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gay personal life rambling reflections travel

Giving Up to Live

Life is a series of untaken roads and unfulfilled potentials.

Christmas Day, 2020

“And if it is love, it is a curiously inefficient force, urge and halt, both at the same time. I want, but nothing I can propose would satisfy this wanting. I can’t say what it is I want, not anything much…Simply I want. Earnestly, most hurriedly, wretchedly want.”

– “At Swim, Two Boys”, Jamie O’Neill

I’m typing this at a food court in Dubai Airport Terminal 3 while waiting for my flight to Clark. There’s a three-hour layover and I’m eating the vegan falafel sandwich my boyfriend lovingly prepared before I left the UK, which he handed to me just as he was sending me off in Heathrow.

It’s midnight, I’ve almost finished the sandwich, and I’m still hungry, but I’m not sure if the eggplant tofu dish being served at the Panda Express behind me is even vegan. So this will have to do (not that I’m settling in any sense—it is delicious falafel.)

After one and a half months staying in London, I’m now trying to figure out what I feel about going back to Manila.

I love the Philippines, no doubt about it, and I’ve often said that I couldn’t imagine myself living elsewhere. But relationships have a way of making people reconsider things, such as—what exactly should we give up for the people we love?

I don’t take this question very lightly now, not like when I was younger when I thought that love is all about sacrifice and change and malleability. I was a lovestruck deer on a highway staring at the headlights of a speeding car.

My good friend Gretchen taught me that the best relationships are all about loving someone’s core: their most deeply-held values. So I’ve resolved, after all the shitty breakups and godawful dates, that I won’t consider, much more be in, a relationship with someone whose values I don’t align with.

It’s just not worth it anymore.

(Veganism, for one, was the deal-breaker in my previous relationship. I realized that I don’t want to be with someone who doesn’t see why I feel strongly about this moral stance.

And to be clear, yes, I’m also aware how people say how veganism is ableist and elitist, to which I circle back to the original definition of veganism: a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.

It just doesn’t make sense that a person, much more someone I love, would not see the point that causing as less harm as we can in this life, is the best way to live—especially when we have the capacity to choose it.

But I digress.)

Part of what makes me think hard about uprooting myself is that I still think I have so many good things to do in the Philippines. There’s our little-startup-that-could, Taxumo, that is steadily helping more people in the country. There’s something inspiring about knowing you’ve changed people’s lives in your own little way, and while I have no messianic illusions, I really think we’re off to doing more amazing things these coming years.

And then there’s also our organization, the LGBT Chamber. I’ve been thinking about my former friend and mentor Brian these past few weeks, and I’m sure he would’ve wanted us to keep on doing the work for diversity and inclusion.

Again, this isn’t some sort of megalomanic heroism, but there’s that nagging feeling that the work isn’t done yet.

Joshua Rothman, in his recent New Yorker article, observes: “Still, there will be moments when, for good or for ill, we feel confronted by our unrealized possibilities; they may even, through their persistence, shape us.”

Frankly, the thought of the unlived life—or lives—is something that terrifies me. When I was younger I told myself that I would try to live the maximum human experience. I didn’t plan the specifics of that childhood promise, and now that I’m older, I feel it’s a bit naive to think it’s possible.

Life is a series of untaken roads and unfulfilled potentials. And we take so much pleasure in reading and watching stories, because somehow it allows us to imagine those lives that we didn’t live. But regardless, the discomfort and discontent that there could’ve been more—that there should be more—eats us up until the day we die.

Craving is a neverending cycle, that thorn Buddhists say is the principal reason why we suffer. To temper our desires (or capital D Desire) is the way to end the cycle of suffering, or so they say. But what happens next? (Is a life purely without desire still even a life, or is that somewhat a death too, an absolute point?)

In every life event, from childhood to adulthood—family gatherings, college applications, job interviews, family plans, even up to how our funeral will be set up as we approach the end of our existence—the question hounds us: “What do you want?”

And at each stage, our answers set the baseline where we start the series of negotiations and the laying out of multiple scenarios: what is okay, what is tolerable, what is definitely a no.

I also think love is a form of wanting, a stage where our innermost, unspoken needs surface whether in thought or deed, creating a feedback loop between two (three? maybe more, if you’re non-monogamous) people. It is the constant rearrangement of one’s life to fit another (or others.)

The want to be understood, as much as you want to understand—to affirm to ourselves that life is not a solipsistic horror we’re stuck in, that reality does not merely exist within our heads, and that surely—hopefully!—someone out there thinks the same way as we do.

So the question that lingers in my head, and which I will have to think really hard about, is:

What will I give up to satisfy this particular form of wanting?

When push comes to shove, would I be ready to uproot myself just for that rare chance of finally being with someone I fully connect with, to spend life with that one person I feel most visible to?

By Evan Tan

Evan Tan is a writer & communications professional based in Manila, Philippines. www.writerinmanila.com

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