When I attended Magdalene’s 1st year anniversary, I wanted to strike a pose on the photo wall and only one speech bubble fitted my condition: “Single and Complete.” I understand the message behind the line: Singles are presumed to be missing something important in their lives. Life accomplishment, however, is more than being taken.
The society gives older male singles a break while shaking heads at the sight of adult female singles. While elderly male singles like former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi or George Clooney (before he became “Mr. Alamuddin”) were called “eligible bachelors”, many adult female singles are called “old maids” or “spinsters” (or there might be a newer term I’m not aware of).
I understand that having a lover is complicated for both boys and girls. Traditionally the boy courts the girl, and in many cases he’s not the only one. So from boys’ perspective, the girl has it easier since she can just enjoy the ride before picking the best option. But from girls’ perspective, the boy is the one who makes the initiative. She constantly hopes he or them won’t let her down – or be creepy. Girls who explicitly chase a particular boy risk being laughed at. Some girls get courted every day, while others get ignored for years. It’s just not fair.
Many single women also hear the “You should not set your standard too high” line coming from other women, but men also have high expectations. After being mocked for chasing one of the most popular girls in school (she felt insulted), I went for indie girls, especially since the 1990s’ pop culture were full of them, i.e.: the “Angry White Female” types of Alanis Morissette and Lisa Loeb; Indonesia’s own Melly Goeslaw and Dewi Lestari; or practically all the characters played by Winona Ryder, Claire Danes and Kirsten Dunst (Little Women Blu-Ray is a perfect Mario bait, by the way). Suffice to say, this makes me a cool guy friend, but not a boyfriend material.
In Australia, ironically, my taste changed from white rebels (we had no hipsters back then) to Princesses of the Orient. Again, the media changed my perspective due to My Sassy Girl, J-pop, and anime. Actually I wonder if I had it harder than the other guys: I have no memory of competing for a girl’s heart with other Indonesian guys – it’s always with Australians or foreign students from other Asian and Western countries. So did I make it harder on myself? Or did I miss what other Indonesian guys saw?
My bros were tired of my heartbreak stories. Two of them asked “Why do you want to have a girlfriend?” To me the question felt, and still does, like a job interview question, and a bit unfair since both of them were in relationships. Of course, they would say they fell in love first with a special woman and then feelings grew between them, while I had bought an empty “girlfriend” shell to be filled by anyone.
My answer was pretty immature. I wanted to watch movies with her. I wanted to study together with her. I wanted to talk on the phone for hours with her. I wanted to have a New Year Eve’s kiss with her. And honestly, I wanted to live those anime and Korean romantic comedy scenes and stories. I agreed that a girlfriend is not a cure to loneliness and sadness, and people still can be sad and lonely, even when they are married. But being single sucked, especially because in the Western world East Asian men are stereotyped as asexual and meek (which made me wonder – didn’t the white people see all those Asian guys with their girlfriends in campus or downtown? Including thousands other Indonesians?). And I seemed to be a perfect example of the stereotype.
I went back to Indonesia thinking that romance could be found easier here. Maybe there were just not enough types of Chinese Indonesian girls I could find in Australia, while back home I could find more diverse options. It was not the case, and it is not easier either. I still find it very difficult to find other Chinese-Indonesians outside the Christian environments, which shows that actually I had it easier in Australia (although, yes, they also socialized in Christian environments over there).
My salvation came with my interest in feminism, as I abandoned my twin fixations of finding a potential date and living with another ethnic Chinese. Sure, I still came to Magdalene’s birthday party with a hope of finding a cute and smart girl (and preferably Chinese), but I had better fun belting out Lisa’s and Alanis’ anthems and meeting other feminists and progressive women and men from Jakarta and Bandung.
I brought home that “Single and Complete” spirit without knowing it. I stopped being angry with myself for failing to attract a woman’s interest. I dress to feel good instead of hoping that this is the right outfit to catch a girl’s attention. I’ve regained my confidence in navigating Facebook, glossing over old flames and friends with “better lives”. On Twitter, I follow and am being followed by feminists and queers across Asia Pacific.
A major test came on Valentine’s Day, when I came to the wedding of an ex-date. Despite conflicting feelings and cold feet days and hours before, I could genuinely feel happy for her. I came to the reception on the other side of town and did not worry about impressing other girls, which used to be a lifelong obsession. I just enjoyed the food, the company and the couple’s hospitality.
Perhaps “Single and Complete” does not mean that you accept that you will not get married. Perhaps it means your quest of life has been fulfilled, even without a kiss from a rose at the moment. You are made, with or without The Mother.
*Read Mario’s verdict on why 1970’s Dutch comic series Nina kicks ass.