“What is love?” I have frequently thought to myself.
Having watched one too many Korean dramas, I allowed their portrayal of love to define what love meant for me. I recall vividly the Korean drama Pinocchio, which shaped many of my ideals when it came to love.
To me, love looked like always having that “someone” there. I fantasised about having that “someone” whom I could text, call or hug whenever I was struggling. I liked this thought, and wanted to experience such love for myself too.
AND THEN I MET A BOY
“Can I have your number?”
This was how it all began, at a random staircase in our secondary school compound. He plucked up the courage to ask for my number – because of a dare. He was to ask for the number of the girl he wanted to get to know better.
Already in our final year of school, I did not see this coming.
Through the conversations that we had over text, I got the chance to know him better. Before I could catch myself, I was already smitten by him. The care and concern that he showed me made me feel so warm and cosy.
Though unsure about whether the romantic feelings were mutual at that point in time, I presumed that they were. He had asked for my number. But as my feelings for him grew, I started imposing unnecessary expectations on him, like a girlfriend would.
To make matters worse, I was a very insecure person. My insecurities constantly made me think that he’d find someone better. This made me very fearful of losing him to other girls. This incessant fear made me overly possessive of him, and I started restricting his friendships with females. It was painful for both of us.
But with O-Levels coming up, one day he expressed that it was better to cut off contact to focus on our studies first. I was crushed, but he was right. We had to focus. I had to focus.
Though I was certain that things could no longer work out between us, we found ourselves meeting again at a mutual friend’s gathering after our exams. That’s when the story turned once more.
WAS THIS TRUE LOVE?
In January 2015, he asked me to be his girlfriend.
During our time together, he was always the one who would go the extra mile. Literally, from Ang Mo Kio (where he stayed) to Bukit Panjang (where I stayed). His friends dissuaded him from being the party who gave more to the relationship, but he truly wanted the best for me, patiently travelling to where I was so I would not have to endure the long journey.
This was just one such instance of his selfless love.
I failed to appreciate this. Instead of being thankful for the things that he was doing for me, I chose to lament about the things that I deemed he wasn’t doing enough of. And I’d constantly make a big fuss out of my discontentment, which made things extremely difficult on him.
I remember one of our phone calls that lasted for hours, all the way till 3am. I was putting him down, voicing my displeasure and disappointments, and he got so upset that all he could utter was: “You’re making me feel so depressed, Sam.”
Even though he was probably tired of giving in to my never-ending demands just to make me content and happy, he never complained.
Because my concept of love was self-centred to begin with, I was ready to receive, but hesitant to give.
And even though I was on the receiving end, I was still never contented.
Because of my unyielding dissatisfaction, I found it difficult to stay in the relationship. So in order to regain that freedom of singleness and return to my search for that “someone” who could better meet my needs, I decided to call it quits by November 2015.
TIME FOR A HEART-CHECK
Little did I know how scarring a break-up could get. I didn’t expect the emotional wounds from a break-up to hurt so bad, so much more than I could imagine.
I would frantically scroll through my notifications the moment I woke up, hoping to still receive a “good morning” text from him. Or type out a message I wanted to send to him but end up deleting it.
I felt so empty, so lost. It dawned on me that he was no longer present to be my refuge. Once again, my concept of love was self-centred. I selfishly wanted him back to be that source of comfort and support that he was to me when we were together.
Because of these overwhelming emotions, I did all I could to redeem the relationship.
But things didn’t work out the way that I wanted them to – I had hurt him too badly for him to even consider returning to a relationship with me.
All along, I had pridefully believed that I was indispensable, but this break-up humbled me to realise otherwise. I wasn’t indispensable. Not everything had to go my way.
This stopped me in my tracks and from pursuing another relationship right away. Some part of me knew that there was something wrong with my definition of love.
IF THAT WASN’T LOVE, WHAT IS?
In December 2015, I casually decided to join my friend at a church youth camp, and it was there that I had an encounter that changed my life.
Since young, I had called myself a Christian, but I never truly understood what that meant. To me, God had always been this faraway figure that was hard to call upon. I was content with being a Sunday believer.
I like how my pastor puts it: “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian as much as going to McDonald’s doesn’t make you a hamburger.”
But a personal touch that I received from Him during the youth camp shifted my perspective. It dawned on me that God could also be so personal.
More than a religion, I came to learn that Christianity is a relationship. And being in a relationship, not just a religion, with God felt different.
I remember singing the song “Good, Good Father” in church and tearing up so badly.
I’ve seen many searching for answers far and wide
But I know we’re all searching
For answers only you provide
‘Cause you know just what we need
Before we say a word
You’re a good good father
It’s who you are, it’s who you are, it’s who you are
And I’m loved by you
It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am
As I sang these lyrics, God revealed something I had never considered before.
Because of my own feelings towards my own father, who had been largely absent from my life, I had always been craving a father’s love – one that could not be given by any other man but God Himself. God helped me realise that although I was lacking an earthly father, I wasn’t in any form of lack.
“We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
This verse reminded me that my reference point for perfect love must come from my relationship with God and how He loves me. This made me realise that I had been misunderstanding the concept of love all this while.
Only the Creator of love itself would have been able to give me the perfect manual of what love is.
LEARNING TO LOVE AGAIN
As I reflected on my newfound relationship with God, it dawned on me that He had been pursuing me relentlessly way before I was knitted in my mother’s womb.
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart…” (Jeremiah 1:5)
Isn’t that quite crazy to imagine? How can God be so patient in His pursuit of me?
Long before I rededicated my life to Him, He had been pursuing me for 17 years, waiting for me to turn my eyes upon Him.
Through His relentless pursuit for me, His lost sheep, I realised how God’s love is one that demonstrates commitment.
He didn’t just proclaim with words that He loves us. Rather, He sent His one and only Son, Jesus, to die on the Cross for us so that we could be reconciled to Him.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
Love is a commitment.
In my previous relationship, I had not been committed – just discontented. Afraid that I would never be able to fully understand commitment, I kept praying over this one question after I returned to God: “How can I stay committed to my future life partner?”
It was only one day after a conversation with a friend that it dawned on me: I am already in a committed relationship with God. Beyond sending Jesus to die for me, He proved unshakeable commitment by giving me chance after chance to return to a relationship with Him even when I was so difficult to love.
As I savour the goodness of His unconditional love for me, it would be futile if I tried to love my future boyfriend/husband out of my own strength or understanding.
Instead, like a portable charger that ultimately draws its power from a permanent source, I get to love my future partner by drawing from the greatest source of perfect love.
THINK + TALK
- Have the relationships you have been in self-centred, largely revolving around your own needs?
- How can we learn to love others better and not for personal gain?
- What is your understanding of selfless love? What does it look like?
- How can we build good relationships, especially romantic ones, that can last?