Love as seen in movies and TV shows, heard across the radio, and penned down in novels and poems, is the ideal for most of us, growing up. We all want to be swept off our feet, serenaded, and appreciated.
I was sustained by a steady flux of Richard Gere and Hugh Grant movies—thanks to my mom—and there was nothing more I wanted than a romance that would change my life. I wanted to be that girl (read Julia Roberts) from the movies, come what may.
So, when my first boyfriend arrived at the age of eighteen, you can imagine my joy. For propriety’s sake, let’s call him John. John was tall, drop-dead gorgeous, and cooler than me. He drove his own car, and that impressed my teenage self so much that I was soon sneaking out of my house after midnight to go on long drives.
We were only a week old as a couple when he announced he loved me, and he would do anything for me and that I was his whole world. My romantic movie just became a reality! You couldn’t quantify my happiness—I was overjoyed. I was so deliriously happy, I chose to ignore so many things—signs that this wasn’t the healthiest relationship.
It started out small and inconsequential. He would ask what I was doing on days that I wasn’t spending with him, and I thought he was just being caring. He would insist on dropping me and picking me up from the mall or the coffee shop I would often visit with my friends. Every time he offered, I would feel my heart skipping beats, thinking he cared for me so, so much, I was the luckiest. He would even call me late at night to talk about anything and everything, and I was on cloud nine thinking how wonderful it was to have someone who wanted to share their emotions and thoughts with me.
But all these gestures weren’t entirely innocent. The first red flag was raised by my friend, who would often receive texts from John asking about my whereabouts. At first, I thought he couldn’t reach me, but my phone was in perfect condition and so, was my connection. Why did he disturb her?
My friend looked uncomfortable, but she told me about her own ex who would do the same thing to her because he thought she was cheating on him when she obviously wasn’t. I was confused, I thought to myself that John wouldn’t do that. It just seemed so impossible, this didn’t happen in the movies I watched.
My friend warned me to be careful, and I went along with it even if I didn’t want to believe it. However, one day, as I returned late from choir practice, I found him waiting for me in the parking lot. Now, the school day gets over at 2 PM and practice goes on for 2 hours after that, so I was confused why he was here. He wasn’t supposed to come to pick me up today. Before I could say anything, he started accusing me of cheating on him! I was shocked.
He said he saw me smiling at a fellow choir member too much, and he assumed I was up to no good. The next emotion I felt was anger. How dare he? I burst out into tears angrily and that halted him, making him rush over to embrace me and telling me he loved me so much and that made him insecure. This managed to calm me for that day.
I thought that was it, and it won’t happen again because he apologised. I had an important recital coming up so I had to practice often. John was coming to pick me up. It was summer, so I was wearing shorts and as I waited, I was chatting with a couple of choir members. One of them was a boy and as soon as John saw him, his whole body language changed. He insisted on being introduced, and when I did, he was so cold to the boy. As soon as we sat down in his car, he started the same old accusations again, and this time he added that I shouldn’t wear such “revealing” outfits. It was hot, I was wearing shorts because they were comfortable. I wasn’t just shocked, I was terribly angry as well. He kept on commenting on my clothes from then on, and this was definitely the second red flag.
The nail in the coffin for me was when I discovered he was actively tracking me. I was at the school library, and we were not supposed to meet that day since I had some errands to run for my mom. As I walked from the school to the supermarket, I had this sensation of someone following me. I made a false turn and found out that my ‘stalker’ was John. I was seething as I confronted him. I noticed him trying to hide his phone when I asked him what he was doing. I managed to pry the device from his hand, and I realised he was using an app to track my mobile. I was done, I broke up with him on spot.
He obviously didn’t take it too well, and he kept calling me, my friends, even showed up in front of my house, but I wasn’t going to be swayed by countless texts of “I only did it because I love you”. It struck deep that someone I trusted and loved so much would want to track me because they didn’t trust me.
My experience with John left me rattled; I developed massive trust issues, always fearing the same would happen. I did go on dates, but I could never agree on that second date. I did have a boyfriend in college, and some of my faith in love was restored, thanks to him. I decided to give love another chance (but alas, he had to leave for an abroad study program). Then, some years after graduation I met my husband.
Now that I am in my late 20s, and in a healthy relationship, I often look back to my first “love”. Being with John was stifling, he wanted to change me, wanted to control my life, and I am so glad I didn’t stick around for him to gain complete control over my life.
Meanwhile, my husband loves me for who I am—he doesn’t laugh at my strange hobby of collecting Sailor Moon stickers, he isn’t willing to change me, and he knows the meaning of acceptance. With him, I have definitely learned that true love is constructive. It should be effortless (well, mostly). For instance, I recently got purple highlights and he can’t stop gushing about them. He even got me flowers a few days ago that matched my hair.
I often slip and wonder about John, and if there was something that I could have done to fix it. But then I retract, thinking that love shouldn’t be about fixing. It should be about acceptance. John was destructive; he wanted to mould me in his image. His love was obsessive; he wanted to fix the things in me that reflected on him. If I had started changing for him, would he have stopped just at my clothes, or whom I talked to? I don’t think so.
I don’t doubt that he didn’t like me, but he didn’t understand loving someone doesn’t mean controlling them. There is a thin line between obsession and love. If you can only think about the things that need to fix in your partner, then that’s not love. You are with someone because they make you happy; you shouldn’t be with them to make them your next DIY project.
This is how I see it, now that I feel that I am wise enough to know: a relationship that makes you feel suffocated and controlled is obsession; but when the emotions are genuine, it feels like a breath of fresh air, and that is love.
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