Looking For Love at 35: A Personal Essay

Original artwork by Alexandra Compain-Tissier

My name is Noorindah and I’m a recovering love-aholic. I believe in destiny, twin flames, astrological compatibility, and the 5 love languages. I also believe in gaslighting, love-bombing, toxic relationships, and attachment theory. I won’t remember what I did two months ago on a random Tuesday, but I can tell you the story of my first ever crush when I was 6 years old. He was a lanky fair Malay boy who had a wide forehead and smelled of baby powder. His mother would dust his face with it before school and his neck would have white streaks of sweat and powder by noon.

We were in K2 and put together for an end-of-year school performance just because we were the only two brown kids in class. I don’t remember anything else about his personality apart from he was shy and quiet, and that my teachers would whisper to each other that while we danced well, it was a pity that we didn’t look at each other while we twirled around. I would blush and continue to look at the spot on the wall next to his shoulder as I clapped his hands in tune to the beat. I was too embarrassed to gaze directly into his eyes as I knew that strange giddiness I felt and thumping in my chest meant I liked this boy and at my age, that felt really, really wrong.

So what happened next? The following month we had our big performance for our beaming parents. We went under the spotlights, danced, took our bows, stepped off stage and – well that was it. I never saw him again. There was no stolen first kiss or fairytale childhood sweetheart ending.

It just means that I’ve literally had 30 full years of chasing after, running from, falling in and falling out of love since that first crush. That’s a whole load of cardio for the heart.

Technically I took a break when I was 33. I was grieving from the end of a long drawn out affair of 8 years that finally reached its end when he pulled a Berger. (Cheers to the SATC fans who can relate) In the equivalent of a yellow Post-It, he left me several paragraphs over Whatsapp on how all he wanted in life was just to be happy without complications and enjoy a beautiful summer day. Without me. Ever.

Was I devastated? I won’t lie, I saw it coming over the course of the last few months as he would skip our Skype dates or reply my messages days after. But I wasn’t grieving for us. I was grieving for me. For my lost youth, for the love and kindness wasted, for the boundaries I didn’t put up, the red flags I brushed aside. Why? Because I believed that if you really love someone, you give your all and stick it through the ups and downs. The more you run, the more I chase. The more you put up walls, the more I scale them to show you the all-encompassing power of love. Classic love-aholic. I remember staring blankly at his break-up essay in the glare of my phone screen late that night. I took a deep breathe and then I replied “You’re right, I’ll never know you. I’m sorry. Good bye”

I still believed in love but I was tired.

So my break from love lasted all of a year and a half. The remedy was work, work and more work. Oh, and a new haircut! But I couldn’t fathom getting back on the proverbial dating horse. I was attached for 8 years, do I even remember how to flirt? (Narrator’s Voiceover: She didn’t. Hence how pictures were more effective than words...) But ironically it was while having lunch with another ex (let’s call him Ghost) who’d moved to Bangkok, that he reminded me: “You just need to get laid. Get on Tinder.”

Then the cycle continued. I was still hopeful at first and stuck to the “safe apps” like Coffee Meets Bagel and Bumble. I picked the photos where I looked like a ‘nice girl’, someone you’ll want to have a coffee with and a movie after. Or hey, maybe kids and a house with a white-picket fence? Nothing too sexy, nothing too sassy. I don’t even remember what I wrote in my bio. Basically it was a whimper: “Hi there, pick me? I promise I’ll be nice to your parents…please?” Then I experienced the first round of bad dates; “Hello, care for a coffee (while I actually squeeze you in between my brunch with friends at 12pm and then my shopping trip to the kitchenware store at 3pm)?” True story. It took me a week to recover from the humiliation of being just a time filler.

Still I persisted. I’m a recovering love-aholic remember?

But Ghost’s voice was ringing in my ears: “You forgot what a bad ass you were when I met you. Go have fun, life’s too short to take everything seriously!” So I mumbled ‘fuckit’ under my breath, downloaded Tinder and swiped on every hot guy in sight. And funny enough, I met love. Or a watered down version of it. I still haven’t met the love of my life (yet – that’s a different story for another day), and you can’t really call it ‘love’ of the romcom sense. Instead I was dating like a guy. That meant seeing several people and for lack of a better phrase, seeing what sticks. But the semblance of oxytocin and butterflies in the tummy felt enough for me. The bevy of boys was new and flattering. It was nice to feel wanted again.

Until it didn’t of course.

I wanted the fireworks. But I also wanted the snuggles in bed and watching shitty movies. I wanted the passion. But I also wanted laundry days in and cooking a quiet dinner for two. I wanted the vavavoom. But I also wanted the accidental fart in bed and then being Dutch ovened by him. No one wanted that with me and at 35, I was starting to lose hope of finding ‘The One’.

I was also starting to wonder if there was something wrong with me. Not in the societal “oh poor spinster left on the shelf” but the actual mental “Wait, logically I know that I have so much in life to be grateful and proud of… why am I so obsessed on love and the lack of??”. I was in a period of navel-gazing and looking at my past relationships and flings and all I could think of was “Why am I spending so much energy on this?” And more importantly “Why can’t I stop obsessing?”

And that’s how I discovered I’m a love-aholic. Or more accurately phrased: I display behavioural patterns of an anxious attachment style. Any of my friends can tell you I’ve been stuck on love and relationships but it took another heartache that got me to look in the mirror and say “Mmm…hold up.” Again I can’t remember when or how I got hold of the book Attached by Amir Levine, M.D and Rachel S.F. Heller, MA. But I can tell you exactly where and who I was with when I had my Eureka moment.

I was suntanning by the pool with my girl friends on a quick getaway to Batam (what a quaint pre-Covid world) and lazily flipping through the book. My latest crush, or the guy I was seeing then was starting to fade away. I recognised the signs, the delays, and the brush-offs. The short trip was meant for me to recharge and try to make sense of it all and what to do next about him. But as I skimmed through the pages and saw this diagram, I literally turned to my girlfriends and said “OMG this is me! This is my life!”

Image from Attached by Amir Levine, M.D and Rachel S.F. Heller, MA, TarcherPerigee, 2011.

And I felt so FREE. I felt so liberated. I felt so vindicated. That yes, I may be an independent, strong, Destiny Child’s era woman on the surface but my psychological make-up determined that whenever I enter into a relationship or the potential of one, I switch modes and become – well, not so independent, not so strong, Please-Love-Me Carrie Bradshaw. And all the boys that I’ve loved before? Ding, ding, ding… they displayed the opposite attachment style: Avoidant Attachment. Basically if I chase, they run. If I scale their walls, they just build higher towers. If I fly too close, they just freeze my wings off with their iciness and disappear. Being intimate to them meant that either they lose their independence, or in a weird twist of logic, it means potential pain if they gave their all and their partner decides to just stomp on their hearts. So I leave you before you leave me. Voila, case closed.

Was that the final step in my recovery program? Yes and no, but it was important in determining if I was looking at an actual red flag or was it a situation that I’m overthinking and letting it spiral out of control. Did I find ‘The One’? Yes and no. I did find my passionate Dutch oven partner and for that I’m forever thankful for all the heartbreaks, lessons, and false starts that led me to him. But I finally found the Big Big Love, the one I’d dreamed about when I was a kid, when I sat down and started to write this to you. It took me 30 years to finally look in the mirror and say “Hey you, I’ll do you.”

I know every self-help book and well-meaning loved ones would always tell you “Listen, you’re already amazing. You just have to love yourself first before you can love someone else. The right one will come your way.” At times like these, you wonder how do you secretly dispose of the body after strangling them while cursing “DON’T YOU THINK I ALREADY KNOW THAT???” So I’m not going to tell you to love yourself. There’s no guidebook on that. You have to learn that one on your own. But what I can tell you is that there’s the easy way and the hard way of recovering from being addicted to love.

The easy way means that with each loss and pain, you grow colder and harder until you realize you’re totally fine on your own and don’t need to let anyone in. It sounds harsh and calculated but hey, it works. The hard way means that with each loss and pain, you lay on the floor for a while, cry your eyes out, then get up, pick up the pieces of your heart and patch it so that it gets stronger and wider. For however long it takes. I’m sure you can guess which way I chose since I’m such a sucker 😉

My name is Noorindah and I’m in love with love. And still I persist.