My boyfriend Felix asked me the other day why I’d started mentioning him on my blog without properly introducing him.
A fair question. I replied that I thought only my parents read my blog, and they already know who he is.
But perhaps I also feel a little shy, a little awkward about introducing him; about naming and announcing him. Does it require an entire dedicated blog post? Should an introduction also include some sage lesson about cross-cultural dating, or a reflection on what a relationship means for my decision to stay in Timor-Leste?
Or maybe I should just write what I want to without over-thinking it.
This feels like something worth sharing.
In March or June or July last year, depending on whose count you go by, I started dating Felix, a kind, bespectacled guy who loves cooking and puns and Manchester United. He lives around the corner from me in Farol and I’ve known him as long as I’ve lived in Timor-Leste: we actually met, briefly, on my first trip here with my old work, Oaktree.
If you comb through the archives of this blog you’ll find countless oblique references to him. There’s the Tetun-speaking friend who helped me pump up my car’s tyres. There’s the neighbour who taught me Tetun-language idioms and explained the Timorese way of making plans (aban bainrua, just two days in advance). There’s the hand in the corner of the photos of Monday-night cooking. There’s the friend, friend, in whose arms I cried I can’t do this anymore on that sad, lonely night when the ATM ate my bank card and I just thought it was all too much and too hard and I wanted to go home. There’s the person I bumped back down from Maubisse with late last year and again last month and who, with any luck, will take me to the mountains again and again.
And the person for whom I’m remaining in Timor despite finishing my AVID assignment here.
Remaining was an incredibly easy decision to make: I love Timor, I love my life and my friends, I’ve invested in learning the language and the customs and the way life goes here, and I felt committed to and enamoured of this life. I would remain if I didn’t know Felix, which feels like a good litmus test (though I don’t know if I would have made it through the first twelve months without him), and when I thought for a brief moment late in January that I’d be forced to return to Australia and I felt panicked, sad and desperate — like my life was being ripped away from me.
But still, a serious part of my decision was to give this relationship its best possible shot, and remaining in Timor seems the easiest, clearest and most helpful way to do that (although I’m working hard to relocate Felix to Australia).
It’s an interesting position to be in: dating someone whose country you don’t know if you’ll remain in for very long, and each normal relationship decision or moment has felt artificially enormous as we grapple with the backdrop of the pre-determined timeframe. You don’t want to seem too presumptuous or eager, making plans for three months on when you’ve just been together for a month; but then, you don’t want to dance around being cool when you may just have a handful of weeks together and you want to give the relationship a chance to get up.
We navigated it by artificially designating March 2018 as the time when we’d have a Big Chat about it all (roughly the six-month mark, which felt sensible), and over a few months every time we reached a sticky point (thinking about my contract ending, contemplating meeting families – overseas trips and strict Catholic parents, eep – first I love yous, travel plans and studying next year, etc) we were like, “Let’s talk about it in March?” Easy.
Of course, those conversations unfolded naturally and organically over the last few months of last year anyway, and we found ourselves in late February with me jobless and broke, one of his housemates leaving their place, the March deadline looming but both of us already sure of all of its answers. I moved into their house in the first week of March, still intending to leave Dili in December this year as I’d planned, but both of us committed to throwing ourselves in (and both of us excited about the cheaper rent and designated guest room).
An intention I set at the start of this year: be a fan.
It came when I returned from my Christmas trip to Perth to find my beautiful, dusky, mint-green house had been repainted a garish tennis-ball-green in my absence.
A year ago I would have thought it ugly, gross, ruined.
This year, I’ve decided I’m a fan.
For a long time I’ve let my insecurities guide me and have tended to aloofness and criticism over enthusiasm. It’s easier to tear something down that it is to celebrate; it’s safer to not care, to not be invested; and it’s easier to watch your feet when you walk than it is to run with your face to the sun.
But it doesn’t mean anything to be cool and cultivated; to shield yourself from the potential embarrassment of unequivocally loving or championing something that turns out to be rubbish.
The tennis-ball green is brash, but it’s fun. It’s bright and sunny and perfectly fitting with my colourful life in tropical Timor-Leste. I love it.
I’d rather commit to hope, optimism and energy than to guarded-ness and apathy.
And I feel the same way about my romance.
I am committed to this relationship in a way I’ve not been romantically for many years, and I’m aware of how vulnerable that makes me. I have no idea how it’ll end up — and that’s thrilling and refreshing and terrifying in a way my hands-off dating hasn’t been for a good few years. I’m sick of keeping people at a cool distance, of arms-length dating, of avoiding doing things in case they turn out bad or awkward or embarrassing.
I am throwing myself into life here, into life with Felix, and all the embarrassment and opportunity declaring myself spectacularly in love brings.
I am a fan. It feels very good.
A post-script. I sent this post in its entirely to Felix for his approval before I posted it (I also send him this post-script for proofing). “This is… err.. a lot!” he replied, with that emoji that’s crying as it laughs (I hate that emojji). “You don’t want me to post it?” I asked. “No, it’s good, I just thought you were going to post, like, a biography,” he said. So, for him, and for you: Felix Maia, unusually no middle name, born eldest of six in Palapaso, Dili (the suburb next to the one in which we currently live; if we run out of eggs or mosquito spray he ducks to the kiosk his mum runs one street over). 29-and-a-half years old; bachelor’s degree in communications and politics from the University of Hawaii; plays ukelele; will tell you the Portuguese brought the instrument to Hawaii like they did bread to Timor-Leste. Voracious Wikipedia reader and fact-reciter; knows four or five or six languages depending if you ask me or him; determined pun-maker; excellent cook; kind soul; loving partner; easily embarrassed; terrible emoji-chooser.