Ever since I was young, I was fascinated by the idea of true love. With my parents as the love model I would grow to most fervently admire, I was bound to have unreal expectations. They met at a young age, fell head over heels for one another and continue to be happily married. Without doubt, their passion always seemed to be capable of great action, and it was inconspicuous that they quarreled. Growing up listening to Arabic and English love songs being played frequently, on road trips and in the house, I was raised to believe in the notion of “the one”; in fact, I used to proclaim that I would die for my loved one. Today, I feel very differently.
In Egypt, I only indulged my emotional capacity to love, never the physical. I wore my heart on my sleeve in every relationship and, as many of us do, had a song that reminded me of every girl I fell in love with. Undeniably, movies and British pop songs continued to feed the hopeless romantic in me: I wanted to be Richard Gere in “Pretty Woman,” Patrick Swayze in “Dirty Dancing,” John Cusack in “Say Anything,” Tom Hanks in “Sleepless in Seattle” and Domhnall Gleeson in “About Time.” In time, I yearned for something more than emotions; I wanted to be able to hug someone I loved, kiss someone I loved and hold hands with someone I loved, all of which were frowned upon in my culture. Indeed, a teenager would be severely chastised if caught doing these things! Nonetheless, when I was 16, I had my first hug with a girl, who happened to be Australian, and it felt odd: Hugged by a foreigner, I felt as though I had betrayed my culture.
When I came to America, I thought that rising above my upbringing would be easy. After all, I had had exposure to the culture through over 200 movies. Unfortunately, I could not have been more wrong. I arrived ready to express my emotions physically, but was bombarded with sexual assault and consent speeches during my very first week at Amherst; in fact, I feared touching anyone lest they would file a sexual assault complaint. To me, asking for consent was not a revolutionary idea, and I have my mother to thank for that, but it was presented here in a way that instilled fear in me, which some people might argue is a good thing. The fact remains that my expectations clashed with reality, especially when I saw random people at parties start grinding with girls without consent! I had thought that meeting that special person across the room and that saying “I love you” would be easier in the U.S. than Egypt; I thought that I would be able to perform the great romantic gestures I dreamed of to some grand woman I loved. However, whenever I would ask people what they thought of such gestures, the majority would discard it as “too much” and the minority would declare that love is a fantasy. Stunned, I felt the need to reevaluate my entire perspective on what “love” meant and to understand American culture more.
Undoubtedly, my greatest conflict was finding the balance between expressing emotions through words and physical gestures. In Egypt, I never expressed my emotions through physical gestures, and so when I had the chance to do so in the U.S., I was unable to. Nevertheless, seeing everyone happy and in love around me made me fall into despair. My lowest moment came this summer in New York when I downloaded Tinder and started swiping. While recognizing that some find something meaningful through it, and I do not mean to put it down, I must say, I felt rotten: I felt I was giving up on a dream and a hope. If there is anything I take pride in, it would be my firm belief in genuinity. Even if for a day, Tinder made me objectify women and think of emotions as burdens; it discouraged me from searching for “the one.” Needless to say, I deleted it by the end of the day.
Ultimately, despite its difficulty, living in the U.S. has taught me a lot about myself. I revisited the past and discovered that many of my emotions were simply manifested out of a wish and were ungenuine. I came to be comfortable with dancing in public and determined that physical intimacy is integral to any successful relationship. As cliché as it sounds, I found peace reconciling two alien cultures. Above all, I learned to be more courageous and to try to get out of my comfort zone, even if it were through the small step of having a first date. Despite disposing of mistaken dreams of flawless scenarios with “the one,” I will forever search for one for whom I would be willing to pick the stars from the sky and put them on top of a crown. I will continue to be a hopeful, realistic romantic, for as Foreigner sang, love “keeps me warm as life gets colder.”