When a person calls me a relationship writer, I immediately and immensely want to carry placards and chase them to the streets with wild screaming. Two reasons. One, my default response to labels is protest. I have never been able to wear tags effectively, or answer to a prescribed perception of who I am, or who people expect me to be. It is why I openly do not call myself anything. I am too afraid of someone else in that category messing things up and me having to live my entire life straightening out a faulty perception. Two, I am somewhat trying to insert myself in the literary community, and as far as ambitions go, writing about messy breakups does not feel, to me, like an effective way to gain credibility. It’s like, hey, I run a column on relationships, and people, rather stupidly, want to know how many people I have dated…successfully. And since, even I am lacking in such pursuits, I lose their trust or become the object of silly jokes. (Well done, guys.)
So generally, in my most aspirational moments, I have tried to find something else to do with this weekly exertion, something nobler, like maybe, criticisms. That, to me, feels easy enough. All I imagine it takes would be to raise my nose toward some perceived standards, then snob lesser mortals, and then, you know, write posts where I insult all of my readers. I could also focus on fiction, and maybe, in several hundred years, actually do something worthy with it. I’m thinking all of this, except there is one little problem. I have also realized, much to my horror, that at the core of my interests, when language is stripped of flowery prose, and ambitions crumble under the weight of passion, I am quite genuinely interested in human relationships.
I imagine myself as a wanderer, stumbling through life, and occasionally, by accident, opening a door that leads into myself. Like that night, in November, 2014, when I got the phone call or was it email (I’m not exactly sure now) asking me to choose a column suitable for me to produce content. I can still feel my mental detachment as I glossed through the icons, dancing my cursor back and forth the menu, wondering what exactly the options were, and finally, settling on relationships, because it was the most familiar and relatable word on the website. But I’m beginning to think now, maybe it all started long before that night. Like me, nine years old, sitting across my father at the dining table, trying to fill the air with words, like I was filling my mouth with food; that Sunday afternoon, frozen in my mind, a small moment in history that cemented the idea of human relationships to be real and complex thing, like a father and daughter, never able to fill the silence with words.
It was a drop of curiosity that soon became an ocean of hunger, and try as I did; there were not enough answers to fill me up. I wanted to know why. Why love could exist in contradiction of itself, the way an uncle had claimed he hated women, but still playfully chased the help around the living room, or the way my aunt I.J would visit, her lips purpled and broken, the stamp she had to bear for loving a man. I wanted to know about the anger that moved two brothers to bitter hatred, and how young cousins had to acquire the enmity of their parents. Then I wanted to understand the hole in my own life, the absence that pushed me to hunt for validation in violent places. I also wanted to learn why people grow together, then apart, then firmly rooted across measured spaces, living within view, but detached from real connections; adults curating their interactions to fit into acceptable boundaries.
So, even when writing and the desire to make something of my life go into hiding, I find that I have never been able to push away the hunger to understand people, and the borders within which we exist, and the connections we make, and the reasons we make those connections, but also, and maybe essentially, to understand myself. I was once confronted for being too prescriptive, and in the flurry of my defense, what I failed to mention was that the medicine was for me.
In writing about relationships, I have likely gifted myself a small redemption, the ability to hope and dream, to heal from former devastations and have my faith in human kindness restored. How? I’m still not sure. Except that every time I pour my heart on the blank screen, writing about some silly romantic experience, a new light shines on me, a flicker, a kind of peace I cannot explain. And I just know, that this is something I am going to do, because this desire to understand people is not a hunger that easily goes away.