Whenever my mind slips from my clasped control, I find it rewinding the tapes to play back the day that derailed my life. It was warm for May, even in Irvine, and I had just gotten back from a family road trip to the Grand Canyon. My freckles had begun to poke through under the sun, and we were basking in the final days of spring break.
It is a strange thing, to know the exact second your childhood shriveled up, leaving you cold and forced to grow up. I met maturity squished into the worn leather seats of the car he was trying to restore. He was so cool — 19 while I was 16, in college while I was worrying about signing up for the ACT. I suppose I should’ve felt lucky to have been put into this situation in the first place.
When the tears began to materialize, the thought finally occurred to me that something was wrong, but I hid that feeling away, into the deepest folds of my soul, not wanting to believe it. I did everything right: I snuck back into my room, didn’t tell my parents and used a high-coverage concealer to mask any trace of what had happened. Occasionally my voice would tremble, my friends would ask why there were fingerprints bruised onto my neck, or I’d close my eyes and be transported back, but it was all entirely alright — I was finally a true teenager.
Congratulations to me: I had finally assimilated into hookup culture! Throughout the following weeks, I felt as if I was floating, endlessly scrubbing at my skin in searingly hot showers to wash away any traces he had left. But, none of that mattered, as I no longer was wistfully waiting at the sidelines, and the playing field had begun to embrace me.
Perhaps, if I had looked back, I would have seen the gentle buds of chrysanthemums growing from where my tears had hit the earth.
‘Ya’aburnee’ is an Arabic term that translates to “you bury me.” It is a declaration of a love so intense that the speaker is expressing the hope that they will die before their partner and will never have to experience an existence without them. I can count on one hand the number of ‘ya’aburnee’ connections I have witnessed throughout my life, but can barely comprehend the vast sea of relations I know that are consumed by hookup culture. It’s a word that has little meaning in spaces, such as Berkeley, where hookup culture is actively praised.
After immigrating in my teenage years, the emotion that guided me through this facet of Western culture was a profound loneliness, and, in turn, an even more profound desire to assimilate. You see, anyone worth anything kept a discreet journal page on all of their sexual ventures. Hookup culture presented me with the power to never truly experience rejection and to assimilate into teenage norms. So, I sunk my high school years into failed flirtations and attempts at casual dating, ignoring the small part of me that longed for ‘ya’aburnee.’
Because casual sex meant everything. It means everything — it is pure validation, without any fear of rejection. Why is hookup culture so easily accepted in this day and age? Why is it that we find hookup culture preferable to ‘ya’aburnee’?
Here is what I found. Hookup culture offers the most glorious temptation: that there is no room for true rejection. Casual sex provides physical validation and shields those partaking in it from the agony of familiarity. The promise wraps around one’s insecurities and scars with snake-like tendencies, posing as an Elysian freedom. One is then suspended in a limbo of rejection and adoration: The desire for physical validation no longer bears with it the risk of being discarded, and the individual is left floating from interaction to interaction, forging solely shallow relationships. The fear is then stripped of its identity, and renamed sexual liberation.
My own crippling fear of rejection has directed each scene of my life, sitting on the side with a beret and chic cigarette holder. The fear was born soft — a whisper of sorts. It may have begun to fester when a classmate in primary school didn’t invite me to her birthday party, or when my cat chose to sleep next to my mother instead of me. Regardless of when it first came to live within me, it has stayed knotted deep within since, existing with power, speaking for me, and dictating my interactions in the world.
Prioritizing intimacy in one’s connections also introduces a petrifying thought: they will know you. By allowing yourself to deepen connections, the horrible truth is that your shielded heart will be carefully strawn out before the other person, opening up the possibility of rejection. There is no space for ‘ya’aburnee,’ as for individuals to love each other enough to rather die than live a second without the other, they must both commit and reveal their soul to the other.
Though beautiful in movies and heartwarming novels, unconditional love is a terrifying notion. Equally frightening is the prospect that those you bathe in your love will die first. ‘Ya’aburnee’ translates this fear into an expression of love in a world where catastrophe finds itself around the corner.