I am a hopeless romantic. Always have been. Love stories bring tears to my eyes. I have often been accused of being naïve about love and relationships but I really cannot help myself. I grew up reading and watching fairytale stories which probably influenced my disposition to all matters romance. Back then, romance novels like Mills & Boon were the hottest reads, literally and figuratively. Predictably, there was always a tall dark handsome character who would sweep a fair lady off her feet and they would live happily ever after. The End.
As we head towards Easter celebration in a few days, here are a few tips on combating Holiday Blues.
This article first appeared in the December issue of Sage magazine.
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As we prepare to bring down the curtains on yet another year I’m sure most of us are wondering, where did the year go? Well, guess what? You are not alone.
A lot of us made very determined resolutions in January of this year, vowing that this would be the year of change. The thing about January is that it always makes us feel like we have so much time to make the changes we have long been putting off. Then before you know it, February is here and suddenly it’s Valentine’s Day and when you blink again, Easter is upon us. The cold months pass in a blur as we long for the warm months to return and let’s face it, after August, most of us just zone out waiting for January to start all over again.
I grew up knowing that all the people who live in Somalia are starving. If your household was anything like ours then you know of the “incentive” some mothers would use to ensure that their kids finish their carrots, pumpkins or other eeky veggies. (To this day I still cannot stomach cooked carrots, pumpkin or french beans)! When this incentive failed (which it inevitably did), she would threaten us with a severe beating and we would have to sit at the table till every single morsel was off the plate. Luckily we had cats and the felines quickly learnt whose feet to sit at under the table for discreet food drops when mum wasn’t watching.
I always used to wonder though, what did eating my carrots have to do with starving Somali people? Like, if perhaps I didn’t finish my food, could it then be shipped off to feed one of them?
About a week ago one of my neighbors dropped by to see my little princess and inevitably as she “ooo-d” and “aaa-d” at the baby, she confessed that she had very serious baby fever. For those who have no clue what that means, it’s basically when a woman’s ovaries figuratively start clamoring for utilization based on the purpose that our creator intended. I laughed encouragingly and asked her what she was waiting for, urging her to join my club. This prompted a very lengthy vent session from her about all the challenges of the current dating scene and how she was finding it very difficult to meet a guy who met her – to use her own words – exceedingly high standards.
For me this was like déjà vu; it reminded me of myself about 3-4 years ago when I was still dating; no, actually trying to date and getting quite frustrated in the process. I have never believed that there is one particular right place to meet your ideal mate or one wrong place for that matter. It all depends on where both of you are in terms of readiness for commitment. For example, people always say you would never meet any one serious in a bar; however two of my close friends met in a bar (thanks to me) and are now happily married with a child. Point is, they were both ready to settle and just happened to meet as they were both out having a drink. No harm in that right? I also know people who meet in church (the most supposedly ideal place to meet a partner; allow me to have a face-palm moment) but their unions broke up faster than you could say happily ever after. I’m sure you get the gist of it.
So there I was. Determined to settle with the ideal man. (As I later learnt, therein was my problem and why I was attracting all the wrong men). I dated all varieties of potential partners and came up dry. Why? They all had one thing in common. They believed that my standards were too high and unrealistic for an actual man to meet. This perturbed me to say the least. Why? As I explained to each of them, I did not develop my standards from a steamy fiction novel, or those Mexican soaps that all the local channels are now pummeling us with. For the record, I am not a fan of those soaps but if you were born in the 70s like me (yes, I’m proud of my age and the fact that I look almost a decade younger) you know all about “No one but you” and all the girls had a not-so-secret crush on Antonio Garcia (swoon)! So just to clarify, that is not where I developed my high standards from.
Back in the day, when I had just completed high school I was just like any other teenage girl. Carefree, party going, totally unserious about life, you get the drift. I’m also a little ashamed to admit that I didn’t have much of a standard; I could go out with practically any guy. So I can relate with some of the young girls today. I would probably be pretty much the same if fate hadn’t brought into my life two men who changed the way I view men forever. The first one was my campus boyfriend. He was a gem to be quite honest; I just don’t think I appreciated it at that time. He was (and still is actually) the perfect gentleman and treated me like a lady. He was responsible and dependable and honestly, way ahead of his time in terms of maturity. He was the guy who taught me that there is distinction in how real gentlemen treat women. Unfortunately for him I was not yet ready for such serious intentions and we went our separate ways, remaining good friends.
After I finished campus and got a job, I met the second man who would impact my standards permanently. All my girlfriends actually used him as the benchmark of an ideal man. He treated women with a deference that was rare even then, and that went for all women, not just me. He believed in the traditional definition of being a man. Opening doors, pulling my seat for me, provision & protection…..he basically treated me like a queen. And spoiled me for all others in the process. Unfortunately yet again life had something different planned in the cards and eventually we split up.
Needless to say, those two men taught me something very important. That I deserved to be treated with respect. That I deserved the very best that a man could offer. That I was worth it for the man who would meet, or even surpass my standards. That it was ok to be treated like a queen – because I am a queen. That I should not settle for callous, fleeting relationships ending in disappointment. Or God forbid, one night stands. That it is ok to walk away from a man who does not treat me the way I desire to be treated. Those two men were the ones responsible for the high standards that I developed as a result of my interaction with them.
So when I was trying to date and all those other guys would mock my standards, saying that I couldn’t possibly get a man who would meet them, I would simply smile and walk away. Those poor guys never stood a chance because subconsciously, my mind and heart would never entertain being treated at a lower level than what I had become accustomed to.
After a while of seemingly meeting all the wrong men I simply decided one day to stop dating. I was rather frustrated and figured that I might as well get on with other aspects of my life instead of searching for what seemed like an impossibility at the time. So when my neighbor was complaining about how hard it is to get a decent partner, I could really relate having been there and done that. What really irked me though was how much both men and women would mock me for maintaining my high standards. It’s almost as if it was a sin to know exactly what I wanted and not to be afraid of going for it. I was actually an outcast. A dreamer. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to abandon my standards and just make do. But I stuck to my guns. Dug my heels in. I resolved that I would rather be alone than be with someone who would disappoint me.
It wasn’t easy though. I was constantly plagued by the thought that maybe I had missed my shot. I mean I had dated two great guys – what was the chance of getting a third? For a while, I was so terrified of being alone that I went out again and again with men that I would not normally have even given a second look. I had begun to buy into the narrative that there were no longer decent guys left out there. However I was never settled and my conscience constantly pricked at me; reminding me I was better than this. That’s what eventually led to me leaving the dating scene completely. I actually sat in my house for three months and this was when I started to enjoy my own company. I actually found solace in my solitude and finally got over the fear of being alone.
Ironically as fate would have it, this is also when a really great guy just appeared. Ok, that’s not entirely accurate. I had known him for a while; I just never knew he was available. And in case you’re wondering, he literally blew my standards out of the water. Thankfully, this time I was more than ready to settle down. Till today I smile at the thought of all those people who told me that there was no living human being who could meet my standards.
The point to this whole narrative is that it’s ok to have standards. And it’s perfectly ok if the bar on those standards is high. It’s ok to want more, as long as you’re realistic in what you are looking for. Your standards ought to be based on experience and facts and not on fiction or fantasy. You need to believe in your standards and not give up at the first sign of failure. Most importantly, you need to have patience and will power to wait. People with standards do not go desperately searching all over as I later learnt; they wait for the right opportunity to present itself. They are not afraid to stand out from the crowd and are often very comfortable in their solitude. They do not seek affirmation in pointless company just for sake of fitting in. And the best part is that eventually, they do get what they are seeking. They eventually end up with a person with an equally high, if not higher standard.
There is nothing more attractive than a man or woman with standards.
Lately I’ve been feeling really melancholy. You know the feeling when you’re just feeling low for apparently no fathomable reason? Yes that feeling. I have been wracking my brain with little success as to what could be making me feel this way. I mean, I’m typically a really happy person. Plus my life honestly couldn’t be better right now; everything is actually really going well which makes it even more bizarre. I just want to curl up in bed, day in day out with only me for company.
Then today, wham! Out of the blue, it hit me. I have a broken heart. I know you’re rolling your eyes and thinking, what’s so special about this? Let me explain. My heart wasn’t broken in the usual way, where a relationship between a man and a woman abruptly ends. My heart was broken by a very unlikely source. My heart was broken by a friend.
For those who may still be rolling their eyes, allow me to break it down for you – I have the kind of friendships where I go all out. I treasure my friends, few as they are and I allow myself to be vulnerable with them. In the past I have had friends who’ve come and gone and it really wasn’t a big deal. Seasons of life right? So I never really saw this one coming till it hit me like a speeding freight train and took out my heart with it. Because I never really thought that a friend could actually break my heart. Then again I have been called naive on several occasions.
Now it’s been a while since I got my heart broken so it’s no wonder that I didn’t recognize the signs immediately. Shockingly though, it was exactly like all the past instances with all the stages presenting. I went through denial (actually I’d been stuck there for a while); making excuses for the person’s behavior and now I’m at grief mixed with anger and bitterness. I expect the next stages will follow logically but I honestly can’t wait for acceptance and finally closure.
It got me thinking though, should I have protected my heart better? Should I have kept my distance and been aloof right from the start? Would I have been feeling better today if I had? Was it my fault? All these and more are the questions we usually ask ourselves when a relationship falls apart; I’ve just never been in a position where I had to ask them for a broken friendship. And just like in relationships I found myself making resolutions – you know, the “never ever again” type that are typical of waking up with a hangover and swearing to never drink again. Till the next time. At this point, I caught myself and thought, why would I want to change who I am just to be safe? Why would I need to protect myself from my friends which would probably result in me turning into an aloof, insincere snob? Why would I go against the very grain of what I believe in, that people are intrinsically good but make bad choices occasionally?
After much thought, I resolved not to allow this incident to change me. I resolved to continue being myself and genuinely immersing myself in friendships regardless of the outcome. I realized that I have more to lose if I allow myself to give into the fear of rejection. Yes it hurts and it will take time for me to heal. It will however not hold me back from living my life as I truly believe. With an overflowing abundance of love for all whom I hold dear.
For all my friends, you know yourselves. I treasure you.
Last Sunday one of my best friends got engaged to the love of her life and one of the nicest guys I have had the pleasure to know. It was the most beautifully and elaborately planned surprise – she was throwing him a surprise birthday party and unbeknown to her, he had planned to pop the big question during the party. It took quite a bit of sneaking around and no small amount of cunning especially for those of us who are friends to both of them, hence were involved in planning both surprises. Thankfully the plan went off without so much as a hitch and she said Yes! A very emotional yes of course thanks to the beautiful proposal.
Watching them, so blissfully in love and being involved in the whole process really got me thinking about relationships and the institution of marriage. Let’s face it, these days you are more likely to hear negative stories about marriage and relationships and less about couples who are happy – genuinely happy together. You are also more likely to hear about people getting into relationships for wrong reasons leading to an inevitable breakdown of their unions. So when you get a positive story of two people who are happy and genuinely in love, it’s actually inspiring.
Better still, when you get the opportunity to witness the birth and gradual blossoming of a sweet youthful love, it actually becomes a reminder of how simple love can be – if you let it.
We tend to place so many rules and regulations on love that sometimes we miss out on the feeling altogether. Right from when we are searching for that special someone, we already have so many rules that we expect our “perfect partner” to conform to. From the looks to the job to the car one drives, it’s all one very large regulation which can even result in us missing out on a great relationship just because the person did not meet our criteria.
Once in the relationship (if we are lucky enough to find someone fitting our criteria), we create a whole new set of rules that “govern” the relationship. One that particularly bothers me is the supposed lengths of time one must take before certain milestones – for instance we have now defined how long you should date a man before you can sleep with him thanks to Steve Harvey (*face palm*). Plus the varied recommendations of dating periods before marriage can be considered. Followed by the appropriate length of time to be engaged. The list is a mile long.
One question though. Who is the expert who came up with all these timelines which some of us follow religiously? I mean, seriously, does it mean that all people and relationships are exactly the same so it will take the same amount of time to actually get to know a person “enough”? I thought everyone is unique in their differences which is what makes each relationship diverse, but then again what do I know?
I have learnt a few things from watching my two friends fall in love though. Interestingly these are things that I actually knew but I had to re-learn them. One is that Love is as simple – or as complicated as you make it. It basically boils down to the two of you and what your hearts feel. Love is not defined within the limits of time. It is something that keeps on growing if you allow it and give it the space it needs. The decision to spend your life with someone doesn’t mean you know everything about them; it just means you are committing a lifetime to discovering together. (My mother who has been married for 44 years told me that she still discovers new things about my dad; four decades later!!). Love is not limited by age, tribe, nationality or societal stereotypes. Love transcends all these, if you simply allow it.
Simply put, Love is a choice. A beautiful choice.
Congratulations to my best friends Linda and Andrew on their beautiful choice and all of God’s blessings as they embark on their journey of discovery together.