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How to Love

31 May


It would not be inaccurate to say that dating has been going better for me lately. Specifically, I’ve made it not only to date two (a significant event), but even to date three (nothing short of a miracle), and, more recently, to date four (you should be guessing that I’m lying at this point) recently with someone.

Per usual when I find I really like someone, I get nervous. Particularly when there is very little data to go on – that is, very few dates, versus having already known the person via some other capacity – one tends to over-read everything, searching for meaning in the arbitrary. I did this for a time, but after a while, began feeling comfortable in the person’s company, and decided just to roll with the punches, so to speak.

Yet, this particular string of encounters has had me thinking about an important distinction, one that I suspect we have all experienced intimately, but that I have not articulated until very recently: the difference between who we want, and how we want to be loved.

With all this dating, I have certainly affirmed the kind of person I’d like to be with: someone cerebral; quick-witted; hilarious; possessing of verbal acuity; genuine; outgoing; kind. This person should love books, maybe write a little every now and then, and greatly enjoy highly theoretical and personal conversations, replete with reflection and intellectual risk-taking. Brownie points for being creative, musical, and/or understanding my immigrant upbringing by way of personal experience. Serious extra credit for sharing similar politics on social issues (reproductive rights and gay rights, yes), and for being able to discuss canon formation coherently (swoon). I could go on.

Yet, as recent experience has shown me, even when I do find someone roughly around these lines (and as specific as those qualities seem, they do come in many different shapes and sizes), there is no guarantee that there is relational compatibility. As I’ve been talking through styles of partnering with various friends, I’ve tried to entertain styles that differ from my own, but to no avail. Instead, I’ve found that what I’ve always wanted does indeed remain what I continue to desire: intimacy, affection, tenderness.

I realized during a contemplative walk today that this has so bothered me because a fourth date, for someone who largely only goes on first dates for problems of tremendous pickiness, is nearly synonymous with the pivot point that edges into relationship territory. Investing that much time and thought? That is no longer rolling with the punches. This is the point at which I decide whether or not I’d like to keep investing in a more intentional way.

This kind of hypothetical investment manifests itself in letting go almost completely, giving abundantly to my partner, wanting to do so much for him. When I get invested, I get hands on, and I go all out. I will invest quality time, give words of affirmation, indulge in small but meaningful gifts, do tasks, and be touchy. I will want my life to slowly but surely integrate with the other person’s; to have him share of the everyday, and to share the everyday with him, typically through a nightcap conversation. Oftentimes, these would be the best part of my day (this was, of course, before I started my daily 5K runs).

I suppose I love to love, and as such really don’t enjoy holding back. I consider it a great privilege, and like to express my love for others in myriad ways. And while I understand, mentally, that people possess different styles of love – languages, as the book states – experience has shown me that I’d like reciprocity, that perhaps I’d like to be loved in the way that I love, and that veering too far from my style reads as unintelligible to me when true intimacy is involved.

Let’s do some demystifying here, while we’re at it: people who share my particular romantic-emotional needs are not necessarily insecure; our confidence does not depend on the affirmation of another. But when that other does very little to obviously celebrate you, when you constantly feel overlooked by the one person who knows and should value you most, well, then, that’s likely to have a deteriorating and deleterious effect, wouldn’t you say?  So I think I’d be stronger and more complete alone rather than with an ill-fitting love.

I’m building a theory now which says that you can detect another’s style of loving early on. When mutual interest and liking are established, people tend to feel more comfortable expressing themselves to one another. I’ve occasionally come across a few extroverted folks who have been very kind to me at these stages, but from others, receiving verbal affirmation is like pulling teeth.

And too, for me, it all comes down to how this makes me feel. However counter-intuitive this may seem, feelings can be a gateway, an analytic even, which helps us get to our truths. Something about this not feeling quite right? Time to investigate, to probe. Feeling lonely and distant when your partner is at your side? Let’s start asking some more questions to get at the inspiration for that loneliness.

At this point, I recognize my experience of various ugly feelings which happen to fit perfectly into the trajectory of my dating brilliant but emotionally withdrawn men. And this is the point during which I recall my friends’ and former colleagues’ comments and advice: “you are a wonderful person, and I hope you get what you deserve;” and “it is not time wasted if you put your lessons into practice the next time.”


On [the Tarot Card] Deck

4 May


Last night, I ventured into the not-wilds of Tremont Street in Boston with my wacky friend EL to visit the Tremont Tearoom, which purports to contain many a psychic, always ready to read one’s cards.

A few weeks ago, E had told me that a bloke named V had read her cards with uncanny insight, and, knowing the relevant details of her life, I corroborated her claim. So, I thought, why not enjoy this novel experience? I’d been feeling 50% content and 50% befuddled; perhaps this V character could shed some light on my inner chaos.

As it turned out, V was a young-ish, tremendously tall, slightly effeminate, scarf-wearing, all-black donning RISD alum who I found quite endearing. I shuffled the deck several times, and in the course of 20 minutes, he gave me the following reading:

Shuffle 1: General environmental assessment:
–  V: You have recently completed something.
S: Well, I have ended a period of emotional turmoil and transitioned into general happiness and stability, yes.
– V: The past card is here; perhaps you are feeling some nostalgia for the past, or moving on from a past experience?
S: I’m generally over the past, but people from my past do pop up at unexpected times – and I do have a pattern of types of people with whom I generally cavort.
– V: The cards signifying dream and reality are on top of each other. With the dream, it seems you have a great many options or skills, but unsure of what to pursue.
S: Very yes. Reality is cool and one thing, but I’ve not reached the dream yet, and doing so would require me to optimize some aspects of my current reality.
– V: But it seems there’s a waiting period; this is a big decision.
S: Sigh, yes – two years feels like a long time to me, when I thought I’d know what I’d be doing for life at 21! (This is when the “Fool” card should have shown up, but didn’t.)
– V: Some sign of money keeps coming up – perhaps this is holding you back? You want something intellectual, but which can emotionally fulfill you.
S: I did think again today about trying to become a consultant – but I think this would require me to suppress a great deal of my inner being. I’m more interesting in cultivating others’ potentials.
– V: [Other stuff, but I don’t remember.]
S: [Thinking, engagement, conversation.]
– V: There’s a dignified figure on a horse with a javelin who seems to be charging into your life. He’s an intellectual!
S: WHOA. He has not yet arrived, but perhaps soon! I like me some intellectualism, and I do have a crush in mind.
– V: [Other stuff, but I don’t remember.] 2
S: [Thinking, engagement, conversation.] 2

V then asks me to keep a question in mind (or to express it), as the next shuffle will apply to it.

Shuffle 2: My unexpressed but held question: Who will I marry?
– V: It seems like you represent a change – creativity and sexuality – for this person.
S: Holy cats – that sounds about right! I am writing quite a bit for work these days.
– V: Here we see a death card, but don’t be alarmed – it represents transformation.
S: INTENSE. Dude. Um.

Shuffle 3: Another unexpressed but held question: Will I be settling down in Boston-Cambridge?
V: The first two cards here represent intense stability.
S: Well, I do have a great and very stable job, and I like my newly-evolving friendships here.
– V: But the final card in the set is the moon – motherly, nurturing, powerful, leading from one reality into another – so it seems you probably won’t stay here forever after all.
S: Well, right. I’m not sold on this town (yet?). Hrm.

Okay, so I took some creative liberties! But very interesting potentially relevant insights into work and love.

EL and I were pretty taken with these readings and decided to search for our own decks at a Barnes and Noble on our way home. I ordered one from Amazon this morning. Next we meet, I’ll be reading YOUR cards!

I’ve also experienced a newly-kindled interest in folklore – I’m curious about that which lies beyond the analytic, and the objects, practices, and beliefs that give us direction and comfort amidst the chaos. Also, tarot cards have some pretty crazy graphics!

How about you, reader – thoughts on the deck? What’s your non-scientific comfort practice of choice?

What I’ve Learned When I’ve Gone About Dating

17 Apr

My last truly successful romantic encounter occurred nearly a year ago. 45 Boston-based dates later, I am almost concluding that karma is catching up to me for handling that situation so badly.

Even so, moments of great discouragement are perhaps precisely those that warrant evaluating exactly what one has gained from the challenge of persevering and of not giving up hope. Here are my truths.

1. Attraction lies beyond the analytic
– personality traits, interests, goals, experiences, et al are helpful in alignment, but attraction is truly instantaneous, and strongly physical. Being an objectively good-looking and even foxy person does not always guarantee attraction from another. It is art, not science.

2. Rejection is only so personal/you can’t know why this is happening – you could have been a perfectly lovely date, and still have gotten rejected. You could even be a dynamite potential partner, and still get passed up. Truly, we all have flaws, and we may or may not get overlooked because of them. Ultimately, we are likely not fully to know why we don’t get chosen, and dwelling does no good.

3. There is no linearity to our narratives of love and sex – see #1 and #2, above: so much of this is chance. Putting in years of dating, or dozens of dates, does not a perfectly-fitting and fully-committed partner fate bring. There is no control; there is almost total randomness to potential chemistry and others’ reactions to us; and yet I am terribly tempted to visit a psychic with my buddy EL (she’s seriously down with the magics).

4. Persistence is key – as with job-hunting, one must not give up until one finds a match: and that’s when the real work begins. There are plenty of smart and personable people who may not be successful – one of those reasons might be lack of persistence. Don’t let it happen to you. Keeping the faith is much more difficult than is going through the motions, but we’ve got to reach for a holistically-optimistic view of the world’s possibilities.

5. No matter the disappointment, I continue to believe in what I have to offer – and I’m still a great date!! See #2: I do all I can not to take any of this personally. I am a hand-sewn, mix-textured, neon-patterned urban dress in a boutique filled with other pieces – I am not for everyone. But I believe I will be someone’s extra-special fun, functional inspiration.

6. Love happens – I know, because it’s happened to me. I may be forgetting the sensation, but I believe that it will happen again, and that when more elements are right, I will appreciate this person and what we share more than ever. Perhaps 45 site-specific dates will even seem a small feat compared with the joy awaiting me eventually.

About the author: Shendi is suffering from withdrawal from having recently finished Haruki Murakami’s South of the Border, West of the Sun. When the going gets rough, she writes herself into optimism, and maintains that you can, too.

Darryl Roberts’ America the Beautiful 2: the Thin Commandments

13 Mar

Identifying men who are doing work I believe in feels fantastic. A few weeks ago, I went to see Darryl Roberts’ America the Beautiful 2: the Thin Commandments, and had an incredible time. A pastiche of personal stories, self-induced experimentation, and interviews with scientists, government officials, and diet industry representatives, the film was accessible, hilarious, and impactful – its thesis? Weight is but a number – in fact, the BMI scale on which so many of us weigh our self-satisfaction was set by a number of men and women sitting around an expensive table. We associate meaning with figures, when we should be focusing on healthy practices, including valuing who we are, and why we’re here. Kudos, Darryl – keep fighting the good fight.

without and within

21 Feb

Months ago, I recall sharing a stress management tip with a friend – when overwhelmed, begin by translating your anxiety into a bullet-pointed list; words give form to abstraction, and lists help us to begin plotting to conquer what can feel like the insurmountable and uncontainable.

Close friends would not be surprised to know that I’ve had a spreadsheet for nearly everything: friends with whom to keep in touch; dates gone on in Boston; activities to embark on with out-of-towners; books to read; movies to watch; quotes I like; soundtracks to various portion of my life; etc. – you name it; I’ve got a list for it.

I’ve never, however, attempted a list that itemizes all areas of life…. But now at 23, getting relatively settled, but perpetually feeling restless internally, I’ve realized that I need to be yet more intentional – not only in settling my affairs, materially speaking, but in examining and reflecting on said affairs, so as to better understand my own situation, and to act, when necessary.

Here’s an attempt, sorted by relationships:

  • To self
  • To roommates
  • To colleagues
  • To family
  • To friends, not categorized in the above
  • To past romantic interests; to current romantic interests
  • To strangers

Here’s another dimension – time spent pursuing both the necessary and enriching:

  • Work and professional development
  • Academic and intellectual learning
  • Practical skill development
  • Political activism
  • Creative pursuits
  • Volunteering
  • Entertainment consumption
  • Personal development, growth, and therapy
  • Site-specific exploration
  • Personal budgeting and finances
  • Eating habits and exercise

These, ladies and gentlemen, are the elements which comprise my daily life – and, I would venture to guess, yours, too. I am both more and less overwhelmed, now that I’ve listed them, and I believe it is time for me to rise to the challenge of journaling about one of these each and every day, so as not to be wandering aimlessly through the moments of my consciousness, but to truly take the reigns of my being – through reflection, education, and action.

Despite my still-young age, I find the obligations of adulthood – of survival, in particular – generally to detract from what used to be my unmovable ability to stay attuned to my core – but I’m determined to stay in sync with myself, and to align my external world with my internal goings-on once again.

How about you, dear reader? How do you manage what goes on both without, and within?

“the best advice i’ve ever received”

23 Jan

In efforts to keep in better touch with the people I love, and to embark on new and sexy jet-setting (I looked fabulous on the way there, but not so much for the 6:15a flight back), I took my first trip out to San Francisco last weekend to visit one of my best and oldest friends.

I’ve taken quite a few plane rides in my time, largely as a result of having nearly all of my extended family in the fantastic city of Beijing, China, and I’ll always read flight publications. Like most magazine-reading experiences, I generally remain unchanged afterwards, but I was pleasantly surprised by Southwest’s Spirit series, particularly by a section featured in this month’s magazine called something like “The Best Advice I’ve Ever Received,” which consisted of memoir excerpts from a wide range of notables: Condoleezza Rice; Regis Philbin; Shaquille O’Neal; Mario Batali; and others.

As a critical theory student, I was taught always to interrogate knowledge in all its forms, including the aphorism – but also to appreciate rhetorical strategy, and to consider the value in various and specific deployments.

As an unsettled 20-something who’s experienced a range of unsettling appointments and occurrences, I’m rather drawn to the aphorism – also, to fortune cookies, horoscopes, and the Myers-Brigg personality test. Urm.

One line from an email a former TA and current friend, hands down one of the finest and most respectable people I’ve had the pleasure to meet during my time in NYC, has lingered in my mind for the past few years: “as always, take what you will, and leave the rest.” Applicable, you see, to a wide range of situations.

And, as an unsettled 20-something who’s experienced a range of unsettling appointments and occurrences, I fight a constant battle to maintain the intellectual and humanistic integrity required to honor the complexity of situations and of people – especially when “good” and “dependable” change to complicated and confusing, and even to antagonistic and deleterious. And while I hope to continue remembering the value of complex personhood to all manner of analysis, when push comes to shove, I believe that we’ve all got to take what’s right for us, and to move on to environments – and people – who align with our values and will contribute positively to our at once difficult and joyous journeys in determining how we are to live.

Sometimes, “leaving the rest” might look something like giving up, and, if so, we’ve got to be honest with ourselves about our manner of complicity in situations’ and relationships’ lack of success. But “leaving the rest,” I hope, also signifies a belief that we are worth our hopes for a work environment and colleagues who both value and challenge us; a romantic partner who understands and helps us to grow; and friends on whom you can depend to variously paint the town with style, and to figure out life’s not-so-glamorous parts over a bottle of wine and/or a tub of some freakin’ fine ice cream –

Whatever it is you’re leaving and looking to work towards and to find next – believe that, against all odds, you will find that thing, and that another journey will begin with it.

Self/other; subject/object; desire/desired?

11 Jan

Modigliani, Nude Sitting on a Divan (1917)

I firmly believe that I work at one of the most incredible institutions in the world – and I don’t even care that such hyperbolic use is oh-so tacky! MIT, you are my professional love, and I have been honey-mooning with you since 11/08/11, and bragging to everyone who will listen regarding your vast resources and markedly inclusive community ever since…. May the joy live on.

January 2012 marks my first IAP, independent activities period, and I am stoked! Check out this huge variety of offerings for MIT-affiliated folk (including friends!), conveniently organized by date!

Wo/man, I wish I had been a student here, despite my very real lack of technical ability regarding the sciences and engineering…. I would spend every IAP trotting from one engaging activity to the next, delighting in the creativity and braininess – not that I’d get burnt out or anything! But alas, as a very busy and important (hee) staff member, I can only afford to visit one per work-day, if even, though I can spend all of my night hours traipsing around – here’s what I did last night.

Still getting to know the panoply of groups here at the institute, I’ve only ever brushed shoulders with End Violence Against Women, specifically when I attended their screening of the highly-recommended Miss Representation, which I generally loved. I dig this idea of the non-book-club-book-club, too, and am curious to see what else these ladies (and gentlemen) have up their sleeves. Check out the articles which inspired our two-hour discussion last night!

There’s more to blog about here than capacity to handle the blogging, both for reader and writer, so I’ll simply comment on a quote from a single highly-effective article:

It boils down to this: the freedom to learn how to be sexual requires the freedom from sexualization.

Of course, one can never escape sexualization, but I do enjoy the rhetorical strategies employed herein – this is a bold statement, and one that I’ve been chewing on since I’d laid eyes on the article. In part because: I know that my own sexuality has very much to do with performance, surveillance, and the desire for a certain objectification; it is not, and cannot be self-contained, in and of a vacuum – but to what extent does my own sexual satisfaction depend on others’ perception of my objectification? I suspect that this a question most wo/men struggle with, in part because it is simply a part of the daily human grind.

Yet – when I think through my personal history, I can recall a physical knowledge of times I have given much less a damn about the way others perceive me, and perhaps dressed in an even more flattering way, due in part to this elusive liberation. Yet, the more I try to understand this complicated, multi-dimensional self/other dialectic, the more I am overcome with its overwhelmingly enigmatic nature, and forced to look within, rather than at my logical go-to’s: binaries.

What do you think, reader? Self/other; subject/object; desire/desired? All I know is: you can’t have one without the other.