Experience

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.

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i am not bored, please don’t break up with your girlfriend

Three things:

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.

Vulnerability Is The New Buzz Word

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.

Changing the Road Signs: Adulthood, Women’s Roles, and Resilience in “You’re Aging Well”

Listen to this song on Youtube.

When I was a little girl, my mother used to always keep a batch of CD albums in the glove compartment of her Honda minivan. She’d play them on repeat whenever she drove us to playdates or appointments. Nearly every day, I’d hear “You’re Aging Well” by Dar Williams. At 7 years old, I didn’t quite grasp the meaning behind the lyrics. At 20 going on 21, I can now start to appreciate its message.

First released on her album The Honesty Room in 1993, this song deals with the process of maturing, especially for women, in a contradictory modern world. It also celebrates her relationship with mentor Joan Baez, who served as a primary source of encouragement in both her professional and personal life. The two recorded a duet version as well.

The song begins with a lament: “Why is that as we grow older and stronger the road signs point us adrift?” She declares that she will repaint the road signs, defying the paths society ushers us down if they are to leave us continually doubting – “You never can win. Watch your back. Where’s your husband?”

These lines encapsulate some of the contradictory issues that women face. We should be feminist, but can’t be too feminist for the sake of a relationship. Our friends might stab us in the back. We should have significant others, but we need to keep an eye on them. And if only our “lower calf, upper arm were half what they are.” Yet still we are tempted believe that these will lead to a “road of enchantment.”

These kinds of narratives rampant in our culture leave us “with a collection of sticks,” with which to “fight back the hundreds of voices.” We become cynical, absurd – well aware we can only eat “the poisonous apple… not a story we are meant to survive.”

But Williams offers us not just hope, but the promise of companionship in a world that seems indifferent. The refrain of the song is “I’m so glad you finally made it here. You thought nobody cared, but we did, we could tell.” With age, we discover that with suffering comes empathy and understanding. Above all, while hardships can seem abnormal in a world where everyone is walking the road of enchantment, in fact, making it through to where we are today is a sign that we are maturing just as we should be.

It is the the final verses that I feel the most keenly. Sometimes, the “language that keeps us alive” that we’ve been searching for on this endless, misguided roadmap is given to us by someone unexpected or found in unexpected places. And when we’re lost, we’re frustrated. But some things can only be achieved through simply living life as it is, and the fact that we’re right where we are now is a sign that we are, indeed, aging well.

I’m so glad that you finally made it here

With the things you know now, that only time could tell

Looking back, seeing far, landing right where we are

And oh, you’re aging, and I am aging.

Oh, aren’t we aging well?

How To Actually Have A Better Year: On Toxic Relationships

One thing I’ve seen people advocate this past month is dropping toxic friendships from your life. I agree, but I also think that removing bad doesn’t necessarily guarantee the addition of good. Instead of simply ridding ourselves of what hurts us, we need to also become the kind of person worth keeping. We need to set the example of what is good.

Security, reciprocal emotional responsibility, and clear communication are qualities we often take for-granted. But people worth keeping exhibit these, and more.

We all basically understand that toxic people leave you emotionally drained, devalued, and/or feeling stifled in your attempts at communication. We shouldn’t dehumanize or vilify them, though – they are insecure people who deserve compassion. But they lack responsibility of both their own emotions and those of others. They may believe that admitting their own shortcomings, fears – thereby being vulnerable – is a weakness. Or they may source their own value in others’ esteem and project.

In contrast, people worth keeping are those with whom you can have conversations about everything from the weather to your wildest dreams. They know that everyone has faults – themselves and you – but know that everyone is trying their best. They know that everyone has just as many if not more strengths. When something goes wrong, they let you know while still taking account of the fact that every story has two sides. When something goes right, they tell you, encouraging you, building you up.

To simplify, in a harmonious relationship, communication is earnest and reciprocal, ambitions and vulnerabilities are validated, and both individuals are responsible.

Getting rid of toxicity won’t guarantee that the rest of our relationships will be fulfilling. We all want people who build us up, make us excited to reach for our goals, and make us feel safe. But to find these kinds of relationships, we need to be those kinds of people too. In 2019, we need to all become people who communicate respectfully with others, are strong enough to be vulnerable, and responsible enough to nurture truly positive relationships.

The Imperativeness of Being Earnest

To be honest, honesty is overrated. Earnestness, on the other hand, is extremely undervalued.

Who hasn’t before heard (if not said) the passive-aggressive preface, “Just being honest?” Firstly, honesty is not an excuse to be an asshole. Honesty should only be used where an outsider perspective that conflicts with another’s interpretation of events is constructive, whether that be to truly help someone for their own benefit or to defend yourself if your rights are violated.

Secondly, honesty is an abstract notion. Honesty, according to Merriam Webster, is “adherence to the facts.” But when we preface a subjective statement with “just being honest,” we are not honestly adhering to the correct definition. Who is to say that my interpretation of reality is a fact? The only fact in that statement would be the fact that you think something different.

Finally, people know that being “honest” can often provoke others. They sometimes thus use honesty as a pretext for inaction, likely also blaming the other party for not permitting them to be honest, which brings me to my next point.

We seem to confuse honesty of words with something virtuous. Sticking to the “facts” is impossible. But being sincere is not.

It is an age old adage that “actions speak louder than words.” Honesty is certainly not always the best option, but earnestness usually is. If you truly, honestly care about someone, it isn’t so much the content of your words that will demonstrate it as it is your actions. Listening to people. Reaching out to them. Gestures that show you want to understand and care for them. Is this always completely possible? Of course not. But it is indeed the thought that counts, and more.

The Taming of the Who?

A brief clarification: refuse to pursue those who aren’t worth it. In other words, those who don’t reciprocate the same level of openness and accountability for their actions when it comes to their relationships. Choose friends and companions who show they care.

I am constantly reminded of Antoine Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince and the notion of l’apprivoisement. L’apprivoisement is, in short, the deliberate action of making friends. It is singling out an individual one feels is worth knowing and deliberately taking action to further understand said individual. Unfortunately, while it accurately connotes the patience it takes to forge relationships, it doesn’t fully encapsulate all of the complexities that come with it.

Forging or maintaining a relationship is a reciprocal action. It is not simply a domesticator and a domesticated. There must be volition on both sides. It is not as simple as my declaring that I want to be your friend, persistently asking you questions to get to know you, and then happy end.

I find that expressing feelings through writing when rejection or disappointment occurs is cathartic. But it is just that – expression. It is not necessarily a basis for decision nor an attempt to apprivoiser through flowery words like Cyrano de Bergerac and Roxane.

We need to stop mistaking feelings for finality and start choosing people who prioritize us as much as we do them. When it comes to the people we choose to stay in our circles, we express our feelings with writing. But we make our decisions with our brains.

“I remember you as you were”

I remember you as you were those months ago –

The budding marigold in the arms of the wind.

Time has spiked silence on our court and pinned

Our tangled nights to the bullseye, but even so

In my thoughts your gaze still volleys with mine;

We walk through the zoo of lights, aquarium of words,

Bump shoulders and fingers. Still, the birds we heard

In the cedar trees have long since flown. The train line

We rode to fields of rice has stopped for now.

But I’ll pick up the blossoms of days with you from the ground,

And put them in a pot of soil till we meet again, whenever

That may be. I’ll set them on the windowsill and vow

To leave and let bloom, till the day comes around –

We’ll meet, we’ll embrace, and embrace – a moment of forever.

Written January 17, 2019.

Parameters: Inspired by Pablo Neruda’s own “I remember you as you were” poem, very loose Petrarchan sonnet

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“I saw you yesterday across the road”

I saw you yesterday across the road, walking

Up the staircase, under the architraves, towards Minerva

And her temple of turning cogs. All I could discern

Was the curve of your shoulders, but though the rain was falling,

The fog thick, I knew it was you by the way the air

Parted for your stride. My friend dropped her ice cream and asked why

We mourn what we never really had. I could not reply,

Thinking how there were surely gems of raindrops in your hair,

Wondering if you might hear my voice above the traffic roar,

If you’d know the shape of my mouth, the cadence of my shout,

Or if to you I’d be a silent, nameless face in the crowd.

The strawberry ice cream, like crossed paths on the shore,

Washed away with the water. You, I’ll have to do without.

The cars and rain are clamoring anyway, and my voice is not that loud.

Written April 28, 2018.

Parameters: loose Petrarchan sonnet

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“It’s a hard truth when your heart”

It’s a hard truth when your heart is made of satin ribbons

to be wrapped around another like a present,

But do not keep your ear to the ground,

Because he isn’t calling your name across the shore

And certainly isn’t whispering that he loves you.

Don’t keep your eyes peeled either, because he’s not

In the crowds or standing on the mountains,

And you don’t have to wear contact lenses today

Or tomorrow or any day to see him,

Because even though he was right when he said you can see the stars in your irises

And you’re worth more than gold,

If only you could untangle your stretching heart from him,

Take a moment to see beyond

And remember that today’s gold standard is 1285.60 per ounce

And yesterday it was 1283.80 per ounce –

But that you are priceless everyday.

I know it’s hard to see when you’ve got the entire sky in your eyes,

But it’s just like in those cheesy campfire love songs from your 14th birthday party,

If only you could see what I can see, you’d understand that looking in a mirror

Doesn’t reflect just how beautiful you really are,

Because beauty is on the outside,

not inside your head or his head or anyone else’s –

It’s the way you walk, the octave of your laugh, and the nod of your head;

It’s your satin ribbon heart not wound tightly around another

But tied up in a rosette in the palms of your hands –

And you don’t need to wear contact lenses to see that.

Written January 9, 2019.

Parameters: Lyrical poem, fragment, theme of moving on

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