The Art of Vulnerability

If you’ve met me, even for only a few minutes, the first few words out of your mouth to describe me would not be anything along the lines of delicate, vulnerable, or emotional. You might say that I sometimes come off as a bit…aloof. This is partly because of my appearance (tall, athletic, with RBF of course), and partly of my own making. For years, I thought I had to handle everything on my own without ever betraying the difficulty of doing so. I thought that displays of excessive emotions, whether good or bad, demonstrated a lack of control, and asking for help? Oh my god, that was PEAK humiliation for me. I was pretty much this way all the way through my first year of university. I would bestow tough love advice on friends who got caught up in their feelings, and related the most to people, who, like me, didn’t rely too much on others.

This way of living took it’s toll though. I found that I would put a lot of pressure on myself, and I would implode frequently at home crying with my mom or venting to my sister. I suppose I only allowed myself to be vulnerable with my family because they were the only ones whom I completely trusted to actually support me without viewing me as weaker. In addition, there were many times when relying on others would have helped me do something faster or more effectively, but instead, I viewed it as safer to go it alone.

Then, finally, in my second year of university – two huge things happened.

First, I went to Shanghai to study abroad. I could literally write a book on how much this experience changed me, but for the purpose of this topic, it’s relevant because I couldn’t access my usual support system as easily. The time difference between Chicago and Shanghai is 13 hours so calls could only happen when planned. Furthermore, even though I had already gone across the country for school, it was quite another feeling to be across the globe. In California, I had always had it in the back of my mind that my parents could fly out and get me if things got bad. In China, I felt truly on my own.

The second is that the living situation in Shanghai was extremely close quarters. There were roughly 45 of us in the study abroad program, and we all lived in a couple buildings in our own mini campus. We were pretty much all living right on top of one another. Consequently, it was difficult not to see the good, the bad, and the ugly of every single person. At Pepperdine, there were quiet spaces you could go if you actually needed to be alone, but in Shanghai, even the most private areas were still public to an extent. So if you were going through something, you almost had to share it with at least a few people.

This was extremely uncomfortable for me at first. I felt as though I couldn’t escape the constant clamor of others and I’m sure I came off rude and distant more than once. But slowly, I realized that for the first time in my life I found myself surrounded by people who I recognized as happy, disciplined, and ambitious, but who also consistently asked for help, and consistently displayed emotion around others.

Never before had those two ideas been reconciled in my mind. But never before had I been able to observe my friends in such close quarters and truly realize that behind every face, no matter how tough, there is a story.  Nobody can be in control, happy, or strong ALL the time, including myself. The most amazing part was that when I did start opening up a bit more, nobody thought less of me for it. They still viewed me as a capable, strong person.

Although this was a huge personal breakthrough for me, the reason I just wrote almost seven hundred words on it is because this type of thinking is a skill. Recognizing vulnerability in others, and tying it to your own is a form of empathy than can be used in any situation. Of course, this is indispensable when it comes to your personal relationships, but it can be amazingly helpful professionally as well. For example, if a client or boss comes down much harder on you than normal, before getting angry or defensive, just take one minute, sixty seconds, to think about why. It’s actually super easy to do this because (if you’ve done this right) you’ve already spent time analyzing why you yourself get angry, frustrated, or disappointed. If you know that you get snappy when you haven’t eaten or right after you’ve talked to your mom, then you can afford the same grace to someone else. It doesn’t get much credit in buzzy business articles because it’s a soft, subjective skill, but I can promise you from personal experience that when people feel like you ‘get’ them, that goes a loooong way.

 

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You can be strong and vulnerable at the same time.

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What to Sacrifice for Love?

Love is a funny thing. That’s probably my favorite adjective to describe love because even though it is so much more than that, the way that it affects us is truly funny. Falling in love is like going on the best vacation ever. The falling part is amazing, blissful, and extremely exciting. But if you decide to pursue a real relationship, it’s like going back to work afterward. Not that in the sense that it’s a letdown, but you realize that you both are separate people with separate personalities and desires and you have to work to reconcile those if you want to be happy together.

When I was younger, and romantic movies and books were my sole source of experience, I always thought people only broke up for dramatic reasons like cheating, or realizing their family hates you, but there are far more heartbreaking issues that can try and tear you apart.

There are big questions that inevitably have to be discussed in any long term relationship. Do we both want kids? Do we both know where we want to live? Is that the same place? How do our careers interact, does one of us have a lot of travel? Whose family do we live closer to? How do you treat money and deal with financial issues?

These are the heartbreaking issues because by the time you discuss them, you’re already attached and if you disagree it can be difficult to reconcile because these are topics of strong conviction. For example, if I was completely in love with my boyfriend but I find out three years in that he doesn’t want kids one day, we have a big problem. I know that I want them someday, so even though everything else in our relationship is going really smoothly, we would have to end it unless somebody changed their mind.

On the other hand though, I could think about it and say, you know, it’s fine if I don’t have kids. The caveat with these kinds of compromises is that you must be sure. Giving up your point of view on these issues is not to be done lightly. You may be able to fool yourself into thinking you don’t want certain things to agree with your partner so that you can be together, and this is a dangerous path. It may work for a while, your partner will surely be happy that you’ve changed your mind, but you may end up seriously unhappy and resentful that you had to give up something so completely important to you.

Why am I talking about such a heart-wrenching issue? Well, with respect to my own relationship’s privacy, our issue is the geography one. Where do we want to live in the end?

But wait Melina, I thought you already lived together, you made a whole series about moving to Canada!

Yes, you’re correct. Our current arrangement is that we live together in an apartment in Calgary, but it’s not the most ideal right now. I spend 3 out of every four weeks traveling for work and my boyfriend travels in spurts for work as well, sometimes for up to four weeks at a time. Furthermore, Calgary may not be sustainable for me at the moment since it lacks the number of career opportunities I’m currently interested in, and as an American, it’s extremely difficult to get hired anyway without already having residency status to work.

With my current job, we are just barely seeing the value of this arrangement. However, if I wanted to change jobs to something with far less travel, I’d have to move back to the U.S.. For the short term, this is fine. We have done long distance before and we’re confident we could do it again. The issue is the long term thinking. Where are we going to live? Where will we settle down and start a family? This is a question with no answer yet, in my mind because we are both so young and we can’t know what the next few years will bring, so I can’t commit to any place because I don’t want to close any doors as to where life could take me. On the other hand, my boyfriend really doesn’t have a huge reason to ever leave Calgary. His family and friends are all there, and his career trajectory fits perfectly with that city.

Part of me is desperately afraid that if I leave now, we won’t make it. He’ll realize how great his life is staying there and he’ll wish he had found someone else who didn’t present this problem. On the other hand, I also know I can’t stay. At least for now, I still feel the need to grow my career and my experience in other places. Part of me thinks that one day, Calgary could be my home, but I don’t want to make all my decisions with that end goal in mind since I want to be open to where my opportunities take me.

The only solution to this dilemma is time. We can’t know where we will be in five or ten years, and yet we’re still trying to plan for it, and we’re driving ourselves crazy with the possibilities.

Hence, my question of sacrifice. I love my boyfriend so completely, but would I be able to sacrifice everything else for Calgary? If I’m being honest with myself, right now it’s impossible, and later on, I just can’t know.  So how much is too much to sacrifice for love? I know the ‘right’ answer to my dilemma: I should go where it’s best for me. At least for now, I’ll be happier in almost every other area of my life and as for my relationship, if we both really want it to work, we’ll make it work. But knowing the ‘right’ answer doesn’t make this any easier. I don’t want to stop living close to him almost more than I want anything else, even if it’s not the best choice for me in the long run. And that’s the funny part of it all. The irrational part. The part that makes love so infuriating.

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I do like the skiing in Calgary…

I’m the Serious Friend

I’ve been slowly coming to terms with the fact that I will never be the ‘fun’ friend. I love to laugh, tease, go out, and try new things. But I’m not the catalyst for ‘fun’ events. I’m not the friend you call when you want to get the party started. I’m not the friend you call when you want to do spontaneous events. And I’m not the friend with funny stories about that one time I got lost/was at a party/etc. I’m just not.

I’m the serious friend. The reliable friend. I’m the friend you call when you want to just go for coffee and talk about heavy shit. Or politics. Or business. I’m the practical friend. I’m the friend at the party that is sober to make sure everyone gets home ok. I’m the friend that will check on you when you’re not feeling well. I’m the friend that you can make plans with and who will be on time and who will never flake. I’m dependable.

This distinction used to bother me to no end. I would watch jealously while some of my other friends exuded this capability to infect others with spontaneity and charm. They attracted people to them and they knew how to just let loose, and perhaps more importantly, how to get others to let loose. I was jealous that they were so well liked. I was jealous that people always wanted to be around them, and they were the leaders of group social events. No matter how hard I tried, I could not emulate that carefree attitude.

I tried for years. But I’m coming to terms with the fact that I’m not the fun friend, and that’s ok. Because I know from personal relationships that the fun friend isn’t always fun. They have bad days, they need alone time, they don’t always want to be out on adventures. They need to relax, and they need to process too. Everyone does. But that’s where someone like me comes in.

I get the most out of relationships where I can just have real, frank, one on one conversations with people. My friendships are built on coffee dates, and visits to new places, not parties, concerts, or nights out. Nothing against those kinds of evenings, I like to let loose (as much as my control freak persona allows), as much as the next person, but they don’t solidify friendships for me. So I realized I don’t HAVE to be the fun friend because I don’t need to have crazy times to build relationships. Plus if I think about it, I actually get a sense of pleasure from helping out my ‘fun’ friends. I don’t enjoy losing control, but I like making sure my friends are safe if they do.

So I think I’m finding my spot. I may not ever be the center of a social circle, but if the social butterfly needs to discuss some deeper stuff, I’m a great sounding board for whatever they want to talk about. And then that’s how I bond with them. Everyone needs to just talk sometimes, and that’s what the serious friend is for. My strengths lie in the smaller events. I’m a good listener. I don’t judge and I don’t shy away from serious topics. I will always go above and beyond to help a friend out and make sure they have what they need and that they’re ok.

So I’m slowly getting to the point where I’m glad I’m the serious friend. Not everyone is dependable and prefers conversation, just like not everyone can be the social butterfly. But that’s the point of having different kinds of friends anyways, everyone brings something to the table.

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Me visiting a museum. one of my favorite places to go with friends. I’m boring, I know.

What a Beautiful Wedding

Over the weekend, I experienced my first wedding as like….idk a real grown-up or something. It was the first wedding I’d ever been to where I was actually friends with the people getting married as opposed to a family member or one of my parent’s acquaintances. I was a bridesmaid and I ended up giving an impromptu toast in lieu of the maid of honor (she didn’t want to speak and I love public speaking so pretty much volunteered last minute), and as I sat there, slightly champagne drunk, with only twenty minutes to prepare it, I realized I hadn’t truly thought about what romantic love means to me in a long time.

I know that I love and am in love with my boyfriend…but what does that mean? What I came up with in that network-sitcom-length of time, is that love ultimately comes down to how that person makes you feel and how far you’re willing to go to make them feel as amazing as possible in return. There are multiple different kinds of love (the ancient Greeks had eight!), but romantic love is one of the ones you get to choose for yourself, which makes it all the more special when you compare it to family love for instance.

In my little toast, I talked about how even though I didn’t know the groom that well, I couldn’t be happier for them because what I did get to see was how he made my friend feel. We were living together when they first became a couple, and I got to see how her face would light up when he would send her a present, or her smiles at her phone when he would text, and I thought THAT’S it. Her happiness was the love part. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about it, it doesn’t matter what they look like in the end, it doesn’t matter if they tick off your theoretical checkboxes – it’s how they make you feel.

When you think about it this way, love becomes a whole lot clearer in my mind. There are no illusions about being with someone to please others, or to spite others, or because they’ve got money, or because of how attractive they are. All that matters is how you can make each other feel.

I know that I’m in love with my boyfriend because he makes me feel happy, he makes me laugh, he makes me feel strong, safe, beautiful, smart, listened to, I could go on and on. And I’m pretty sure I make him feel amazing too, but I guess only he can answer that 😉

The weird thing about the paragraph above is that it probably wouldn’t sound all that romantic to anyone else. That’s because the feelings are intensely personal and only something a much better writer than I, could truly put into words. Traits like – patient, kind, funny – don’t make up a relationship. They merely make up the blandest version of a person and it’s all the little things and feelings that make up that love.

Unfortunately, I think nowadays it’s easy to miss this crucial part of a relationship. We get so focused on the other person – do we have the same sense of humor? Do we both like Indian food? Do we both like to travel? – and we forget about the actual feelings part. Does this person make me feel happy? Wanted? Safe? Brave? If the answer is no, then why are we even bothering with whether we like the same food or not?

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Me with my bridesmaid bouquet. I had to leave it behind so of course I took pics with it first.

 

 

She’s the Brave One

It’s my sister’s birthday today! I’m sad I can’t be in Chicago to celebrate with her but it’s a Wednesday and we both have lives to live so we celebrated a little bit early. She turns twenty this year which means nothing so I’ve started planning for her twenty-first instead.

In any case, I had to, of course, write a little shout out post to her. I’ve written about my sister and my relationship with her a couple times before, and she’s even been a guest author on my blog so I’ll spare you all the repeats of content and focus in on one of my favorite things about her.

For those of you that don’t know, my sister suffers from a bit of social anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Sounds like a horrible combination to me, but she bears it like a champ for the most part. The crazy thing is that despite all of those emotional blocks, she is fearless.

First things first, she is studying to become a film director. Most parents I know would have a minor heart attack if their kid wanted to go into film because it’s just not a dependable career (this includes my dad who pleaded repeatedly with her to get a second major at first). Consequently, many kids would be talked out of such a path early on and go on to major in something boring to get a boring job that brings in good money (enter, me).

Not her though, she saw the special features on the Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, and said yep, this is the life for me. I’ve always been jealous of people who know exactly what they want to do, but she not only knows, she knows she has chosen a path that is very difficult to succeed on. She knows that to become a star director, there will be a lot of shitty jobs, long day, and bad pay. Or you know, she might submit a film to Sundance next year and become a breakout star at 21. It could happen.

She also never backs down. Ever.

Let’s compare us for a small moment. I have a pretty strong moral code. There are certain things that I just will not let fly and I will call people out on for the most part. However, I do have a threshold where I will flex my morals for my own personal gain. My sister does not. At least not one that I’ve seen. She will defend her views and others with every breath she’s got and no amount of personal gain could make her budge on that.

Her empathy for others is tied to directly to this moral code since she strongly believes that everyone should have equal opportunity and that people with more should help people with less. One of her common habits is eating lunch out in between classes, but if she passes someone on the street begging for food, you can bet she just gave her whole, recently purchased, lunch to that person and would go hungry that day instead. Most people I know would never do that. (Maybe I’m just friends with selfish people haha).

Furthermore, while she sometimes has trouble standing up for herself depending on the scenario, she almost never has trouble standing up for others. She refuses to let people be judged based on their demographics and will absolutely not stand for discrimination. So help anyone who tries to patronize or marginalize a group in conversation. She will RUIN you.

But in the end, it’s not about her witty insults or fiery conversation, it’s about the fact that she is willing to go to the ends of the earth to achieve what she believes in. Doesn’t matter if it’s her passion for film or her passion for others. Most people are like me, we compromise our ideals if there is something in it for us. We obviously have our limits, but we are much quicker to give up abstract beliefs when there is a reward. My sister is not. She will not flex, bend, or break.

There are tons of things I love about my sister – She can always be counted on to sing showtunes with me, she can calm me down literally within seconds, she’s the best writing teacher I’ve ever had, the best debate partner, she has fearless style – and so on. Of course, she also has flaws, but lacking conviction is not one of them and that is perhaps my favorite thing about her.

Happy birthday Kiki! I’m stocking up on sangria for next year!

 

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PC: Our loving mother

 

 

My Mom Knows the Words to Every Disney Song

I know I’ve jumped the gun a bit since Mother’s Day is still a week and a half away but next Wednesday is already reserved for another special post so I’ll just have to talk about how great my mom is a little sooner.

The idea of motherhood is still something I find unbelievable. Not only do mothers grow and support a tiny creature with their own body, they then have to extricate it painfully from their body, and then, of course, support it for the next eighteen years give or take a few. And while western countries are slowly becoming more progressive in terms of divvying up childcare responsibilities, in most parts of the world, mothers do most of the child-rearing work, especially at the beginning. Motherhood requires such selflessness, patience, and nurturing. Therefore, I find it extremely difficult to wrap my mind around this concept since I, on the other hand, can barely keep a damn cactus alive, much less a helpless little human.

Consequently, I believe mothers deserve an ENORMOUS shoutout. And of course, like most people who love their mothers, I think my mom is the BEST. Not only did she put up with, excuse me SHUT DOWN, all of my petty shit, she also made me resilient which might be one of my most important traits. Oh, and she also made me taller than average which I LOVE.

My mom is a very no-nonsense person on the surface. One of her favorite lines to feed me and my sister was “crying doesn’t solve anything”. Sounds harsh, but she’s right, isn’t she? I can count on one hand how many times I’ve seen her breakdown, and if she decides to keep a straight face, she’s almost impossible to crack. One of the perks of being a swimmer was that she had to control her yelling since she knew I couldn’t hear her from the water. She doesn’t give in to puppy dog eyes, pouting, screaming, crying, or begging. I hardly got in trouble because all it took was one look from her to make me feel so guilty about whatever line I had toed, that I never did it again.

On the other hand, and she may kill me for outing her this way, she is a child at heart. Once you crack the surface even a little bit, she’s a total jokester. She’s the reason me and my sister know ALL the words to every Disney song, her sarcasm is off the charts, and she does enjoy the occasional harmless prank. She would tickle me and my sister mercilessly and would make up tons of ridiculous voices when she read us stories.

Despite all of the above traits, there are specific things that my mom did that really turned me into the person I am today. One of the most vivid memories I have is when I was probably about seven or eight and I remember my mom was in the upstairs bathroom getting ready and we were arguing about something – I have no idea what – when I told her I hated her. I remember being LIVID (or as livid as a seven-year-old can be) and shouting that at her. She calmly set down her makeup and walked straight past me down the stairs. I ran after her screaming my head off to tell me what she was doing. She made it all the way to the garage door, I was now crying, and I yelled, “where are you going?”. She turned and told me she was leaving. She said, if I hated her so much, she would leave so she didn’t cause me any more trouble. Oh boy did I backtrack after that. I was practically weeping and pleading that she didn’t go, and that I didn’t mean it. Because of that instance, as well as a few others, I always endeavour to mean what I say and say what I mean.

My mom is also a great study in small talk. I’m only now using some of her techniques, but she was always so great making small talk at the grocery store, with her colleagues, and at parties she didn’t even want to be at. I’ve always admired this about her, and now that I’m older, I realize how important this skill really is. She’s the kind of person that everybody feels comfortable with. I have no idea how she does it, but maybe I can figure it out sooner rather than later.

Probably my favorite characteristic about my mom is how open she always strived to be. For example, at the first signs of puberty, my mom handed me a bunch of books on the subject and told me to come to her with any questions. This technique made sense for me since I was a voracious reader. The part that was amazing though, was that she truly meant it. I was able to ask her anything. Sure, some questions were a little awkward, but she answered every single one and never made me feel judged for asking. And no matter what, she always made it clear that it was much more important to her that I was safe and happy than anything else. When I told her I was ready for sex, she took me to get birth control no questions asked. When I would go out with friends, she told me to call if I drank because she’d rather come pick me up than have me drive myself for fear of her finding out and getting in trouble.

This article is already getting too long, but I could go on about my mom FOREVER. She’s the reason I have such discipline to work out. Her eyes are the coolest shade of gray/blue/green. She makes killer baklava. She loves to watch animated movies with me and my sister. And she ALWAYS picks up the phone when I call her even though I’m the worst and only call her when I’m in transit. I can call her sobbing and she knows when to soothe me and when to tell me to buck up. She’ll stroke my hair so gently it makes me sleepy and when I’m in town she’s my ultimate gym buddy. Happy Early Mother’s Day Mom, I’ll see you tomorrow!

 

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Just me, rushing to try and be as cool as my mom. PC: Kiki Moussetis (for both photos)

 

 

 

 

How To Live with Your Boyfriend

I’ve lived with other people. My first year of college I had a roommate and seven suitemates, in my second year of college I shared a closet-sized room with the nicest girl ever, and my final year of college I got an apartment with one of my best friends.

But then I lived alone for a year, and I ended up LOVING it. I got to be very selfish and live exactly the way I wanted with nobody to answer to. Alas, that couldn’t last forever, and I moved in with my boyfriend about six months ago. Nobody tells you that living with your romantic partner is a hell of a lot different than just living with a roommate.

When you live with a roommate you basically just live separate lives within a common space. Of course, you hang out, divide some chores, and lay some ground rules to keep the peace, but you don’t create a life together. So since living with my boyfriend, I’ve learned quite a few things:

  1. We have different levels of cleanliness. It’s not like one of us is a neat freak and the other is a slob, but we both have our quirks and we had to reconcile those so as not to drive the other up a wall. For example, Michael HATES when the dish soap sits on the counter, it HAS to be put away. And I can’t stand leaving dishes in the sink overnight so everything has to be washed before I go to bed no matter who got it dirty. Once we figured out these differences, we have both made an effort to accommodate the other. They aren’t big things, they are just different habits to make.
  2. Next set of rules I noticed were boundaries, or in our case, the lack thereof. However, it did dawn on me that other couples might have stronger senses of shame so this is a crucial one to figure out. For example, for us, it’s not an issue for both of us to be in the bathroom getting ready at the same time, or if someone is showering and someone is going to the bathroom it’s fine. On the other hand, we both usually prefer to take phone calls privately so we’ll go to a separate room and close the door. Or if I’m taking a bath, I prefer solitude. Knocking is preferred in cases like those but figuring out when you need some privacy, in general, will be a big deal when cohabitating.
  3. In the same vein, it was SUPER important for us to figure out how to give each other enough alone time. I, especially, need a lot of alone time and being able to communicate was a struggle at first because I would feel guilty for asking for time by myself when I had just spent the whole week travelling for work or something. We had many a discussion about this and basically, as long as we’re super transparent about what either of us is feeling, we are good to go. And when I say transparent I mean ‘Hey, I need about three hours of alone time today’. It may sound clinical, but it does the trick.
  4. A smaller, but surprisingly significant part of living together is splitting up chores. With roommates, it’s pretty easy because you basically just look after your own shit and spend a day every two weeks cleaning the whole apartment. With a significant other, you share all of those responsibilities and the problems arise when one person feels like they do more than the other. To avoid this, we found it was helpful to have our own ‘jobs’. For instance, when I’m home, I pretty much always am responsible for the laundry. Michael handles the dishwasher. I clean the bathrooms, and he cleans the floors and kitchen (don’t feel bad for me, I HATE mopping so much more than scrubbing toilets). If I cook, Michael cleans up and vice versa. If we both do our jobs, neither one of us feels like we’re stuck with all the housework.
  5. Last but not least: you can’t hide your gross parts anymore. If one of you is sick, you both are living with it. On the bright side, this means you always have someone to take care of you or help you out. If you’ve got a cold, the other can pick up some medicine. If you’ve got a horrible kink in your neck, the other can try and massage it out. And if you’ve got a weird bump on your back, the other can check for skin cancer. The point is, my relationship has lost any sense of glamour it may have once had because we’re both comfortable enough to show each other our uncomfortable sides.

To me, living together is one of the potential biggest hurdles in a long-term relationship. I mean, if you can’t cohabitate, good luck making it for the long haul. There have definitely been annoyances, fights, and teary discussions trying to figure all this stuff out. But despite the bad, and the ugly, moving in with my boyfriend was one of the best decisions.

 

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Me and my man cross-country skiing PC: Megan Lawson

 

 

Love & Capitalism

Ah Valentine’s Day. You either love it or you hate it, right?

I myself, actually have pretty mild feelings (for once) about this holiday. It’s never played a huge part in my life whether I was single or in a relationship and as a result, I had never given it much thought. It just sort of passed vaguely under my radar as grocery stores stocked up on flowers and red or pink wrapped chocolates.

But that, my friends, is the problem. Indulge me for a moment in a brief history lesson. Valentine’s day was originally created to honor Valentine of Rome, and Valentine of Terni, both religious martyrs who were revered as Saints. Although there have been feasts on this day for centuries to honor the aforementioned religious figures, the notion of this day being romantic didn’t occur until Chaucer suggested the idea in one of his literary works (remember Geoffrey Chaucer from high school English?)

There are numerous other theories as to how the day became associated with love, but the Chaucer link clearly exists. As Chaucer connected this day to medieval courting, it became customary to give trinkets, confections, and flowers to one’s romantic interest on Valentine’s Day. On the surface, there is nothing wrong with giving your crush or significant other something nice, but let’s be honest, Valentine’s Day isn’t courting anymore, it has turned into a MONEY MAKING MONSTER.

BILLIONS are spent every year on the holiday and the anticipation beforehand can be likened to Christmas. Listicles fill the web offering gift guides for him and for her, date night ideas, restaurants offering deals on wine, etc. Getting a reservation is impossible. Grocery stores have aisles dedicated to heart candies, red balloons, and flowers. Flower shops probably make half their yearly revenue in February alone. It’s insane.

I get it. This holiday is another one that depends on gift giving so it’s only natural for businesses to seize the opportunity to sell us more stuff. But the high stakes of Valentine’s day can only lead to disappointment, and that’s the part that honestly makes me sad. The day has created an enormous amount of pressure on couples to do something over the top for each other on the day and that can be really stressful. People that aren’t in relationships also have to have relationship-themed EVERYTHING thrown in their face for about a month, and finally, what happened to appreciating your partner on every other day of the year?

Who says you can’t have a lovely candlelit dinner on April 10th? Or buy your special someone a cute present just because it reminded you of them on September 27th? The relationship of February 14th to romance is tenuous at best and there is no real reason to give the day any more meaning for your relationship than any other day. Sure, I have bought my boyfriend a little present for today, but I also buy him presents or treat him to dinner on any other day of the year, and he does the same for me.

If anything, I’d recommend creating your own romantic holiday. Maybe your anniversary, or some other day that means something to your relationship because honestly, February the 14th is just an old Saint’s holiday turned into a massive avenue for capitalism and it’s a little sickening.

I sincerely apologize if this article killed anyone’s romantic day (or your libido ;)). Valentine’s day can still be an awesome excuse to celebrate but don’t let it turn into something bigger than it needs to be, and definitely, don’t let it limit your appreciation for your loved ones. Happy V Day!

 

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Me and my V Day partner. Although we kinda celebrated early in Mexico 🙂

 

Lonely but not Alone

About six or seven months ago I wrote a post about how being alone doesn’t make you lonely (read it here, if you want), and I still stand by that post. Getting some quality alone time is still an important source of mental recovery for me, but there is a major difference in my life between when I wrote that post and what I’m about to write now. Up until that point, I had only ever experienced loneliness in spurts. Of course, everyone feels lonely from time to time, and for me, it was a fleeting feeling, something I could sleep off and be good to go the next day.

However, things have changed a bit since then. As I detailed in my last post about moving to Canada, I shared that I’ve been feeling a bit isolated since I moved. I wake up every day and at least once a day, if not for most of the day, I feel lonely.

On the surface, I might not seem that lonely. I live with my boyfriend so he’s usually around, he and I go out almost every weekend and hang out with various friends and family, and I have my own family and friends spread out over the world that I know I could call for anything.

So then why do I feel this way? I’m busy all the time, I’m meeting new people, and attending events. It seems like I shouldn’t feel this way but it keeps happening so I’ve narrowed my feelings down to three components:

  1. I work from home. This will naturally isolate and prevent me from making work friends or attending work social events as people who work in offices do. Even though I’m afforded a lot of flexibility because of this, it is a major hurdle when moving to a new city.
  2. I feel out of place in this city. Yes, Canada isn’t too different from the U.S. on the whole, but is Calgary different from L.A? They are on OPPOSITE ends of the spectrum. Although L.A. isn’t my absolute favorite city, I fit in with the culture there much more so than in Calgary. So even though I live here now, I still feel like I’m a fish out of water
  3. I have not made any of my own local friends. This is probably the biggest issue and I think it’s the most difficult to solve. I have some amazing friends from L.A. and from all over, that I am so close to but the thing is that it takes years to get that close to someone. It is SO rare that you sit down for coffee and have a four-hour conversation right off the bat. So even though I’ve met a couple people on my own, it hasn’t made me feel too much better because the deep conversations I build most of my relationships on are off the table for now.

The worst part of this feeling is that I feel like I’m not allowed to feel this way. I know that’s irrational and I can’t let anyone make me feel like my own brand of loneliness isn’t valid, but when I look at my life as a whole, I do have a lot of people I am super grateful for and that makes me feel even guiltier that I feel this way.

Alright, alright, CLEARLY I’m not in a good place right now but I’m not the type of person who can just sit back and do nothing. So, what will I be doing to combat the loneliness?

  1. Working from home is a tough one to overcome BUT for this one, I’m thinking of looking into co-working spaces, which are like offices for those who have stay-at-home jobs. I have also taken on more side projects which keep me busier and introduce me to different kinds of people (although still remotely). Lastly, I’ve resolved to make an even bigger effort in staying in touch with my friends and family from home and around the world. Even though they’re not here, every time I talk to them I do feel way better.
  2. Fitting in in Calgary is going to be hard for me since I don’t want to change too much of my personality and hobbies. I like the person I am today, and I am constantly wary of losing that. BUT, it never hurt anyone to pick up a new skill so in an effort to get more into the active/outdoorsy culture here, I have been learning to ski (last month was cross-country country skiing, this month will be downhill skiing), and I’m going to take up rock-climbing. I’m also making a list of everything I want to see and do here while I have the chance, to make exploring more exciting for me.
  3. Last but not least, the making new friends bit. I’ve met a couple girls now that I’d like to get to know better so now it’s just a matter of sucking up my pride and asking them to hang out whenever I can. I am also still looking constantly for things I could get involved in that would allow me to meet more like-minded people but a resolution is still pending on that front.

I know loneliness is not uncommon, especially in today’s day and age, but these feelings are wildly new for me, so I’ve been struggling quite a bit with them. If you have any advice for combatting loneliness in a new city, feel free to send me a message or comment below!.

 

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Artsy PC again by my fave: Kiki Moussetis

 

Lessons from the Fam

As the holiday season comes to a close, I am going to end my three-week trip back to my hometown in Chicago and consequently end my time with my family for awhile. I know the holidays for some can be the worst time of year BECAUSE of their family, but for me, my family brings a lot of joy. And the winter holiday season is one of the only times I get to spend a bunch of time with them since leaving home nearly five years ago.

Family is a highly subjective concept. I know people with hardly any family at all, and people with family trees so complicated they have eight sets of grandparents they keep in touch with. Although I have a relatively large extended family, my immediate family is obviously what has made the biggest impact on me. From the outside, it looks pretty standard: Mom, Dad, and a little sister. Just four of us. My parents have a healthy relationship and have done everything in their power to give my sister and me tons of opportunities, while my sister and I progressed as typical siblings do, getting along one minute and then being best friends the next.

I realize I am wildly fortunate to be living with the above situation, as there are many people who don’t get to come from a stable, healthy household. Every time I come home, and stay in my heinous pink/orange colored old bedroom (I have only myself to blame for the color palette), I always end up reflecting on how this family has fostered me and my personality. Of course, I am a flawed individual but there are certain lessons that got started in my family that I believe made me a much better person.

  1. Knowledge is Power: This lesson is something that my dad would say all the time but my parents made it their business to enforce it. Books of all kinds were everywhere in the house, my parents would read to me and my sister constantly, and going to the bookstore to pick out a new book was a huge treat. Even though we read mostly fiction books at the time, we were still learning — new vocabulary, grammar, and new ideas and concepts. As young girls, the majority of our Christmas lists were filled with books and we would just devour them. This has stuck with me in a big way. I continue to read voraciously and attribute my relatively strong writing and critical thinking skills to all of those books.
  2. Not good, not bad, just different: Although this phrase wasn’t always used, it’s content was always implied when our family encountered things that were vastly different from our own norms. My sister and I went to school in a very diverse school district and as a result, we had questions about other people and other traditions that we were exposed to. Both of my parents were very good at stressing the idea that people are different, and even though it is important to recognize those differences, it doesn’t mean they are any better or worse than we are. I believe this lesson made me a lot slower to judge others and a lot more open to understanding other cultures when I encounter them through travel or in another person.
  3. No jeans with holes: This is kind of a silly one, but my mom would not let me wear flip-flops, sweatpants, loungewear, or jeans with holes in them for a very long time. Although I possessed these items, I was not permitted to wear them to school (leading me to smuggle my flip flops into my elementary school haha). I don’t really remember these rules being enforced too much after I turned eleven, but the lesson was already there. The lesson was to always make an effort to look put together. She never pushed makeup on me or girly clothes, but my mom recognized the importance of putting effort into one’s appearance and I carried that with me. It is always important to look polished and professional because people really do judge on appearances, and I would never want anyone to assume I can’t handle myself because I can’t handle my own appearance.
  4. Listen & Practice: Last one, best one. My father said this CONSTANTLY. It was his way of wording the key to success. If my sister or I was struggling with anything or we had just started a new sport or class, he would say “listen & practice”. It seems simple, but many people fail on at least one of these two counts. They either fail to do their due diligence and listen to teachers or mentors properly, or they fail to put in the work on the back end. I have used this concept constantly throughout my life and I like to think it makes me a very coachable person. I really do take criticism well and try to manifest it into an improvement. I also have an intense amount of discipline so that if I really want to master something, I will work every single day until I do.

There were, of course, many other lessons I was taught as a kid, but the ones I just described were so ingrained in the fabric of our family that I can clearly tell they made a big impact. They taught me to keep learning, have discipline, be professional, and to be open-minded. Those lessons are things that a lot of people don’t get from their family and that, to me, are invaluable for the rest of your life.

 

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Aren’t we cute?