I used to think dating was easy.
I mean, you just have to find someone who likes you back then boom, fireworks, and you walk hand in hand down the path to happy couples’ town, right?
Well, it doesn’t work that way, as I’ve had to learn.
This is my story about a relationship that could have been but never was – one I knew would have to end before it even began.
How We Met
The clock struck midnight and on the dance floor of my favourite club, my girls and I welcomed my 21st birthday with a big group hug.
Like any soon-to-be adult living in Melbourne city would, I had gathered them for a night of celebration, one we’d remember when we’re in our 80s and sitting in our rocking chairs complaining about our husbands. It was also the weekend before our final-year exams, so we were ready to go wild, seeing it as much-needed stress release before facing piles and piles of notes from the past three years of Uni.
I can’t be sure if it was the tequila shots, love from my friends, or me feeling the freedom of entering what people call the most important decade of my life, but I was smiling the whole night – a good break from my usual RBF.
Perhaps it was the smile, taken as a gentle invitation, that made him say hi.
Somewhere in between Backstreet Boys’ Everybody (Backstreet’s Back) and Flo Rida’s Low, our eyes met and he came over to ask if I wanted to dance.
He was polite, and to the surprise of my awkward self, I felt comfortable with him.
We talked (well, as much as we could over the loud music), he asked me out, and we exchanged numbers.
The night out ended with my girls and I at our go-to post-clubbing ramen place, and between the sips of thick broth and on the walk home, he was all I could think about.
I had never met someone this way before. My dating life was barely existent throughout my three years in Melbourne, save for a failed Tinder ‘whatevership’ that ended in my first heartbreak. (But that’s another story.)
My heart was racing as I looked at his “get home safe” text, but it wasn’t just the excitement.
I was nervous, with an avalanche of questions filling my mind.
Where will this lead? What does he want from this? Is he looking for a one-off thing or something more?
How will he react when he finds out I’m leaving in 2 months?
The First Date
My birthday was in October but we didn’t meet again until a month after because of exams.
Hey, I’m responsible. Studies come before some guy I met at a club.
The day of the big date came and I still hadn’t told him I was going to go back to Malaysia for good.
“Should I tell him now?” I had asked mum the night before.
I didn’t want to waste his time and mum being the wise woman she is said yes.
“Just tell him and see how he replies la.”
Of course, she also warned me, saying that if I were to start seeing him, it might bite me in the booty later. But I assured her (and myself) that I would stay detached. That it would be easy to leave. That it would be just for fun.
It was five hours before we were to meet and I knew I had to start the conversation. I just wasn’t sure how. I guess a part of me was afraid to end it. I wanted to see where it would go. I wanted to hold on to the possibilities.
My phone pinged and there, he asked, “What are you doing?”
In that text, I saw the perfect way to break it to him.
“I’m packing,” I replied.
“Going for a holiday?” he texted back almost immediately.
It was time.
“Uhm no, I’m packing for home. Will be flying back to Malaysia in January after graduation.”
There, I said it.
“Sorry I didn’t tell you this sooner. I’d understand if you didn’t want to go on with the date,” I added while anticipating his reply.
“Nah, no worries! I’ll see you later.”
Phew. Alright then. I guess we’ll see where this goes.
The night came and after a few drinks and meat skewers from the food market, we had had our first, proper, face-to-face conversation and I had learned more about him.
He is 8 years older than I am even though he doesn’t look it.
He’s an Australian-born Vietnamese who looks a little Korean.
He works for a bank – coincidentally, the one I was using.
Most importantly, he was someone I wanted to see again.
Falling, Falling Hard
It wasn’t long before we hung out again.
He took me to places I had never been, and he had a lot to choose from since I was an international student and he had lived in Melbourne his whole life.
We had fish and chips at a distant beach town, pizza at a brewery, and authentic Vietnamese dishes in the western suburbs. We played tennis, visited the penguins behind the pier, and walked along the river on quiet nights.
This was all in the matter of one and a half months.
You know those romcoms about summer loves where the characters look so carefree, chasing sunsets by the sea? It was real life for me.
I thought about what it would be like for us to be married, living in the little house he bought a few streets down from his parents’. We would walk our dog in the nearby park in the evenings and have BBQs in the backyard with some friends over.
I was counting the days till I could see him again, and dreading the days till I couldn’t anymore.
He drove me to the airport that January morning. I had cried the night before, and the tears continued streaming down the entire car ride. He bought me a bánh mì for breakfast and I couldn’t even take a proper bite.
I didn’t want the ride to end. If only a tyre punctured or a mini accident happened that would stop the car from moving forward. If only I could miss my flight. If only I could stay. Forever.
But we made it to the airport and he sent me off.
That goodbye scene at the departure gate could have been the end for us. Perhaps it should have.
But it wasn’t.
The Year of Living in the Past
He had planned to visit relatives in Vietnam in February so he asked if I wanted him to do a detour to KL before going back home to Melbourne. I said yes.
February came and we spent a beautiful seven days together in Malaysia, four in KL and three in Penang. But after the joy that came with naming the teddy he gifted me Bánh Mì, and after being mistaken for a married couple by a bartender in Hard Rock Café, it was time to say goodbye.
We continued texting each other after, but we never had the talk. We never set expectations or asked ourselves what we were doing. All I knew was that I wanted to go back to Melbourne.
I considered continuing my studies, but I didn’t want more financial burden on my parents. I thought of applying for a working holiday visa, but that would only be temporary. The only way was for me to gain work experience. So even though I was moving forward in life, starting my first-ever full-time job, my heart stayed in the past.
A few months later, June came around. This time, I visited Melbourne. It wasn’t because of him. I thought I was over it, but as soon as I saw him again, I was reminded of how much I wanted to be with him. And so history repeated itself. After our road trip to a beautiful spa town where we played 90’s music the whole way through, and after we found warmth in each other on a cold winter’s night, we said our goodbyes and I flew back to Malaysia.
You must be thinking, gurl, where is this going?
Just hang in there.
So came September, and after his trip to South Korea with his friends, he, again, made a detour to KL for a visit. We had yet another beautiful five days together and yet another hug goodbye.
At this point, I still had no idea where we were going and I didn’t have the courage to ask.
The End, At Last
By December, our WhatsApp conversations had slowed down and sure enough, when I visited Melbourne in February the next year, he told me he had met someone. On his birthday, at the same club we met.
Funny huh. I had thought of him as my 21st birthday gift from the Universe, but I guess the Universe had another gift in store for him.
Even though I was expecting it, I couldn’t hold back the tears when the truth was finally staring me in the face. I cried at the restaurant where he broke the news to me, in his car as he drove me back, at brunch with my friend, in my brother’s apartment where I was crashing, on my bike ride that was meant to clear my head and heal my heart, and all the moments in between.
But 3 days later, I stopped. I realised I was free. At last, I can let go.
I used to wonder, what if I had told him how I really felt? What if I had suggested long distance even though I knew neither of us wanted it? Was I really missing him? Or was it the memories of a carefree summer?
These questions don’t matter anymore. We’ve both moved on and stay friends who wish each other well.
Yes, my time with him felt like a movie. But as with all movies, the ending comes eventually and when the credits start rolling, you know it’s time to stand up and leave.
This is not to say you forget them completely. They will always be your past. But you know what’s more exciting?
Your present and your future.
One and a half years later, after many failed flings, I’ve found my man and we will be celebrating our first anniversary next month.