfect middle-class Filipina. His sister found the word strange, hard put to understand a boy in college who would use the word “viable” to describe his relationship. She asked him if she rocked his world. “She can’t even make me laugh, Ate.” She wanted to say something more, but she bit her lip. They were, after all, siblings who couldn’t be more different. He was practical and liked consistency. His politics were conservative. And she supposed that boys like that eventually end up with girls who order iced tea in bars and they grow up and live in themed subdivisions with pompous names like Hampstead Villas. He was not deliriously in love with her, but maybe that was ok, she rationalized. Maybe delirious, earth-shaking love is only for the slightly off-kilter.
Two years later, they broke up. The sister asked him why. “I thought of a lifetime of breakfasts with her, seated across each other at the table, having nothing to talk about and not even able to make each other laugh, and it felt… interminable.”
* * *
They had been together for seven years, going eight. No one had believed they would make it last that long. In a society where open displays of homosexuality are still frowned upon, they celebrated their love with in-your-face abandon. They couldn’t be more different from each other, but somehow, through some sleight of hand, they came together and became this unbreakable team. Many believed the relationship would not work, as they made such an unlikely lesbian pair.
Into their eight year, their close circle of friends was shocked to find out that the pair had broken up. One of the parties broke the news that she was getting married. She had grown up with her grandmother to whom she owed her life, and her dying grandmother had made it her dying wish that she get married. It was a painful dilemma but she decided to honor the wishes of the one who had single-handedly raised her. In the arms of her confidante, she let out a torrent of tears.
Only three years later, the marriage ended. And she is back with the love that made her fly.
* * *
She was sick with leukemia and he promised her the best medical treatment available in the world. He knew she wanted nothing more than to be well again, to do what she wanted to do without fear that her body would fail her anytime, and he knew furthermore that he had the capacity to give it to her. But the offer of help came with an implicit condition: that they would end up together.
She was an ambitious person who wanted to do so many things, and the offer was tempting. But in him she could not see the future that she wanted, nor could she feel for him that the love she craved to feel for another human being. She knew that she would only end up hurting him and they would, between the both of them, only create a lifetime of resentment. She cared for him and wished not to hurt him. There was someone out there who could love him better than she ever could. And there was someone out there that she would love they way she wanted to love – eternal, unbridled.
Sick, scared and uncertain, she turned her back. To this day, there have been no regrets.
* * *
These are stories of real people, not mine certainly, but of people I know. I recount these stories now because I had a conversation very late last night with a good friend of mine. I said that for a relationship to be lasting, it has to start with fireworks. And by fireworks, I mean not fireworks of the sexual variety, but of the explosions generated by mad passionate love. Of course, at some point the fireworks will lessen in intensity, and will morph into something comfortable and reassuring (and perhaps even more wonderful), but I firmly believe that it is a prerequisite to a lifetime commitment that at one point, you were head over heels in love with the person you’ve committed yourself to.
He pointed out that people have relationships that start out with a lot of heat and fireworks, but still don’t work out. Sure, that has happened to me, I said. I guess there are external factors that make the relationship fail. Or even inherent incompatibilities. In every relationship, you take a chance. You take a gamble. But if, at the start, you enter into it half-baked, or you know you’re settling, then for me, there’s no gamble. It’s a losing hand of cards from the get-go.
I guess if there is one thing in my life that I fear, it’s settling for something. In life, as in love. I would hate to settle for a job that pays well but does not make me happy, I would hate to settle for a cause that I only half-believe in. In a similar vein, I would hate to have to settle for a relationship because it’s convenient and secure, and because from it I can expect no major fluctuations. I know myself well enough to know that that would be a disaster from the start.
Sometimes I wish it would be simpler if things like passion and intensity don’t matter as much to me. Then perhaps my life would be less psychedelic and I would find myself in a more or less stable life where the margins of error are few and far between. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve had to pay for my recklessness. But I guess that’s not how I’m wired. I am not built for half-baked.
Of course this does not mean that I do not wish for calm and constancy. Roller-coaster rides can be tiring. But calm and constancy should be built on the premise of big-bang love. You are calm because you know you are with the person you want to be with, and not the person you settled for. There is no restlessness, no anxiety. You have constancy because there is nothing more that you seek, and there is joy in knowing that this is how it will be in the end.
Unlike the college boy who looks at the future and sees only long interminable breakfasts eaten in resigned silence, you look forward and see that it carries all you will ever want.