By Crystal Bui
I asked a question my dad couldn’t answer.
He stared at me, frustrated and ashamed. Unsatisfied, I asked again.
"What was your wedding song?" I pressed.
As I waited for his response, I imagined my parents 15 years earlier.
When I was in preschool, I caught my mom and dad slow-dancing in the kitchen of our cramped apartment; they were unaware I was still awake. The radio had just started to play a song when, instinctively, my dad’s hand reached for my mom’s. She earnestly, and happily, gave him the dance.
Sleepy, I wanted to crawl back into bed, but my curiosity remained unresolved. I wanted to catch a glimpse of my parents after hours, when no one was supposed to be watching. So I hid behind a chair, careful not to spoil the moment.
I’m convinced that even children can recognize two people in love.
I can still recall the intimate details of the scene. I remember how their bodies swayed together, intertwined and synchronized. I remember the way my parents hummed the tune of the song in unison, pretending to be the only people awake in the world.
The way my parents stared into each other’s eyes still shapes my attitude towards love.
As the song faded, my dad pulled my mom tightly into his arms. My parents stood in the kitchen and held each other, as if this would be their last dance. In a way, it was.
My dad interrupted my memory.
"I don't remember our wedding song," he confessed. "Honey, it was a while ago."
We drove home in silence.
For years, I struggled to understand how my parents' marriage had suffered such disintegration. Time created turbulence. Unexpected slow dances in the middle of night were replaced with routine arguments over housework, bill payments, and children. During my parents’ heated exchanges, I would sometimes try to imagine the couple I once knew. But love, as I learned, frays with time.
The demise of my parents’ marriage convinced me of what I had long suspected. Perhaps the reason my generation has problems with commitment is that we’ve seen, too frequently, what happens when promises are unfulfilled, when vows are broken, and when marriages are ruined. What was once “for better, for worse,” has turned into “for now.”
This may explain my generation’s inclination towards the “hookup culture,” a culture which substitutes commitment with casual and undefined relations or sexual encounters, referred to as “hookups.” It seems as though my generation would rather wake up with someone new every morning, than wake up to find the person we love feeling differently than the night before. After all, it’s safer to be unattached than to risk getting hurt by investing in a potentially futile relationship.
I still remember the first boy who devastated me.
Like most beginnings, I thought Tommy and I would be different.
Entering my freshman year in college, I intentionally avoided relationships out of fear. I actively sought noncommittal flings – the type of interaction that allowed me to keep my emotions sealed and my heart safe. But I couldn’t do that with Tommy.
Our long conversations and sober interactions allowed me to believe that Tommy and I were much more than a casual fling. I optimistically, and inevitably falsely, believed that he would be my first and last everything.
Tommy raised my hopes one night by disregarding the nonchalant, no−strings−attached attitude characteristic of the hookup culture. Instead, he invited me into his world – a world where he had endured hurt, disappointment, and loss. He unexpectedly talked about his parents’ divorce.
“I haven’t really told anyone this,” he admitted, indicating the delicate nature of his looming confession.
The details rapidly poured out, as if Tommy had been waiting for someone with whom he could share his sorrows. He recalled the moment his parents announced their separation and the turmoil that emerged as a result. Tommy told me about the anger he felt when he realized two people who promised to always be together were instead separating, forever.
As I listened to Tommy, I hoped, with all my heart, that his lack of reluctance proved the authenticity of our connection, despite our undefined “relationship.” I was touched by his sincerity, his vulnerability. If hookups are characterized by the lack of deep conversation and emotional investment, then I was positive we were much more than a casual fling. But I was still too afraid to ask.
After 8 months, the story ended as many do.
One summer evening, Tommy resolutely told me that we would never “become” anything. This was Tommy’s polite way of saying he would never call me his girlfriend; that he would never officially be my boyfriend. To him, commitment only precedes disappointment. After all this time, we remained trapped in the hookup culture, unclear and undefined.
Amidst tears, I asked Tommy why our relationship would never receive the label it deserved. In the months we spent together, I had grown uncomfortable with the uncertainty of hookups and sought something more. I wanted to move forward and openly acknowledge the feelings we shared. I pleaded with Tommy, asking him to change his mind.
I couldn’t understand why anyone would sabotage a blossoming relationship to return to a world of one night stands and nameless faces. We lacked synchronicity, slowly swaying in separate directions. Before I could launch into another shameless speech asking him to reconsider, Tommy dashed my hopes for good.
“Why ruin something by making it a commitment, an obligation?” he said.
I understood. Like many in my generation, Tommy couldn’t separate his parents’ relationship from ours. He couldn’t ignore the rampant divorce rates and convince himself that our relationship would be exempt from the cataclysmic endings he remembered from childhood. Tommy seemed certain that if our relationship was given the opportunity to grow and evolve, it would be susceptible to dissolution and demise. I was livid.
For 8 months, I wasn’t honest with myself. I compromised for Tommy, allowing our interactions to be vague and undefined when deep down, I wished for something more. I wanted something stable, dependable. But I didn’t ask Tommy, up until the final moment, because I knew that these are things the hookup culture couldn’t provide.
Even as I reflect on the months of bitter tears I endured as a result of our conclusion, that void I secretly felt in the hookup culture tells me there is hope. Despite the ease of the hookup culture, which gives the lucky few of us the ability to dictate what we want and when we want it, I am confident that my generation will yearn for something more. My generation Tommy eventually find a way to withstand the reservations garnered from our parents’ mistakes.
I am sure of this because it is 2 a.m. Monday morning, the only time the entire dormitory seems to be asleep, and I see Mark, my boyfriend, smiling at me. It’s been a year since I’ve cried over Tommy. As I smile back at Mark, I wonder how he managed to convince me to pursue a relationship, despite my memories of past pains and desperate desires.
I’ve barely glanced back down at my reading when I notice the stillness in the room.
I look up and see Mark’s hands, palms up, extended towards mine – a motion that is all too familiar. He pulls me away from my chair and carefully draws me into a long, lingering embrace. I’m about to say goodnight when he covertly hits “play” on my stereo and a familiar melody fills the small confines of my room.
My father’s inability to remember his own wedding song devastated me years ago, but it’s taught me to give these fleeting moments the weight they deserve.
Despite my inability to know what will become of my relationship with Mark, a starry-eyed preschooler still stirs inside me. The girl who was once mesmerized with the love her parents shared has ceaselessly hoped for the same connection ever since.My hands drape over Mark’s shoulders. Slowly, we dance.
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Crystal Bui recently graduated cum laude from Tufts University with a double degree in English and women's studies and a minor in media and communications. This May, she begins as a 2012 Teach For America Corps Member, teaching secondary English in Hawaii.