To commemorate today’s upcoming celebrations of love, singlehood, or friendship, Treehouse has curated three pieces of writing that relates to our theme: ‘Valentine’s Day’. We begin with Crystal Lee’s introspection on the various conceptions of love in society today. Subsequently, M P Abirami provides a scathing, yet deeply passionate and emotional letter of love. Finally, Maisy Kim ends this Special Edition with a ray of hope – a rallying call to love not merely another, but most importantly, to love ourselves.
These pieces were submitted for Treehouse’s Special Edition Open Call early in the semester which aimed to provide an outlet for Tembusians to critically reflect on any theme relating to Valentine’s Day. Treehouse is excited to showcase these submissions by our very own Tembusians. The opinions expressed in these curated pieces are solely the opinions of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Treehouse, or Tembusu College. From all of us at Treehouse, we wish all Tembusians celebrating (and those not) a happy Valentine’s Day!
What is love?
Growing up, I received much love and care from my family. They showed me what familial love was: sticking with each other despite differences, swallowing and setting aside their differences for overall matrimonial happiness. The kids always came first for them. Somehow, one way or another.
Love too was shown in the forgiveness that the elders of the family showed to my generation. They forgave us time and time again, loving us even when we hurt them emotionally or physically. They would be mad, and they would scold or yell at us. Sure, that did give us younger generations the trauma we’re trying to erase. But I could see that they were doing their best. They tried.
My dad tried the most of all. For years (and even now), he has always been quietly loving and caring for the people by his side. He carried the burden of being both parents, even if he wasn’t one to express himself. He quietly, arduously, and carefully balanced his role as a son and father. He loved his parents, but he loved his kids too. If anything, satisfying both sides is extremely difficult. Extremely.
What of platonic love?
I’ve been blessed with friends that have stuck by my side, and they have been immensely forgiving of my antics and my occasional whining. But the prize goes to my best friend, who has squealed with me about games, relationships and just about everything under the sun. Indeed, our platonic love goes pretty deep. Almost like siblings.
What of sibling love then?
One of the greatest forms of love in life really is sibling love. They can insult you, yell at you, fight you and whatever you can think of. You scream back, scratch and even beat each other up. But a strong bond with them is an unshakeable one. If you are hurt because someone did something to you, often they’ll be ready to go hunt that someone down. If they see you cry, sometimes they’ll do little things to show you they care. Like fixing a bowl of berries and cream because they know you like it. Or giving you a head pat because they see you need that bit of physical comfort. And in my memory, when siblings band together and stand together in solidarity, they’re nothing short of powerful.
Perhaps by now, you, the reader, might be wondering: so where’s the romantic love in all this?
Ah, the celebrated tale of romantic love. One we never tire of, and that we’ve seen in countless mainstream movies, indie films, books, fanfiction, the list goes on. Sappy as they are, we still lap up the story of Person A meeting Person B and vice versa and they totally fall oh-so-deeply in love. They kiss, they go on dates, they make out, they go through school obstacles and try to get into university… It goes something like that. That’s what the media always says.
But to me, romantic love was never so simple. The version of romantic love I saw while growing up was this: my parents holding hands, cheek kisses, smiles exchanged between each other. But I also saw the steadfast devotion my father showed my mother through their worst. Learning how to inject her with painkillers, learning the right dosage, sending her to treatment every single session. He stayed up several hours to watch her sleep before he dared to, made sure she was taken care of while he went to work, all while caring for two kids. Granted, it was with the support of a larger family network, but it was no less painful and no less anxiety-inducing. And he did this all the way till the day she passed on. Day in, day out. For years, this was love to me. It still is, even now. That’s my parents’ story, and the lessons I drew from them. But I never fully understood the weight of those lessons and more until I had my own beloved.
It’s been a few years since I met him as a freshman. But the fond memories I have of those few years (and hopefully beyond) are hard won. I had initially thought “Hey, communication is just about telling what you think to the other party, right?”
I was wrong. Communication encompassed much more than that, and felt far harder than I initially thought. Words would get stuck in my throat when I wanted to tell him I was bothered about something, because I didn’t want to worry him. I certainly refused to cry in front of him or let him see it. And there were times too, that I didn’t talk to him if he made me mad. Even when it came to intimacy, it was hard to say what I liked or didn’t like. Boundaries were hard because I felt I was constraining him, even though he would always check in on me and would try his best to be considerate.
But the reality is this: relationships don’t work unless you talk it out. I had to force myself to unlearn and undo the years of learning to withhold my words. I had to learn to express myself. And I had to learn how to be honest with him. Even if it meant exposing the worst parts of me, like lashing out.
Even then, relationships need patience and trust. It’s not only in the big things that trust accumulates. These build up over time with tiny, little things too. They show up in the mundane days you spend with each other after the initial excitement wears off. It could be just being in each other’s arms and chatting about a topic you both like (for me, it’s maps and history). Or it could be how you both plan to eat a quick lunch together, trying to squeeze out time for each other. The point here is: your trust in each other becomes stronger as you become more comfortable with each other.
People always say “love is a choice, and not a feeling”, and I agree wholeheartedly with it. What binds people together is not how sparkly or beautiful it feels at first sight. It is the constant decision to choose each other, to choose to trust each other, over and over again when things happen. That choice to choose each other eventually builds up what I call the relationship piggy bank.
Why a piggy bank, you may wonder? It’s because you are constantly trying to buffer and prepare for traumas that both of you go through together. Whether it’s losing a family member or a job-related issue, both of you have a choice to choose each other too. And if you don’t choose each other (say, being there for the other party or trying to listen to them), then the piggy bank gets depleted of its resources. If this depletion happens often enough, then your relationship will start to have more issues and cracks that you need to mend. If these signs were ignored too, then it spells doom for the relationship.
Perhaps that is really how complex love is. And the myriad forms of love show us that love really is all around. So this Valentine’s Day, just remember to express your own thanks to the people that have loved you. And maybe give yourself some love too.
By: Crystal Lee
Letter of Love
Funny isn’t it. How a tragic story of secrecy and fear turned into a day celebrating love. 14th February. The day Saint Valentine was (allegedly) executed for uniting many loved ones. Controversial? Probably, but I had to do him justice. On this day of love, I had to reminisce about mine. It was too precious to let go. Crawling out of bed, I grabbed a pencil and rough paper and began writing.
Thank you for loving me this far. All the moments we had together, I will treasure and keep it with me forever. You taught me many things. What I want in a guy: kindness, love and caring. (seemingly synonyms for the same idea, but different nonetheless), but also what I don’t. You embraced every aspect of myself that even I failed to notice. You were always patient when it took time for me to trust. Most of all you were the lamp of my life, illuminating even the darkest of times.
It is a pity how we have come to an end. Maybe I could have been more sensitive, you could have been more thoughtful but what’s done is done. We are all human anyway and this is the part where I reflect and ensure I get something (growth) out of the year I spent with you.
One thing about me is I like to self victimise. Okay, I don’t like to but I unconsciously do so. Every fight we have I will rationalize my actions and feelings, neglecting yours in some way. As such I put my needs above yours. That was not right of me. I should have HEARD you. Agreeing to you wasn’t “hearing”. I should have respected your opinions, however much they may differ from mine. You always tried to speak your emotions but I wasn’t the one listening. Over time, you probably gave up trying, which was the start of our end.
I can go into detail of every moment that I have made a mistake but what is that going to do. It is not going to bring me peace nor you solace. As much as I regretted some actions, I started to realise (finally) to treat you better/ do you justice for all the times you have given in. By then it was too late, you were slipping and I knew nothing I said or did could change that.
So I made it easier for you. Agreeing to break up, going down without a fight, holding in my tears and accepting your feelings one last time. Which is such a mistake I’ve come to realise.
Because a relationship is 50/50. As many mistakes as I have made, you have too. As much as I’ve hurt you, you have too. Jokes on me for thinking we will always get through them.
Your actions were not right in any way. Letting go out of nowhere, inventing meaningless excuses to make yourself feel better was. not. okay. But I am glad you did what you did. It is something huge for you and you do deserve someone who makes you feel special, like how you made me feel.
I realize relationships are more than just that feeling of forever. It is more than the butterflies and the warmth after a good hug. It’s all about commitment. Something I swore to myself but you never did. I mean I’m not mad about it. Ok a little. But I think it is unfair to not want commitment after a year’s worth of promises. See I was clear from the start about doing this for fun. You however gave me hopes and dreams that eventually changed my mind. But, in this process you changed yours as well…
Tears started rolling down my eyes. I began to realise why we ended. Funny how one year can blur your memory so much. So much that you want to go through the pain all over again, just for the few happy moments, the times where you felt loved and whole again. Maybe celebrating love today wasn’t a mistake. It somewhat signifies the pain entwined with affection. Taking my pencil I wrote,
“always & forever love,
By: M P Abirami
BYOV- Be Your Own Valentine
So it’s that season again when all the flower shops are suddenly stocked with roses and your friends are rushing to buy gifts for their significant others. Every advertisement seems to be marketing a ‘couple deal’ (obviously a ploy to get you to spend more), and every movie seems to be a new rom-com scheduled to be released in time for the ‘day of love’. And you cannot relate, because you are in your early twenties trying to figure out what you want in life. You barely have time to think about finding ‘The One’ but it seems like the universe is trying to rub your singlehood in your face. You’re starting to accept that you will probably live alone with your 3 cats in the 3-room HDB flat that you can finally buy at age 35. In that case, why not just treat yourself?
Treat yourself this Valentine’s Day because no one will.
Okay jokes aside, treat yourself because you deserve a treat. You have gotten through the past year relying on yourself for emotional support (unless you have a therapist then maybe treat them too) and you have accomplished so many things for yourself by yourself. Society’s unhealthy fixation with the importance of having a partner makes it so hard for us to realise that we do not need to constantly rely on someone else for our psychological or emotional needs; we can provide ourselves with them. In fact, I might even go as far as to say that society’s fixation on relationships destroys relationships.
Many people think that having a significant other will solve their life problems because we have been conditioned to think of a partner as ‘our other half’, implying that we ourselves are incomplete. The truth is, we exist as individuals in control of our own lives and fates. We do not need someone to ‘fix’ us, that is our own responsibility. Getting into a relationship thinking that your partner is going to fix you is flawed at best, and completely disastrous at worst because there will always exist an unequal exchange of emotions. Heartless as it sounds, a relationship is a partnership, which means that both parties should benefit equally. Compromises are inevitable because ultimately each party is still an individual, but if you find that you’re constantly serving your partner’s needs without your own needs being served, that’s parasitic (and as with all parasites, it is time to call pest-control).
So to avoid being an unwitting parasite to the people around you (that’s right folks, relationships are not exclusively romantic!), you have got to fix yourself and that starts with SELF LOVE. Yes, you have probably heard of it, and probably think it is a Gen-Z excuse to treat yourself to luxury and indulgence. I don’t disagree, but I think self-love is more than that. Self-love is about loving ourselves enough to push ourselves to be better, and sometimes it hurts. It hurts because we find it so hard to forgive ourselves for our shortcomings or give ourselves another chance to be better. It hurts because we cannott see any progress and it feels as though everything is in vain, and it feels so much easier to just accept the status quo. But you know the cliché saying: “No pain, no gain”. One day you will look back and thank yourself, and likewise one day you will look back and thank yourself for treating yourself this Valentine’s Day. You gave yourself that well-deserved break to unwind and have fun with your friends while you’re still young and energetic. The Polaroids you take and the TikToks you make will follow you into the dreary depths of adulthood, and they’ll remind you of when times were good.
By: Maisy Kim
Feature Image by Mayur Gala from Unsplash. Header image by Debby Hudson from Unsplash.