On relationships that will work out ‘someday’

https://www.flickr.com/emster214/
https://www.flickr.com/emster214/

I don’t understand why the standard response for a friend who has become newly single is, “Oh, don’t worry, honey, you’ll find someone better someday. The right person will come into your life at the right time. In the mean time, just focus on yourself and learn to be happy!” Or why being happy with your partner is considered needy. Or why someone who is actively looking for a partner with some meaningful vigor is tagged desperate.

I understand that there are many people who are perfectly happy, or prefer, being single. If this is you, then great! However, I’m not writing this article for these types of people–I’m writing this for the types of people who genuinely like being in relationships, and like having a significant other, but can’t seem to genuinely express or pursue this desire without being labelled unhappy, unstable, or insecure.

I want to draw an analogy to career: there are large similarities between the two. Both have been shown to increase quality of life and happiness; however, the same way one doesn’t need the perfect job to be truly happy, one doesn’t need the perfect relationship to be truly happy (that is, you can build a good life with a person who is not necessarily your ideal match). And both can be pretty devastating if you have it, prefer to have it, and then lose it. 

If a friend recently lost a job, you probably wouldn’t tell her, “Don’t worry, honey, the right job will come into your life at the right time.” Such a response would be considered downright bizarreYou might encourage your friend to take a few days to let the shock settle, and manage her finances, but you’d probably agree that the first thing your friend needs to do would be to get right back on her feet and start looking.

And you probably wouldn’t call this friend desperate. Just because your friend is looking for work doesn’t mean she’d be willing to start flipping burgers at McDonald’s tomorrow.

And you probably wouldn’t say that she needs weeks or months or “half the time she spent in her old job” to be ready for a new one. In fact, you’d probably argue that the best way to move on from her last job would be to begin a new one.

So why do we make these sorts of assumptions when it comes to relationships? Perhaps, you might say, it’s because a career is different–you need a career the way you don’t need a relationship. You need money, but you don’t need love. And this may be true–yes, we don’t need close companionship; yet, studies have shown that stable relationships lead to increased happiness and increased health and life expectancy. So even if relationships aren’t vital, they can be pretty important.

Or you might say that someone who’s actively looking to find a partner hasn’t spent enough time on themselves–but if job hunting doesn’t erode a person’s career skills, why would dating? And there’s no guarantee that the right person will fall into our lives at the right time. It’s silly to assign love to the hands of fate when we wouldn’t for our career or our families or our hobbies. If a meaningful relationship is as hard to come by as a meaningful career, then it’s all the more reason to start looking.

I think it would make more sense to start pursuing relationships the way we pursue other goals–or, as Meg Jay said in her Ted Talk, “with as much intention as [we] do work”. There’s nothing about relationships that makes it inherently more mystical or unknowable than our other ambitions. We can get just as attached to our hobbies and our careers as we do to our relationships. And just like our other ambitions, we get better at relationships–better at looking, better at knowing what makes us happy, better at learning how to give and take from our partners–the more we work at it. We’d have more chances at more successful relationships if, like careers, we started by figuring out what we want (i.e., what sort of people we’re attracted to), and by creating opportunities instead of waiting for them (i.e., looking for these people in places they’re likely to be in–whether that’s at a hobby hangout, in friends’ circles, or online).

So, if a friend became newly single, I think it would make more sense to say, “That must be really hard. Why don’t you take a couple of weeks to yourself?” And once that time is up, encourage said friend to try looking again. If it doesn’t make sense to wait for a perfect career to fall into your lap, then it doesn’t make sense to wait for the perfect relationship either. It’s not being desperate–it’s being probabilistic. And you can’t mark ‘someday’ in your calendar.

Why everyone needs a little “crazy”

I went skydiving today for the first time. A group of nine other friends and I drove out to a farm that was about two hours away from campus. When we were ready to make the jump, an instructor strapped me up in a harness, clipped it safely to his own, and took me up. As my instructor and I were sitting in the plane, waiting to get to our final altitude of 10,000 feet, something caught my eye: it was a piece of red tape, stuck right next to the door of the plane, and on it, someone had hastily scrawled, “What is wrong with these people?

There we are, with our parachutes deployed! I’m the one in yellow. The blue one belongs to my friend, Dave.

Jumping out of planes probably isn’t something most people do on a regular basis. Did I think I was crazy for doing it? A little. (I now refer to the group of friends that I went with as my “crazy friends”.) But I also knew it was going to be completely different and new from my usual routine. And a lot of times, that is an excellent reason to try something new.

Perhaps falling from large heights isn’t your cup of tea; that’s okay. However, I firmly believe that everyone needs to let loose their “crazy” once in a while. Do something unique, unexpected, or ridiculous. Go scuba diving. Sing karaoke really loudly at a bar. Join that student team you’ve always told yourself you wouldn’t have time for, and then work your butt off actually committing to it.

How you define your crazy is up to you. But a lot of times, we stuck in a rut of the tried-and-true. And that’s when we stagnate. As American Businessman Farrah Gray once said, “comfort is the enemy of achievement”. It’s only when we’re pushing our limits and our boundaries that we really grow. Now, am I saying that skydiving has enriched my life, and has allowed me to become a better person? No, not necessarily (though I do plan on getting my licence one day). But pushing my boundaries only comes with practice. If I continually tell myself that I’m not going to do something because it’s too different, too scary, too crazy, then I’ll never really learn how to take risks, or how to go beyond my limits.

(There are also a ton of other benefits of trying something new–for instance, it’s an excellent way to gain some perspective. When I was chatting with my skydiving instructor today, I realized he is doing something he truly enjoys as a career. How cool would it be to share the thrill of your passion with newcomers? That’s something I hope I can work towards as well, with my future profession.)

So, this is my new goal: the next time I tell myself that something is “too crazy”, I’ll stop for a second and reconsider. Is it really? And if so, is that such a bad thing? As I learned from the plane, the hardest part is usually the jump.

Yes, I am good enough.

I’ve come to a conclusion that I matter.

I had this revelation when I was sitting at an Engineering Society meeting yesterday. The society was editing the draft of a speech that they wanted to present to the university-wide students’ union. For the most part, the speech was well-written. However, there was one sentence that caught my eye–a phrase which essentially speculated that other faculty-based student societies share the sentiments of EngSoc–and it was at this point that I raised my hand and suggested that the phrase be removed from the draft.

And it was at this point that I realized I had valid opinions.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not here to say that my opinion was “right” or “correct” or even “best”. I’m not here to bask in the glow that the rest of the society agreed with me, and hastened to make my proposed change. I don’t even really care that a respected student leader and friend was also sitting next to me and agreed with my change. None of these prompted me to raise my hand.

I raised my hand because I am allowed to have an opinion. I am allowed to use my voice and take a stand. And whether that opinion gets me judged as “incompetent”, “silly”, “clever”, or “profound” shouldn’t be what matters. What matters is that I am thinking for myself, and I am being honest about what I think.

This may seem like a straightforward concept, and granted, one that has probably been lectured on at length by countless philosophy and literature professors. However, I have seen, time and time again, this ideology getting flushed down the toilet in favour of groupthink. Or in favour of not looking stupid. Or to stop from hurting someone else’s feelings. And while diplomacy, competence, and cohesion of community are all noble ideals to carry, we also need to be very careful about not losing our voice. I think this is especially true on campuses, where social circles and social groups are inevitably tight knit, and your society leader, your classmate, and your roommate all happen to be your best friend.

I love my EngSoc. We're so tight knit. Photo © Nicole Jiang.I love my EngSoc. A lot of us are really good friends. Photo © Nicole Jiang.

I’ve struggled with having “valid opinions” myself. I’ve resented other people–who were less knowledged, less diplomatic, and less competent than me–for also being louder, more confident, and more forward with their opinions. But this isn’t their fault. It’s mine. We should never be afraid to speak up, or speak out, because we feel we don’t have enough experience. As students, we need to realize that it is our unique experiences that make our opinions valid. For instance, I am a fourth year, female engineering student, who has worked extensively with other faculties, and who prefers respectful criticism over brash speculation. That might not represent everyone else in the Engineering Society, but at least I am confident in the particular set of characteristics and ideals that I am representing.

None of this is to say that we shouldn’t be tactful, polite, or respectful when presenting an opinion. And others are certainly free to criticize my opinion, or disagree with it, or not even listen to it at all. All of these decisions have a place in the fluid spectrum of teamwork. However, without trusting ourselves and our experiences, and realizing that we have a place in the team–whether that’s a student society, or an intern in industry–we can never bring forth the change or the contributions we so desire. And in my case, the unflattering remark about the other societies might’ve remained, we probably would’ve had to deal with unnecessary bitching. So, speak up. You’re good enough too.