His voice was soft as he whispered into my ear, his left hand holding mine firmly, our fingers intertwined. “And if you break your own rule, then what?” My mind, though numbed by rum, was still flooded with thousands of contradictory thoughts. My rigid rules and justifications fought hard against what the rest of me desired. The moments while I formulated what would be my answer felt like an eternity as I revisited every possible reason why I should refuse this kiss.
Growing up I was obsessed with being the perfect everything. I had a plan and a set of rules to outline everything from school and grades to my outfits. I carefully curated my friendships, my books and events. My idea was not just to be the exemplary student but also to excel everywhere from school to family, friendships and even romance.
Much like any other perfectionist, every time I checked off something in the laundry list of things that I “needed to be,” I came up with something else. I believe it was at some point during my junior year that I convinced myself that what I lacked was a partner. In order to reach the status of absolute perfection, I needed a man. Not just any man — the man that I was looking for needed to possess all those qualities I so carefully strived for in myself.
Given that ridiculous perfection and continual criticism were attitudes that I only applied to myself, I did eventually find someone to project that ideal of the perfect man unto. He was — at least in my eyes — kind, smart, sweet and ambitious. So nearly everything that I wanted. It was just the thought of him, my “perfect man,” that overwhelmed me the most in those eternal seconds as I contemplated breaking my own rules. His grip on my hand tightened, and I placed my half-empty glass on a nearby shelf. The place was packed, and my friends had managed to gather half the city for a “Last Party of the Year.” I felt his gaze on me as soon as he walked through the door and he didn’t hesitate to introduce himself. As our conversation deepened, we started withdrawing into the kitchen. I kept staring into his eyes as my mind thought of my “perfect man.” I thought of my struggle for him, to find him, to get him and to keep him, the “perfect man,” and how even after checking that off my list, I still felt as flawed as before.
“And if you break your own rule, then what?”
“Then, nothing,” I muttered as I let him pull me closer to him. On the few seconds before our lips met, the conflicting voices in my head grew louder. The part of me that wanted to regain control, the voice of perfection, begged me to push him off. It reminded me that “good girls” would not do this, that “respectable girls” would not just kiss some guy at a party, that I “must respect myself.” It kept reminding me of how hard I had worked to get everything I wanted to turn me into a model student, a model daughter. This voice that had me overlook my unhappiness in order to fake a perfect relationship with a perfect man urged me to let go of his hand and refuse his kiss. My other side was deeply curious to see what it’d be like to do something completely unexpected, unplanned just because I wanted to. It was this side of me who grabbed him by the back of the neck, running my fingers through his hair. It was this me who followed him into this corner, the one who had long awaited this kiss and responded desperately when our lips finally met. It was this side of me who responded to his caresses lustfully, who wanted to find a way to somehow get closer to him. My desire to break all of my rules, to question every item in my endless list of things that I “needed to be” won over my rigidity and exploded in an uncontained passion.
Our kiss was interrupted by the sun rising and the sudden realization that I had spent the night at some party instead of home. I found my purse somewhere near a couch in the living room, my phone buzzing with missed calls and reminders that I was supposed to have breakfast with my aunt at 9 a.m. I rushed out in an urge to make yet another commitment, but as I drove off, I realized that although I left that night, that night won’t ever leave me. It was the wake-up call I needed to realize that for far too long, I had been living my life based on what other people expected me to be. It shattered the rules I had put up and set myself free. A self that is not ashamed of her adventures, one that has no precise plan for her long-run life. This new self who does not have a portrait of a man in mind, but is ready to see love as what it is, an adventure.