No, Not That Kind of Romance

Humans thought they understood love, and—for a narrow window of time—we probably did.

The earliest awareness universally begins as soon as you sense an unearthly gravity toward a particular figure. A boy whose name you barely learned a week a go, a girl who made politically-incorrect jokes throughout that boring lecture—whenever this person pops up in the same room as yours, your head suddenly gets clouded with a thin air of urge to appear a brush prettier, a sentence funnier, or an argument wittier.

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Maybe that’s why there’s a peculiar charm in wedding ceremonies.

Witnessing two people, once a complete stranger to each other, consciously commit to spend the rest of their lives together—you wouldn’t be able to resist an ink-drop of hopeful feeling inside you. And they don’t do this discreetly in the fear of not being able to live up to such promise, no, they do this in public—sometimes in front of over hundreds of groomed audience. Not because they deny the possibility of getting hurt on the way, nor ignore the fact that the person standing next to them is flawed and far from perfect—but rather because they have come to accept it. They have seen everything—the awkward first dates, the comforting company, the embarrassing habits, the ugly face, the laughters and tears—they have seen them, and just like that, decide to keep it with them a lifetime longer.

(That, or we’re just too coward to deal with life alone. Either way, for the species who were born and are to die alone, getting a temporary assurance of ‘living happily ever after’ becomes a beautiful impossibility—too beautiful nobody would have the heart to refuse and disappoint. So hey, we thought, let’s entertain the pinch of likelihood and smile and be happy for a little bit, no matter how ephemeral our story might end up be.)

You might notice that this post is starting to lose its point by now, because that’s basically what’s happening. Maybe we should’ve talked about critical spiritualism instead—oh wait—it’s coming back! Two things, before it disapparates again:

1. Some relationships have width, some have depth.

One of the most discussed issues in the realm of romance would probably be whether or not we should be with someone very similar to ourselves.

The argument-against contends that being with someone from a different background would definitely be nicer, because you get to learn new things everyday. A computer engineer should ask the journalist out, while an architect and a nerd-looking entrepreneur would make a great duo. On the other hand, dating a person coming from the same sector would bore you to death—not to mention the competition it would entail.

Beyond careers and interests, resemblance in personalities also wouldn’t be much of a help. In an ideal scenario, one of you should be more patient than the other, and a better financial manager than the splurging spouse. Nobody would want to double the trouble.

But we also know that there are power couples of the same profession. The reception above, for starters, was hosted by a jazz singer and a band member. Don’t forget that I once gave you a shortlist, too—what about them?

Well, here’s a thought-proposal: while you could ‘complete each other’ (I hate the overused phrase) by being with someone who comes from a separate world than yours, the two of you would never be able to reach the deepest—often hidden—room of mind-intimacy, unless you are with someone who understands, or at least has set their feet in your world.

Both have its practical perks, I guess—the way presidents could avoid trouble by being with stay-at-home first lady, or how Marie Curie and her chemist husband managed to win a Nobel Prize together. My favorite instance though, would be Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre’s 51 years of open marriage that gave birth to existentialism.

2. When it comes to soulmate-ship, we are cursed with eternal ignorance.

Until somebody comes up with a valid methodology to verify the concept of ‘being destined for someone’, it’s simply an overrated myth. Us humans fall in love, several times for most of us—often: 1) with the wrong person, 2) at the wrong time, or 3) in the wrong place—and that usually leaves either one of you brokenhearted. Now what if we don’t really ‘find’ a soulmate, but simply happen to have ticked all three boxes above?

As soon as you say yes to this, you would also realize that you could engineer a soulmate for yourself. If experience taught that you could only stay with the smart men, don’t pick boys that still have mother issues. Don’t fall in love when you’re about to leave for a master’s degree, or in the busiest year of work. Lastly, limit your feelings for someone who could geographically be a home when you need them, but not too close that your togetherness could later turn into obsession for possession.

Voila, a ready-to-be-married-with soulmate for you.

Unfortunately, these three variables are not as adjustable/arrangeable as you wish them to be. Cosmologically the probability of having them all set within line is—well, once or twice in a lifetime. (Right now I’m silently laughing at the pathetic-ness of us mortals.) I am of course overgeneralizing the idea into soulmates you would want to get married (or have sex) with. After all, we might have best friends without whom we know we couldn’t live with, but we never thought of them as a partner in physical interactions.

Like all myths, this one also has unverifiable superstitions—’real’ soulmates are: couples who die after one another (“The husband passed away only six days after the wife did. Aww.”), couples who look alike (“I seriously thought they were twins!”), and a bunch of other false—appealing, but very likely untrue—assumptions.

At the end of the day, all these postulations might boil down to the person who could appreciate you for who you are, whose sense of humor warms you during the rainy days. It might all actually be very simple—only if you allow your mind to think so.

***

P. S. Sometimes, entering the full realization that I am human—with all its consequences and social contracts—even for just five seconds, astonishes me profoundly.

P. S. S. I don’t know why but I’m very much into this album lately.

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The Arcane Truth Behind Growing Up (a.k.a. How Parents Nag Differently When You’re an Adult)

Among the 8.7 million living species on earth today, I think homo sapiens still tops the planet-wide rank for the most complex inter-species relations. First of: we have a confusing system of social interactions—first there are strangers to judge, then you have acquaintances for cheap talks, friends to hang out with, parents to respect, spouses to love, kids to take care, and the list goes on. But what adds complication to that already-intricate web of agents and structures is this: the time dimension. You see, ladies and gentlemen: as humans grow up, the nature of these associations also shift, pushing us to adjust and eventually win (again) in the standing of ‘the most adaptive species’.

Now let’s take a closer look at one of the most understudied human bonds around us: that between mother/father and their daughters/sons.

Baby-Deer

For most species in kingdom animalia, parenthood is not a permanent state—as soon as their offsprings turn into their ‘adult’ phase, parents ‘abandon’ their kids into feeding, and defending themselves from predator attacks. For us human beings, however, (expectedly) the story is a little bit more complicated than that. Parents don’t just ‘leave’ us in the woods to build our own nest and magically survive—instead, they:

(Disclaimer: I might be over-generalizing since the only sample of ‘parents’ I use here is my own—but who knows, you might be able to relate somehow.)

1. Take Our Opinions Into Account

For almost two decades, my parents had made most of my decisions for me. They picked the town where I was born in (Cianjur), my first schools, the books I could read (thankfully Harry Potter was one of themdespite our economic limitations), and others. During these early days, the things I said didn’t really matter. One time I told father I wanted to take my bachelor degree abroad (I even passed the test and got a scholarship offer already) but he said no, and I trusted his judgment.

In fact, I used to trust all of my parents’ judgment. For most kids, this is also the case: parents are the first humans they look up to, whose sayings and deeds are stored properly in their memory as a life guide (at least temporarily), and later affect their personality as their own identity shapes up.

Later as we age, however, each of usespecially those with access to better education—typically realizes that our parents could be wrong, too. We suddenly see that they are ordinary humans, and that sometimes we know better.

This new epiphany might yield in two different possibilities:

  1. some people get downright disappointed—they fail to accept such huge shift of perspective and they end up—in a way or another—taking distance from their parents;
  2. some others take the wiser road and respond better—they seek to reestablish the old subordinate-superordinate structural bond with that of two equal friends.

In the cases where the latter succeed to bring their parents to the same understanding, this is what usually happens: more substantial discussions over dinner, and more life decisions are now made together. They start to see you as an equal, and your opinions now count.

2. Stop Being the Person You Look Up To

Although some people manage to deal well with the awareness that apparently their parents are not saints who are always kind or teachers who are always right, most of them still have to undergo that painful phase of settling down.

There are, of course, certain qualities that we will always associate with our fathers and mothers: we would never get over the fact that they spend most of their life taking care of us, sacrificing things we could not imagine, and how they would be the first people crying if something bad happens to us. It does not mean, however, that they have to remain the very individuals we look up to for guidance.

As soon as you get to that point, remember to forgive yourself:
remind him/her that it is completely natural and okay to let them off the chart. We both know that they have their own special shelf in our mind—one that is exclusive for the very people who let us be who we are today.

3. Rely on You for Certain Things

My favorite part of growing up, though, is how I get to take the ‘parent’ role every once in a while. It feels awesome partly because I get to help the very individuals whose help I always rely on for so long, and partly because I just enjoy having control over other human beings. HAHAHA. (Kidding. Or not.)

Anyway, I see the switch in parent-child relationship as a beautiful irony: we are, at the end of the day, made for one another—at first we were born to make their days and them to take care of us. Later as adults, we get to take care of them and they will be there to make our days. I would say that one of the luckiest people are those who have enough time to be the parent to their parents—it is indeed a privilege out of which we should make the most of.

4. Still Want the Best for You

On top of that, my friend, pray know that they will forever want the best things to happen to you. Yes, they now have bigger expectations and often-time these requests could be bothersome (like how Indonesian parents ask “When are you getting married?” instead of the more relevant questions like “Are you happy?”), but real parents would not push you off the cliff for their own sake.

All and all, growing up is a bizarre thing. I told you once that we are physically still the same person—seeing with the same eyes and talking with the same mouth—but inside, we are almost a different person every day. But this strange process also hides a fulfilling answer to some of life’s mysteries: it reveals the dynamics to which parents and children interact not only in a linear fashion (that we would later have children of our own), but also a cyclical one, where we will eventually play the role of ‘parents’ to our own parents.

It is a very simple and yet wonderful concept, don’t you think?

A Short Account on Humility

Originally posted on Almanak-Almari a year ago.

I love writing and I’m good at it. I won’t pretend that I’m lousy with words just to make people think that I’m humble, because clearly humility doesn’t work that way. And I believe that’s what everybody should be doing, too. Finding what they love and/or good at, then stand up for it.

Yes, there’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance, but a trained mind can tell when they see one. So worry not: dare yourself to tell the world what you love and/or good at. Just keep your apology for the rainy days when you have to hurt someone for what you believe in. And when that time comes, tell yourself that things are going to be alright.

[On a less relevant note, I published this on Selasar (made it to the most popular article for a while) and this on Forests Asia’s website (as an intro to the youth session speech I’ll be delivering)—in case you need some extra reading this weekend. Cheers.]

What They Don’t Talk About When They Talk About Graduating

The past month had been quite of a roller-coaster ride to me—which probably makes the most acceptable excuse to why I hadn’t been blogging lately. You see: people don’t really write on a moving roller coaster; they either find a grip, close their eyes, both, or give up and simply cry in half-excitement. In other words: trying to survive the ride. That’s pretty much what I’ve been trying to do: enjoying the unexpected happenstances—they might be inconvenient sometimes, but most of the time, they are also fun.

To make it short: 1) my study period in Singapore finally came to an end, 2) I completed all 117-page of my thesis, stood up for it against all criticism in the defense room, and passed the exam (!), 3) a think-tank whose philosophy lies in being the ‘intersection of environment and socio-economic development‘ hired me—a perfect first post so far, and consequently 4) Jakarta had to welcome me as one of its new residents.

All of these happened in less than 10 days, left me overwhelmed with all the sudden changes, and took me a while until I could look back in retrospect and say what I have to say here.

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1. Education Is a Means to a Means…to an Endless Chain of Means

After four years of reading hundreds of journals and writing dozens of papers, of course, a celebration is in order. It is totally comprehensible to feel like you’ve passed a certain finish line after a long marathon called ‘undergraduate degree championship’. However, just like successful democracy is worth-celebrating but does not guarantee a prosperous society, so is your degree. By no means to be a party pooper, the moment you hurriedly walk (with your annoying heels) to the stage and receive your bachelor certificate marks no transition point to a new life phase whatsoever. The truth is, graduating is merely a process of a process of a process…which probably yields to an infinite number of processes. But it’s undeniably an awesome pause before you have to continue moving in a fast-forwarded track, for what it’s worth.

2. You’ll Go Back to the Bottom of the Pyramid

Commencement speeches can only encourage us into somehow believing in ourselves and taking opportunities. But beyond that, there is a more urgent news that people usually sweep under the rug: you’ll re-experience a familiar meritocratic-climbing process you once underwent in the college. I’m not saying that it sucks; on the contrary, I see it as a stimulating and enriching challenge after feeling stuck at campus-based organizations. You get to learn to be a subordinate again (with a hopefully nice supervisor), to follow instructions (instead of giving them to your juniors), to get confused and ask a lot of stupid questions (being a senior could be tiring because we’re supposed to know everything). It’s a humbling experience, and you’ll definitely learn something out of it.

3. The Word ‘Depression’ Now Comes with Flowers

I am not talking about deadlines—compared to this one, deadlines are toothless: wedding invitations! Someone you know from high school suddenly sends a pink envelope stamped with calligraphed ‘D & D’ to your office desk, emails with “THIS WEEKEND: YOU’RE INVITED” subject floods your inbox, or direct invitation through phone calls that are supposed to make you feel special but inevitably depressed. If not now, you’ll meet them soon—probably in 3-5 years. What I would love about my friends getting married, though, is the fact that I will have cute nieces and nephews :))

4. You’ll Get Distracted from Work

Some people would expect that, after graduation, they can cut themselves off secondary businesses and focus on developing a career. But no matter how hard you try, you’ll get distracted—for a lot of possible reasons. Childhood dreams (to write a book, to change the world into a better place), seemingly-irrelevant hobbies (building ship miniatures), other opportunities (part-time research assistant), or, you know, crushes (with someone you’re supposed to build a professional relationship with). From my very limited observation, though, these distractions actually worth time-investing more than the actual work deal. The truth is, regularity kills—not only physically because you spend a lot of energy to excel amongst your peers, but also emotionally when you don’t keep your mind producing new ideas and aspirations. So, my take: be distracted.

5. You’re Someone Else’s ‘Other Half’ Now

There is a huge difference between volunteering in an organization as a student and being a full-time employee who gets paid every month. The latter means that you are to spend 40 hours a week acting and thinking on behalf of your company’s interest. You will start introducing yourself as part of this larger industry, and be self-conscious about representing them in your speeches and daily conduct. In other words: almost half of your identity now links to who/what cause you work for. Hence, just like getting married: choose your ‘other half’ very, very wisely.

6. Your First Job Should Not Be Your Last One

Because, ladies and gentlemen, you’ll never know what you’re missing unless you try all of the options you have. It might be the most wanted job in the world, but I believe that life is more than just about settling down to ‘perfect’. Instead, us humans are equipped with the ability to go through our worst days and cherish the best ones. Fear not: listen to yourself and take your chances. Sooner or later, you will be thankful even for having chosen the ‘wrong path’—although the phrase itself does not make sense—all paths are meant to lead you somewhere. It’s just a matter of time until you see it.

P.S. You might want to close your perfect Sunday by reading An Ideal Coffee Shop Conversation. Good night.

On Birthdays: Because We Deserve to Feel Special (At Least Once Every Year)

I can’t be the only person on earth who thinks that it’s weird how each of us is too much familiar with a single date, right? If you’re around 20 years old, my closest estimate is that you have put that day-month-year sequence at least a hundred times—on your university applications, visa sheets, identity card form, phone card registration, magazine subscription, online orders, bookstore membership, bank account requests, and the endless list goes on.

Many people indeed use their birthdates as passwords, door sign decorations, or pretentiously engraved on their classic iPods. It appears very natural that we feel so connected with that set of numbers that people don’t really put into account that it is an interesting issue how it’s almost as if there’s an automated machine in our head that tells our hands to write a certain date (in my case it’s January 25th, 1992) everytime we see the word ‘birthdate’ on a sheet of paper.
Frankly speaking, when I actually arrived on that day of the year—four days ago, to be exact—to actually live and experience January 25th, is something funny enough for me to think about on a yearly basis.

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This imagined association with the date eventually grows into something bigger—horoscope-based personalities and lucky shios, for instance. I’m a fan of neither but sometimes I find it charming how such patterns do exist around us (and can actually be justified if you can just close your ears tightly against counterarguments).

By the way, those paragraphs are in fact just an irrelevant prelude to my actual points (which are just as useless) on the functions of a birthday (at least according to a majority of pretentious girls—yours truly included). LOL. Enjoy.

1. It’s a Free of Charge, All-Day Pass to “The Land of
Being Romantic without Looking Silly”

And by ‘you’ I don’t only refer to the birthday boy/girl, but also the people around them. Their partners, bestfriends, sisters, brothers, each family member—they are now allowed to display their affection even in the grandest gesture without judgmental stares upon such action. I mean, we wouldn’t normally cook them breakfast (not to mention the room-delivery service stunt) or buy them flowers or hide nice messages under their pillow but hey it is perfectly legal and socially acceptable to do so on their birthdays. Oh and that cute crush of yours might actually be glad to be treated overly-well on their special day.

2. It Scans and Categorizes People Into Boxes of Friends
(Who Actually Care/Not about You)

Less emotional minds would probably disagree and say something like, “Come on, birthdays aren’t the only opportunity to show how much we care about someone,” but I’m one of those reasonably sentimental females who believe that people who don’t bother using their free pass (refer to #1) and actually make efforts to appreciate your special day will never do so in any other day.

Unless, of course, he/she is a natural-born romantic who demonstrates fondness every now and then. Although, logically speaking, a natural-born romantic naturally does not miss annual free passes.

3. It Reminds You about How Much Mark Zuckerberg Has
Changed the Way We Send Birthday Cards

These days, people stay up late on the night of their birthday or one of the days after to reply a long list of one-liner ‘happy birthday’s on Facebook and Twitter. Oh wait this one is hardly significant; let’s just go on to the next point.

4. It Allows You to Make Use of That Exciting
Drama Course You Took in Highschool

Let’s be honest: there are times when we know that our friends are to give us a surprise, but we chivalrously pretend that we didn’t know and make that surprised face anyway. Or oftentimes, when we’re not really in the mood for celebrations, we have to still look thrilled—or at least grateful—that there are people who still care about our happiness. Birthdays remind you to be an adult (and thus wiser)
in such a practical way.

5. It’s a Human-made Marker of Life’s Uncertainty

On a more serious note, of all the things that people can relate to birthdays, I think they simply are nice, honest time-markers that remind us of how far we have gone on the track of life whose end nobody knows. Some people can see it as a victory to pass another year without meeting death, some others become more spiritual as they understand things they previously don’t, but I am quite sure that it shall mean something to reach a particular age.

I’m not sure about how far my life-line is, but two decades is surely a long, long time. This year I commemorate being 21 by having lunch with a nice professor, cooking a super-moderate dinner for (and with) close friends at the hall’s pantry, blowing candles on a surprise cake from two girls who spend hours just to get to my campus, and watching over this sweet video my nice friends made me.

Well. We do deserve to feel special—at least once every year. It’s not about being special—each of us already is, but about feeling so. If any of your friends is having one in the near future, my advice would be this: use your free pass and make him/her happy. It’s a free pass, you got nothing to lose! Oh and happy upcoming birthday, fellow Aquarians. Good night.