(Bad) Good Romance
Admit it: when you were a little girl, it was almost natural to think that boys were pure, unadulterated evil. They pulled your hair, called you names, made fun of your headbands and frilly dresses (it's not your fault your mom likes ruffles and lace, OKAY?!), and kicked the back of your chair in school. They were stinky, stupid, rude, and overall disgusting. They made you cry all the time, and you hated them. Boys were just awful, period, and you swore you would never change your mind.
Then somewhere down the road, you developed a teeny-tiny crush on somebody, which eventually developed into a full-blown one, which eventually developed into OMG YOU + ME 4EVER ALSO I WILL START PLANNING OUR WEDDING NOW. Suddenly, boys were awesome. They had nice smiles! They were funny! They carried your stuff! They played sports! They looked adorable in baseball caps and sneakers! Smack-dab in the middle of that painfully powerful first crush, boys were simply wonderful.
Liking a boy who likes you back—or liking back a boy who likes you—is one of the most amazing things in the world. You feel great about yourself, and you feel all sorts of wonderful fuzzy feelings towards this person, and eventually this translates to all sorts of wonderful fuzzy feelings about boys in general. You love that they open doors for you, and lend you their jacket, and hold your hand when they're driving. You love that they give you half of their burger and let you steal fries off their plate. You love that they make you feel safe and strong, and that they turn you into a calmer, sweeter, more pleasant version of your otherwise tense, sulky, snappy self.
And then you have your heart broken for the first time—all that euphoria disintegrating into a pile of sorry-looking crumpled letters and tear-stained pillows—and boys are awful again. You can't stand them. You hate that they never listen. You hate that they're terrible at compromise, that they can't take a hint. And you hate that they can hurt you with a snap of a finger and move on just. Like. That. Once more, elbow-deep in angst, you swear you would never change your mind. The cycle sustains itself.
You'd think things would be a little less volatile when you're all grown up, but they're not.
A year ago, I crashed a boy's birthday party. It was a weekend, and I had major plans of holing up in my room to catch up on work. One of my friends knocked on my door, told me it wouldn't be such a bad idea for me to get out more often, and basically called me a loser in hopes that this would nudge me towards a party-crashing state.
"But I don't even know this guy," I said, to which my friend replied, "Well, now you will."
So I went to the party, and I'm not even sure if this boy and I were formally introduced or if it was coincidence or destiny or the fact that I looked super pathetic and out of place, but somehow we ended up sitting beside each other the whole night. I am the most awkward small-talker in the world, and I am generally crap at meeting new people and trying to befriend strangers, but somehow I managed not to make a complete fool of myself. We talked about trains, art, our families, streaking (his story, not mine), and cargo shorts that zip into pants and vice versa. I remember laughing a lot. On the way home, my friend told me, "You guys made such a cute couple back there." "Shut up," I said, barely able to rein my smile in.
That smile would be on my face for months. We had our moments—it was a transatlantic Falling in Like, with him studying and teaching in the US and me just getting the hang of my dream job in Manila. We made plans to conquer time and distance. We wrote each other "letters from the past" and "letters from the future" because we were living our lives exactly 12 hours apart. It felt like the movies. On Valentine's Day, he sent me a pretty vintage watch, a family heirloom of sorts, and I wore it on my wrist for days. In his best handwriting, the accompanying note read, "I am lucky to know you." On a scale of one to Fairy Tale, the whole thing was romantic in ways I didn't even know real life allowed. And in hindsight, that was probably what sustained us: the grand, soaring romance of it all. It seemed like anything was possible.
Then one day we stopped talking, and all that romance just vanished into thin air. I was normal on the outside, because I have been conditioned to be rational and independent my whole life, but deep down I was exhausted by my own sadness. I felt fragile and helpless. I started remembering all the other boys who broke my heart—that unresolved crush in high school, that college friend I no longer hear from, that set-up that just didn't work out. Remembering all these rejections, it was so tempting to be an angry cynical whiner, and being an angry cynical whiner meant no longer believing that anything was possible. Every time a friend got engaged or married, or every time a lovey-dovey photo popped up on my newsfeed, I almost thought, Maybe these are special cases. Maybe unhappy endings are the norm.
Almost. But not quite.
So instead, I thought back to all the other romantic, movie-worthy times in my life: I thought about my first boyfriend and how we were utterly convinced we would be together forever; I thought about the boy I met (and instantly liked) at a pre-nup shoot; I thought about this guy who once stayed up all night with me at a coffee shop as I worked on my first novel, and this other guy who drew my portrait, and this other guy who wrote me a song. Every time those encounters reached a dead end, I had thought regretfully, What a waste. They would have made such good stories. Yet as I kept that vintage watch and its accompanying note in a box, temporarily away from sight, I found myself thinking, Who says they're not good stories anyway?
The Middle Ground
Often, we are taught to pit the romantics and the cynics against one another, as if only one camp is allowed to exist: You either believe completely in true love and fate and Ryan Gosling, or you don't at all. You either like boys, or hate them with every fiber of your being. You either want to be loved, or vomit in your mouth a little bit whenever the subject comes up.
But here's a happy thought: a middle ground actually exists. It's okay to swoon over that guy with floppy hair and the best dimples known to man. It's okay to cry over that musician with the honey-thick voice and chiseled face when he doesn't give you the time of day. It's okay to listen to cheerful songs. It's okay to watch depressing movies. It's okay to feel over-the-moon, dancing-in-the-streets kilig, and it's also okay to be down-in-the-dumps, I-am-never-getting-out-of-this-bed-and-never-eating-anything-but-ice-cream miserable. It's okay to experience these two extremes, as long as you remind yourself every single day that it all boils down to you. Because the middle ground between Boy Love and Boy Hate is actually the belief that, whatever happens, you'll be fine. Take all those good stories; collect them in a safe place and know that they will always be yours to tell. Take all those bad stories, too—the epic ones that crushed you and made you feel furious or vulnerable or scared—and choose to learn from them.
I'm not going to tell you that life will be spectacular with a boyfriend. I can't. But I'm not going to tell you to be alone for eternity, either. More than a decade ago, girl power icon Alanis Morissette sang, softly but firmly, "That I would be good, whether with or without you." And it's true—the ability to love ourselves, to be good to ourselves, is a constant, regardless of how many boys we like and un-like and like again, regardless of how many times we fall in and out of love over the years.
So would you be better off without boys? Maybe there's no all-encompassing way to answer that. Boys can be stinky but sweet, cruel but cute, and in the end, maybe you just can't generalize. I don't really know for sure.
But I know that you would be good, no matter what.
This originally appeared in the September 2012 issue of Candy. A month after this story was published, the author met the ~love of her life~. Her words, squiggles included. (: Got a story you want to share, too? Drop us an email at candymagazine[at]gmail.com. We'll be waiting!