I guess I am tempted to go into a psychoanalysis of how we use the word love, but maybe the magic of love is that it cannot really be defined even if we know it as an universal phenomenon. I now see the careless usage of the word “love” in my naive youth when it is really how I project people onto imaginary pedestals yet it was still very much of my reality. It was the way I knew how to love, no matter how narrow – is love less real because we are young and clumsy about it?
I am one of those who find it easier to express love online, especially via the written word. I wrote poems on my Facebook statuses, long prose on Instagram photos, ambiguous sounding tweets – in an effort to dump the intensity of my heart somewhere, everywhere, sometimes hoping the person I not-so-secretly loved would know they were for her.
I was there for many of my friends in the hardest times not through my physical presence or phone calls but through long windy texts that were written with as much thought I could muster. Some of my own darkest periods were similarly tided through with just one person who could be there at the other end of my helpless instant messages.
Random people reacting to my Instagram stories or to the long essays I published online helped me navigate the loneliness of my existential crises. My online posts were silent cries of help: that I wanted to be found, to be resonated with. Sometimes the greatest comfort came not from my friends but from internet strangers. I guess that makes sense statistically — how probable is it to find someone who has been through similar psychological journeys in our friend circles versus the entire world wide web?
The internet has enabled additional sources and dimensions of love.
I would have probably never learnt to love myself if not for online spaces. I wouldn’t have known the variety of love I knew in the physical world was toxic, that it was okay to love someone of the same sex, that I wasn’t the only person in this world doubting the value of existence, that there were others like me who could only express ourselves through online mediums. That was why I had struggled to understood when people say the offline world was more real, when I could only have a semblance of reality through the online world.
For me expressions of love didn’t come through touches, kisses and hugs — the society where I am from refrained from anything that remotely resembles physical affection — but from words of encouragement and affirmation through the internet.
I loved the internet, because the internet loved me.
But this is not a love story that ends up happily ever after. Like a love story based in reality, there is always disillusionment after the initial euphoria. Online spaces grew noisy, exposed toxic dynamics within humanity, like a minefield full of potential triggers. Sometimes the internet felt almost like a parent I could never seem to please, as I kept trying to signal how much of a good human being I was trying to become, and yet it never felt like I was enough. My love online, very much resembled like my love offline: seemingly always trying to give all of myself only to be crushingly disappointed in return.
But if love can survive, it must overcome the disillusionment phase. We must see the subject of our love for what they are, not what we expect them to be. We must also learn to see ourselves for who we really are. There is a sort of practical magic that happens when two entities can meet each other where they are, grounded in reality. Acceptance will happen, liberating the energies stuck in resentment and expectations, freeing us to be creative in the ways we love and are loved.
I am not there yet, but I see glimpses. Open spaces will bring noise and discomfort, as well as freedom and creativity. They have both the potential to love and to hurt. I am getting better at walking away when it gets too overwhelming, but I still continuing to put up deeply carved pieces of me online because the love I have for the internet is deep and yet tiring. Somehow it is always there when I need comfort, when the comfort I need cannot be derived from the people around me.
I am hanging on to this love, like an endurance race. Perhaps part of learning how to love sustainably in any relationship is knowing where are the boundaries, when to make space, and when to be fully present.
I wrote this sometime in 2021 at the request of the amazing Laurel Schwulst. This was originally published sometime in Aug 2021. The concept of this webzine is that it would have the shelf life on an onion – 5 weeks – which thereafter the entire site would be taken offline.
I asked if I could republish the essay on my own website, but since I wanted to respect the transience of the idea, I am only publishing this now: one year later. Huge thanks to Laurel for the invitation to participate, writing this made me dig deeply into a dimension of myself.