We shook hands, exchanged smiles, and I saw something happen. This wasn’t the normal spark you feel when you meet someone for the first time. This wasn’t just a ‘I’d love to get to know him’ kind of spark, it was a ‘I know one day something’s going to happen between us’ spark. And yeah, I was right, except everything was an out of balance, unsynchronized tango between me and him. I fell for this man so hard it broke my ribcage. He was book-smart. He was bright, intelligent. He was cute, attractive, charming. He was jacked. But the biggest thing of all, he was an engineer. A successful, well-raised engineer.
When I was younger, I imagined my future husband to have the brains of Einstein, to have the badass personality of Brad Pitt while being able to take care of our future family with the wisdom of Dr. Phil, be super attractive, be super loyal, and to top it off have a good heart. Pft, what’s so hard about that? That’s what love is, isn’t it? It’s supposed to be pure, amazing, reciprocated, everlasting –
And then I dated Stephen.
My father and my brother are both engineers. It was only natural they tried to persuade me to become one too, and like all exciting stories go, I didn’t. That also meant I grew up listening to how important it is to be good at mathematics and sciences and why not being good at these subjects would only mean a life of misery. And so it was ingrained in me: I shouldn’t pursue an arts-related career. If I tried to pursue anything that was arts-related, I was doomed. I didn’t want to be doomed. So I put aside my graphic design interest and pursued Kinesiology. Don’t get me wrong, I like Kinesiology, and I will soon be graduating with an awesome degree but– I wasn’t an engineer. As many Asians could relate, the only renowned professions are engineers, doctors, and lawyers. I tell my relatives “I’m studying Kinesiology”, and every time, without fail, they would give a blank stare and a “What’s that?” back.
When I first got to know Stephen, it was like I’ve found my dream man. He was everything my family wanted- he was smart, he was handsome, he had a good head on his shoulders. And he was everything I wanted too. The problem was, we were never on the same page, Stephen and I. We were always at different points in time in our lives, and it just never lined up. When he disappeared from my life during his graduate studies year, it left me heartbroken even though we weren’t official. It felt exactly like a breakup, even worse. I remember crying every single night during that time, because it felt like everything just died. I cried so hard because I was in love with him. I loved how he was older, smarter, and inspiring. I loved that he was an engineer, a glamorous profession that I grew up listening about. I loved success because it was something I felt like I lacked. But I didn’t just love that about him. I wanted to take on the world with him, help each other become the best person we can be and live out our lives growing old together.
Little did I know that helping him become a better person just didn’t cut helping him achieve his career goals.
In 2012, I confronted Stephen about my feelings for him for the first time. I wanted to know what we were, and if what we have was worth taking a risk for. He then told me his feelings weren’t the same for me anymore during that year- it was just after Christmas- and he also told me to “Go explore with [guys]”. In my anger and hurt, I did. And I had found extreme happiness with another guy- my long time friend- but in the end, left him for Stephen… again. In 2013, Stephen begged for me to come back to him. It wasn’t in a pathetic way but in the way I always, guiltily, wanted: he wanted to see me, be with me. He could barely eat beside me because of the butterflies in his stomach. This engineer wanted to be officially my boyfriend, and wanted me to be “that girl [he’d] bring home for dinner to let his family know”. I thought this was paradise, this was heaven. He wanted to be with me, an inferior Kinesiology girl. I was ecstatic. But when I was going through this process, I realized I was one of those people who couldn’t let go of the past because of what could have been. My poor friend who loved me more than any other guy I’ve dated was left in shambles, because I was so attached to this engineer, this successful, beautifully sculpted person. The happiness I felt with my friend wasn’t a professional happiness like it was with Stephen. It was a whole-hearted happiness that came with unconditional love. My friend loved me for who I am, not for what I studied, or what I achieved, or what my ambitions were. It was the kind of love people dream about- perfectly matching each other in every way from humour to food choices. Why did I leave that?
I know. I was pretty stupid to give a guy a second change after he blew it the first time. But I never got over Stephen. I couldn’t get over the fact that he was the most well-rounded man I’ve ever met. I didn’t even stop to think about happiness. Not one day went by when I didn’t think to myself, “I can’t believe this incredibly cute, handsome, and smart engineer likes me.” I mean, what was I compared to him? I wouldn’t be a part of some world-famous company making some ground-breaking product that could change the planet, I am technology-savvy only up to the point of how things actually work, and he had that iron ring on his pinky while I wore my five bucks stainless steel ring from an Asian mall. As much as I loved him, I felt inferior to him. I don’t deserve an amazing guy like him; I’m not smart enough to date him. Everything was always coming back to how much better he was than me. Even though he was three years older, with a lot more experience under his belt, I felt like I should be able to be his equal. And I strived to be everything I thought I needed to be in order to date him. I wanted to be perfect for him, and I wanted him to see that so he’ll never have a reason to let me go. I studied harder, I practiced harder, and at the end of the day, the goal for everything I’ve done was to catch up to him. I’ve become him.
And that was a big part of why our relationship finally failed. I ended up not being myself anymore. I was trying to shape myself into something that I wasn’t, forcing myself to be worth something more in other people’s eyes when all I was doing was destroying who I really am. When he told me that he had to break up with me, my first thought was I had done something wrong. But I hadn’t done anything wrong. He had to break up with me because I couldn’t be a driving force for him, I couldn’t be a motivational source for him at this crucial time of his career life. He couldn’t see me in his future anymore. I couldn’t give him the push that he was able to give me, and he’s made it clear that I’ll never be able to. It crushed me. I felt my heart breaking all over again, just when the glue was starting to set. Despite all my support, my unconditional love for him, which he promised he’d felt, he couldn’t be with me because I couldn’t give him professional advice. How could I even be a source of career motivation for him when I am still in school? I haven’t had a real full-time job yet. I was working so hard to get there- and he just leaves when I am so close to finishing school. How could I give him advice on the aspect of life that he clearly was ahead of? How could I give him well thought advice when every single date (and let me be clear, we don’t go on real dates often at all) we went on suddenly turned into a philosophical debate about life? How was it that he was able to make me so willing to give up my persona in order to be someone else for him? After years of questioning myself about my love for him, the answer was simple. I was addicted to men glittering in success. When I think of my other past failed relationships, the same people have happened: they were guys who were smarter than me, who got better grades than me. And I felt like they were going to be successful. The only person who loved me was ordinary, and average. Honestly, even though I loved him, I didn’t think he was going to be successful. And so I left, despite all the happiness he’d given me. I just never learned that successful men aren’t going to be interested in me as long as I never inspire them to be even more successful. Once you taste success, you’ll want more. You’ll leave behind some things you thought you loved because you believe that you’ll find something greater.
Love doesn’t conquer all in this generation- it conquers only after you’ve got a solid job, making solid money, living in a solid house or apartment, having solid relationships with your family and friends, owning a solid car, and having solid health. That’s the way things are, that’s the way things have to be.