“Actually yesterday I was pretty depressed. I am a very romantic person and I kind of feel like I missed that era in my life,” says Melanie, known to her friends as Melo. “Now I find I’m not that selfless anymore. I would not do things because they’re romantic, I would do things because they’re logical or they make sense.” Romance and its changing nature as we evolve into the different stages of life is the topic of discussion. Whether married or single, everyone longs for its illusive magic. “Right now I’m so mechanical. If I meet someone I just have a face on where I’m totally shielded, I don’t let them get into me. There’s no feelings involved.”
Our two cups of Persian tea give up their plumes of steam as Melo ruminates about the changing nature of relationships. She finds that she has become more wary and calculated in her search for love and misses the spontaneity that used to define her.
When asked to define romance she quickly responds, “love at first sight,” but admits that it no longer happens that way at her age. She sounds like an old matron but, at thirty eight, Melo is far from being old. Her English has a distinct Iranian accent with a heavy European overlay. Although born in Iran, she grew up in Europe and moved to California in her twenties. She’s become aware that now, the person she may fall in love with at first sight may not be the person she ultimately wants to be with. “That’s not how I think anymore. Appearances may be just 10% of the whole thing.”
“You’re older and wiser and have more experience now,” I agree with her.
“Yeah but that’s just so boring – like going to the dentist,” she says and laughs, displaying her wry sense of humor.
Melo believes that culture along with community pressure and family expectations have become restrictive when trying to find a soul mate. “It’s kind of sad and in my particular situation there’s another barrier,” she says referring to the fact that she is gay.
“I’ve been a coward. I haven’t admitted my lifestyle,” she says and tells how there’s a new generation of women who live a much more open life than hers. Her voice is quieter and more withdrawn during this shift in the conversation. It’s no longer a lighthearted discussion of the fun side of relationships but a deeper exploration of identity. “It’s hard to be Armenian, to be romantic, be in a relationship, and have a certain lifestyle,” she explains but admits that it’s difficult for everyone, regardless of their way of life. “Look how hard it is for Armenian girls to meet a man.”
“Do you think it’s really that hard or we just make it hard?”
“We make it harder. Our surroundings make it harder. It’s a combination,” she concludes.
She tried to make things simpler at one point in her life. “I always thought if I moved away from my family I would be freer. But it’s just the opposite because when you’re away from your family you don’t have anyone to share those intimate thoughts with.” Although Melo didn’t give herself the time or the opportunity to share her emerging identity with her family, she thinks that eventually she would have been forced to. “When you run away you come up with excuses and that takes a longer time.”
Even though her family now knows the whole truth about who she is, at the time she believed that she could disguise any aspect of herself that would cause them pain or disappointment. “I regret lots of stuff,” she says as her voice catches in her throat. “Now I think differently.” Her younger self only saw the situation from her personal point of view without giving her family a chance to see if they would accept her the way she was. “Now when I look from their point of view, after undermining them for so long, [I realize] that I could have taught them to be more understanding but I never even tried.” It would have made her life and her relationship with her family much more comfortable. “But unfortunately, our community makes us do things which make life even more difficult. That’s what we’re all dealing with, regardless of what lifestyle we have. So this is applicable to any Armenian.”
“How does this stop you from being romantic?” I ask bringing back the original topic of our conversation.
“I want someone else to take the initiative for once. But it’s so hard and I’m tired,” she responds and explains that everyone else also wants the same thing and so everyone is at a stalemate. “That’s why you kind of stay very neutral and not show any feelings. After a while you get tired of that so you just let it go. So the romance dies.”
Like most people in the Armenian Diaspora, Melo has a long resume of countries in which she’s lived. The experience has enhanced and enriched her world view but made her much more cautious towards people. “It’s taken its toll on me,” she says of the constant moving, “you become very fragile and very careful in people. You don’t want to invest so much of yourself because you’ve done that so many times before. No one is around from your past.”
Melo finds it hard to connect with someone who has lived in only one place most of their live. “They’re [like] an open book. Things are so simple for them,” she says and admits that she doesn’t feel like she “fits in.”
And of the illusive nature of romance, Melo concludes that being romantic means showing your feelings. “I think there’s a lack of romantic people.” She means that there is a lack of people willing to be open enough to show their true emotions.
“But at my age,” she says, “romance is secondary.
What she considers a primary requirement in a partner is someone who is “self sufficient, not needy, has lived alone at least at some point in their lives, not attached to their parents, have [an] identity, have some education, [have] goals in life, etcetera, etcetera,” with a twinkle in her eye and a shrug of her shoulders indicating that she could go on and on about the values and qualities she now looks for in someone beyond the initial feeling of love at first sight.