We are who we have loved


By SUMIKO TAN

How we behave with our current partner has a lot to do with what we learnt from past relationships.
I WAS interviewed by a writer from Her World magazine recently, for an article on women who re-connected with their old flames.
One of the questions she asked me was: “Have you ever wondered if things might have turned out differently if that first date had gone well?”
She was referring to how I’d gone out with H when we were in school. No sparks flew then but we hooked up 30 years later and got married.
I told her that even if that encounter had been good, I doubt we would have ended up as a couple. We were too young and un-formed.
I added, for good measure: “I’m glad it didn’t work out as I would have missed out on all the other wonderful relationships I had before meeting him again. And I’m sure H wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on the relationships he had too.”
Before we got married, we had each gone through several relationships, with “relationship” being defined – by me – as anything that went beyond 10 romantic dates and where there was some kind of emotional connection between us and the respective man/woman.
He was, I have to add, also married for 15 years before his divorce.
I have no regrets about the boyfriends I’ve had. Even though most of the relationships ended in tears, I gained from each of them and am glad they happened.
Every relationship taught me a little more about what love is and, more importantly, what love is not.
Every relationship gave me a better idea of what I must do – or mustn’t do – in that quest to find “true” love.
We are, I believe, the sum of relationships past.
What H and I are now and how we behave with each other is, to an extent, shaped by whom we had shared our lives with before.
Why I chose to marry him has also to do with the “lessons” on love I’d gleaned from my relationships.
This is my list:
> If a man is just not that into you, move on, and quickly.
It’s really sad when you want so much to be part of another person’s life, only to realise that you’re low on his priority list.
It shatters your self-esteem, so why not save yourself the inevitable embarrassment and pain?
I remember a relationship where I was the one constantly visiting him rather than the other way round. He felt I lived too far away. I was in university then, not earning a salary yet, but bought him gifts although he was much older.
He never told me to my face that he wanted to break up. He just grew more distant. I finally got the message when I went over to his place one night, armed with flowers, and he was dressing up to go on a date. I ended up having dinner with his parents, who must have felt sorry for me.
Never again, I vowed, would I allow myself to be humiliated like that. I don’t ever want to be the chaser.
> You can’t make someone love you just because you love him.
Unfortunately, love doesn’t work that way. He might grow to like you a lot because you’re caring, but a woman deserves more than being merely liked a lot by the man she loves. She deserves to be truly, madly, deeply loved.
> If a man really loves a woman, he’d marry her.
If you’ve reached a stage in the relationship where the next natural step is a ring but he hems and haws whenever you mention this, the painful truth is he’s not that into you. You’re wasting your time with him.
> If a man loves you, he’ll buy you presents.
> Don’t cling on to love for the sake of love.
There are situations where love alone can’t solve everything. It’s an ill-fated love. Accept it as a cruel fact of life, grieve over it even, then let it go.
I’ve found that if you try hard enough, love can die or at least recede into a whisper of a bitter-sweet memory, even the most ardent and genuine of love.
> Keep an open mind.
You might have an image of what your perfect husband should be like, but get over it. Life’s not a fantasy.
> Don’t be overwhelmed by a man’s fancy car, fancy house or fancy clothes.
It’s really the person inside the car, house and clothes that matters.
By the same token, don’t be under-whelmed by a less-than-fancy car, house or clothes.
Women can earn the car and house themselves, and you can always buy your man nice clothes, too.
> Don’t underestimate kindness, gentleness and patience in a man.
> If you don’t love the way he looks, the way he sounds and the way he speaks, forget about marriage because that’s the first and last thing you’re going to see and hear every day for the rest of your life.
> If he doesn’t share your sense of humour, you’re going to have a frustrating and boring life together.
> If you are not able to sit in a room without a TV, stare into each other’s eyes and talk and talk for hours on end about nothing in particular, it’s not a good sign.
> If there’s anything about him that you view with disquiet at the start of the relationship – the way he eats, the way his car smells, how his earlobes curl – reconsider because that disquiet might one day turn into disgust.
> Only marry someone whom you won’t mind sharing your most precious possessions with.
> Long-distance relationships are hard to sustain and probably won’t work.
> A man who kicks your dog is not the man for you. (This really happened although he insisted he was merely pushing my dog away.)
> Be sensitive to the person you love. There are, for example, limits to what you say. Some things might cross the line and hurt him.
> Finally, never lend your boyfriend money. Odds are you’ll never get it back. It’ll also be a source of friction. You’ll feel aggrieved that he hasn’t paid you back and he’ll feel resentful that he’s in your debt.
When I asked H for his lessons from past loves, it was a much shorter list: Marry a woman you fancy, who’s considerate, who gets you, who loves you, and whom you have absolutely no doubts or misgivings about.
In other words, I teased him with a pleased smile, me.

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