An Almost Love Story

It’s been two weeks since Valentine’s Day happened, and the hype for the occasion has already died down.  Gone are the flower and balloon vendors peddling in the streets of the metro.  Restaurant promo packages for couples are no longer available, and people have stopped flaunting and greeting their significant others on social media.  However, it still is February and traces of V-Day can still be felt somehow—February after all is the love month.  Just a couple of days ago, I received a promotion from my telephone service provider for Spotify Premium Duo urging me to subscribe so that “[my] partner and I can share the the love and enjoy uninterrupted streaming of (our) favorite love songs.”  Fastfood giant Jollibee special Valentine ads also pop out every now and then whenever I am on YouTube.  Romantic movies, too are still scheduled to be shown on some cable channels. 

Needless to say, stories of romantic love, regardless whether they are highly delightful or painfully unfortunate, are the main highlight this time of the year.  Of course, however, those with successful endings are preferable and are most enjoyed.  But how about those stories that do not exactly fall into either clear category of happy endings or sad conclusions?  The type that doesn’t really have a beginning or an end because there was never really either one—you know, those “almost love stories”?  Where do they fit? 

In 2019, I got to watch a short film that was related to this topic.  It was actually an advertisement for the Danish footwear brand, Bianco.  Unlike the Jollibee commercials that are either tear-jerkers or just generally heartwarming, this Bianco ad neither celebrates Valentine’s Day nor gives that warm, fuzzy feeling either.  Entitled The Lift, it tells the story of two people who often meet—of all places—in an elevator, stand side by side each other, expressing nothing but silence, which made it seem as though it was the third major character in the story.  The main characters may be quiet on the outside, but things are completely different inside their heads.

I couldn’t help rooting for both characters, wanting both of them to finally have the courage to open their mouths and say out loud what in their hearts were.  I mean, who doesn’t like a happy ending, no?  Alas, their thoughts remained just that—thoughts.  

The film was cute and sad at the same time but not the heartbreaking type.  (I’m not quite certain if “sad” is even the most appropriate word I should use here.) I saw other viewers who shared my opinion.  In contrast, I showed this to a friend of mine, but she didn’t feel the same way I did.  Instead, she had mixed feelings about what happened—or should I say—what didn’t happen between the main characters.  Overall, I guess what makes this commercial nice is that it gives the opposite of what the audience expects but reflects what many must have already experienced, which makes it absolutely relatable. 

Perhaps you yourself have experienced this at one point as well: you meet someone but are unable to express anything at all for not knowing what to say or for fear of rejection.  And this desire for the other (whether for the idealized version of her/him or not) just ferments inside your brain, and quite literally, nothing happens between the two of you in the end. 

In a similar vein, I stumbled upon another almost love story last year that involves themes of silence and overthinking.  This time, however, it is not an advertisement but a short story written by renowned author Haruki Murakami.  On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning is taken from his collection of short stories titled The Elephant Vanishes.  It tells the story of this man, who, as stated in the title, sees a woman and instantly concludes that she is the perfect woman for him.  The man, just like The Lift characters, does not say anything to the woman, who simply walks past by him eventually.  He, however, later on realizes what he should have said to the woman: “that confession starts, ‘Once upon a time,’ and ends, ‘Isn’t that a sad story?’”

Just like with The Lift, I also find On Seeing… sad.  But what really is there to be sad about anyway?  No communication, therefore no rejection and no broken hearts, right?  Or are there?  In The Lift, rejection is assumed.  In the pair’s first meeting, the woman, just before the elevator doors close, infers that the man does not like her type and quickly thinks, “Perfect.  He didn’t notice me at all.”  In On Seeing… the man also immediately assumes that the woman won’t talk to her if he tells her his feelings: “You really are not my 100% man,” the man imagines how the woman will turn him down.  But can you blame them for thinking that way?  Many would not have also said anything if they were put in the same position, would they?  There might not be hearts bleeding profusely in these couple of stories, but hearts most probably have been grazed.

In these two tales where silence, overthinking, and fear take over these characters, I think it is safe to say that the sadness stem not from their seeming endings but actually in the failure of a beginning, of lost possibilities.   But then again, if they had a chance but nothing came out of it, I guess maybe it was never meant to be to begin with.

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