Part iii: Bambi
My Libido and the Love of My Life
I’ve been in a relationship for more than half a decade, which means I never have to close the bathroom door, and emotional blackmail only works around ten percent of the time. On his part, it’s been five years since he’s eaten a Cinnabon, and four years and eleven months since he’s admired another girl’s buns.
We met through mutual friends on a night out, so our ‘how did you meet’ story brings about the same reaction as when you answer To Kill a Mockingbird for your favourite book. I’ve heard this one before.
It happened like the scene from Big Fish when Edward sees Sandra from across the tent and time stops, except it took place in today’s equivalent of a circus - a whisky bar. I think people who don’t believe in love at first sight aren’t interpreting accurately. It isn’t love as we know it. You can’t know a person’s flaws and still be desperate enough to commit to them for the rest of your life so you won’t die alone with one look. That would be ridiculous.
Mine was a closer to a terminal case of like-at-first-sight. At the bar, frozen in time, I saw someone with a cheeky smile who was reserved but confident. My God Sister, who introduced us that night, appropriately coined the nickname, Bambi.
We forged a strong connection based on mutual understanding, as he’s Chinese-Canadian, I’m Chinese-American, we both studied in the UK, and were living in Shanghai. Our combined identity disorientation read like a textbook case study about the effects of immigration and expatriation.
For the first time, I knew I had to make a move, which I imagined would manifest as the most legendary game of hard-to-get I’ve ever had to play in my life. It would be a cat-and-mouse story for the ages, dethroning Tom and Jerry in the first act, and exposing Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy as mere amateurs.
Needless to say, it didn’t exactly work out as planned. He had a girlfriend, which meant my playing hard to get was having its face-value effect. What’s worse, I asked if his company would take me on as an intern for the Summer, for no other reason than to not talk to him even though I wanted to, not touch him even though I wanted to, and not care about about his trips to visit her. In truth, the only thing I cared about more at the time was nailing down a topic for my final year dissertation between a packed schedule of work and going to the circus.
I felt like a masochist sitting in the office everyday, knowing the only context in which I mattered to Bambi was my eagerness to write copy no one else wanted to write. Step up your Summer style with this midi-length bodycon number, which can be dressed up with pumps for nights out, and is ideal for attracting the attention of your boss...
Like any insecure yet intractable 21-year-old, I dealt with the situation by reaching out to my longtime friend with benefits. We didn’t have much in common, but did share the hobby of breaking down our casual sex partners’ self-worth like it’s a sport. Our post-breakup or unrequited love-induced rendezvous usually did the job, but no matter how many times I called him a piece of crap while sliding further into the crevasse between the wall and my twin bed, I couldn’t get the same high I did B.B. (before Bambi).
I had no choice but to wait ever-so-impatiently as they figured things out, while I fought off every urge to ping him a ‘how are you’ or selfie where I’m pinching my nipples like I’m in a painting with Gabrielle d’Estrées. Their relationship ended after a few months, and I moved on him like a bitch (as our President would put it, sadly).
In retrospect, it would’ve been more respectful of me to wait longer before dropping some not-so-subtle hints about hanging out, or whatever. But this was a time in my life where ‘moving on’ consisted of ugly-crying for 20 minutes in the shower before downing two Scarlet O'Haras and heading to the student union. During the first semester of my final year, the intent was to find fresh meat with low self-esteem who lived on the other side of town to bat my eyelashes at.
Our relationship progressed very slowly, but my like-at-first-sight experience wasn’t baseless. He’s a few years older, which means he’ll never download Snapchat, but he understands the psychological weight of being alive. More importantly, he also prefers East Coast Rap, all of his shirts have sleeves, and he doesn’t need me to regularly acknowledge and / or praise him for the size of his genitals, literally or metaphorically.
I saw him as so grown up with his affinity for peaty Scotch, gold-plated collar stiffeners, and measured use of hair products. I thought, finally, here is someone who doesn’t think good conversation involves disparaging, off-handed comments about Feminism, nor does he feel the need to share how he once almost had a threesome with an Asian girl named Leslie.
Bambi cared about enjoying life, and that was that. He thought I was fun, which was enough. I was engrossed and endlessly fascinated by my new adult relationship, where we dined in vegetarian-friendly restaurants he picked out, rather than on toasties in the parking lot of a church at 3 am. “Wait, you’re saying you don’t eat ham either? But it’s ham!”
He didn't make statements like “you’re the person I see myself with...like, full stop” after a few weeks of dating, only to sleep with the girl who always sat between us in Tuesday morning tutorial a few days later. He never asked me to pay for his drink after being fined his week’s allowance for public urination, his shrunken boabie on full display in Scotland’s Winter street.
Bambi showed me what being in a real relationship meant, and I could feel myself begrudgingly shedding the excuse of a romantic partner I was. We went shopping on one of our first dates, and he casually took my hand and held it in his own. Just like that. I, for one, was baffled because at school, the only reason a guy would take your hand so early on would be to place it on his crotch area to (a) feel for something, or (b) help something along.
Another time, Bambi dropped me off at home instead of letting me embark on my walk of shame, and then called me shortly after; not to say he butt dialed me or how I left my scarf at his place, but to set up another date. These are all reasonable ways to behave, but baffling for someone who thought the only way to survive a modern relationship was to expect nothing, and carry a vibrating stick.
Our relationship progressed, and I graduated from university around the time we made it official. After the euphoria of graduation had worn off, I was brought back to the reality of adulthood, which was making something of myself, and making back the money my parents spent putting me through school. After a few initial setbacks, which included an arbitrary Master’s degree, I found a job in a new city, moved in with Bambi, and swapped going out for indoor gardening.
I was surprised by how quickly I settled into my Scarlett O’Hara-free life. Sure, I missed the friends I used to go out with, but I was relieved to not remember the last time I passed out in the coat closet at a house party, or became belligerent for reasons I couldn’t recall just five minutes later. I want to say it had something to do with somebody trying to hold my hand.
Everything was new. Bambi wasn’t just a stand-in for when my friends weren’t available, and I cared enough about our relationship to fight even though I was only practiced in flight. I was incredulous but felt comforted by how natural sharing our lives felt, but it was more complicated - as the story always goes.
I had been dealing with depression since high school, going from months of normalcy to bouts of severe anxiety and dejection. From the start, depression was acknowledged but not frequently discussed, so I shared these struggles with no one aside from family. After all, I had always been fully functional - thriving even - if you only look at my Miles Teller à la Whiplash-level passion for rebellion and, on occasion, debauchery.
Throughout university, I more than coped with my supply of Zoloft, since my days consisted of going to the library, cooking, re-watching episodes of ‘Lost’, and indulging in the aforementioned debauchery - a pretty charmed life, so to speak. There was nothing in the picturesque university town to provoke the emotionally weak, aside from when Tesco ran out of hummus.
As the pressures of living in an overpriced city and the illness of a family member began to suffocate my already-windowless state-of-mind, I realised I had to take control of the situation, believing I knew exactly what to do.
After all, I was familiar with the process. I’d pick up the prescribed medication, take them, and commence the regularly scheduled programming. What I failed to consider was the implication of taking antidepressants while in a relationship, namely the dramatic decrease of one’s libido.
Those who’ve experienced this unfortunate side effect will know: no matter how determined you are or how hard you try, biology will inevitably let you down every single time. What should be the most natural and pleasurable act between two (or more) people is reduced to awkwardly synchronised jerks amounting to, well, nothing. Even though a part of you knows the battle’s already been lost before it even began, you still press on, hoping tonight will be different and love will prevail.
The libido letdown was never a concern before, as my all relationships for the previous three years (if you can call them that) had an expiration timeline of about a month. It’s relatively easy to throw a person out of bed when your regard for them is equivalent to your regard for instant coffee or dancing in clubs - I’ll do it if I have to. On the part of my dates, it was probably just a case of having to head to Leslie’s place a few hours earlier than planned. Not a big deal for either party, essentially.
Now, my loss of libido felt like the beginning of the end of my relationship with Bambi. Could our feelings for each other survive without sex? Do love and libido go hand-in-hand? With these questions causing me to break into a cold sweat at the thought of bedtime, the rattle of the pill bottle in my bag felt like a constant and ominous reminder of a sexless - or worse yet - loveless future.
My first instinct was to not tell him anything and simply abstain from taking the medication. This kind of recklessness and apathy for my well-being was typical and even expected. But as I sat in my new home with my new boyfriend, who’s dealt with my lows with indomitable pragmatism and patience, it felt wrong to be going back to old ways.
Bambi is different, I thought. I’m different! I couldn’t think of the last time I felt ashamed of myself for doing something I didn’t want to do in the first place, or the last time I wanted to run away even though I didn’t know what I was running away from.
I knew I had a choice to make: keep my libido and ignore the situation for the time being, or lose my libido but potentially gain so much more. One morning, while we were getting dressed before work - to my own surprise - I heedlessly and almost incomprehensibly blurted out why our sex life was different, how far the issue went, and my decision to continue with the treatment I needed. The look on Bambi’s face told me I desperately needed to work on timing.
Telling him was not only a watershed moment in our relationship, but my life. Even before that day, Bambi saw me as a person rather than an experience. He knew my harshest critic was myself, and pushed me to see why this dysfunction is no way to live. Not to my surprise, Bambi assured me he would be there through all the synchronised jerking, no matter how awkward.
B.B., I was so afraid of so many things, but most of all having to face myself. To avoid addressing these fears, I filled my time with people who didn’t matter, and who I didn’t matter to. Learning how to love Bambi made me realise I wanted get better. Lucky for me, he also turned out to be the love of my life, and all it took was my libido to see it.