Me and My Lists

A series on navigating romance and growing up.

[Me and My Lists] Part 7: Day One

I’ve liked fifteen guys since the age of twelve.

No, seriously.  Count them.  I do.  I’ve liked fifteen boys: a daisy chain of unrequited loves, poems full of longing, awkward conversations, and tearful admissions, strung together with the wry romanticism of a John Green novel (complete with Vampire Weekend or One Republic soundtrack).  Fifteen initials that I recite like Arya Stark’s “prayer,” only without the murderous intent (most days, at least).  Fifteen hands I’ve imagined holding, pairs of arms I’ve imagined dancing in.

Basically, Fifteen stand-ins for the boys in the following scenes: tumblr_mxosi33F1C1skn0r7o5_1280 11831-Cute-Couple tumblr_static_a_couple_by_dueto_variavel a3b1397105b5ed6efd17721f21e814ca asian-like.tumblr 54879-Mountain-Climbing-Couple tumblr_mgj6u1cWKQ1rlg43so1_500

Source: Google Images, using the search term “Tumblr Couple.”

This is what love looked like to “SSB”-me: an endless loop of photosets rendered in indie-romcom colors, where I took the place of the everyman heroine side-by-side with my manic pixie dream boy.  But, like those everyman heroes before me, the reality was nothing like my expectations, often looking more like this:


and, eventually, this:

finally ending with an I’m-fine-but-not-really state of bitter homeostasis.


Frankly, this was the basis of my SoJ radio persona.

Eventually, I would edge back into rationality, enjoy a brief period of equilibrium.  But it would never last.  One day, someone would come along with the right smirk, or quirk of eyebrow, or nose, or jaw, or fingers-on-lips, hands-running-through-hair…


…and it’d start all over again.

After fifteen go-rounds, I’m painfully aware of this pattern.  In fact, I’m more than a little tired of it.  “Bitter homeostasis” has increasingly blurred into equilibrium.  It’s hard not to be cynical when the movie in your mind won’t go the way it’s supposed to: one moment you’ll be choreographing shiny-happy dance numbers and the next you’re belting out sad Paramore or Jessie Ware lyrics, the constant undercurrent of hope feeling less like butterflies and more like a migraine.  I know my “love life” is a running joke–in fact, my bandmates used it as a punchline during our photoshoot when they needed to laugh for the camera–but number fifteen was a whopper and now I’m not sure I find this funny anymore.  I’ve been going through the motions of being bitter, and snarky, and wry, and a little wounded–spouting hugot lines and whining over old pictures–but it’s all feeling more like playacting now.

Lately, I’ve been wanting something different for myself: a little less Tumblr and a little more terrestrial.  If I think hard enough, I can imagine the bare bones: the ghost of an image, the blueprint of a skyscraper.  In fact, a skyscraper is a good way to think about it: instead of the ephemera of celluloid, there’s a sense of permanence, of concrete and steel rebar, of the inevitable pull of gravity.  There are no dance numbers, no Instagram-filter colors.  I don’t hear Mumm-Ra in the background.

What I find myself wanting is something that just is–a workaday sort of love that maybe doesn’t have a song, doesn’t need a poem.  It’s the sort of love that leaves John Green on the shelf, that prompted Juliet to declare her feelings for Romeo

…too rash, too unadvised, too sudden,
Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be
Ere one can say “It lightens.”

I realized–or, if I’m honest, I’ve known for a while–that for the longest time the love I have wanted has been an imagined country as told by those photosets and GIFs and Spotify playlists.  It’s been the kind of love that needs finding, because it’s so elusive, because there’s little evidence it exists at all.  It’s the love you obsess over, the kind you fantasize about, precisely because it is a fantasy.

I’ve been so desperate to find a leading man that I’ve forgotten the truth about movies: they show things the way they look to be, instead of the way they are.  I’m tired of images, of scripting lines of dialogue, of referring to a mental checklist of attributes that somehow sum up to perfect.  Instead of finding the one being a blockbuster event or a flashmob, I’d rather it be as natural as a change of seasons–the slow, inevitable slipping of summer into autumn.  One day, I’ll look up to find the wind has changed, the leaves will have started to turn, and it will both surprise me and not surprise me.

I’d expect it.  Maybe I won’t expect him.  (Maybe there will be no him.)  What there will be, though, is a sense that things make sense.  It won’t be groundbreaking.  It will just be.

Sometimes, I still get to imagining.  I imagine laughing faces in a coffeeshop (it used to look like Starbucks Pearl, but lately due to my transplanting to Makati it’s looking a lot more like Staple and Perk), shoulders touching casually in a group photo, introductions at office parties: “This is my…”  I guess it’s just habit, or the fact that I used to write exclusively love stories: I can’t help but set a scene.  Except now, I know that’s all they are: possibilities versus things that need to happen.  I’m learning to stop reading shades of meaning in coincidences.  After all:


Or: just because he watches Doctor Who, liked a few Instagram photos, and called you pretty that one time, doesn’t mean you’re meant to be.

At the end of every crush, I tell myself that this one is the last.  The last one-sided fling.  The last pair of rose-colored glasses.  Number fifteen was a doozy, a dubious sort of “first” (not in that way, folks), a ‘life event’ in his own right.  Considering the way things played out, I don’t think I can be faulted for hoping for a combo-breaker.  And maybe he really will be the last one, or maybe it will take me a few more tries to drill this lesson into my head.  One thing’s for sure, though: I don’t want a love story anymore.

I just want love.  Plain as day, in whatever form it will take (after all, as one article put it, the happiest place in eternity will have no marriage or sex).  No more unrealistic, indie flick-expectations versus reality.

tom hansen knowing face

Just equilibrium.  Just homeostasis.  Just a day that, without anyone realizing it, turns out to be a sort of day one.

…or basically just a decrease in my tendency to be more than slightly delusional.  Whatever.  I’m obviously taking my sweet time ditching every single one of my “Lists,” but that’s all part of the process of this ‘growing up’ business anyway, or so I’m told.  Anyway, it’s been fun.  Hope you enjoy the GIFs, and if you saw the pattern…well, no stars for you because I’ve made things blatantly obvious, to be honest.  It isn’t the first time Tom Hansen has been my spirit animal, after all.


P.S.: Hope this makes up for no The Friday, Currently last week.  And, seeing as I’ll be coming back from Cebu on the day, there might not be any this week so I’ll see you in the next post…whenever that happens.  Until then



– aRT


[Me and My Lists] Part 6: The Heart-Break Kid

“They do not love that do not show their love. The course of true love never did run smooth. Love is a familiar. Love is a devil. There is no evil angel but Love.”

~ William Shakespeare

“He was despised and rejected,
a man of sorrows familiar with grief,
a man from whom people hide their face,
spurned and considered of no account.”

~ Isaiah 53:3

Usually, I love rain–the quiet gloom, the chill in the air, the sound of the storm as it roars then coalesces into bell-like percussion on the concrete.  It’s weather that is inherently “sad,” yet makes me happy somewhat–then again, I’ve always thought of myself as a bit like Doctor Who‘s Sally Sparrow: “Sadness is happiness for deep people.”  While I don’t actually think I’m all that deep, I suppose being under-water makes up for it, brings out the side of me that is pensive–a word that, contrary to popular belief, did not originate in Harry Potter (but I’m digressing).

Usually I love rain, but lately it’s made me feel more sad than deep, or maybe just deeply sad.  The gray over everything, walking to the convenience store without an umbrella, slipping and falling knees-first into sloshy, scummy puddles, the perpetual chill in the air that defies my sweaters–I’ve realized why this is usually called “cuddle weather,” because it’s weather like this that makes you long for arms and warmth and can make anyone, but especially a reluctant romantic, feel the pang (think your heart rumbling with stomach acid) of love-hunger, the desire to be one of a cuddling couple instead of a sopping-wet, sad-eyed singleton (not-so-fond new nickname: spinster) lost in a concrete sea.

(Apparently this bout of rain is bringing out the bad poet in me.)

To the point: lately the weather’s been making me lonely.  And while I’ve made the decision to be at peace with loneliness–flying solo, whatever you’d like to call it–the feeling isn’t as easy to swallow, compounded as it were by fatigue and the altogether selfish, visceral desire to feel a steady weight behind me, someone to lean on when the days make me feel boneless.

Someone I once lovedor thought I did, and I lean more towards “thought” because I find the mind can convince a girl of anything once it’s been given a direction–recently got himself a girlfriend, news which he himself told me one night when the loneliness was freezing my insides so that I was grasping at old friendships to stave off the chill.  I decided to let down the walls I’d built between me and my past (or, well, me and him) because I’d figured I was grown up enough to face it and deep (if not always true) friendships are a rare enough commodity that they’re difficult to just dispose of.

…But when he told me he had a girlfriend suddenly I felt like I’d lost, like a point had been scored against me and perhaps people are right, perhaps my standards are too high or I’m too conscientious and maybe I should have given happiness (or at least something that could pass well enough for it) a try when it was in my grasp?

I guess the feelings had been adding up before then.  Recently I’ve been feeling worn and frayed, half because I’ve actually been sick (bronchitis) and forcing myself to work (to my boss’ chagrin), and half because I’ve lately been uncovering layers of long-buried pride and that’s been causing a mess of problems.  I’ve gone so far as to call myself a “mental patient” at the moment, knowing full well that the thick, gnarled roots of the issues I’ve discovered mean that God will be working on me for a good, long while before I’m perhaps “ready” to consider letting someone else into my life.

The looming loneliness, a long and gray timeline stretching ahead of me, is discouraging, and many days I’ve felt prickly, preferring to push people away because it’s easier, I guess, to get used to the loneliness when you’re actually alone.  And maybe that’s an accurate assumption, but my heart never lets me get used to it for long, and suddenly I’m sitting-waiting-wishing or else marking a target on a nearby back thinking “Maybe he could be good for me?” but denying that the statement actually leaves out a critical “enough.

(Maybe he could be good enough for me?)

(Maybe I could be good enough for him?)

More than Valentines’, the rapidly-approaching holidays puts love in the air and makes it linger, and that mixed with melancholy has made me wonder what is more heartbreaking: to love wrong over and over (but to taste the moments in the beginning where, at least, it feels right), or to spend a lifetime waiting for the right love that might never come?

I know the answer, in my head, is the former.  The heart was never meant to be shattered and distributed among multiple permutations of “Mr. Right Now.”  It only has space for one best, one God’s best, because otherwise we go to them saying “Here, here is my heart–whatever is left.”  And love deserves a whole heart, broken in the way that means “tamed.”  But sometimes, while I am doing my best to break my heart, rein it in, it feels like it’s breaking, tearing, shattering, crying out for “Please, please just let me run wild, one more time, please?  Don’t you feel so alone?”

Faced with more questions than answers I literally ran to the throne–my bathroom, isolated enough from the rest of the house so that I did not have to answer any of my mother’s well-meant questions (anyway, she was asleep; it was pretty late).  There, curled up on the (lid-down) toilet, chest pressed to knees and arms clutching the marble countertop like a lifeline, I began to start crying…but chose to sing instead.

“Take my heart, Lord, it is yours.
Oh it is yours.
Oh it is yours.
Take my life, Lord, it is yours.
Oh it is yours.
Oh it is yours.”

I don’t know why I started singing Radical Love, the title track off of my church’s new worship album.  When consumed by melancholy, I often say whatever is at the top of mind.  What I can say, though is that in that moment, the lyrics felt less like praise and more like a desperate cry for help: “Take my heart, Lord.  It’s aching.  It’s your responsibility.  It’s yours.”

I made my choices, after all, because I knew that my First Love was not for forsaking, that I needed to get lost in God before I got lost “in love.”  But at that moment, in the unresponsive silence of my bathroom, all I felt like was lost.

“Take my heart, Lord, it is yours.
Oh it is yours.
Oh it is yours.
Take my life, Lord, it is yours.
Oh it is yours.
Oh it is yours.”

Lately I’ve realized that it is in that silence where God breaks your heart, tames it to trust Him even when He is intangible.  In those silences, you are presented with a choice to stay the course in a commitment to live worship, or else to run towards the nearest, most comforting alternative–the boy with the target on his back, the “right now,” the fleeting fall. And this is not a mere machination of a sadistic God–He does this because love is, and will always be a choice, to have faith in a promise instead of feelings. This is part and parcel of “breaking,” for wild creatures are never sensible, but tamed ones are strong and steady, able to see clearly or else step out in faith when seeing is impossible.

My heart was being broken, even as it was breaking; it was being taught to be strong enough to choose love in a circumstance where it felt so absent. It hurt, but pain isn’t always bad–the heart is a muscle, and muscles ache when they are torn apart to be built back stronger.

But muscles have limits. And in that bathroom, my emotions straining under the tension of questions and doubts and that gaping loneliness, I was about to reach it. So God walked in. My Man of Sorrows, acquainted acutely with grief and loneliness and that empty ache of loss, stepped in and started to sing.

Being a reluctant romantic means my mind is a vast repository of love songs, and as I clutched the counter, crying, I started to hear one in my head, in a voice calmer than my own, “I want to make you smile, whenever you’re sad…”

“I’ll miss you,
Kiss you,
Give you my coat when you are cold.
Need you,
Feed you,
Even let you hold the remote control…”

Who knew God was a fan of Adam Sandler songs?

The lyrics obviously didn’t completely apply, referring to romantic and married and mortal love, but in that moment, my straining heart stopped tugging at the reins. Loneliness, at its core, is the feeling that you are isolated, that no one cares. It was made very clear Someone did. Does.

It is a very personal God who owns my heart, and He knows when it needs breaking and when it needs assurance. Loving Him isn’t always easy, and often it means bearing the pain of breaking and being broken. But there are many moments like these, in the middle of the maelstrom, where He makes it the brokenness worth it. I cried my eyes out, but did not leave the room empty. The loneliness, while still there, suddenly seemed less all-consuming, less of a fact and more of a mere feeling.

The fact is I am not alone. That I never will be. That whatever happens, I am part of a love story, held in the arms of a God who is both terrifyingly powerful and infinitely personal. The fact is easy to forget when the feelings roll in like the roar of pouring rain, but eventually they die away, leaving a world not gloomy gray but silver. And this is why I still love the rain–because once it passes, the world looks new, and my heart is stronger at the broken places, and that looming timeline, the “lonely” road, seems like less of a wait, and more of an adventure; one that this heart can take.

Love’s not easy, but it’s worth it.


[Me and My Lists] Part 5: Making Peace With Lonelygirl

I have a habit of nicknaming myself.

There’s “Frankie,” of course–my mum gave me that nickname because of the movie Frankie and Johnny, which I love because I see a lot of myself in Frankie.  (Maybe it’s true what they say–your name helps define who you become?)

There’s “NC”–my middle initials.  I started using them as a name when I started publishing fanfiction, because it sounded cool and vaguely author-ly.

There’s “Key,” which is basically a shortened Frankie.

There’s “Tweet,” which I got in sophomore year of university because of an inside joke between me and my friend Inah.  The nickname didn’t last, though.

There’s “Panda,” which is what the DJs of Mellow 94.7’s The Factory call me, due to my then-predilection for dancing around in a panda hoodie.

…and there’s “Lonelygirl.”

I made up “Lonelygirl” the summer I spent in Starbucks Pearl, which was incidentally the summer I was obsessed with Gossip Girl (in general) and Ed Westwick (in particular).  It was one of those summers when I desperately wanted to be in love with someone while falling out of love with someone else.  A celebrity–by nature unattainable and more than a little bit imaginary–was a great distraction, but there was still that nagging sensation in my heart (somewhere in the left ventricle) that Ed Westwick wasn’t enough.

That, coupled with the fact that I did actually spend most of those long afternoons alone, commandeering a booth at Starbucks, gave birth to the nickname “Lonelygirl at Starbucks Pearl.”  And even after I stopped going to Starbucks regularly (budget, obvs), the “Lonelygirl” name (branding?) stuck–“Lonelygirl: The Elinor Adventures”; “Lonelygirl’s Excellent Brazilian Adventure,” “hashtag-Lonelygirl.”

You could say it’s become a habit, calling myself “Lonelygirl.”  And, at least in one respect, the world would not disagree with the label.

I’ve noticed that, in the eyes of a lot of people, I’m kind of old (at a decrepit twenty-one) to have never had a boyfriend (or even a first kiss).  Even my mum’s friends’ reassurances of “You’re still so young!” are beginning to sound increasingly hesitant, followed more and more with “Maybe you haven’t been looking?” “Maybe you keep turning people down?”

To be honest, I have been looking.  Or, rather, had been.  For most of my late-teenage years I jumped from crush to crush, crashing and burning in my search for The One, or at the very least someone who fit the bill at the time.  Some of them were pretty great.  Some…not so much.  A few were very nearly something.

But, in the end, nothing happened.  Or, well, nothing that can be called a “relationship” or even a “romance.”

Throughout those years, I found myself often taking to social media to rail against my consistently-single state.  I carved a niche for myself as the “bitter-love” girl, who could be counted upon to bash romance and relationships…while at the same time writing poems full of love and longing while “On My Own” played on loop in the background.  Complaining about being single and apparently unlovable became a habit, something that defined my personality just as much as the self-proclaimed nickname of “Lonelygirl.”

…and yet, on the (very) odd chance that a guy would actually like me enough to make a move, to hint at the possibility of something, to maybe end my single state…I always shot him down.  Even when I thought I could like him–and in one case I really liked him–I said no.  I backed off.  I said I wasn’t ready for a relationship.  When he would (inevitably) ask me why, I would recite a spiel on being too immature, too emotionally unstable, too jealous, too selfish to consider having someone in my life.  I’d reel that off, rapid-fire, with all the earnestness I could muster, and in the end the boy would go on his merry way and I’d stand there thinking that perhaps that was my chance but I refused to take it.

Looking back on those years, though, I’m glad I refused to take any of those chances.  Despite the fact that I probably sounded incredibly self-righteous reciting that laundry-list of reasons, the truth is I was right.  I was, I am, not ready to be in a relationship yet, for the simple reason that this isn’t my time for romance.  Rather, it is my time for something else.

Girls are often compared to flowers, “blooming” into womanhood.  I don’t like that illustration very much–it tends to sound cheesy or vaguely obscene–but there is some truth to it, in that flowers–plants in general–are governed by seasons, by steps in growth.  You need to grow a root system first before it can flower, otherwise the weight of the blossom will cause the plant to tip over or result in a bloom that fades too early.  Plants know this, which is why some refuse to bloom when the soil isn’t rich enough or the rains haven’t come.  Instead, they wait, biding their time, gathering strength, waiting for those roots to sink down deep to support the beauty that lies ahead.

All those years I was waiting, whining, looking, and running after the ideal of romance were years that I neglected my roots in favor of trying to force flowers out of season.  But it wasn’t my time: I was neither secure, mature, nor disciplined enough for a relationship.  The proof?  My relationship with God.

There’s a reason why, in Revelation, God refers to himself as the church’s “first love”–because that is what he is supposed to be.  Your first love.  Because He is love, personified and codified in the take-no-prisoners terms of 1 Corinthians 13: patient, kind; never envious, boastful, proud, rude, self-seeking, or easily-angered; and keeping no record of wrongs.  God is an all-in-all love, and he pursues a relationship with us so that we learn to reflect the same.  He is the root system that defines the flower and, eventually, the fruit.  Without a connection to him, we are incapable of any other kind of love, whether familial or friendly or romantic.

Looking back on college-age Frankie, with her self-righteous spieling and nagging insecurities, it was obvious that I was not ready for love.  And I’m still not quite there yet now.  But instead of fighting the isolation, the “loneliness” of not having a “significant other,” I’ve learned that there really is no rush.  That there may be (will be?) season of romantic love for me, but now is not it.  Right now, I am growing roots that stretch deep into nurturing soil, drinking deep and being prepared for the next level, the next stage, and confident that when the time comes–however it manifests–God will move me forward into full bloom.

I have made peace with the “Lonelygirl” identity, because I know that even as I am “lonely”–that is, single–I am not lonely at all.  Instead, I am loved, and learning to love, so that when the time comes, I won’t feel the need to spiel, or make excuses.  I will know, because He will have told me, “It’s time to bloom where you’ve been planted.  Your season has come.”

Awakening Love


(Stay tuned for Part 6.)