Redefining relationships: students share stories of romance in 2017

Four writers break down traditional notions of sex, love, and break-ups

Redefining relationships: students share stories of romance in 2017

Five months later

A third-year discusses mental health and why he hasn’t had sex in five months

By Avneet Sharma

I haven’t had sex in five months. No, I don’t want pity, and I don’t think of it as a big deal. It’s simply a matter of fact. To be honest, it never occurred to me until I started thinking about it.

Part of the reason I haven’t had sex is that one of the side-effects of my medication involves a decrease of my sex drive, although my sex drive is already low on average. The other part is that I find myself making a decision, almost subconsciously, to only pursue sex with someone I can connect with on a deep personal level.

I’m not looking for ‘the one’ or anything like that. I’m far too cynical to believe in the concept that there is a perfect person out there for me, nor do I believe that I will find this supposed perfect person in my early 20s. I guess I’m looking for a relationship.

One of my biggest priorities lately has been my mental health. I’ve taken time this summer to focus on my health, well-being, and becoming a happier person in general. For the most part, I feel a lot more confident in myself. I want to reach a point where I don’t need a relationship, but want a relationship.

The most difficult part about stating this is that I’m currently tip-toeing the fine line between being hopeful and being desperate, and I’m trying my best to be the former. I have felt a certain pressure, especially within the gay community, to pursue casual or anonymous sex. It has become something of a rite of passage for young gay men to download Grindr, a hookup app for queer men, and pursue a no-strings-attached sexual encounter with an older man.

I did this a few months into my first year. One night, I was drunkenly messaging a guy on Grindr who wanted me to come over to his bizarre apartment in Harbord Village. My most vivid memory of the night was how strange and uncomfortable I felt in his windowless bedroom with a ceiling that curved too low above his bed. It didn’t help that he was wearing cheap Old Navy flip-flops.

It was then that I realized I don’t like having sex for the sake of having sex. The fun and excitement of my sexual encounters in the past have been with people who I have known for a while and had a palpable connection with.

Does waiting for a connection before having sex make me too much of an idealist? It has been five months, but I’m not too concerned about whether it will happen again soon. Sometimes, I do have those moments of weakness where I think about speeding through the process, fixating on one guy and trying to create a connection artificially. I also start to wonder if my expectations are too high and if I should just settle for any guy who is remotely interested in me, even if it’s just an anonymous hookup.

I say this to emphasize that I am nowhere near perfect. I have moments of weakness, self-consciousness, and desperation. But when it comes to something as personal as sex, it’s important to really think about what you want in an honest and realistic manner. And remember that if you aren’t having sex now, it doesn’t have to mean anything.

AVNEET-SHARMA
VIVIAN-XIE

Will you be my metamour?

A student reflects on the intricacy and beauty of polyamory

By Vanessa Perruzza

“So, you’re polygamous?” the white boy asks me, nursing a watery beer and staring at me with inquiring eyes.

“No, that’s when one man takes many wives. I am not a man, nor am I married. I don’t practice polyandry either, which is one woman with many husbands,” I explain, tired of the same, overly simplistic explanations.

“But you said—”

“What I said was: I am polyamorous. You know? ‘Poly’ as in many? ‘Amour’ as in love? My partner and I can have other relationships in a safe and consensual way.”

It’s a conversation I’ve had countless times, and every person in a monogamous relationship has had a similar response. I distinctly recall a heated argument during Nuit Blanche a few years ago, in the very beginning of my current relationship, that truly tested my patience.

“If your boyfriend has another girlfriend, then he obviously doesn’t love you. If he loved you for real, you’d be enough for him,” someone told me. Using self-restraint that I’m still proud of to this day, I simply walked away.

Polyamory is an inconceivably gorgeous thing. Love, when it is pure and unselfish, is life-giving and wonderful. Still, many monogamous people find me dirty and selfish, when all I want to do is share the love I have.

Unlike an open relationship, where there are often no-holds-barred interactions with people outside the relationship, polyamory is more complicated and communicative. A polyamorous couple, triad, or constellation — which is an interconnected web of partners — will always communicate their needs, expectations, and limits in an open and honest way. This helps to avoid feelings of jealousy and resentment that often destroy both monogamous and open relationships.

Truly though, one of the most beautiful parts of polyamory — the part that often goes forgotten — are the metamours. That is, the partner of your partner.

In a monogamous relationship, the partner of your partner is a homewrecker. In an open relationship, the partner of your partner is a jealousy-inducing stranger. But in polyamory, the partner of your partner is the most intimate of friends; the person you can trust to have your lover’s best interests at heart, and with whom you can share things you can’t share with anyone else.

Think girl talk, but on steroids. When metamours meet, and have a good relationship, the support between them is unparalleled. In my own experience, conversations between metamours are some of the funniest you’ll overhear.

“He never used to bite before. Did he learn biting from you? Look at this bruise! I love it!”

“You’re one to talk! Was that tongue-thing your doing? Because, wow!”

Beyond sharing intimacy, having someone to care for your partner as much as you do is beautiful and it makes the stupid comments worth the trouble. If they’re sick or suffering, love is on all sides. To me, this is the best part of polyamory: I’m getting love in more way than one.

Romance, of the virtual kind

What four Tinder dates taught a student about modern human interaction

By Sonali Gill

Finding love is never easy. This little nugget of wisdom is as true today as it was 50 years ago.

Given that we live in a digital age, however, the questions surrounding love and sex have been redefined. We are increasingly relying on technology in all aspects of our lives, which is evident in the proliferation of mobile applications. Because of this I find myself asking the question: does technology improve or destroy our love lives?

My experiences with a variety of online dating apps indicate the latter. To prove my point, I am going to tell my story. To paraphrase Charles Dickens: a tale of one city and three dates.

I was unprepared for the events of Date Number One. After some heavily erotic flirting on Tinder, I met a well-built young man who was part-Iranian and part-Japanese. The awkward conversation came in stark contrast to the significant amount of build-up we experienced virtually. I extended my hand to shake his, which was decidedly unromantic, and an internal war raged inside my head: What does he want? Do we sleep together after we get coffee or before? Do we have to sleep together at all?

To myself, I marvelled at all the people who found their soulmates online. I felt like online courting lacked the spontaneity that a real-life, at-the-bar opportunity, naturally oozed. I also found that it was difficult to set boundaries, physically speaking, with someone I had just met. The pressure was ramped up in a situation that was intended as enjoyable.

While searching for Date Number Two, I got the distinct feeling that I was catalogue shopping on an Amazon-like platform. Going through the profiles of various boys on Tinder greatly resembled flipping through the features of an online catalogue of electronics or clothing. Once again, I was unprepared for the deluge of information that I received from some boys, all of which reeked of desperation. Unsurprisingly, the date didn’t go well.

After the first two disasters, I was certain the worst was over. And, for the most part, it was.

Date Number Three took place at a quaint pub somewhere on campus. I had been careful to avoid any erotic exchanges on Tinder to ensure that the bar wasn’t set high. My date was polite and instigated conversation on topics of mutual interest. We connected intellectually, but I still felt no spark. This date led me to believe that it’s probably better to go to a pub or a club if you want a raunchy night out.

The fact that even the third date didn’t go well served as testament to the hit-and-miss of online dating. When dating online, there’s massive potential to mislead people, given that people tend to portray what they think needs to be said rather than what they want to express. The chances of miscommunication are high since most online daters are busy misinterpreting emojis and punctuation marks. Therefore, it’s best to start conservatively and maintain caution in all virtual romance.

Online dating provides us with more choices than ever before which is both a strength and a weakness. The weaknesses of using technology in our romantic lives outweigh the strengths. Romances should have a solid, real-world beginning with minimum opportunities for deception, no matter what their eventual fate may be.

GABRIELLE-WARREN
VIVIAN-XIE

The breakup

How heartbreak was experienced from the ending of a friendship

By Gabrielle Warren

Music albums are powerful. There comes a moment when albums deviate from their original meaning and somehow mould to your life; they become one with an experience or a period of time.

For me, A Seat at the Table by Solange was one of those albums. When it first came out, I didn’t know what its full significance would be. While the entire album encompasses me, one of its most important features was helping me navigate through a breakup.

University is a difficult period. It’s a time when so many things are changing and you are constantly learning about yourself. In Freshman year, I broke up with one of the first people I might have loved. In sophomore year, I broke up with a person I considered a very close friend.

In retrospect, it was the friendship that impacted me most. Even to this day, I have a strong reaction when I think of that time. Everyone wants to talk about romantic breakups. There are whole genres dedicated to the topic of falling in and out of romantic love but few speak about what it means to fall out of love with a friend. Perhaps it’s because it hurts more. To write about it would mean you would have to encounter it.

Friendship is a slow burn. A flame that only gets stronger each interaction. A burn that moves beyond the mental and reaches the spiritual. Romance can exist without friendship, but friendship cannot exist without itself.

I believe that it is the spiritual nature of friendship that makes that breakup hurt more. The exchange of life experiences means that there is a human who holds a piece of who you are. Even when you are torn apart by circumstance — they’ll always hold you.

A month before the official breaking point, I began to feel a disconnect. When we talked, the subjects hadn’t changed but the spirit had. My mind wandered toward other things and people. The glee of our get-togethers had faded. Now silence and apathy filled the space that joy once occupied. The feeling was mutual.

It was late at night. My nose was running. I was stressed for a test I had the next week. A notification popped on my screen. As I began to read, frustration turned into anger. The content of the text included things that needed to be said, things I knew to be true, and things that could not be taken back.

I began to play “Mad.” Solange crooned in my ear, “You got the light, count it all joy. You got the right to be mad. But when you carry it alone you find it only getting in the way. They say you gotta let it go.”

After the song finished, I stared at the long message. I didn’t know what to do. Could we still be friends after this? Some things are better left unsaid. Where could we go from this point?

“Where Do We Go” began to play; it was as if Solange herself was with me, asking the same questions I was thinking: “And I don’t know where to go. No, I don’t know where to stay. Don’t know where to go. And I don’t know where to stay. Where do we go from here? Do you know? Where do we go from here?”

When the song ended, I found some strength. I responded to her text. It was difficult and long. I apologized if I had been a bad friend and claimed I needed time. In reality, I knew that those things that had been said would always be a wall between us. A wall that would cause insecurity and mistrust. I didn’t want that for them or for myself.

Finally, “Don’t Wish Me Well” began to play. Like a song at the end of an emotional movie, it reassured me: “And I’m going all the way. But I’ll leave on the lights for you…I’m going all the way. And now you’re almost out of view.” That moment felt like the end of a sitcom. A sense of sadness that something so beloved would not return, but also a sense of relief that we can move on to new stories.

“Success has no time limit”

A science student reflects on the meaning of success during the summer months

“Success has no time limit”

When I’m feeling unmotivated or inadequate, I like to read the success stories of notable scientists for inspiration. Lynn Margulis, for example, is a renowned pioneer of the endosymbiotic theory central to cellular evolution. Her work was rejected by 15 journals, and she was once told that her research was “crap” — told never to apply for a grant again. Robert Sternberg, former President of the American Psychological Association, was considered a failure by most of his grade-school teachers, and his introductory psychology professor told him to consider another major. Sternberg later graduated in the top five per cent of his class at Yale University.

To a third-year Life Sciences student like me, these stories are a beacon of hope. I can understand all too well the pressure to fast-track in school and to keep busy after school. This is especially true when it comes to engaging in summer research.

Long before summer even approached, my friends and peers were already planning the courses they would be taking, considering the internships they had been offered, and preparing for the research position interviews they had lined up. I know students who have interned with organizations like the World Health Organization over the summer and have had their work published in journals like Nature.

Amidst all of this, I was not among the lucky few who managed to fill up their calendar in preparation for a productive summer. I had the gnawing feeling that I was doing something wrong.

Going to a school like U of T doesn’t do much to ease this feeling. The university boasts about its numerous summer research opportunities for undergraduate students, but I can vouch that the competition is fierce and finding a position is no easy task.

If you’re a science student, you’ll know what I mean when I say that getting involved in research is something that is drilled into your head from day one. Not only is it reinforced in our courses, there’s also no shortage of seminars and newsletters on campus offering advice on how to get started in research. On top of that, graduate programs certainly like seeing research on your resume.

If I’m being completely honest, before my second year, I hadn’t really given much thought to how I was going to spend my summer. I soon realized that this attitude wasn’t going to cut it. No longer are we praised simply for getting good grades; now, the stakes are higher, and our performance is assessed even after the school year ends.

I wanted to do research, but I was severely lacking when it came to experience. So I joined the Model United Nations group on campus, started volunteering at hospitals, and contributed to a number of science outreach groups both on and off campus instead. I probably spent more time fulfilling the responsibilities of these positions than I did on my actual schoolwork during the year.

Feeling more confident about my résumé, I began sending it out to every research program in Toronto as soon as applications opened in the winter. And then I waited. When the weeks turned into months and I still hadn’t heard back, I was faced with the prospect that I might have no job for the summer. The ‘break’ became less like something to look forward to and more like something to dread.

I was later surprised to find that one of the principle investigators to whom I sent an application did reach out to me, meaning that I’ll be spending my summer doing research at a hospital downtown.

The experience made me realize something: there is a culture of toxicity among science students. We are expected to succeed in as little time as possible, and this expectation is compounded when it comes to summer. As such, I wrongly felt that I had failed to fulfill a requirement that I ought to have achieved during the summer.

I felt inadequate because I believed that a research position defined my success as a science student.

Reading the success stories of great scientists helps suppress those thoughts. Knowing their stories, it becomes obvious that success has no time limit.

Slowly, but surely

During the toughest of times, a student works to rebuild his faith in the kindness of friends and the world around him

Slowly, but surely

It’s Friday night. As usual, Michael phones me to ask to go out for drinks. As usual, I can’t, because I’m dealing with yet another issue at home.

“Again?” he says.

“Yeah, sorry. Maybe next week.”

I know next week won’t work either. It’s hard to decide what’s worse: having to turn down friends for reasons they do not really understand and that I’ve never fully explained — even if they do try to empathize — or being cut out completely from their social lives because they stop sending the invitations after I say no enough times.

The reasons for my social isolation are surprisingly simple. Over the summer, my mother fell ill, leaving me suddenly responsible for things like taking care of the family home, managing the finances and bills, and shopping and cooking for myself, my brother, and my mother. All this goes on while I am still juggling being a full-time student, involvement in student politics and campus life, applying for graduate school, and everything else that someone my age deals with.

Of course, trying to balance school with “adulting” as we have cutely started calling it, is something that anyone with experience living on their own has done. But it is made significantly more arduous with the real-world implications of your parent being in hospital or at home recovering with you.

You might assume the biggest repercussions that arise are academic, but this has not been the case for me. After explaining to a professor that I would be missing a class to pick up my mom from the hospital, she very graciously offered any accommodation I would need throughout the semester without me having to ask. My college’s administration was also quick to help me navigate the plethora of bursaries and awards available to help with my financial situation.

I’ve found that the worst repercussions are social. Friends, understandably, do not know how to respond to situations like mine. People who have not experienced this kind of hardship are rarely sure what to do besides a well-intentioned Facebook message stating that they’ll be there for me if I need anything. One friend ordered me a pizza once, which is actually more helpful than it sounds.

After the initial ‘hope you’re okay’ message, what would be really helpful is companionship. Inevitably, people worry about how to act around me and sometimes avoid any interaction at all, out of indecision over what actions or words might fracture my apparently eggshell exterior. One outcome is that people never mention that anything is wrong, while another is that people only ever mention that something is wrong.

After a couple weeks of not hearing from Michael, I shoot him a message. “Hey, how come you haven’t been in touch for a while?” I ask.

“You seemed really busy, so I didn’t want to bother you,” he responds. But even at the worst of times, hearing from friends is never a bother.

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It can sometimes be easy to let yourself slip into despair about everything.

[/pullquote-default]”Why aren’t my ‘friends’ even asking if I’m doing okay?” I later vent to a friend.

“Probably because you don’t give them any indication that you need their support,” she suggests. And she’s right. I continually refuse to reach out to most people and ask for help, so how would anyone know?

At the same time, there are some who, without fail, always ask very personal questions about how my life is going. “Are you doing okay? How has everything been?” asks the boss of my summer job every time I had to meet with her. There’s an infuriating, unspoken emphasis on “everything.”

She was reducing my identity down to the bad things in my life and doing so only makes it harder for me to move on. I always give the honest truth, even when people just ask to be polite. Rationally, all of this is, of course, a contradiction. I cannot have it both ways: I should either want people to ask me how I’m doing or not.

On top of this is the guilt. When those impossibly few people who both ask about my problems but do not ask too much, I agonize that I will be the one to talk too much. It is very easy to get sucked into despair and lose faith in those around me, either because they do not seem to care or because I do not want them to care too much.

“I want you to like me for me, not because you are worried that I have nobody else to vent to,” I confide to a close friend after a particularly difficult time.

Their response helps enormously: “Talking with you is one of the highlights of my day, even when the conversations are hard.” I never tell them just how much it helps to hear that.

All of this is just the new normal. It can sometimes be easy to let yourself slip into despair about everything. Most people are good people who do want to help, but that understanding is very easily buried under the belief that most people just do not care.

It takes a lot to rebuild that kind of faith in others, and it would be very easy to hold on to that negative belief system. But I’m working on it  slowly, but surely.

The Belief Issue of The Varsity Magazine is on stands March 22. Read more on magazine.thevarsity.ca.

Moments of light

An awkward encounter on Toronto Island keeps one girl believing in happiness

Moments of light

It takes a lot of heart: an eventful year both on campus and abroad, 2016 was a divisive year for a lot of us. As another year begins, this series of personal essays invites you to ponder this question: where is the love?


Last year was absolute and complete garbage. By the start of this year, we found ourselves in a decidedly more violent, tense, and terrifying world. Throughout it all though, the minuscule instances of light make me get up every morning and look forward to potential moments of happiness.

More than anything, my happiness depends heavily on my friendships. If it wasn’t for my friends, I could easily say that I wouldn’t be here today. My friends are my source of support and provide me with light in the darkest of times. I would like to take a moment to dissect and separate the good moments from the mess that threatens to eat us up.

I become most aware of my own happiness under the clear skies of summer. The happiness that I feel when enveloped in the warmth of the summer is almost palpable.

Last summer, my friends and I went to have a picnic on the Toronto Islands, in an attempt to enjoy the last of the lingering heat. The day started as a struggle: the ferry took ages; we felt like we were being swallowed by the sun; the food became soggy; and we didn’t pack nearly enough water as we should have.

We eventually found a cozy picnic table and I blasted my Troye Sivan playlist throughout the silence of the island; we ate and babbled about all sorts of irrelevant nonsense. At one point, my friend and I decided to go to the bathroom, bringing a camera to indulge our shallow hearts with mirror selfies.

We found a washroom with the door propped open. My friend headed to the stall right away, while I puckered my lips in front of the mirror and reapplied my lipstick.

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If it wasn’t for the people I love and their constant support and kindness, waking up every day would be absolutely meaningless.

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I was in the middle of my best Kim Kardashian expression when a tall, bald man emerged from one of the stalls. He gave me a curious look as he reached for the sink and I stared at him with wide eyes. Minutes passed as he washed his hands and all I did was stare, transfixed by this man who, as far as I was concerned, could be a pervert.

“I’m sorry, but what are you doing here?” I finally asked him, my voice trembling slightly as I looked at the man.

“Um, washing my hands?” He replied, looking almost scared of me, a 20-year-old girl with the body of a 12-year-old boy.

“This is the girls’ washroom though. I know the door was opened, so it’s all good if you made a mistake,” I said.

He looked from me to the door, back to me and back to the door. He finally walked over, pulling the door back to reveal a sign that said MEN in bold, black lettering.

It was my turn to look at the door to the man, back to the door and back to him. I bowed my head in shame and mumbled a quiet apology as he practically ran out of the washroom.

Each ensuing wave of laughter echoed through the walls and vibrated back to me. My friend, who had practically left me to die in shame, joined me and her laughter mixed with mine. She stepped out of the stall and I grasped onto her for support, our uncontrollable giggling obnoxiously reverberating throughout the tight space of the washroom.

Still committed to our original mission, she grabbed her camera and pointed it to the mirror as we tried our best to pose through the laughter seizing our bodies, each snort breaking our regained composure again and again. We left the washroom hanging off each other, chortling every time we shared a look.

It turned out to be the best day of the summer. If it wasn’t for the people I love and their constant support and kindness, waking up every day would be absolutely meaningless. Even if the worst were to happen, I’d still have these small moments of light to look forward to.

Self-hate to self-love

How one woman returned to school with fear, doubt, and bipolar disorder

Self-hate to self-love

It takes a lot of heart: an eventful year both on campus and abroad, 2016 was a divisive year for a lot of us. As another year begins, this series of personal essays invites you to ponder this question: where is the love?


I hated myself. I hated that I have limits, I hated that I have doubts, that I have fears, that I can’t do what others can. I hated that I am disabled, that I feel lost, that most of the time I feel broken, that I don’t trust today, tomorrow, that I see emptiness, loss, anger, confusion…

I hate me.

But I can’t lie, this has been my life for a long time. I hated every aspect of myself for years, regretted my lot in life, and despised the cards I was dealt. All of it.

I have bipolar disorder and I hate that too.

People would mention the concept of self-love, but that had been too elusive, a fleeting moment in the back of my thoughts, like a spider’s web catching all the refuse, shredded. Why would I bother with self-love when I can so easily break down into fragments of manic highs and depressive lows?

This time last year, I reached the apex of that garbage-ridden journey of self-hatred, frustration, and despair. Sitting in front of a computer screen, surrounded by an office cubicle, bathed in harsh, florescent lights of my day job. Knowing that I was smart, that I had talent, but wholeheartedly believing that I just simply couldn’t. Couldn’t do anything but push papers and blink under that harsh light. But I’d had enough — enough lack of will, enough absence of motivation.

What was my life? An endless battle of ‘I can’t’ and ‘that isn’t my life.’ Why? Because of mental illness? I’d gaze out the tinted window of the twenty-first floor, Queen’s Park in the distance with the university’s buildings just grazing my line of vision.

The words ‘why me?’ slowly became ‘why not me?’

I wanted to go back to school. I’d wanted to for years. To reinvent myself. To see how far, truly, I could go. To test my own illness — this battle of emotions constantly raging inside me — to see if truly, I could be me. Without self-loathing. Without despair. Without damn self-pity.

And possibly with a little success. I decided to investigate if it was even possible for me to return to school. I made the calls, still filled with doubt. I conversed with my partner, with trepidation. I registered for classes, with fear.

Then I quit my job. This decision wasn’t borne from a manic-induced bout of impulse. This decision, the decision that was to forever change the course of my life, was meticulously thought out and carefully planned. And for a small moment, I felt capable. Just a little bit of competence.

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Today, I know self-kindness, self-care.

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When classes started, doubt poured over me once again. Conversations with my partner would start with questions like, ‘What business do I have being in school with peers who are half my age?’

‘What if I dysregulate?’

‘What if they all find out just how crazy I really am?’

What if, what if, what if?

My partner always responded, ‘Then we will deal with that, too. In the meantime, go to class.’

The semester continued, I attended classes as best I could, riding my bike to and from campus. I met other students. I even told one peer that I had bipolar disorder. I wrote my finals, and I did well.

I started to forget that I hated myself.

The following semester, I applied for a position with a student club. I began to lead a registered study group. I got to know my peers and professors. I wove my life around campus, around the bustle of academia. Delving into projects and research, I even garnered a research position at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

Doubt began to fade, replaced by a glimmer of confidence. The fear of my illness shuffled to the back of my mind, pushed out by papers and learning and grades. Possibilities of a bright future began to bud.

A bright future for me, that I carved out for myself. With my own two hands.

I wrote my finals, I turned in well-crafted, purposeful papers, I earned respectable grades. And I began to smile. To feel pride and accomplishment.

And a little bit of love. Self-love.

One year ago, I sat in that office chair, at that cubicle, gazing out the twenty-first floor window. Gazing at the university. Self-hatred, self-loathing. A self-image buried under years of carving a box for myself and filling it with memories of hospitalizations, of therapy, of medications, and perceived failures.

A week ago, after I’d finished my finals, as the grades started pouring in, my partner wrapped his arms around me and said, ‘I’m so proud of you. Look at what you’ve accomplished. You did it.’

Writing this, I feel hope and promise. I see possibility and excitement. Today, I know self-kindness, self-care.

Today, I’ve learned self-love. I faced a decades-old fear — that having bipolar disorder would forever pigeon-hole me into despair. I still have limits, doubts, and fears, but I don’t hate myself.

In fact, I love myself. Just a bit.

Me(n) in the mirror

A third-year discovers herself through past lovers

Me(n) in the mirror

It takes a lot of heart: an eventful year both on campus and abroad, 2016 was a divisive year for a lot of us. As another year begins, this series of personal essays invites you to ponder this question: where is the love?


“Is he looking? Is he walking towards us?”

“He’s totally smiling at you. Look at me, pretend I said something funny.”

“Do you think he’ll ask me out? On a date?”

He never asked me out. He thought I was cool, a “one of the guys” kind of girl, but not girlfriend material. His rejection hurt, and truthfully, it was the most painful experience I ever endured at the age of 12. Heartbreak left me as quickly as love found me, and I moved on.

In retrospect, my first heartbreak was child’s play, a joke compared to more recent experiences. However, it changed my perspective on boys and what they found desirable in girls. I convinced myself that intelligence was a turnoff; that having long hair, a full face of makeup, and a large chest was what made a girl attractive.

At the beginning of my journey to understand feminism, I believed that strong women were independent in their personal lives — solitude was the key to personal happiness, after all. I learned that shutting people out was a lot easier than dealing with the truth.

I internalized the fear of rejection and the obsessive need to be a “strong” woman until it ruined my body image, self-esteem, and relationships with people. I lost sight of who I was. In my spiral of self-destruction, male attention became my drug — except this time, I no longer cared about the possibility of rejection. I simply needed the hollowness inside my chest to dissipate. How could I fear being unwanted when I did not want myself?

I threw myself at every boy: the good, the bad, the toxic. I wanted their validation. I needed it. I began to fall in love, hard. I have loved three boys so far. Let’s call them Jesse, Keith, and Jack (not their real names). Each one has had an influence on my personal growth throughout adolescence.

[pullquote-default]I fell in love with each boy hoping I would find self-acceptance and self-love.[/pullquote-default]

Jesse was Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome with a charismatic, witty, and sarcastic personality. To my younger self, at the impressionable age of 18, he was perfect. He was my first lover, the first man to see me in my most vulnerable state. He showed me the beauty of sexuality, and the agency I had in exploring my own. I grew hungry for our nights together, tangled in between the sheets, lost in our own secluded world. Every kiss ignited a new passion, and every sigh spoke of promises I believed he would keep. The relationship Jesse and I shared was brief, but it was sensual, intense, and seductive.

Keith was a skater who cared more about smoking pot on the weekends than getting into university and receiving a post-secondary education. He was an angry, rebellious teenager who possessed a compassionate heart. Despite his lack of motivation and ambition, I saw potential in him, and refused to let him throw away his bright future for nights of partying and getting high. As our relationship grew, I discovered that underneath the hostility and laziness was a talented poet. Poetry, to Keith, was personal and too important for him to study at a post-secondary institution. Although we haven’t spoken to one another since high school, he occasionally sends me drafts of his latest pieces.

Jack was a childhood best friend. He was the shoulder I could cry on, the one constant in my dramatic teenage life. He was my person and I was his. There was not a single thing he did not know about me. My childhood would have been different without him — without his optimism, patience, and cheerful spirit. While numerous confessions about romantic feelings were made during our friendship, we never dated. It became apparent that a friendship like ours was hard to come by, and we weren’t willing to take the risk for a chance at love.

I realize now that Jesse, Keith, and Jack were reflections of the qualities I wanted to see in myself. I fell in love with each boy hoping I would find self-acceptance and self-love. Jesse was the first boy to see all of me; his male attention gave me confidence in my body, and in female sexuality. Prior to my relationship with him, I resented my body, and it was in my relationship with Jesse where I accepted my body the way it was. I didn’t crave Jesse’s touch, rather, I hungered for the effect my body had on him: the power I had in claiming my sexuality.

Keith was the boy I believed in wholeheartedly. I was never the smartest student, merely average. My parents were strict and expected straight As. In hindsight, I think I was invested in his success because I saw myself in him — I needed him to succeed, to believe that I could have success if I put my mind to it.

Jack mirrored the independence I needed, both self-assurance and reliability. He taught me to depend on myself during times of need, to begin a lifelong friendship with myself.

I didn’t know how to find self-love until I subconsciously looked for boys I saw pieces of myself in. For the majority of my childhood and early adolescence, I believed that the reason I felt empty and incomplete was because I hadn’t found my other half, my soulmate, to complete me. It never occurred to me that I am my own soulmate.

That zsa zsa zsu

Following a mediocre first date, a second-year falls in love with the city instead

That zsa zsa zsu

Standing in the middle of aisle five and debating between the regular and “Heal-Fast” ointments at the Shoppers across from Mod Club, I realized that I had finally found love.

It started with a first date — the first date I’d ever had. I donned a pair of navy blue Steve Maddens for the special occasion, feeling stylish as I paired it with my green cable knit sweater that made me feel like Lola Kirke in Mistress America. Needless to say, it didn’t turn out too well.

Staring into my grande chai tea latte, now half-empty and looking frothy and unappetizing, I didn’t know how I could get through more awkward silences, tense laughter, and overall anxiety.

I didn’t expect to find love on my first date, but I was hoping there would have at least been a spark, or as Carrie Bradshaw would say, that zsa zsa zsu which would at least indicate the possibility of love.

It can be difficult to find that zsa zsa zsu, especially in a city like Toronto where the options are so limitless that we feel constrained. I wanted to connect with a person who gave me butterflies. In a period of my life where I felt increasingly apathetic and lonely, I was looking for someone who I would want to be with all the time. If he was cute, that would be a bonus.

Instead, I ended up walking down Queen Street, going to the Eaton Centre alone after the date. He had just told me that he didn’t want to lead me on, and that he just wanted to be friends. I didn’t want to admit it, but I felt the same way. I didn’t find love in Toronto that night.

Later, hanging out at a friend’s place, I pulled out my phone and noticed that a stranger had texted me, offering to sell me their ticket to see Tokyo Police Club at the Mod Club. A few weeks before, I had posted on the Facebook event page looking for a ticket. I resolved to not being able to go when no one responded.

Now it was 9:30 pm. Their set was starting in half an hour, and I had the opportunity to see them. A meticulous planner, I don’t consider myself impulsive. Any other night, it would have been ridiculous to go to a concert when I didn’t plan to. It was even more ridiculous to trust a complete stranger and send them an e-transfer.

But that night, I felt spontaneous. Five minutes later, I found myself in an Uber to the Mod Club, arriving just in time to purchase a drink and secure myself a spot on the balcony. As the band walked on stage and played the first chords of “Not My Girl,” I felt that zsa zsa zsu. I didn’t need to find love in Toronto – I needed to fall in love with Toronto.Depression and generalized anxiety prevented me from falling in love with Toronto sooner in the one and a half years I’ve lived here. The transition to university, one that I romanticized in my high school years, had been marred by loneliness and, most of all, disappointment. I thought my narrative as a gay teenager unable to fit in at the suburbs would be rectified while living in the city.

Instead, like many students, I found the transition to university difficult. In the midst of essays, tests, and assignments, I never felt like I was truly part of the city.

Living in Toronto gave me the opportunity to be spontaneous. Best of all, it gave me the opportunity to turn a weird day into a wonderful evening alone. The biggest mistake I’ve made is staying in the mindset that being alone is inherently a bad thing.

It’s fun not always having to worry about someone else. It’s nice not having to deal with awkward silences, tense laughter, and overall anxiety. Instead, I could spend a Friday night sipping on a rum-and-coke and belt out the lyrics to “Favourite Colour” with a group of strangers who loved Tokyo Police Club as much as I did.

Shout it to the rooftops

A clueless fourth-year finally feels love by showing it

Shout it to the rooftops

I recently learned that I’ve been pronouncing love in Chinese incorrectly my entire life. The “ai” sound is like “I”. My second generation tongue has been saying it like the e in “egg.” What I thought had been the authentic pronunciation turned out to be a bastardized form of the true word, a fitting metaphor for my relationship to the feeling itself.

Growing up in a Chinese household taught me to save my emotions for when I was by myself, away from the judging gaze of others. This pertained to all emotions: approval, disapproval, pleasure, sorrow. Crying was a sign of weakness, rage a sign of no control. Happiness was reserved for the best of occasions.

The expression of love was no different. My family defies the idea that Asian families are foreign to the concept of love. We say “I love you” regularly, hug, exchange good-night kisses. But outside, under public scrutiny, there is no handholding, no hugging, no indication that we are a tight-knit family.

As a result, I only knew love to be something that should be hidden, reserved for private, and it manifested in multiple facets of my life. My friendships were all tentative and short-lived. Once the school year ended, and we ascended the educational ladder, we moved onto the next friend as though our schoolyard games of four-square and basketball never happened. More telling was the fact that my relationships, romantic or otherwise, were all based on the unstated mutual agreement that there would be no exhibition of love or support.

I recall one friendship I had in middle school with two girls, both Chinese. We hung out at recess, stuck together for group projects, and were never seen without at least one other. Yet, we never did anything to let the each other know how much we loved them.

Perhaps we thought it was too corny. Perhaps we operated under the idea that true friends expressed love through mild insults and teasing. Or perhaps we were all unable to reconcile the idea that love in a relationship could be expressed without being fake. If anything, our form of love was more inauthentic. Without expressing love outright, jealousy and envy weaseled their way between us when anyone achieved anything. The love that I had for them never felt real. It always felt like something I had to act out, a daily performance of false compliments and forced smiles.

University challenged my perspective of love and its expression. In first-year, I saw but three people on a semi-regular basis. Our fear of showing each other care and affection is perhaps the biggest reason I have little contact with them now. A romantic relationship I allowed to fizzle out ended in part because he thought I was “distant,” something that confused me until recent reflection.

I loved them all, but they never knew it.

It wasn’t until third-year that I started to form long lasting friendships. The major difference I noticed was the open expression of positivity and support for one another (in between the roasting). After the first time we went to a bar together, my closest friend turned to ask before departing on the subway, “Do you like hugs?” I gave her a startled nod before thinking it through and was suddenly encased in her arms. It was then that I realized I enjoyed this concept of love, one that was unhindered, unequivocal, and unafraid to be known.

Allowing myself to show love, unrestricted from notions of shame or embarrassment, opened the path to feeling it without pretense. And this isn’t limited to feeling love. I cry more than ever now at heart-wrenching films, I shout with joy when my friend gets into graduate school. I will clap my hands in excitement when someone I meet shares the same geeky interests as I, and I let my dearest friends and family know how much I love them.

Why should we pretend we are all unfeeling automatons?  We experience emotions, we feel joy and sadness and anger and love. Sometimes, it’s only after we show emotion that we realize what it is we’re feeling.