Tag Archives: relationships

Communication: The hardest thing in the world

TREAT YOUR PARTNER AS YOU WOULD YOUR COWORKERS

Years ago, when I was going through a rough patch at home, my mother told me that “if you want to study Communications, you better learn to communicate well”. I had honestly never considered myself a bad communicator – who does? – but from then on I became hyper sensitive in this regard.

Communication is one of those things that seems SO simple in theory, but is much harder to actually get right.

Over the past few months I’ve learned just how hard it is to do effective organisational communications properly – both on a company-wide scale and also at team level.

For me, it’s all about understanding. Getting the context and background; getting to grips with the why. Knowing where everybody is coming from and thus ensuring their concerns are addressed and their needs met. Otherwise, I reckon your chances of success are a lot lower.

While I’ve never been a manager – and have no desire to – I can understand why someone might feel compelled to micromanage. When you’re frustrated and not getting the results you need, I can see why your instinct might be to crack down.

Honestly, that has always been my MO relationship-wise. And unsurprisingly, it’s not always effective.

Even after almost a decade together, this was my brainwave on Friday morning on the bus to work last week. If I wouldn’t behave that way in a work context, why should I apply it to my partner?

Instead of snapping when I got home, I kept a lid on it. While I knew I would be justified in doing so, that didn’t mean it was the best way to get results. I approached things by asking, “What can I do to help you at this point?”

Magic. Of course, he knew I was doing as much I as I could. I didn’t even need to prompt the obvious next question - what did I need from him? He brought it up of his own accord, voicing all the things I needed to hear and that I had been thinking, without me forcing them on him. We both KNOW what I need, and he knows what he needs to do – and that he hasn’t been giving 100%.

Of course, I wish it hadn’t had to come to that. But no relationship is perfect, and I’m not going to pretend ours is.

The thing is, being in the right isn’t always enough. Going on the offensive will only lead to the other person getting defensive. As Dale Carnegie teaches, start by changing how you behave. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

So that was year one. Happy anniversary to us

NZMUSE 1 YEAR WEDDING ANNIVERSARY

Is it strange that I can’t think of all that many romantic moments from our honeymoon? That might be because we’re not really romantic types, and also because we were backpacking for six months, not ballin’ it around the world.

But what an adventure. A few memories that really stand out:

Lamb, wine, filo pie, and explosive sunsets in Santorini, a stunning tourist trap that bears only idyllic memories for me

Flying through the forests in the Munich countryside on our pushbikes, feeling every bump and dip along the way

Paddling through Halong Bay, peering out for monkeys, craning my neck to look up at the strange land formations

Strolling the Highline in NYC at sunset, and late night karaoke in the East Village

Wandering along the sand dunes at a San Diego beach one night

Blazing through Vermont on a motorbike, surrounded by rosy forests and empty roads (and nearly falling asleep on the back after lunch)

Winding through Venice’s canals, marvelling at the skill of our gondolier

Enjoying a platter of mixed soft cheeses and honey in quiet ecstasy at a random Roman restaurant

And of course, all those instances of greedy face stuffing in Thailand, Bologna, Paris, New York, of spring rolls, panzerotti, cakes, gelato, cheeses, deli sandwiches and tacos.

There was enough luxury for it to feel special amongst the backpacking – the constant discomfort (Auckland’s stupidly mild temperatures have spoiled us both), the stress of navigating non-English countries (especially for him).

I am so, so happy we took that trip. It was great for us on so many levels, not just as individuals but as a couple. We’ve seen each other at our absolute worst and pushed through. Made so many memories to share. I feel it brought us closer together and strengthened our relationship. Between that, and the big scary talk that came up pre-wedding, I’m not sure what state we’d be in now. Possibly a less healthy one. Either way, it was a catalyst for us to re-examine things and work harder at them. Because when you don’t, they can deteriorate very quickly. It takes years to build what can be undone in days, hours – minutes, even, or seconds. Even after years together, you can still surprise yourselves, and even after years together  you can work toward making some things better than you’d ever dreamed possible.

Weddings are powerful events. No matter how informal, they pack a lot of emotional weight. As Elizabeth asks Philip on The Americans: “They’re just words people say. But do you think things would have been different between us if we’d said them?”

But beyond that, weddings are ultimately occasions of unbridled joy. As I write this particular paragraph, I’m in floods of quiet tears, having just gorged on a friend’s 600-odd wedding pictures. Just as with the photos from any other wedding, ours included, the thing that shines through is how happy everyone is. Imperfect as ours was, I still like to look back on photos for that little lift they give me.

I  am still not used to the words ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ yet. I’d barely gotten comfortable with ‘fiance/e’ by the time we got married, so maybe in another year or two?

Romance is overrated: Why we suck at romantic gestures

romance is overrated why we suck at romantic gestures

One of the (many) things I hate about pop culture is how it sets up expectations for grand, sweeping romantic gestures from our significant others.

That’s why I really liked the fact that in the Big Bang Theory, they don’t stop at Howard serenading Bernadette with a song he wrote himself, but show Penny’s blundering attempts at romancing Leonard only to realise that the fact she has a shoebox in which she’d saved all sorts of mementoes from their time together speaks loudest of all.

Sure, there are people out there who go BIG. My boss bought his wife a car for her 40th birthday. My friend’s husband proposed after a skydive.

But that’s not us at all. I think you might stump us if you were to ask either of us about the most romantic thing we’d ever done for each other.

For me, it’s all about the small, everyday things.

I will save half my burrito to take home for him to share.  Sew up holes in his pants and handwash his good shirts. Buy Mallow Puffs on solo trips to the supermarket even though I think they’re disgusting and won’t touch them myself (I feed the people I love).

And in turn, the ultimate token of appreciation from my perspective would be simply doing things around the house. Proactively taking care of chores. Oh, and not drinking the last of the milk.

Alas, while my love language is ‘acts of service’, his are ‘physical touch’ and ‘receiving gifts’. And thus, real romantic gestures – the kind the other person truly appreciates – take a lot of work in this household.

Let me introduce you to my favourite romantic films of all time


best romance movies before midnight 2013
I have a problem with commitment. 

I also have a problem with choosing favourites. I’ve never been able to choose a favourite dish, book, band … name it and I will probably freeze up in trying to come up with an answer.

Take books. Look at my Goodreads bookshelf and you’ll find a somewhat jumbled collection of five star rated titles. The Book Thief (had me in rivers of tears, is the film any good?!), We Need To Talk About Kevin, Mystic River, the Jessica Darling books, almost anything by Isaac Asimov and basically anything ever written by Caitlin Moran.

(Speaking of books, I am kind of emotionally drained after recently finishing A Pale View of Hills … an incredibly affecting and creepy but ultimately ambiguous book that really needed a stronger editor. Anyone else up to discussing it?)

But over the Christmas break, I found what is undoubtedly my favourite movie of all time: Before Sunset. In fact, I gorged on the entire Before series - Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight –  not just the most romantic movies ever, but the best movie trilogy ever made.

Before Sunrise is romantic in a smart way – intelligent and articulate, the sort of love story that someone who adores Gilmore Girls (me!) would be enthralled by. But it’s decidedly un-Hollywood. There’s pauses, slightly awkward glances, silences, as we wind our way through the streets of Vienna alongside Celine and Jesse, almost in real time.

I loved Before Sunset even more, tinged as it is with the passage of time, ageing, regrets … there is not a single superfluous moment in the sequel. Utter perfection.

I wasn’t sure Before Midnight could top that, but I was wrong. WRONG. While I prefer Before Sunset as a film, purely on artistic merit, I love Midnight even more for its unflinching willingness to dive into the heart of a relationship. When you give that much of yourself to another person, you also open yourself up to a world of hurt – and even people who love each other claw and scratch and take blows at one another from time to time.

I fucked up my whole life because of the way you sing.

I am giving you my whole life, okay? I got nothing larger to give, I’m not giving it to anybody else. If you’re looking for permission to disqualify me, I’m not gonna give it to you. Okay? I love you. And I’m not in conflict about it. Okay? But if what you want is like a laundry list of all the things that piss me off, I can give it to you.

You are the fucking mayor of Crazytown, do you know that?

Somehow, Before Midnight also manages to be the funniest of the three films.

Who wants to be Joan of Arc? Forget France, she was burnt at the stake and a virgin, okay. Nothing I aspired to. What a great achievement.

One of the perks of being over 35 is that you don’t get raped as much.

Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke swear they have no spark in real life, though it’s a pleasure to watch them bounce off each other in interviews. Yet onscreen they have such incredible chemistry (I even found him somewhat sexy and I normally can’t stand the sight of him) and the dialogue is just so fucking real. I am in love with how they swear, talk about sex, fight and make up. It scared me how much of my own relationship I saw in there. Before Midnight seriously screwed me up, but not in a bad way. Not at all.

[SEMI SPOILER]

Ultimately, I find Before Midnight even more romantic because they’ve chosen each other, and I mean REALLY chosen each other, flaws and all, knowing each other as much as any two people can – at least this time around.

[END SPOILER]

Director Richard Linklater says they break all the rules of screenwriting, and how magnificently so. I could watch all these films over and over and over again.

What is your favourite fictional romance?

Bullshit-free bride: Post wedding thoughts

post wedding reflections - nzmuse bullshit free bride

I want to talk honestly about the journey to this point. Specifically, I want to talk about expectations, disappointment, reality.

The whole dialogue around engagements, weddings, and marriage is imbued with notions of magic and happiness. Life, however, is far more complex and sometimes uglier. As humans, our dreams often don’t quite match up. Relationships are messy. When money and other people and popular culture and expectations become involved, there are bound to be moments far less than ecstatic. And that’s normal.

The ring

For one, I didn’t love my engagement ring. I didn’t even particularly LIKE it at first. It’s a family ring that has untold emotional value, very old-fashioned, and for a long time it looked as if I wouldn’t even be able to wear it, as we couldn’t find anyone who could resize it to the extent I needed. As I was about to give up, though, I found a boutique jeweller who took on the task with aplomb, and started wearing it.

You know what? It grew on me. It’s gold, and old, but has a lovely silver filigree, and the three-stone bridge is super cool and has an awesome side profile. I love that it’s unique, and that it has so much history and meaning.

The people

You might remember how I agonised over whether to have a bridal party at all, and if so, who should be in it.

I’m glad I did ask my girlfriends to be part of it (even if only one ended up being able to come), and I’m glad I also asked two of my guy friends to be bridesmen. Friday was girls’ night (my first mani/pedi ever) and Saturday boys’ night (food, food, and more food), and instead of doing my own makeup I was powdered, lined, and curled by friends in the morning. It was a ton more than I would have worn on my own, but it looked good in pictures, I think…!

It wasn’t completely smooth sailing, but I have no regrets.

Sweating the small stuff

Despite being very certain about the kinds of things I did and didn’t want at this wedding (e.g. not to be ‘given away’, because I’m a person, not chattel; or no decor, because I’m missing the gene that enables me to fuss over frippery) as the day got closer, every little thing started to weigh on my mind. Would I be judged for having cheap table covers/no centrepieces/no fancy vehicle/a kickass shabby-chic rustic reception nook that is about as far from a typical pristine wedding venue as possible? OH, THE DOUBTS.

Do you want to know what nearly broke the camel’s back? Flowers. Yes, fucking flowers. Everyone was on my case about flowers; apparently not having flowers is un-wedding like and absolutely unthinkable. I do not like hewing to tradition for tradition’s sake, but it got to the point that I asked a coworker – who edits a bridal magazine – for ideas. She had some great ideas for alternatives, but assured me I didn’t have to carry anything if I didn’t want to.

In the end, I did the flower thing, though ended up ditching my bouquet over a bridge toward the end of our couples photos. Speaking of which, I’m hoping there were a handful of good ones. This face was not made to smile. I reserve the right to exercise bitchface for the rest of the month to make up for it.

Envy

Our proposal story isn’t anything incredible. There is no grand gesture here – no tale of an elaborate operation designed to broadcast a proposal upon descent from a skydive. Just us, doing something we love (travelling for a music festival), in the privacy of the bathroom of a Wellington B&B. It’s a story we are both more than happy with, but there was definitely a slight twinge flavoured with a hint of envy whenever I heard about other people’s epic proposals, despite knowing how embarrassed I would be in such a situation.

And despite being one of the first couples we know to get engaged, we were beaten to the altar by a few others. I wanted a long engagement, but yeah, I felt a little usurped at times. On one hand, I was glad to NOT be the first to actually tie the knot. On the other, I worried that those other weddings set a standard that we wouldn’t measure up to.

Cold feet

The most heart-stopping part of all came less than two months before the big day.

There’s nothing harder than hearing someone you love voice soul-shattering doubts about the way forward. It cuts to the bone.

It’s doubly hard when that person has always been the one who loved more, the one who pursued you, the one who pushed for marriage, the one who patiently waited for you to catch up. When, after several years, you’ve finally reached the stage where you feel ready to take the leap, to hear that person retreating. To watch the tissues pile up in the middle of the bed, to put aside your own feelings, to try to determine whether that fear is simply cold feet or stemming from a much deeper problem that you didn’t realise existed. To envision a million alternate paths for your life in the silent spaces between words.

No matter how busy you are and how happy you think you might be, pre-marital counselling is probably a damn good idea.

With all that said …

I don’t know about everyone else, but I had a cracking time overall on Sunday.

I mean, I did not have high hopes to start with. Saturday dawned bright and clear, then dissolved into some serious rainstorms by mid-morning, with forecasts for more of the same until Monday. Things looked amazing on Sunday morning – I was overheating on the way to the venue – but by the time we arrived, a sullen grey drizzle set in. Yet, unbelievably, it more or less cleared by the time we started, stayed sunny throughout photos, and didn’t return to hardcore rain until later on (it hailed at one point after we left).

Nothing went too badly wrong: everyone managed to find the place; I got to see a few people I hadn’t seen in months; friends mended a rift in the course of the afternoon; nobody got out of control; I didn’t cry or suffer dire hayfever symptoms; I only caught my feet in my dress a handful of times (another one of those things I gave in on – having a little bit of a tail on it).

It was by no means perfect, but I didn’t expect it to be. As everyone told me: “Enjoy it while you can – it goes so fast.”

Most of all, I’ve been so surprised – and so touched – by the support and generosity of others. I’m so grateful to everyone I know, from those who helped pull things together to those who sent messages from afar and yes, even you, internet friends, who liked my Instagram pics/favourited my tweets/sent good wishes.

There might even be a tear in my eye as I write this. What a sap.

Bullshit-free bride: Thinking out loud

bullshit free bride nzmuse When I was younger, I couldn’t imagine ever getting married. I was adamant I was going to be a spinster all my life – a word that didn’t yet have the connotations to me that it does now –  because I couldn’t imagine wanting to spend my life with one person, or (the horror!) kissing somebody in front of my parents.

You know what? I still can’t, but I guess a wedding is a good enough excuse.

My parents first officially met T when they took me out to dinner shortly after graduation. We’d been together over four years, and I was petrified. So was he. But it went as well as either of us could have expected.

(How do you get to be 21, and in a serious long term relationship, and not meet your girlfriend’s parents until then? Here’s one word: Asian. T is everything they’re not. He’s from a different world entirely in pretty much every aspect. Then again, I’m not quite the daughter they hoped for, although I think they’re happy enough with how I turned out. But despite all that, their opinion DOES matter to me, and I wanted them to like him. I was hoping that we could at least all get along, if nothing else.)

I suppose I’m lucky in that I’m with someone who’s not afraid of commitment. In fact, he wanted marriage sooner rather than later. I always found it frustrating that everything written about relationships on the internet features a woman who wants to get married and a reluctant male. Where were the women who weren’t so sure, with partners ready to commit? I had nobody to relate to.

As a chronically indecisive person, an over-thinker, a second-guesser, I’ve asked myself many times about this. We’re still really young. How do I know this is the right time? The right move? What if, what if, what if?

Nothing is guaranteed in life (except death and taxes, yadda yadda). The degree of risk may vary, but ultimately, everything is a gamble. In taking this leap, I don’t know what the future holds for either of us. I think that I am as certain as I could possibly be.

When doubts start clouding over my sky, I remember one crucial point: I could never – no matter how hard I tried – picture a long-term future down the track in my last relationship. This time, I can.

Bullshit-free bride: On marriage and name changing

bullshit free bride nzmuse

I struggled with deciding whether or not to write this post. While the changing-your-name thing has never been up for debate for me, I do have some strong feelings on the matter. And, troublingly, I know some of those feelings are wrong (inasmuch as an opinion can be wrong, which by definition it can’t).

Intellectually, I get that choosing to change your name isn’t any less of a feminist choice, and is in fact an active choice, whereas you don’t get any choice when you’re lumped with your family name at birth. But as I’ve previously written,  I am secretly disappointed when I hear a woman I know is taking her husband’s last name. This is a bias that I keep to myself; I would never presume to judge anyone else’s choice, but deep down a definite pang is there. It’s one of those things that I know logically doesn’t make sense. How do you overcome that?!

I’ve been surprised at the fact that I’ve been asked about whether I’m keeping my name at all. Asking a woman whether she plans to change her name after marriage? I suppose it depends how close you are, but to my mind, it doesn’t feel like an appropriate question – I wouldn’t ever ask this of anyone. I suppose this is one of my personal quirks. What can I say? I’m very private.

Even in the 21st century, this still seems to be very much the exception rather than the norm. To me, the whole practice of changing your name after marriage feels very archaic. (This post by Bitch PhD pretty much hits the spot for me.) Let’s face it – changing your name is a bullshit patriarchal custom, a hangover from the days when women were no more than property to be sold off to husbands by their families. With that said, I do plan to have our kids take T’s name. I don’t have strong feelings about that, despite being adamant about retaining mine.

One of my friends used to say “I never want to be a [very common Indian surname]“. And what do you know, she found herself a nice boy, who was of course saddled with that accursed name. Funny how things turn out. Despite that, I’m almost certain that NOT changing her name was ever an option.

People who decide to change their names seem to do it for one of two reasons:

They prefer their husband’s name – fair enough. I despise my surname; it’s caused me plenty of grief. But at least it flows, which is more than I can say for slapping T’s last name next to my first name.

Or because, you know, it’s tradition. I don’t buy that. I’ve never considered the name thing an integral part of marriage. Perhaps it’s because my mother didn’t. When I was in primary school, a friend once saw a letter addressed to both my parents by name. “Aren’t your parents married?” he goggled. “Yes – she just kept her own name. And?” was my reply.

This is such a dealbreaker for me that when we butted heads over this pre-proposal, I was prepared to simply scrap marriage altogether. Eventually T realised how important it was to me, and accepted it.

Heck, I’ve gone 24 years without ever bothering to change my first name to the name I use (my Christian name is not my legal name), partly because it feels like I’d be culturally rejecting a choice my parents no doubt put a lot of thought into,  but mainly because of the cost and hassle. (I’m finding it hard to pin down what it actually costs, but it looks like nearly $130, plus all kinds of extra fees for name changes on various documents.)

It’s not just the IRD. It’s the NZTA for your driver’s licence. It’s your bank/s. Your investment fund providers. Your insurance company. Your cellphone provider. Your ISP. Your power company. Your place of work. And no doubt dozens of other important places where your name is on file.

Another biggie for me is that I’ve been published for years under my name. But I think that name changing can be professionally detrimental no matter what your field. It’s insanely unfair, but there are studies that have found women who take their husband’s names end up earning less. Possibly those women are also more likely to take time out from work and raise children, accounting for that – or maybe it’s genuine bias in the workplace that penalises them. Or some other factor. /shrug

(When I first read that, I thought ‘how in heck would anyone know if you’ve changed your name? DUMB QUESTION – unless you get married at say, 20, and start off your professional career under it. Women who get married at work change their email addresses – thus announcing their new marital status to the entire office, which men never have to do – and then obviously have to deal with things future employers calling up past references who know them as somebody else.)

Unfortunately I don’t really see any way to smashing that barrier, aside from soldiering on, choosing to change your name, and kicking ass in the workplace – I just won’t be a part of that, I suppose.

And now, after writing this, I’m more conflicted than ever – not about my personal choices, but just by all the social and cultural norms and ramifications involved in a wider context.

Again: I’m not here to bash on you for changing your last name. I’m genuinely trying to reconcile my feelings on this matter.

In which I struggle to reconcile feminism and arranged marriages

By: madaboutasia

One of my dearest friends is about to get formally engaged. It’s a modern arranged marriage, which, from my perspective, simply means that her parents have been heavily involved in the matchmaking (think of them as her wingmen, out scouting the community!), and in the end she has the ultimate choice.

I’ve known her for over 10 years now, and I’ve always known that she would almost certainly have an arranged marriage. That said, I just wasn’t expecting it to happen so soon and so fast…

Their compressed timeframe is absolutely mind boggling. They met last month. They’re getting engaged over in his hometown over Easter. They’ll be tying the knot later this year (as in, within six months or less). I don’t know about him, but she hasn’t really dated anyone else. I know it took me years to learn to be in a healthy relationship, so I struggle to fathom how two strangers, essentially, can slot into each other’s lives just like that.

That said, I really like the guy. Us girls all do, based on our one and only meeting so far – we have no quibbles whatsoever with him. In fact, he seems just about eerily perfect for her. After all, the families have spent years looking for the right match, so maybe it’s not all that surprising. I think they’ll be just fine.

Intellectually, I don’t have a problem with her arranged marriage. It’s an active, informed choice she’s made, and I support it. Given that we’re not dealing in dowries here, I don’t see anything inherently anti-feminist about an arranged marriage.

BUT. There’s a but. Most of all, what bugs me is the fact that by default, she will be moving to Australia to live. And that’s what gets my goat. That the convention is to defer to the guy – though I suppose the context for this part of the tradition is exactly the same reason many women take a backseat to men in general, arranged marriage or not: generally, the guy is older (in this case, true), his career is more settled (true), lucrative (unclear – I don’t know what he does aside from the broad industry), etc, and thus takes precedence. I imagine this is even more pronounced in an arranged marriage, where the families are probably quite concerned with finding a ‘successful’ man, while the criteria for good wife material is perhaps not measured quite the same way.