Posted in bloggers, Books, dating, LGBT, Reviews, romance

Book Review: Into the Danmei Rabbit Hole

I was passing by Waterstones the other day and was reminded by the window display that June was actually Pride month, and as a proud ally I always post a book review to commemorate the fact that love is always love, no matter what form or shape it takes.

This year I thought I’d do a review on a couple of book series that my friend Nina recommended, which are classified under danmei, the Chinese equivalent of the popular Japanese BL (boy’s love lol) genre. These two serialisations have experienced a surge in popularity recently due to the release of a Netflix adaptation called The Untamed in 2019.

I was pretty skeptical about reading these at first, mostly because I’ve always judged my sister and cousin for being so obsessed about manga that they could talk about it for an entire dinner conversation, whilst I twirled my chopsticks and imagined poking my eye out with it just to relieve my boredom. Lol

But actually, as an avid reader and a lover of books, I should have realised sooner that a good story is a good story regardless of packaging. And once I started reading these…well, hooked doesn’t even begin to describe it. I have gone down a rabbit hole that has no end in sight and I am enjoying every second of the fall.

Both Heaven Official’s Blessing and Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation are fantasy novels; there’s a lot of magic and spells and gods and monsters involved. You also learn a lot about Chinese culture, traditions, and beliefs. More importantly, the fact that they even exist in a country where everything goes through extreme censorship, and where being gay is still largely unacceptable, is a damn miracle.

Living in London, I take it for granted sometimes that there are still countries where people are not free to be who they are and to love who they love. I mean, progress: China no longer imprisons anyone for being gay as far as I know; but they’re not exactly advocating for gay rights, equality, and freedom either.

Take The Untamed for example, which is the Netflix adaptation of one of these novels (and my current obsession, don’t judge me). They had to take out any hint of romantic love between the two male leads just so the series would pass censorship and be allowed to even air.

The writers and producers had to go through extreme lengths to satisfy fans of the novel and to convey to discerning viewers that Wei Wu Xian and Lan Zhan are more than just soul brothers, or whatever lame-ass term they came up with. Because the truth is, these guys are actually partners who are in a committed relationship.

The microscopic hints of love between the two characters on screen, the ones that actually passed censorship, are made more special because of the need to be covert and creative. This is also a running theme in the books, where love is not explicit, and its not something you can shout about from the rooftops.

Instead, its expressed in the most infinitesimal of gestures, in the smallest lift of the lips into a secret smile, in the things one does for another regardless of the personal cost. Its not so much the words you say, as much as it is the spaces between the words, in the moments of silence where words need not be said. I don’t know about you, but I find this kind of purity very beautiful. Realistic, maybe not so much.

Still, I grew up in a typical Chinese family where we are not as effusive and demonstrative about our feelings as families in the Western world. I used to look at my parents and think, wow, this isn’t exactly the kind of stuff they write romance novels about, is it?

But actually, isn’t there romance in staying together even when there’s an option to leave, in fighting battles side by side, in being there for the person through sickness and health, and in the warm nights spent watching TV, comfortable in each other’s company, knowing you’ll never have to go through life alone?

I think that Western culture places a lot of emphasis in showing and proving your love, in saying the words “I love you” and needing to hear it said back. And that’s important. We need to be able to say and hear those things. But there is also a place for the spaces between words and the silence between actions.

In addition, in reading these books I am reminded that there are still places where people cannot afford to be demonstrative, where things need to go unsaid, where they have to rely on the weight of every subtle gesture to express how they feel.

I think Pride month is a good time to reflect on how far we’ve come and how much further we still need to go so that everyone, including and especially people who’ve always felt different, will realise that there’s also a place in the world for them and the ones they love.

I’m really glad I gave these books a go, and I can’t wait for the rest of the English translations.

Happy Pride, Everyone!

Posted in dating, Music, pop culture, relationships

It Was Rare, and I Remember It All Too Well

Time check, its 4am on day 3 of my mandatory hotel quarantine and I’m slowly starting to go insane. I’m surprised my sister and I haven’t killed each other yet after being forced to tolerate each other’s company in such close quarters. I love my sister, and I’m sure she loves me too, but siblings were not meant to live in each other’s pockets all the damn time, especially if one of those siblings (AKA me) has a penchant for playing Taylor Swift songs on repeat.

Could you blame me though?

Ms. Swift has just released a re-recording of her Grammy-nominated album Red, which contains, among other hit songs, what is generally considered to be the best song she’s ever written: the magnificence that is All Too Well. And, just because she is the Queen of Extra, she’s released a 10-minute version of this ode to autumnal heartbreak and dancing in refrigerator lights and red scarfs, accompanied by a truly harrowing short film which she directed and starred in.

Since the song was released, I find my thoughts straying time and time again to Jake Gyllenhaal, widely believed to be the inspiration behind this song. It truly isn’t a good time to be Jake right now. He is being roasted in all corners of the internet, and is the subject of hilarious tweets and memes on social media. As a self-confessed Swiftie, I should be all over this. But more often than not, I find myself cringing just a little bit at the outpouring of hate and vitriol towards the other half of this supposed relationship.

Before I get blasted for supporting the patriarchy and defending a guy that the majority of the Twitter population now consider a scumbag, let me explain. I am not taking away Taylor’s right to express her feelings through her chosen medium. She’s a gifted songwriter, and that is due in large part to her ability to draw from her own experience and turn them into lyrics that perfectly capture moments that we can all relate to. When you listen to her songs, it makes you feel less alone, and less stupid. Because if someone like her can go through something like that and survive, then maybe there’s hope for you.

I think my discomfort stems from the fact that all this palaver over what is essentially – READ MY LIPS – a three-month relationship (yep, it boggles the mind) hits a little close to home. Taylor is re-treading the stomping grounds of her old heartbreak, the added verses to All Too Well giving us a better insight into what she went through whilst in that relationship.

This all happened 10 years ago and yet she’s still singing about it, still talking about it, and even though she’s moved on and is presumably a lot happier now, all evidence suggests that she will probably never get over it. She will be carrying those Mysterio-shaped scars to her grave, singing about little kids in glasses and twin-sized beds until her last dying breath.

And damn me if I’m not able to relate to that just a little.

We all have them, okay? Whether its the one that got away, or the ex that dumped you in the most brutal manner possible, or (in my case) the unrequited love that is the One Great Love of my life, we all have that one person we constantly bring up in conversations, whose name sounds different when it passes through our lips, whose impact peppers our lives even as the years pass without any meaningful contact from them whatsoever.

They become our inspiration and our muse. I for sure know that I’m at my best as a writer when I’m writing about Him, and I write about Him a lot. If everything I’ve written about that period of my life were to be compiled into a single volume it would be as thick as War and Peace.

At first, I wrote about him as a way of letting go of the past and all the feelings that came with it. There was a lot to unload. Love is at its most devastating when its unreciprocated, after all. Then, I wrote about him as a way of validating that it was love, albeit the one-sided kind. I think I wanted to convince myself that I didn’t waste my best years chasing after someone who could never love me back.

I felt the need to justify why I shouldn’t feel regret that I held on longer than I probably should have, and that at the end of the day it was better to have loved and lost and blah blah blah.

Then there came a time when writing about it just became fun. Yes, there are certain memories that still make me cringe, that make me want to go back in time so I can tell my younger self not to be so bloody stupid. BUT. There is a certain kind of exhilaration that comes over you when you realise that it doesn’t hurt so much anymore, that you can actually laugh about it and make fun of the experiences that have shaped so much of the person you become.

People always say that success is the sweetest revenge, but I think laughter is right up there with it.

I think a part of me objects to all this airing of dirty laundry in public. There should only be two people in a relationship, but we live in an age where we invite so many people (too many people, in my opinion) into what is essentially a sacred and private thing, regardless of whether you’re a celebrity or not. I think the best thing Taylor has ever done was to NOT talk about her current partner, and I think the older I get the more value I see in keeping aspects of my private life, well, private.

There’s a line towards the end of the 10-minute version that goes like this:

Just between us, do you remember it all too well?

I think that more than anything encapsulates Taylor’s original intentions for this song. Sure, the savvy businesswoman in her probably anticipated (and even encouraged) the publicity that came with the speculation over what happened with Jake, but the 31-year old who is reflecting back on the relationship shines through in the intimacy of those last few lyrics.

It’s worth mentioning that the last few verses of the 10-minute version felt more nostalgic than angry, and it gave me chills the first time I listened to it, and not just because I’m genetically programmed to love a Jack Antonoff production. No, its the same kind of feeling I get when I listen to Gwen Stefani’s Cool.

Its the peace that comes with knowing that when all is said and done, you’re okay with it all. Because at the end of the day, cheesy as it sounds, maybe it is better to have loved and lost and blah blah blah.

So here’s to you, you know who you are. Here’s to the memories, and for remembering them all too well.

Posted in dating, poetry, relationships, women

Table For One

“Can I help you madam?”
the server asks
as she steps
through
the automatic doors.

As if a single beam
of stage-light
has shone
on
the vacant space
by her side,
she starts
to sweat,
self-conscious,
wary
of being judged
by this stranger.

This used to be easy,
something to aspire to,
a defiant gesture
in the face of
society’s expectations.
A bold statement,
I am
a
strong
independent
woman.

I don’t need a man
to share my meals with.
I have
a perfectly
working
digestive system,
thank you very much.

Now,
it felt like there was
a ticking clock
over her head
telling the world:
“This woman
has reached
the limits
of her best-before date.”

“Madam,”
the server persists.
“Do you have a
reservation?”
She shakes her head.
“That’s alright,” he says,
“Would you like
a table
for two?”

He asks this
as if it were a given,
as if it were the norm,
and it probably was,
and she was the odd one.
But godammit,
she just wanted to have
some kimchi pancakes.

Taking a deep breath,
she held her head high
and said,
“No.
Table for one.”
And she looked him in the eye,
daring him
to judge.

Posted in dating, family, friendship, LGBT, Young Adult

Book Review: Loveless – Alice Osman

I had my first kiss when I was twenty seven with a guy I’d met while speed dating. I grew up with all kinds of ideas about how my first kiss was going to go. Hopeless romantic that I was (and still am, probably) I imagined either a moonlit walk on the beach or a romantic candlelight dinner with a full orchestra playing Your Song by Elton John. Fireworks were essential, both literally and figuratively.

What I didn’t expect was dinner at a sushi restaurant (bad idea) and being kissed in the the middle of Trafalgar Square (okay, not a bad location) by someone I was only dating because I felt like I HAD to. At that point, everyone I knew was pairing up, getting married, having kids – ticking all those boxes that we had been brainwashed since birth to believe were the ONLY things that gave life meaning.

At that point, I felt like the odd one, the weirdo who was holding out for something that didn’t exist. Maybe saving your first kiss for someone special was a myth that only existed in movies. As one of my friends put it, what was more important was experience. And apparently, I need lots and lots of those.

Needless to say, my first kiss was a flop, I never saw the guy again because he wanted to get serious after only the second date and I knew I didn’t like him that way. He was just a box I needed to tick, and I think I know now that every dating experience I’ve ever had were like that. I felt like I HAD to date, I HAD to make the effort, otherwise I was going to spend my entire life alone, the lonely spinster perpetually thinking about what might have been, the old lady who spends winters by the fireplace knitting, surrounded by cats – alone, lonely, LOVELESS.

Bollocks to that.

It took me quite a long time (and a lot of bad dating experiences) to accept that alone didn’t have to mean lonely. That relationships were not the be all and end all of the universe. That if people judge me for not being in a relationship, it didn’t mean there was something wrong with me, it meant there was something wrong with them. In fact, there is something wrong with a world that measures your value only by your ability to be with another person.

There are all kinds of love apart from the intensely passionate and romantic pairings we see in the movies or read about in books. There’s love for your family, a love for your friends, and a love for yourself.

I think about, for example, the kind of relationship I have with my sister. Growing up, she was this pesky, annoying, bothersome person who taped over my Spice World cassette tape (I wanted to murder her for that, but my mum wouldn’t let me) and read my diaries. Now she’s one of my best friends, one of the few people who call me on my bullshit and never let me think too highly of myself, who will feed me when I’m hungry and make me tea when I’m sick, who will send me recommendations from the British Heart Council every time my hypochondriac brain acts up and I send her a text saying ‘I think I’m having a heart attack’.

You can’t tell me that that kind of love, that that kind of relationship, is somehow less because its not romantic.

As I get older, I’ve learned to make peace with who I am: I’m never going to be conventionally attractive but I love the way I look most of the time. I like to work. Other people will think that’s sad but they do them and I do me. I’d rather read and write than climb walls and fly off aeroplanes. I’m never going to be the most fun person at a party but I’m still fairly okay at making conversation with people. I’ve fallen in love (or thought I did) a few times. Only one or two have been real, to be honest. But throughout all that, my biggest relationship has always been with myself.

And just like any relationship, it has its ups and downs and days when I can’t stand to look at myself in the mirror, but I find a way to forgive myself and to promise to do better, to be better, because I want to go to bed at night assured that I liked the person I was today. You can’t tell me that that is somehow less important just because its not really a relationship in the conventional sense.

I have rambled on as usual. Several paragraphs in and I haven’t even talked about the book yet…but everything I just said is essentially what Loveless by Alice Osman is about: the idea that there are all kinds of love, that sexuality is a broad spectrum of things from straight to asexual and aromantic, that no one gets to define what gives your life meaning apart from YOU. The book is messy, cringy, annoying, intense, funny, ridiculous heartwarming and ultimately, a real JOY to read.

I wanted to give up on it halfway through because I thought, meh, I wouldn’t be able to relate to this. I was just about to give it a DNF rating on Goodreads but I have a real aversion to not finishing a book, it just feels wrong to me. So I carried on, and I’m so so glad I did. Because despite my experiences and my sexuality being totally different from Georgia’s, the main protagonist, the whole point of the book is that love may mean all kind of things to all kinds of people, but each meaning is important, and if we could only see how universal it is because of those differences, the world would be a much better place.

The whole point of Loveless is that every story is a love story, well let me tell you one of my favourites:

I’d been living in London for 5 years and I had avoided riding the London Eye because I was saving it for when I finally had someone special to share the moment with. But in 2016, my father came for a visit. It had taken him nearly three years to process his passport, but finally, he was here, in a city that he’d only read about or saw in movies. The London Eye was something we came across on the telly back home on New Year’s Eve; we would gather around and watch the fireworks display as a family. And now there we were, riding one of the pods, just as the sun was starting to set.

Anyone who’s ever been on the London Eye will tell you that its excruciatingly slow, and at 15 minutes in you just want it to be over. But my Dad could not stop looking down on the Thames, and on all of London literally beneath our feet. And the whole time I had this big smile on my face when I looked around and realised, holy shit, my family was with me in my favourite city in the world. It was a magical moment. Better than any first kiss fantasies I’ve ever had.

Whoever you are, whatever your orientation, whether you’re alone or in a relationship right now, you deserve magical moments like that. You deserve joy.

Who knows what the future holds? Maybe next week I meet the love of my life and be married by the end of the year. Maybe I won’t.

But regardless, I wouldn’t consider myself loveless, because without even knowing or fully appreciating it, I am and have always been loved. And that is what makes this book so great. That is the message. Whether you’re gay, straight, bi, pan, ace, trans, queer, alone or in a relationship, we see you, and you are loved.

Book rating: 5 amazing stars

Posted in bloggers, Careers, dating

Everything I need to know about relationships, I learned from working with surgeons

Disclaimer: below is a work of non-fiction. Any seeming reference or resemblance to persons dead or living are not entirely coincidental, only slightly intentional and should not be held against the author.

Anyone who’s ever watched Grey’s Anatomy would have a working idea of what it must be like to work with surgeons. I wish I could say they were all Derek Sheperd’s, because the NHS would have less staffing problems if they were, but unfortunately they’re not.

Let’s all take a moment to remind ourselves how, in a perfect world, all surgeons should look like. Haha

In fact, I would venture to say that some of them are as far from McDreamy as a person could get.

Surgeons are not the easiest bunch to deal with. Off the top of my head I can name a number of colleagues who can’t stand to be in the same room with them, who find them rude, arrogant, overbearing, impatient, misogynistic and overall unbearable. They have a God complex, some say. While some others are of the opinion that they go to some preparatory course towards the end of their surgical training where they all get instilled with this (erroneous) belief that they’re right all the time.

What do I think of them, you ask?

Personally, I love them. The same way you learn to love your pesky little brother. You’re obligated to tolerate them anyway, and over time that tolerance has turned into something that resembles love (I think). I have spent most of my career working with them and I’ve never met a problem with them that I couldn’t overcome eventually. Which isn’t to say I haven’t had moments where I just want to do things to them that will get me locked away for life, but I tend to get over the urge to inflict bodily harm fairly quickly, all things considered.

One of the people I worked with last week went so far as to suggest that I have become such an expert on dealing with difficult surgeons that any relationship I’m bound to have would be a walk in the park in comparison.

I didn’t realise that my dealings with surgeons have also been a training ground for establishing future relationships, but I thought it would be fun to explore this little analogy. Just what have I learned from my professional life that I can bring into my personal life?

I came up with a list below that might resonate with those of you who make their living in surgical gowns and gloves. I think they actually do apply to all other relationships outside of the operating theatre but see what you think. Lol

  1. Timing is key.
  2. They like to talk about themselves. Use that to your advantage. A little flattery will get you everywhere.
  3. If you do a good job and show loyalty by maintaining a relationship with them, you might get wined and dined once a year (like, at Christmases and birthdays)
  4. Laugh at their jokes, even when its not funny, and even when its at your expense.
  5. Learn their preferences by heart and make an effort to give them what they want.
  6. Anticipate their needs so well that words need not be spoken. In fact, anticipate their needs so well that you give them what they need even if its not what they ask for.
  7. They may deny it, but they like it when you go the extra mile. Don’t do it every time, and not often enough that they take it for granted. But a little extra touch every now and again will always be deeply appreciated.
  8. Suggestions are welcome, but only if you use the right approach. Tip: if you lead with an accusation, an argument, or by listing all the ways in which you think they’re wrong, you will NOT be well-received.
  9. On that note, they are never wrong. To convince them otherwise is an exercise in futility. Even if they do realise they’re wrong, they won’t say it out loud. They’ll say they changed their minds, or have received more information that led them to think that another course of action might be more appropriate (insert eye roll here).
  10. Understand that when they get temperamental and moody and rude, it’s not always personal.
  11. Stress turns even the best of them into monsters.
  12. You don’t always have to believe them when they say ‘send for the next‘. They’re already thinking about the next step, and the next one after that, and the next one after that. Your job is to regulate the flow, and to get them to chill the fuck out, because its a marathon not a sprint.
  13. When they go low, you go high.
  14. A little sense of humour goes a long way.
  15. Choose your battles. Sometimes you win by giving in.
  16. But. If it’s really important, if you feel really strongly about it, challenge them. They need to be challenged sometimes, it keeps them on their toes.
  17. Forgive them, sometimes they know not what they say. They are only men after all.
  18. Always do a Time-Out and a Pause to prevent any irrevocable errors.
  19. There are times when they do get the final say, but you are a vital part of the whole process. They literally cannot operate without you, and they should be sufficiently grateful.
  20. You can only get so far with looks, charm and bullshitting. Its your skill and intelligence that will earn their respect and admiration in the long run.
  21. You have to respect them in turn. Respect their skills and what they can do. Respect them, even when you don’t like them very much.
  22. The best ones are the ones you keep coming back to not because you’re contractually obligated to do so, but because you’ve developed a true bond borne out of multiple years together and a mutual love for Brandon Flowers.

What do you think? Have I just described a relationship, or what?

I sure wish they’d told us in school that theatre nursing was really just an analogy for our love life, I would have paid better attention. Lol.

Posted in dating, relationships, Self-Discovery

Putting Yourself Out There

Its all just lip service until you practice what you preach.

I’m a big believer in putting yourself out there, in letting the universe know what you want and in not being afraid to go for something if you really want it. I’ve always said that you shouldn’t let the fear of failing ever stop you from trying. Grab a spoon in the big banquet of life, and all that jazz.

The truth is, until recently, I’ve done nothing but talk absolute bollocks.

Sure, in every other aspect of my life I’m quite the go-getter. I’m known for having a one-track mind. When it comes to achieving something, I’ve been known to run myself ragged, exhausting all options and myself, until the goal is won.

When it comes to my love life, though, I am the biggest coward in the world. I have never been able to look any guy in the eye and just flat out let him know I’m interested. Ever.

I was in love with someone close to me for almost a decade and I was only able to bare my feelings in the most uncomfortable and awkward Facebook message I have ever had to send in my life, and I did it five years after I got over him. I honestly think I was only able to do that because by then I was safely in London, two oceans and a continent away.

Part of that is the culture I grew up with. Both the Filipino and the Chinese culture frown upon their women being ever so forward. A part of me will always balk at the thought of making the first move.

But I can’t blame my somewhat sheltered upbringing for everything.

The real root of such cowardice is my complete aversion to being emotionally vulnerable in any way or shape. I am so petrified of the risk of rejection that I fail to put myself out there time and time again.

I’ve thought about this long and hard and I’ve come to the conclusion that, in all likelihood, when you ask someone for something or when you put your heart on the line like that, there’s a huge chance that the answer will be no. Like maybe 9 times out of 10.

But if you continue to bottle everything up, to shy away from anything because you don’t want to risk being hurt, you miss out on that glorious ONE TIME when the answer could be yes.

Or you know, at this point, I’d settle for a maybe.

Today I took my chance. I put on my full battle armour (pretty curls and cat’s eyes), gathered my courage and just asked.

The answer was not what I was hoping for, but it was an answer nonetheless. It placed the situation in the most realistic and undeniable light, and it made me see my way forward, which is really as simple as showing him what he’s missing. Lol

Anyway, the point is today I was emotionally brave for the first time ever in my life…and quite frankly I feel nauseous. Like seriously nauseous. Being brave is not all its cracked up to be.

But I also feel great and empowered and I feel like walking down the street singing R.E.S.P.E.C.T. at the top of my lungs. Because I respect myself so much more for having the guts to look him in the eye and tell him (more or less) that I’m interested.

Ball is in your court, bud.

Posted in bloggers, dating, Lifestyle, relationships, Self-Discovery

Castles in the Sky

My old boss once told me that one of my greatest strengths is my ability to think of the most outlandish and craziest ideas and then have that idea become a reality. She says that I work like I have my head in the clouds most of the time, and I come down to earth and get on with the business of making things happen.

I suppose I’ve always been a very optimistic person. I’ve been fortunate enough to have an easy and happy childhood. Even when things seemed difficult, life always had a way of sorting things out with or without my help.

Being somewhat of a type A personality of course I wasn’t contented to watch from the sidelines. I’d like to think a took an active role and made some pretty savvy life choices to get to where I am. I’ve made some mistakes along the way but I’ve managed to bounce back from them with my psyche relatively intact.

So yes,  I am a person who’s full of hope. Hope springs eternal; I shit dreams and unicorn and all that. It will be the last thing that leaves my body when I’m dying, and even then I’d probably be clinging to the hope that I can find a way to defeat death somehow.

Hope is a double-edged sword though. On the one hand, it is what propels me to keep going and to keep pursuing the things that I aspire to. But on the other hand, I often wonder how much hope affects my ability to perceive and interpret the reality of what’s actually happening around me.

I sometimes find myself in situations where I do really stupid things in the hopes that things will go my way, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. I once built an epic romance out of what was essentially a platonic relationship, based on nothing but hopes and dreams alone.

I’ve travelled tens and thousands of kilometres on the hopes of finding something amazing, based on something as flimsy as a month’s worth of semi-intense connections (and you know, that connection might have just been due to Christmas being in the air and the lights around Central London making things more romantic than they normally were).

I’ve had my heart if not broken, certainly bruised, because I refuse to give up hope without definitive proof, and that definitive proof usually comes in the form of almost soul-crushing disappointment.

After my recent brush with hope and its consequences, it would be tempting to resolve to be a hard-eyed realist from now moving forward. It would certainly save me a lot of tears (and a good chunk of my life savings) if I did.

But the thing is, I wouldn’t know who I am if I wasn’t the kind of person who would go to the other side of the world for the chance of exploring the potential for something more with someone who made my heart beat for the first time in a long time.

And yeah, maybe that blew up in my face a little bit, but I came back to London ready to try again, to give it another go.

And when I get to a point where I’m ready to throw in the towel because I feel like I may never find the kind of love I’ve always dreamed of having, I somehow find an inner reserve of hope that something amazing could still happen.

I suppose what I’ve realised, after having given it some thought since I came back from my holidays, is that I would rather hope and love a little too much, than to ever become a cynic who can’t see the possibilities of the extraordinary in the ordinariness of life.

I’ll keep building my castles in the sky. Who knows? Someday my prince could even come along and join me there. Or better yet, a prince will come along who will share a mortgage with me and join forces in the battle against exorbitant London house prices. Lol

Happy Sunday, one and all.

Posted in bloggers, dating, relationships, Self-Discovery

Pavlovian Instincts and Toxic Relationships

Its been more than a decade since I took Psychology 101 in college but one of the first things I remember reading was about Ivan Pavlov’s experiments with a dog, a bell and a piece of meat.

As the story goes, Mr. Pavlov would simultaneously offer the dog a piece of meat every time he rings the bell, conditioning  the dog to associate the ringing of the bell with the appearance of food. He repeated this several times until it got to the point where the dog would salivate every time the bell was rung, with or without the meat.

I’d like to think that as human beings we’d have far more control over our impulses and actions than the dog in this story. But the Pavlovian technique is famous for a reason, because it is more or less an accurate reflection of human behaviour – or at least it IS in some cases.

I think of myself as a reasonably intelligent woman. I’m strong-willed, independent and capable of making it on my own, with or without a man. In fact, I’ve been told quite recently that I am the perfect example of an alpha female. Of course that person also said I have the tendency to be so bossy as to be completely intimidating, but hey, I’ll take that as a compliment.

However, the sad truth is that – just like everyone else – I have my own weaknesses. One in particular stands out as my kryptonite, my achilles heel, my very own Ivan Pavlov with that damned infernal bell.

You see, he rings that bell and I am conditioned to come running. He then tells me to jump and I’ll simply ask ‘how high?’. I’ve associated him with so many good memories and so many good feelings that even now, even after the struggles I’ve gone through to build back the broken pieces of my self-respect, all it takes is one message, one phone call and I’m right back where I started.

It’s as if the past 6 or 7 years never happened. As if I’m still that sad, lonely, overweight and broken-hearted girl whose self-esteem was so low that she had to turn to food to comfort, thus perpetuating a cycle that took the better part of the decade to break.

Why do we do this to ourselves? 

The stupid thing is, the feelings that initially brought on the impulse to please don’t even exist anymore. I’ve thought about this all day and all night and I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t possess even a single hope that this story will end with the two of us together. That ship has sailed a long long time ago.

So why am I bending over backwards trying to do so many things for a person who doesn’t even acknowledge or appreciate it? Who thinks he’s entitled to my time and efforts? Who takes it for granted as his due?

I don’t know. 

All I know is that I am not a dog. In fact, that is an insult to dogs. In this scenario, dogs probably possess more intelligence than I do. Their EQ is probably higher than mine is at the moment. At least they know who deserves to have and keep their loyalty.

There are so many things that I still want to say but if I say it all at once this blog is going to turn into a book. I guess I just needed to get this off my chest. I have come so far to fall back on bad habits and toxic relationships now.

I’ve learned – or at least I thought I did – that I need to cull out those relationships that do nothing for me. Even if that leaves me single and with only a handful of friends, its still better than tolerating something that’s bad for me just because I’m afraid to be in my own company. I happen to love me, especially the me that I am now.

I’ve worked so hard to make peace with the kind of person that I am, to get to the point where I can look at the mirror and feel pretty, and where I can look at my life and feel proud for what I’ve accomplished. This week has felt like a step, no, a huge slide backward. And all because my Ivan Pavlov rang that bell.

It stops now. Enough is enough. I am taking that bell and crushing it with the force of my will, and then I’m throwing it into a metaphorical ocean so that I will never hear it in my head ever again.

I refuse to be an example of the conditioning theory. Go to hell, Ivan Pavlov. Go to hell and leave me alone.

Posted in dating, Lifestyle, relationships

You Can’t Fake Chemistry

When I was in college Chemistry was one of my favourite subjects, and one that I used to ace effortlessly. At one point I think I may even have had the periodic table memorised (it was a requirement at the time but also, I was a big nerd).

There’s something amazing about how two elements can form something bigger (and infinitely more useful) when they come together; they’re stronger together than when they are apart, as the song goes.

It was also a source of endless fascination to this nerd that certain elements attract and can bind with other elements but seem to repel others. I find that a truly apt metaphor for personal relationships and is the one aspect of chemistry that I can honestly say I apply in real life situations.

Chemistry At Work

I work regularly with two men who on the surface are pretty similar and cut from the same mould: intelligent, decisive and brimming with so much confidence that it can easily be mistaken for arrogance (sometimes it is). In short, alpha males who are used to ruling their own little kingdom. Being an alpha female myself, it stands to reason that there might be some impediments to forming a harmonious relationship with these men.

In theory I’d probably develop – at best – a tepid working relationship with both of them. But actually, because of some random unexplainable law of chemistry, I actually get on with one of them really well. He gets my jokes; sometimes we look each other in the eye and I can tell that he’s thinking the same thing that I’m thinking. I know how to read him and I know just how to time and gauge my comments so that they’re received in the way that they are intended. He does the same with me: certain comments that may be offensive when coming from others just sit right with me if he’s the one saying it, I’m not sure why.

With the other one I just can’t seem to do anything right. He laughs at me when I’m actually trying to say something serious. And he takes me seriously when what I’m saying was meant to be a joke. One time I said something in jest and he ended up lecturing me so earnestly that I couldn’t find the heart to tell him I was only kidding. He’s a very nice man but I just don’t feel the same ease and warmth with him as I do with the other.

Chemistry and Friends

I sometimes think that chemistry is the key to unlocking the secrets of the universe. Laugh all you want, but I’ve given this a lot of thought and I think we seriously underestimate the value of meeting and getting to know someone who is on the same wavelength as we are; and that’s true for friends, colleagues, lovers or partners.

I think about all the friends I have and why I’m closer to some than others. I have friends who I interact with when we’re part of a bigger group but I would’t be caught dead having an intimate conversation with them over coffee because it would just be too damn awkward.

On the other hand I have friends that I can randomly call or ask to meet up with, and we’d start off chatting about inane things and we’d somehow end up talking about our hopes and dreams and our plans for the future – all while having a laugh. We’d look at our watches and we’d be amazed that we’d already spent four hours just talking. CHEMISTRY.

Chemistry in Love

On a different and somewhat related note, people who read my blogs regularly know two things about me by now: one, that I am a subscriber to online dating (despite the fact that it goes against everything I believe in) and two, I am something of serial first dater. I’ve gone on a lot of dates but very few of them pan out. Despite how meticulous I am about guys I choose to go out with, despite the fact that they seem to tick all the boxes and are perfect on paper, there always seems to be something missing when I meet them. I now think that something is basic chemistry.

I think about the few dates I’ve had that have panned out and progressed into something more. Ironically, for those ones I didn’t even know I was on a date until I realise I WAS ON A DATE. All I knew was that I was having so much fun: the conversation was flowing, we were having a laugh, he’d get a little touchy feely, I’d get a bit light-headed. There was nothing special planned, no design for the night to be anything than a casual drinks-after-work affair, but because of CHEMISTRY, VOILA: magical evening that I still look back on fondly even though things didn’t quite work out like I hoped they would.

I think about chemistry a lot as I continue to embark on this seemingly never-ending journey to find THE ONE. It may seem shallow, and its true that you can have chemistry with someone and yet are unable to establish a lasting relationship with them (think Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton – sizzling chemistry, messed-up lives). But I don’t know, I think if you have chemistry – real chemistry – with someone you will always find yourself going back to them time and time again.

I have a friend who described a relationship he had with someone as having “the best chemistry” he’s ever had with someone in his life. At that point they wanted different things. He made a go of dating other women and she did the same; but they were always on the periphery of each other’s lives, connected by friendship and a love for the same sport.

Eventually they did end up back together. They worked out their differences and they’ve been in a steady relationship for the past three years. And being around them is inspiring because you can just feel how perfect they are for each other and how they push each other to be more. That, to me, is the reason why I don’t settle; why I believe in waiting for the right person rather than being in a relationship just for the sake of having one.

 

In conclusion to this rambling blog, I think that real-life chemistry is harder to explain than the concepts you read about in textbooks. I think in real life I can be sodium and he can be chlorine but there’s no guarantee that when we come together we’ll form salt (GET IT?!). There is no equation that explains why you get on with some and not with others; there is no formula to ensuring that a date will turn out to be something more.

All I’m  saying is that its something to think about when I go on dates and spend hours worrying over the perfect outfit or the shade of lipstick that will bring out my colouring. The superficial trappings don’t guarantee that the night will turn out like you expect. You can’t fake chemistry; you can’t contrive it or make some cheap, knockoff version of it. You either have it with someone or you don’t.

You probably don’t even realise its missing from your relationship until you find someone you have real chemistry with, and then its  like the time you realised how dissatisfied you are with the wool coat you got from Primark when you were finally able to afford the real thing from Prada. 

So anyway, I guess I’ve now added a third criteria when people ask me what I’m looking for when I go on dates. Its not much really: hygiene, sense of humour and chemistry. The sulphuric acid to my iron, the permanganate to my potassium, the bicarbonate to my sodium. Lol. That’s not asking for too much, is it?

Happy Sunday, folks.

Posted in dating, romance

Of Sushi, Crabs and One Great Loves

Because Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, I wanted to share a slightly weird, unique and hopefully interesting love story about – of all things – sushi.

California Maki and I met when I was in my first year of college. At that point in my life I was still determined to stick with things that are comfortable and familiar. It had never occurred to me that college was the perfect time to gain new perspectives, new experiences and remove the one-dimensional label of ‘Smart Girl’ that I had effectively inflicted on myself. It never even crossed my mind that I could be anything more than the girl who got good grades and from whom you copied answers off from during gruelling long exams.

California Maki didn’t seem like my kind of dish at first. It was nondescript compared to other elaborate and infinitely more delectable looking dishes in the Japanese cuisine. It wasn’t even that exotic when you compare it to other sushi rolls, its basically just crab stick and mango (or avocado depending on where you are in the world), nothing to get excited about. However, it oozed appeal in its simplicity, in its nonchalance, in its lack of care for what other people thought because it knew that once you’ve had a taste of it, you’d always be coming back for more. 

California Maki and I became partners; it made me believe in myself – in what I am and what I could be; it made me laugh and gave me joy and made ordinary days extraordinary; it gave me comfort when I needed it, it became my sounding board for when I had problems. I’d lose track of time when I’m in its company because it was during those moments when I felt like I could be myself and still be connecting with someone something that understands and accept me. California Maki was one of my closest friends in the world, perhaps my best friend, but it grew to be more than that as time passed. I fell in love with California Maki almost before I even realised or admitted it to myself.

I chose to ignore the fact that this was something that would never love me back; I tried to mould myself into someone who would be deserving of its regard without realising that love doesn’t have to be earned, its something that’s given unconditionally. You do not have to go out of your way to make someone love you, the right person will just love you for no other reason than love itself. In my quest to make California Maki love me back, I forgot the very things that it sought to teach me in the first place: that there was more to me than I thought, that I was capable of anything, that there’s a whole world full of rich experiences for me to explore, that the world is bigger than this small love story between me and sushi. 

It took me ages to get over California Maki: it was a long process that eventually ended up in me moving halfway across the world. I’ve loved other kinds of food since (British, Spanish, Chinese, Indian, Italian and Australian), but whoever said that you never forget your first love spoke true. I find myself taking California Maki out of a box labeled Regrets and What Might Have Been from time to time and telling myself that even though I’ve lost some of the best years of my life loving him IT, maybe its good for me to know that I’m capable of loving something that much and maybe someday I can finally give that love to someone who deserves it and who will love me in return.

By the way, if at this point you still think we’re talking about sushi, unfollow my blog! Lol

I dreamed of California Maki last night, as I often do sporadically without knowing why. My subconscious just conjures up visions or memories of him IT at random moments in my life but usually when I’m tired and feeling particularly unguarded and vulnerable. I guess its a reminder that some things stay with you because they’ve left an imprint in your life, and you may not end up spending the rest of your life with them but your life has been invariably changed because of them, and that’s okay. You wouldn’t be the person you are today without the people who’ve come into your life and shaped it – and shaped you.

Like I always say, everyone has a One Great Love. California Maki just happens to be mine.

Wherever you are in the world, whatever you happen to be doing on the 14th, I wish you joy, I wish you every happiness and I wish you’d at least think of me and us from time to time. Happy Valentine’s Day.