Posted in Books, Reviews, romance, Women's literature

Book Review: The Flatshare – Beth O’Leary

As any Londoner would tell you, one of the most difficult things about living in the capital is finding somewhere suitable to live.

And by suitable I mean somewhere clean, in a relatively safe area, easy to get to by normal means of transportation (preferably along the same tube line as your place of employment) and, most importantly, somewhere that will not cripple you financially such that you’re constantly living on beans and toast until the next pay day as you struggle to meet the exorbitant rent prices.

I have been known to tell my friends on occasion that I would seriously consider taking anyone as a partner if only for the purpose of having someone to share the rent with.

I know, its so totally not the most romantic of reasons to look for a boyfriend.

Beth O’Leary has managed to make the sad reality of London living accommodations into one of the most heartwarming and romantic love stories I’ve ever read, and trust me, I’ve been reading them since I was twelve.

Tiff and Leon have a sort of ships in the night relationship going in this book. By some weird combination of desperation and opposite work schedules, they manage to share a flat…without actually physically sharing it.

She works 9 to 5. He works night shifts as a nurse and is away on weekends. She sleeps on the left side of the bed and bakes cakes when she’s stressed. He has a brother that’s been wrongly imprisoned and he makes a mean mushroom stroganoff.

By sharing a living space they develop a tentative friendship that soon blossoms into something more. I love the little notes that they leave each other, and their first face to face meeting is epic and will have you in stitches.

The chemistry between them just leaps off the pages, whether they’re interacting via post-its or having heavy make-out sessions in some medieval castle. The story and their relationship unfolded in a way that felt natural and uncontrived.

I’ve said this a lot recently but that’s because its true: the older I get the more I appreciate the value of simplicity. Apart from a crazy ex-boyfriend there was a distinct and pleasant lack of unnecessary drama in this book. There was a tiny bit of angst but it was an understandable reaction to the situation and didn’t feel like it was placed there as a plot device.

The writing was good, the character development was even better. I love that Leon is a hospice nurse, they don’t write enough books about what we do in my opinion. I love the supporting cast, they felt like people that I would hang out and be friends with in real life.

The book was touching, funny and a reminder that there is room in our lives for the unconventional, and that amazing things can happen when you take a chance.

After reading this book I’m somewhat tempted to look for another flatmate myself if it means kickstarting my dormant love life into gear. BUT alas my housing contract specifically prohibits such things. Sad.

I highly recommend this book for anyone looking for a light summer read to take your mind off the things that bring you worry. Escape into Tiff and Leon’s wonderful world of exotic Stockwell (haha), and you’ll turn the last page with a smile on your face.

4 out of 5 stars!

Posted in relationships, Self-Discovery

If Life is So Short

I woke up at 4:30 am on one of these rare and precious days when I actually get to have a lie-in because I can’t stop thinking about how life is too damned short and unpredictable.

A colleague of mine died suddenly this week and I’ve yet to process how much this has really shaken me. I wouldn’t presume to call him a friend, but spending a considerable amount of time with someone in intense and highly-pressurised moments creates some kind of weird and indelible bond.

When someone dies you think about the last conversation you had with them. At the time I was quite upset about something and he helped me to see the humour in the situation, and then we talked shop for a little while as we both finished our tea breaks.

This was two weeks ago. I’ve passed him in the hospital corridors in the days in between and I’m sure I took the time to say hello.

God, I hope I took the time to say hello.

Whenever something like this happens it always makes you think about living your life and doing things that really matter. It gives you perspective; it certainly made me think about the hundred little things I worry about and obsess over that probably won’t matter much to me five years down the line.

It makes you think about the connections you make and how easy it is to take for granted that you’ll always find the time to reconnect with old friends. You put off saying things that matter because you think you can always leave it for tomorrow but what if tomorrow never comes?

And finally, it makes you think about your life choices. We spend our whole lives studying and working in order to live the good life, and I think sometimes we lose sight of why we work so hard in the first place. In our quest for the so-called good life, we’ve stopped living altogether.

Life should never become about the daily grind.

Find the little pleasures in between life’s big moments. They matter more than you think.

Make each moment count.

Call your friends. Call your family. Make sure you tell them every day how much they mean to you.

As cliche as it sounds, and while I’m not telling anyone to go bungee jumping or skydiving (in fact I have an aversion to both those things), I guess what I AM saying is, live your life in your own terms and live it in a way that you will have as little regrets as possible.

I love you, awesome people. Thanks for being a part of my life even if only in such an infinitesimal way.

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, family, relationships

A Letter To The One I Love on Valentine’s Day

Dear Papa, on a day when women everywhere are writing letters and sending cards to their boyfriends, I thought I’d write one to you instead. And not just because I’m single, but because I genuinely want to say a few things which I should have said a long time ago.

Last night, instead of dreaming of Prince Charming, I dreamt about you. It wasn’t a great dream, and I woke up in tears from anxiety and fear because of it. Suffice it to say that you weren’t well in my dream. And the thought of you getting old, and someday having to live in a world without you, these are some of the things that keep me up at night.

We haven’t had a conventional relationship. I get jealous sometimes over random things, like when I see a girl going shopping with her dad, or when I see a father picking up his daughter from school. I don’t have many memories of us doing those every day things, because out of necessity we had to be apart for the better part of every year while I was growing up.

But that’s fine. I knew the reasons why you couldn’t be there for every graduation ceremony or every birthday party. I wouldn’t even have those things if it wasn’t for your hard work and sacrifice. In case I forgot to tell you then, I am very grateful for all the things you did for me.

I suppose this is why I work so hard for us to make up for lost time now. I want to make all your dreams come true, I want you to have every opportunity you ever missed and to see the world you’ve always wanted to explore but never had the chance to because we didn’t have the means before.

It’s been a pleasure seeing the world through your eyes, and sharing those moments of discovery with you. I love that you now have stories to tell of other places apart from the small corner of the world we live in. And I love that we’ve built memories that I will cherish forever, through the passing of the days, whatever those days may bring us.

It’s funny. For the first time in a long while I genuinely am not bothered that its Valentine’s Day and I’ll probably be sitting at home tonight nursing a glass of wine with my equally single sister. I’m happy and content enough to hold out for something that’s worth this extremely long wait (the El Nino drought has nothing on my love life), because I refuse to settle for anything less.

Despite my doubts, I genuinely believe that I’ll find someone someday. And I’m not in any rush because I’m enjoying life far too much to make such a big change for someone or something that’s going to be fleeting. I’m not going to marry some random guy just because society tells me its “worrying” to still be single at thirty-one.

But Papa, today I said a prayer to meet that random guy who I will eventually share my life with sooner rather than later. Not for me, but for you. I know my lifestyle and my persistent lack of a committed relationship is what keeps YOU up at night. I desperately want to ease your worries, but that’s the one thing that I can’t achieve through hard work and overtime. It’s out of my hands.

However, I prayed today in a way I haven’t in a long long time, for me to find that someone. Not for me, but for you. I want to bring someone home for you to meet, I want you to be able to walk me down the aisle someday, and I really really want to have that father-daughter dance with you. If those are bad reasons for wanting a marriage, well, so be it. Other people have married for less, and for worse reasons.

I don’t know pops, maybe some things are just not meant to be. We’ll see. But for now, you are the only man in my life and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. But if it does, you’ll be the first to know. In the meantime, take care of mumsy, take care of yourself and I hope to see you real soon. Happy Valentine’s Day, I love you.

Posted in family, friendship, relationships

The Art of Forgiveness

As 2018 comes to a close, I find myself in the position of once again looking back at the year that’s gone: the good, the bad, the things I should have done and the things I could have done without.

Over the holidays, I made time to call several of my relatives and friends all around the world to greet them a Merry Christmas. There was one call in particular that I was dreading, because I wasn’t sure if it would even be received.

You see, my brother and I somehow managed to get into a stupid argument that got blown way out of proportion last Thanksgiving, of all times.

He took exception to the tone of voice he claims I always use when he was asking me a question. I took exception to the fact that he asks questions incessantly and unnecessarily, even when he already knew the answer, just for the pleasure of annoying me.

He spent the last two days of our family vacation barely making eye contact and ignoring me. My questions and tentative peace offerings were met with either disdain or the occasional grunt. I told myself I didn’t mind, that I was grateful for the reprieve from the constant teasing and torment.

What a pile of rubbish. Of course, I minded.

I minded because, first of all, we were on a bloody vacation. It was really awkward having to pose for all these photos and smile through my teeth when I was fully aware that the person standing next to me really hated my guts.

I minded because my brother and I are based in different parts of the world, and we see each other once every couple of years at best. It seemed such a shame to waste all that time we’ve been given fighting over something so inconsequential.

I minded because the last time my brother got that upset with me, he didn’t speak to me for two whole years. Yep, my family (especially the men in my family) take passive-aggressiveness to a whole other level. They don’t do shouting matches or throw plates at each other. If you’ve wronged them, you cease to exist for them until they’ve gotten the hurt out of their system.

I minded because I knew I could have done so much better. I could have been more patient, more sisterly, more understanding of his innate need to annoy me because in a twisted way, he really just wants my attention.

I minded because I love my brother, even when I don’t like him very much. We’ve always had a far more complicated relationship compared to that which I have with my sister. I think in some ways the distance works for us because it allows us to only remember the things we like about each other. Its the reason why we’ve gotten along so much better since I’ve moved to London.

In our case, absence really DOES make the heart grow fonder.

Most of all, I minded because this wasn’t the first relationship that I’ve managed to damage in the latter part of 2018. It was only very recently that I’ve managed to hurt a very good friend’s feelings to the point where she’s ignored any overtures I made ever since to make up for it.

That was warranted, to be fair. What I did, while not unforgivable, certainly let her down to such an extent that she is justified in hating me and shutting me out of her life completely. I came out of that experience feeling like I was losing my equilibrium.

I think that may have been the moment when I took a long hard look at the mirror only to realise I really did not like the friend and person that I was becoming.

I have since resolved to do better. And the first step towards healing, the key thing really, is being able to apologise and ask for forgiveness.

Forgiveness. Its such a scary thing, to ask for AND to offer. And the closer the relationship is, the harder it seems to be to say I’m sorry. Its difficult because I sometimes feel, when someone apologises to me, that they’re not as sincere as they should be. That they’re only paying lip service, and apologising out of some societal obligation to do the right thing.

You see, in my family we’ve always been raised to believe that actions speak louder than words (ironic, seeing as how much I love words!). I’ve never heard my dad tell me how much he loves me. BUT. When I was younger and sulking to the point of tears because all my friends had their own mobile phones and I was feeling left out and inferior because I didn’t have one, he saved up most of the money he had at the time and took a special trip to the city for the sole purpose of buying me my own Nokia 3300.

He never held this over my head in the years in between, and I only found out about this story when I was working and earning my own money. You can imagine how small and selfish I felt at the time. Anyway, my Dad doesn’t say much (and when he does he often gets it wrong and inadvertently hurts my feelings), but his actions have always made me feel protected, supported and loved.

So on Christmas Day, I got on Facebook Messenger and made a video call to my recently estranged brother so I can greet him a Merry Christmas and to force him to accept me back in his life. And to be honest, there was a moment when I thought he wouldn’t even take my call. But as soon as he did, I knew we were going to be alright.

He knew how symbolic a gesture it was for me to make the first move. And I knew it was just as symbolic that he took the call. We didn’t need sappy words of apology, and I will kill myself if he ever reads this saccharine and sentimental post, but our actions were enough to get that relationship back on track.

It was the best Christmas present I received this year.

Of course its easier with family, isn’t it? Nothing short of murder can sever the blood ties that obligates them to loving and accepting you and forgiving you time and time again when you mess up.

Its different when its someone who is part of your life by choice, rather than by blood. If you think about it, its a relationship that’s built on mutual understanding, trust and shared memories alone. There’s no binding contract apart from the promise that you will always have each other’s backs. What happens when you fail to fulfil the obligations of that relationship?

I’ve never really thought about it. I think I just took it for granted that there’s no transgression so big that its beyond forgiveness. I’ve always said, rather glibly, that I can talk my way out of anything. This illusion came crashing down in flames as I sat waiting – for three days – for a reply on messenger that never came.

I had hoped that by the time I wrote this blog it would have a happier ending, and that I can put a period at the end of the sentence and say I’ve learned from it and we’re moving forward. But that’s not the case. And its been a really hard pill to swallow.

Perhaps I should take a leaf out of my father’s book and let my actions speak louder than my words. Either way, its been a very humbling lesson to learn this year that the road to forgiveness is a hard one, and some of us may never get there at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in bloggers, friendship, relationships

Dear Old Friend

Dear Old Friend,

It occurred to me that I very rarely take the opportunity to thank you for being the kind of friend that I never knew I wanted but one I so desperately needed.

You see, I had a moment of clarity this week when I realised that life very rarely turns out the way we want it to. We don’t always get the things we want when we want them, and sometimes our prayers go unanswered.

There’s a reason for that though. Time and some higher powers at work know something we don’t. Because when life doesn’t give us the things we ask for, its because it wants to give us something better.

I’ve spent the past ten years glorifying a relationship that was probably more one-sided than I would have liked. One of the life lessons I’ve learned over the years is that when it’s right it should be easy. You don’t have to bend over backwards in order to feel secure in any relationship, because the best kind – the ones that are worth keeping – are unconditional. 

Ours is the kind of friendship that is free from complications. We understand each other so well that when both our phones died one time and we didn’t arrange where to meet up beforehand, we both made the executive decision to go home and just call each other once we’ve recharged our batteries. And we both knew that the other person wouldn’t take it personally, because that’s just how we roll.

You are the only person I could ever imagine going on a Euro Trip with. I don’t know how we did it, but we both grew up together AND separately on that trip. There was an understanding that we were going to enjoy the experience together, and I was glad to be there with someone who shares my interest in art, history and culture.

But there was also an implicit understanding that if at any point you wanted to do your own thing and I wanted to do mine, that was okay. Like when the time I wanted to go drinking in Berlin and you wanted to take photos of the Brandenburg Gate at night; or when YOU wanted to go drinking in Rome and I just wanted to curl up in the hotel with a good book.

We never put pressure on the other person to always be in each other’s pockets. We don’t need to see each more than once a week to stay connected. Heck, sometimes we go weeks without seeing each other.

But I like how we make it a point to know about each other’s lives. When something big happens, or when I have some random thought about how I think you look like the Black Panther, a simple howdy on Messenger will start a conversation that usually ends with us talking for hours.

We never stopped to think about how unique our friendship is. What’s normal for us is actually incredibly difficult to find. How many purely platonic guy-girl friendships have we known to exist? The answer is none. Its not possible. But we’ve made it possible, we’ve created the kind of friendship that works for us.

I guess in a time where we’re reaching the peak of our adulthood and we start to take stock of the relationships we’ve created and maintained over the years, its easy to be disillusioned when we find that we’ve wasted so much time and effort on a relationship that turned out to be hollow, or a friendship that did not stand the test of time and distance.

We’ve both experienced what its like to struggle to reconnect with someone who’s become a stranger, and we both know what its like to be unable to relate to someone who’s life choices has led him or her down a completely different path.

Its nothing personal, and its not to say that the other person is necessarily a bad friend. But I think that making the effort to stay in touch and be friends with someone – no matter the distance – is a choice.

Its very telling, the friendships that we chose to maintain and invest effort into. I think deep down we know which ones are worth it and which ones are not even worth the effort of being upset over. Sometimes the thing to do is to just cut your losses and realise you’re too old to cling to something that’s not having a positive impact on your life.

So I suppose I just wanted to write this blog to celebrate that. I wanted to celebrate our friendship because it is one my constants, its one of those anchors that I need in order to keep myself sane throughout the crazy rollercoaster that is my life.

I will always be here for you, even if I appear to be too busy. I’m never to busy to spend 100 minutes talking about everything and nothing at all. In fact, at the rate my love life is going you’ll probably have me as a permanent boarder on that loft that your new home conveniently comes with. I’ve already assessed where my bookshelves are going, so prepare yourself. Lol

Seriously though, thank you old friend. Thank you for cheering me on even when I get crazy ideas, for never making me feel like I was stupid for trying something when there was every possibility I would make a fool of myself. Thank you for the sharing and the laughter.

Listen here.

We are not allowed to become the kind of friends that only see each other once every seven years. We are not allowed to be sitting across each other in a restaurant one day and struggle so much to find a single topic of conversation because we’ve let ourselves drift too far apart, so we end up being on our phones half the time instead of talking to each other. That’s not how this friendship is going to end up.

Please don’t ever become a stranger, I don’t think I would know what to do with myself if that happens. Wherever life takes me, know that I am taking you with me wherever I go. And believe me, I will bully myself into your life even if you don’t want me there.

That is how this friendship will end: with you, me and a bowl of curry reminiscing about the good old days.

Love,

Anj

 

 

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.