In Bloom

Photo by Ahri Vi

By Ahri Vi

Only recently have I been comfortable enough to call myself a late bloomer. I can confess that I used to be embarrassed to admit that– at the age of 23, I had never been in a relationship, never been asked out, or even had my first kiss. This embarrassment was always heightened because I always had an interest in romance. I loved telenovelas as a kid and spent most of my adolescence enthralled in young adult novels and Shojo anime/manga. When I started college, I became a connoisseur of period pieces and Otome games. But I never experienced romance in my real life. Surprisingly, I’m not really mad about it. If anything, it’s other people who tend to be bothered that I’m a late bloomer.

The responses I get after revealing that I’m a late bloomer tend to span from sympathy to excitement. The majority of the time, I get a neutral response. Something along the lines of, “That’s cool,” or “Everyone has their own timeline.” Usually, my older cousins or people around my age are the ones who respond neutrally. It’s the sentiment that aligns closer to my own personal feelings about relationships and dating. They, like I, don’t see a need for me to rush. Relationships take time, patience, and effort. However, these neutral responses can tread on crossing the line between neutrality and hyper-positive responses, such as “It’ll happen soon, I promise!” or “Just put yourself out there!” and the suprisingly very oversaturated “Just manifest it!”

I categorize these overly-optimistic responses in the sympathetic group. These people seem to think it’s a travesty that I’ve never had a partner before and can’t comprehend how anyone can live a fulfilling life without one. This group consists of my tias, mostly, but also people who are overly devoted to their relationships. My tias, along with my mom and my grandmothers, all found themselves in long-term relationships at a young age. Many of them got married in their early 20s, or at the very least had children by then. So naturally, they’re horrified by the idea of me marrying at old age and think I’m running out of time on my biological clock. When my sister got pregnant, they asked me when I planned on having children. They all practically fainted when I said the youngest I would consider having kids was 30. But as annoying as my tias’ judgments can be, nothing is more annoying than people who are a bit too enthusiastic about their relationships.

I think everyone has had at least one friend who, the moment they get into a relationship, makes everything about their relationship. They can’t go more than five minutes without talking about their partner, or they share way too intimate details about their relationship. But mostly, they begin to prioritize their new romantic relationship over their platonic ones. As far as I’m concerned, this type of person tends to believe that everyone should be in a relationship, because how else could anyone be as happy and fulfilled as them without one? So obviously, I’m not a big fan of these people. I don’t care if I get called bitter or a hater because I know that’s not true! I actually do like the sight of people being openly affectionate towards their partners, it proves to me that love does exist after all!

But what does bother me is the notion that just because I’ve never been in a relationship, I’m not a fully formed person. It almost suggests that my entire life experience is invaluable because I’ve been single all my life. It’s even worse when people infantilize me because of it. There’ll be a mature conversation about sex and relationships being had, and then here comes the patronizing, “Oh, but you wouldn’t know anything about that!” Yes, I may be hopeless when it comes to romance, but I’m still an adult! Don’t treat me like a child who’s oblivious to how the world works just because I haven’t had first-hand experience!

Regardless, I think the oddest reaction I get to being a late bloomer is when someone is happy that I’m not dating. Sometimes it’s my sister telling me, “You’re so lucky you’re single,” after she has an argument with her boyfriend, or my oldest cousin saying something like, “Boys are a waste of time.” Those comments, while they irk me, are ones I’ve become desensitized to. But there’s one response that always shocks me, no matter how many times I hear it: “good.”

Now, for context, this reply has only been said to me by one specific demographic: older Latina women. These señoras usually have kids who are already older and have been married for decades at this point. Now, as I mentioned earlier, it’s fairly common for women to get married quite young in the Latine community, but there’s also a lot of misogyny in the community. These young women usually marry or have children with men who are older, either that or their husbands are unfaithful and/or abusive. Many stay with their husbands because society tells them that’s what they need to do, and those who leave face societal pushback and judgment. Growing up, these señoras were taught that the most important thing was for them to be a good wife and mother; never complain or ask for help. I think this is partially why the señoras in my life are thrilled to see me single.

The moment I graduated high school, both of my grandmothers told me to focus on school. That while I had the luxury of studying, I should “live my life” before settling down with a boyfriend. I had always kind of rolled my eyes at this; first, for their heteronormativity, and second, because most people I knew were definitely not planning on getting married during college. But now, I understand what they mean. To them, dating was the direct link to marriage. They have no grasp on the concept that is modern-day dating in the United States. The idea of dating someone and not marrying them is scandalous to them. It was once I understood this that I realized that to my grandmothers, who were already married and mothers at my age, my status as a single woman was the luxury they spoke of.

And while I have heard all of these varying responses, no one ever asks me how I feel. They either assume I’m completely fine with being single or that I’m desperately counting the days until I find myself a partner. And to be honest, it’s a mix of both.

Looking back, I am so relieved that I didn’t date in high school. I was raised primarily by my religious maternal grandmother, who taught me absolutely nothing about sex and relationships. She only taught me what her mother taught her and what she taught her daughters: don’t have sex until you’re married. This, and the fact that I was deep in denial about my bisexuality, led me to be super religious as a teenager. Teenage-me also strived to have a relationship like those I saw in novelas and YA novels, most of which were extremely toxic and borderline (if not overtly) abusive. Add all of this to only being exposed to abusive and machista relationships in my life, and you’re left with an insecure, naive young girl who wouldn’t know what a red flag was even with it waving right in front of her.

I guess there’s a small part of me that wishes I had started dating in high school– maybe then it would’ve prepared me for dating culture in general. First of all, it seems that most people use apps to date, and that scares the hell out of me. Maybe it’s because I watched true crime shows when I was way too young, but the idea of talking and meeting a complete stranger from the internet feels like a death wish. Then there’s hook-up culture, which isn’t something I’m totally against, just not interested in participating in. And ultimately, I can’t help but feel like I’m falling behind people my age. I feel like people my age are already settling down, and those who are single aren’t patient or willing to start a relationship with someone who’s inexperienced. And on days when my self pity is high and self esteem is low, I can’t help but think the worst. If no one my age wants to date someone inexperienced, where does that leave me? Am I just going to wait around for the rest of my life? Am I going to end up alone? Maybe the reason why no one has shown interest is because no one ever will. Maybe I’m just meant to be alone.

Dating is scary. It may not seem like it, but it is. You’re committing to someone, all while trusting them to not hurt you. Some people are lucky and they ultimately find the person they’re meant to be with. Others don’t. My entire life I’ve witnessed the most toxic and unhealthy relationships. So, I created a long list of standards one had to meet in order for me to date them. Now, as I am beginning to reflect, I think these standards were a shield to stop me from dating. I had always been scared of getting hurt like so many of the women in my life, but I think I was holding myself back. If dating was all about taking risks, then how could I have a relationship with someone if I didn’t let go of the lifeline I had created?

Still, I don’t have a desire to date right now. I’m content being single, and while I do have moments where I wish I had a partner, I’m still waiting for the right person. Even though I haven’t met them yet, I still hold out hope that I will meet them. I have always believed that things happen when they’re supposed to, so maybe my future partner is the person I’m meant to be with. If they aren’t, then they’ll only help me realize the type of person I do want to spend the rest of my life with. Either way, whenever happens, I know that it’ll be on my own terms and not because society (or my nosy tias) forced me to. But until then, I will continue to grow as a person.

Though, I’d prefer if it didn’t take another 23 years. You know, just to put it out into the universe.


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