Love, Porn and knowing the difference.
Catchy theme? Check.
The writer's vote? Check.
Vanity metrics? Check.
Kicking goals? Check.
I chose to write this piece because of the incredible team at TCK TOWN. I have been astounded by the honesty and fearlessness in their articles. I still can’t believe they have chosen this journal as a platform for their work and am immeasurably grateful for their bravery and continued enthusiasm.
I also write this because I have been through an insane four years, and want anyone who may be going through the same thing to know that you are not alone.
I was diagnosed with depression two years ago and walked out of therapy happier and healthier at the end of 2014. I was in therapy largely due to a long-term relationship I was in at the time.
My first serious boyfriend was this funny, gangly basketball playing art director from Sri Lanka. Even though he was a lovely line of ‘firsts’ in a lot of ways, I continued on with my exploration of the dating world very sure that I wouldn’t be able to consider anyone who wasn't a fellow TCK. Cultural differences (or a lack of Sri Lankan culture on my part) had paved a bumpy road while we were together.
I now see that culture doesn’t have a lot to do with the success of a relationship at all. Instead, I think it’s about your partner and your own ability to respect each other’s beliefs and needs.
I didn’t know that when I met August though.
I'm happy now, I tell myself,
I know I won't go back.
But it haunts me still, how close I came.
To laying on those tracks.
You live on the edge of my vision.
The pain has mostly gone.
I'm sewing myself back together.
Now that your work is done.
Dating August could not have been more idyllic. We met right before sakura season in Tokyo, and our first dates spanned spring afternoons under cherry blossom trees with bento boxes tucked into our laps. I was absolutely fascinated by him – he was Korean, but grew up in Japan, but grew up in Hong Kong and he had lived in Singapore, Seoul and Toronto too. He was smart, witty and spoke 5 different languages – and was trying to figure out what his identity was too.
Before I was to be slowly torn down by my relationship with August, I had newly discovered my TCK identity and was sure he was the missing piece of who I was. I was living in an amazing share house with maybe 8 or 9 different nationalities rotating through it at any one time – and amongst these students, professionals and travellers alike – I was happy that I had finally found my people.
I close my eyes along that hollow,
Where my name's written on your shoulder,
A space in sleep, when on my own,
So dearly missed and mine alone.
I stretch my palm toward your fingers,
Where I hold tight and am forgiven.
I'm ushered in against the storm,
No questions asked say I belong.
Disrespect filters into relationships in many forms. I am alarmed, now that I know better, at how many girlfriends speak about ‘small’ incidents with partners which are actually solid red flags, and of guy friends who unknowingly shift the blame off themselves completely when discussing their relationship issues. August’s small acts were telling me I wasn’t physically attractive to him when I wondered why he didn’t want to have sex (“at least he’s being honest”), keeping me out of his decision to move to Bangkok while we were together (“well, we’ve only been dating for a year”), and lying to me about an old flame by introducing her as just a friend (“I’m sure he won’t break my trust like that again”).
The discrepancy that lead me to my depression was him concealing his dependancy on porn for the first two years we were together. During year one, with much love, I tried to be supportive and hope we could find a natural rhythm – even though we were never able to really have sex (I learned later it was because he had tired himself out during his 'alone time'. His shame and guilt could not have helped either). I nodded understandingly to his excuses about being too sleepy, not being in the mood and having had too much to drink – believing it must be true. As time went on, gently broaching the subject about seeing a doctor was met with his quiet conviction that I was the problem (“I am just more attracted to Asian body types”) to anger at my belief that sex and love should go hand in hand (“I think you should see someone. You clearly have an unhealthy appetite”). The next year was a tirade of blame against me while I tried to be sensitive to his feelings and find a solution to the problem it seemed I was causing. That summer I went to the gym for two hours a day and lost 8KGs in 3 months, and it still didn’t improve our situation.
You wore me down,
with lies, violence
Disrespect and self-loathing,
'Til I was a nothing
By the time he admitted what was happening ("it was brave of him to tell me"), it was already too late for me. I was two years down the track of being ‘loyal’ by not speaking to any of my friends about his negative attitude towards my body and my sexuality. I didn't want to jeopardise his move to Melbourne to study architecture. Keeping this secret was my way of hoping they'd see the sweet, smart guy I was introducing them to, instead of judging him on this one fatal flaw. I see now I was also ashamed about admitting how he felt about me - I didn't want my friends to know how 'inadequate' I was in what should have been a natural, healthy part of our relationship. The weight I had been carrying for two years pulled me to the lowest point in my life.
I have got to say, with all my heart, that this was half my fault. Actually – that’s not fair – it was all my fault. If I had had a greater wealth of self-worth, I wouldn’t have gone near a boy like that, let alone stayed with him for almost four years. Thanks to my amazing therapist, my beautiful family and my kind, kind friends I learnt to cultivate self-compassion. My new found confidence attracted the attention of a few cute boys afterwards, who helped me see I wasn't as unattractive as I had felt for so long.
is the new pretty
So, at the start of our third year together, August promised never to even consider porn again and I dutifully entered therapy, not for me, but because my disconnection with the world around me was starting to strain the relationship ("I'm doing this for us"). I felt lifeless, I didn't know why, and I never imagined it was because of the two years of degradation I had shared with this man.
By September that year, my therapist had valiantly uncovered that a tumultuous childhood had lead to my low self-esteem and my 'duty' to protect my aggressors out of a sense of loyalty. The real nut finally cracked when I walked into his office one morning and erupted into tears because I had found out August lied when he made that first promise and had been watching porn for the last 9 months behind my back again. As the last three years crumbled out of me and peace took its place, I confided that this was the first time I had spoken of it out loud, and Dr.Damien firmly said: "Ava, this is what triggered your depression." That is a point in my life I won't forget - the power of truth and how it can set you free.
I've no room,
For you and you.
I'll say it with a smile.
I'm finally free,
To live for me
and that is more worthwhile.
How did it end? Well - August broke up with me twice, moved out of my apartment overnight, flew away overseas and didn't tell me where he was going, said he wanted me back and then left for the last time because he said I was making it difficult to focus on his degree (let's say this paragraph is more about context than complaints!).
I think it is so important, to be honest about your stories to help others around you. When I started using the word "emotional abuse" to describe that relationship, I was expecting cringes and awkward spaces in the conversations I was having. I have been surprised (and saddened) to hear of many girls who have gone through a similar state of heartache. I have also been so proud of the community around me who continue to be brave enough to offer their stories, and let me know I'm not alone in healing this particular kind of trauma.
I used to tell myself often "but where am I going to find someone else like this?" My first TCK boy soulmate and I had an international connection I had never found in another partner - surely that was worth fighting for?
young woman, living in Paris,
Meets a half-Thai,
half-Canadian young guy
she recognizes him as kin.
She realizes that
she probably has much more in common with him
than with anybody entirely of Korea
or entirely of Germany.
So they become friends.
They fall in love.
They move to New York City.
As I sat in Berlin, eating Turkish food at 3am with my buddy during my breakup recovery travels, she earnestly exclaimed "you need someone who's open minded - not someone who's open to travel. You think a good Aussie boy wouldn't be able to give you that?"
And so I end with my four big lessons about love for 2016 and beyond:
1) TCKs don't have all the answers. We have so much to learn from the incredible local people we live amongst - including matters relating to love.
2) Don't be ashamed of what you've been through or what you're going through. Chances are you're not alone (even if you are, don't underestimate how compassionate people can be). Truth has the power to change the world. I hope sharing my story will help protect girls out there who are going through the same thing, and I pray this will stop boys who might be unknowingly committing those 'small' (or not small at all) acts of disrespect.
3) We need to talk about sex more. I am sure that so much of what happened (and didn't happen) in the bedroom between August and I was because we weren't having a healthy dialogue with our peers about our concerns, obstacles, and insecurities. As the genius Cindy Gallop states in her Ice Cream For Everyone Interview (please check her out - her ideas about normalising sex are revolutionary) - "the issue isn't porn. The issue is the total absence in our society of an open, healthy, honest conversation around sex in the real world."
4) Work hard to define what your value is and what it means to you. If someone disagrees, no hard feelings on them, but they're not the right fit for you - and you deserve 110%. So smile, part ways, avoid the blame game and move on to something so much better! Someone who loves you has to love who you are, and who you want to be too.
I am happy to report that I am very well now, and even though some days, I am still fighting the good fight, I am strong and brave in ways I didn't think were possible. I am excited to fall in love again - but mostly, I'm revelling in how rewarding it has been learning to love myself.
I'll rise up
Rise like the day
I'll rise up
In spite of the ache
I will rise a thousand times again
And we'll rise up
High like the waves
We'll rise up
In spite of the ache
We'll rise up
And we'll do it a thousand times again
Strong is the new pretty - Kate T. Parker Photography
Where is home? - TED Talk by Pico Iyer
Rise Up - Sung by Andra Day