The first thing I saw when I looked at him were the bold tribal tattoos snaking down his right arm, unwittingly giving him a title that didn’t quite match his heart. His earrings audaciously glared at me and I nearly missed the twinkle in his eye. His lips were dark, the tell-tale sign of a chain-smoker according to my family, whom I knew would only see the surface and automatically categorise him as “unfit to date our girl.” He wasn’t a “thug” or a “gangster” or a “Wild Casanova” that I, just like everyone else, had once thought. He was just a guy that loved tattoos, earrings, fast cars…and me.

Tattoo Guy (let’s just call him that) and I, do not have the conventional love story. It took me one and a half years for my heart to convince my head that it was okay to love a guy that didn’t quite match the “fit to take home to the family” prototype. Or, if I was brutally honest with myself, it took me one and a half years to look past what a cursory glance of Tattoo Guy revealed to me- the quintessential bad boy who would only break my heart. Of course, I was wrong. Breaking hearts was not his modus operandi. Instead, he opened my heart, and suddenly I found myself holding a magnifying glass, enlarging the qualities of Tattoo Guy my judgment once forbade me to see, but which mattered the most.

I’ve judged people my whole life. I’ve made assumptions about character based on a person’s clothing, lifestyle, facial expressions, the choice of words used and the things that were done in the past. I’ve held the weapon of past condemnation in my hand and tore open wounds that had bled before, in the false belief that it would make me the victor, the soldier with the upper hand. But, in doing so, I was the one that lost the war: I denied myself the opportunity of seeing the true potential and beauty of a person that lay beyond the surface.

Society finds it difficult to accept and love what is different and non-conformant with the accepted norms, ideals and values. Society looks first at the bad, formulates an opinion, and refuses to look a little further. See, like a coin, with the heads and the tails, every single person has two sides: the good and the bad. Sometimes, all it takes, is the willingness to flip the coin over to reveal the other side.

I found the softer side to Tattoo Guy (even though it took me so long). The sensitivity; the genuineness of his words and his altruistic drive to go the extra mile for those in need. However, people said he wasn’t “my type.” People said I shouldn’t date him. People pointed out every single one of his flaws and emphasized his past actions, forcing him to chase the shadow of a man he once was. And then people said, in sugar-coated variations, that he wasn’t “good enough” for me, and it hurt. It hurt because he was so much more than his past. He was so much more than his flaws. He was so much more than a Tattoo Guy.

Tattoo Guy has faced more than your average share of judgment. First from me, and then from everyone else. The guy with the tattoos, dark lips (attributed to genetics rather than the boxes of Stuyvesant he supposedly smoked) and the “I can hear it from a mile away” car should be acknowledged for his wit, sense of humour and intelligence. All these qualities should be factored into the opinion that dictates which title society ought to give him. Better still- he should be granted the opportunity to create his own title.

Years later and Tattoo Guy hasn’t left me for his “latest conquest.” His dreams, larger than life and as bold as his tattoos continue to grow, almost as much as his love for me. Untrue to all those titles strewn upon him, Tattoo Guy has been the one constant in my life, and has taught me valuable lessons I might never have otherwise learned. He has taught me to open the book, read it and then make a decision, because the cover of a book may be misleading. Every author deserves that one chance to wow the reader, to enrich her life in a way perhaps no one else can. All it takes is a look beyond the cover and a flip of that first page.