Flirting Telepathically

And other reflections on a life absent of romance by Litia Tuiburelevu.

This is the first of a three-part series by Litia Tuiburelevu exploring romantic absence, the politics of desirability, and trying to navigate dating in Tāmaki Makaurau. Read part two here and part three here.

I was fucking around on Twitter and thought it’d be funny to suggest that I pen a column on dating. The proposition was made (mostly) in jest, given that I have, like, one date to my name. But the gag of the twittersphere is that one’s most chaotic thoughts too often receive the benefit of validation. Truthfully, most of my romantic insights are mined from helping friends salvage themselves from failed situationships,1 recalibrating their internal axis with thirst traps and micro dosing SZA’s CTRL album. I bear witness, not for schadenfreude, but to justify keeping my feet outside the pool.

There’s much to be said about the quagmire of contemporary romance.






It’s a hellscape that rewards disinterest and disposability, where genuine communication is eclipsed by rhetorical nonsense to perform ‘great banter’ and ‘good chat’. I’m cute and fun! I like cheeky wines and doggos! I don’t want anything serious! Look at how I’ve severed myself into more digestible chunks for your consumption! It’s less oratory firecrackers and more incessant editorialising to be the ~cool girl who doesn’t care~ (a misogynistic mind-fuck masquerading as chill).


As I began writing this the humour of my Twitter antics quickly dissolved. There’s nothing pleasant about scraping the floor of an empty romantic reservoir, grasping at a few traumatic situationships and unrequited crushes to validate one’s romantic CV. I don’t wish to cannibalise myself, nor do I want to pathologise everything. I’m simply curious about being an adult devoid of something I hoped would exist in my orbit.

As a cinephile, I’m wont to (mis)interpret dialogue on the silver screen between fictitious love interests as a commentary on my 3D. Idk if it’s art imitating life or simply confirmation bias, but there’s a line in the (subversively brilliant) Before Sunset (2004)where a romantically jaded Céline tells her lover, “You know what? Reality and love are almost contradictory for me”. Relatable lol. Like Céline, I, too, wonder if romance and reality are incompatible forces, like positive ions in perpetual repulsion. I’m trying not to ascribe this phenomenon any moral weighting – it’s neither good nor bad, it simply is. In fact, I believe absence is romance’s conjoined twin, responsible for preserving the alluring friction between fantasy and reality.

But in the face of planetary decline and an acute awareness of my own mortality, its absence is beginning to crystallise into invisible arrows puncturing my psyche:

“What if I never get in a relationship?”

“Is liking someone a neurochemical scam I can opt out of?”

“Is the universe clowning me for some prior karmic debt?”

In an act of self-defence, I’ve returned to animating the absence of romance through the engine of imagination, receding into the trap-door of my mind palace to revel in romantic reveries. The scaffolding was laid down in my teenage years, circa 2010. With the entitlement of a colonial anthropologist, I plundered myriad coming-of-age films and romantic dramas to ignite my synapses with a delusional level of romantic optimism that’ll inevitably be devoured by a disaffected world.

Let me pick at the carcass of memory.

It was the Year 11 disco, the auditorium freighted with teenage fever and the sucrose fumes of Cool Charm™ deodorant. I had a crush. His name was Tom.2 He was generalisable in the way most 16-year-old white boys are, but I’d done enough mental gymnastics to convince myself that he resembled a young Adam Brody. We’d exchanged some staccato chat on MSN messenger and, on the school bus, he’d sometimes acknowledge my presence with an eyebrow raise.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that boys feign disinterest in girls they really like.

Or whatever Jane Austen said.

“Oi, what’s your friend's name? She’s hot.”

That evening, I spotted him in the swirl of youths in the disco’s nucleus. I lingered on the outskirts, trying to flirt telepathically like some bootleg Dr X. Much to my delight, he sauntered across the hall and put his lips to my ear.

“Oi, what’s your friend's name? She’s hot.”

My synapses had clearly misfired.

Tom was, of course, referring to the leggy blonde jiving off-beat at my hip.


He gave me an extended stare that I interpreted as a silent request to inform her of his affection, as though their courtship was a grassroots movement reliant on my organisation. It worked. I proceeded to watch the two tenderly dance to the glittering synths of ‘Mr Brightside’under the clip of disco light while I swayed along with as much juvenile delinquency as I could muster.

When I arrived home, I went straight to the computer room and streamed a few episodes of The OC.The escapades of rich kids in the high-fructose Californian sun was both a salve for the evening’s sore and material for the mind palace. In there, I could slow dance with Seth Cohen in a space that couldn’t be pulverised by teenage boys and their preference for lithe girls with iridescent skin.

I recall the exchange Mum and I shared during the ride home that night.


LITIA slouches into the passenger seat, her eyes locked on the side mirror. MUM is listening to The Corrs’ 'BREATHLESS’ playing on the radio.


So how was it? Fun?


Any nice boys?

LITIA puts on her seatbelt, her gaze still fixed to her reflection.



MUM turns the volume down.


Well, maybe you shouldn’t be so fussy, and-

LITIA fires her a death stare. MUM turns the volume back up and starts driving.


Boys this age are so silly, anyway. They’ll be coming out of your ears at university.

MUM croons along to ‘BREATHLESS’. LITIA shuts her eyes, the faintest contours of a smile form.


Well, that was a fucking lie.



The last time I truly liked someone was circa 2018 during the cusp of Gemini szn. It was the last day of undergrad and the atmosphere cosmically primed for chaos. Like an animal that might sense an impending storm, I had a hunch that my will-they-won’t-they situationship would turn sour. As anticipated, 12 hours later I’m siphoned into the corner of Shadowsbar, enduring a drunken soliloquy about his ex-girlfriend.

I should leave, but I tend to transgress the line between curiosity and pulling at the loose threads of my parachute.

“So, what about you and me?”my inner saboteur probes.

A small knot forms in the middle of his face. Despite his being fogged to a drunken stupor, it’s clear that she sits in the cockpit of his consciousness.

“I dunno, like, the first time I saw her, she walked into this flat party, and I thought, ‘her’. I’ve never felt that way about anyone else.” His recollection is crystalline.

“She’ll always be my favourite person.”

The 16-year-old hiding in my coat recoils.

Without words, she takes my hands, and pulls me to the centre of the dance floor. A nurturing of the vā only friends can hold.

My best friend, Rita, lingers on the dance floor a few metres away. Despite a miasma thick with freshman pheromones and smoke spray, she observes how my bones have liquefied, submerging my centre of gravity into oblivion. Without words, she comes over, takes my hands, and pulls me to the centre of the dance floor. A nurturing of the vā only friends can hold


In hindsight, the arrested romantic development of my teens afforded me the time to cultivate interests without the insatiable clamour for a boy’s attention. I like to think that too much too soon would have resulted in premature boredom. But it’s a specific type of anguish to know you’ll never experience the naivety of having a high-school paramour, or recklessly date at university, or spend your early 20s being a messy bitch for the purposes of character development. I grew up believing that there’s an indissoluble link between adulthood and having a stacked romantic roster. Truthfully, 26-year-old me is not too dissimilar to 16-year-old me, except with better skin and contents insurance. I’m now approaching a romantic horizon licked with seriousness, whilst simultaneously feeling like I’m lingering on the outskirts of ‘adulthood’ itself. The prospective partner pool narrows. What’ll be novel to me might be disenchanting for them: a birthday gift, a home-cooked dinner, drifting Countdown for groceries. Sure, absence fertilises the romantic mystique, but when that chasm protracts into your late 20s it can maul at your self-esteem.

I must unlearn holding my feelings in my mouth until they dissolve. I fear that any expression of romantic interest will swiftly oxidise into rejection, so I just let emotions slip like ice cubes into a hot tub. This habitual tongue-holding doesn’t feature in my friendships, which, I find, are my greatest loves. Our honesty is compulsive, absent of any verbal foreplay to prime the listener for what’s coming. We might asterisk our darkest thoughts with jest but, when the humour levitates, we’ll still savour the salt of what’s said. Time is best spent lingering in the intimate stillness until we return to doing whatever gets the dopamine flowing. Because there is no pretence in the presence of shared joy. A dynamic I hope to replicate with someone else, someday. I’m bracing for the unrelenting dogma from Team Girl BossTMtelling me to “FoCuS oN yOu!! bE mOrE cOnfIDeNt! LoVe YoUrSeLf”, as though I won’t swiftly dump that patronising commentary at a mute motel. I can be the centre of my own universe and also want to be someone else’s favourite person. Thoughts in opposition can also be in collaboration.


1A term to define the liminal space between a hook-up and a formal relationship.

2Not real names even though I’m friends with like three ppl from high school.

Feature image: Pounamu Wharekawa-Farrell

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