7 Things I Learned From My First Relationship

7 things I learned from my first relationship
Last December, I began dating someone for the first time. This May, we bid each other farewell--I was leaving to study abroad all of the 2016-2017 academic year, and he would've graduated before my return. This is my soul-baring reflection on our time together.

1. Boyfriends do indeed "pop out of the ground."
Last fall, I wrote how relationships mystified me--at that point, I hadn't ever dated, and I often observed other couples wistfully. What was it like to become that intimate with someone? How did relationships even happen? 

In that post, I mentioned how an old teammate once exclaimed, "I don't understand where boyfriends come from. Do they just pop out of the ground or something?"

They absolutely do. 

Because clearly, after dating a whopping one person, I know all. But in all seriousness, the beginning of my first relationship rested on a cloud of very arbitrary, very serendipitous conditions.

Two months after I wrote my post on the intrigue of relationships, I began dating someone. The several favorable circumstances that were catalyst to this development? One, we lived on the same floor. Two, for some inexplicable reason, I initiated an ongoing dialogue of sarcastic banter, despite my usual self-deprecating sense of humor. Three, we shared a friend group. Four, said friend group shipped us intensely, giggling over the not-so-surreptitious photos they had shot of us together whenever we we showed any signs of warmth. Five, I was taking a different class under one of his current professors, so he could commiserate with me over my struggles. And six--well, the obvious--we were both single and open to the idea of dating. 

Even if boyfriends may not physically "pop out of the ground," this relationship really felt like it figuratively did--it was totally unexpected, and based heavily on circumstance. 

2. The honeymoon period is so real.
Ironically enough, some of my favorite memories of us together happened before we began dating, or during the intital stages. When we first began to fall for each other, we spent a lot of time together, whether it was cuddling on the couch, laughing over viral videos, chatting over meals. We sought each other out, whether that meant waking up after 3 hours of sleep to catch the sunrise, or temporarily putting schoolwork on hold to grab bubble tea. We were ultra-attentive, addressing the slightest disturbances with the utmost concern. 

At some point or another, other priorities seeped in. School took over, extracurriculars beckoned. The glitter stopped falling from the sky, the fog of emotion, hormones, and novelty began to fade. We were just humans, after all. We were not the godly creatures our hearts had crafted in those initial weeks, our flaws were not the "cute" quirks our affections had so lavishly disguised. I still believe that we loved each other--or at least truly thought we did--but following the days doused in gold shimmer, I realized that relationships are real work. That prioritizing another human to that degree isn't easy, that you may not always feel as loved as you desire, that dating is a far cry from sappy rom-coms. Romantic attraction is a beautiful, tenuous, fleeting thing--worth featuring in films and dreaming of--but making the commitment to be a couple is a whole lot more than that. 

where I stood missy higgins lyrics
from Missy Higgins' Where I Stood

3. Just because you're attracted to each other doesn't mean you should date.
I was pretty passive in the initiation of this relationship because I wasn't sure we'd be good for each other. We had major inherent differences, both in culture and faith. I'm Chinese-American and non-denominational Christian. He's Afghan-American and Muslim. On top of that, our personalities diverged--I'm extremely type A, and he's much more carefree. We both knew that we couldn't work in the long-term, and we vocally acknowledged that. 

We dated anyways, because we're young and stupid.

I don't regret our relationship, but I admit that there were some days that everything felt desultory. In the early months of our relationship, I asked what he hoped to gain from being together--his reply was that he both wanted us to be happy. I heartily agreed, but I still wondered--especially once realizing that dating wasn't all rainbows and sunshine--why invest so much of yourself in something that can't last, and which may not be as healthy for you as you want it to be? 

This was my tip of the hat to living a little, allowing myself to be vulnerable, exploring uncharted territory. I learned a lot from him, especially about balancing life and letting go, and I would make the same decision all over again. But in the future, I hope to be a little wiser and judicious. Because in the end, knowing that you're not the best partners for each other may cloud your actions.

Which brings me to my next point...

4. Time is fleeting--seize each moment while you can.
To some degree, I feel as if I self-sabotaged the relationship by being so passive. I knew we wouldn't be a long-term couple, so I had trouble bringing up our problems--either because I didn't want to create trouble with the little time we had, or because I wanted to make myself feel better about leaving. I convinced myself that if things were further from perfect, leaving at the end of the semester to go abroad wouldn't be so bad. 

That was stupid. Absolute garbage.

In my opinion, the more transient you know something will be, the more you should try to enjoy it while it lasts. Goodbyes are sad, but goodbyes with regrets of what could've been are even worse. We never really argued, but I wish we had--I wish we had had constructive disagreements about how we were behaving in the relationship. I wish I had told him when I felt he was disengaged. I wish I had asked asked him if we could be more attentive to, mindful of, and present for each other. 

I also wish I had hollowed out more time to be with him. I wish I had spontaneously accompanied a friend to pick him up from the airport instead of retreating to my schoolwork. I wish I had accepted more invitations to grab sushi with friends, play impromptu ping pong, see new films.  

And every wish I have is unfulfillable, because those five months are gone. Those five months are gone, and any hope I have for easing the pangs of regret rests in my ability to learn for the future. 

gravity sara bareilles lyrics
from Sara Bareilles' Gravity

5. Even peaceful breakups are painful.
Our breakup was peaceful, mutual, and anticipated--when we first discussed whether we wanted to date, we asked whether we really wanted to do this only for a semester, since I was planning to go abroad all of next year. 

I convinced myself that this would just be a fun adventure, that we'd do all sorts of romantic things, and we'd bid each other farewell wistfully, but that I'd be just fine. 

Saying goodbye was horrible (if you want, you can relive all the tears in this post).

The first couple weeks, I was beyond mopey--I felt empty and lost. Even now, over a month later, I still feel ocassional pangs of sadness. 

It hurts to let go of the person to whom you bared your soul. It hurts to know that you will never again hold their gaze with the same intensity, never again feel their warm arms around you, never again nestle at their side while chatting the night away. It hurts to know that you will soon forget their comforting scent, that this connection will soon fade away, and that even if you can overcome the hurdles of a post-romance platonic friendship, you, in this time and space, will soon be but a distant memory. It hurts to know that someday, someone else will make his heart flutter. Will fill his soul with warmth and longing. It hurts to know that someday, he will clasp her hand tighter than he did mine, kiss her longer, hug her closer. It hurts to know that someday, he may awaken in the wee hours of the morning to chase the sunrise with her. It hurts to know that someday, they will feel more resonance than we ever could, and that they will succeed in what we couldn't.

It hurts, but this is the best for both of us, and love means wanting exactly that for each other.

6. Life goes on, but transience doesn't make a connection any less meaningful.
As more time passes, and as the distance grows, I feel better and better. I think a period of no contact is absolutely essential to cleansing any remnants of romantic feelings out of our systems, and leaving the past behind. 

Since I have no relationship experience prior to this, I have no idea if we'll be able to stay in touch. I think vulnerability and intimacy is a gift, and it's not one I give or accept lightly. I think it'd be a shame to lose contact and connection, but any kind of relationship--whether romantic or platonic--requires input from both sides. And since he and many of the kindred souls I left behind will have graduated upon my return, it's even less realistic to expect a continued deep bond. Investing in those you love who are physically distant is important, but so is investing in those around you. And there's only so much investing we can do.

While I'm not sure where these connections will go, I'm always grateful for the time we did share together. I may not ever share the same resonance with them, particularly with those who were blessed with four years of college together, but that year was my everything, the most beautiful thing I've experienced--so far. 

Yes, the time and space of our connection may become but a memory, but it will be a fond one. And the experience will impact how I live and love for a long time.

7. Love still doesn't make sense, and that's okay.
I'm still absolutely just as confused about relationships as I was before dating. I still don't understand how people fall for each other, what exactly love means, and why we love who we do. Maybe I'm even more bewildered, because the more you experience, the more questions there are. 

My first relationship was an exhilarating, emotional, bumpy, resonant, beautiful ride. I'll never have another one like it, and that's part of what makes it so special.

Learning to love others unconditionally is a process--a lifelong voyage full of choppy waters but also gorgeous blue skies.

While the road of recovery still stretches ahead, I know the dust will settle once again. And once it does, if somehow someone else pops out of the ground in the right place, at the right time, with the right lifestyle, I'll be ready. 

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Cookie Cutter: Mint Lace Sweater + Pink Button-down

college student outfit, mint and pink
college student outfit, mint and pink
college student outfit, mint and pink
Sweater, Kohl's | Button-down, thrifted Ralph Lauren | Jeans, Macy's | Keds, eBay | Necklace, Walmart

"Just because the cookie is cut by a cookie cutter, does it taste any differently? Does the cookie cutter make it taste worse?"

I paused. "No," I grudgingly admitted. 

My friend was right, and I was upset. Since turning the ripe old age of 20, I began to contemplate my future with a greater urgency. Thinking, however, only made me more confused and terrified. 

I don't want a cookie cutter life. My friend's aspiration of a decent job, decent partner, and decent kids sounded like an absolute nightmare, and I was bold (okay, rude) enough to tell him so. I'm sure that his dream is a dream that many people hold, and I respect their goal. But that lifestyle, that dream, would suffocate me. 

Why? I'm not exactly sure, but I do know this: I've always wanted more. Running a full marathon isn't enough--I want to do an ultra. Studying abroad for one semester isn't enough--I want to do a full year. Living a completely content life isn't enough--I crave adventure, replete with passion and exhilaration.

Even if that pristinely-shaped cookie tastes good, I pass on the cookie cutter, and I'll also pass on those ingredients. I want my cookie to be made from a completely different batter, refined through trial and error, crafted with love, hope, and patience. 

So you have your cookie, and I'll have mine. Mine's a work-in-progress, an unaesthetic mess--a lumpy, gooey lob of discordant flavors--but it's my own, and I'm determined to create the tastiest, most satisfying recipe yet. 

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I Ran a Marathon

Providence, RI, USA
providence marathon 2016
providence marathon 2016
providence marathon 2016

Whoa, I'm still alive.

It's 6 am, May 1st--race day. As hop I off of the air mattress and tiptoe about my friend's dorm room at Brown, I feel both incredulous and deeply grateful for having stayed in one piece up to this point.

The race hasn't even begun, but I already consider this a major leap. After almost two years of wrestling with injuries in my quest to run a full marathon, arriving at race day with the actual ability to run had become but a distant dream. This time, it was real. 

I gear up quickly and warm up to the starting line. The day is overcast and chilly, but little can dampen the spirits of the bright sea of runners. I exchange pleasantries with a few fellow racers. I repeat my chain of goals aloud and in my head: first, stay alive. Next, finish without stopping. Then, try to finish in under four hours. 

As the race begins, I happily tag along with the 4-hour pace group. Our rhythm feels slightly too comfortable, but there are many miles ahead. I begin to worry--my mileage the previous 2.5 weeks totaled no more than 15. Even less reassuring, these three runs were the only workouts I had completed in those 2.5 weeks. After a frustratingly-difficult 2-hour run, I knew that my body had become depleted, so I did a radical taper: I took a full week off, then ran only three times the week-and-a-half after. Normally, I become antsy during time off. During this taper, I barely noticed I wasn't working out, another sign that rest was necessary. 

I brush my anxieties away. I had made it here, I would run as well as I could, and that was all I could ask of myself.

Within a few miles, the 9:09 pace no longer feels so friendly. The rolling hills burden my legs and breath. I feel surges of energy here and there, usually after downing a few squeezes of a gel, a couple reluctant swallows of a goo, or bites of my chia bars. 

By the halfway point, mile 13.1, I'm still well on-track, but I feel my energy waning. My small lead on the 4-hour pace group shrinks until I fall behind around mile 16. I had overestimated myself. My breathing now resembles labored wheezing, and my legs feel like cinder blocks. As my sub-sub goal of an under 4-hour finish slips further and further away, I feel more and more dejected. I am exhausted, and there are still 10 miles to go.

The race signs help: Smile! You paid to do this! 

This elicits a wry grin--I had always joked about how runners were inherent masochists, paying hundreds of dollars to put themselves through immense pain.

I remember another one from the race start: If Trump can run for president, you can run 26.2!

The signs and verbal encouragement from the smattering of spectators along the bike path lightens my step just a bit. But my drive is renewed most fervently when I recall the grueling, emotional journey to even reach this point--the countless hours of training, the injuries rendering it difficult to even walk, the very gradual rehab, the volumes of energy it took to even convince my parents to let me attempt this race. This is everything you've dreamed of for the past two years. When is the next chance you'll have to run a marathon again? Lily, if running this race for yourself isn't enough, at least keep pushing ahead for the people who have helped you get here.

I remember the trainers of my school's sports med team, who treated me patiently despite being a non-varsity athlete. I remember the doctor who had broken the news of my stress injury last spring; after noticing me cross-training shortly following the depressing news, he told me he was confident that I would conquer a marathon before I graduated. I remember my physical therapist, whose suggestions had made my running form feel more efficient and free.

I run for them when I can't run for myself. I run for the Lily who was confined to crutches and a walking boot exactly a year before. I run even though it hurts immensely--I run because I am determined to traverse the boundaries of physical pain to achieve that elusive, nearly-spiritual empowerment.

Step by step, the miles fall behind. Seventeen, eighteen, nineteen. A woman nearby chants to herself in Spanish. Her voice is weary but driven, pulsing to the beat of her music. Twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two. I sigh in satisfaction and relief after surpassing my previous long-run record of 21.59 miles. I had reached far, but it was time to reach even further. A woman leaps by in a rainbow tutu--I attempt to emulate her steadfast energy. 

Twenty-three, twenty-four. My quads are on the verge of seizing up, and the subtlest of inclines now feels like a vertical wall. I am terrified that my legs will lock up if I push the pace too hard, but also terrfied of slowing down too much--I was now shooting for a sub 4:10. I spy race photographers and attempt to smile--it looks more like a grimace. 

Twenty-five. So close to finally conquering my long-time dream, I begin to tear up. But then I can't breathe. So I channel the overwhelming emotions into energy--my legs begin to feel a bit lighter, my step a little more springy. I enter downtown Providence. The streets along which I strolled leisurely just yesterday have become vessels of suffering and triumph. 

Twenty-six. The smattering of spectators thickens as the finish nears. On the final straightaway, I dig deeper than I ever have before. Elation carries me across the finish with the widest of grins, in a time of 4:08:23 (9:29/mile).

*                                                                        *                                                                *
By the grace of God, I ran a marathon. Just over a month later, this all feels unreal. As usual, I expected my personal triumph to be life-changing, but life is really the same--I'm the same. Sure, I'm more confident that tenacity is immensely potent, that we're capable of as much as we dream, but one race cannot make me invulnerable to everyday challenges. The journey there, however, taught me so much about overcoming.

Mere hours after the race, I felt a bit empty. After two years of pouring my heart and soul into conquering this goal, it felt strange to have nothing major lined up. What was next?

These slightly outlandish dreams fill me with purpose. I don't want this to be the victorious finale to a melodramatic saga of sweat and tears. Let's make this just a warmup.

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Misery (Maroon 5) Violin Cover



As part of a multi-stage plan to let go, to stop wallowing in misery over the closing of a beautiful chapter, I opted to busy myself with creating another violin cover. 

Four days later, this happened. Below is the video description:

To cope with end-of-year blues, I found it only fitting to cover this aptly-titled yet misleadingly upbeat classic. The result? Fruitless brainstorming meetings, treks around the neighborhood in the summer heat, filming on the side of a busy street, reacquaintance with good old windows movie maker...basically, much more misery, but also many more laughs.

I hope this video is just as fun to watch as it was to make. Special thanks to George Liu for his patient camerawork. Credits go to Jo Phel for the instrumental.

It's summer, I'm halfway done with college, and it's time to move on. Adventure awaits.

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