Category Archives: pursuit of happiness

10 Lessons Learned in a Year of Dating

I’m 31 and since I was 18, I’ve been in 3 relationships lasting 4 years, 7 months, and 6 years. Which means I never did a lot of casual dating and definitely not in the age of Social Media and dating apps. The two big relationships I had were with men who were extremely wrong for me. I naively believed if I loved them hard enough, I could make it work. All of the these facts culminated to one big challenge, I have a lot to learn regarding dating.

This year, I treated dating as exposure therapy with a “come what may” attitude. I signed up for online dating and accepted dates if the men came across as decent people. What resulted was first dates with 33 men this year. About a third of these men were met organically at events and through friends and in line waiting for tacos, and the rest were from online dating sites and dating apps. My goal was not only to possibly make a lasting connection with someone but also to learn all the things most people learn in their 20s that I didn’t learn. I want to learn what I want, what I need, what I don’t want, what I don’t need.

The whole experience has been fun, scary, exciting, eye-opening, humorous, humbling and surreal. I mean, I had my first first kiss in over six years and then a few more. I trespassed on private property on a second date. I tried dating a friend. I went out with engineers, writers, doctors, comedians, and a puppet maker. I ran into someone I was supposed to have a first date with the next day while giving my number to someone else. Someone asked me out while I was waiting for a date to arrive. I dated younger and older, poorer and richer. I hurt a few people’s feelings and had mine hurt. The range of experience in just a year was wide and varied.

Of course I took detailed notes to try make sense of it all and discover patterns. And here are just ten of the lessons learned.

  1. I learned meeting strangers or acquaintances over coffee or dinner gets easier and easier the more you do it. The first few first dates I’ve gone on, I’d fret about what I’m wearing and was sweaty with nerves up to the point of meeting them. In time, I found my prep before a date is now just reading a book or watching a show right before having to leave.
  2. I learned that the advantage of meeting people already vetted by your friends is you feel safe enough to let them pick you up for a date. Being picked up for a date adds a bit of magic to the date.
  3. I learned that I’m picky and that though I’m cautious and skittish, I’m not completely closed off like I feared. Of the 33 men, I was willing to pursue the possibility of a future with two of them. I had a huge crush on one the first quarter of the year and developed feelings for a second towards the end of the year. I was brave and I let someone in! I’m still standing!
  4. I learned that I’m scared of getting what I want and this manifests itself as nitpicking and making up superficial deal breakers. I have to be aware of any self sabotaging instincts and behaviors.
  5. I learned that I need a mix of intellectual conversation and play time. I want someone whom I can have long meandering conversations with that keep me engaged and someone who is willing to dance like penguins with me in the parking lot of a bowling alley. If you’re not willing to be stupid with me, it sets off alarm bells.
  6. I always try to treat people with care, but dating has really brought into light that though no one likes the sting of rejection, being the person rejecting is hard too. And I had to learn to carefully, honestly, and compassionately choose words when letting someone down. I learned that even if it’s easier to ignore text messages, sometimes there has been enough time spent together to make that uncomfortable conversation kind and needed.
  7. I learn that the people you casually date can also just become friends. I was under the impression that when you’re done, you’re done. I managed to keep some of the men I went on a few dates with as friends. This also hinged on the previous lesson. These friendships were made possible because I didn’t just disappear and forced myself to have those uncomfortable conversations.
  8. I learned being out and open can lead to happy accidents. I had a spontaneous first date with a stranger while reading a book in a coffee shop. He was brave and approached me and I didn’t have anywhere else to be and he seemed normal enough. We ended up having a conversation over coffee for over an hour.

  9. I learned my primary love language is definitely words. You can be attentive and give me gifts and do acts of services, and though I’m very appreciative of these actions, I don’t hear your message behind these kind acts unless they come with words. I very much need to hear or read actual words to register someone’s feelings towards me.
  10. I learned that though my goal is to find someone I can build a life with, I’m comfortable with the idea of living my life without a romantic partner. This feels like power. I can hold out for someone who is the best fit for me and don’t have to settle. I don’t have to settle because if I end up living my life alone, I’m confident I can make it a beautiful and happy one with my pursuits of adventure and with my friendships.

With the dawn of a new year looming, I’ve been reflecting on 2014. It has been a hard and amazing year and dating was a big life change in 2014. I’m curious to see what lessons in dating I’ll experience in the new year and remain hopeful that maybe 2015 is the charmed year when it comes to romance.

Tell me about some of your lessons learned while dating!

Not Faking It Until I Make It

I am back from my New York City trip. It was my sixth visit and also my hardest. Just two days into the trip I experienced a falling out with a friend. I felt blind-sighted, disillusioned, angry, heartbroken. I had previously felt so certain that this person was the safest person with whom to have a friendship. He was just that nice and that good. Unsure about what kind of relationship I wanted with this person, I cried and leaned on a few of my other friends. Sometimes clarity comes with well-intentioned advice that feels wrong. A couple of my friends suggested I “fake it till I make it.” They urged me to just act as if I am fine and not give the person the satisfaction of knowing he had that kind of power. “That would really show him!”

I have a long history of swallowing grievances for the sake of pride and winning. My parents raised me on many of their own mantras, one of which was, “Don’t cry about people who aren’t crying about you.” I was raised by parents who were also taught to never let people see you vulnerable. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized in learning to silently and secretly bear trespasses, it kept the perpetrators in my life for much longer than was healthy. A defense mechanism that developed as a byproduct was very high tolerance for pain. Pain is how we know when something isn’t working or isn’t healthy. So consequently, I also developed high tolerance for people who were bad for me.

It wasn’t till my late twenties that I learned the value of pain. Like a lot of people, I’m hedonistic by nature and I lean on the pursuit of pleasure as my most sought out cure for pain. Sweep icky feeling under the rug and go on a trip or eat a whole half gallon of ice cream! But pain is good. Pain tells you when something isn’t working.

Another thing my loving but humanly misguided parents taught me that I had to unlearn was not using my words. They commanded me to always hold my head high and never let anyone suspect that they hurt me. With a lot of practice, I got to be very good at silently suffering until I felt numb. Which enabled a lot of mistreatment. Which toughened me up for more ensuing pain from these toxic people because they learned they can do anything and I wouldn’t speak up.

Terrible cycle.

So when my friends suggested I fake it till I make it with this person who made me crumble on what was supposed to be a fun trip, I felt a very clear resolution rise from my stomach and into my heart.

I am no longer pretending with people who hurt me that they didn’t hurt me.

In deciding that, every superficial conversation initiated by this person felt like an uncomfortable game of charades. I took two more days to steel myself to speak up and when I did, it felt so good to be honest. Not only to him but also to myself. I felt strong. Powerful.

Who would have thought that in admitting feelings of hurt, you can actually feel strong and powerful?

Experimenting with Being Naked

I’ve started dating this year and I’ve been careful with doling out aspects of my personality and history. It’s safer and feels more responsible. I read in one of Brene Brown’s books about how the difference between vulnerability and over-sharing is that one is an act of trust, incrementally arrived to, whereas over-sharing is an act of desperation. Alongside dating, I’ve also started challenging myself with fears. I did it as a 30 Day project in December and called it Fear Factor December. I challenged myself to face a fear every day that month. The spirit of this project has resonated even after December and I’ve found myself being intrigued by my fears and toeing more lines, from dating to rappelling down 38 stories.

A reoccurring fear I keep bumping up against is being naked and exposed and authentic, or being seen for who I am. There’s so much risk in being yourself. Not only is there the general fear of rejection that I think is part of the human condition, but also the fear of being misinterpreted. Someone not accepting me for who I am is scary but if what if they reject me on a misinterpretation? What if they get me all wrong?

The act of letting myself be seen is also an act of consciously letting go. I surrender to the illusion of control. I can never fully protect myself from rejection. Even if I am careful with what part of me I reveal and on what timeline I do it, there is never going to be a guarantee on not being hurt.

So I’ve been literally and metaphorically experimenting with exposing myself. I am self-conscious about a surgical scar that runs down my back. Because of my insecurity, I typically avoid being seen in my bathing suit or tying my hair up when I’m wearing a strapless sundress. I’ve started to go to the pool when it’s nearly deserted and tying my hair up. I force myself to sit there and enjoy my reading until I am not even thinking about how I’m feeling naked and flawed. I went on a date with someone who I consider first a friend, which is terrifying. There is no hiding who I am when we’ve been friends for a while now. Yet there I am standing, hoping that the flawed parts of my personality he is already privy to doesn’t scare him away from me romantically.

As uncomfortable as it is to stand in the light, the reason why I push to overcome this fear is the payout can be so great. How freeing will it be bask in sunlight and not worry about my physical flaws being judged? How deep a love can I experience if I don’t curate what I project? If I can simply be and still be loved for it?

Yes, I must keep toeing this line.

Life Lessons Learned Through Improv

A couple of months ago I went on an awful first date. There’s not much of a story there except that I found him too much of an intellectual elitist. I hate wasting my time and always enter every experience (especially the bad ones) with searching eyes. Looking for treasure in the guise of a new hobby or lesson learned or a good story. As I was sitting over coffee with this pompous man, I tried to learn something. Anything. It was such a difficult endeavor since I was so turned off. Finally, he mentioned that he was a serious comedian and also dedicated a lot of his time to improv. He said anyone could take a free introduction class at any of the clubs in town. Ding, ding, ding! Treasure! After we parted ways, I shook off the icky feeling he gave me and went home and signed up for a free two hour introductory class. I went to the class and loved every minute of it.

I walked away from this class with a new conviction. Everyone should take a free improv class. Even if you have no interest in pursuing it further than just one free class. Not only will there be fits of laughter as you play, there are skills in improv that are useful in everyday life. Let me share three of them.

Failure Bows

During the intro levels of improv, we are encouraged to yell out, “I failed!” and then take a bow every time we failed to come up with the perfect line, let the ball drop, tripped either figuratively or literally, broke the rules of a game, zoned out, or do anything that made us feel like we failed. When someone yells out “I failed!” and takes a bow, the rest of us are to applaud them. The life lesson of the Failure Bow is two-fold. We should be proud for taking chances that lead us to our failures. We should react with admiration when we see people take chances and fall short. Our failures are our badges of courage.

Yes, And…

Improv is a live collaboration. Connecting with the audience and making them laugh hinges on how you work as a team. Enter the “Yes, And…” rule. When someone suggests something to you or invites you to play along with something, for the scene to stand a chance, you have to not only validate what your partner is saying to you but add to it. “We should get in this boat” should be met with an enthusiastic “Yes, and we should pack a snack!” There’s a beautiful openness and acceptance in the interactions during improv that could enrich our everyday life.

Be Present

To have a really great improv session, you have to be present. To really validate your teammates, you have to see and hear what they’re doing instead of withdrawing into your own mind and planning out your lines. The only way you can naturally and seamlessly move forward a scene is to be completely present. This means no live tweeting or instagramming. I’m the queen of preserving my moments live through my social feeds and yet that night I published nothing. I was too busy listening.

And there you have it. Three life lessons I gleaned from a bad first date.

Questions: What’s the best thing you have happened because of a bad date? Have you ever tried improv?

Having Adventures Without Traveling

Local Turtle Pond

Local Turtle Pond

Some time ago a nomadic soul who recently planted roots asked me how I managed to keep the explorer in me fulfilled when I’m not traveling. There are infinite amount of experiences to be had which means you don’t necessarily have to get on a plane to start exploring. As much as I love traveling, it’s not always feasible to hop on a plane or jump in the car with an out of town destination.

Be a sponge for local news and events. I am always on the lookout for things to do in Austin and Houston, my home-bases. Even if my schedule isn’t free, I’ll mentally bookmark the local gems. Just last week I finally checked out a rooftop telescope that has been open to the public at the University of Texas for decades. I saw Jupiter and four of her moons. I’ve had access to this building for thirteen years and still just manage to experience its roof and peer at Jupiter for the first time. Examples of some of my local gems? In Houston there’s an obscure museum called the National Museum of Funeral History and in Austin we have the Cathedral of Junk. What does your town have? When was the last time you checked out your local tourist spots?

Be deliberate. I’ve been consciously looking for a new experience at least once a week since the summer of 2005. I have not missed a week and it comes so easily to me now. It can be as small as trying a new restaurant or cooking with a new ingredient or finally taking that dorky Segway tour of your city. Scan your Livingsocal and Groupon emails for new experiences in your town. That’s how I found myself taking a bee-keeping class and rolling down a hill strapped inside a plastic ball. All of these experiences required no booking of airfare or lodging.

Have friends with adventurous spirits. I recommend being friends (and dating) people who aren’t afraid of looking stupid. People who don’t mind making fools of themselves as they learn how to ride that Segway or who are brave enough to be in that plastic ball with you. These like-minded friends will also be in the know of all the unique nooks and crannies your town has that most locals take for granted.

Be open and say yes. I’m willing to bet that a lot of us are so comfortable with the familiar that we make excuses. Excuses are dangerous stories we tell ourselves on why we can’t have or do something. Adventures aren’t limited to faraway places. Be open. Next time something strikes your fancy, google it along with your city. See if your city has a sensory deprivation chamber after you hear about it on the Joe Rogan podcast. If your friend invites you to a reading party, even if it’s easier to just read in your pajamas at home and not suffer the social anxiety you get from meeting new people, say yes.

Traveling is an easy gateway into the feelings you’re bound to feel when your horizons are being stretched and you are seeing things for the first time. I get it. I can never get enough of travel. But it’s still possible to feel awestruck anywhere you happen to be.

Now that I have you here. I need your help fundraising for Make-A-Wish and fulfilling one of my local adventures. If I’m one of the first 200 people in Austin to raise $1500, I get to rappel off a 38 story building. Help me raise money for a good cause and scare myself silly?

Happy As I Am

In between the two big relationships of my life which cumulatively lasted almost ten years, I was single for most of two years. I remember I really came into my own during this time. I actualized facets of my personality and my identity that laid dormant between the ages of 18 and 22. My sense of adventure and wanderlust no longer was hidden within me but became a manifestation of how I live my life. I cultivated gratitude, joy, and self-reliance. I learned so much and had so much fun doing it that I almost feel sorry for those who never get to experience the self actualization that comes with living on your own and as an untethered person. I have friends who have never been single in their adult lives and I can’t help but wonder how much they might have missed out on their self-knowledge.

This is who I am when there’s no one to come home to. This is who I am without the context of a romantic relationship. I am someone who likes to read and doesn’t like watching football. I am someone who can eat ramen three times a week because I much rather cook for people than just me. I plan things out and leave slots in my calendar to “rest” but when it’s time to rest I use those pockets to make spontaneous plans. I kill time at the library or book store when I don’t want to come home to an empty apartment. I love to travel. I’d love to do it with a significant other but if he is not around because he doesn’t want to be or because I’m not in a relationship, I will go without him. This is just a fraction of what I learned my first time as a single adult.

I’m not saying there isn’t a lot to learn when I’m in a relationship. I learned what kind of communicator I am and what my needs are from a partner. I learned about boundaries and nonnegotiable after testing them out in relationships. I reinforced my values within the context of being someone’s girlfriend and I know I will go through that again if ever I become someone’s wife or mother. I am just thankful for the time I’ve spent truly on my own. I value the security and connection and love that comes with romantic love, but if I never fulfill that again, I can be happy and fulfilled as I am.

And that feels like power.

Questions: What have you learned about yourself while you were single? While you were in relationships?

Truth at the Edge

In high school, I really enjoyed my bioethics class. So much I took it again for another year. Then I pursued both a biology and a philosophy degree in hopes to create a bioethics background by combining the two studies. I had my head down through college and pursued both degree plans. It wasn’t til my last semester of college that I blinked, looked up, and said to myself, “I actually don’t want this.” It took getting very close to graduating undergrad to realize I did not want to get a graduate degree in Medical Ethics.

Some years and two jobs ago, I walked away from a career without a back up plan. I had worked at it for so long with blind abandon. I found it fulfilling. I loved the relationships I was building with my patients as a clinical research coordinator. There was room to grow. But I ignored the gnawing that this wasn’t for me. After I finally was brave enough to acknowledge that three years was a good amount of time to know when something doesn’t feel right, I walked away without a back up plan. I exhaled, jumped, and flailed all the way down.

On my way down from that leap of faith, I grabbed the next job path that came to mind. I reflected that I liked my previous work during college as a program leader for a summer camp for at risk children. I did a great job commanding attention from the kids and thrived. So again, I put my head down, threw down money, and started to get certified to be a teacher in Austin. I studied, went to classes, tested, and got my certification. It wasn’t until then that I looked up and thought, “No, this isn’t it either.”

Sometimes it takes me getting to the very edge of something, my nose nearly touching that goal, before I finally open my eyes and acknowledge an inner truth. This isn’t it. Walk away. I’ve never regretted walking away. I’m not one who walks away lightly when it’s something I’ve actually committed myself to. I put blinders on in my commitments. I suspect it’s a mixture of love and dedication but also the fear of facing a scary truth. I didn’t want to look up during college, because if not bioethics then what? I didn’t want to look up mid-career because if not this career, then what? I didn’t want to leave my last relationship, because if not this man, then whom?

I’ve been hard on myself for not reading the signs in my life until I get to the very edge. But today, I decided to exhale. And be glad that I’ve always managed to walk away before losing myself. Even when it’s scary. Even after all I’ve invested. Maybe it’s okay to get as close as I can to the edge. Maybe that’s when the truth is the clearest.

photo credit: Thomas Chen Photography

Awesome Things in My Life

♥ friends who show up with encouraging words, surprises, messages, phone calls, hugs ♥ getting Bob the dog for Thanksgiving ♥ my work computer is a laptop so I can bring it home to use personally ♥ scented candles ♥ no cable but finally have a reason to watch DVDs ♥ noodles ♥ loving a handful of my coworkers ♥ my best friend becoming a coworker ♥ good books ♥ gorgeous journals ♥ supportive parents ♥ Youtube for all the funny dog and baby videos ♥ good chocolate stashed in a bucket at work ♥ friends being in from out of town for Thanksgiving ♥ Houston ♥ Austin ♥ airline miles ♥ getting along with my new roommate ♥ being on good terms with Alan ♥ being employed ♥ (with benefits) ♥ being matched with my little from Big Brothers and Big Sisters for going on six years ♥ Thanksgiving picnic tradition ♥ New Year’s Balloon/ Paper Lantern tradition ♥ funny emails with girlfriends ♥ my DSLR ♥ learning how to use the DSLR with help from friends and the internet ♥ the internet ♥ Twitter ♥ Facebook ♥ Ally McBeal ♥ phone dates ♥ perfect rainy day spent touring art studios ♥ things to look forward to on my calendar ♥ possibilities ♥ my sister ♥ friendships that have lasted longer than the average seven years ♥ perfect cups of coffee ♥ perfect cups of tea ♥ mom’s cooking ♥ employment ♥ sweet new roommate ♥ coworkers who have become more than just work friends ♥ free wifi while traveling ♥ traveling ♥ people watching ♥ today I had two back to back friendship dates that were three hours long each ♥ adventurous friends ♥ friends who let me call just to cry ♥ daily phone calls to the parents ♥ living three hours away from parents and friends in Houston

Question: What’s awesome in your life?

Bruised Hips and Liberty

I have bruises on my hips because I’m adjusting to walking around my new and unfamiliar bedroom around a bed I haven’t slept in over two years. This bed was the first grown up purchase I made for myself and it has a foot board. We tucked this bed away in the guestroom and I’ve missed the soft mattress. Now, I keep walking into that foot board and the corners mercilessly align with my hips. I know that with time my disorientation will dissipate and I will learn to avoid those sharp corners. I still wake up with a dull chest ache and go to bed with a dull ache. But since I’ve moved out, I haven’t overheard or seen a football game. I have seen countless episodes of Ally McBeal and aside from one Friendsgiving potluck, I haven’t had to worry about cooking for or feeding someone else.

I get it from my mom, my nurturing gene. In relationships, I put the needs of others equal to or above my own. Their entertainment, their appointments, their living conditions, their health, I take on as my responsibilities. For the first time in almost six years, I’m my only responsibility.

And it feels liberating.