Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My Accidental (Almost) Engagement

Back from happy hour with friends one New York fall evening, as we sank into a couch and a movie my beloved began waxing romantic. There is a sentimentalist in him, often hidden from public view. In moments of weakness and inebriation, the sentimentalist slips through eloquently. Accidentally, we were both carried into the love haze of romantic riffing and robust red wine. In this comfortable calm, we realized that we would soon be walking into an accidental marriage proposal. In this comfortable calm, we smiled. In this same comfortable calm, still hazy and romantic we stayed as we are. We are happy here, and in weak moments of cockiness even reckon we are happier than some married couples we know.

As a girl born into a predominantly Catholic culture, I used to think that there were only two relationship options for women: the single life (read: old maid) or the married life. What I learned in my twenties, however, was that I was wired differently. Unlike most of my friends, I wasn’t caught up in ‘defining’ the state of my romantic relationships. Instead, I was compelled to experience these relationships to their fullest, exploring this ‘other’ I was sharing times with. I loved noting subtle evolutions in me as I opened up to another. I would like to think that it was my sharp insight into people that informed this approach to men and relationships, the truth is it simply is my nature to relish the now without letting worries about the future dilute the fullness of each experience. How then does this approach make room for marriage and engagement?

My thoughts on marriage continue to evolve. I still believe in marriage. Many of my favorite people are in solid marriages that make room for expansion and individuality. This is because the members of these marriages are amazing people who inevitably form amazing partnerships. In each case, the marriage is strong because the relationship is strong. Had they found themselves in situations where they could not marry, I am certain their relationships would still be as strong. I guess this makes me a stronger believer in relationships than marriage. I believe in relationships that provide a fertile ground for individuals to flourish. For some, this includes marriage. Sadly, the option of marriage is not available to everyone.

Where I grew up, divorce is not an option. Couples who fall in love after having been in a previous marriage cannot marry each other. This saddens me. The culture claims to be pro-marriage, only there is a double standard to this pro-marriage stance. It only makes room for heterosexuals who have not been in marriages before. This does not feel pro-marriage at all, does it? In my eyes, it dilutes the meaning and the magic of marriage.

Where I live now, same sex couples that fall in love cannot marry either. It is astounding to think that this is America in the twenty-first century, even more astounding to think that this is New York City in the twenty-first century. But there it is. In a country that prides itself in freedoms, not all people are free to marry. What does this say about marriage? What does it mean when a culture espouses the value of marriage, then takes away the freedom to be married?

Fortunately for all of us, no one can take away our freedom to be in relationships. No one can take away our freedom to love. On this winter morning, the love haze of romantic riffing and robust wine has made way for the clear light of day and I cannot help but smile. I don’t know that I will be married, or that it even matters. But oh do I know this. I am loved and cherished by a man whom I love more today than when I met him nearly six years ago. In this season of holidays where sentimentalist slips are celebrated and love is most palpably in the air, this is plenty.

Love is plenty.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

My Unamerican Independence Days

I’ve just had my third American Independence Day since moving (back) to the US. However, the anniversary of my Independence isn’t July 4th. As I look back on my life, and examine the highlights in which I asserted authority over my life, I can think of four milestone Independence Days.

March 7th 2007. New York, New York
I arrived in JFK with 3 suitcases; books and key work files airmailed to me in the States; and precious art, heirlooms and antiques stored for safekeeping in the Philippines. I came to New York with nest egg, a blossoming romance, a Brooklyn sublet and job interviews lined up. I left the safety nets of family, lifetime friends, the beloved company I worked with for 16 years and the comfortable expat lifestyle I had enjoyed for six years and jumped.

The life I left was very good. It was rewarding, comfortable and stimulating. And it was full of love and happy times. The thing is, somewhere along the way the things that traditionally provide stability were making me feel restless. It was time. So on went the boots (yes, the ones made for walking!) and off I went. Cue music and sing it with me if I can make it there…

September 30th, 2000. Expatriate Estrogen Expeditions
I had been under the wanderlust spell for quite sometime now. It consumed my savings, occupied my holidays and filled up my passport. Before I knew it, it was eating into my ambition. I wanted to experience working in another culture, in a different market. And so, after a bit of drama that I won’t get into, I got my company to include me in the regional team for Asia Pacific on the agency’s second largest piece of business. There were very few women on the regional team and even less women who were Asian. I felt like quite the pioneer, a sister in stilettos!

The expat experience was enriching in more ways that I ever imagined it would be. I immersed myself in cultures and geographies both new and familiar all at once. And I was good at what I did - respectful of local cultures, with a gentle firmness that got things done. And I had fun! I enjoyed the local cuisine and nightlife, shopped a variety of street fairs and haggled in languages I didn’t know! I quickly developed taxi conversation and street smarts in Thai, Bahasa Melayu, Mandarin, Cantonese, Singlish (i.e. Singaporean English) and Nihongo. My art collection (now in storage) is a lovely homage to this Asian Expat expedition.

June 8th, 1987. Left-leaning Literati
Born to a staunch Catholic father, baptized Catholic and schooled by Catholic nuns from the time I was five, the Catholic doctrine was tethered to my education. I don’t regret this at all. I still remember my lessons the year of my first communion, how I marveled at the mysteries of faith and the stories of Jesus’ life. The values I hold dearest to my heart today are very much anchored in the love, compassion, kindness and passionate conviction I learned about as I got to know Jesus, the man-God.

In my senior year I applied to the top three universities – two were Catholic and one was secular. There are still discussions on which is the toughest to get into, but I got into all three. Even though I got into the honors program at the leading Jesuit University where my best friends went, I still chose to go the state university’s main campus since year after year, they only accept the upper 1 percentile of the nation’s graduating class. This was perhaps one of my life’s greatest tipping points.

In this godless left-leaning University I found depth of faith and spirituality, broadness of thought and true humility. I distinctly recall feeling all cocky about the 99% score on a Math 1 exam as I preened in my spic-span Keds. No sooner had I patted myself on my back did I notice the quiet rural boy next me secretly smiling to himself as he held onto his exam paper – on which I saw 110% - he got all questions and all the bonus ones too!

To be surrounded by so much intelligence from people and places you’d least expect is a thrilling experience I highly recommend to anybody who has ever rested on her laurels as she sashayed through the hallways in her pumps.

June 15th, 1974. Weepy Weather Girl

I was three and a half when I started going to school. By then I had already begun to read and it made all sense to put me in preschool. This was no guarantee that I would be one to cooperate with this logical plan though. Evidently (and there are fotos to prove this, much to my dismay!) I would throw tantrums everyday, in fits of fury when either parent attempted to leave me in school. I am told these tantrums subsided once said parent had been gone for a while, and that I quite enjoyed school.

This is not how I remember it, though.

What I remember is that my teacher gave me the important job of being the class Weather Girl. It was my responsibility to record on our weather board if it was a sunny day, a cloudy day or a rainy day. If I did not get to class early enough or if I failed to do my job properly, my classmates would not know what weather to expect!

At three and a half, some days wearing red rain boots and other days wearing gold ballet slippers, I felt a sense of authority and responsibility that not many at that age experience. And I liked it! Almost four decades later, I still wear red boots and gold ballet slippers, I still check the weather every morning. And I still feel like the supreme authority over most things in my life. And on some days, I even feel I have authority over the weather!