When I first met him, he saw a strong, independent, woman, one who, like him, dreamt of being a writer, of writing the great Filipino novel. I saw a man who appeared to be both strong and sensitive: He was an ex- activist who fought the dictatorship in the mountains, but he was also an artist who wrote poems and introduced me to Pablo Neruda (which he read to me in bed until I started falling asleep because I was exhausted from work). In other words, he was all I wanted, a man who validated my dreams and loved me despite all my imperfections, both real and imagined.
In the 30 or so years we have been together, the disparity between what we expected from one another–we expected nothing less than perfect satisfaction from each another–and the reality of daily living became more and more pronounced. I deferred writing that great novel and went to law school. My legal career has allowed us a middle-class lifestyle, a house in the hills, a luxury car and expensive vacations. He on the other hand has found holding a steady job more challenging, but he has not stopped dreaming of writing that great novel or the definitive Lacanian treatise, and every New Year’s eve he would ask me the same question: Is this all you want from life? I left unspoken what was in my mind: I am busy caring for our family, making sure the mortgage is paid and, later, also taking care of my aging and sick parents. And so, he has accused me of abandoning my dream, our dream.
Today, on Valentine’s Day, I don’t want to fantasize about the one that got away, or imagine a life different from what mine has been in these past decades. It would still mean lying to myself, convincing myself that I would have been happier if I had chosen wisely. Love is fundamentally absurd because of what we expect from it. We expect perfection when we are essentially imperfect, and this inevitably leads to disappointment.
Thelma King is an environmental lawyer in San Francisco.