What makes a relationship

Is it stupid that what I want more than anything in the world is a romantic companion?

It is stupid; I was horrified to realize it and I’m embarrassed to have admitted it. I’ve become what I hate: one of those women who are constantly obsessed with wanting to find a boyfriend, wanting to find a husband, wanting to get married and settle down as soon as possible.

I would roll my eyes and scoff: there’s more to life than that, c’mon, does it really matter that much? When it happens, it happens. In the meantime, live your life, please!

And yet… I don’t think it’s that uncommon a desire. In fact, I think it’s a pretty common desire, based on what the majority of our music, movies and books are about and on the fact that people pair up more often than they don’t.

I was watching Juno for the first time recently, and the following quote from the father made me cry (I was also slightly drunk, that’s my excuse): “The best thing you can do is find a person who loves you for exactly what you are. Good mood, bad mood, ugly, pretty, handsome, what have you, the right person is still going to think the sun shines out your ass. That’s the kind of person that’s worth sticking with.”

I cried because I know I’m capable of that. Is that really so hard to do? I cried because real life is never that simple. Why are there so many things that get in the way? Why do we let them get in the way?

I recently got the feeling that… I think I could love just about anyone. I don’t know how true that is and I certainly don’t want to test it (how, by randomly picking a person in my vicinity and attempt to cultivate a crush on that person??), but that’s how I felt.

That made me think that perhaps our parents’ and grandparents’ generations got it right: just pick one or have one picked for you and that’s it. You learn to live with the person. You learn to take care of the person. You learn to love them, you grow to love each other. Isn’t there a kind of love that grows naturally from spending time with a person and getting to know them?

I guess that isn’t enough though. I should have seen enough rubbish marriages to know this…

I never liked the idea of having a list of criteria for your significant other, choosing mechanically by ticking off a checklist. Every time I re-vist the idea, I find myself mocking it. He has to be taller than you… really? Has to have certain qualifications, have certain amount of money… really?

Well, I guess it would be good if she likes the outdoors, like me. I guess it would be fantastic if she liked rock-climbing too, then we could go together! She must like animals, she must care for the environment. Singing and music. Those are very important too. And art! We could draw things for each other and visit art exhibitions together. Oh, preferably a Terry Pratchett fan c’mon how can one not like Terry Pratchett? It would be good if our socio-economical backgrounds are similar too, and if she can speak or understand hokkien, that’d make integration into my extended family much easier. Oh, she should be a science person, because I’m a science person. And wouldn’t it be cool if we could have pointless philosophical discussions that last forever? 

… And wouldn’t that be just like dating myself and wouldn’t that be a whole bunch of EXTREMELY BORING.

Honestly, I think one of the best parts about being in a relationship– the most fresh, exciting and meaningful parts– is seeing through some one else’s eye. Having the scope of your world open up and expand, being introduced to a whole new world you weren’t privy to before. Learning more about things you never knew about, never thought about, never saw in that way before and having yourself changed by that experience.

Where would all that be if the other person were exactly like you?

It’s of course good and sound advice that certain compatibilities should be present. If you have no common interests, what are you going to do together or talk about? If your backgrounds and perspectives are too different, misunderstandings would occur easily. And more importantly, if your priorities in life and in the relationship clash, it would be hard to make it last.

I made a list (similar to the one above) of all the things that were important to me. Must like animals and nature. Must value friends and family highly. I made a list, and then I dismissed it. These sort of things really aren’t what’s important in a relationship, it’s not what you should be looking out or on your guard for.

Yet such a list is important– not as a criteria list but as a list of knowing what’s important to you. Which are the most important values to you, which are the lines you won’t cross? Which are the essential characteristic, which define what you want from the relationship? And which define your dreams and what you want from life?

And that’s what makes or breaks a relationship, I think. Each knowing the their own general answers to these questions and being able to talk openly and successfully arrive at common answers as a couple.

Parents are excused from strange beliefs

A couple of days ago, I went with my father to the temple to pray to/for my deceased grandfather, because it was 清明节, a day where you’re supposed to visit the graves of your ancestors to pay your respects and clean up the grave and things like that.

There’s only one cemetery still open for burials in Singapore (and even then, the graves are exhumed after 15 years) so most people are cremated instead. Which means no graves to sweep. What we usually do when we go to the temple on Qingming is: lay out all the food (the deceased’s favourites) nicely on a table (for them to eat); get some joss sticks and light them, then ‘pray’ to the buddha (??) at the altar; stick half of those joss sticks in a huge urn full of joss sticks; go to the marble block/mini tombstone with our grandfather’s photo and particulars and pray to/at/for (???) that. Sometimes people buy lots of ‘spirit money’ or paper cars/houses to burn to give to the deceased. I also see priest doing some chanting for families, reading from books while knocking on the wooden block.

There’s a whole lot of question marks in there because… my parents aren’t particularly religious (or so I like to think). Visits to the temple have always been once-in-a-blue-moon occurrences and the significance of what it done is never explained. As a kid when we saw the grown ups being all solemn, we don’t dare question too much and just imitate what they do, and do what we’re told.

But after my recent bout of questioning religion, unexamined beliefs and irrationality…this time round I found myself wondering. Does my Dad really believe my grandfather will get to enjoy the food and wine he puts on the table? and who are why ‘praying’ to or what are we ‘praying’ for?

And, more importantly, if I don’t believe in any of this, why did I agree to come along? If I can attack people of other faiths for just blindly going along with what always has been done and look down on such practices, am I not being hypocritical if I close my eyes to the irrational practices of my own family? Why not attack these senseless rituals of burning joss sticks and stacks and stacks of ‘spirit money’?

I have this anecdote I like to tell people when I want to illustrate how ‘strange’ my mum is: She gives me free reign to do many things other mums would deem risky or dangerous such as traveling overseas on my own or learning to ride a motorcycle. Yet she vehemently refuses to let me get my ears pierced. And I’m a girl! There are parents in Singapore who will bring their daughters to pierce their ears at a young age, and  parents who will not even allow their sons to ride a motorbike!

It’s really silly, and I obviously don’t buy her reasons why I shouldn’t pierce my ears at all. But still, I’m not going to disobey her and pierce my ears. Because I don’t want pierced ears badly enough to disobey, disrespect and upset my mum.

And I realize that’s a principal I apply to other issues as well: that you give more leeway to your parents. Parents are excused from ridiculous beliefs that you’d normally wouldn’t stand for in other people. You might chide them or try to explain it to them for the billionth time, but you’re not going to pick a fight about it.

Of course, you’d have to draw the line somewhere, like if your parents’ beliefs involved causing harm to others, or if they were being exceedingly unreasonable about something that means a lot to you, but I think most times, respect and love for your parents (and family) should have priority…

So why did I agree to go along and participate in rituals I didn’t believe it? Because I know it’s important to my father, something solemn and saddening for him. So if he asks me if I want to come along, I will, as a simple show of support, because he’s my father.

Tolerance vs Harmony; Campus Crusade

A while ago there was a bit of a religion-related up-roar regarding some comments the Campus Crusade for Christ group in NUS made on their posters and websites.

Specifically, it had 2 posters promoting missions trips to Thailand and Turkey which read, “Thailand is a place of little true joy. Buddhism is so much of the Thai national identity and permeates into every level of society and culture that only one hundred Thais accept Christ each year” and “much of the population (in Turkey) is M, much prayer and work is needed in this place.”

When I saw the angry comments fly online, I felt slightly puzzled. Why were people so enraged? It’s not like you didn’t know that Christians think their religion is the only true one. It’s not like you didn’t know Christians think that knowing Christ is the best thing that can happen to you, the thing that will bring you ‘true joy’. It’s not like you didn’t know what the objective of mission trips are.

So as long as people keep quiet about their true intentions, you’ll close one (or two) eye(s), but once they dare proclaim it, you’ll call them out on it??

I had a thought: is this an example of how the racial and religious harmony we claim to have in Singapore is not true harmony or acceptance? But rather a superficial veil hiding mere tolerance or apathy? A bit like ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ huh: as long as you don’t get in my face, as long as you PRETEND you’re not doing anything, I’ll pretend along with you.

And if so… is this situation a necessary compromise for living in a society with too many differing view points (especially religious)? or is it hypocrisy, plain and simple?

Related articles:
The Online Citizen
The Straits Times
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Charles and Eric

I’ve always thought that I don’t choose my friends. I am friends with anyone who wants to be my friend. If you’re talking to me, I will talk to you. And once I consider you a friend, you’re a friend for life. And this seemed the right way to do things.

Maybe I was wrong.

I’ve always thought the details of friendship didn’t matter, friendship should resemble a mother’s unconditional love. How often you meet up, what activities you do or don’t do together, your likes ,dislikes and beliefs, they shouldn’t really matter. I’m not going to renounce a friendship just because a friend likes music I hate or adopts a life philosophy that’s different from mine. Friends means friends, right?

Maybe that’s wrong.

Recently, a Christian friend of mine was discussing the idea that Christians should surround themselves with other Christians… that they should spend more time with fellow Christians, that their closest friends should be Christian. Her point of view was that it was only natural and common sense: you would hang out with people who shared common goals and ideas with yourself. If you wanted to be better at basketball, you’d hang out with other people who similarly wanted to train their basketball skills. If you were concerned with having a life centred on Christ, only other Christians could help you with that. She also linked me to this article, Should Christians be Friends with Non-Christians.

I found the article horrendously offensive, and I was really hurt and offended by what she was saying. That view is ridiculously discriminatory, selfish and elitist, I argued. And if you were to apply that kind of logic to any other situation, any other group of people, you would think so too.

But… maybe I was wrong.

Maybe she was right.

Maybe some differences are too fundamental that you have to draw a line to avoid compromising on your own values. Maybe you should consciously surround yourself with positive people, with people who have the right ideas.

Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr were good friends. But their differing beliefs put them at direct odds with each other. They turned from friends to enemies, not because they couldn’t get along or because they didn’t care for each other, but solely because they had opposing view points.

If you find yourself and a friend on the opposite sides of an issue — an issue that you feel strongly about and will not compromise on– can you still be friends?

What do you think?