On space

I wrote this last March. For some reason, I was really into writing in lower-case so… please forgive me for that.


we were taught, back in church group, that there are five core languages of love: quality time, touch, gifts, acts of service and words of encouragement. at the end of the talk they handed out tests to score our fluency — what we were good at giving, what we liked receiving.

i don’t remember what my results were at the time. i do know that i was 16-years-old and drunk on the thought of romance. i know that my notions of love weighed heavy on a feeling. and i know, lastly, that i was enamored by the possibility that love in all its vastness could be a language of its own.

i didn’t grow up in the philippines. i spent the first six years of my life in kuala lumpur, malaysia, back when it was still a developing nation and not the advanced metropolis it is today. colonized by the brits for more than half a century, the malays spoke english with a slight european lilt — something i had acquired via cultural osmosis.

when we returned to manila, my parents enrolled me in an all-girls catholic school where i stuck out like a sore thumb. i knew very little tagalog, spoke english with a weird faux-british accent and was very, very, very shy – a recipe for inevitable friendlessness. i spent most of my grade school years by myself, trying to learn words that were, in reality, bridges; trying to properly string the sentences together, so i could cast a line out and connect.

shedding my accent and learning to speak just like everyone else was a slow and tedious process but man, was it gratifying when i finally did it. i made friends. i made best friends. i arrived at a point where i could be known fully. the ideas percolating in my strange little brain now had people to belong to.

ultimately what language did was free me from the island of self. it was the boat that led me to people. that made me believe the world was, indeed, larger, richer and better than i could’ve ever imagined.

i have a theory that the sixth language of love is space.

everything else is about getting closer: to touch, to give, to speak, to do, to spend. these are the verbs of intimacy and they are all so beautiful and important.

i used to believe that love culminated in being able to immerse myself completely in another person’s being. but i’m starting to see now that i was wrong about that.

because love is about value. it is, in jamie tworkowski’s words, the patient telling of another person’s worth. and part of that means giving the person (and yourself) the freedom to become.

and to become is, quite often, a solitary endeavor.

i’m finding now that space is a much more difficult language to master. i have been wrestling with it for 27 years. i am constantly tempted to tether my soul to other people — who cares about the aftermath? i tell myself. i just want to get close.

yet all major heartbreaks of my life were born from intimacy without autonomy. i’d practice the five love languages in excess, make the person my whole world, then crumble at the slightest shift.

what space does is free others from the island of self. because love, real love, is always a soul-expanding thing. and my best bet to live out my best life possible is tied to my ability to give myself (and the people i love) endless room to grow. to become whole on their own. to stop filling in all the gaps because the gaps … the gaps are good.

so, yeah. to step back, to let people be, is a huge part of everything. and if we are going to love well then we are going to have to dance with solitude every once in a while. the trick, i’m learning, is not to stay too long.

and, sure. love is a language i can still barely pronounce but when i speak it these days i get the sense that it is no longer unfamiliar, that it is becoming one that i can actually call my own.


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