Love in Cringe Culture
By Rumaysa Jafer
Love, in the age of Cringe Culture.
I know, I know. The title is very We Live in a Society.
Over the summer, I had a brutal breakup after an extremely short-lived relationship. The relationship was the first one I had been in in a long time, and I had hung up many hopes on it.
And there's no glamorizing it. Like a lot of girls, I am very much a hopeless romantic. Also, like most girls, I am someone with a highly anxious attachment style. To the point where it makes me foolish.
Part of my almost unique brand of stupidity is that I tend to believe the best in people, even when they are shitty. Almost exclusively, then. This holds true when I think of my relationship.
Honestly, while it was going on, I thought it was the best relationship I had ever had. We had fun and could talk for ages. It was good until it was not. And as soon as it wasn’t, he pulled a remarkable disappearing act. I blinked, and he was gone, in all capacities.
As someone who has moved halfway across the world over the pandemic, I am no stranger to disappearing acts. I get scared when I get too attached to people because it has so often left me so very hurt before.
If I never let myself get that close to anyone like that, I will never be hurt like that again. And then I did, and then I was. He broke up with me over text a month and some in.
The overwhelming emotion I feel is shame. I pride myself on being 'smarter than that,’ but I was not. He said he 'could not be in a relationship,' and I believed him. I now know that when people say they cannot be in a relationship, they really mean that they do not want to be in a relationship if it means being with you.
And from my experience, men get so cruel when they've decided they're 'prioritizing themselves.’ I never fathomed how someone I thought was so good could be so callous on purpose. I guess it's good that I do not understand, though.
Love, in the time of cringe culture.
When my ex and I broke up, I did not know how to behave. I wanted to be calm, unfeeling, and pretend that none of it affected me, even though it damn near wrecked me. This is what I think about.
There is such ridiculous pressure for us to be 'cool.' But what does that even mean anymore? Why is it cool to be cold, unfeeling and cruel? Why do I feel all this shame despite being the one who did not actively hurt someone else?
I saw my ex this previous Saturday, not on purpose. I turned my head while walking, and there he was, live and in real life. Seeing him in person did not hurt in the way it expected to. I did not hurt because I missed him. I hurt for the version of myself that I was when I was with him.
I was so vulnerable when we got together. He was my friend, and I liked him, but he was in a relationship, so I had reconciled that it would never work out in my brain. And then there he was, admitting things to me that I did not want to hear. That night is a blur, but I remember thinking, 'I want this so bad, but not like this.'
For whatever reason, I woke up the following day and decided I wanted to try. I'm not entirely sure if it was that I liked him or if I wanted to be desired. I just know that it got me into trouble. Love, in a time of desperation, might as well not be love at all.
I am grateful that it happened, though. The way it ended made me realize a lot of significant things. Why did I stick up for that? Why did I get with him even though it made me feel deeply un-feminist? Why was it that I took everything, the crumbs he gave me, and was willing to call it pretty, call it love?
It all brought me back to this: I am in love with the idea of love. And because of that, I am someone who falls in love hard and fast. I am willing to stake my life on it. I am willing to die for it. I always have been. As a child, I imagined my wedding before I imagined having a career or what I wanted my life to look like. That is not to at all discount my ambition.
I want to be so many things, but I want to be loved at the forefront of all that. My biggest fear is living a life without love. That is not to say that I lack love in my life. I have more friends than I have time for, a better family that most people dream of, and a cat I adore. I am not love-starved, not even close. But I want to be loved specifically. I want to be someone's love; I want someone to look at me and see their entire future. When I'm older, I want my house to be filled with so much love my children do not ever go without it.
Why does it disgust me so much, then?
Why are we ashamed of loving? Why am I ashamed of wanting it? Why are we even more ashamed of the ache that comes from it?
Now, probably biased, but I do firmly believe, all cringe aside, to be human is to love; you take away everything else; it's all love. We come from an act of love; it keeps us going; it's in everything. The entire history of Earth is littered with love: ugly, gnarly, and often terrifying to stare at right in the face, love.
The advent of the world and mass communication shows us stories of people who are in love and even more stories of people who have fallen out of it. And these tend to be very binary conversations: the initiator vs the accepter, the argumentative vs the compromiser, the leaver vs the one who gets left behind. The common theme: no one wants to be the one who gets left behind. Ever.
How incredibly connected we are has made human beings so incredibly disposable to each other. We think of people as problems, especially when we get used to having them around. We take each other for granted, consistently and constantly. We are willing to let go of things because we are constantly shown 'better,' even if it is often wholly unattainable.
Love, in the era of cringe culture, is something that we have lost sight of altogether. The subliminal messaging around love and the act of loving is gross and stupid because love is simultaneously something we are meant to have in our lives and something we are not meant to feel.
I have been better, though. I tell my parents that I love them, keep in touch with my brother, and let people know that I am still present even when I am not. I remember texting a friend from back home, "I'm sorry, I do not have time to talk to you, but I am here, and I love you, and I hope you're doing well. Sorry that it is how it is." I thought about the text for what felt like eons before I clicked the little send icon on Instagram messenger. I want to be here. I want the people that I love to never go starved of it.
The constant fear of giving yourself away means you are never truly fully rooted in moments where love is tapping at your window.
When I look back, I only ache because all the hurt could have been avoided, and it did not have to mean a death sentence. There didn't need to be these years of silence between us, and I did not need to hurt so much. I did not need to lose a friend.
I do not regret any of the love; I'm just sorry about it. I hope that it does not hold me back from it in the future. If I never get close to anyone like that, I will never get hurt like that ever again, but then I will never experience love like that ever again, and I do really want to.
The best loves of our lives come from being vulnerable around people. I would not be as close to any of my friends if I did not swallow the cringe and inform them that I love them. I would not know my best friend the way I do if I did not spill my heart out to her the first week of meeting her. My parents would not feel the bond they did with me if they had not seen me first as a tiny, helpless being they had brought into the world. Love and vulnerability are so intimately linked that neither can exist without the other. I do not quite know which one comes first.
So, I think I'm okay with taking off my armor. For love, I’m willing to do anything. (Cringe.)