When Andrel and I began our relationship in grade, there were two things I knew to be true about my high school self: (1) I was a social butterfly and (2) I wanted to do something with my life. At the time, my grades were mediocre, but my social life was robust. I remember telling my immigrant, Asian parents that grades meant absolutely nothing because no one would care what my grades were after I left high school. It was always a point of contention, to say the least, whenever my parents got that report card. I bluntly told them that I wanted to focus on my social life because those relationships would be what matters at the end of the day. And they really did matter. Those friendships carried me through some of the roughest challenges of my life, not just in high school but up into my adult life. It’s funny because Andrel would bring up a random name from the past, asking me if I remember so and so. I always casually answer, “Yeah, we used to be pretty close.”
Because I was a social butterfly, I was all the things and more: Class President, Social Vice President, Student Association Special Events Coordinator, Student Association President.. It was a long list of extracurriculars and student leadership positions. There was a sense of self-confidence and self-awareness. Whenever someone asks Andrel why he decided to pursue me, he’ll tell you it’s because I had a big head.. literally and metaphorically. He thought it was his duty to “humble me”. However, my strong will and ambition are two of the things he’s learned to love and accept about me. In high school, there may have been a slight tinge of conceit.. I’ll admit it. I was confident that I could be more and do more in my life, that I wanted to make a great impact on my corner of the world. I didn’t know exactly where I would end up or how I would get there, but there was always this longing to break the limitations that were placed upon me because I was an Asian, Filipino woman.
But then, I got into a relationship that mattered and my whole world was turned upside down.
I was raised by a woman who created her own definition of what it meant to be a working professional, a mother, and a wife. I was raised by a man who supported and encouraged his significant other’s journey in creating this definition. I grew up in a household that showed me their own definition of partnership. They started a business, grew that business, and made that business a success.. Together. At the age of 56, they were able to sell that business, retiring nine years earlier than their counterparts. Whether knowingly or unknowingly, I was raised by parents who taught me to confidently step into any room, to tenaciously chase after my goals, and to methodically create my own definition of success. That’s where my high school sense of self-confidence and self-awareness came from. Although there have been instances of my parents attempting to impose their definition of success on my life, they’ve quickly learned to just come along for the ride, to be the support system that I need when I need it. I truly do believe that my parents played a big role in helping me navigate the rocky stages in the beginning of my relationship.
When I got into a relationship with Andrel, I found myself investing all of my time, energy, and effort into the relationship. I started hanging out less with my friends and hanging out more with his friends. I stopped looking for new friends because I was comfortable with just him. I didn’t pursue opportunities as aggressively as I used to pursue them. Although there are many factors that play into who I was at the beginning of university, being in a new relationship and accepting the pressure of being a “good girlfriend” played a significant role. I fed into this idea of society’s definition of being a woman. I think author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said it best,
We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would threaten the man. Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same?Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I’ve mentioned this in a previous post. Although getting married and having children was part of the plan, it was never the plan. I always envisioned having a life that didn’t just revolve around being a wife and a mother. I know that there are women out there who have discovered that being a wife and a mother is who they were meant to be, that it’s the core of who they are. I don’t knock that at all. But for me, being a wife and a mother were part of a bigger picture I had for myself. They were part of a bigger core of who I was, am, and will be.
I remember feeling so incredibly lost for a period of time. I missed the “high school me”. I felt like my relationship defined me: that was all there was to me. His life became my life; his goals became my goals; his dreams became my dreams. Any sense of individualism, any independence, completely disappeared. The feeling was so overwhelming that I’ve told Andrel to stop, to hit the pause button. Although his dreams and goals were amazing, I needed to have a say. I told him that we needed to find a way to take his dreams and goals and take my dreams and goals to create a unified vision for our lives because I could feel him steamrolling me and it was leaving me unfulfilled. He complied. We sat down and dreamed together.
I do think it was my parents who saved me. Throughout the course of my relationship with Andrel, everyone and their mom had an opinion as to when we were supposed to get married. Everyone, except my parents. In the course of nine-year relationship, not once did I ever feel the pressure from my parents to get married. After I graduated from university, they supported me in my next step of graduate school. After graduate school, they supported me in my search for a job. After I found my first job, they supported me in my longing to establish a career. When I had finally hit all of the checkpoints I wanted to hit before marriage, I told them I was ready to get married.
In a way, my parents never asking me the “when are you finally going to get married” question was a constant reminder. It was a reminder to be who I wanted to be, go where I wanted to go, and do what I wanted to do. It was a reminder to always confidently step into any room, to tenaciously chase after my goals, and to methodically create my own definition of success. I’m pretty sure I’ll never be “high school me” again, but I’ve found a newer version of myself that I’m learning to love and I’m continuing to tweak.