My lovers told me a lot of things — mostly things about myself that I didn’t realise I had or lacked thereof. Or things about themselves that I didn’t anticipate or could have anticipated but chose not to. Sometimes they were just passing comments that my lovers would very soon conveniently forget but somehow they got stuck at the back of my mind.
They followed me not only over the course of one relationship but throughout all the years I was growing up, culminating like a pile of unwashed laundries that would just sit there stinging. They had even become a point of reference that later as I changed, I would look back to and compare myself against. I would wonder why I remembered them for so long. I would be amazed at myself that I could recall vividly the moments in which those words were said. And I would re-live them all over again like I was the main character in an indie movie while feeling both satisfied and resentful…
Weird, isn’t it? Not in a million years would the boy I dated back in tenth grade ever expect that, to this day, I still remember him saying something trivial like he was allergic to blueberries or that I looked prettier when I didn’t smile. “You look prettier when you don’t smile,” he said in a well-meaning manner. We were together for only one month but that comment has been nesting in some hole inside of me for the last 7 years. It popped up into my mind whenever my mouth started curving up for a smile. I would picture my own face, imagining everyone was looking at me the way he did and I would immediately feel self-conscious, thinking perhaps I should keep my face straight.
Then there came a lover who told me about his obsession with nerdy girls. He said I looked better with glasses and I shouldn’t take them off. At first, I felt flattered. My confidence was maintained whenever I had my glasses on. But at the same time, I started suspecting that there must be something unappealing about my naked eyes. Soon I forgot how this perception had been formed in the first place. I internalised it as though it was a fact: my eyes equaled bad features. That relationship lasted for 2 months and 13 days but for the past 5 years, it has got me surprised every single time someone complimented on my face without glasses. Occasionally, I would stare at my unfiltered self in the mirror and wonder why these eyes weren’t enough. Though, apparently, it wasn’t just my eyes. Another lover stressed that he preferred long hair on me and I should wear high heels more often. Well, I was short at 5’2. I knew that much.
See, my lovers always had something to say to me, to leave behind for me. Even when we became strangers again, there was always some part of my lovers that isn’t strange to me. The words they said, the stories they told, the gestures they made… They are close, very close to my heart. They have imprinted on my skin like a series of invisible tattoos that only I could see, only I would know their exact locations and how much they hurt. And it isn’t like I wanted it that way. Someone out there, someone who used to hold a special place in my heart, has voiced a personal opinion of me as a result of our intimate times together. It naturally unsettles me. I can’t turn a blind eye on it. I can’t detach those words, those stories, those gestures completely from my self-perception. I have to process them. I ask why — lots of the times — because I find it hard to accept that I could possibly let them ever happen to me.
I still remember once a lover paid compliments to my outfit which I didn’t think much of. Later I asked him if I could come to his place. He told me yes on one condition: I would bring my black skirt with me. I questioned it and he said with not even a single flinch that fucking me while I was wearing that skirt and nothing else would make it naughtier and he would really get off on watching that; otherwise I should stay home, it was getting late. Another one called me “the sexiest thing ever” and repeatedly told me, “cum for me, cum for me” while penetrating me aggressively with whatever he got. One got frustrated at me because I had once — yes, once — reached orgasm before him and then he couldn’t finish, referencing it cattily two months after our break-off as “You could judge someone’s character by how much they give and take.” Classy.
One turned me back and forth in front of the mirror to check out my body like I was one of the new Apple gadgets he’d unboxed for review. One went through an Instagram account of girls with big asses while spooning me right after sex, saying he loved “big booty.” Mind you, I was fully aware of the size of my Asian booty at that time compared to his well-squatted Jamaican types. And he must’ve been aware of it too but it didn’t stop him from shoving those butts up my face while I was vulnerably naked. Then there was one who would read my writing like this one and single out only one thing: the number of people I’d been with. He showed concerns, and undoubtedly, nasty judgments.
Now thinking back, my lovers told me a lot of things, similar things. In their car, in our bed, in the shower, in their parents’ garage, they would give me the most passionate kisses then they would tell me how they liked that I wasn’t like other girls, I didn’t care. I stayed quiet and I kissed them back, playing the cool, fun girl they wanted me to be. Sometimes I did care a little too much and I couldn’t hide it. I would tell them how I felt. Guess what? It didn’t matter whether the relationship was a one night stand, two nights stands, one month, or half a year long. The texts would slow down, the visits would become periodic, they would say sorry. I’m sorry I just got out of a relationship. I’m sorry I wasn’t ready. I’m sorry I don’t know what I want. I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Which is fair. It’s just getting old. So old that I don’t feel anything hearing these words anymore.
I don’t feel anything hearing what my lovers tell me anymore.
Well, I wasn’t always like this. I was all blank and neutral until my lovers started throwing their paints on my canvas, usually without me asking for it. Though I knew they didn’t mean any harm (at least I hope not). They wanted good times. They wanted me to want more good times with them. They genuinely believed it was okay to say what they said, do what they did and I would be happy at the receiving end of it — any of it — by default. All the good things and bad things. All the things that built me up and put me down. All the things that made me the happiest girl in the world then shattered me into tiny pieces. All thrown at me offhandedly, irresponsibly like a full force meteor shower. More often, I remember the bad more than the good — as you can tell — and I also believe the bad more than the good.
Trust me. The good were plenty. And I do want to remember and believe them. I want to absorb them all into my being but I can only do so much. I can’t possibly take to my heart all the “I like you”, “I miss you”, “you’re so interesting”, “you’re so different”, “your personality is addictive”, “I didn’t mean to hurt you” and on and on, when at the end of the day my lovers weren’t with me. How much could they possibly like me, miss me, find me interesting, different, addictive if they didn’t stay with me? It must mean they didn’t like me, miss me, find me interesting, different, addictive enough, right? It must mean regardless of what they said to me, did to me, I was not enough, right?
What’s saying they didn’t want me to be sad for when they were the ones who caused my sadness and it was in their power to make me happy but they wouldn’t do anything? It must mean they didn’t actually care that much right? Hypocrites… Okay, I know things don’t always work that way. I know this thinking might be too black and white and a little too harsh. But it’s damn hard for me to believe in the good when all the bad keep rubbing on my face. It’s practically impossible for me to take the good seriously when the bad have been demonstrated so clearly in actions, in the outcome of us. The bad are the reality I know. In this reality, my lovers have revealed to me their characters, the true depth of their feelings for me. I couldn’t lie to myself anymore. Or be “chill” and wait it out… If I forced myself to, I know I would eventually grow resentment.
Sorry, I just can’t. I don’t feel anything hearing what my lovers tell me anymore. I really don’t. I’m not the girl I used to be who would turn miserable and react desperately when a man didn’t choose her. I’m a grown woman. I’m tired of unsure answers, of half-arsed effort, of empty promises, of indecision and inaction. I’m tired of being disappointed. I’m tired of being pushed around. I’m tired of being objectified and disrespected. I’m tired of being told what to do with my body. I’m tired of having to squeeze myself into someone’s schedule. I’m tired of being an option. I’m tired, tired of wasting my precious time. When a man doesn’t choose me and stay with me, I walk away. Simple. They can tell me they miss me, they “wish” they could be with me all they want but without any action to back those words up, to me, frankly, they’re just full of shit. So I move on to someone who isn’t full of shit, who values me enough to stick around with me, who finds ways to be around me, who shows me their feelings through real actions. Or I will happily be on my own.
My lovers told me a lot of things — sweet things, bitter things, nasty things. I remember them all so I can be grateful for the life I have right now, for the journey I’ve gone through, for how far I’ve come. When I go to the gym and work on my body, when I look into the mirror and love what I see, when I close my eyes and love how I feel, I will think of every label my lovers have ever glued to each part, every claim they have ever made over each line and curve, and I will be happy that I’m free (of them). My body is mine. Who I am is for me to decide.