I used to think that relationships were based on hard work and constant effort. That’s what everyone says, don’t they? “This takes so much work,” my old roommate used to complain after hanging up with her long-distance high school sweetheart.
And it made sense that an independent woman would go and get what she wants. I was always taught that hard work would always get me good results. Perhaps in the recesses of my mind I knew that wasn’t the case, yet it was only through experience that the lesson was finally beat into me.
The truth is, it’s not about effort. This myth propagates unhealthy attitudes towards relationships. We sometimes distort this “you have to put in work for your relationships” platitude into an ugly, humiliating one-sided pursuit – allegedly indicative of our worth if we succeed – that in spite of it all yields little to no results. But twisted values and twisted experiences are sustained by the belief that if the person we’re interested in doesn’t reciprocate, then we have to work harder to keep their interest.
Most people don’t care as much as you might when you were a young, wide-eyed idealist first starting out. The majority of them are selfish and view relationships solely on the basis of validation and self-aggrandizement, partially due to the media telling us that “love and romance are healing” and somehow fulfill our entire hierarchy of needs. People fall spectacularly short.
Take, for example, girl from the monkey bars who was supposed to be a friend for life and then disappeared, or guy with the jacket who was supposed to always know what to say but then ghosted.
And yet, once I had a fleeting encounter with a stranger who taught me that even though we all have our Monkey Bar Girl or Jacket Guy, real, meaningful relationships don’t take hard work, but simply take time. And with a little patience, they are worth it.
Of course, I am saying this after spending only 4 hours with him, but we met in front of the tram station by the city hall, and from there he walked me through why going through relationships is actually worth it.
Before, I wanted to give up on them because I felt like all I ever did was get too hopeful, get chided for “catching feelings,” and then left a cynical mess, feeling as though the person made me change myself into something strange that neither they nor I liked or wanted in the first place.
But the stranger reminded me – amidst our stroll in a city of music and the scent of spring – that love isn’t something you need to earn. We should never feel forced to change ourselves in order to earn someone’s love. But under an influence that is mutually positive, we can be inspired to change for the better.
Monkey Bar Girls and Jacket Boys exist, but so do strangers who show us that the real meaning of “relationships take effort” is that “relationships take trial and error, resilience, and a lot of patience, but in the end are worth it.” And we should not settle for any less than we deserve.
When the stranger and I parted, he asked if we should hug or kiss. I almost regret choosing to hug, but he seemed to understand, and perhaps that, too, is a part of what he was saying.
I wonder if we’ll by chance meet again. I should like to say thank you.
When we post on social media, of course there is the criticism that people curate their posts to paint happy falsehoods of their lives. However, I think the greatest issue of social media is not the glossing-over aspect in of itself, but rather that people don’t recognize that it is a creative process.
One of the things that my internship emphasizes is placing a “human face” to stories. But even that is a tenuous artistic license. It’s something we selectively plucked from the tree to display on the stand, arranged with a plethora of other items to weave the story to our liking.
At the prompting of certain relatives and friends, I posted on Facebook after a long time. But I’ve been trying to cleanse myself of social media, partly because I can hardly post anything without it sounding ironic and partly because I’ve done a lot of work weeding out certain people from my life. And excuse the grandiose statements, but that includes my old self. I don’t want to let them back in just like that.
I’ve always lamented being naïve. I’ve vied for a life where I was one of those cool edgy girls with a large social circle and wild adventures every night. And I, like the eager copycat artist, would try to use social media to make that real life. I guess if there’s any real takeaway I learned from a year out of the cloisters, it’s that social media is an art tool that everyone uses nowadays not necessarily out of malice, but simply to blur over the starkness of reality.
Social media is just paint. You can’t blame the medium for creating beautiful lies. And can you really blame the artist either for wanting to create in the first place?
That being said, there are better mediums of self-expression. And there are better mediums for appreciation. We turn to social media because the inner artist in us also seeks an audience, and social media provides the easiest access.
But I’ve decided that I do not mind obscurity. Let’s be like Mona Lisa before she was hung on a perpetual stage in the Louvre. If people truly want to know you, to appreciate you, they’ll seek other ways to do so.
Old ghosts sometimes come back as you start something new. The street you walk down to get to work reminds you of somewhere you were last year. The man who waves hello to you reminds you of someone you once knew well before. The ghost plays hide and seek. Memories replay in your head.
You may think it’s like a movie or like The Carpenters’ song – “when they get to the part where he’s breaking her heart, it can really make me cry.” But then the lyrics of Regina Spektor’s “Birdsong” come to mind – “Hearts always hurt more while they are learning.”
When we first experience pain it really does feel unparalleled. But when we experience it the second time – whether it be a scraped knee or a broken heart or bruised pride – it doesn’t seem to hurt as much. We grow calluses atop our scars.
And that’s the irony of life. We need this pain that we so assiduously try to avoid. We need to touch the fire to know what not to do and to have the burn marks as a reminder. We need our ghosts.
1. Why is it that Ariana Grande and Billie Eilish and the likes always put their song titles in lowercase? This was also a trend on Fanfiction.net in 2006 for writer wannabes who wanted to fool readers into thinking they were reading quality.
2. Why do we think that being dismissive with our emotions rather than embracing them is the cool thing to do? If you’re bored, then why does that entail and subsequently justify encouraging cheating? Feminism seems to now put pressure on us to deny our emotions. Yet we need more pop songs like “The Louvre” by Lorde where the singer, in an interview, openly proclaimed how cool it is to wear your heart on your sleeve. I prefer Ari in “thank you, next” where she fully confesses her past attachments but also implies that she embraces it by wholeheartedly loving herself.
3. On that note, I am ready to admit that when I am interested in someone, I get attached way too easily. But right now, I am 100% not interested in anyone, and I have never felt better about being alone by myself. Yet why do I find myself caught in not one but TWO separate crossfires?? I am friends with two males both obviously on the verge of breakups who seem to be relying on me for emotional support and proclaiming things to me they almost certainly shouldn’t. Is it because modern pop culture like via the titular song is painting harmful pictures of us women to men? Is it implying that women are becoming more flippant and willing to engage in adulterous behavior?
I feel especially disappointed because these two individuals helped me pick myself back up when I was down because of a lingering attachment. They were the ones who helped me reflect more on who I am, and through that, I’ve set my priorities straight. Yet I fear they are doing exactly the opposite – using me as a proxy to cushion their fall when the breakups occur. Thinking that I am available as a single woman to pillow them, re-channeling whatever emotional attachments with their girlfriends they had into me. I only want friendship, and for me, friendship entails emotional support and positive affirmation. That should never be mistaken for romantic or sexual intent.
I am far from bored, and even if I were, I would not form a disingenuous relation of any kind on the basis of my ennui and would certainly not condone breaking up with your girlfriend for entertainment, selfishness, or otherwise. If you are suffering, then you need to find ways that are healthy to individualize yourself again. Someone else loving you can only fool you into thinking you love yourself for so long.
I know I am in love, for on rainy days
When the world is wrapped in sizzling gray
And flowers bow their heads to the thunder,
I still hum along to the sparrow’s song in the silence.
Written March 25th, 2019.
Hastily jotted down since I haven’t written anything in a while. Disclaimer: I don’t do this right now so I’m probably not in love.
For every city/town/country you travel to, find a quote. Can be anything – something that strikes a chord with you or you feel like best characterizes the place. Once you’ve got three or more, write a small story tying them together.
(note to self: do this once you settle back in)
Don’t mistake me. I’m more than a strong advocate for honest, open communication, sharing of emotions, and facility of disclosure. But just like the media ruined “mindfulness” and “feminism” such that they now sport almost smarmy connotations, I fear that “vulnerability” is quickly becoming the next trendy phrase in 2019.
I would hate to see this because vulnerability, of all things, is probably one if not the most important keys to having fulfilling relationships and a good support network. But we must remind ourselves that being willing to share your deepest fears and secrets does not automatically swing open the doors for friendships to develop. Yes, be vulnerable. But don’t prioritize spilling your own secrets over your responsibility to be considerate of the other person.
Vulnerability is important, certainly. But to really develop a good, healthy relationship, we need to recognize that it’s two-sided. We should defend our own boundaries, needs, and self-worth, but we also must pride ourselves on our abilities to be understanding of others. We need to genuinely want to get to know others. It’s more than one-sided vulnerability – it’s two-way empathy.
“What is the meaning of life?” is obviously the most cliché philosophical question you could ask.
To rehash for the umpteenth time what the existentialists said, life has no meaning if you aren’t religious. A lot of people turn to religion in order to imbue meaning into life as part of some bigger plan by God, which Sartre scorned as defeatist.
The next biggest cliché is that if life has no meaning, you have to create your own meaning. Sartre called this l’engagement. Camus took it a step further and suggested that the best sort of engagement is one that derives meaning from creating meaning for others. In other words, being a humanist as a hobby.
The logic seems sound enough, if not a little cruel. The purpose of life is to self-impose a purpose of helping others create a purpose out of something meaningless. It’s kind of a vicious cycle.
Yet perhaps the existentialists and the religious alike were both wrong. Maybe it’s not a dualistic “to be or not to be” type of question. There is and never will be an answer to the question, “What is the meaning of life?” The only answer with which we can content ourselves is that we do not know.
We have to be okay with unanswered questions. Even Hamlet’s question was answered with “the rest is silence.” Life is not a math problem or essay graded by your professor. Ambiguity is uncomfortable, but once we realize that there is no definitive answer, maybe we really can choose the response we want.