On this day, 1 year ago, Singapore had its general election and the world commemorated the 9/11 bombing. 360000 babies were born and 151600 people took their last breaths, while an infant started to mumble papa (or Ipad I don’t know). Among the hustle of an ordinary day, there was also a man named Steph (in short) who climbed out of the ‘friendzone’ 6 years later.
When I was 16, I fell in love with a guy, J, and we roughed out the happiest and saddest moments for over five years. He was the memory of counting all our coins just to catch the last train home because we spent it on catching sweets. Until one day, he got his driver’s license at 18, and I got my first ‘proper’ job.
I remember our first snowfall in Beijing and when he called me to celebrate his results as he studied just to enter the same school as me. We practically shared a life even as a family on overseas trips.
But people grow up, grow out, and unfortunately grow apart sometimes.
Being in love and being in a relationship are two separate things. Love is a language to be learnt: the feeling alone doesn’t guarantee a happy relationship if you don’t know how to love the way your partner needs.
Though J & I were what they call, ‘childhood sweethearts’, our relationship became an unhealthy obsession I had to leave behind. Maybe because we loved each other more than how we knew to love ourselves at 17 years old that it drove us mad. Or perhaps we were too young to settle our incompatibility.
As I grew older, I got to know myself better and who I wanted to be, that it rippled through every aspect of my life including what I look for in a partner.
Steph on the other side of the galaxy was never “my type”.
On the surface, I was usually more attracted to slim pretty boys. But Steph? He’s that fully tattooed macho man with facial hair who makes me cringe every time he does that chest dance in his cartoon tee. When he speaks, he can sound like a 40-year-old gentleman from the 1930s–like the time he came to my house to seek permission from my parents to date me.
He loves romance novels, old jazz music, dinosaurs, hiding his feelings for me (c’mon 6 years you owe me), family time, and helping people. Two days ago, he ran out of the car to help a McDonald’s guy with the boxes. Despite being physically strong, the masculinity I see in him is the way he kisses his mum goodbye and puts others before him. Never petty, always logical in thought.
It’s funny how taste and opinions can change so much. All of a sudden, your favourite eyes are the ones that look at you with such love when your breath stinks in the morning, and your favourite body is simply the one that feels like home.
But we didn’t go from 0 to 100 that quick.
Met in 2010
In early 2010, J & I were at a friend’s birthday dinner and Steph was a mutual guest at the party. That night was the first time I met Steph, only to discover he was joining the same school that J & I were in.
We didn’t speak much, of course. Who becomes best friends overnight except drunk girls in club toilets or professional networkers who’d pounce on you with their 99-year insurance plans? Like most people, we faded into the anonymity after we said our goodbyes.
Until one night, I bumped into Steph in town–on the night I broke up with J. “Are you okay?” he asked. From that question on, we never stopped talking.
Though Steph was the God-sent pillar of support I needed at a shitty phase in life, I never believed in a rebound, nor do I like girls who play with feelings and act dumb about it. To avoid sending the wrong signals, I was always made sure I kept a distance.
Looking back at our old conversations, I sounded like an older brother poking fun of his little brother’s porn stash. There was no way he could treat me like the regular girl, I thought.
To put it bluntly, I didn’t want him to fall for me. I tend to place relationships, infatuation, lust, and love in separate boxes. Even if I think I like someone, my feelings don’t dictate my actions. In my case, I still loved my ex so it wasn’t fair.
As days passed, Steph became one of my closest friends and we would spend school breaks together, skip school to play with cats, drive out till 6.00am, and talk about anything and everything.
He spoke to my ex on how to get me back while I asked him to suggest any girl he was interested in. I waited for him at his rugby games and we even watched films in his room–not even “Netflix and chill” where everything has to be sexual these days.
It was the simple enjoyment of communicating, sharing silly experiences, and laughing over nothing in particular.
Some time down the road, people started to ask us if we were dating but I openly said “no lah he’s just a bro haha” just to avoid any awkward silences. That’s why he never told me; he knew I bro-zoned him. Oops. I thought that if he had the remote chance of liking me, he would have backed off by then like most guys would.
But even as months and years passed, he became that guy who not just asked if I was okay, but made sure I was okay even if I said I was. No person has ever seen me cry over a guy the way he has because I’m usually too vain to waste my mascara.
“Idiot” I’d think, for putting his heart out like that. “Does he like me? Is he gay? Maybe he’s just really nice.”
He was the one I could call at 3.00am, the one who’d surprise me outside the club so he could drive me home because he knew I had an anxiety issue over a phone call. And the one who drove me to my ex’s place and secretly waited for hours at the carpark (silly him) on the night J wanted to meet me to get back together.
He was someone not many knew about because he wasn’t the one standing beside me in a club, but the one who made sure I got home safe after the party ended.
Alas, we never spoke a word about things between us and I eventually decided to get back with my ex the second time. Steph started to drift a little and I admit I felt a weird tug in my heart but I brushed it off.
He entered his first relationship with a girl shortly after, which I felt was a bit too abrupt, knowing him. Nonetheless, I was happy for him even though we both knew what that meant. Simply put, you can’t hang out till 6.00am as per normal with a platonic straight friend and watch Family Guy in bed once we’re attached to separate partners.
There was one night when Steph wanted to meet up a year later but my ex surprised me at my place so I called it off. I didn’t know Steph was already at the carpark that night. As weird as it sounds, he would text me out of the blue when I felt bluest. But I guess we weren’t at the right place at the right time.
So we carried on our lives as per normal and I got busy with work while he entered the Air Force.
In May 2015, I broke up with J for good.
The very next day, Steph had to text me to accompany him to an art exhibition. It turned out different from what we expected so we left early and headed nearby for some beer and grub, where Steph had to ask me about J too. So I replied him, “Oh yeah he’s good!”
That night, he told me about his split up with his ex a year ago and I eventually broke the news about mine. I told him that this time it felt different. It felt real, like as if it ran its course and I accepted it with no struggle. I felt older, tougher, and more self-assured.
In the past, I felt too crazy for him so I always thought he suited less vocal girls. I also needed him to understand that yes we burp, we fart, we pick our noses, and we go short circuit sometimes. Maybe that’s why many of us choose wrong relationships because we blindly match ourselves on the surface; crazy to crazy, good to good, never really finding out the core values, visions and chemistry we share deep down.
But as the years passed, I found the ‘older him’ more attractive, mentally and physically. When I wanted to be that independent woman who needed no man, he went lifting the heaviest furniture and helping me with chores. When I told him about emotional problems, he’d give me logical solutions.
He basically made me feel like a useless maiden in some frilly dress but I respected the things he could do that I couldn’t. I mean, have you seen those post-gym shoulders? Or maybe I was just bribed by his home-cooked porridge packed for me in a tin can.
I started to understand the difference between “husband material” and “boyfriend material.” But of course, there came the ‘P.S. Just Friends’ notification buzzed the hormones out of my head.
After the breakup, I was encouraged to go on dates with some great guys but I found myself wanting to tell everything to Steph at the end of the night. I found some solace in just being all kinds of ‘me’ around him, the way he showed genuine interest in even my lamest hobbies.
I didn’t want to answer get-to-know questions in some swanky bar with strangers. I just wanted to be with the realest company and to speak my mind without worrying if there was chilli stuck between my teeth.
August 2015: Perth road trip
In August 2015, we flew to Australia for a road trip with a friend and on the plane home, he hinted his feelings to me for the very first time.
Steph: “Hey um Yuan asked me if I liked you.”
Me: “Haha so what did you say.”
Steph: “I asked her, what if I do?”
In my head: *a piano solo of Gymnopedie No.1 went off key* *a potato dropped from a passenger’s mouth* *a frog choked on his croaking* *a wine glass topped over* *silent mumbles of Hokkien cusses* *Morgan Freeman squealed*
Me: “Oh haha. Yeah, she asked me too but I said I wasn’t intending to date anytime soon.”
*everything that halted in my head started to scurry around hurriedly*
You can probably imagine what happened the entire month with my girlfriends and colleagues. A friend said, “I’m not urging you to be with him just because I like him, but because I see how happy you are with him. You’re not giving your heart a chance.”
One of my best guy friends said, “He can never be that best friend once there are feelings involved. I am that friend but sorry he does way more than that. Trust me, I notice the way he looks at you.”
Few days later, Steph met me for dinner to explain everything to me–the girls he pretended to be interested in when we were in school just to make things less awkward between us, his friends who knew all along, and that he lied he was near my place just so he could deliver me medicine when I was sick.
With feelings out in the open, our friendship was on the line. I couldn’t live in that safety bubble of denial anymore. But in September, I chose to change my life.
But in September, I chose to change my life.
It was because I chose to have a positive relationship with myself that I could share it with another. I chose to leave my doubts behind and give a good man a chance.
Taylor Swift can sing all the love songs she wants but we know the cycle; if you think someone else is going to save you and sprinkle you with happiness, it will probably end up in manipulation not love.
It’s been only a year, but a year that took 6 years to figure. And every day I wake up with appreciation because I have someone to share the same humour, music, nature and principles as me. I have someone who is willing to try to make things right, even if things aren’t perfect.
Nothing is permanent. But in this temporary life, I want to be with the person who reflects the best version of me. My rule is, a partner has to treat you better than a best friend would. And I don’t think anyone could do that in my case. He ruined my expectations.
So is there ever a “type” of person meant for us? I don’t think we’d ever know. But that doesn’t matter. What we assume we like may not be what’s good for us. And it’s only when we start being good to ourselves deep down that we can realise what’s good in the first place.
There are many kinds of love but the best ones are those that add value to your own life when you’re already complete.
Thank you, Steph, for loving me and my morning drool. Happy anniversary.
With all my soul,
The human who creepily stares at you in your sleep because I’m paranoid that every day could be your last.