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.
Well here’s my story about love.
When I was 16, I fell in love with a guy, J, and we roughed out the happiest and saddest moments for over 5 years. He was the memory of counting all our coins just to catch the last train home (because we spent it on catching sweets) till he got his driver’s license at 18, and when 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 and I were childhood sweethearts, it became an unhealthy obsession I had to leave behind. Maybe because we loved each other more than ourselves 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 my choice in men.
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 a bit
odd unique. 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. But when he speaks, he can sound like a 40 year old gentleman from the 1930s – like the time he came to my house on his own free will to seek permission from my parents to date me. Oh God.
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. 2 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.
In simplified Singlish, he’s a damn steady lomantic Ang Kong Siao that can chut many pattern but dating game cmi. Muscle so big but too paiseh to ask Chevonne ai stead mai (lol kidding about that).
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 isn’t like any Calvin Klein model but the unique curves you hold each time you hug.
In early 2010, J and I were at a friend’s birthday dinner and that was where I first met Steph. We didn’t speak although he admitted to checking me out that night. But knowing him, he doesn’t really “check” girls out. He usually looks upon people dotingly and think “oh that girl looks pretty” like a father telling his daughter how she looks on her wedding day. That was also the night that I found out he was joining J and I in the same school.
Few months later, I had an argument one night and I bumped into Steph who asked me if I was okay. I told him I broke up with J and that’s how we started talking. I never believed in a rebound, nor do I like girls who play with feelings and act dumb about it, so I was always made sure I kept a clear 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 govern a single flirtation if I know it’s not 100% right for a relationship. 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 6am, 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 like “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 like most guys after hearing the verdict.
But even so, 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 3am, the one who surprised 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 my ex 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 with camera flashes, 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 for his style. Nonetheless, I was happy for him, but for 1 year we lost contact due to our personal commitments. Simply put, you can’t hang out till 6am as per normal with a platonic straight friend and watch Family Guy once you have a partner.
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 – the kind of coincidence like he had secretly installed some spy cam.
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 although I’ll always wish him well as we shared some of the best memories and I know how good of a person he can be.
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 he had split up with his ex a year ago and I eventually broke the news about my breakup. I told him that this time it felt different. It felt real, like it ran its course and I accepted it with no struggle. I felt older, tougher, and more self-assured.
Steph too had changed a little and he became more understanding about the complexities of the female mind. He used to be idealistic about females and 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 more important things we share deep down.
I also found the older him more sexy (give chance la he puts so much effort in the gym). That’s partially because he bribed me with food – he would cook and pack the best porridge for me. When I wanted to be that independent woman who needed no man, there he went lifting the heaviest furnitures and helping me with chores. 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.
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 real company and speak my mind without worrying if there was chilli stuck between my teeth.
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 admitted feelings, our friendship was on the line and I risked losing him again.
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 everyday 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 realize 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 are 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 everyday could be your last.