Tag Archives: relationships

Who said love is about finding “the One”?

Earlier this week I shocked one of my youngest colleagues, when she asked me what I thought of the male character in 7.39, a BBC drama in which a married man and an engaged woman meet on their commuter train to London and embark on an affair. I had told her it was not an improbable situation and I didn’t feel at all critical about his actions.

The colleague, who is in her mid-20s, thought it was unforgivable for a married man to be unfaithful to his wife just because he was bored with life/having a mid-life crisis.

When an affair happens, there is usually far more to it than just a man and a woman in crisis seeking solace/refuge/fun; there isn’t a simple right or wrong. In my 20s, however, I would probably have reacted the same way, as I too used to naïvely believe in fairy tale romances, Prince Charming, and the existence of “The One” – the perfect man or woman with whom you will walk hand-in-hand into the sunset…

What a shedload of bollocks!

This excellent article in the young people’s sex ed site BishUK.com sensibly explains why believing in “The One” can make our own lives harder, make us overly dependent on our partners as our central source of happiness and validation, or trap us in relationships even when they are making us miserable.

On days like Valentine’s Day, it can also make you feel like a failure if you are single because the opposite of having “the One” would be having “zero”, as if not being in a relationship was the most tragic things that could happen to anyone.

The One myth
Someone we fall in love with or fancy may temporarily feel like “the One”, but life circumstances are not static, and, most importantly, we are not static, so how can there only be a single “the One”?

The author, Justin Hancock (@bishtraining on Twitter) rightly says:

“[…]there isn’t just one ‘One’ – but hundreds, thousands or millions of ‘Ones’ all over the place.”

We change on a daily basis. We are influenced by what we see, hear, read, what happens in our commute (ahem..7.39), people we meet, conversations we have, what happens at work, things we remember.

Our needs also shift with time. After a complex and difficult relationship, we may seek relief in an uncomplicated one with an undemanding, easy-to-please partner. But over time this partner’s agenda may also change to one where expectations are of a firmer and more demanding commitment, which may then tip the relationship’s balance; what was easy-going and fun suddenly becomes too serious and uncomfortable for the other.

Is monogamy for me?
If circumstances and people are always changing and relationships constantly reach a crisis point as a result, how can anyone ever be happy in a long-term stable relationship, you ask?

Tauriq Moosa points out in this Guardian column, Dissecting Relationships, that monogamy and the one-partner-for-life model do not occur in the majority of mammals in the animal kingdom. That is not a justification for us humans to become serial adulterers, but if you look at those who call themselves polyamorous, with multiple lovers in open, mutually consenting and satisfying relationships, we can conclude that monogamy is not necessarily the only path to achieving happiness in love.

Even knowing monogamy goes against our animal nature, we can still consciously choose to have a long-term, faithful partnership with a single lover, produce children, and be the “happy family” society expects us to be part of. But that decision, in order to be lasting, should be taken from a place of openness, honesty and maturity from both parties.

Moosa says:

[…] this is showing we genuinely care about our relationships and our partners: we care enough to treat both with the proper adult respect they deserve, talking about deep, hard truths – not bombarding with Valentine’s gestures. If a relationship can’t survive such important discussions, then perhaps it’s a relationship not worth wanting – and then we’ve done ourselves a huge favour in seeing that now, rather than later.

The line between love and relationships 
Having been through marriage and separation, I have discovered the following:

1. not believing in a “One” worked against me; when my (ex-)husband proposed, I was convinced there wasn’t a “One” for me. If I didn’t say yes then, I reckoned no other man would ever love/marry me, so I compromised.

2. once you go through an unhappy/traumatic/abusive marriage/relationship followed by a not-so-amicable separation, it takes a long time for you to recover your faith in relationships again.

3. it is possible to love, and enjoy love, without being in a conventional romantic relationship.

Let me elaborate on point 3. Although love and relationships are often used together in the same phrase, and we grow up thinking they are inseparable concepts, I have come to understand, and personally experience, that one can exist without the other.

I thought I was rather abnormal, or at least far too unconventional in my way of thinking, until I read this wonderful blog post, Casual Love, by songwriter Carsie Blanton. It made me insanely happy to find out I am not the only one who thinks it is okay to love outside the context of formal relationships.

Imagine if you could say to a casual partner, “I love you. It’s no big deal. It doesn’t mean you’re The One, or even one of the ones. It doesn’t mean you have to love me back. It doesn’t mean we have to date, or marry, or even cuddle. It doesn’t mean we have to part ways dramatically in a flurry of tears and broken dishes. It doesn’t mean I’ll love you until I die, or that I’ll still love you next year, or tomorrow.”

Despite advocating a casual kind of love, Blanton does not discount the possibility of a long-term commitment:

“…dating, marriage, cuddling, etc – are options, and there are an infinite number of other options (Skee ball, sailing around the world, double suicide). These are all things you can now choose or not choose, as two conscious adult human beings. The important distinction is that none of them is implied just by saying the word ‘love’.”

Love for the sake of love
This ties in nicely with what Moosa says in his piece, basically that committed relationships, marriage,etc are options for grown-up men and women in love, not a compulsory final destination. Why can’t we love for the heck of it? For people like me, still nursing wounds from an emotionally abusive past, the simplicity of it feels like the perfect “groovy kind of love” as Phil Collins would say.

To love in this way is no different from when you love within a relationship.

The other day, while I was away on a business trip, I helped edit a CV for a friend, who I knew had been having a tough time since being made redundant last autumn. I was working all hours of the day and night, hardly managing to squeeze in four hours’ sleep a night, but I still worked on his CV for 15-20 min each evening until I passed out with exhaustion. This went on over almost two weeks with comments and counter-comments going back and forth on email between us until the CV looked shipshape.

My friend – actually an old flame – was so grateful for the help and pleased with the results, he jokingly said I should start an HR consultancy business. “You fool,” I thought, “Don’t you know I only did this for you because I love you.”

He possibly does (know). It doesn’t matter because we have both moved on in different directions, and he is now a father and a husband. It doesn’t matter because time, distance, marriage, kids, none of these things made us stop caring about each other.

I do not wish to ‘own’ him, or claim him from his family; it is not a grasping kind of love. There are no expectations, except I want him to be happy; even if not with me.

Loving casually, loving truly
He is not the only man I love in this way; there are others.

All my life I sought what most people expect from love – loyalty, commitment, attention, gifts, dates – only to find disappointment in the end. The problem was I did not love myself first and was always expecting someone else to meet my emotional needs.

But now…now I enjoy my own company, am happy being single and do not need a relationship to make me feel attractive, valued or wanted.

Loving without following a rule book is liberating and empowering. Relationships become an option rather than a target destination, so you can focus on the love itself rather than on the superficial things that you thought represented love: flowers, sex, meals at posh restaurants, expensive rings, talks about marriage.

I love because I met a guy (this applies to any man) who is intelligent, cultured, and has great conversation, who makes me laugh and thinks I’m funny too; someone who shares many of my interests, my quirks, my dirty secrets. Someone who doesn’t mind my filthy mind and my straight talking. Someone I can be myself with; someone who is always himself with me, and we still like each other like that. Someone I can freely cry and laugh with without feeling ashamed.

I love even though we part and always go our separate ways. I love because even when we’re apart, we’re together, in our thoughts, our energies, occasionally in dreams, and that suffices. For now. I am still healing, still learning to love – and trust – again.

Sometimes I wake up from a dream and cry because I miss him so much, because I miss being in love.

It has been so long since I truly loved. This may be my Sehnsucht, my yearning for the unknown.

The Casual Love blog concludes:

“I suggest we take a page from the casual sex book [….] lift some of the weighty grandiosity off the shoulders of love, and allow it to be what it is: a sweet, ephemeral, exciting feeling to experience and share.”

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You Don’t Need Time for Love

DaliYesterday I came across a beautiful New York Times article called  Learning to Measure Time in Love and Loss by Chris Huntington, which made me reflect on my own anxieties about the amount of time available to us in life to find happiness. It is well worth reading it in full.

Huntington, a Singapore-based author, talks about what he learned through his work in prisons, as a teacher, regarding how we measure time. On being asked by Huntington to reset a clock, an inmate laughs:

“A few minutes off? We need one that goes by months and years. What do we care about five minutes?”

A convicted rapist, who has already served 16 years, with at least 8 more years to go, talks of his limited prospects for the future:

“There are some things I’m never going to do. And I can spend my life being mad about that, or I can try something else.” […]

“I decided to be the best prisoner I could be.”

Huntington, who overcame depression following his divorce, fell in love in again, re-married and now has an adopted Ethiopian son he adores, is aware that for everything he gained in life, there was also something else not fulfilled: “Our story, so full of love, is also full of loss.” Yet, he concludes:

It doesn’t matter what time it is. Think in months. Years. Someone loves you. Where are you going? There are some things you will never do. It doesn’t matter. There is no rush.

Singledom
We all moan about lost opportunities in our lives and how much time we have “wasted” in an unhappy relationship, a badly chosen career, etc. We are angry because we feel life is short, and the time frame within which certain key events we believe to be conducive to happiness should happen, such as finding your soulmate, getting married, having children, is restricted.

The other evening I read a post written by one of my younger followers, in her 20s, complaining that she has been single for too long. Below the post, one commenter had written that in the time it took her to recover from one relationship, another friend had got married, popped out a kid, got divorced and found a new man. How did these people do it?!

I had to laugh. While for some people love and relationships happen faster and more frequently than they change their dirty knickers, for others, finding one special man or woman can be like watching paint dry. It could be that the Speedy Gonzalezes of Love are less picky and more aggressive in their pursuits, or it could be sheer luck.

Unfortunately, we have the habit of setting timers to when things should happen. How long is it acceptable for one to remain single?

That is why chronic singledom makes for an excellent topic for jokes at dinner parties while you’re young, but once you get past the age of eligibility, that is, when you turn into an overripe fruit, it stops being so amusing to become a sign of grave social ineptitude.

When every social function from dinners and parties to weddings and funerals seem to be tailored for couples, being single can feel as awkward and embarrassing as having halitosis. But it shouldn’t do.

Cougars and desperados
Because popular belief is that the best opportunities in life are linked to youth, single people over 40, for example, tend to feel this way:

  1. You are invisible in the dating scene; who wants to date a middle-aged man/woman?
  2. Most people in your age bracket are already married or otherwise taken; those who are still single must have something seriously wrong with them.
  3. Your biological clock has practically stopped ticking, so your chances of starting a family, even if you find your ideal partner, are greatly reduced.
  4. If you do meet the love of your life, chances are they will have kids from a previous relationship. You will have to be step parent to them and, if you have kids yourself too, blend the two families together.
  5. It is too late for love…actually.

Women feel particularly disadvantaged because few men, given the choice, go for older women. Biologically, that could be governed by their instinctive need to procreate, so the younger = the more fertile. Younger women also constitute a more valuable trophy for them to show off to other males, especially if they are past their prime themselves (the message being ‘I can still pull!’). And when a young man goes for an older woman, it is generally perceived he is only after her ‘experience’, but he will eventually dump the ‘cougar’ and use the acquired experience on a young chick instead.

With prospects of finding love being so poor for the more mature woman, every year, every month, every week and day even that goes by without a sign of romance can seem like another huge shovelful of sand going down the past-the-use-by-date hourglass. That is why so many older women sadly become ‘desperado’ and seem to latch on to anything in pants that moves at every social gathering they attend.

The Fruits of Self-love
I have had my moments of “it is too late” myself. One of my biggest regrets is that I did not choose to have children when my body was wanting to, in my early 30s. But I was with the wrong man then, and any child conceived under those circumstances would have had to pay a price for my selfishness.

Now, separated and childless, and not exactly a spring chicken any more, I could easily go down the desperado route. Except I am not ‘desperate’ for anything.

©AdelaideNow

©AdelaideNow

Being single to me does not feel like ‘lack’ at all, nor do I feel too old for romance. On the contrary, since I’ve become solo, I have literally reverted into an impish teenager full of mischief and see naughtiness everywhere; for the first time in my life I am also happy with my body image; and I feel more lovable and desirable than I ever was within a relationship. All this was the result of making peace with myself, finding self-love and self-respect at last.

Best prisoner
I too want to be “the best prisoner I can be”, where “prison” would be however much time I have got left in my own life.

It may not be life as envisaged by a 25-year-old: whirlwind romance with a young lad, proposal, marriage in bridal gowns, children, grandchildren. The fairy tale stuff may make a great John Lewis commercial, but who said that is my formula for happiness? Just because society dictates that’s what we should aspire to, it does not mean it works for everyone. I am not everyone. I am unique; you are unique.

Tic-toc
With the time I have got left, which could be as short as a few hours in case I die in my sleep tonight, I only have one main goal, and that is to live life being 100% true to myself.

  • I have learned to stop creating “what if” scenarios and take one day at a time;
  • I no longer write story boards in my head before dates and try to act them out;
  • I follow my gut instinct, always;
  • I smile and laugh a lot because I have so much love to give;
  • I ask people lots of questions about them because understanding people makes me understand human nature better;
  • I praise lavishly because I like to make people feel good about themselves and proud of who they are;
  • I express affection openly and generously to people I care about. I can’t tell them I love them from my grave.

Time for everything
Exactly two months ago one of my closest friends passed away at the age of 51, barely five months after being diagnosed with an incurable disease. He always thought he’d live well into this 90s. While sorting out his wardrobe after the funeral, his widow said, in tears:

“Peter had so many nice clothes, shoes and things he had bought and was saving ‘for a special occasion’. What a waste; there won’t be any more occasions now. Now I know there’s no point in holding anything off for a future that may not come.”

Someone once told me, “Don’t worry; in life there’s time for everything”. It seems hardly applicable to my now deceased friend, robbed of at least four more decades of life he thought were his.

But perhaps life is not supposed to be like a novel with a beginning, middle and end structure. That is only our perception of time in the dimension we inhabit. But there might be other dimensions out there where linear time does not exist. Maybe life does not end with physical death but goes on and on in a loop?

My view is that life is supposed to be just this: this very moment. The future is an illusion: when you reach the next moment, the future becomes your present. Our problem is that we live with half our minds regretting the past and the other half worrying about things that may or may not happen.

The only “waste” there is in life is the time we waste forgetting to live and love in the now. We had better use our time wisely and love as abundantly as we can.

Dear Stranger or The Reason I Do Not Jump

Photo credit ©Zach Bonnell

Photo credit ©Zach Bonnell

Dear Stranger…

….or shall I call you Fellow Passenger, as nothing strikes me as ‘strange’ about you any more. How long have we been travelling on this train together? Days? Weeks? Months? Feels like years, does it not. Forgive me if I am vague; for I have lost track of time. The journey has been long and rough; my mind is tired out.

May I remind you that thanks to you I found myself hurled into a dank, dark carriage, where light was so scant for the longest time I could not tell day from night. In the interminable darkness, I wept constantly. No one heard; you, least of all.

I should have jumped right then.

I contemplated the jump, even braced myself for the impact of the fall. But…oh hello dear Stranger, we meet again… Was it you I collided into when there was that jolt, the one that pushed me head first into the carriage of hell? Can you even begin to imagine how terrified I was I would never surface again.

But surface I did. And, in my confusion, I broke my vows of silence, forgot my thirst for vengeance. Was I hallucinating or was my vision distorted by the evil in your spell? The very beast that caused my fall transmuted into an angel of light, how ironic is that. I followed the light out of the tunnel.

I am sorry, you said. I said nothing.

Do you know where this train is bound for, I asked you. You said dunno. You said do you, I said no.

We talked, at times with words, at times in code, at times in silence but we talked…rather a lot. I said this is madness, we don’t even know where the train will take us, I said surely every train has a destination. We should get off, we agreed, as there is no sense or logic in this journey, not like this, together.

You first, I said. No, you, you said. This is awkward.

I can’t, I said, can you…first? I can’t, you said. I…don’t…want to… Do you want to…? I can’t, I said, again, do you want me to. But we must, I said. Do we have to decide this moment, you said. Guess not, I said, calmly, screaming inside. Sh sh sh…

Have I told you…my latest joke, you said. Stop it, I said. This is no joke.

We return to our seats and feel the rattling of the train in our bones. Isn’t there a friggin’ conductor on this train?! Someone must be able to tell us where it’s going.

We reconvene. Okay, this is preposterous. Do you know what will happen if we stay on this train? It may take us somewhere we will loathe; what if the breaks don’t work, what if it crashes against a wall; we will hurt, we may die. Train crashes happen all the time, you know. Yes, we say.

We go away to think again. Of getting off, of cutting the journey short.

You now have the distant look of one about to bid farewell, leave the country, emigrate. Your facial muscles are stiff, your eyes no longer smile. You never smile much anyway though I’d have gladly taught you to.

I put my arms around you for a last embrace. For the road. Courage, I say, although courage is what I need. But you don’t hug me back. An unfeeling monster is what you have turned to? You will do it at last, good. You hate me, don’t you, I dare you: hate me and jump. Adieu and farewell dear Stranger. No one should be on board a train with an unnamed destination. Go, go, GO!

I turn my back on you so I don’t see you jump. I turn off the lights so I can obliterate the memory of the unsmiling face I am beginning to hate. Sh sh sh sh…

God how I hate you.

I retreat into another carriage, certain I am now the only passenger left on board. My turn, I murmur, under my breath. I open the door and observe the gravel below and the stretch of ground where I should hope to land. Sh sh sh, the train carries on. I close my eyes and hold my breath….my heartbeat pounding in my ears. Sh…

“Hi!”, says a voice I recognise. I open my eyes and see you peeking in. Smiling, the cheek! I jump. Not off the train; off my seat.

What da…? What in the name of Christ the Lord are you doing here? Thought you had jumped? Thought you had, you say. No, I say…. We are pathetic. Hmm, you say.

We sit in our carriage, silent you and I, staring blankly into the distance as the train travels on; the landscape changes, the weather turns, day follows night, sun follows moon, the stations speed past, one after another. Sh sh, we hear.

Sometimes you even…smile…a little; oh, you are learning to smile?

Hey, fancy a game of Scrabble? you say. You mad?! I shout. Are you out of your f***ing mind?!

I notice you are sitting close to me, like before….before you became aloof and hateful and you looked like you were really going to do it. You look smaller in this light but it is not you that has diminished. It is my anger which has abated, run out of steam. Is it possible I have become bigger than you, and in that space there is room even for tiny you?

You should really jump, I say. Or I. We have come so far, too far. We should have jumped long ago, one of us. Only one of us needs to jump.

You say nothing.

Why do you say nothing?!

You say nothing.

Together? Jump together? One-two-three, go? I say. In Japanese it’s called ‘shinjū‘ when a man and a woman make a pact to die together. But shinjū is always romantic, it means they are in love but they can’t live out their love so they die. But this? This is…just…a woeful comedy. Isn’t this a tragi-comedy? Huh? Why are you not laughing?! We don’t want to be travelling together. What is the point in living or dying with you. You are pathetic. Don’t you think you’re pathetic?

You say nothing.

I say no more. I feel…pathetic.

The train carries on, sh sh sh sh.

Dear Stranger, I was travelling alone. I travel everywhere on my own, I’m like that. But you boarded my train, you walked into my carriage and picked me for a stupid game of Scrabble. You know I like words. Making words with you gave me a reason to dream. Completing words where you had left off, completing what was incomplete. Learning…new words. Sometimes the words are obscure, weird, sometimes wonderfully weird, and we grin from ear to ear like naughty kids celebrating our discovery. We are like that.

Now bound together on a train with an unknown destination, we struggle. And the more we struggle the more tightly bound we are in a pact of death we cannot escape.

Not long before we talk about jumping again. This is our new game: who first?

“Hey, whose song was it that goes ‘I really don’t know life at all'”?

“Joni Mitchell, Both Sides Now”, I hear you answer, though not a word has been spoken. Because I haven’t asked you. But, had I…asked, you’d have known, as you always do. It would have made me smile as your answers mostly do.

“I love that song.”

“What?” you say. “Nothing,” I say.

I take your hand in both of mine and place it close to my chest, but in my mind only so as not to distress. I don’t want you to think I want you to stay. Because I don’t.

“You can stay”, I whisper, too hoarse to scream. “For today.” I look away.

Don’t, don’t look at me now.

Just a moment longer, just another game, just another stop, I think but don’t say.

I never say, you never say. We are like that.

Trapped on a train with an unnamed destination, turning corners that may be our last, we face each other saying nothing, playing Scrabble, making words we no longer need.

Dear dear you.

Sh sh sh sh…

NOTE: This blog was my first experiment with an unconventional style of writing, blending a Pinteresque style of dialogue with steam of consciousness and a semi-poetic approach to rhythm. The train journey is obviously metaphorical, as are many other elements in this piece, but it is based on real situations and real characters. I would heartily welcome any comments you may have on either the content or the writing style. If you would rather email me privately, please write to: sehensucht2013@gmail.com 

My 12 lessons on love and relationships from 2013

©2013 Connie J. Sun

©2013 Connie J. Sun

As the year end draws near, it is time for some reflection…

Looking back on the past year, here are 12 things I have learned about myself, others, about human nature and the workings of the heart. What have your lessons been?

1. Sometimes you just have to walk away

Just that. They don’t deserve you, you know that. You don’t want to think badly of them because you believe in the good in people, so you’ve given them a second, a third or a fourth chance. But again and again they have let you down. It is time to close the curtain on that act and call it a day. You’ve tried, that’s what matters.

2. Lies people tell themselves are worse than the ones they tell others

An astonishingly large number of people live in denial of their own feelings: that their marriage/relationship is not working/making them happy, that they are with who they are with for the wrong reasons, or that they love someone else. I used to be one of those people too but I now live with absolute honesty all of the time. It is liberating.

3. Some people get stiff necks, others have stiff hearts

You can, at least temporarily relieve stiff necks and shoulders, by going to a good masseur and getting a deep tissue massage. Swimming is also a great exercise for unknotting those painful, hardened bits. Some people, however, have stiff hearts, and no amount of massage or exercise can soften them up. They may and often eventually do thaw out, and the moment it does is one of profound beauty. But it may take a lifetime. By the time it has happened, there may not be much of life left for them. Remember: that is their script. You have your own to live out.

4. People’s reactions are always based on their own experiences of life (and relationships)

You may tell the same story to 10 different people. People react according to what their own experience of what you are telling them felt like. In general, older people tend to be the least reactionary and most philosophical in their feedback. Younger, or less experienced ones, often hold an idealistic notion of human relationships. Many people, irrespective of age, view the world through a black-and-white filter and label people and events right or wrong, good or bad, open or closed. I find most things in life are neither one nor the other; most things stand in the middle of the spectrum.

This is why maturity brings suffering. We understand too much: that real life and real relationships are not fairy tales with a perfect happy ending. Humans are complex, love is complex. Sit back and learn to enjoy the complexity of human relationships.

5. Some old loves you can never let go; but that’s okay

Eric Clapton singing Old Love (you can listen to it on YouTube) makes my heart ache every time I hear it: “And it’s making me so angry to know that the flame still burns. […]. When will I ever learn? Old love…leave me alone.”

We all have an old love or two we cannot forget. I have previously written about letting go of one big old love, and it was almost like ‘growing out’ of it, as I myself matured and changed.

But some loves we can never forget, and they never get ‘old’ however much time passes. They make my heart melt every time I hear from them because I can feel the old warm affection behind every word, because I know time may have changed them but not the core beauty of their soul.  My life feels richer just knowing they exist; they teach me that the human heart’s capacity for love is incredibly resilient.

6. Not everyone can cope with man-woman friendships

At every stage of my life, I have had very close male pals, with whom I spent a lot of time talking about intimate topics and sharing fun activities.  I am able to make friends with a man as effortlessly and comfortably as with a woman, and it does not bother me one iota that we are not of the same gender. I can be as affectionate with a guy as with any woman without turning it into a sexual move. Friendships with men are wonderfully comforting, cosy…fuzzy, without all the emotional pitfalls of a romantic relationship.

Is it that unconventional to think there’s nothing wrong or inappropriate about loving a guy friend just as you would a girl-friend?

I have noticed most people around me have a hard time accepting male-female friendships. Every time I form a friendly bond with a male colleague, for example, rumours circulate that we “have a thing for each other” when the only “thing” we have is a relaxed mutual appreciation.

Some men can’t take it either; they fear they may be “betraying” their partners by being friends with another woman (even though there’s no sex involved) but, if you ask me, that says far more about their own insecurities regarding the relationship they are in than about the friendship on offer. They are probably nervous because they feel sexually attracted to me, even though they have a wife or girlfriend, and they are not entirely sure they can trust their self-control..because men are..well…men.

The funny thing is, I can. I can be friends even with a guy I secretly wish was my lover but knowing we should never cross the line because we would be better at being friends than being lovers. But that may be because experience has taught me not everything in life is black or white, and sometimes it is okay to appreciate the various shades of grey in-between.

I am a freak no doubt.

7. Always give the benefit of the doubt

Everyone has their side of the story. Everyone’s fighting a battle you know nothing about. Give them a chance to tell their story before you pass judgement or do anything radical. It is well worth it, I promise you.

8. Write as many angry emails as you like but NEVER click the Send button

I have a few of those saved in my Drafts. Emails I was up all night writing when I was drunk, or when the depression monster raised its ugly head, making me feel small and unloved and I wanted to blame this person for the way I felt.

Every time I wrote one of those, I made myself wait 24hs before deciding to send or not, and boy, am I glad I did. Things always look differently in the cold light of day. Remember: you can’t un-send a sent email.

Had I sent out those angry messages, I would have hurt them all right, but I would have hurt myself more. Most of the time you did not mean the spiteful, hateful words you wrote when your bruised pride was hungry for revenge.

What you wrote: “This is such a total waste of time; what’s the point of us ever talking again when you behave like you hate me. You are a selfish w***er who doesn’t give a s**t about other people’s feelings.” What you meant: “I was hurt by what you said/did but I don’t want us to be like that with each other; let’s talk again soon, have a cuddle and make it better.”

9. Social media’s Delete and Block buttons destroyed our need to communicate 

On Facebook, Twitter, or whatever other social network, these days everyone uses the Delete, Unfollow and Block buttons to indicate they are angry and no longer wish to continue their relations with someone else. The ease with which we can delete people from our Timelines has sadly done away with the need for people to communicate with each other, explain themselves, say ‘I’m sorry’, or ‘let’s talk about this’.

You can block as many people as you want from your social media sites. But in order to nurture a healthy and strong relationship, you need to unblock your heart first and follow your gut instinct, be true to yourself.

10. I have an enormous capacity for forgiveness

I have discovered forgiving is a wonderful act of self-healing, no matter how bad it was what the other person did to you. When you let that anger go that imprisons you and weighs you down, you are also setting yourself free to love again.

11. Being single is glorious

Who said life after a separation had to be sad and miserable? I love my own company, I love my own space. You need to learn to be happy on your own before you can be happy with someone else.

Besides, being single means you are free to fancy as many men as you want; you can check out those cute guys on the train, in the street, in your office, at the supermarket while you pick up your weekly groceries, on your social media accounts. It means you are available for dating again. You can choose to get serious, or you can just play-flirt for fun. The world is an oyster. If that isn’t glorious, I don’t know what is.

12. I want an alpaca boyfriend

Click on the cartoon at the top of this blog post and read it. I can relate to that. Relationships are not the only things that can bring joy into your life. Right now I need a fluffy alpaca friend who can give me hugs, lots of cuddly-wuddly hugs, when I feel like crying but I can’t because I have run out of tears.

Because life was damn tough on me in 2013. Because my heart was broken so many times by so many circumstances, I can’t even feel the pain any more.

The only way now is up. 2014, bring it on!

The coming out video: lessons on being straight (with oneself)

Last week I was so impressed by a TEDx talk by lesbian speaker Ash Beckham that I facebooked it, tweeted it, Google-plussed it and, to the few friends who “don’t do social media”, I sent an email saying, “you need to watch this”. Talk about enthusiasm: I am blogging about it now…!

You should watch the video yourself, but I will highlight the main points of her talk here, and put them in the context of our day-to-day relationships.

Ash uses the coming-out-of-the-closet theme to illustrate why we should not hide behind safe walls just because confronting people and having that difficult conversation we need to have is so hard to do.

“At some point in our lives we all live in closets, […] they make you safe,” she says.

Ash says her closet, as a homosexual woman, was rainbow-coloured, but straight people live in closets too, of different colours, terrified of stepping out.

We all have issues we cannot bring ourselves to discuss with our parents, our lovers, our children. Because they would force us to be totally honest with them. Because we cannot face the fear of letting them down, of making them angry, or sad, or both.

Alain de Botton (@alaindebotton) recently tweeted this:

It is so true: we resent people we have hurt because facing them is like looking into an unforgiving mirror which reflects back the scummy shits that we were.

1) Hard is hard
Ash says no matter what the issue might be, there is no ranking ‘hard’. Telling someone you love that you have cancer, or that you have cheated on them, is not ‘harder’ than telling someone you are bankrupt. We are equal in that we all have ‘hard’ things to talk about.

“Hard is not relative. There’s no harder, just…hard.”

I guess this also means don’t use different measures of ‘hard’ as an excuse not to come out of that safety closet.

2) Come out or die

“When you do not have these hard conversations, you’re essentially holding a grenade. [And] if you do not throw that grenade it will kill you.”

This is so true. You may be holding a grenade yourself right now. That niggling issue you’ve been sweeping under the carpet because it may cause too many ripples if you bring it out…

Most relationships end up collapsing because a problem that could have been ironed out through a candid conversation in the early days end up not happening until it is too late to salvage them: the interfering mother-in-law, the financial responsibilities of each partner, the division of childcare or household duties, the tricky issue of long-term commitment versus let’s-see-what-happens, the devastating issue of I want kids but he doesn’t.

What is the conversation you are avoiding having with your partner right now? By holding back that overdue heart-to-heart, you are slowly poisoning yourself mentally and physically. Most critically, you are poisoning your own relationship.

3) The three coming-out rules
Ash sets three essential rules for coming out of any closet:

Rule #1: Be authentic – since you have decided to be real with someone, “take the armour off”, go into it with a bared soul. Don’t adopt the flight-or-flight response; face the facts and be prepared to for them to “be real” back to you.

Rule #2: Be direct – “say it with your Band-Aid off” – do not try to embellish your story or make it sound less serious than what it actually is. I take this as meaning, don’t be a coward, show some balls!

Rule #3: Be unapologetic – you should not have to apologise for speaking the truth. If you have hurt them through your actions, “apologise for what you have done but…

“Never apologise for who you are.”

Their disappointment is linked to their own expectations of who you are; it is “their story, not yours,” Ash says.

Accepting the leopard
When I first heard that, I found it rather selfish and thoughtless but, on reflection, Ash is right. No matter what you did, or what was done to you, people can’t change who they are anyway, unless they decide to do so themselves.

A leopard can’t change its spots.

For instance, a serial liar may apologise for the lies they told you, but often they cannot help themselves for being dishonest perhaps because, as children, they learned that lying was the most effective way of protecting themselves from hurt. Everyone carries obscure secrets from their past, which may have shaped their mental makeup and habits.

The commitment-phobic man may be letting down one woman after another by sweet talking them into being with him, but never wanting to take that step further, but that does not necessarily make him into a ‘bad’ person.

I know many women will disagree with me here. I have, in the past, met men who were essentially ‘free spirits’. Had I wanted to pin them down for a long-term commitment, they’d have run a mile. But I do not label them ‘good’ or ‘bad’ just because they would never consider marrying me. Because, to me, commitment, marriage, having children, etc are a matter of choice, not an obligation. They are not a pre-condition to having a relationship, although they may determine whether the couple will stay together for a long or short period of time.

I suppose the very young don’t care (yet), nor the elderly. But women of child-bearing age, seeking a partner to have a family with, tend to be the ones who are most unaccommodating.

Achieving healing
I am not condoning men and women who lie, cheat, deceive, seduce potential lovers and never take relationships seriously. But since coming out of our hiding places, to be exposed to the harsh light of truth, requires so much courage, the act of being honest with ourselves and others ought to be a liberating yet sobering experience for both parties.

Within a relationship coming out should, ultimately, be a healing process. ‘Healing’ does not imply the relationship will always survive. Sometimes truth brings two people closer together and sometimes it sets them apart. Either way, living with honesty is a much healthier and nurturing way of experiencing love. And the only way we can hope to achieve true intimacy.

“No matter what your walls are made of, a closet is no place for a person to truly live.”

Why equality in a relationship is for adults only

Balance

Yesterday I came across this fabulous speech on equality by The Avengers’ director Jess Whedon for Equality Now, which made me have a yessss! moment of elation.

Whedon makes a joke of the fact that in every single media interview he has ever given the one question that he invariably gets asked is why he writes “these strong female characters”, as if the combination of strength and female was totally extraordinary. He gives the audience several variations of the same answer and concludes: “equality is like gravity: we need it to stand on this earth as men and women.”

Below are parts of the speech that made me smile particularly widely. See what he says about his mother:

“She really was an extraordinary, inspirational, tough, cool, sexy, funny woman. And that’s the kind of woman I’ve always surrounded myself with. It’s my friends, particularly my wife, who is not only smarter and stronger than I am, but occasionally, actually taller too.”

Then his father and step father:

“My father and my step-father [..] prized wit and resolve in the women they were with, above all things, and they were among the rare men who understood that recognising somebody else’s power does not diminish your own.”

Men who understand that recognising a woman’s power does not diminish their own – yes, where are they? Not the wimps, not the control freaks. Where are the men who are so confident in their own skin they are attracted to women with strength and substance? Men who are not afraid of sharing control and power, intelligent men who love being in the company of sophisticated, witty and well-articulated women.

Equals and equals
When we say “equality”, we tend to think about women’s rights: equal pay, equal chances of promotion, equal division of responsibilities, etc. But there’s another type of equality that is key to the happiness of any couple: the equality of power and the equality of intellect.

When my husband and I separated, he admitted “we were never equals”, and that pretty much describes our married life.

Turning into a ‘Stepford wife’
In my marriage, my husband was the one who wanted to keep control of every small aspect of our lives, even the manner in which my books should be displayed on MY bookcase, just because the bookcase had been placed in the living room, which was HIS as well as mine, therefore he claimed he had the right to make demands.

By the time we were bickering about book display, our marriage was on its last legs. In yet another fit of temper, he was shouting at the top of his lungs while violently shaking the bookcase I loved, threatening to show me how it could collapse unless I displayed the books exactly the way he had told me to.

Already as a child, I was fiercely independent and strong-willed. I never took well to taking orders from others, not my parents, not my teachers, not my bosses; why should I let a man tell me what to do?

Friends who had known me as a single woman said they had noticed the sparkle in my eyes and the feistiness I had been known for had faded away after I got married, that when I turned up anywhere with my husband, I was uncharacteristically quiet and reserved. I guess I always knew he did not like being upstaged, so I automatically played myself down, gradually turning into the horrific mutation of a ‘Stepford wife‘.

The control freak and the uncontrollable
This is inequality of power. When one partner wants to always control and have the last word, but the other is not willing to be controlled, the relationship is headed for disaster.

My husband suffered from an acute lack of self-confidence as well as low self-esteem, and could not tolerate feeling challenged by anyone, let alone a woman. He had a desperate need to feel superior to others as a way of exercising control. Every time he opened his mouth one of two things happened. He either congratulated himself because a colleague or customer had told him how wonderful he had been, or he put someone down, politicians, neighbours, celebrities, colleagues, friends, family in an acerbic tone. Sarcasm was his trademark style. It is the preferred style of those who always need to make others feel bad in order for them to feel good.

I, on the other hand, am for the most part confident and self-assured, although I too go through temporary periods of self-loathing. I love men (and women) who will challenge me, question my way of looking at things, open my eyes to a world I knew nothing about. I have enough humility to be able to accept any new lessons with gratefulness, but NOT if they are being imposed on me in a top-down manner.

Cat or dog personality?
This does not mean I desire to be the controller in the relationship either. Nothing’s more unappealing to me than men who behave like puppies, following me/a woman wagging their tails, doing everything I tell them to do. A yes-man. A puppet. Say no often, disagree with me, persuade me of the validity of your views, don’t let me win every single argument, and I’ll respect you forever. Behave like a puppy and I’ll be bored stiff.

Speaking of puppies, perhaps it was telling that my husband was a dog person, and I a cat one. He liked dogs because of their loyalty and unconditional love. He loved his dog because it followed him everywhere, obeyed his every command. I loved cats because of their spirit of independence, because I knew I could not and should not control them. Because I have a cat personality myself.

The intellectual and the bimbo couple
The other inequality is the inequality of intellect. I bet you know at least a few couples that seem so poorly matched, they make you wonder in astonishment: “what on earth is he/she doing with ‘that’ woman/man?!”. Friends may not approve, but they tolerate their mate’s partner out of courteousness.

Time and again I have met couples where the man is intelligent, well-educated, cultured, well-spoken, with a decent job, but whose girlfriend turns out to be superficial, vulgar, and, to be blunt, bordering on plain stupid. She does not seem to have a personality, and follows him around as if she was his shadow. Everything he says she agrees with; if he ‘likes’ a post on Facebook, she’ll hurriedly ‘like’ it as well to make sure he thinks their views are aligned. She may be secretly addicted to her tabloid, but she will pretend to be a Guardian reader because her man reads it, and she wants him to think she’s an intellectual too. In reality she is far more concerned with what’s happening in the latest reality TV show. She may be terribly opinionated and ranty; all her views of the world are anti-something, but she is unable to articulate an argument without peppering it with coarse expletives for dramatic effect.

The thick girlfriend
I kid you not; one of my good publishing friends, who, thankfully, is now married to a decent, unobnoxious woman, went through a phase of going out with a girlfriend of a similar description. At his 30th birthday party, to which many of his work colleagues had been invited, his very tipsy girlfriend, a petite and pretty brunette, who nannied wealthy people’s children for a living, told me he was now responsible for sales in Eastern Europe but… “Where the f**k is Eastern Yoo-rop? I don’t even know. He is sooo clevah. I’m sooo proud of ‘im. I told’im I’d make an honest man out of him.” She then went on to sit on his lap, to make the point he was hers, not mine.

I nearly projectile vomited. I wanted to kick my friend’s backside. What on earth was he thinking?! Wasn’t he embarrassed to be associated with a dizzy lass like that? At least get a woman of your own stature!

The his complex + her complex couple
From what I have observed, these tend to be couples where both suffer from some kind of inferiority complex. The man is unaware of his worth and not confident enough to pair himself up with a woman of his own intellectual level in case she overshadows him, therefore he chooses to be with someone he can feel confidently superior to.

The woman knows he is out of her league but being with a ‘clever’ man helps cover up her flaws. She doesn’t mind not having an identity of her own, as long as she can bask in the glory of his. But she’s also afraid of losing her prize, so she will use every trick in her book to try to keep her man: sex, flattery, pretence that she likes all the same things as him, emotional blackmailing, ‘accidental’ pregnancies, you name it.

The “bimbo” role may be the man’s of course, and the woman could be the intellectual, but I see those combinations less frequently. Maybe this means intelligent women are generally more confident than men and will rarely settle for ‘just a pretty face’ with no brains.

Appearances
Remember: all that glitters is not gold. Just because a man and a woman are in a relationship, it does not mean they are happy or that the relationship has any future. Where there isn’t balance and equality, cracks eventually show.

Ultimately a well-balanced relationship between equals comes down to maturity and self-respect. A man and a woman who respect themselves will seek a partner who mirrors their strengths (and weaknesses) without perceiving that as a threat. Being able to engage with someone as a true equal partner, means you can always share without fearing judgement, you learn from each other, you grow together.

To me it sounds blissful, the richest form of connection two lovers can achieve…

Sadly, people often consciously opt to hide behind the security of a bad relationship for many years, rather than face the uncertainty of a new beginning. They will continue role playing, one the dominant, the other the subjugated; the stupid one may play clever, or the clever one may dumb down to pretend that that’s their level really…

A man and a woman can choose to be strong or weak together. Equality can’t be achieved without honesty.

As the late Lou Reed concludes in his beautiful Perfect Day, “You’re going to reap just what you sow.

When an old flame goes out: cutting the cord of love

cut the cord

“Much of life is about correctly determining on whom and on what we should finally give up.”

The above is a quote by author and philosopher Alain de Botton, and one that hits the nail on the head for me.

How good are you at letting go? Because I am hopeless at it. You see, I am, by nature, persevering, tenacious and accommodating. These attributes are very helpful and produce great results in my sales job because I am an optimist and never give up, but when it comes to men and relationships, they completely backfire.

Someone Like You
I recently bumped into an old flame in China, of all places. I was in Beijing, on business, attending a reception party, when I heard my name and felt a hand on my shoulder from behind.

I was gobsmacked when I turned around and saw him standing in front of me, smiling, looking as tall, as dark and as handsome as ever. He had started a long sabbatical last year, had moved back to his home country, on the other side of the Earth; I did not expect to see him again for a good few years.

This wasn’t just any old flame; this was THE old flame. Fifteen or so years ago that charming smile had made me swoon and become besotted with him. I had heard bells ringing; I had seen us happily married, sitting by a pool, while our two kids played, chasing each other, me discussing books and the state of the book industry with his intellectual parents.

I had met nice, attractive men before him, but he had been the first one my brain had registered as “husband material”, and not only because of his looks or personality. We worked in the same industry, we were both salespeople specialising in Asian territories, he was learning Japanese, loved Oriental foods, jet-setted round the world. He had grown up in a middle-class family like mine, who valued hard work and perseverance, he was highly ambitious and driven, yet totally modest, and a gentleman through and through. He ticked all my boxes, and more. I fell for that, and hard.

That was a long time ago. He is now happily married with a couple of kids; they probably live in a house with a swimming pool, just as I had once dreamed. You know Adele’s song, Someone Like You? Story of my life.

We are still friends, very good friends in fact. But I was in love for so many years the process of letting go of that pang I felt every time I walked into him at industry events and trade fairs was a long one. I only recently achieved some kind of closure, long after I had myself got married. For years I blamed myself for being one of those “women who love too much” and my inability to give up on things and people not worth fighting for.

Yearning
When it comes to love, how do you measure how much of it is healthy and when does it start becoming obsessive? Where do you draw the line between controlled loving sentiments and unbridled passion? And is there anything wrong with loving someone so much that it hurts? 

I once went out with a psychotherapist, who told me we seek love again and again because we crave the intensity of the pain brought on by yearning for someone. The pain makes us feel alive, he said. There might be some truth in this, but I reckon love only causes hurt because we wish to possess and control the object of our desire. 

If we…if I…could only learn to love without wanting to enclose or entrap the loved one; if I could love, even when I cannot have them close, how much more liberating and easy love would be. But is it realistic?

I have met other men since Old Flame ceased to burn a hole in my heart. Many were like ships passing in the night; a few others left deeper marks, and one, I suspect I may still be in love with. As it were, because when you think about someone from the past, you assume they haven’t changed and you haven’t changed, but you have, and they have. You are in love with a memory, not a real person.

Enough
This is what I felt when I walked out of the party in Beijing, leaving Old Flame surrounded, as usual, by a flock of women who had gathered, trying to make small talk with him. In the past I’d have dropped everything for a chance to be alone with him; I’d have ignored and put up with the gathering crowd while he played out his role of popular/everybody-loves-me guy and successful entrepreneur. I’d have sacrificed my self-respect for a minute of his attention.

But I didn’t this time. I realised I could never finish a single conversation with him because someone always barged in and started another. It occurred to me that being liked by a generic all was more important to him than being liked by a specific one. That talking to anyone who led to a business opportunity took priority over catching up with an old friend. I think I always knew that but didn’t want to admit it. I wanted to believe he was Prince Charming and could not put a foot wrong.

I’d had it, I left. For once, I put myself first. I chose to go somewhere more private for a drink with a good friend and giggled the whole evening, sipping Bloody Mary, not once thinking about Old Flame.

Embers
Starved of oxygen, the fire is long extinguished and for that I am relieved. But I was astounded by the realisation that the person I once loved so deeply and for so long was not someone I would have loved now, nor would I care to fight for his friendship.

The relentless ambition I used to admire so blindly now feels tiresome and jaded: how often does one have to prove oneself and what for? A day or two later, at the breakfast table of our hotel, he tells me he is doing an MBA, planning a new business, running marathons, playing competitive tennis in different continents, making his kids learn Mandarin, as it’s the language of the future. I listen, unimpressed. I notice, dispassionately, his bulging biceps and the hunky torso underneath his yellow Nike T-shirt, the result of years of disciplined training in the gym. I see the beautiful, familiar green eyes that look at you but rarely through you.

What I used to deem the “perfect” man no longer floats my boat. Instead, I catch myself being attracted to men who wear their vulnerabilities on their sleeves, whose most interesting bulging parts are their flaws, their weaknesses and human failings. Perhaps because they represent a reflection of myself as an imperfect human being, who awkwardly makes mistakes again and again. It’s a good sign. It is a sign I like them because I also like myself more.

Warts
Old attachments are like warts: they have been part of you for so long, cutting them off is like self-mutilation. Of course it hurts, of course it bleeds, but it is a necessary evil for you to move on.

Old Flame was, in the end, a surprisingly uncomplicated door to close. But I have other past attachments I believe go beyond the sexual; they are more of a soul-to-soul connection, and those I am not confident I can ever sever because I love their spirit as much as or more than their physical representation on earth, if you know what I mean.

Yet loving with longing is painful; longing to be close when closeness is not possible is cruel and masochistic. Those I cannot let go, I have no choice but to continue loving, but loving without the yearning, loving without controlling, without expecting, without wanting.

There is letting go and there is letting go.

It is ridiculous, I know. I am not a monk, give me a break.

But then I am not capable of living without loving.

Are you? Tell me, are you?