Updated: Jul 24
In this personal essay, E talks about all the things that love is not based on her romantic experiences as a woman in her mid-20's and how they were affected by the ridiculous standards that Disney, TV shows, and romcom films have perpetrated.
Like most girls my age, I grew up with non-feminist Disney princesses like Cinderella, Snow White, and Ariel as my role models. These fairy tale princesses taught me that I am somehow incomplete without a Prince Charming to come and save me, to whisk me away to a magical kingdom where Evil Stepmothers don't exist. It doesn't matter if he can only recognize me by my foot or if he kisses me without my consent or if I have to give up my voice to be with him. He's handsome and dreamy, and he loves me. We will have our happily ever after no matter what.
But Disney isn't the only one to blame when it comes to creating unrealistic romantic standards. There are other problematic movies too, especially in the romcom genre, that makes me scratch my head when I rewatch them now. For instance, when a guy lies to you (and dates you just because he was paid to do it), you forgive him ala 10 Things I Hate About You. From How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, I learned to sacrifice my dreams for love. Knocked Up showed me that being a career-driven woman makes me a bitch, but being a goofy pothead makes a guy lovable, a character that the audience will root for. All three of these movies and others like them taught me that a guy, no matter how flawed he is, will change for love. He will change for you.
In my teen years, I swooned every time Ted Mosby pursued Robin Scherbatsky with a grand romantic gesture or a profound declaration of his love, even though she was clear from the very beginning that she didn't want the same things that he wanted. Chuck Bass was an arrogant asshole and a borderline rapist, but, my gosh, isn't he just the perfect guy for Blair Waldorf? There are more men like these in TV and film, and I always fell for them. I rooted for them. I wanted them to get the girl.
Rarely did it cross my mind to ask: "What does the girl want?" Whenever Robin rejected Ted, I always wondered what was wrong with her. He's clearly the perfect guy! Even though he keeps disrespecting your boundaries! He's just doing that because he loves you! In my head, love became this: Guy loves you and will do everything to prove it to you. You should love him back. The end.
But I've come to learn that love in real life is more nuanced than that. Love is not a romantic-comedy. Most things that guys do in TV and film will put him in jail or get the girl killed. (Have you all seen Netflix's You? That's what real-life rom-com will look like.) Also, romance is not as romantic in real life as it is in these shows and movies. Yes, Ted is flawed in so many ways, but a lot of guys won't even try half as hard as him. Some boys will just text you at 11PM with "You up?" and expect you to come running with your underwear already pulled down to your ankles.
So I dated this one guy for a year and a half. Well, not really. He lived in the U.S. for a few months then came home to the Philippines for a couple of weeks during that period. But whenever he came home, he would let me know, we would see each other, and I would think, "He wants something more. Why else would he come see me the same day that he comes back from the U.S.?" Aside from his family (as far as I know), I was always the first person he visited.
However, dating him was a huge mess. It was predictable, but still a mess. We only saw each other on his terms and when he's free. He would make plans with me then cancel the last minute. I kept waiting for him to ask me personal questions so we could get to know each other better, but he wasn't really interested in talking. He didn't want our mutual friends to know that we were seeing each other. I would text him and it would take him HOURS, sometimes DAYS, to respond. He left to go back to the U.S. one time and he didn't even say goodbye. I was never fulfilled, emotionally. Every time he dropped me home, I would always feel bad and sorry for myself.
Embarrassingly, I dated this guy long after I've become a feminist. I mean, he is the last guy I dated so... you know. It was pretty recent. And I KNOW. I know. Trust me, I know... It's a great sin to date him when I also tell other women through this platform to stay away from his type of guy. I publicly spit on men like him on social media while I was also dating him. At one point, J even told me, in the nicest way she could possibly put it, to stop seeing him. Another friend would joke about how I'm a strong, independent woman, but "marupok" (weak) when it comes to boys. It took me a while before I listened to their advice and followed my common sense.
I realized that I'm not in a romantic comedy. So this guy will probably not go through the same character arc that Heath Ledger, Matthew McConaughey, and Seth Rogen had gone through in those movies. He's likely not going to change.
So I finally told this guy, before I got out of his pickup truck for the last time, to never slide into my DMs again. He didn't even ask me why. He didn't put up a fight. Smug son of a—
I know this is not a good excuse, but I am made of contradicting selves. I am a paradox. Some will call me a hypocrite. Or, as Roxane Gay put it, a bad feminist. I put up with this guy even though I knew that I was settling for less. Much less. I know what I want and he was definitely not IT. But still...
Fortunately, there's a silver lining. I think that by dating someone like him, I finally got his type out of my system. No more thinking that a guy will change for me! If he's not it in the beginning, he most likely will not be it no matter how long I wait. By going through this experience and watching too many romcoms through the years, I have learned to recognize what love is not.
Love is NOT always:
Idyllic. Two people always get a "happy ending" in the movies. They decide to be together, they seal it with a kiss, maybe they even get married, and then the credits roll. What we don't see is what their life is like after the movie ends. Surely, it's not always sunshine and rainbows. Like I said earlier, real love is more nuanced than that. Looking at my parents who have been together for almost 30 years, love goes through seasons of bliss and turmoil. And that is perfectly normal because love is not always patient or kind. At the core of it, love is two imperfect people deciding to commit to each other. You can't expect to have a perfect relationship if the people involved are imperfect. (We're all human. Flaws are part of the package!) Love takes hard work and dedication from both parties. Otherwise, it won't be called a commitment.
Romantic. There are other forms of love that can make you feel as fulfilled as a romantic relationship. I am blessed to have a solid core of friends who love and support me even when I'm losing my mind over a boy. I also have my family, my work, and the community that J and I have built through The Filipina Feminists. So don't be fooled or pressured by social standards. If you're a woman in your mid-20's like I am, you don't need to rush and find a man because that's exactly how you'll find yourself settling for much less than what you deserve. (The same can be said for all women, no matter the age group or stage of life you're in right now.) I believe that you'll find someone who's also imperfect but is able to complement you, your personality, and your needs if you wait. If he's treating you like dirt, he's not IT, honey. And by he, I mean whatever gender you're attracted to, of course. At the same time, a romantic relationship is not necessary! It does not and should not define you. You can want it but you definitely don't need it! If you don't have someone right now, embrace your singlehood. There's so much you can learn from it! Even when you enter a relationship, continue celebrating your independence and individuality. I'm still telling this to myself, especially after some of my friends have recently gotten engaged. But let me tell you this: I am much more comfortable about being single and I am definitely not in a rush to be in a relationship after the last boy I dated. Being single is much better than that!
Healthy. Some people stay in relationships because they've become comfortable in its familiarity. However, if it impedes your growth, prevents you from expressing your authentic self, disrespects your individuality, manipulates you, or abuses you—you should get out of it. Immediately. Before my ex-boyfriend and I were officially over, our relationship had become toxic. We were both too young and immature to have a grown-up relationship, especially one that was long distance. For the most part, I think that relationship didn't end well because we held onto it for too long even though we both knew that it wasn't healthy for us anymore. Sometimes I wonder, if we had the courage to end it before it turned sour, would we still be friends today? After almost four years together, breaking up with him was hard because I didn't just lose a boyfriend. I also lost a best friend. Take note, however, that I'm not encouraging you to stay friends with your ex! I know that some people are better left in the past. You still need to decide whether a person is worth keeping in your life. Not everyone deserves a space in your heart.
For others. The most rewarding type of love is one you give to yourself. Not your significant other, or your friends, or your family, or your work. You need to love yourself enough so that your worth remains secure even when your interpersonal relationships go through rough times. To be honest, I am still struggling with self-love. Both J and I have been open about our mental health issues. However, I am proud to say that I love myself enough to seek professional help from a therapist. It's still a journey, this whole loving myself thing, but at least I am taking the right steps towards it. For right now, I'll take that as a win.
Love—it used to be this wonderful, magical, mystical thing in my head. Now that I'm older and a little bit wiser, I want to believe that I have a better grasp at it, especially when it comes to recognizing when it isn't real.
This post is sponsored by Simula PH.