For the majority of 2020 and 2021, like the rest of the world, I was stuck inside. In the beginning, ‘inside’ was my parent’s house, where I would toil away on my thesis for 1 hour and spend the rest of the day playing Animal Crossing. After graduating, ‘inside’ changed to an apartment in Jakarta, where I would go for days, weeks, and even months without meeting anyone. I would wake up, walk 5 steps to my desk, sit in front of my computer, and by the time I looked up, the room was dark and a day had passed.
So the end of 2021 and the entirety of 2022 was retribution for the years I had spent inside, barely meeting anyone. By my rough estimate, I think I’ve met more people in the past 1.5 years than I had met in my entire life before that. Not everyone made a lasting memory, as I’m sure many of them would say about me.
But some of them seem like they’re going to stick around for a while. And I’m incredibly happy that’s the case.
I used to see friendships as something easy to start, but difficult to maintain. I had, for a time, a nihilistic view that all friend group chats would die down one day, no matter how loud they had been in the past. I had assumed that most friendships exist for a chapter of your life, and as you move from one place to another, you start anew every time.
This year, I’m happy to be proven wrong. I met new friends and old friends who make the effort to stay in touch even after they’ve moved on to a new stage of life. Sure, I don’t talk to everyone I’ve met through every season of my life, but who does? You can’t keep everyone around forever, and you’re not really meant to anyway. People will leave, either by force or by choice.
But the people who stay choose to stay. They see you for who you are, not just for what you show to the world. They see the cracks, the flaws, and the imperfections. And yet there they are, asking what your dinner plans are, when you’ll be in town next, sending you funny memes and Tiktoks, writing you birthday wishes, randomly asking how you’re doing, sending a picture of something that reminded them of you, asking you to hop on a call, playing video games with you until the first rays of light filter through your window, inviting you on a trip with them, spamming you with a hundred new messages in the group chat, showing that they care in a million different ways.
Some friendships fade. But some friendships persist.
And I’m glad I’ve found the ones who persist.
I’m currently reading a book of essays written by Hanif Abdurraqib, and one quote has stuck with me for a while. In his essay Fall Out Boy Forever, Abdurraqib writes about the band’s 2013 reunion:
“An acknowledgment of that which we all spend a lifetime searching for: the permission to come home again, after forgetting that there are still people who will show up to love you, no matter how long you’ve been away. No matter how obsessed you’ve been with your own vanishing, there will always be someone who wants you whole.”
The past few years have been a new chapter for my family. We grieved together for the loss of our grandma, then celebrated our first addition to the family when my sister got married. We spent the better part of 2020 hunkered down, constantly in proximity of each other, spending nearly every waking moment together. But then I moved out, and then my sister moved abroad, and we started to see less and less of each other.
It wasn’t easy at first. I had lived at home with my parents for the first 21 years of my life, and maintaining the relationship through physical presence did not immediately translate to maintenance through Whatsapp chats and scheduled Zoom meetings.
For a time, I put whatever I was experiencing as a priority over calling my family. There were so many new people to meet, so many new restaurants and cafes to try, that making time to call home felt like an unnecessary errand that I could keep pushing back. Regardless, they’ll love me anyway, right?
Constant love is a privilege. For someone to always be there for you, to be willing to pick up the phone when you call, to welcome you with open arms even after you’ve disappeared. That’s not something everyone has.
But constant love is unfortunately easy to take for granted. It does not ask for much but constantly gives. It persists, despite minimal maintenance. And so those of us who are so lucky to find ourselves showered by constant love often find ourselves taking advantage of it more than we should.
When I read that quote from Hanif Abdurraqib’s essay for the first time, I thought of my friends, those who had been a constant for the past year. But the more I thought about it, I realized that my family has been a constant for my entire life. It’s not a perfect relationship — but what relationship is?
As I grow older, I realize that it's an inevitability that I’ll spend less and less time with my family. I’ll get married and have my own family, my siblings will move out, and my parents will grow old and eventually pass away. So will I. So will my siblings.
I’m no longer a child who gets to come home every day and talk to my parents about what happened on the playground and what I learned at school that day. Like my parents, like their parents, like their parents’ parents, there will come a day when my house is no longer my parent’s house.
But I need to realize how lucky I am to have a home to come back to when I need to, where my family wants me whole, where the meals are warm, where the beds are familiar. That’s something I can never take for granted. And I need to do better to show my appreciation for my family in the coming years, whether that be through making time to fly home or scheduling a regular video call. I may not have as much time as I’d like anymore, and I may have realized this too late.
But whatever time I have left, I intend to make the most of it.
I recently opened a channel for people to submit anonymous messages about me. It was what my friends were doing, it was something I had done before, and I was curious to see what people would send in.
Most of the submissions were kind and lovely, but there was one that stuck to my mind. It said “Sorry, but you need teeth whitening..”
It’s normal for negative comments to speak louder than positive comments. It’s even worse when you have a tendency to overthink like me. But that comment made me realize how much I’ve grown in the last year.
What the anonymous message sender may never know is that this year was a breakthrough in dental hygiene for me. When I was younger, in elementary school, I remember coming home one day and telling my parents that I had been called ‘popcorn teeth’ by my friends. They were in an uproar. My dad had been trying for years to get me to brush my teeth every night before bed and had failed, time and time again (due to no fault of his own, I was just lazy and unaware of how horrible the consequences would be later in life).
This changed late in 2021 when one of my friends started pointing out how messed up my teeth looked. Being the overthinker I am, I began the year by wearing aligners, started doing much more than just brushing my teeth regularly, and became much more aware of how I smiled.
It was progress. Huge progress in fact. But to people looking from the outside, it just seemed like I had messed up teeth that were terrible to look at. The visible progress was minimal.
So the comment was understandable. But it didn’t phase me as much as it would have a year ago.
So much of what we go through is felt and experienced by us — and us alone. We’re the main character of a movie with an audience of one. As a result, the progress we feel often does not equate to the progress that others see.
But that doesn’t make the progress any less meaningful or valuable. I think we get to decide to assign meaning to the progress we make, because we’re the only one who get to see the entire journey from start to finish. Whether that be losing weight, being more fit, making a mental health breakthrough, learning something new, or even fixing your teeth. Just because other people don’t see the growth doesn’t mean that it’s not there.
It’s nice to share things with others and have them cheer you on. But before anyone else cheers me on, I want to learn how to cheer myself on. To give myself a pat on the back when I have a good gym day, or finish a run, or complete the project I spent hours on, or even remember to floss before bed.
I’m glad that there are people out there rooting me on. I’d like to root myself on too, and appreciate how far I’ve come — and how far I can still go.
To be honest the past few years were crazy in a good way (and bad ways) and there has been so much change and I know that it could have been better but I’m glad that everything happened exactly the way it happened and I know that there’s still a long way to go and there’s so many places still left to go to and there’s so many people I can still meet and I’m excited for all of the life left to live and this year may not be the best year ever (I don’t want to jinx it) but I’m still ecstatic that I’m still here and that I have friends I love and family I love and that there’s still a lot of chances to meet more people I love and places I love and there’s still so many movies to watch and songs to listen to and words to write and projects to start and I’m glad that there’s still things to learn because when I think about it I’m not even in my mid-20s yet or maybe I am and I’m in denial but I’m still so young and there’s still so much left to do and it’s never too late and I hope that next year I’ll still be here and the next year and the next year and I know it won’t always be good but I hope I learn from the lows and I learn from the highs and I roll with the punches and I never let it beat me down because even when Lady Luck isn’t on my side I hope I still hang on because when you find rock bottom that’s when you know you can push off and head on up and so this year I hope I get some of the best highs and some of the worst lows because when you look at everything as a lesson to learn there’s no way to lose baby
This year I learned a lot about love. Not in the same way that I had come to define love for the past half-decade, but rather a new form of love. Love that did not arise from romantic attraction, but rather love that came from everywhere. Growing up, and for the majority of the past few years, I had the fixation that love was only worth something when it came from your partner, that romantic love was worth more than love from anywhere else. But love is not limited to such narrow confines. I find love from friends, whether those be those nearby or those I don’t meet for months. I find love from family, the kind of love that is not explosive or asking for constant attention, but stable and persistent nonetheless.
I even find love from strangers, which is weird to think about in a world where we’ve given so much heft to the word itself, where the word is taboo to be thrown around so lightly. But I remember fondly a brief speech my third-grade teacher told my class: ‘the more love you give, the more love you get. just because I give away more love, doesn’t mean I have less of it.’ And so when there’s a kind comment from a person on the internet that I’ve never met, that’s love. When someone allows me right of way on a crowded intersection, that’s love. And in turn, I try to give as much love as I can to the people around me. Most times, it’s not enough, or not as much as I want.
But I try to give as much as I can, so that one day I can give as much as I want.
In a way, this retrospective has all just been an outpouring of love and I just want to say thank you to everyone who has been there in some way, shape, or form over the last 3 years. Not all of you will read this, and that’s okay because I’m sure I will run my mouth about this in some way when we next meet.
I’m glad I’m still here. I’m glad you’re here. I hope we’ll still be here this time next year. I hope I’ll still be writing. I hope you’ll still be reading.
For everyone who has read this far, whether we’ve met or not, I just want to thank you for reading. It means much more than you’ll ever know.
I hope you have a great year.