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.

A study in radical self-love

One woman’s take on becoming as strong as people said she was

A study in radical self-love

I used to watch hours of Disney Channel and think of the day when I met my perfect boy who I’d walk on the beach with, hand in hand. That was fantasy. Real life wasn’t that way for me.

It seemed that as time went by, that special someone never appeared in my life. Instead, they seemed to come in the form of someone else’s boyfriend or a friend who would never see me as more than that — a friend.

Not all attention is good attention, but when you’re in high school and feeling as if you have warts on your face, any attention feels warranted. I had friends hit on by guys at parties. I had friends who had a string of relationships. That was never me. I felt invisible.

My role always seemed to fall as the best friend, mom, or pseudo sister — the person that was called on late at night, the shoulder to cry on. As the years went by, I asked myself, is there something wrong with me? “You’re the strong, independent girl,” they would tell me. “You don’t need anybody, but yourself,” they would say.

Women’s publications always tell women to love themselves unconditionally. However, little is said about finding the strength to love yourself. Regardless of how strong, independent, and amazing people told me I was, the pain of rejection and the desire for admiration still sat deep in my stomach. For a woman to look in the mirror and tell herself, “I am ok,” is a radical action that takes time and maturity.

During middle school, I fell in with the mean girl crowd, which swiftly ejected me after a couple of months. I felt lost. During that time, I buried myself in my schoolwork. It acted as my only constant. Regardless of how people treated me or the perceptions that people had of me — school would always be the same. If I put in hard work, I would get my due reward.

My dependence on schoolwork extended into my high school years. However, while school and work inhibited my insecurities and provided an output for my angst — suppression was not healing or dealing with those insecurities.

Suppression and denial landed me in a crooked pseudo relationship with a young man when I was seventeen. I never liked him in a Disney channel way, but over time, my desire for someone to see me in a more-than-friends type of way got the better of me. As I flirted and went on dates, I felt like my good sense was screaming for me to, “listen – GIRL, you’re making a terrible mistake.” Eventually, I realized that I was using this poor boy to massage my own ego. I knew that he was never who I needed, he was just a stop on the way.

On one hand, I felt selfish. School, work, and other commitments were integral to my future. There was nothing that could stop me. I felt confident in who I was and who I was becoming. On the other, I felt as if I wasn’t good enough. I felt that the markers of Disney best friends and boyfriends were absent in my life and therefore, part of me was absent.

The ending of that relationship marked the beginning of my university journey and I knew I had to choose. I was uncertain about many things, but one thing was clear — I required a paradigm shift. The insecurity I felt could not be cured by any person or multiple people.

Although my parents had programmed me to love myself at a young age, my independent realization of what that meant only began recently. It is a process where I had to look inside and see the strength that others had pointed out in me. I had to look at what I wanted and who I wanted to be.

I realized that I will be a lawyer, a disturber, and a writer. Regardless of who comes into my life, those pillars and goals will be constant. Instead of contorting myself to make others feel comfortable with who I am or be the person I think I’m supposed to be, I can be radically me.

It takes a lot of heart

As 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?

It takes a lot of heart

That zsa zsa zsu

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

By Avneet Sharma

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.

AVNEET-SHARMA
VIVIAN-XIE

Shout it to the rooftops

A clueless fourth-year finally feels love by showing it

By Vivian Xie

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.

A study in radical self-love

One woman’s take on becoming as strong as people said she was

By Gabrielle Warren

I used to watch hours of Disney Channel and think of the day when I met my perfect boy who I’d walk on the beach with, hand in hand. That was fantasy. Real life wasn’t that way for me.

It seemed that as time went by, that special someone never appeared in my life. Instead, they seemed to come in the form of someone else’s boyfriend or a friend who would never see me as more than that — a friend.

Not all attention is good attention, but when you’re in high school and feeling as if you have warts on your face, any attention feels warranted. I had friends hit on by guys at parties. I had friends who had a string of relationships. That was never me. I felt invisible.

My role always seemed to fall as the best friend, mom, or pseudo sister — the person that was called on late at night, the shoulder to cry on. As the years went by, I asked myself, is there something wrong with me? “You’re the strong, independent girl,” they would tell me. “You don’t need anybody, but yourself,” they would say.

Women’s publications always tell women to love themselves unconditionally. However, little is said about finding the strength to love yourself. Regardless of how strong, independent, and amazing people told me I was, the pain of rejection and the desire for admiration still sat deep in my stomach. For a woman to look in the mirror and tell herself, “I am ok,” is a radical action that takes time and maturity.

During middle school, I fell in with the mean girl crowd, which swiftly ejected me after a couple of months. I felt lost. During that time, I buried myself in my schoolwork. It acted as my only constant. Regardless of how people treated me or the perceptions that people had of me — school would always be the same. If I put in hard work, I would get my due reward.

My dependence on schoolwork extended into my high school years. However, while school and work inhibited my insecurities and provided an output for my angst — suppression was not healing or dealing with those insecurities.

Suppression and denial landed me in a crooked pseudo relationship with a young man when I was seventeen. I never liked him in a Disney channel way, but over time, my desire for someone to see me in a more-than-friends type of way got the better of me. As I flirted and went on dates, I felt like my good sense was screaming for me to, “listen – GIRL, you’re making a terrible mistake.” Eventually, I realized that I was using this poor boy to massage my own ego. I knew that he was never who I needed, he was just a stop on the way.

On one hand, I felt selfish. School, work, and other commitments were integral to my future. There was nothing that could stop me. I felt confident in who I was and who I was becoming. On the other, I felt as if I wasn’t good enough. I felt that the markers of Disney best friends and boyfriends were absent in my life and therefore, part of me was absent.

The ending of that relationship marked the beginning of my university journey and I knew I had to choose. I was uncertain about many things, but one thing was clear — I required a paradigm shift. The insecurity I felt could not be cured by any person or multiple people.

Although my parents had programmed me to love myself at a young age, my independent realization of what that meant only began recently. It is a process where I had to look inside and see the strength that others had pointed out in me. I had to look at what I wanted and who I wanted to be.

I realized that I will be a lawyer, a disturber, and a writer. Regardless of who comes into my life, those pillars and goals will be constant. Instead of contorting myself to make others feel comfortable with who I am or be the person I think I’m supposed to be, I can be radically me.

GABRIELLE-WARREN