If you’ve heard the song “Let It Go” by James Bay, you’ll know that it is something special. It begins with a soft drone-like sound emerging from the fog of silence before melting into a guitar riff that is both wistful and haunting, treading the fine line between hope and regret.
Bay’s hollow voice captures the ever-present struggle between his silent longing and yet his resignation and surrender to the harsh realities of life:
To be free, you must let go.
Listening to the song gave me the feeling of sorrow that I admired, but never felt for myself.
Until I did.
I never saw it coming. Looking back, there were signs, but each time, I had ignored them, rejected them and brushed them aside. Maybe, I couldn’t understand their importance. Maybe, I secretly didn’t want to believe that they were true.
I thought everything was going so well when in fact, she was quickly drifting farther and farther away.
We weren’t always that way though. In fact, things were never that way. Jade and I probably had the most effortless and intimate relationship that anyone could ever have.
Our friendship began when I walked into a study room wearing a sweatshirt with Chinglish on it. She looked at it, looked at me and started laughing. We hit it off instantly, but it wasn’t until February of the following year when we really took off. On Valentine’s Day, we both agreed to record a cover song for fun since we both loved singing. At the time, both of us were not interested in relationships or impressing members of the opposite gender.
That mentality was exemplified when I unintentionally, yet comfortably farted in front of her while we were taking a break between recordings.
Our relationship was the type of friendship woven together by ever-flowing conversation, in which we could never stop laughing or smiling or trolling each other.
When we stopped, we bared our hearts and souls to each other, revealed our darkest secrets and loved each other nonetheless. Even in our imperfections, we continued to love.
It was the type of friendship that was rooted in vulnerability, honesty and trust. It was the type of friendship that basically had all the stuff that lifelong relationships are made of.
I still remember the last week we spent together before I flew back home to Asia for the summer. She had moved her stuff into my apartment and taken up her own corner of the room. Every day, we would go somewhere new whether it was a rustic Italian restaurant on Melrose, a new Disneyland ride or a beautiful park in her hometown. Every night, we would watch Bob’s Burgers until one of us would doze off in the arms of the other. However, there was one thing I will remember and treasure more than all the others.
The morning after the first night, I woke up and walked over to Jade’s bed to wake her up. Her hair was scraggly, her skin was oily, her eyes were bare without eyeliner and her lips were chapped. I pulled her out of bed and we went to the washroom to brush our teeth.
As we stood next to each other, I looked at the girl I loved. According to her, she looked like “sh*t”. To me, she was as beautiful as the night we went on our first date. As we brushed our teeth, I continued to look at her through the mirror.
Despite her disheveled hair and baggy eyes, I saw a girl who I wanted to experience the mundane, the regularity and routine of daily life with.
I saw someone who I wanted to wake up to every day, kiss goodbye as I left for work and kiss goodnight as we both retreat to our own sides of the bed.
I saw a girl who I wanted to sacrifice for day after day and year after year. I saw a girl who I wanted to share a real, long-lasting life with.
Three months later, Jade told me that she no longer wanted to be with me.
To put it simply, both of us wanted different things in life. I was someone who enjoyed stability and was easily satisfied, while she was, at heart, a free spirit who craved adventure and novelty.
When I first heard those dreaded words on Skype, I was devastated. I begged her for more time. I wanted to win her back and give her the thrill that she desired. I wanted to control the path and outcome of our relationship. I wanted nothing else, but to continue brushing my teeth next to her in the morning.
In the days that followed, I struggled to carry on with daily life. I felt my heart ache for the first time, an ache that would not stop no matter how hard I tried. Memories, past arguments and mistakes ran rampant through my mind. I couldn’t stop looking at myself in the mirror and thinking about all the things I could’ve done.
As I dwelled within my grief, several profound truths began to take root in my mind and my heart. After several days of deep reflection and soul-searching, I flew back to the U.S., ready to hear those dreaded words in person.
On Sunday evening, we sat down on her bed and she made her final decision. We hugged and cried in each other’s arms, but in the midst of all the sadness was peace.
As I looked into her swollen and tearful eyes, I saw the girl from the day we met, the girl who I so desperately wanted to be a part of my life. I thought to myself, “Shouldn’t I be angry? Shouldn’t I wish for her to fail?”
Strangely enough, I could not bring myself to feel any anger or resentment towards her.
All I felt was love.
Why did I still feel love, despite the fact that I had just been dumped for something I couldn’t control or make up for? It was because I finally understood three simple truths:
1. You can’t control everything. Make plans, but ultimately go where life takes you.
Jade was my first girlfriend and thus, I wanted to do everything I could to make sure the relationship worked out. I wanted something long-term and I didn’t want to date for purely enjoyment’s sake. I constantly thought about our future, how I could maximise the chance of us being in the same country for a prolonged period of time, how I could get a work visa and how we could move to my home country if we became lifelong partners. In all of this incessant planning, I lost myself in worries for the future, my desire to remain with her and my fear of separation.
In the end, none of my planning mattered. Our relationship never reached the dates in which important decisions needed to be made and it is both a pity and a relief. As for the future, I’m learning to accept uncertainty, failure and difficulties as natural parts of life and that learning from each experience makes you a stronger and wiser person.
2. In life, things aren’t always good or bad, right or wrong or better or worse. Sometimes, they’re just different.
When Jade told me that she wanted someone who could make her feel more passion, more excitement and more butterflies, I was taken aback. I thought my virtues, personality traits and moderately good looks would warrant her love. Who wouldn’t want to be with someone who always tries to put their partner’s needs before theirs?
As I struggled to understand, my parents shared a perfect analogy with me.
Imagine you’ve always liked eating Chinese food. You’ve grown up with it and it fulfils a deep desire inside your heart. One day, someone brings you a plate of Italian pasta. It could be the best dish from a Michelin 3 star restaurant. You take a bite, but you say, “It’s good, but I’ll still go back to eating my Chinese food.”
It’s not that the Italian food is objectively better or worse than the Chinese food. It’s just that they’re different and that you like what you like. I realised that what we wanted was just different. Her preference for excitement and passion may have initially come across as frivolous and myopic, but I realised that she was entitled to what she liked and I had no reason to judge her for that.
This truth not only applies to relationships, but virtually every other facet of life in which there is conflict over preferences and values. It is so easy to judge and demean other people’s beliefs merely because they’re different from yours. Within the parameters of basic human decency, diversity should be accepted and embraced.
3. Real love is giving someone the freedom to love you. If you truly love them, you must learn to let them go.
The world often tells us that if you truly love something, you should do everything you can to get it, keep it and never let it go. When it comes to relationships, it’s easy to fall into the same mentality. We often take a possessive approach towards our partners, seeing them as someone, or even something, we own.
When Jade wanted to leave, my first instinct was to hold onto her and to do everything I could to keep her from leaving. I thought that if I really loved her, I would fight for her. However, I was wrong.
My parents helped me to understand this truth when they connected this principle to my plans for the future. Having spent three years in Los Angeles, I fell in love with the city and the career possibilities in the West Coast. I did not want to return home because I wanted to explore the world, take risks and make my own way for myself. Even though it deeply hurt my parents to see me leave home and desire a life away from them, they gave me the freedom to choose. Because they truly loved me, they understood that forcing or coercing me to return was not genuine love. They wanted me to be able to choose what I loved and if I did not choose them, they would let me go.
As I heard them tell me this, I was moved to tears. I finally understood my mother and father’s heart and the emotional pain they would accept for me to choose freely. Furthermore, I realised that if I truly loved Jade, I would follow in my parents’ footsteps.
If I truly loved her, I would let her go to be free to find the right person for herself.
Several weeks have passed since that Sunday. Generally speaking, my heart has been at peace. I still feel bouts of sadness now and again when I pass a spot we used to hang out at, when I hear a song we used to sing together and when I’m alone and I think about how much I enjoyed her existence and company.
Maybe in time, these feelings of sadness will fade, but for now, I will cherish the memories and the friendship that we shared. I know that a part of my heart will always be with her, whether or not I meet someone new.
I’ve learned a lot about what love really is over the past weeks. Love is complicated, love is difficult and love can tear your soul apart, swallow you up and spit you back out. Modern love tells us to play games, to look out for our own self-interests, to never give our hearts away, to never be all in and to always have an escape route just in case things go wrong.
Call me old-school, but I don’t agree. Despite what has happened, I still believe that if you truly love someone, you will love with all that you have.
If you truly love someone, you will always wish them the best, even when it hurts.If you truly love someone, you will always hope that they find happiness and fulfillment, whether or not they choose you.
If you truly love someone, you will have the courage to let them go.