This is a story about the monster within me. I have grappled with it for a long time. I do not write this to make myself sound good. I wish to come to terms with it. Here we go.
One: The gentlest cruelty
One of the most difficult concepts for most of us to contemplate, is the notion that we can be cruel. We want to believe that we have the purest of intentions, that we aren’t monsters. Surely we know better. Surely we can’t be that bad.
Human cruelty is terrifying, because it doesn’t always look like cruelty. Sometimes it looks quiet and subtle, the sort any ordinary person can perform. It looks like the passengers of a plane who sat back, and watched, as someone else got brutally dragged off. It looks like the boy who said nothing, when his friends bullied a gay classmate to death.
Then, there’s the sort of cruelty we do to those who love us. It looks like a son who doesn’t call his mother during Chinese New Year. It looks like a harmless fat joke you make to a friend, using their vulnerability at their expense.
It looks like me, selfishly hanging on to a lover I’m not sure I can love.
The exact moment I peeked into my monster within, my mind went white. I grappled with it. I made up disgusting, flimsy excuses. With every rationalisation, I lost inch after inch of respect for myself. Perhaps, deep down, I recognised it. I couldn’t run away from it.
The darker aspects of my personality has always fascinated me. I’m someone who feels physical pain from knowing I’ve hurt or inconvenienced others. I couldn’t kill an ant, or a spider. I feel deep, penetrating guilt, and shame. I want desperately to believe that I am good.
Despite that, I am shockingly good at cruelty. My cruelty looks tender and warm. It hides its cowardice and selfishness with polished words, good intentions, love, and hope.
The gentlest sort of cruelty.
I know this, because for the first time in my life, I am currently someone’s girlfriend. Every morning, I wake up, and I question if I can love my boyfriend. My mind recognises a thousand things that could go wrong with our relationship. I’ve noticed myself become impatient, sharp, condescending, selfish, unreasonable.
I tell him that I may leave him, but our hands remain intertwined. I tell him I’m not sure if this is what I want, but my hands stroke his head at the same time. He looks at me with his big eyes, and I know he is wounded. I apologise, and we kiss. He holds me in his arms, and caresses my body to sleep, his heart satiated. My body dissolves into peaceful slumber, but my heart remains empty and confused.
Have I found home within him? Is effort more important than the right guy? Shouldn’t it be enough that he’s so loving and kind? Does it matter if we don’t have the best chemistry? Would things change if we kept at it?
A thousand questions race through my mind.
When did I get so selfish? When did I fear loneliness so much, that I would ignite love I’m not sure I can return, in another’s heart?
By objective standards, there is nothing wrong with my boyfriend. He is handsome, patient, and caring. Whenever he comes over, he makes sure to bring little things he knows I’d like. Smoked salmon. Tea. Blueberries. When I tell him something important, he listens attentively. He shaved clean because I made a passing joke before on how his stubble feels like sandpaper on my skin. He constantly asks how he can make my day better. He’s curated a long list of notes about me in his phone. so he doesn’t forget any details. It is full of things I’ve said, things he plans to do for me, things he wants to ask me.
He would give the world to me, in a heartbeat.
But, I am still trying my best to give the world, to him.
Two: He loved me too soon
I’ve been here before.
Prior to my current boyfriend, I was dating a loving, established man. He gave me the world too. He lavished me with gifts. He caught on to all the things I liked, and made sure he would treat me to them. He sat with me through my thesis. When I was sick, he drove an hour to see me, with a bag of medicine, then drove back. We dated casually. Enjoyed each other’s warmth. My heart was always light and happy when I was with him. We had an easy, natural chemistry. However, I remained conflicted. The only thing that was missing was physical attraction. I battled with this for ages. I wondered if I truly loved him, but I enjoyed all benefits of a wonderful relationship at the same time.
That was the first time I realised there was an ugly, shallow monster within me.
I never labelled our relationship, and made him feel insecure. We dated casually for too long. Eventually, I rejected him. Almost immediately after, I started a new one with my current boyfriend.
That was the second time I realised how cruel and thoughtless I truly was.
I allowed myself to be swept away by the thrill of having a handsome, new lover. Over time, I realised that our chemistry wasn’t quite natural. Conversations fell flat, we didn’t quite meet intellectually. I found myself mentally checking out with him. I didn’t feel the security I felt with my older, more established ex.
It’s like a demotion, I cruelly thought. Almost immediately after, this was followed with a flood of guilt and shame.
Ironically, I am a better girlfriend now with my current boyfriend, compared to my ex. I try my best to be caring, attentive, and kind. I tell him frequently that I appreciate and value him. I remind myself to be patient daily. I thank him for loving me.
In some strange way, I feel as if I am atoning for my mistakes. I feel like this is karma. I didn’t want to make my current boyfriend feel unappreciated and insecure, the way I might have inevitably made my ex feel.
The only problem was, I realised at this point that my heart belongs to my ex.
However, it was too late.
He loved me too soon, and I loved him too late.
Three: Moving Forward
I am worried that I won’t recognise love or a good thing, even if it is staring at me in the face.
Perhaps that is why I’m afraid of letting my current boyfriend go. Some part of me hangs on to the promise that it could become love, eventually. I am afraid of making the same mistake I made with my ex, of letting another good man go. I tell myself, perhaps everything takes time. Perhaps I’ve been wrong in thinking that natural chemistry is important, the way I overestimated the importance of physical attraction to me.
Ah, but then it sounds like a justification, does it not?
Perhaps, the bigger, deeper reason, is that I don’t want to be alone. I have been alone for a quarter of a century. I have had nights where the gaps between my fingers ached to be filled. I miss feeling the warmth of another. I miss being held. The world is big and cold and frightening, and I want to face it with someone by my side.
Ah, but then, it sounds like I’m a coward.
They say that life unfolds in proportion to your courage. The more you do things that frighten you, the more you discover strength within yourself.
Is it courageous to let him go now? Am I inadvertently holding him back from his true happiness?
Tomorrow, he is coming to see me. I’ve made him some ‘omurice.’ He wants to hold me in his arms, and I will let him.
As I smile warmly at him, I will quietly pray for the courage to do the right thing. If I need to let him go, I hope I can sit with the discomfort of him hating me. Perhaps that is the only place where cruelty can be useful, when it helps with emotional detachment.
Until then, I might dangerously still try my best to love him.
That is my kind of cruelty.