Wednesday, October 15, 2014

You're Never Too Busy To Get What You Want

All of our worlds are chaotic in their own way. We are all juggling multiple moving pieces; jobs, school, friends, family, lovers. We are, in short, busy people. I don’t know a single person who isn’t busy, who doesn’t have an agenda, and a myriad of things on their plate. If you ask someone how they are, what they’ve been up to, standard answers usually include “tired” and “busy.”

I am, by no means, undermining the verity of these statements. I get it, I really do. I know that I have a full time job, that often includes late nights at networking events or client dinners. On top of that, I have an active social life, I stay in touch with my friends all over the world, I’m directing a play, planning my next steps  and I’m even going on dates. It’s exhausting, and I relish in the moments where I can curl up with a book in my apartment, drink tea, and simply immerse myself in Alice-time. With everything going on in our lives, we’re also supposed to make time for ourselves. It seems an almost impossible task. But it isn’t.

I have to cite being “busy” as the most overused and ingenious excuse of all time. "Being busy" is something we blame for not doing other things. The truth is, no matter what we have going on in our lives,  we are never too busy to get what we want. I live by this rule. I apply it to myself and those around me, and when I find myself making excuses for people, I force myself to remember and apply it.

The things that matter, the things we care about, the things we WANT to do, we always seem to make time for, regardless of our other obligations. It might require some compromise on our parts, somethings got to give (I usually sacrifice sleep) but the bottom line is, we manage. We manage because we have to and more importantly, we want to. I know, first hand, that telling someone you’re busy simply means that you’re too busy for them, because they’re not a priority. Truth be told, it’s REALLY not that difficult to make time for someone, especially in this day and age. Even a simple text or an email takes all of one minute and goes a long way. It says, “Hey, you’re on my mind.” 

Some people will tell me that I’m being unreasonable (I'm not) but if they stopped and thought about it for a minute, they would realize that I am right. That they, just like everyone else, use it as an excuse, because it can’t really be questioned. If someone tells you that they’re "just really busy” you can’t exactly retort with, “Oh yeah? Prove it!” or point out the ways they could’ve fit you in. (I mean you could, but that's just embarrassing, and full disclosure: I've done that, and I felt really horrible because it was just admitting out loud, to the other person, that I knew that they held little regard for me or spending time with me.) 

Of course, there are circumstances that time is a more precious commodity than usual; if we are more swamped than usual at work, we're sick, or it’s the holidays and we’re with our family, there are always exceptions to the rule. Though I tend to live my life with the mindset that I’m the rule, not the exception. This may be because I have high standards for the people in my life, but I think it’s more due to the fact that I know what I am capable of, and I know that the people in my life that I care about, don’t ever think that I am too busy for them. Because I’m not. I make time even when there doesn’t seem to be any. I fit the people and activities in that I care about.

I have dated busy people. In fact, most of my relationships have been with people who were constantly pressed for time, but because we wanted to spend time together, we did. I had a boyfriend call me on his lunch break, almost daily, just to say that he was thinking of me, I dated a guy who took time off work to meet my parents, because he was serious about me, I even went out with a guy who changed a flight somewhere so that we could have one last dinner together. I remember once, saying to a guy that I had just started seeing that I heard he was too busy to date (the explanation he gave to everyone who asked why he was single) but that he seemed pretty available to me. His response? “You can always make time for the things you want.” Not only is that true, but it’s that simple. Which is why, when he stopped making time, I stopped dating him. I knew I was no longer a priority. Though admittedly, it took me much too long to realize it. Probably because I loved him, and acknowledging it was hard, it hurt a lot. 

That’s the difficult thing about being told by someone that they're busy, because you know, deep down that it means they just don’t care. It’s not easy to acknowledge and accept that someone doesn’t care enough about us, especially if we’re spending time caring about them. It’s a form of rejection, and as I’ve said time and time again, rejection is tough, it hurts. However, it’s better to see the writing on the wall than to waste any more time on someone who can’t be bothered to return our sentiments. We can make excuses but that’s just denial, delaying the inevitable. And for what? Momentary appeasement or to keep our often too fragile egos from being bruised. It’s better to just realistically assess the situation and move on from it. It’s unfortunate but it’s a life.

This isn't just about people we're dating. This applies to all relationships: friendships, familial, and romantic. In fact, friends and family being "too busy" can actually be worse than someone we're dating. It may seem hard to identify someone who is actually busy or someone who just says they are, though as I said the hardest part is acceptance. If you’re like me and give a lot to the people around you, it’s not easy to objectively examine your relationships to determine whether they are one sided or not. Some people don’t communicate as well as others. Believe me, I understand that.

 Anyone who knows me is well aware of my almost over zealous texting/emailing/WhatsApping, and I am fully aware that not everyone is the same, and that I can’t expect them to be. That being said, if we’re honest with ourselves, we can always tell. If you don’t believe me, or really think that you’re the exception, try a little experiment: stop touching base with the person/people in question and see if they come to you. See if they want to talk to you. If they want to, they will. If there’s silence, well, then there is your answer. 

Getting angry at them is pointless, it is what it is. Don't call them out on it, because frankly, what does that solve? It won't change anything, it won't make someone a better friend or lover, it won’t make them more attentive, at least not genuinely. The best and only course of action is to just deal with it, cut them loose, move on, focus on yourself and on those who aren’t "too busy" for you. There are plenty of them and they’re the people you should be investing in.

*thanks AL for also adopting this rule and reminding me when I forget. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Gotta Have Faith....

In my last post I talked about bad dates, specifically outlining one of mine. What I didn’t mention about that date was that I didn’t even really want to go on it.  I’ve always found myself going on dates for reasons other than looking for a romantic partner. In this case, I went on the date because I was heartbroken, reeling from the end of a relationship. I was forcing myself to get back on the saddle, to move on. I don’t think this is an uncommon phenomenon, and while it does have lots of benefits, it can be counterproductive. If the date doesn’t go well, it can leave you feeling even more despondent and lonely than you were feeling before, which can lead to all kinds of issues.

But this blog post isn’t about those issues, nor is it about dating for a purpose. It’s about the good dates, the ones that we come home from with a smile on our face and a spring in our step. The ones that make up for all the duds, that remind us why we’re even doing any of this, the ones that restore our faith.

I went on one of these recently, and on my way home, kept thinking about how incredible the date had been and why. The success wasn’t on account of anything complicated, in fact, the more I thought about it, the more I realized how EASY it is to have (and be) a good date. There are some things you can’t control,  like chemistry. With chemistry, it’s either there or it isn’t, and you know if it’s there pretty early on. Another thing you can’t control is compatibility (personality/ values/needs/wants etc) Unlike chemistry, you can fake it, but only for a little while. However aside from those things, the rest is easy. The rules are simple:

Plan: If you’ve asked someone on a date then it is your responsibility to plan the date. It doesn’t need to be elaborate, but it’s not a good idea to just wing it. People like to feel like thought was given. The day before, my date CALLED me and gave me a choice of two locations, asking which would be more convenient for me, and after I told him, he replied that he’d be in touch soon with a plan. He texted me shortly after with the name of a place, address and meeting time. (Normally I’d say to pick your date up, but it’s London, and it was an after work thing, so meeting there is acceptable) The point is that, he thought about, it wasn’t thrown together last minute.

Venue: It’s a first date, or an early stages date, so the venue should reflect that, somewhere cool and fun that you can have a good conversation. My date picked a really cool and fun (sorry to use the phrase twice in two sentences) place that he’d never been to before but had been wanting to try. I was late (A big no-no but I blame my 4 inch heels) and when I got there he had a delicious drink waiting for me and had secured us a spot outside where we could sit down, nibble on appetizers and talk while we waited for our table.

Conversation:  A good conversation is key to success in so many forums, and to be fair, a lot of it depends on chemistry and compatibility, which we happened to have (I think the wait for a table was over an hour but it felt like 10 minutes) but I am a firm believer that everyone has something in common, you just have to find it. Ask them questions, respond to their answers. Steer away from  being too controversial, smile, make eye contact and avoid any talk about exes (Though I have found that swapping bad first date stories is actually a great conversation, if nothing else, it brings laughter and entertainment)
Also: it is SO important have a sense of humour. My date and I had a little banter about something innocuous that we had differing view on…we kept it lighthearted and fun, and at a few points asked the waitress or people at the table next to us to weigh in, and when I was proven right (obviously) my date took in stride, remained charming, and even sent me a follow up text the day after our date in concession.  (This was a lesson to me, who isn’t always the most graceful in defeat)

Listen: It’s very easy to get caught up in the conversation, or ourselves, that we don’t REALLY listen. It’s not just listening to answers to questions, but listening to other comments. For example: I made an offhand comment to my date that my phone was about to die, and he asked the staff around us if they had a charger. They didn’t. About 3 hours later we moved on to a wine bar, and the first thing he did (after finding us a seat and ordering us drinks) was ask the staff if they had a charger. Again, they didn’t, but the point was that he listened, he remembered, and I was impressed with his thoughtfulness.

Physicality without being Sleazy: I mentioned in my last post how I was really turned off by my bad date taking my hand and trying to kiss me. I said he was pushing intimacy, but the truth is, that if I had been into him, I doubt I would’ve been as bothered. Case in point: My amazing date helped me navigate the cobblestone streets of London in my high heels by taking my arm and later my hand, but then released it when we got to our destination. It was the perfect kind of gesture because it was natural, it had a purpose,  it was sweet, and was completely comfortable. He was a gentleman, showing me he was interested in and attracted to me but without pouncing on me.

Leaving on a High Note:  I kept checking his watch to make sure I wouldn’t miss the last train (he then set an alarm to ensure that I wouldn’t) and when the time came for me to leave, he walked me to the tube station. This should be obvious, everyone should do this, but they don’t. He then CALLED me to make sure I got home safely and to reiterate what a lovely time he had with me and how he was looking forward to seeing each other again, today.

Pretty easy right? It's the little things, like that, like wanting to find me a phone charger, and calling to set up our date and calling to make sure I was home. Those are the things that leave us with a lasting and positive impression. Those are the things that matter. All you have to do is plan a little, listen, have a good conversation and be a gentleman/lady. It's really just about having fun and being comfortable and considerate, and making sure your companion is having fun and feeling comfortable and cared for. 

I know some people will argue that it’s supposed to be easy on a first date, that we are all the best versions of ourselves, but I disagree. If that were true then there wouldn’t be so many “bad dates” occurring. There is a right and wrong way to conduct ourselves when we begin dating someone new, and thank goodness for the good dates, otherwise who knows if we'd keep going out with people after the weird, bad, and awkward ones.

 I have no idea what is going to happen from this date, to me it was a success regardless of the outcome. It was a success because it was the kind of date, the kind of man,  who not only reminded me what it was like to go out with someone considerate and gentlemanly and have a really good time with them, but also completely restored my faith in the whole process, (and let me know that we don’t have settle! We don’t! Keep the faith!!!)

*Thanks to all of the good dates out there, who make the experience fun and remind us of how it should be. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Bad Dates: Do We Tell Them They're Terrible?

The last thing I wrote about, over a year ago, was what not to do on a date, especially in the early stages. First dates, while they are exciting and fun, can also be huge disappointments that make us feel like we completely wasted an evening. I'm a pretty easygoing person, one who also awkward at times, so I tend to cut people slack more than I probably should, but there are some cases where behavior simply can't be overlooked. I've never gone into a first date with the intention of turning it into a relationship, I've always believed that things would progress naturally if they were supposed to. If they do, great, if not, no harm, no foul. 

I used to think that a bad date meant one where there was no chemistry or connection, that was until I actually went on one. Over the years, I have listened to countless friends regale me with bad date stories, and thought to myself that these were just anomalies. I mean, they had to be, right? Because in all of my years of dating, I never walked away thinking, "What was wrong with that person?"(Except for maybe the time that a man ran away from me screaming that he had terrible diarrhea, but even then, I figured, "Ehhh, it's Asia, I hope he feels better") 

I went on a date with a guy who seemed really cool, looked great on paper and we had many of the same interests. "This will be easy," I thought smugly, "What could possibly go wrong?" Well, I was wrong. The beginning started out nicely, we met at a fun spot and there was no awkward search for conversation, but after the first 15 minutes he started to become annoying followed by uncomfortable. It started when he spent a good amount of time talking about how much money he made, and all of the things he could afford. Bragging about money? A big no-no. It's unattractive, and one would hope that you have something to offer aside from a healthy bank account. The irony is, when the bill came, he examined it, pulled out his half, asked for mine, and then exclaimed how little he paid for the evening. "I know," I replied, "I paid the same amount." Now I'm not a princess by any means, I am a strong independent woman, perfectly capable of paying and providing for myself, but this was a first date. I will probably get some flack for this, but I'm old fashioned, and believe that guys should pay on the first date, or at least offer, especially when they've spent the better part of half an hour bragging about how much money they have. 

In addition to his distasteful discussion about money, he made several, what i perceived to be, very weird and inappropriate comments. Over the course of the evening, he made a comment about my dirty underwear (WHAT?!) and also made a comment about his "cock being wet" after he spilled a drink on himself. I ignored it, hoping he'd take the hint, which only made him repeat it again, louder, while pointing to the offending spillage. "It'll dry," was the only response that I could muster. 

As the evening came to a close, I was tired, relieved, and looking forward to getting home, but he had other ideas. Somehow, in his mind, he felt like we had a real connection, and he showed this by GRABBING MY HAND (I managed to pull it away without outwardly grimacing) and then, out of nowhere, grabbed me and kissed me. Not a sweet first date kiss either, but a full on assault of my face. It was not pleasant. This is what clinched it for me. I knew I'd never go out with him again. The weird comments, I could put down to first date nerves, the not paying thing, while I thought it was bad form, could've been overlooked. But pushing intimacy on someone? That's too much. 

 Call me old fashioned, but I am a big believer in the first kiss. I'm a romantic, and I want it to be lovely, exciting, and laced with anticipation, not an attack. On the taxi ride home, I was stunned, confused, and a little bit worried that that my friends were right, that bad dates are the rule rather than the exception. He wanted to see me again. I obviously, didn't feel the same.

I'll admit that this guy wasn't hugely offensive, and the stories I've heard from others have been a lot worse. A friend of mine went out with a guy who told her she should've dressed up more, spent the entire evening telling crude jokes and bragging about money (why is this a recurring theme? It shouldn't be. STOP THE MONEY TALK) and then complained to her that the restaurant was too expensive. Another friend went out with a guy who excessively passed gas and tried to lighten the mood by NAMING his farts. Or my friend whose date stole the salt and pepper shakers from the table. I could go on and on.

The common theme though is that the offending parties were seemingly oblivious to their behavior, and in all of the cases wanted a 2nd date, all of which were politely declined or evaded by missed calls and unanswered texts. Most of us demur, make excuses and dodge calls and dance around the truth because we didn't want to be rude or confrontational. Or maybe we just didn't see the point of spelling it out. However, it got me thinking.... if someone behaves badly on a first date, should we tell them? What if we said to the offender, "I don't want to see you again and this is why..." Are we doing them a disservice by pretending that their behavior was ok?

I took this question to the streets (aka SMS and WhatsApp) to see what other people thought of this. As I suspected, most of the people I talked to said they'd make up an excuse and let it go, not wanting to bother with the repercussions that could come from honestly telling someone that they are unbearable. The general consensus was, "If I never have to see them again, who cares? it's not worth it" though I did have one friend remark that it would depend whether the date was just awful or clueless. "If he was a geek I would tell him what he did wrong out of pity" she wrote. Some people got back to me and told me that they'd say something, but not afterwards, but right then and there, as it was happening. Talk about not being afraid of confrontation, more power to them!

A big part of me feels like it would be wasted breath, I'd rather not deal with it, and I don't want to have to face the aftermath should we run into each other again. I'd rather give a credible excuse, blame myself, and never think about it again. The other part of me thinks, "No, they should know." If your date is ugly or even boring, then a  excuse is fine, there is no need to be unnecessarily rude and hurtful. But if your date is rude, crass, or inappropriate, why not just give them a reality check and hope that they take it into consideration for the future? If people keep accepting this behavior, it enables it.

Perhaps there is no wrong or right answer but just what feels right at the time. Perhaps we need to have these bad dates to recognize the good ones that we go on, and appreciate them. Or at the very least, perhaps these bad dates and bad behaviors will reiterate qualities that are important and attractive, both in other and ourselves, and we'll ultimately come out as better people.

**On a side note: My friend Karen just told me about a fantastic move called the Cobra that people do in Spain. It is basically dancing backwards (looking a bit like a Cobra) away from sleazy people who try and move in on your personal space. This is amazing, I can't wait to try it. And probably fall and break something, but still.

*Thanks to everyone who replied so quickly to my messages, you are, as always, a wealth of insight, information, and anecdotes. Except for the person who told me that I think too much :p

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Burning Down the House: What NOT to Do On a Date

I went on my first "real" date two days before my sixteenth birthday which means I've been in the dating world for just over 13 years. Granted, over 11 of those were spent with a boyfriend (that number scares me actually) but I still know a thing or two about being single. In my 11 years as a girlfriend, I perfected the art of being a great one. There is not a shadow of a doubt in my mind that I am an incredible girlfriend, just ask my exes. The fact that we're still friends is a testament to that statement. Being single, though, is a constant work in progress. While being single is exciting and fun, it lacks stability. It’s the land of the unknown. It’s trial and error. It’s exploration, triumphs and failures.

I feel like I learned more in my two years of singledom to make me qualified to write this post. Some of my dates have been incredible and others, not so much. Sometimes things go well and we continue to see each other, sometimes there is no chemistry, or sometimes something happens, a blunder, that derails the process. It’s these mistakes that I am talking about today. Ones that are completely avoidable. Ones that I hope other people can learn from. More importantly, that I actually have learned from. That's kind of the point of writing this, actually.

Listen to outside sources: This is a tough one because it's perfectly natural to want to talk to our friends about our personal life and what's going on in it. I am not saying we shouldn't rely on friends for support and input but we have to be careful what we allow to affect us. We have to make sure we are still of our own mind when making decisions. The bottom line is that relationships are between two people and bringing too many people into the picture confuses things.  Example: Not long ago, I was about to go on a second date with someone that I was REALLY excited about. I was talking about it with a good guy friend of mine who replied, “"Ha! He's good. He's really good, got the game down pat. And you've fallen for it! He might be my new idol." Now, some people may say that my friend is an unsupportive jerk and that I should've ignored him and told him where to go. They're probably right. Logically, I knew I should’ve ignored him, he doesn’t even know the person I was going out with. But the thing is, he's my friend, and a very good one at that, and I trust him. So when he said those things, my giddyness turned into nervousness and I couldn't shake the feeling that my date was just playing a game and that I was stupidly falling for it. To say that it affected my behavior and my date is an understatement.

Rush things: Getting to know someone is a process, it takes more than a few dates to figure out who they are and whether we want to be with them. We may be excited about someone and want to hang out with them more and more, and that’s ok but there is NO REASON to rush into anything. Don’t rush into feelings, labels, or declarations. Give the person a chance to know you and be known themselves. If it’s supposed to happen, it’ll transition naturally.

Overanalyze: I hate to put a gender label on things, and I am sure my feminist good friend will have my head for this, but, women tend to overanalyze more than men. Not saying that men don't, they can and do, but it's a more female quality. We think about things too much: "What does this mean?" "Where is this going" "he didn't reply/call---why?" “Did I do something wrong, should I have said/done X instead?” And instead of my pragmatic and relaxing, we get all wound up and -even worse-jump to conclusions, often negative ones. We also have a tendency to hold someone we’re romantically interested to higher standards than others in our life. If a good friend doesn’t respond to a text we don’t freak out that they don’t like us, we just assume they’re busy. So why get worked up about someone we like? One of my best friends has a theory about this little peanut in our brain. The peanut is where the negative and crazy comes from. That we can acknowledge that the peanut exists but that we don't need to let it rule our thoughts, but instead acknowledge it and, just quickly, dismiss it. Often times, though, the peanut is wrong. It stems from our own insecurities and not from reality.  The peanut is bad. It ruins things, including our sanity

Over share: When we start dating someone, everything is new and that's exciting and bit nerve-wrecking. We're getting to know them and vice versa. That being said: pace yourself, there is no reason for everything to be on the table from the word go. I get that sometimes this can be hard, I know when I get nervous I either talk non stop (Literally almost don't even stop to breathe. I talk about everything and anything, weird, random, inappropriate, irrelevant. Anything. This is uh, not a good tactic) or become silent. I don’t know which one is worse.  Just remember: it's just a conversation...we have them all the time.

Obsess: The beginning stages are intoxicating, a total rush. It's easy to get swept up in the wonder of it all, to become enamored with the adorableness of it all. Try and be realistic and not get too caught up, because that's when we start obsessing, and obsessing is an unattractive, dangerous world, and it makes us do off kilter things. Take a step back and breathe, let things happen.

Play games: I know that we're supposed to "play the game" and I actually just wrote about why that is bad, but people do it anyway. The thing about games is that we become so immersed in them that it can be more about winning than enjoying. So stop playing them. Stop pretending like you don’t care. If you like someone, just like them.

Push someone away to test them: This is on the same spectrum as playing games, but pushing someone away is pretty much ensuring that they’ll actually leave. Opening up and being vulnerable is scary, no one likes the idea of being hurt or rejected but it kind of goes with the territory. It’s a risk, but then again so is getting in a car and we do that every day. I mean, I drive a motorbike in Hanoi which is a pretty dangerous task that I undertake multiple times a day. I’m digressing. The point is, we make choices daily that could affect us in the long term, and we make these choices without giving them a second thought. We push people away because we want to test them, we want them to prove that they’re stable and not going anywhere. We want to find out early on what we’re dealing with. The problem with this, and there are many problems, is that people don’t like being pushed away. They don’t like feeling like they have to fight you every step of the way. Especially in the beginning. The beginning is supposed to be the fun and easy part, not an obstacle course. As difficult as it may be, resist the urge to push and instead be receptive and open and willing.

Try and make someone jealous: Again, also closely related to games, because it is one. Trying to make someone jealous is selfish and immature and pretty much always backfires. If we’re deliberately trying to wind someone up it can only end badly because they’ll either dismiss us and think we’re not worth it or they’ll get jealous and stake their claim and be forever suspicious and possessive, which frankly aren’t good grounds for a relationship

Lose confidence/Be someone you're not: If someone is on a date with you, there are pretty high odds that it's because they're interested in you. YOU. Something about you piqued their interest so why-WHY-come off like someone you're not? Why lack confidence? There is no reason to be insecure, especially since the other person has already validated your awesomeness by asking you out. If you lose your sense of self and your confidence then game over-you lose, you're out. It is, of course, natural to be a little bit nervous but don’t let nervousness get the best of you! Walk into every situation assuming the best, assuming that this person is into you and proceed accordingly. I can safely attest that every date that I’ve gone on in which I was overly nervous I pretty much ruined while the ones that I breezed into usually turned out to be pretty awesome. (On a personal note, I've come to realize that if I feel unnaturally nervous on/prior to a date, that it's a sign that this isn't the right person to be out with. We should feel comfortable with being ourselves and the person we're with should be receptive to that and vice versa) 

Blurt out nervous destructive comments: This is so painfully obvious that it shouldn't even be on the list. The other thing about this, is it's not something we do on purpose, of course, we try and avoid comments that will cause tension or confusion. I'm a big believer in being oneself, and not having to measure your words before saying them, however, if you, like me, have a tendency to let nervousness cause word vomit, I recommend: trying to think before you speak. For example, telling someone you're on a date with that being affectionate with them is "pointless" will pretty much guarantee that they won't ask you out again. Just like, nervously babbling to someone you're interested in that you "hate being asked out on dates" will probably ensure that they won't. 

Let your ego get in the way: Ah the ego, an essential yet dangerous commodity. It’s important to have a healthy self esteem and to love ourselves (otherwise how can we expect someone else to?!) but our ego can get us into trouble. We know how great we are, but occasionally, someone may disagree with us and while that’s a never fun reality, it is a reality nonetheless. In the event someone decides they aren’t interested-for whatever reason-we have to just deal with it. Get over it. It’s just one person. We can’t charge full steam ahead to try and change their minds. If we’re honest with ourselves, we will admit that our ego can drive us to do things simply to win. Which is a bad reason to want something. Remember this: You aren't into everyone, so you can't expect them to be into you. Also ask yourself: Am I upset about this rejection because I really was into this person, or is it just my ego getting in the way? 9 times out of 10, I bet it's the latter.

Try and make someone like you/ Misread the writing on the wall: This is related to the ego and confidence thing, and it’s something we shouldn’t do. If you're on a date and you're thinking too much it can never go well. If you're out with someone and wondering if it's ok for you say something, wondering how they'll react to you being yourself, then you have to question whether or no this is a person you want to date. The reason why is that you can’t MAKE someone do anything, especially like you. Just like they can’t make you like them. They either do or they don’t. if they do, that’s great, if they don’t, then you have to accept that this is not the right person for you to be dating, even if you hoped otherwise. Dates have two outcomes: one, you go out again or you don’t. If it’s the latter then it’s pretty obvious something was lacking. It’s also pretty obvious when someone isn’t into you, it’s just a matter of whether or not you can pull yourself out of denial mode. If someone went from talking to you frequently to simply responding to your messages (or not respond at all) it doesn’t mean try harder. It means, stop being stupid and find someone who recognizes your worth.

Shirk responsibility: Sometimes things don’t work out. Sometimes it’s just because they don’t, but sometimes it’s on account of something we’ve done. If you spent the whole date talking about your ex or being other degrees of unattractive, then yes, it’s your fault. YOUR FAULT. Not the fault of your date, your nerves, or the friend who planted a seed in your head about the person you’re on a date with. Chances are, your date won’t want to see you again, and you can’t really blame them for that. You can apologize, or make excuses, but really you shouldn’t. It won’t change things. What you should be doing is accepting the situation and ensuring that you don’t repeat your behavior. 

Overcompensate: If you do make a mistake or do/say something stupid, it's done. You can’t erase what happened, but you can move on from it, and more importantly LEARN. Apologizing profusely? BAD! Bending over backwards to “fix things?” Just makes you seem unstable and pretty desperate. If you’ve been playing games and playing it cool, sending a barrage of sweet messages or dirty photos won’t negate your former behavior, it will just make you look unhinged. It doesn’t matter how sorry you are, or that you wish you could’ve done things differently. You can’t. What’s done is done.

Repeat mistakes. No one is perfect and no one expects us to be. We will make mistakes and say and do stupid things, it's unavoidable. The thing about making mistakes is that it's actually ok to make them, as long as we learn from them. Doing something bad once isn't ideal, but repeating them means that it's a problem. One that we need to address with ourselves. We can't live in denial, sometimes we need to accept that the problem lies within us and the only solution is by examining why it is why we are allowing this pattern to form. The only person who can fix you is yourself

Beat Yourself Up/Dwell on Things: If things went badly, for whatever reason, it's very easy to replay them in our mind, dwell on our mistakes, and chastise ourselves for our actions. Or wish we'd played things differently. Don't do this. Not only does it just allow us to remain in a state of negativity but it truly solves nothing. Furthermore, we have to realistically accept that if things didn't work out then they weren't supposed to. At the end of the day, it was just a date. It's just a person. There will be others. Better ones. 

Let the past hold you back: Everyone has a past. Everyone has had good relationships and bad ones. Everyone has insecurities and deal breakers. Almost everyone has their heart broken. But the thing is, these are in the past and we can't let the past dictate the future. Sure, we need to take it into account, as we have been shaped by it, but it shouldn't control us. Otherwise we'll never be able to have a successful relationship. Every person is different and we need to be cognizant of that. Case in point: I dated a guy for a very long time who cheated on me. A lot. The numbers were staggering and the hurt was immense. As terrible as that was to go through, I don’t operate under the assumption that it will happen again. I’m not jealous or insecure or possessive. It was one person and I won’t blame others for his mistake.

The thing about this list, is despite them being obvious No-No's, chances are that, regardless of  being educated and competent human beings, that we'll engage in some of these behaviors. We can't help it. Even more confusing is that what is a deal breaker for one person is no big deal for someone else. We can follow every rule in the world but when it comes to relationships, no two are the same. What is comes down to is that we should just be ourselves, and allow both our good and bad qualities show. If we're with the right person, the good will overshadow the bad. We will be comfortable. We'll make mistakes but grow for them. We won't overthink, and instead just be. 

Thanks to the usuals, especially my relationship gurus BK and NM and of course, KP

Friday, May 17, 2013

Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer: A Guide to Surviving Summer in Hanoi

It's that time of year again: when every venture outdoors is followed by a shower. Or at least the desire for one. Where we feel as if we are liquid forms of ourselves, slipping on our own sweat and potentially melting into the sidewalk. If somewhere doesn't have aircon, we don't even consider going. The freezing and dismal winter is a distant memory, despite the fact that we were complaining about the cold a mere six weeks ago.

Summer comes on strong in Hanoi, we don't get much warning apart from two weeks of perfect weather, followed by two weeks of torrential downpour, and then it hits in full force. This week the weather ranged between 35 to 39C/95-102F. Kind of a big leap. Personally, I'm not complaining, I'm a warm weather kind of person. I prefer bright colors and heat coming from the sun rather than a remote control. Sure, there are drawbacks to intense heat, but for me, the world is a better place when the temperature is higher. Not only is the sky brighter, the colors more vivid, but people tend to smile more. The frenzy slows down and we start to unwind.

 I grew up in Florida, so I'm pretty accustomed to hot climates, however, this kind of heat is more extreme than even the most blazing month in Palm Beach. For those who are new to this type of weather it can be a little overwhelming, but there are tricks to dealing with it:

1. Hydrate. This is pretty obvious but during Hanoi summers you need to go on hydration overdrive. Always carry a water bottle with you.  Luckily, there are no shortages of beverages in Hanoi, both sit down and to go. Sugarcane juice (Mia da) is one of the most summertime juices. Stands can be found pretty much all over the city, look for stalks of sugarcane next to a big metal machine. Stands are especially prevalent on Doi Can. Tra Chanh is also a perfect summertime drink. It translates to ice lemon tea but the taste is different than you'd expect. the perfect blend of sweet, tangy, and refreshing. The most popular spot for this is on Ly Quoc Su/Nha Tho. Coconut juice also on the side of the road you can buy coconuts which can easily be turned into a beverage with a quick machete chop and a straw. Fresh fruit juice a lot of restaurants and street stalls offer fresh fruit juice. As in you point to the fruit you want and they blend it right then and there. No additives, no preservatives, and they taste amazing. The one I frequent is on Hang Bong, almost at Dien Bien Phu. I think it's like 138 Hang Bong. Also The Cart (Tho Xuong, Au Co) does amazing fruit juices and Hanoi Social Club (6 Hoi Vu) is famous for its slushies. Also, Red River Tea Room (25 Xuân Diệu) is a lovely place for drinks. Finally, crazy as it sounds, hot beverages actually facilitate cooling processes in our bodies. It might seem like the last thing you want in sweltering temperatures, but it actually works. If you don't believe me then read this.

2. Eat. If you're like me, the hotter the weather, the less hungry you are. It's very easy for me to go the entire day without eating on a boiling hot day, simply because the idea of food makes me feel heavier and sick. But not eating is dangerous, for many reasons, but especially in high temperatures, as you can pass out.

3. Get a good tailor. Once it gets to a certain temperature I spend a lot of time figuring out how I can wear as little as possible and still look professional. I am often jealous of men because it is so easy for them to be effortlessly yet appropriately dressed for events: dress pants, button down, decent shoes and they're done. They can even recycle daily and no one would notice. Women, on the other hand, we have to change it up, people notice. However, my jealousy ceases in the summer, because there is no part of me that wants to be in a suit. I pity my poor guy friends working in the city. I'm digressing a bit: It's actually really easy to dress appropriately and minimally if you're a woman. Shift dresses are my best friend. I have countless. Pick a style, go to your tailor, ask her to copy it in a lightweight cotton material and you're good to go. Men, you can probably get lighter weight shirts and dress pants made if you wanted...

4. Invest in good sunglasses. I love going to Luong Van Can and adding to my sunglasses collection for $5, but as stylish and versatile as a shopping spree there can make you, most of the glasses there are not polarized, which is very dangerous for your eyes. Get a decent pair for the peak sun hours.

5. Stock your apartment with candles, flashlights, and battery operated fans. I daresay anyone makes it through the summer without at least one power cut. We never know when they're coming and they're also never convenient. There is nothing like waking up in the middle of the night in drenched sheets, or losing power at 9pm and fumbling around a dark apartment. That's why having the items listed above can really help. Battery operated fans can offer some relief and the candles/flashlights make sure we can find our essential items.

6. Wear sunblock. I'm not just talking about when you're at the beach or pool, sunblock should be worn all the time when out and about in Hanoi. Coming from someone who spends a significant amount of time driving around outside I can safely say it's possible to get burned (or hideous tan lines) in just a 15 minute drive.

7. Find a cool sanctuary. Pools are hot spots in the summer, filled with people wanting to get tan as well as get relief from the sun beating down on them. However you can't spend every moment at the pool or your apartment, so see if you can find another spot that you can escape to. I'd tell you mine, but I'd prefer to keep it a secret. :)

8. Carry an umbrella and raincoat. Hanoi's weather is as unpredictable as the traffic. One second you can be wiping the sweat from your brow and then next minute there is a torrential downpour. Unless you enjoy showing up soaking wet, keep an umbrella and slicker handy.

9. Clean out your air con. This may be a job for your landlord, but your air conditioner filter needs to be cleaned regularly. If not, it can distribute dirt, particles, etc and you're more likely to get sick. our bodies are already adjusting enough from extreme hot-to-colds, that adding in dirty air is just asking for a mid summer sinus infection.

10. Enjoy all the city has to offer. Hanoi is always buzzing, but the city has a certain energy when the temperatures turn tropical. It's the season for: black tie events, national days. barbecues, concerts, rooftop bars, picnics, boat cruises, piknic electronica, road trips. Hanoi is at its finest and should be experienced to the fullest. (Good rooftop bars include: Don's, Marilynn, Bar Betta, Bank, 13 Hai Ba Trung, Commune, Summit Lounge, Rooftop, and Sunset Bar-which isn't a rooftop but still beautiful in the summer) Not to mention all of the amazing outdoor cafes situated all over the city. Another huge perk in the summer is that a lot of high end restaurants offer really great specials. A gourmet meal for $6 is never a bad thing.

11. Escape the city. Flights are cheap. Motorbikes are even cheaper. Hop on your bike and go to Mai Chau, Hai Giang, Tam Do, or Ninh Binh. Get on a plane and go to Hoi An, Dalat, or Con Dao. The break will revitalize you and it's a good way to explore other places in this beautiful country. Or travel internationally. Summertime means beaches: so hop over to Thailand, Malaysia, or my personal favorite, Bali, for some fun in the sun.

12. Remember that you wished for this. I received an endless slew of messages in December and January lamenting about the weather. "It's so cold, it's miserable. When will this be over? I hate it!" We begged for summer to show its face, yet once it arrives we forget so quickly just how dismal the winter months are in Hanoi. 

 13. Keep a supply of babywipes. I love baby wipes, they can be used for so many things. Winter or summer, I always have them in my purse, but in the summer they especially come in handy. It's no secret that we feel gross and grimy almost seconds after we step outside, and babywipes are a good way to alleviate that, and help us freshen up in between showers. 

14. Disregard your vanity. Tis the season to embrace your natural beauty. Or accept that you don't have any (kidding) It's almost impossible to look sexy when you're profusely sweating. You can lie to yourself and say you're "glistening" but that's just denial. Now this is more difficult for women, since we're more likely to be wearing makeup/styling our hair, and in the summer the make up melts and our hair misbehaves. Try as we may, getting glammed up is a difficult, but not a complete impossibility. Women: the high bun is a perfect solution for hair issues. It's elegant, it's easy to do, and it keeps your neck cool. If you want to wear your hair down, may I suggest beach waves: shower, towel dry, scrunch hair with mouse or salt water, let air dry, light hairspray. For make up: tinted moisturizer, no concealer foundation, liquid blush (like benetint by Benefit), waterproof mascara, and the ultimate summer makeup item is bright colored lipstick. Wearing a bright pink or red gives the illusion that you're more dressed up than you actually are, and they're fun. Pedicure are also a summer must-do.

15. Throw a party. Hanoi is a great place to have a party. If you don't want to have something at home,  most bars will let you use their spaces for free, but you can also make use of the green areas near Tay Ho, or the "beach" along the Red River just under the bridge to have a fun, laid back gathering. Grab a cooler, some beverages, pack some snacks, throw on a bathing suit, create a playlist and gather. This is a unique and cool experience, one that you can look forward to while planning and reminisce about fondly when it's over.

These tips aren't foolproof and won't ensure that summer will be painless. I, just like everyone else, will lament and grumble, but for the most part, they should help. No matter how much we complain, we love it here, even when the wind is blowing like a hairdryer in our face. Happy Summer!

*thanks everyone for being overly excited or pessimistic about the summer, our conversations helped contribute to the post. Thanks especially to BT for reminding me certain fantastic things about the summer

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Gone Too Soon: A Tribute to My Good Friend Frank, May He Rest In Peace

Last night, I received the shattering news that a close friend, a man that I loved and admired, was no longer with us. My heart broke on the spot and through the steady stream of tears, I have tried to make sense of it. But I can't. I can't make sense of it because it doesn't make sense. Things like this aren't supposed to happen. I know I am not the only person to have lost a friend, but that doesn't make it any easier. I have also been fortunate enough (if you want to call it that) to have NEVER lost a young friend, Frank is the first.

Since I found out, I have been floating in and out of memories, my body giving into emotion and sobbing. Sobbing for what I lost, sobbing for what everyone else lost, and most of all sobbing for the future that he no longer has. I am not known for my ability to talk about my feelings, or for asking for help. My form of expression is, and always been, writing. Something that Frank and I shared.

I am not going to talk about how tragic it is to lose someone, partially because we all know, but also, because words are failing me. I can't describe the sense of loss accurately. Instead, I am going to talk about Frank the man. Who he was, what he meant to me, and why he was loved by everyone who was lucky enough to cross paths with him. This is my therapy, my tribute to him, a small piece of the legacy he is leaving behind.

Everyone who knew Frank will talk about his bright blue eyes and infectious smile. They will remember laughing with him. That even at the age of 19, he had such a strong sense of self, deeply rooted morals that he never wavered from. Something that a bunch of college kids couldn't really understand. Despite us respecting it and him, it made us a bit nervous, and probably, retrospectively,  jealous. We were all trying to figure ourselves out and Frank already knew. He had a vision and he marched towards that.

Frank was a loving person, he truly and genuinely loved and cared for the people in his life. When he asked about your day, you knew it was because he actually wanted to know. He listened. You left every conversation with him feeling happier and more content than when you started it. He just had that effect on people. He had an inherent kindness and the ability to read and understand people, seeing beyond how they presented themselves on the surface.

For me (and I'm sure many others) it went beyond that. In the years I knew him, including one year as a housemate, Frank and I grew incredibly close, sharing many marathon conversations; meeting each others families; staying in all weekend and watching Sex and the City reruns (something he claimed he didn't enjoy and was doing for 'research' but I know he secretly liked it) He even perfected the art of how to apply self tanner on someones back. To this day, no one has self tanned my back as well as Frank did, taking on the frivolous task with a sense of purpose and attention to detail, all the while saying, "I can't believe I am doing this, what have you done to me?" As silly as it sounds, these memories, these day to day occurrences, are what made our bond what it was. 

 Perhaps the defining moment in my relationship with Frank was the day that my grandmother died. I was at my "prestigious" internship pushing paper when I heard the news, and I immediately called my friend Sarah to come pick me up. Sarah, being well aware of my tendency to retreat into myself in times of distress, called our housemates and told them what happened and just to give me space, that I needed to be alone. All of them but Frank listened. Frank walked into my bedroom with a bouquet of flowers, crawled into bed with me and held me as I cried, resulting in his t shirt being turned into a giant tissue. While I wasn't upset with others for following Sarah's explicit orders, I was overwhelmed by Frank knowing what I needed even when I didn't. That's who he was though. The man who loved others and put them before himself, selfless.

He not only wanted the best for us, but he saw the best as well. Our junior year, he decided to take all of the girls in the house (there were 13 of us) on a date. Individually. No romantic intentions. When we asked him why, he told us that he didn't want us wasting our time with men who didn't deserve us. That he was going to take us out and show us how we SHOULD be treated. He wanted us to know that gentlemen existed and that we didn't have to settle for anything less that outstanding. The thing is, that he didn't need to take us out for dinner to that, he showed us that daily, simply by being himself.

Throughout the years, our friendship continued. He moved to South Florida after university and I saw him whenever I was visiting my parents. When I moved to Vietnam, he actively and consistently made an effort to stay in touch with me, something I can't say for most of the friends I left behind. We shared pieces of writing, we edited each others work, and even discussed collaborating on a writing project he was working on. 

My biggest regret is not failing to make feelings for Frank known, I know without a doubt that he was aware of how special he was to me. No, my biggest regret is that I couldn't make him love himself as much as he loved those around him. One of the most difficult parts for me about this whole ordeal is that Frank was a truly remarkable and incredible man. He had a light around him, he brought joy and wisdom and happiness into so many peoples lives, yet for whatever reason, he failed to find it in his own. He made our world a better place to live in but it was not reciprocated. I keep asking myself, "How could a man like that, a man who embodied positivity and love...a man who was esteemed by those around could he not see what we see? How could he not love himself as we did?" 

I realize that there is no use in asking myself questions like that, because there are no answers. I also know while the non stop crying is inevitable at this stage, that Frank would've encouraged me to "Get it out, come on, cry it out....are you finished? Now pick yourself up and be positive. Everything is ok." So I will do what he'd want me to do, which is to live my life to fullest, with integrity, and happiness. I won't get caught up in regret, in the negative. My time with him was too short but it was meaningful; he showed my love, kindness, compassion and insight. He opened himself up unabashedly and with no strings and as a result, he got the same from everyone else. He reminded me that gentleman exist and that it's ok to be vulnerable and ask for help. He encouraged me in every aspect of my life and made me feel like a better person, his faith in me gave me faith in myself. Most of all, he displayed that in a real friendship things like time zones don't exist.  Real friendships exist in the heart, and he will forever be in mine. 
 April 13, 1984-April 30, 2013.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Be the Love Generation?

It was just another night out, the beginnings of any great story or conversation. We were talking about one thing or another and the conversation seamlessly transitioned into relationships, dating specifically. For whatever reason, life as a single expat woman is utterly fascinating to the people in my group of friends, which I can kind of understand. A high percentage of my friends in Hanoi are either married or in serious relationships, which means that their relationships, though not devoid of “drama,” have a certain kind of stability that their single counterparts don’t. Let’s face it: Dating IS interesting, and dating as an expat woman in Asia even more so. As much as I like to keep the details of my personal life as close to the chest as possible, it is, at times, impossible to do so. Especially in Hanoi.

For a big city, Hanoi is really small, the expat community having a one degree of separation, making it pretty difficult to do something without people knowing. So it wasn’t hugely surprising when a man in our group began questioning a friend about a date she’d been on the night before (she hadn’t told us she was going on one, but it being Hanoi the fact that she was in a public place made it public knowledge) She demurred a bit and he pressed on, “But you went on a date the other weekend, with someone else you said you were interested in. Don’t you think that it’s a bit slutty what you’re doing?”

Slutty?! To go on a DATE? We’re talking about dinner here, or drinks, or some other activity. Going on a date doesn’t necessarily equate to hooking up, but even if it does, no one is in a position to judge another about it. Let’s completely disregard that calling someone slutty is all kinds of inappropriate, but focus on the bigger issue at hand here: Is it ok to date multiple people at the same time?

I (almost) immediately took to whatsapp and email to send out a mass message (a frequent occurrence) to friends** to hear their opinion on the subject. The answers were a bit varied but none of them completely aligned with the “slutty” comment above, the closest I got was, “If I was really into a girl, I’d be a little bothered about her dating other people, but in the early stages you have to kind of accept that it’s a reality.” For the most part, it was confirming that in the world of dating, people like to explore their options, and date around until they find someone who they want to commit to.

I am, by all accounts, a big believer of committed relationships and the monogamy that comes hand in hand with being in one. If I have decided to call someone my boyfriend then there is no question at all that I want to be with them and will not be seeing other people. But, as was reiterated over and over again in the responses I received from people, dating someone doesn't make them your boyfriend or girlfriend, it makes them a person that you're dating. A huge distinction. 

The truth is, there is no right or wrong approach to this, just personal preferences. Some people believe that whilst they are single that they are free to do as they please. Free to flirt, have dinner with, and go on dates with anyone that they find interesting. Then there are those who, once having gone out with someone that they’re into, immediately shun attention and advances from other prospects. Maybe not due to any kind of expectations from them, but because they are idealists, romantics, or just find juggling far too complicated a feat. Others will argue that, cynical as it sounds, most relationships/dates don’t work out anyway so that putting all of your eggs in one basket is naïve. Based on my conversations on the subject (and life experience) everyone is different, but for those who do believe that the dating world is their oyster, there are a few things to keep in mind:

Don’t flaunt but don’t lie. Honesty and communication are HUGE parts of any relationship, and nothing good can come of lying. On the flip side, advertising that you’re dating around isn’t exactly the best form of sweet talking. It’s a safe assumption that the person you’re going on dates with is probably doing the same with others, but it’s not the nicest thing to think about. If you really want to know, it is ok to ask (though I don’t, for personal reasons) If someone asks you, answer honestly but don’t elaborate too much. Also, once it gets to a certain point in dating, the topic of exclusivity will come up.

Recognize the impact it may have. For some, the knowledge that the person they’re dating is seeing other people will result in them finding that person more attractive. In demand people are sexy and desirable. It also takes the pressure off both parties a little bit and can make them appear less desperate. On the other hand, some may be turned off by the object of their affection sharing romantic moments at the hands of another. It may repel them enough to not want to see you again. This may seem a bit harsh and unrealistic, but people tend to be a bit irrational when their ego is at stake.

Don’t force anything. Things should never be forced, especially in relationships. The best kinds of relationships and encounters are those that unfold organically and naturally. When people like each other, they generally tend to gravitate towards each other. Also, don’t go out seeking people to date simply so that it appears (to you and others) that you have other options. If an opportunity presents itself, fine, but don't try and create them to prove a point. 

Have fun. Dating isn’t a chore, it’s an adventure. We shouldn’t spend our time overanalyzing or adhering to a self/society imposed rules. Do what makes you happy.

Be safe. In a lot of cases, with dating comes hooking up. The physical connection is a very important part of a relationship, so while hooking up with the people you’re dating doesn’t make you a slut/player, it can make you a target for unwanted complications. Protect yourself, protect your partner.

Keep things separate. If you’re going to date around, try not to dabble into overlapping social circles. Things become (even more) complicated/awkward if the people you’re dating know each other. Even in a small city/town, there are different groups.  Another solution to this is date people in different cities. Traveling can be exhausting and expensive but it’s fun and keeps your life compartmentalized.

Gives perspective. Most people date because they enjoy the company of the person that they are out with, and want to see where it goes. The truth is, even if you feel an instant connection with someone, that you don’t know-CAN’T know-if you really like them until you’ve been seeing each other for a while. You can know if you’re interested in them but not if you REALLY like them. Dating other people can also facilitate in identifying these feelings. Not that you should compare people, but you can recognize the way you feel when you’re around them. Dating people is just as much figuring out what you don’t want/like as it is what you do.

Be culturally aware. In the western world, the concept of dating around until you find someone you want to settle down with (permanently or just even just to give the girlfriend/boyfriend title) is relatively commonplace. However, in other cultures, societies, or even religions dating someone is a bigger deal. Immediate commitment is more evident and expected. When you date someone, make sure you are aware of their background and expectations, for both of your sakes.

The bottom line is that there is no "best practice" how to proceed in the initial phases of dating. We all have our own set of limitations, beliefs, and ideals. The "best" thing we can do is to do what makes us happy, while ensuring that we are behaving with kindness and dignity to those around us. 

**Thanks to all of my friends who, once again, took time to answer my barrage of random questions and expound on the matter with their own personal viewpoints and experiences, which have been outlined in this post. I am utterly grateful for your perspectives, because they not only give me a lot of material to write about, but they also serve as benchmarks for my own life. You keep me in check. 
*Thanks especially to JM, the best fbf a girl could ask for. :)