“Knock knock,” my father whispers while he creeps open my bedroom door. He delivers a plate of sliced apples and mangoes to me as I try to focus on what my history teacher is lecturing on. I had no idea what she was saying, but I ate as much as I could; I had already been spending the rest of my day studying.
He always knew when I was famished, and catered just what I needed most. He was available each time I needed to be picked up from school because I wasn’t feeling well, and was patient to wait when I was stuck in school, planning prom. Even though he had a stern look on his face because I had interrupted him from his work.
My mother scolded me when needed because she wanted to make sure I was my favorite character in my drama — not just the main protagonist. She’d make my favorite foods, even when I mumble “I’m craving bánh xèo” under my breath, and she’d help me navigate the weaves of homework, friend group drama, and boys.
The Disney and Nickelodeon shows I grew up watching had to have the protagonist showing their love interest a grand parade of love, even if it just was to ask them out to Homecoming. I wanted that kind of love — gifts, words of affirmation, and full-blown, extravagant expressions — because this is what I thought love was, either from their love interest or their supporting parents. Love had to be shown in a specific manner in these shows, but this manner wasn’t the way I was taught love was. “I love you” had to be said for the relationship to work, and for that, I questioned my parents’ love for me.
All of the criticizing, the scolding, and the patience was the gray space between tolerating me and being tired of all of my nonsense. The absence of the verbal “I love you” hurt me, because I was used to what was on TV and what my taken friends were saying to each other. My mom and dad were hard on me — they needed me to keep my As, be kind to others, and stay humble. Unfortunately, this made me scared of them, and it closed off to their means of affection.
“I love you,” said the first person who has ever shown me what unconditional romantic love feels like. Sixteen-year-old me hid my face in the place between his neck and his shoulders. My nose tingles, and I tear up on his shirt.
He tells me he hates saying it, because not at all does he agree that “I love you” is indicative of the way he feels about me. He grew up understanding the ways his Korean mother loves him — food, good advice, and quality time, exactly like how I was raised. Ordering me boba, keeping me company, and letting me understand his mind are the ways he shows me he loves me, all without telling me so.
But why am I so emotional over him telling me that he’ll stick with me through thick and thin and kisses on the forehead when I’m stressed? Why do I cry each time he says “I love you,” after a minuscule argument? Every apology, every ounce of reassurance, every recognizable glance of admiration has not only my heart warming but also tears of joy. When did I ever cry at someone being nice to me? Why am I so over-sentimental of what I had expected from the most romantic episodes of Suite Life on Deck growing up?
After relating to stories about the different ways in which people love each other, I strengthened my relationship with love itself and accepted how I receive my love — from my parents, from my partner, and from my friends. My parents were harsh on me to shape me into a strategic, independent, and confident person, enough for me to love myself. I had been so emotional because of the way I finally came to terms that love comes in all forms.
“Jenny is the definition of ‘acts of service,’” my best friend told me. I, too, am not the most expressive of how I love others, but in the ways I pull the weight off those who cannot -offering help on homework, friend group drama, and boys, and lending my extra help- this is how I love. I love the way I love — it only took me so long to appreciate this gift.
Editor(s): Nicole O., Nadine R.
Photo Credits: Unsplash