Monthly Archives: February 2016

Strength in weakness

walk away

“I thought you were stronger than this, but it seems you are not at all, not when it comes to this.”

Those words were said in a moment of anger, during the heat of an argument, but whether or not they were meant, and whether or not they will ever be taken back or apologized for, those words found their mark.

I always thought I was stronger than this, and at one time or other I probably was. How many, many times before had I risen above all the difficulties in my life — be they personal or professional — and been able to divide and conquer, overcoming each difficulty with as little emotional attachment as possible? How many, many times before had I been able to sigh and say, “Fuck this shit, I’m out,” and really made good on my word? So what was so different about this that everything I had stood for, everything that I believed I could be, had completely gone out the window to the point where I can do nothing except curl up and pray for death?

And then I realized the difference between all those other times and this time: He was the one saying it. No matter how many times I had said it to myself, it was unnervingly different to hear it from someone else.

I’ve always tried to think of myself as a strong person. When my family moved back from Paris and I had to start my life here in a new school at the irritating age of 15, the kids at school started a rumor that I stuffed my bra and called me Tissue Girl and Asian white trash, but I laughed it off in their faces and waited until I got home to cry. When an ex-boyfriend in Buffalo couldn’t stop lying about his other girlfriend in California, I packed him up, threw him out of my apartment and shipped him off to the west coast. When I received my last job application rejection at the dawn of the 2007 financial crisis, I decided I’d had enough and needed to move back to Malaysia so that I could regroup. When Shirley got pregnant at the peak of her relationship troubles, I sat with her night and day while she contemplated raising Aiden alone; I thought that no matter what life teaches you, you don’t know strength until you have to be strong for someone else.

But when my now-ex-boyfriend’s crazy estranged wife 16 years older than I am decided to drag other people into the drama of our relationship by hacking into his email and stalking me with fake accounts on Instagram and Twitter, I became a blubbering mess.

I used to think that strength meant standing in the eye of a hurricane and still being able to hold my ground, no matter the circumstances, until I could find a way to calm the storm and get out of it alive. So I fought for my relationship; I watched myself become almost as insane as my rival, if only a little more ethically sound. But in the last few months, I’ve slowly come around to the idea that, just perhaps, strength isn’t in fighting tooth and nail for something that will never be ours; maybe it’s in knowing when to say, “Enough,” and walk away from the fight with something much more important — our dignity, our pride, and our self-respect — still intact.

The price of happiness

“You can’t be happy unless you’re unhappy sometimes.” – Lauren Oliver

happy unhappy

I’m aware that I’ve never really been a very happy person. I don’t remember a single time in my life when I was absolutely nothing but purely happy; everything I did, everything I had, that ever made me happy came with a price — and sometimes an appalling one — and I’ve never known it to be any other way.

So when Becca sent me this a couple of years ago, it really hit a note with me. And going back to it now, it seems especially poignant, because my own perception of happiness and what it means and entails have changed so much in just the last three years.

“So many people now think, ‘If I’m not happy, there’s something wrong with me.’ We seem to have forgotten that feelings are like the weather – changing all the time; it’s as normal to feel unhappy as it is to have rainy days,” said Russ Harris, a British-born Australian doctor and author of The Happiness Trap, in which he argues popular wisdom on happiness is misleading and destined to make you miserable. “Increasingly people are developing anxiety about their anxiety and dissatisfaction about their dissatisfaction. Painful emotions are increasingly seen as unnatural and abnormal and we refuse to accept that we can’t always get what we want. This sets you up for a struggle with reality, because the things that make life rich and full — developing a meaningful career, or building an intimate relationship, or raising children — do not just give you good feelings, they also give you plenty of pain.”

In the last three years, I’ve learned that it is completely possible to do something that makes you as unhappy as it makes you happy. I was giddily in love, swept up in the greatest relationship of my life — a relationship so intense, so electrifying, that it didn’t matter if the circumstances surrounding it made me unhappy, because I was happy with him in the here and now, doing all the things we loved together, making all the plans that we deluded ourselves into thinking would come to fruition. Then when it all came crashing down around our ears and we were backed into our respective corners for the sake of someone else’s happiness, I realized that I had to learn to take my happiness into my own hands.

So I started doing little things that made me happy, and in the last couple of months, I’ve started to remember what it was like to not have to think about someone else for a change, and instead to just focus on myself. And for the first time in years, I don’t feel guilty about putting myself before others and about making myself happy first. It is, all at once, terrifying and liberating, because I now know the truth.

It’s not difficult to be happy, but happiness comes with a price. The ones who have jobs, perhaps a pet, and who have friends, vow to themselves that as long as they can take care of themselves, they will be happy, even if they are alone. The ones who are married, who have significant others, and who have children, can convince themselves that as long as these figures remain physically present in their lives, they can be happy, even if their significant others have emotionally drifted away. But it’s the ones who have been truly unhappy who can look around them and decide that life is too short and too cruel to continue being unhappy. And I now understand that it takes real unhappiness, soul-crushing unhappiness, to make one reach out and take anything that makes one happy for oneself.

Believe it or not

My Bitmoji obviously feels differently

My Bitmoji obviously feels differently

This morning I woke up to a few Valentine’s Day messages on WhatsApp. I responded to just one — mainly because the sender was all the way in London and still thought there was “no harm in wishing someone I care about” — and ignored all the others. And when people asked if I would be celebrating Valentine’s Day this year, I knitted my eyebrows, curled my lip and shook my head, all the better to make it known that I was not one of those girls.

The honest-to-goodness truth is that I’m not an anti-Valentine; I don’t dislike it the way I dislike weddings — although, come to think of it, it has its own level of circus mania. It just seems to me that over the years, something happened to take away the history and meaning behind the occasion, and now it’s become this giant pink (or red) octopus-like creature just waiting for its one day a year to rear its head, spread its tentacles far and wide and draw the unsuspecting lovestruck into its lair where the economy, apparently, knows no bounds. And even though I’ve never celebrated Valentine’s Day, I can somehow see where all the hype (emotional, not commercial) is coming from.

Because all cynicism and bitterness aside, Valentine’s Day is about love, whether celebrating it or acknowledging it, and all its forms. Whether or not we’re in a relationship, in love, or in limbo, we should take it for what it is and actually be glad that Valentine’s Day still exists, because it means that love — new, old or anywhere in between — is still alive and there is the hope that the glow of basking in the joy of love lingers among the few of us who still dare to believe in it.

I’m not a romantic person — although I’m bordering on idealistic — and I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day in any way, shape or form. It doesn’t mean I don’t believe in love, which, in retrospect, is a bit of an irony for me, because after everything I’ve been through in the last decade of my life, the last thing I should believe in is love. But I know now that true love really does exist, and I have been fortunate enough to feel it for myself over the last two years. I also know that I do have the capacity to love somebody after all, so there is no reason for me to stop believing in love. I just have to stop believing that love will find me.

So Happy Valentine’s Day. You know I love you.