From the moment we became real friends (there is always a threshold over which you cross into something true — you will know exactly when it happens), I waited for her to meet the love of her life.
We got to know each other by chance, introduced by a mutual friend even though we should, by all means, have already known each other beforehand since we inhabited the same circles. In Manila, those circles are often too small and extremely concentric. In the Manila I live in, all the girls like us know each other. But we met at the right time, at the perfect point in both our lives for our friendship to become so much more than the surface-level acquaintanceship we were accustomed to.
It’s a rare thing, to meet someone almost exactly like you. I have always felt lonely in Manila. I have always been a little strange, a little out of the ordinary. I always tried to find myself in other places because I didn’t feel free enough to know myself here. My lived experience always felt so singular — no one in my life really understood it in its fullness before her, although others certainly tried. (And I loved them for trying.) I didn’t know anyone else who lived it, too.
She knew me immediately. She is one of the kindest, most generous, most loving, and most loyal people I’m fortunate to know. We were both recovering from bad romances. And she was the person who told me I needed a list.
“Babe,” she said, “you need to know what you want in a partner. I know exactly what I want. I’m unwilling to compromise on those points. I’m not going to take anyone seriously until they tick all those boxes.”
I was there when she finally met the man who ticked all those boxes: a kind man, purpose-driven, as loving and ambitious and hardworking as the father she adored. Someone whose hopes and dreams extended beyond himself, who wanted to serve his country and his people, but still had more than enough room for her and her own dreams. An equal who treated her like a queen. None of us knew then, least of all her; it was an ordinary night out on the town. No one expected it.
Who ever expects to go to a club and meet the love of their life?
I never felt worthy of a list — a symptom of my condition, probably. A popular young adult novel says that we accept the love we think we deserve. The misfiring synapses in my brain always told me I didn’t deserve any, that I was lucky to get whatever paltry shadow of love came my way. I am still working today to correct that. I think I’m getting better at it.
But in 2017, because she told me to, I started a list. It is in my phone, tucked away in my Notes with things like my passport details, bank information, quotes I have loved, and movies people have told me I need to see. I always felt a bit embarrassed about it (I don’t know why — perhaps because we’re conditioned in this day and age to shunt vulnerability aside), but after every heartbreak, I added to it little by little. I suppose I had to learn through experience — trial and excruciating error — what I really wanted from a long-term partner by living through what I didn’t want in a partner.
It’s a hard way to learn. I don’t recommend it.
But I do recommend learning. I recommend that you learn this particular lesson as early as you can.
In August, I returned to Manila from my annual summer trip to Berlin to the realisation that I’d developed feelings I never wanted to have for my Two-Year Stand; feelings I knew that he was absolutely incapable of ever reciprocating. I missed him while I was away, and I fucking hated that I did. It felt like weakness. It felt like defeat. I felt like I’d lost, because in the game of not-quite-love, the first one to catch feelings is always the loser, and I had done that which I never thought I would do: I fucking lost.
I hate losing. I never fucking lose.
But also, I returned home to the realisation that I could no longer delude myself into believing that whatever it was we were doing would ever be enough for me. I could no longer tell myself that it wasn’t a waste of my time, a waste of my heart. And I could no longer pretend that I didn’t want more — with someone else who might actually be capable of giving back as much as I myself kept giving.
“It’s no one’s fault,” I told him then, as I was ending it, “that we want different things. I want the things that I want, you want the things that you want, and those things are no longer compatible. It is what it is. But for as long as I stay in this, I’m not ever going to make space for the things that I do want, that I know I deserve, that you won’t — can’t — give me.”
I wanted to stay friends. After two years, and despite our best efforts, our lives and our friendships had become a little too intertwined to unravel and separate. It was a tall order, but I wanted to try.
In September, she told me about something he was trying to keep from me that devastated me inside. It was a feeling I’m sad to admit I was used to — he’d completely disregarded my feelings before. But that was a time when any disrespect towards me was just a hit on my pride, because I had no real feelings for him. It had become much more than that, now that I — despite myself — did. It wasn’t just my ego any longer. It was a real hurt.
“I need you to remember,” said the girl with the list, because she could read me like a book, “that you told me the day after you met him that you didn’t think you would ever introduce him to your parents. I need you to remember that you already knew two years ago that he absolutely wasn’t the one for you. This is just more proof.”
Later that night, when I went home, I thought of him and of every other man — boy, child — who had broken my heart in one way or another, and I added to my list. Because I finally understood that I deserved to have a list, too.
I needed one, so that I would never allow anyone to make me feel like that again.
Small, unlovable, insufficient, replaceable, unworthy. Even I knew, in spite of all my self-loathing, that I was none of those things.
How dare a man have the audacity to make me feel that way?
How dare I permit one to?
In October, on a Girls’ Night In, I read my list out loud for the first time.
And now I am writing it out here, because we should never be afraid to ask for the things we want, because we should never be afraid to establish healthy boundaries to protect ourselves, because we should never be afraid to say, this is what I deserve. Because we should never settle for less than that, and if a list helps to remind us of our worth, then it’s good to have one.
(A friend suggested segregating the list below into non-negotiables and bonuses, to keep it realistic. That makes perfect sense; I’ve done it in my head. I think it’s pretty obvious which of the items below are the things I’m not going to budge on — it’s the serious stuff. Some of the others are really just qualities that would be pleasant to have, but aren’t dead necessary. I will whittle it down to what is essential in time; in this state, maybe what it really is is a list of lessons finally learned.)
- Someone I am attracted to physically, who is attracted to me in turn. I know what it is like to be with someone who loves your mind, but isn’t turned on by your looks, and it’s devastating to the self-esteem. I don’t want to ever feel that way again, and I don’t want to make someone else feel that way either.
- Someone kind, thoughtful, patient, caring, and considerate, who isn’t shut off emotionally. I have a lot of feelings. I need someone who is at least in touch with their own. Also it’s a shocking thing, and maybe I should chalk it up to my terrible taste in men, but I only recently remembered what chivalry feels like, and I’ve missed it sorely.
- Someone who has interests that overlap with mine, with an openness to share his different interests with me and learn about my own. Part of the fun of being with someone is learning from them.
- Someone who loves at least one genre of music that I also love. I like quite a few, so this shouldn’t be too hard. It’s a little High Fidelity, but a mutual love for a certain kind of music is still important, because music is such a huge part of my life. (Also, we need to be able to agree on something to listen to if we’re together, or road trips will be agony.)
- Someone who loves learning, and who is curious. About anything! I love curiosity in another person. I don’t need him to know everything about everything, but I love a guy who enjoys discovering new things as much as I do. I would really appreciate someone who is smarter than me, but isn’t smug about it. In that same vein, someone who stays curious about me, who I am curious about in return. We all need a little fascination. I never want to lose that sense of wonder towards a person I care about.
- Someone who is driven, ambitious, and passionate about what he does. It’s important to have goals, and a direction.
- Someone open-minded and forward-thinking, and isn’t intimidated or emasculated by a strong woman. Let’s just say straight out that I would never date a homophobe or a closet misogynist.
- Someone who doesn’t want my (family’s) money. I want someone who wants me for me, not for what my family brings to the table. I’ve grown up having to question people’s motives for getting close to me because I have been used before. It’s exhausting.
- Someone who knows how to communicate. I need someone who actually gets in touch regularly and doesn’t make me feel like I only cross his mind when he wants to get laid. But also, someone who doesn’t shut down when hard talks become necessary, because they always become necessary at some point. I don’t like having them either because I’m extremely non-confrontational, but when they must be had, it’s good to have them with someone who you can fight fairly with.
- Someone who is consistent.
- Someone who doesn’t make me question his feelings for me because his actions make them obvious. Someone who never lets me doubt him. Talk is cheap and I have trust issues.
- Someone who isn’t afraid of my mental illness. This clinical depression has always been there, and it is not going to go away. I mostly have it under control, but I’ll still have the occasional bad episode. I think one of my great fears is that I’ll never meet someone who is capable of handling those (or is willing to).
- Someone who isn’t too cool to show enthusiasm, and isn’t afraid to be vulnerable. There are too many people out there trying to seem hard. I am one of them sometimes. I don’t want to be anymore.
- Someone I can be stupid with because he doesn’t take himself too seriously. Again. I want the kind of guy who will dance with me around the kitchen or living room.
- Someone I can share comfortable silence with, with neither of us ever feeling the need to fill that silence when it stretches between us. There’s nothing better than being able to coexist comfortably in the same space as another person without actually interacting. That’s real intimacy.
- Someone who has a life of his own, separate from mine, and understands that I have a life of my own as well. I’m a complete person. I don’t want you to complete me, and I don’t want to complete you, either. I want us to both add value to each other’s lives and make each other want to be better people.
- …but also, someone who is happy to include me in his life, and wants to be included in mine. Someone who gets along with my friend groups and integrates with them when we’re all together. I always make a similar effort. I’ve always been (and actually remain!) friends with my former lovers’ friend groups.
- In line with that, someone I won’t have to entertain when we’re out because he can entertain himself. There isn’t a bigger drag on a night out than having to take care of a boyfriend who seems bored or uninterested in whatever is going on. I end up worrying that you’re not having a good time and feeling like it’s my responsibility. I’m an introvert, it’s hard enough to manage myself.
- Someone who knows how to party, like I do, but also knows when to stop, like I do. One of the companies of which I am a partner is an events company that produces, among other things, insane parties. The other is a bar in Poblacion. I like to go home at stupid o’clock sometimes. I spend a month in Berlin every summer. I need someone who is cool with that, and understands this lifestyle.
- Someone who loves to go on adventures, whether the adventure is on the other side of the planet, or the shop around the corner. I love to travel. And I’m a writer, so I love stories, especially if we are making them ourselves.
- Someone who understands how important and integral my family is to me. Someone who my family loves. If my mom hates you, it’s never going to work. And I would completely understand if it went the other way around.
- Someone who gives as much as I give, in his own way, and is as loyal as I am. The ways we show (and receive) love are all different, and it’s important to figure those out early on. But I’m the kind of ride or die girl who will move heaven and earth for you if I love you — and this applies to friends, too, not just lovers. I can’t remember what it’s like to get that back in turn from someone I’m romantically involved with, which is sad. I would like to. (Also, I’ve been cheated on before so I need someone as monogamous as I am.)
- Someone who respects me, who I respect. I don’t need you to put me on a pedestal (although that is nice sometimes), but I need you to respect me, and I need to respect you also. To me, respect is more important than the feeling of love. The moment you lose respect for your partner, the feeling of love will fade away as well. Love — the feeling — is not enough. (Also: love is really a verb.) But mutual respect can hold you together so you can both work to build that love back up again. Mutual respect will keep you good to each other. Mutual respect will help you put each other first.
It’s six days to a new year. Fresh starts are only ever in your mind; January 1st is really just another day. But I do love the illusion. And what I want out of my new year, this new decade, is love — not from other people, though I will welcome it if it comes, but from myself, for myself. It’s something I’ve always been so terrible at, and that is something I want to change. Because if I love myself, if I treat myself with kindness and care and respect, then I’ll never allow anyone who treats me with less to come into my life. Then maybe this list will be possible.
I am so tired of the hard-fought and harder-won lessons, so tired of the hard, hard feelings. I’m so tired of clinging to shreds of affection, grasping at air, allowing people to make me feel like I’m not enough, and believing in that lie. I am more, and I want more, too.
I’m glad I can finally admit that to myself.