I am a hopeless romantic.
You’d think that I would know better by now. There are too many reasons why I should know better by now.
For starters, my parents separated when I was 16. They were married for more than 20 years. There had always been sources of tension in their marriage – much of it centered on my mother’s family – but the two of them never seemed unhappy, even if theirs was never a passionate relationship. Then my dad cheated on my mom. She found out during a counseling session she had pushed him to attend. Turns out he just wanted out, and so that was pretty much that. I didn’t have a great relationship with my father growing up; it ceased to exist altogether about a year or two after the divorce. I’ve seen him once in the last ten years, at my sister’s wedding. We made small talk, like casual acquaintances.
My mom – she was shattered. For the next five or six years, she lived with one or another of my aunts. I tagged along too until I went off to college, but my summers after that would be spent at my aunt’s, with my mom. She just couldn’t deal. She mentioned later that she contemplated suicide in her worst moments, but I don’t know how serious she was about that. I never asked. For months though, and probably longer, there was no doubt she was deeply depressed. I don’t know how she managed to go to work – I suppose it was the necessity of it. Mostly, she spent the days in her room, lying in bed sobbing. I’ve blocked out a lot of that, the day-to-day of it all. It’s hard to describe how difficult it was to see my mom like that constantly.
Even as she slowly began to heal, the wounds remained: fresh, deep, vulnerable. A bad conversation with my sister, an admonishment from my aunt, and my mom would be back in her room, alone in the darkness. It’d be still, silent except for the heaving sobs.
My dad was my mom’s first love. She was 21 when she got married to my dad, 22 when they had my sister. He’ll be her only love. Eventually, she managed to pick herself back up, move out on her own again, put together a healthy social circle and all. For about the last ten years almost, I’d say she seems – and is – genuinely happy. But my mom hasn’t dated, hasn’t even considered it, and I’m quite certain she never will. The heartbreak was irrevocable. I only realized its depths truly when the topic came up during a conversation between her and my aunt last year, on the eve of my sister’s wedding. My mother mentioned that it was still a bitter pill to swallow, that she still even now wonders why. Seventeen years after the fact, the conversation ended in tears.
But it’s not just because of my parents that my hopeless romanticism appears misguided. My extended family, like I suppose many others, is rife with unhappy endings. One aunt cheated on her husband, another found out hers was a deviant. My aunt on my father’s side had her husband pass away, leaving her with three teenage boys to raise on her own – and eventually my grandmother to take care of. A cousin broke up with his high school sweetheart because her family didn’t approve. Another whose husband went to prison for fraud, dissolving that family. There are a couple of older cousins who don’t seem like they’ll ever meet anyone; I don’t know if it’s even in their calculus. I know none of this means anything for me per say, but there aren’t a lot of reaffirming examples around me to emulate, to look at wistfully and continue to believe.
Of course, I should also know better if for the simple fact that I’m 33 now. There is almost no other facet in my life where I have not become at least a bit more cynical, and I would argue for good reason. There are enough acquaintances who have revealed themselves to be toxic, enough friends who have let me down in ways big and small.* There are the colleagues who are incompetent, even unprofessional or unethical, and the superiors who cannot hide their narrow-mindedness, their pettiness, their selfishness. Perhaps worse, I have encountered institution after institution that seems to enable the wrong people at the expense of the right ones. Certainly then, you would think my heartbreaks, my fleeting relationships would have warranted a change in how I perceive love too, in the kind of love that I want and look for and expect.
*I let myself and others down plenty, to be sure.
Further, the cynicism that I have developed is hardly self-contained. We live in a cynical world, an age of deconstruction and demythologization. The romantic comedies I see now are not sweet and simple and pure, featuring silly miscommunication and chance encounters and strokes of fate, but center on meaningless sex, friends with benefits, unwanted pregnancies – with couplings that take place as an afterthought, a requisite but self-aware and reluctant nod to convention. The animated movies I encounter are the first to proclaim that life is no fairy tale, that ‘happily ever after’ should be explored if not exposed, that wide-eyed optimism should stand as an object of derision. Hopeless romanticism has become passé, with realness, complexity, and layers the prevalent traits even in imaginary worlds.
A romanticism solely founded on blind faith too has its illogics in my situation, as much an oxymoron as that might seem. But there is no higher power or greater purpose I can recall as I seek to rationalize my irrational devotion to love, not believing in God nor planning to have children, after all. Meanwhile, the many dreams, coincidences, and signs I have experienced – of what was and is and could be meant to be – have invariably turned out to be false prophets, stories to chuckle at and set aside and nothing more; they are a confirmation either of the fact that I can find anything when I am looking or that fate has a twisted sense of humor. It brings to mind the adage about how everything happens for a reason – and how utterly meaningless that sentiment can be.
So here I am then.
There is little in my surroundings – immediate or otherwise – that would explain why I am the way I am. There is little in my experiences that would justify why I should continue to be that way. Yet, in spite of it all, I remain a hopeless romantic.
I suppose it comes down to my heart.
I know how my heart feels when it is right and when it is real, now more than ever. And I know how it feels when it is anything other than that. So I hold on with everything I have. I believe my heart – unequivocally – when it tells me that this is genuine and unique and worthwhile and forever. I can forgo reason and history and circumstance, and I can plow ahead without dwelling on the pain and hurt and suffering and longing and loneliness that might come with. It is a risk I do not hesitate to take. Because when it comes to love, what other choice do I have?
Ultimately, I am my mother’s son.