WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT? COUNTING THE COST OF RELATIONSHIPS

Does a good career guarantee romance?
Does a good career guarantee romance?

A week ago a friend and fellow journalist posted a question on her Facebook page which intrigued me. When I first read her question I immediately wanted to write about it. But I thought it wise to wait and clean out the cobwebs in the  attic of my mind and heart before writing a conclusive argument on an issue I have been wrestling with for many years. You must wonder then what the question was.  Here it is:

‘So if you had a love interest that you know is not too good at his job, would you still be interested?”

My default or rather instinctual response to her question was  to pose another:  Are you interested in the job or in the man? By the time 30 people posted their comments on her stream, many of them responding with an emphatic no for an answer;  I realized that I had not given this subject the due consideration it deserves.

The Play ground

So I decided to go back to my childhood playground and  revisit the way in which we played as children or the ways in which children play  in order to better understand how we “play” as adults today. The playground like the office or any other corporate environment  is not for the faint hearted. Children as with colleagues and bosses can be very  callous  with their words and actions. The main difference however  is  that children  tend to be more honest and speak  truth much more than adults do. So you always know where you stand in the playground. It’s obvious.  Children  are also less likely to be conniving, malicious or do anything they don’t feel like doing despite  fervent admonitions, unless of course there’s an adult at hand who might be more persuasive.  Let me use myself as an example.

I am one of five children and grew up within a large extended family.This meant that  my playground was effectively  at home as my friends were my siblings and cousins, aunts and uncles.  I hardly played with other children at school, often preferring to keep my own company.  It is safe to say that I never learnt quite how to “make” friends because I never felt that I needed friends to begin with and If I did I already had “friends” at home.  It was on very rare occasions ( and often under chaperon) that I played with other children ( children I was not related to) in the neighbourhood. As a result while I did not actively pursue friendships with others, I was always curious about the “other”. In other words I was always drawn to or curious about people who were not already part of my own family.

At home we played together almost all the time except when we were at school or when one of us was ill.  We used school as an opportunity to explore new things, find new information, which we would later re-enact/ share/teach /exchange  with each other back home.  Even though at various points in our childhood all of us went to the same school, we never “hung- out” together – preferring other people or “friends” to each others company. Of course we would share everything about the “other” once at home.  Some in the family were more successful at making  friends ( bringing new people home) than others. I was generally not good at making friends.  At school I was a loner, awkward, shy, reserved, timid and mostly an outsider looking in, who was a source of jokes or an easy target for bullies. So as a result I kept to myself and never tried to infiltrate the sacred world of school “playground” relationships. Whether by default or as a result of my  own anti-social conditioning – at school I always assumed the role of the observer. I spent most of my time in and outside of class either watching people, reading or day-dreaming.

On Home Ground.

At home I was a completely different person to the timid, reserved girl, who seemed lonely and alone. At home  it was lights, camera, action! At home I was free to live out my wildest dreams, with my siblings or by myself on the mirror. At home I could sing, dance, walk around naked, tease my brother until he cried. At home I was an outgoing, confident, strong girl, who was also talkative, full of drama and  loved to perform. I think a part of me emulated many of the characters I saw at school. I beguiled my mother and siblings with stories of my classmates and teachers while doing  impersonations of them.  Going to school for me was like a game. Because at home I learnt the serious art of studying my “friends” based on their parents relationship with my parents. I keenly watched how the elder’s behaved and used that knowledge to interpret, correctly or erroneously,  the behavior of my siblings and or cousins, uncles and aunts. Even though I knew we all “loved” each other – I knew that their (as with my)  loyalty lay with those who fed them, sent them to school and loved them when no one else was around to witness such love. Ultimately no matter how much  we as children “loved” being together it was never up to us to decide the fate of our relationship. It was the parents who did.  So regardless of what was said, actions always spoke louder than words. I also knew that you can never really know a person until you have at least met their family, you can never understand another, until you know his or her parents. So in life I learnt, that unless I met your mom or dad or your family, I was not your friend. And our friendship would not last long if your parents and or most of your family did not like our friendship and  visa versa. As a child I intrinsically understood the nuance and  dynamic nature of familial relationships and the influence they have in our lives, whether we care to admit it or not.  I learnt that with people nothing was ever cast in stone, and that relationships could sour quickly and  end without much notice, provocation or any particular reason. I learnt that  it was best to accept those relationships as they were rather than  “fight against” the storm.   Even in my childhood play(home)ground there were  hierarchies, formed along the same lines we use to form relationships in our adult lives or in the “business world”.   Even within my own family, friendships were formed  according to  age group, language, familiarity, common interests, good looks, special skills/ability, access (money/influence) and geography ( how often they see each other). And you would be favoured/despised at different times, days, years  depending on which of the above mentioned skills  you had acquired or lost not to mention the state of parental relationships.  So one holiday you may be the butt of all jokes, the next holiday you might be the popular one whom everyone is focused on and wants to be with, favour was seasonal and fleeting. It was always a mystery to me how this worked. But I learnt that I could never  base “love” on any of those “things” which were wonderful to have,  but never seemed to last. Love was a deep connection shared between two people which could never be  quantified.

Love Has Everything To Do with IT

Going back and re-examining my childhood and the behavior we displayed as children in our different “home” playgrounds re-enforced my instinctual question – Do you love the person or the Job? Why? Because even in childhood finding a  good mate to play and just “be” with  – even within such a conducive home  environment – was not always easy.   Sometimes your siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, had other interests which were very different from yours. This differing interests would necessitate a compromise either from one person or group – in order for a the ‘game’ to continue. If there was no agreement, there would be no game. Sometimes you had to be content in your own company even if you were in a room full of people, because none of them shared similar interests to you or wanted to participate in the particular activity you were interested in at the time.   For example I enjoyed classical music but  my older sister loved popular music  and R&B, because she was older and had a more dominant  (parental like) role in our relationship she more than often got her way.  So I had to either choose to also enjoy her brand of music or go somewhere else and do something else. Often there was nowhere else to go.  So I learnt how to be present or absent from a place without ever leaving the room. Even though this may seem like torture it helped me to understand my siblings better, to know what they liked and didn’t like, what they enjoyed, what they were like in the morning, how they slept in bed, what they were like when they were happy, sad, hungry, irritated, scared, angry. And knowing all this made our bond stronger and closer and the love we had for each other had nothing at all to do with our marks at school.  Our love didn’t depend on the our performance at school or at home. Whether I passed or failed didn’t change how much I loved my siblings. Of course we would celebrate if one of us did well, and empathize with each other if the other did not do so well.  But the love didn’t come from what they did or didn’t do, it was about sharing all the good and bad things in life together. My siblings were always there, annoying and angelic  sometimes, I know where I stand with them.  I learnt that love is a choice. A decision you make everyday. And it  a choice or decision you can extend to everyone.

 I chose to love a long time ago!

So while finding a mate who is brilliant or great at their job is wonderful and would be much preferred. I think it is a weak trait to base your decision on. Do you love the man. The person, the human being.  His personality. His character. Do you share his values. His  principles. His aspirations.  Do you enjoy being with this person. Are you free with them. Can you share yourself with them? Can you imagine yourself changing the world with this person ? Do you love them? I think those can be more enlightening questions to ask. In fact it might even be more beneficial to meet the person’s family and relatives  first before making a decision. Considering how hard it is to find someone who can love you (more) like family does, someone who loves you for  who you are, not what you can or cannot do. I would  shy away from someone who loves me because of my job or status in life. Because that has nothing to do with love, that’s just about  appearances and material things. Love shows up when times are hard and sticks around to celebrate with you when you triumph. Yes relationships are costly, and it is only when you truly love someone that it wouldn’t even occur to you to count the cost. Because ultimately – money, career, status, influence – can never buy you love.  While some things are possible to achieve and maintain without love – with love – everything is possible. Only love can change people for the better. But you can never make or force anyone to love you no matter how good you are at your job!

That’s my opinion.

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The Girl Who Believed in Fairy-Tales

The Perseid Meteor Shower
The Perseid Meteor Shower 

Once upon a time far far away…

“I know it’s a cliché, but it’s true” he said drawing her close to him. She felt herself melt in his arms, she drew her breath as if breathing in for the first time. She listened to her heart beating in his chest, it calmed her. She didn’t want to think. She didn’t want to think about clichés, myths or fables and fairy tales which sometimes came true.  Just the other day she saw a shooting star.  She was sitting up, staring as she often did at the dark blue sky. She routinely looked at the sky on most evenings as if trying to see if her heart would be reflected in just one of those stars which littered the infinite sky. Why she continued to do this she didn’t quite know. Perhaps she was keeping a promise she had made to her 13-year-old self. A promise she made every night to her imaginary soul-mate at the time. Because when she was 13 she believed in fairy tales, in dreams coming true, in clichés. She truly believed in the words of a romantic ballad which an unexpected friend taught her in her first year of high school. Her Taiwanese schoolmate sang it to her in Mandarin Chinese and though she didn’t understand the language she enjoyed watching her friend sing it. Her eyes would close lightly while her tiny lips puckered together like a red Lollypop. Her head would tilt from side to side in time with her off-key melody, strands of her black hair flickered, browning in the glow of the yellow sun – the girl who believed in fairy tales would watch her friend sing, transfixed.  Fortunately the original song was in English and when she found the words and learned the melody, she would sit outside her veranda at night and sing to the sky. “Somewhere, out there, someone’s saying a prayer, a prayer that we’ll be together somewhere out there, our dreams will come true…. And even though you know how very far apart we are, we might be sleeping underneath the same bright star!!! Somewhere out there, love will see us through…. Somewhere out there our dreams will come true”.

Two decades later and after thousands upon thousands of nights spent star-gazing – this shooting star was unmistakable. It was something she had never seen before.  It happened without fan-fare, with no dramatic introduction. No drumroll preceded it. It happened as if it was a natural, everyday occurrence. And yet it was magnificent. Beautiful.  She actually didn’t realize she had been looking up at the sky until she saw it, there, beaming across the horizon so bright it took her breath away. It was as if it was meant only for her. At that very moment she felt she was at the right place at the right time, and had been purposed to sit right there facing the exact spot where the star would beam across like a magic wand. In that split second the star seemed to say “hello, is it me you’re looking for?” It happened quietly, peacefully, softly. Unexpectedly. There was no tremor, no earth quake. It flew across like a gentle breeze.

“I just saw a shooting star!’ She said excitedly jumping up and down on the couch like a little girl. He looked at her curiously, his eyes smiling, no words passed his lips.  “I have never seen a shooting star before” she said smiling. She felt like the luckiest girl in the whole wide world. Suddenly she realized that she had forgotten to make a wish, as traditional folklore dictates. People said one must always remember to make a wish at the sight of shooting stars. So she sat there with a wide smile on her face thinking about what she could wish for. The evening was sensuous-ly warm and the night crickets were singing loudly to the calming charms of flowing water. She could not think of a single thing to wish for at that very moment.  The evening was perfect. She was fully and wholly content, even happy. A kind of happiness she had never known she could feel or have. It did not feel as fleeting or as temporary as a sugar high.  This time it felt as if joy had arrived and had come home to stay with her, forever in the form of a shooting star.  But somehow the girl who believed in fairy-tales still wanted to make sure, she wanted to be sure that she wasn’t dreaming this time. She wanted to be certain that she was not making this remarkably beautiful moment up, this feeling of being complete, of being completely one and whole.  She somehow wanted to be certain that she was not escaping reality and moving into a world of make-believe, just as she had seen thousands of stories play out in  movies and the many books she had read. This time she wanted some kind of a guarantee, something that will show her that what was happening to her was real, this time she wanted to know without a shadow of doubt that she was not exchanging reality for a world of fairy-tales and shooting stars and knights in shining armour riding gallant horses from palatial castles far, far away. She was too old for fairy tales. Had seen too much to know better than keep her pre-pubescent, childhood dream alive.

“I looked it up” he said the next day at lunch. “Hmm? What” she said trying to remember if she’d made a request for information. “I looked it up, your shooting star, apparently it was a night of shooting stars, it was meant to happen, there were several meteor- showers, it happened everywhere” he added resisting a smile. She wondered if he meant to say it didn’t just happen to her. “Oh that’s great!” she replied “it makes it more special that I shared it with millions of other people” She thought dismissing his logic. As it happened the girl who believed in fairy-tales was quite lucky to see this shooting star. Astronomers call it the Perseid Meteor Shower from the comet Swift- Tuttle. She was lucky to see it because not only was it rare and sought after by astronomers and star-gazer alike, one could see between 60 to a 100 showers an hour. Without planning, wishing or even hoping to, she saw the biggest and brightest of all meteor showers  expected in that year.  It was so large, she was glad someone had documented it’s falling, otherwise she would  have led herself to believe, in time that what she saw was just a figment of her imagination or an image she had seen somewhere online, in books and or Television and not something that she had actually seen with her own naked eyes.

“I don’t want to say it because it does not make any sense” he said hesitantly, turning his face away from hers. His arms outstretched on the bench in total surrender. “What” she probed “You don’t want to say it because it would seem crazy to say that….you’re falling in…”

“I’m falling in love with you” he said interrupting her. While staring  into the distance.

“I knew you didn’t want to say it so that’s why I had to say it first, one of us has to be grown up about it!” she replied playfully.

“No I said it first” He said.

“No I said it first” she retorted.

They laughed.

“You know I said it first…. And it’s crazy to say that just three days after we first met…” he continued slowly.

The girl who believed in fairy-tales smiled, laughed and nodded. “It is crazy” she agreed looking at him and feeling remarkably calm and surprisingly completely sane.

“I know it may sound like a cliché but in this case it’s true… I think I’m falling in love with you” he said.

“Me too” she replied “it’s not a cliché, it’s a fairy-tale”. She thought to herself.

“I think I love you more than you love me” he said shaking his head

“No that’s not possible” she said laughing incredulously.

“I love you” she said amazed at her confidence.

“I love you” he said

“See I said it first” she said

“No I said it first” he said drawing her nearer.

They held each other and in that moment. They both knew.

They were home. Together.  In the great somewhere out there.

That night she turned the page of her yellow notebook and re-read her own words, written in prayer five days previously. She had forgotten about them, the words, her prayer, just as soon as she finished writing them in black and white.  Now they read like a dream within a dream:

Thank you for the love I have had in the past, thank you for all the angels that you have brought my way. Thank you for my companion, a lover and friend who is kind, generous, courageous, intelligent, strong, affectionate, disciplined, adventurous, caring, funny, fun-loving and simple. Thank you for giving me a companion who loves me. Who is not afraid to show it. Who can express his feelings and emotions clearly. Who will fight for me. Thank you for a companion who will inspire and encourage me to be a better and more loving person. A companion, a lover and friend who will bring out all the best of me and love me even when I fail. Thank you for a lover and companion who will love Only me. Who will only want me as his sexual partner. His only wife and the only mother of his children. Thank you for a lover and companion who will meet my needs even before I know I need them. Thank you for a lover and  companion who will truly be a friend, who won’t mind listening to me, engaging me on work and other topics of interest to both of us. Thank you for a companion who will open up a new world to me. Who is not afraid to share himself, to open up. A friend who can teach and learn.  Who will support my work as fiercely and passionately as he works on his own. Thank you for a companion who will be my help mate and someone who loves to play. Thank you for the fun and beautiful amazing life that we have together.  Thank you for making it easy for us to find each other, see each other, and accept each other and to never leave each other’s side”.

She realized. For the first time, she wasn’t dreaming.