Thursday, June 16, 2005

[Essay] Of Love, Life, and Security

It seems like a strange coincidence but lately, some of my friends are getting into romantic relationships. There are several reasons for getting together but a prevalent element I see my friends are looking for, especially from those who’ve had previous relationships, is security.

Hey, I can understand that sentiment. I mean I’ve had my heart broken a few times. It hurts, and no one really wants to get hurt, masochists excluded. I can just imagine what people with ex’s feel: all those weeks, months, and years down the drain. It was bad enough you had to break it to your friends and relatives that you had a significant other. Some were against it but they eventually warmed up to the fact. You also met the other person’s circle of friends and relatives. Now, it’s pffft!

I do think that on one level or another, we do seek security from the other person, in whatever way we define it be it emotional security or even financial security. That’s why we take the step-by-step process of getting introduced, dating, committing to one another, and eventually marrying (but that’s not the end of the story!). I surely wouldn’t want to marry a complete stranger, nor someone I don’t think I can trust.

Yet as much as I agree with that kind of mentality, I don’t think that security should always be the main motivator in pursuing a relationship. That’s not to say that there aren’t situations where that’s not applicable. I mean some people have been known to settle for security in their relationship, whether it’s due to old age, a lethal disease, or a simple lack of confidence in themselves. Nor am I saying that security shouldn’t be a factor when we choose who we partner with. Rather, it’s more of that it shouldn’t be the only element we’re looking for.

I mean honestly, if it’s just security you’re looking for, get a plant. Not a pet, but a plant. Pets can be fickle, stray, grow old, breed, and die. Plants, on the other hand, have no opinions of their own. They leave the fate of their lives in your hands. If you don’t take care of them, they die. If you want to talk to them, they have no where else to go. And they won’t be breeding pups and kittens all over the place.

That’s also not to say that people don’t eventually find security in the person they’re having a relationship with. But I’d like to think that’s more of a result of enduring in the relationship, of taking the time and the effort to make things work rather than presuming it’s a given before marriage, much less before they even became boyfriend and girlfriend (or boyfriend and boyfriend or girlfriend and girlfriend if that’s where your orientation lies).

Heck, if it’s security that you want, you might want to take the advice of Filipino rapper Andrew E.: “Humanap ka ng pangit at ibigin mong tunay.” (“Look for someone ugly and love them truly.”) I mean you can be confident that someone else won’t be out to steal your boyfriend or girlfriend if they’re not a looker. You can also expect your significant other to be faithful since they won’t have the confidence or self-esteem of a pretty person (I mean why ruin a good thing? This might be their only chance to get attached to someone.) At least in theory. Yet one only needs to look around and see people hooking up with each other, irregardless of whether they’re pretty or not. I mean we’ve all heard of “ugly pairings”, that is one person in the pair being beautiful only to be ruined by the fact that the person they’re attached to is someone less than complementary to their physique. And it does happen. The same goes for regular Joe’s and Jane’s being paired with ugly, mediocre, and stunningly attractive men and women.

So what’s the moral lesson there? That everyone is born unfaithful, unless you happen to be lucky? I think that’s a mentality some of us are thinking, which is why we settle for just security instead of all the other criteria we could think of. I mean when I first met someone who caught my attention, I thought “Shit! She’s the one and it took me sixteen years to find her!” And then my heart got broken, and one of the things I was worrying about was that I blew my one chance in life at happiness. I’ll never meet a girl like her ever again. And to a certain extent, that’s true. Because people are unique and there’s an unlimited combinations of personalities, quirks, and attitudes that abound in the world. Did that mean that was the last time I fell in love again? No, of course not. I was attracted to someone else later on. My reasons for being attracted to that other person overlapped with the former. But there were also differences that I admired and loved and made her special. Happy ending? Sorry, I strike out again.

Rejection is never easy. At this point, people might be tempted to settle for less. And when you’ve just been busted, it’s a very big temptation. You just want someone to hold, someone to be there, someone who cares for you without the need for you to impress him or her. It’s no coincidence that people who just broke up with someone are termed as “vulnerable”. They’re at the bottom of their emotional rollercoaster. There’s a gaping wound in their hearts, and the first thing they want to do is patch it up. That’s not to say that all sudden relationships after breaking up with someone end in disaster. Rather, the initial motivations for pursuing such a relationship can be doubted. But hey, the thing about relationships is that it develops, that it grows. I could ask someone out for the most trivial of reasons, and in a matter of a few months, develop into something genuine and authentic. But it could also end in disaster just the same, even if it was for the noblest of reasons.

So why am I against security? Because you’re settling for less. You could have more. It’s like the college graduate settling for a job at McDonalds as a burger-fryer. Why make the burgers when you can own the store? Of course when you’re desperate, frying burgers for five dollars an hour seems pretty tempting. Few people realize that they’re actually worth more than five dollars an hour. But that’s self-determination for you. If we believe it for long enough, we devaluate ourselves to five dollars an hour. That’s not to say that there aren’t moments when we should be desperate. Some people who deem themselves “too old” to get into a long-term relationship make the spontaneous decision to get married despite some doubts. After all, if they’re dying soon, there won’t really be much time to regret it. But more often than not, especially with young people, I think the reason they settle for less is because they think less of themselves. That and fear.

I think that fear lurks in the heart of every person who didn’t get it right the first time. And that applies to a lot of things, not just relationships. When I was working in a call center, the day I feared most was not the first day, but the second. Mainly because I screwed up a lot the first time and I thought it would be a repeat performance. But the amazing thing was that it wasn’t. I learned from some of my mistakes and got better the second day. Not a big improvement, but an improvement nonetheless. The same goes for the third day, and the fourth, and the fifth. That didn’t mean I wasn’t afraid the entire time. I was in terror. Yet somehow, I managed to survive. Pretty much the same thing happens to those who are traumatized by a certain event or disaster. Their worst nightmare is the first time they encountered it and they get flashbacks whenever they get close to the source of their trauma. Yet it’s not an unconquerable barrier. Once you experience it a second time and a third time and a fourth and survived, you’ll realize that it was bad, but not that bad. Of course some people don’t get over it because they get consumed by fear, constantly reliving the experience of failure and fear. They cling to their first experience, and it forever bars them from forming new memories and experiences of the said event.

In a way, it also makes us feel superior. When you’re settling for less, you have this false confidence in yourself. I call it false because it’s like a professional basketball player being pitted against a high school rookie: of course the former will best the latter, not as a testament to his skill but rather due to the fact that his opponent was weak. There’s a sense of certainty when we trim down our expectations. But the fact of the matter is, we’re just fleeing from the source of our worries. Not that flight over fight is bad, but there’s a limit on how much you can flee from something you fear. Does one find happiness in evading fear? I doubt it. We avoid fear, but perhaps it can be said that it comes at the price of true happiness. One just needs to compare the ecstacy we experience in conquering something despite insumountable odds, and triumphing in something that’s a walk in the park. You’ll get used to the latter, but there’s always a sense of wonder and excitement in the former.

The other thing I dislike about security is complacency. You’re in your comfort zone. There’s not much to worry about, nothing to keep you on your toes. Why bother extending yourself, why bother growing, developiing, and maturing? If the other person is an easy catch, why strain yourself when less energy would achive the same result? At least when you’re in a relationship with someone you’re uncertain of, you strive to know more and strive to become better in order to become appealing. Or in the worst scenario, you get rejected, but you learned a lot from that endeavor. You know what to do right the next time, or what areas you need to improve upon. No one’s born perfect, but that doesn’t mean you can’t strive to become better. Security doesn’t really give you much incentive to improve.

Some of you might be thinking I’m just being critical of couples. Actually, it applies to bachelors as well. Choosing to remain single is a way of attaining security. That’s not to say that every single, dateless guy is living a secure life but rather those with the opportunity to commit to someone doesn’t do so, not because they’re not yet ready but because they value the freedom they currently have, whether it’s dating other people, or not being burdened by the responsibility of caring for someone else. That’s also not to say that marriage is the route everyone must take, or that it’s a crime to remain a bachelor. It actually depends on the situation. But rather than looking at the actions of the individual, I think it’s more valuable to find out their motivations.

I’m not going to tell you to get into this relationship or to get out of that. It’s not my life, it’s your call. But I am here to pose the question what are your reasons for pursuing such a relationship, and whether it’s truly for you. If it’s solely for security, don’t you want more? Do you think you’ll be content with just that? If so, who am I to reprimand? But if not, well, I think it’s time to re-evaluate your circumstances. The easiest thing to do, after all, is to succumb to our insecurities, and belittle ourselves.