Settling for an ‘8’

“And I challenge you, above all, to date yourself.”

– Gemma Rose, Settling for an ‘8’, Together magazine

This is probably one of my favourite articles for Together magazine. I am really into romantic relationships: reading, writing, watching, talking about them as well as experiencing them. In my blog and magazine articles, I refer regularly to the advice from my relationship gurus, Matthew Hussey and Natalie Lue. So when I got the opportunity to write about relationships for last December’s issue, I decided to focus on the idea of settling for second (or third or fourth) best in relationships.

“Don’t settle!” is a phrase I hear a lot, and it’s one that I’ve used all too blindingly on friends. But, I think it can be very misleading because the idea of settling is very subjective. It’s probably quite difficult to know if second best is actually so because we may not have a clue about who is best for us. The more I read on relationships – as well as be in one – I realise that being self-aware plays a key role in finding the right person. Knowing who you are will hopefully help you know what you want and separate “the wheat from the chaff“.

I’ve pasted part of the article below. If it entices you, you can read it in full (p.17 – 18 on pdf) or a shortened online version. The longer version is better! After the excerpt, I’ve also added references to the article, in case you want to read more.

I hope you enjoy it, and if you have time, leave a comment or write to me with your thoughts. What do you think it means to settle in a relationship? Do you think we should? Is there really such thing as The One, or should we just go for the ‘8’?

Settling for an ‘8’: Gemma Rose wonders if we should settle for second best in love

When I recently read an article by Lori Gottlieb for the Atlantic magazine, written in 2008, ‘Marry Him! The case for settling for Mr. Good Enough‘, I was initially saddened by what she had to say: that once a woman is over 30 and is single, she obviously wants to get married and have children. Thus, she should start being less picky because once she gets to 40, the dating pool reduces considerably and she only has the dregs to choose from. Gottlieb was then in her early 40s and a single mum. She yearned for a man in her life and regretted dismissing so easily those men she met in her 20s and 30s. Whether you should hold out for the love of your life or settle, Gottlieb is clear:

“My advice is this: Settle! That’s right. Don’t worry about passion or intense connection. Don’t nix a guy based on his annoying habit of yelling “Bravo!” in movie theatres. Overlook his halitosis or abysmal sense of aesthetics. Because if you want to have the infrastructure in place to have a family, settling is the way to go. Based on my observations, in fact, settling will probably make you happier in the long run, since many of those who marry with great expectations become more disillusioned with each passing year.”

Following the success – or the controversy – surrounding this article, Gottlieb wrote a book (under the same title) to delve deeper into the issue. Although I have not read the book, subsequent interviews with Gottlieb suggest that the book paints a slightly less depressing picture compared to the original article. She appears to say that the person of our dreams does not exist; that we should give people a chance rather than simply dismiss them because there was no instant chemistry, or because they were called Sheldon. Go for the ‘8’, she says, instead of holding out for the ‘10’, because you’ll be waiting a long time.

Read more… (p.17 – 19 of Pdf).

References:

How we end up marrying the wrong people, The Philosophers’ Mail

What I’m really thinking: the matchmaker, The Guardian

For good advice on emotional unavailability, read Baggage Reclaim by Natalie Lue

The driving force of fear

“Fear drives us to do many things in our lives. For me, the fear of losing a loved one, and all those terrifying thoughts of what it’s like to be left behind and feel alone, drove me to conceive and write this story.”

Cecilia Ahern, P.S I love you

I read this book recently on my holiday. Honestly, I’ve read better books but what encouraged (forced) me to keep reading was this first sentence of the note from the author. When I got back from holiday, I also decided to watch the film to see what all the fuss about and I have to say the book was far better (why do Americans overdo Ireland so much?), although the film’s saving grace is Lisa Kudrow.

The quote above resounds so much with me because I have a fear that drives me. A fear of being stuck in a routine, or a lifestyle that doesn’t suit me. I know that something isn’t right when I get a funny urge in my body, one where something inside just wants to leap out of me, take hold of me and shove me into the spotlight. But then my slow brain takes over – the thinker – and it just says, “Not yet.”

I am waiting for the day when the urge is so strong that my slow brain will say, “Now.”

Know Thyself

Die to the future, die to the past, and wake up now.”

– Jon Kabat-Zinn

I have come across this incredible resource on philosophy – BBC Radio 4’s A History of Ideas. The presenter of this programme, Melvyn Bragg, asks a question of philosophy, such as “how can I tell right from wrong?” to a panel of experts including philosophers, scientists, historians and writers. After the programme, each panel member then investigates the question further for their own follow-up programme.

I came across the Know Thyself short animation as part of the “What does it mean to be me?” episode. This animation touches on four thinkers – two philosophers and two scientists. It begins with Socrates, who went to great depths to know that he didn’t really know much. Then to Thomas Hobbes who said that by engaging in introspection, observing ourselves and understanding our thoughts, feelings and desires, not only would we know ourselves better, but so would we too of others. The unconscious plays a big role in knowing who we are, and it’s something that we still don’t fully understand. Freud believed that our repressed desires only come out in dreams or slips of the tongue, making us wonder whether we ever truly understand our behaviour. Finally, the evolutionary psychologist Bruce Hood said that actually the self is just an illusion – there is no self to know.

Therefore, how do we know that we actually exist if there is no self, or at least the jury is out on what ‘the self’ is? The philosopher René Descartes said that we exist because we have thoughts. But, in contrary to Descartes, we are more than our thoughts. As Aristotle reminds us that “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

According to probably one of the most well-known mindfulness practitioners – scientist Jon Kabat-Zinn –  he says that the key to the good life is to know ourselves. In a recent lecture of his, he basically explained that to be mindful is to be awake. In order to be awake, we have to tap into ourselves. This talk reminded me of a story that I read recently, as part of a book on philosophy. It is a fictional story about two passengers on a plane. The female passenger doesn’t like flying, so she takes a sleeping pill that lasts the whole flight. Yet, she’s not actually asleep, it’s her awareness that is. She still functions as a normal human, having deep and engaging conversations with the passenger sitting next to her. She tells him about the pill she has just swallowed, and he is amazed at how she appears to have full use of her senses.

How many of us spend our days being fully functioning but not actually awake? “Die to the future, die to the past, and wake up now,” said Jon Kabat-Zinn.

To figure out how to know oneself is probably one of the hardest things to do, because identifying what the self is in the first place is still a tricky task. For now, I turn to poetry as a source of help. For my post on ‘Know your value, know your self‘, I referred to a part of the poem ‘Nosce Teipsum’ by Sir John Davies. We can easily go to each end of the poles, and yet still be unacquainted with our own soul.

For this post, I leave you with the poem by the St Lucian Nobel prize-winning poet and playwright, Derek Walcott, which Jon Kabat-Zinn recited during his lecture.

Love after Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

2015: My year of writing

Now I know there is no value in sitting about wishing and hoping. If I’m daydreaming about something, it’s down to me to make it happen.

– Daisy Buchanan, ‘Lessons in life that online dating taught me’, The Guardian

2014 was the year of meeting more men. I wrote about it in my article ‘The art of conversation’ for Together magazine. I realised that if I wanted to meet the right person for me, I had to have a good idea about what I was looking for and then get out there and look for it. I learnt that my love life is in my hands.

It has been over two years since I started Living room philosophy. Thanks to the blog, I got the opportunity to write for Together magazine: my very own personal development column. Thanks to the magazine, I did my first interview: it was with Ratna Osman, from Sisters in Islam, an NGO fighting for equality and justice for muslim women in Malaysia. I will post the interview on the blog soon.

I am so thankful that my writing is gaining traction, although I admit I’d like to do more and I guess I am looking for that lucky break: the opportunity to write full-time on the topics that really interest me. The freedom to choose and still be able to make a decent living.

Earning a living is for me what makes writing as a career so scary. I hear a lot about how journalism doesn’t pay, it’s all about free content, and it’s best to find other lucrative channels to support your writing. Yet, I can’t help but feel that earning a living in the arts has always been tough and always will be. Plus, I hear that some people do earn a good living: a journalist recently told me that he’s faring very well. In Margaret Atwood’s book ‘Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing’, she accepted that when she started out in late 1950s Canada as a poet, she definitely wasn’t going to earn money. But she did.

For making the transition into writing, the most sensible advice I’ve read (and heard) is to start building it up slowly and then make the leap when I have the resources to. As the Guardian journalist George Monbiot says in his article about career advice, “Work hard, but don’t rush. Build your reputation slowly and steadily.” And he thinks specialisation, instead of what journalism school (and actually many schools) thinks is a trap, is actually the key to escaping the trap: “You can become the person editors think of when they need to cover a particular issue from a particular angle (that is to say your angle). They then respond to your worldview, rather than you having to respond to theirs.”

So 2015 is going to be my year of more writing: more blog posts and more published articles. And just like my love life, my career is in my hands.

Confronting the news

Hold on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock back for tomorrow is another day.

– E. B. White

For the November 2014 issue of Together magazine, I wrote about what was the best way to confront the bad news that we’ve been reading about and hearing a lot of. Even though I wrote the article five months ago, the amount of shocking news doesn’t appear to have decreased: there still seems to be an awful lot of it out there…

I grew up in the nineties and I do wonder whether the world was a better place back then, pre-September 11 and all the raging conflict that has ensued. But then I recall the terrible things that happened in the nineties too: the genocides in Bosnia and in Rwanda, the Omagh bombing, the Dunblane and Columbine shootings, Waco, the Toyko subway attack. Tragic events have happened and they continue to happen.

So how do we deal with the news? In this article, I attempt to figure it out.

Confronting the news: Gemma Rose tries to find the balance between being over-emotionally invested and burying her head in the sand

Let’s admit it, this summer was an aestas horribilis: the downing of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17; the civil war in Ukraine; the ISIS ethnic and religious cleansing, beheadings and rapes; the ongoing Israel– Palestine conflict; the spread of the Ebola virus. And it never stopped raining in August.

It’s after such a horrible summer that I seriously consider going on a news fast, eliminating the newspaper, news sites or news programmes from my life for a while. I become completely oblivious to the sheer horror and tragedy that seem to happen every minute in this glorious, expansive, yet seemingly small and terribly interconnected world. For a couple of days it feels good – I feel like I’m sort of returning to normality, focusing on me and staying present. But then I feel the tug of the news again.

I often wonder what my role is in confronting the news. I mostly feel helpless, and usually guilty. I say to myself: “I was raised Muslim, why aren’t I out on the street condemning ISIS as a force of evil and wholly contrary to the principles of Islam?” Or: “I’m European, why aren’t I out on the street denouncing Russian foreign policy and demanding more from Europe?”

The truth is, I’m either pretty darn cowardly, or I feel pretty darn powerless. I’m not alone in feeling this way. I recently asked friends the question, “How do you feel about the scary things that are happening in this world?” The most common response: fear and anxiety, coupled with helplessness. We are scared about the depths of depravity we can inflict on one another and yet we are unsure as to how to stop it.

How do we balance processing the bad news, which is normally happening in far-away lands, with getting on with our lives right here, right now? On the one hand, it seems a massive drain on our emotional resources to be consumed by the destruction and devastation of our world. Yet on the other, it seems selfish to live in blissful ignorance. My friends’ replies were: we elect politicians to protect and promote our freedoms and prevent further suffering in the world; we donate to charities that provide humanitarian relief in conflict zones. Even if we don’t mobilize ourselves on the streets, they say, we can make a stand in our own living room, signing petitions via Change.org, Avaaz.org or #Making a Stand.

Talking about the news to one another was the most common response. When we share our concerns, not only are we informing ourselves and each other, we feel less alone in our anxiety.

It is perhaps this shared anxiety that fulfils one of the purposes of news. In the article ‘Why isn’t the news more cheerful?’ by the Philosophers’ Mail (a news organization run and staffed by philosophers), it is held that we need to hear about certain types of bad news (disasters, plane crashes, wars) because it is evidence that life is bleak, it is unfair and all of humanity suffers.

The Philosophers’ Mail states that the reporting of news must be helpful to enable us to live the good life. The problem however lies with the powerful influence of the media. In the short film ‘What is the point of news?‘ the philosopher Alain de Botton forcefully contends that we are not taught how to be critical of the news. The news can overload us with information, rendering us overwhelmed and therefore very unlikely to change the status quo; or it can constantly anger or terrify us because it needs to keep itself employed.

The last point de Botton makes is that we have to learn when to switch off the news and deal instead with our own anxieties and hopes. I would go one further: that the balance between switching on and off lies in knowing what we can and can’t do within our sphere of influence. I know I can’t broker a peace deal in the Middle East or find a cure for Ebola; but I can sign that petition, share that campaign and inform myself of that virus.

Lastly, I can hope: hope that things will get better, that the light prevails over the darkness. As the author E. B. White replied in his letter to someone who had lost their faith in humanity: “As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time.”

E. B. White then signs off with this indelible reminder: “Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.”

Going grey gracefully

I have my second living room letter!

Dear Gemma Rose,

I am a woman in my mid thirties and I’m starting to go quite grey. I’m wondering whether I should dye my hair or not. My mother keeps nagging me to do it, but I quite like my grey hair. I think it makes me look distinguished. Yet dying it would probably make me look a lot younger. What do the philosophers say on grey hair? Should I resort to dying it for the sake of looking young, and pleasing my mother?

Love the blog by the way.

– K

Dear K,

I feel honoured that you should bestow such a request for advice on me. As someone who is similar in age and going grey herself, it too is something that I’ve been reflecting on for a while. I have very dark hair, so my greys (or are they white?) really are on show. I must say that I sometimes grieve at seeing more and more grey, and I try to hide the strands by changing my quiff or cut. I guess for me it’s like grieving my youth, that I’m not a “youngin'” anymore and that I am sort of approaching middle age.

There has been a double standard with going grey between the sexes. George Clooney is your typical salt and pepper (although he seems pretty much salt these days) hearthrob, or silver fox. Today, it’s pretty much accepted in society that men don’t feel the pressure or need to dye their hair, in comparison to the nineties when the use of ‘Just For Men‘ was rife. I definitely notice it with colleagues: the male ones revel in their grey, whereas the female ones tend to get the dye out.

However, there seems to a revolution going on: a grey one. ‘Grey is the new black! Blondies, it’s quiet for y’all!’ tweeted the fashionista Rihanna back in 2013. Young people who probably don’t have grey yet are flocking to colour the hair grey to be “on trend”. A Kardashian clan member even spent 11 hours for the privilege!

So grey is cool in the celeb world. But the difference seems to be that these are celebs who are dying their hair, not celebs who have bitten the silver bullet (I couldn’t resist) and decided to let nature do the talking, instead of Clairol. As you know, naturally grey hair is coarse and can have a life of its own, so to look good with grey, a bit of haircare and a good cut is needed. The tendency is that if you are going grey, better to go short too but I’ve seen some women who look fantastic with long, grey hair and I’ve seem some women who look like they have a bird’s nest on their head.

What do the philosophers say? Well, I reckon a few them were grey. For instance, Socrates was grey by the end of his life. As was Jeremy Bentham, David Hume and Michael Sandel. What about the women? Well Simone de Beauvoir looked like she might have only stopped dyeing her hair when she was well into her third act, same goes for Ayn Rand. I am no academic, but I’m not sure if hair colour was on the agenda. Hannah Arendt was kept occupied fleeing the Nazis and then covering Adolf Eichmann’s trial. Simone de Beauvoir was probably way-laid writing that feminism can never be achieved as long as women are considered a “deviation” of the male norm. Susan Haack is most likely spending a lot of her time writing about “foundherentism”. Not sure if philosophising about going grey is on her to-do list.

In a 2007 Time article about going grey in showbiz, political, business and even in the healthcare circles, this was practically unheard of and frowned upon. One doctor said she would be taken less seriously, viewed as an “alternative” practitioner, for going grey. One business woman admitted that her career success depended on not going grey. But that was 8 years ago, I think times have changed.

If you do decide to dye, according to the Guardian’s fashion expert Hadley Freeman, once you start, you can’t stop. And your bank balance won’t thank you for it.

Whatever decision you make, make sure that you feel good about it. If letting nature take its course displeases your Mum, I’m sure she will get over it. Of course, you can always suggest that she foots the bill every time you get your hair done. She might soon change her mind.

I’ve quit Facebook (for the time being)

In February, I quit Facebook. One afternoon, when I was just slightly more bored than usual, I decided to facebook stalk a facebook friend, so a friend who wasn’t really my friend in real life. I spent an awful lot time on this person’s profile page. I then saw this person in a picture with someone I really disliked. And that really got my goat. I then tried to facebook stalk the person I really didn’t like (who isn’t a facebook friend). And then suddenly it hit me: “Why the eff am I wasting my precious time on this planet in this speedy gift called life giving a toss about people who wouldn’t do the same?” I immediately logged off. The next day, I deactivated my account. I told Facebook that I would be back.

Over a month on, and I’m not so sure I will be back. I don’t miss it. Actually life has been considerably better since I deactivated. I don’t get mad about people I don’t care about because I don’t know what they are doing. I don’t miss the “trending” (very irritating), the cute baby photos or the “so and so has just got engaged” on my news feed. I don’t miss getting addicted to the news feed and having to click on articles, like things, comment or share. I do miss certain things – hearing news from close friends and family who live abroad – but it also means I have to make an effort. I have to write an email. I have to ask people to send me the photos, I might even have to arrange to see them offline. But this is also wonderful because I have stories to tell. I can tell people they do actually look great, or I love their hair cut, or outfit, because I haven’t already seen it on Facebook.

What about Living room philosophy’s facebook page? It was quite popular (in my world and by my standards, not say, compared to Taylor Swift or One Direction). I enjoyed putting up quotes, or sharing articles, and it did help with my blog traffic. But, I noticed that having a facebook page stopped people doing what I really want them to do: subscribe to my blog. I had quite a bit of traffic but little subscribers. Having the page also meant that I became obsessed with statistics – the number of likes to my page, posts, postings, photos. But to quote from the famous ‘He’s Just Not That Into You’ book :”F*** statistics! Statistics just keep you down.” Yeah, they do. So that just leaves WordPress, Twitter, Gmail and I. I will try to be more of a tweeter. I think it might be better for me because I can just ignore a lot of the junk more easily. Relying more on Gmail means that I subscribe to new sites, websites and blogs that I really like. The same goes for WordPress. And the great thing is, is that I can unsubscribe or unfollow whenever I like, and no one’s feelings will get hurt.

Where does all this leave LRP? Well, I’ve decided to be a bit more casual about my writing style and posts. I will also try to take a few more photos and perhaps be a bit more “arty”. Who knows? I will still also post my publications, because they are good.

I did an entire F*** It month nearly three years ago. I realise that I need to go back to that philosophy with this blog. To just say “f*** it” and just being open to something spectacular happening today.

Thanks for following and I hope you continue to do so.