Friday, May 4, 2012

"Love's overrated"

What do eight women talk about when they get together for the first time in years at a hot springs resort in the middle of nowhere in southern Japan? Well, they talk about love and life, of course; and then they talk about love again.


If you've been reading this blog regularly, you'll know I'm talking about a college reunion of eight Japanese women plus myself, who were the girls in a college zemi (which is a class/ study group assigned to a specific professor to study a particular subject) at Tokyo's Sophia University that was supposed to study international management practices.

I was the only foreigner, and we were only nine girls in the class because there were still far fewer women in universities when I was going to school in Japan years ago. So, of course, we bonded pretty well out of lack of numbers and out of necessity. The guys were never good with reviewing for tests, after all, so we girls had to study together if we wanted the As.


And now here we were XX years later, older and wiser, and getting together to catch up on life in a hot springs resort in Kagoshima, Japan. As with most people, we all got incredibly busy with our own lives after college -- and, in my case, I began traveling the world and shuttling forth between Tokyo and elsewhere.

Yes, I've been living a Travelife ever since I can remember. And now I live in Manila as well. So I haven't been very good at keeping in touch with these friends from Sophia University -- or with friends from my wonderful years at the Ateneo, for that matter! If you're one of my Ateneo classmates, by the way, apologies for not keeping in touch and please send me a line care of I'd love to hear from you!


Back to my Sophia University reunion. So there we were sitting around the hot springs at midnight. It was cool enough to need a wrap, but still comfortable enough to be able to sit around the rocks with our feet in the hot water, and the river rushing by next to us.

"Love's overrated," said my friend Emi, who was just then going through a trial separation, and who was kind of dating several men. "The best thing to do, I've decided, is to focus on work and make a success of myself. Men are just unreliable and if you think otherwise, you're just bound to get disappointed."

We'd been talking about relationships and the lessons learned over the years.

"Well, it's difficult, for sure," Mariko said. She's the happily married classmate I wrote about in my last blog, who has four kids and a pressure-filled job. "But I don't think men should be written off yet. It's all a matter of compromises and learning to live with the imperfect."


"And, of course, some men are keepers and others -- well, others just aren't worth wasting time over," added Sachiko, who was married once, and who was now dating a hotshot foreign banker.
And this was when I chimed in: "And now that we're older and wiser, we should be able to tell more easily who are the keepers and who are the ones not worth wasting time over."

Emi said almost immediately: "And that's how I know I'm still not wise enough. Obviously I still can't tell the difference. And I don't know if I'll ever be wise enough to avoid the pain."

We all looked helplessly at her, just then an image of disappointment and sorrow -- the kind of disappointment and sorrow that women the world over have experienced in their quest for The One. It would be great if women could skip through this tutorial and just get to the end with a perfect partner. But that wouldn't be life, would it?

"Emi, you can't avoid the pain," Mariko said. "You have to keep trying until you find the right person. It's all trial and error. Some of us are lucky to get it right from the first time; but most are going to have their heart broken a couple of times in their life."


When Mariko said this, I remembered how she'd once cried a bucket of tears -- or no, make it about three buckets of tears -- over a guy she thought had been Mr. Right...and who turned out to be otherwise. They'd had wonderful times together and then suddenly he disappeared just like that, leaving her wondering about what exactly had happened.

I think she spent about three days in tears -- so, yes, that was about one bucket of tears a day. But on the fourth day, she got up and put a ribbon in her hair and the smile back on her face.

And I can't ever forget what she told me, with an eloquence and a wisdom light years ahead of her time, as she picked up the pieces of her broken heart, put them in a box and deliberately threw the key away, so that she was never ever sad over him again.

She said: "I had such a wonderful time with him -- you just can't imagine. He brought sunshine into my life in a way I can't describe. But, for whatever reason, and perhaps even for a reason that's completely unconnected with me, he's taken himself out of my life. We'll never have a tomorrow, but I'll always be thankful for those past days of happiness. Some people never even get that at all."



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