Important Dates

When I first met my girlfriend, it wasn’t love at first sight, and it took almost a year after we started dating before I realized we were 1.) dating and 2.) in a relationship (she was a lot quicker to this realization than I was). Unlike what one sees in movies, most love stories don’t begin with a meet-cute between incredibly attractive individuals who have equally beautiful personalities. It often takes many people and many years. Sometimes, decades.

Because our relationship doesn’t have a clear start date, we’re missing some of the dates that other couples know instinctively. After much research, we discovered that the first day we met was July 3, 2014. My current girlfriend came in that day to interview for a volunteer usher position at the movie theater where I used to work. While that was on a Thursday, her volunteer day was Friday — a day I usually had off (or left early) because I had to wake up hella early on Saturday to either run the TOEFL test or invigilate the IELTS test. On the Friday before a TOEFL test, I also had to set up everything in the computer lab. So, while the next Friday I worked was a couple weeks after her training, I most likely left before she arrived. In fact, it wasn’t till October that I worked there again on a Friday, floating between two locations (so again, it’s possible I wasn’t there when she arrived). I asked her out the following Valentine’s Day (along with another volunteer — didn’t want to make it look like a date, after all), but she was in a relationship at the time, and neither I nor the other volunteer ended up going to the event.

The next opportunity to hang out was at my birthday (she was single by this point). My first photo with her is from that party. I’d gotten over my initial attraction to her, though, which is why, when she was hired to work during the film festival that year, she pursued me for much of it, while I rebuffed her. In most cases, that would’ve been the end of it.

Except that it wasn’t.

After festival, she was hired year-round at the movie theater. On nights when she worked the same hours I did, she offered to drive me home, which I gladly accepted (she did this with other coworkers, too). Parked in front of my shared house, we often found ourselves talking about many deep and personal things — things I had no one to talk to about. One of my housemates at the time saw right away that she was pursuing me, but I thought nothing of it because I wasn’t interested, obviously.

And then the shared house was sold and we all had to find different lodgings. At the same time, my current girlfriend was looking to move. At this point we were good friends, so I asked her if she wanted to look for apartments with me, since I didn’t want to move into a place with a bunch of strangers again. She agreed, and we ended up finding a place a week or two later.

So yes, fanfic readers, we were roommates.

Before we started looking for apartments together, though, we had what was, in retrospect, our first official date: June 24, 2015. Never mind the fact that her mom was there, too.

We moved in together on August 15, 2015 (we signed the lease on August 12). But when did we actually became a couple? It could be as early as when I went home for Christmas in 2015 and realized how much I missed her. Or it could be Valentine’s Day 2016, when I took her to see Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet at the ballet, despite my telling her it wasn’t a date afterwards (one of many moments in our early relationship where I wish I could travel back in time and smack some sense into my former self). Or later in 2016, when I went on a trip by myself for my birthday in order to be alone and write, and ended up doing most of my writing to her.

The latest it could possibly be, however, is June 2016. That is when we took a road trip to California to see her best friend get married. After that trip, I could no longer pretend we were just friends. The feelings ran too deep, but even then they weren’t a raging fire, more like a solitary flame that continues to grow larger and burn brighter. And yet what warmth it gives off! Unlike relationships which burn bright and fast, our feelings for each other have evolved — mine evolving much more slowly than hers (see comment above about smacking my former self).

One other date I can’t tell you is when we passed the honeymoon period of our relationship. I’m more in love with her now than I was back on that June day when I told her how I felt. I’m more in love with her than the first time I told her, “I love you” (she thought I said “Olivia,” which was the name of one of our pet rats). I’m more in love with her than I was in those first few years of the relationship, when I still wasn’t sure about us. At that point, neither of us — especially me — had much experience with romantic relationships, particularly ones that lasted longer than a few months. But we were living together and were both on the lease, which forced us to work out our problems where living apart might’ve made it easier to break up over stupid shit.

Not that we had many fights. Most of our early ones were about finances, which led to a rule about not discussing finances after midnight. Other fights had to do with us adjusting to each other’s quirks and lifestyles. Even with how stressful quarantine has been, we haven’t fought that much, and every time one of us has lashed out in anger, it’s been followed by an apology.

This year marks five years that we’ve been together, officially or unofficially. And while we don’t have an official date to commemorate the beginning of our relationship, at least we know how long it’s been since we first lay eyes on each other, only realizing in the intervening years how significant that day would be.

A Single Man’s Perspective of Valentine’s Day

Facts sometimes make me sad.  Especially when they concern my personal life.

My first kiss and last kiss are separated by little more than a year. I was fifteen when I had my first girlfriend and almost twenty-eight when I had my last one.  And while each of my relationships has lasted longer than the one before it, none of them have lasted beyond that magical three month marker, where relationships (supposedly) start to get serious.

Which brings us to Valentine’s Day. I hate that fucking holiday, especially as it’s celebrated here. I much prefer Japan’s way of celebrating the holiday, with women giving chocolate to men (giri choco to friends and coworkers, and honmei choco to lovers and guys they want to be their lovers).  And for those women who wonder why the men are getting all the chocolate, I’d like to point out that Valentine’s Day is followed, a month later, by White Day, when men reciprocate the favor (apparently with more expensive gifts, though no one complained about the chocolate that I gave them).

This brings up another sad fact: I have been single on every Valentine’s Day.  Every single one.  Sometimes I’ve spent it with friends who were also single; other times, I’ve spent it alone.  But that was my choice.  Being defiant is all one can be on that holiday when one is single.  I  had a few friends who would send me cards on February 14th, but all of them are married now, and buy cards for their husbands, instead.

Yes, relationships are hard.  So is writing novels for a living.  In both cases, the joys are worth the hardships, at least if it’s a good relationship, or a good novel.  For those of you who wish you were single again, maybe your single lives were more exciting than mine has been, but it’s not that great.  Really.  Because you can never fully share your experiences with people who aren’t there with you.  And shared experiences is how you learn about each other, and about yourself.

While in Japan, one of my friends loaned me a lovely book  called Snow in the Summer, a collection of passages from letters written by a Buddhist monk to his Western students.  In Chapter 7, he writes about friendships and relationships.  Here, he is giving advice to a female student:

Love is not enough for two people to live together; deep understanding of each other is necessary.  Love is not enough in a relationship; deep understanding and appreciation is [sic] also necessary.  See if you can accept all the bad things about him without wanting to change him and see if you can also respect him as he is now.  Dependent relationships don’t work well. (p. 89)

And then, a few pages later, comes one of the truest passages in the book:

Don’t be in a hurry to get married.  Get to know her better.  She’s a human being; like all of us she has her share of faults.  Try to understand the whole person and love her for that, not just parts of her, or your own projection of her. (p. 93)

He goes on to write that one must understand what one wants out of life, out of relationships, before we jump into them.  “Know thyself,” as Socrates would say.

And yet few people today (myself included) give enough time to introspection, to understanding ourselves, to what we want from the world, and the people, around us.  I knew what I wanted in Japan; back in the U.S., I’m not so certain.  Certainly I know myself more now than I did, but how much is still hidden from me?

To accept my flaws.  That, I think, is the key.  In order to forgive the flaws in others, one must first forgive the flaws in oneself.  I certainly am more at peace with myself than I was as a teenager, and even as I was before I went to Japan (Japan, by the way, is a great country for introspection).

That, for me, is the problem with Valentine’s Day.  It transforms love into flowers, and understanding into chocolate.  Not that there’s anything wrong with giving both to someone you love.  But love’s foundation is built on more than flowers, and relationships are built on more than love.  We praise love, but we do not understand it.  Sometimes we confuse it with sex, sometimes with gifts, sometimes with fairy tale endings, or happiness.  Sometimes we confuse it with relationships.  Relationships are built on understanding and respect.  Love grows out of those two aspects, not the other way around.

People mistake love, or heart palpitations, as the foundation for relationships.  It is not.  It is what is added to already strong relationships to make them stronger.  Relationships founded on love alone will fail, because the love has nothing to support itself with and, when tested, will crumble.  That’s not to say that an attraction can’t lead to a strong relationship, but only if the couple focuses on understanding and respecting each other, rather than ogling each other’s beauty, or worshiping certain features of each other’s character, or rating how good the other one is in bed.  Those aspects merely add to the whole, and it is the whole person that we must have the relationship with, not the parts.

And two whole people, who respect, understand, and choose each other, is what should be celebrated on Valentine’s Day.