Recently, I was inspired by sexologist Juliet Allen’s post about demythologising and un-shaming men and realised how strongly I agree with her. These are my thoughts on her thoughts.
I used to be someone who really hated men. I was physically abused by my father and sexually abused by my uncle as a child. I was increasingly resentful of men growing up because time and time again I was rejected, hurt or used by them.
After many laborious years of healing, self-care and re-learning truths, what I realise now is that I took the wounds I had as a child and asked the wrong men to heal them for me. My choices in romantic interests were just as flawed and twisted as my upbringing, but I understand that does not mean ALL men are bad or ALL men are out there to hurt me.
I have become tiresome of hearing women (some of them my friends) constantly complain that there are no good men out there and that all men are pigs. It also pains me to hear women shaming men when they make very human mistakes. There are certainly men out there who have bad intentions, but there are also men out there who are beautiful and good and want to connect deeply with someone just as much as women do.
We tend to “split” men and label them as all good or all bad. Humans are both. We all have an inner light and inner darkness within each of us, and the sooner we stop shaming each other’s inner darkness (whether they are a man or woman), the sooner we can appreciate that we are all just humans-in-progress, stumbling around in the dark, often making mistakes, and learning to live life the best way we know how.
We must also understand that for men, being intimate and vulnerable with women may be more of a challenge for them. A lot of us have not grown up with very good examples of how to communicate and connect deeply with someone and often I have seen men being shamed and put down for being vulnerable and wanting love. The societal pressure we put on them to be this macho, un-feeling machine is unfair and very tough.
No matter how many times your heart has been broken, do not let it taint your view of all men. And if it always keeps getting broken, consider rescuing and loving yourself. Healing and a healthy way of relating comes from having a good relationship with yourself first. When you have that, you can then manifest and attract a man who will respect the respect you have for yourself.
I hope we can be a little more gentler and kinder toward them and ultimately, stop shaming them as a whole. Empathy between women is important, but so is empathy between women and men.
Recently, I was talking to one of my work colleagues about relationships and dating in Bangkok.
We are both single and have been dating men casually since separately moving to Thailand last year (she is from Europe). She, however, has very different views about men and dating than I do. She believed that men should be completely chivalrous and pay for everything, decide where and when to go on dates and hail her taxis. I, on the other hand, believed in splitting the bill, deciding on places and times for dates together and organising my own transport. Sometimes I would even ask a guy out first. We both agreed that our differences in opinions were due in part to our vastly different cultures and societal norms, but there was something she said that I couldn’t help but disagree on. “In a relationship, the person who loves the other one more is the weaker one,” she remarked.
Who can blame her for saying that? We women have been taught from a young age that we must never do the pursuing but to be the pursued. We have been trained to build walls around our heart and keep it cool lest we give someone too much power to hurt us. We have an inner alarm that goes off inside of us every time we can feel ourselves getting too close to someone. We run when it comes to being vulnerable, and often we reject the other person before they reject us first.
For years and years, I avoided intimacy and vulnerability for fear of getting hurt. I built walls that were thick and high around my heart and hid from love whenever there was the slightest sprouting of it. The thing is, I still got hurt anyway. I was hurt from the men who did not know how to love me, but I also hurt myself by choosing to deny myself the one thing that makes a relationship deeply satisfying and special: vulnerability.
Over the last five years, I have been slowly unlearning fear and learning how to deeply love and be intimate with my family, friends and romantic interests without restraints. It takes courage — a huge amount of courage — but it also requires the wisdom to discern who is deserving of your love and who isn’t. Like the Bible verse says, it is unwise to give your pearls to pigs who will trample on them, and likewise, it is unwise to give your heart to those who cannot respect or appreciate it.
It is incredibly scary to risk your heart and lay it exposed in the other person’s hands, but it is the only way in which you can experience deep and true love. In the times I did find people who were deserving of my love, I found that those relationships flourished and grew to new levels of intimacy that some people don’t achieve in years. And believe me when I say, that when you love this authentically, you win. It may not feel like it when you are crying or grieving a break-up, but you do. You win by choosing to love in spite of societal norms telling you not to. You win by choosing vulnerability over fear. You win by sharing your heart even though it has been broken many times. Basically, you win because you put up two middle fingers to the world, ignored the bullshit it tried to teach you and bravely did what it told you not to do.
So say how you feel. Tell them you love them. Tell them you miss them. Tell them you need them. Life is too short and it is far too risky not to say how you feel. You will get hurt whether you are an ice-queen or Miss Vulnerability anyway, so why not choose to love wildly, madly and hopelessly? I would much rather cry knowing I gave it all than cry knowing I could’ve said or done more. I would much rather look back on the relationship with fond memories of intimacy than look back with regrets. I would much rather be known as someone who loved too much than someone who loved too little.
One of my favourite quotes has to be from the writer Donald Miller.
He said: “Sometimes I wish I could go back in time, sit down with myself and explain that things were going to be okay, that everybody loses ground sometimes and it doesn’t mean anything. It’s the way life works. This is hard to understand in the moment. You get to thinking about the girl who rejected you, the job you got fired from, the test you failed, and you lose sight of the big picture — the fact that life has a beautiful way of remaking itself every few weeks.”
To me, the key to resiliency — the ability to recover quickly from hardships — is understanding the incredible fluidity of life and teaching yourself to adapt to it rather than fight against it.
While resiliency can be learned, I have found that some people are better at it because of what they had to endure in their childhood. I came from an unsafe and unpredictable upbringing which forced me to become as adaptable as possible at a young age. Having an abusive dad, brother and uncles presented itself with numerous challenges I had to deal with internally, and from early on I learned that life was never going to be very stable or kind at times. It made me strong, capable and resilient.
My best friend Anja, who is involved in facilitating and teaching mental health to university students, once said to me that resiliency means you can look back on your past with compassion and toward your future with hope. While my past has been difficult, it is the substance which has built me into a person I am proud to be most days, and therefore the substance for which I am grateful for. People often see me as a strong woman, and although I have found that it does get easier to be resilient, it unfortunately does not get any less painful. That pain, however, is where resilience starts.
What Miller said was true: we do get heavy-hearted about the ways in which life knocks us down, and feeling that pain is okay. But how do you bounce back from it quickly? By understanding and accepting that life is always in a constant state of flux. You could be upset about the job you lost and find an even better one in a month. You could be have your heart broken by someone but connect deeply with a new person the next week. And on a day where everything goes wrong, the very next day you will probably wake up and forget what had happened the day before.
When something doesn’t pan out the way you so badly wanted it to, it’s important to keep in mind two things: the remarkable and wonderful ways in which life surprises you, and the inner strength with which you carry inside of you to look at challenges in the face, dig your feet in and embrace what it has to teach you. Basically, it’s the ability to say to yourself: “I am strong. And this is temporary.” That, to me, is resilience.
This year has been my most fruitful, rewarding year to date.
Many of the goals I have worked hard toward came into fruition this year and every single day I wake up full of gratitude that I am living my own personal version of happiness and success.
After travelling solo around the world non-stop for four months, I realized soon after that I wanted to make it a lifestyle. I made the decision to move to Bangkok, one of my favourite cities in the world and a city that I feel deeply connected to beyond reason. I decided that I wanted to teach English, build my freelance travel writing portfolio and one day work for an NGO organization dedicated to empowering women (specifically, NightLight). I worked, saved and studied hard for 6 months, doing everything that I could to set up as many safety nets as possible before I embarked on my new chapter. I was, of course, afraid. It was that exhilarating feeling similar to what I felt when I skydived for the first time; standing before an open door in front of a wide, endless expanse of sky, knowing you have to jump but having that slight hesitation right before, like, “What the hell am I doing?”
But, like the feeling I got from falling through the clouds in the sky, this year in living alone in Bangkok has given me some of the greatest joys and privileges I have had the honor of experiencing. Not only is Bangkok a place welcoming to those who are creative, forward-thinking and entrepreneurial, I have found Thai people to be extremely thoughtful, funny and kind. They have taught me what it means to be respectful and sincere which I have found to be lacking in some Western countries. This chaotic city has stolen my heart and every day I think about how cool it is that I get to live in a city that embraces the weird and different with open arms.
Of course, there have been a decent share of challenges I have had to face while adapting to an entirely different culture, country and city. It has ranged from simple things like knowing which train station takes me where, how to shop at foreign stores like Ikea and Tesco and getting stalked by a Thai lesbian (true) to more complex things like finding a GP who speaks English, explaining directions to taxi drivers in terrible Thai and trying to establish connections and relationships with people through a language barrier. This has led me to teach myself Thai in my spare time, something I have enjoyed using thoroughly, especially because I get mistaken for a Thai all the time!
As well as writing about travel for different blogs (I have to pinch myself every time a client wants to pay me to write about travel), I have had the privilege to teach English to all kinds of Thais; business professionals who are surprisingly humorous (I had a class where I had to teach likes and dislikes, and one young man stood up and said, “I like smoking weed everyday,” bowed and sat down to everyone’s laughter), teenagers who I have bonded with over Led Zeppelin and kids who light up my heart and never fail to make me smile, even on days when I go into work sad.
My well-being has also never been so strong and I have found that all those laborious years of self-love and care has given me the strength I need to meet and overcome challenges with more ease. It is literally like having a superpower to use whenever I need it. People remark that it must be hard for me to move to a new country alone, and while initially it was, it isn’t as terrifying as people think it may be, simply because I have never been so sure of myself and what I want in life.
I think none of this would have been possible with the understanding and support that I have received from my close-knit friends and family. I would not have taken this risk if it weren’t for them, nor would I have survived so long in a unpredictable place like Thailand for so long. In times when I felt lonely, scared or sad, they have been there to spur me on and somehow make me feel overwhelmingly loved even from thousands and thousands of miles away. I can’t stress how important it is to have a tribe by your side who see the best in you, water you with encouragements and motivate you to live your best life everyday.
It’s hard to believe that five years ago I was living in a deep depression, contemplating taking my own life to rid myself of the unbearable pain I was carrying. This year has led me to believe that grace will get you so far, but at some point you need to help yourself and be responsible for the life you create for yourself. There is nothing wrong with being comfortable and safe, but if you are stagnating and living without purpose, my advice is to keep making daily choices to get you where you want to be. With persistence, even in the midst of setbacks, ridicule and isolation (which I faced plenty of), you will quite suddenly find that you have made it; you have carved out your own success, your own happiness, and nothing and no one can take that joy and pride away from you.
I am in that space. How blessed I feel to be able to love what I do and get paid to do it, encourage and promote mental well-being in women through The Lilac Road, live in an endlessly inspiring city, have a loving circle of friends and family who are also my biggest cheerleaders and travel constantly (my most recent adventures involve journeying up a snow mountain in Queenstown, traversing through jungles on a peninsula in Krabi and walking through serene temples amongst monks in Myanmar). My 24th year has been at times challenging but mostly amazing, and it is an understatement to say that I am so excited to see what surprises and adventures my mid-twenties will bring me next.
In the last few weeks, it has dawned on me that I have been believing a lie for most of my life.
We all grew up reading and watching fairytales, believing that only when Prince Charming arrives, the princess will finally be happy and get her life started. My girlfriends and I had always in one way or another talked for hours and dreamed about finding our soulmate; what he was going to be like, what he was going to look like, what our future together would entail. Often, the most excited we would get is when we had a new love interest. And if nights were spent talking about boys in detail over dinner when we were giddy, can you imagine what it was like when they broke our hearts?
I don’t know what brought it on, but the idea of a woman waiting around for a man for her life to begin or for her happiness to increase has become highly frustrating for me. I wonder, why should the quest for a ‘soulmate’ and getting married be the incline and peak of a woman’s life? Is it really a conquest worth dedicating a lifetime to? To me, there is much more to a woman’s life than the pursuit of a husband. There are many wonderful things to be known for that doesn’t have to just be the wife of so-and-so. There is much to do, see and achieve in the rich soil of the single life, and so many seeds to be planted than just the one that so many woman grasp for.
When it comes to love, I feel much more relaxed and realistic. I no longer feel the need to wait around for a man to reply to my messages immediately or demand ‘Prince Charming’ behaviour or crave that obsessive, can’t-stop-talking-to-each-other kind of love. This works for me because it is not important to me anymore, not as much as it used to be. There are a lot of relationships like the former, and any man can act chivalrously if he wants to. What I seek is deeper, more authentic and robust. I seek qualities within the other person that make them a true rarity. I seek a meaningful connection, completely exclusive of co-dependency, where there is mutual respect, admiration and honesty. I seek a relationship in which our love for each other exceeds our need for each other. I seek a future where two people are working together as one, not where two people become one.
I say seek, but this is not my greatest pursuit or biggest dream. It is certainly a blessing in life and one I will be grateful to have should I find it, however, I believe the horizon of life is far too wide and exciting to run down one straight path. I’m crisscrossing all over the damn place like a giddy child, seeking new adventures, pursuing new dreams and making glorious mistakes along the way. My point is, life is just far too exhilarating and bountiful to make it all about finding and marrying one person.
What do you think?
There’s so much more to life than finding someone who will want you, or being sad over someone who doesn’t. There’s a lot of wonderful time to be spent discovering yourself without hoping someone will fall in love with you along the way, and it doesn’t need to be painful or empty. You need to fill yourself up with love. Not anyone else. Become a whole being on your own. Go on adventures, fall asleep in the woods with friends, wander around the city at night, sit in a coffee shop on your own, write on bathroom stalls, leave notes in library books, dress up for yourself, give to others, smile a lot. Do all things with love, but don’t romanticize life like you can’t survive without it. Live for yourself and be happy on your own. It isn’t any less beautiful, I promise. Emery Allen
My last month in Bangkok has been the hardest to navigate so far in my expat life.
It certainly hasn’t been terrible, but challenging and emotional in ways I haven’t experienced before.
After a mind-and-body-crushing month working at a government school, I found a new job teaching English to young kids on Saturdays with a company that I have found to be very supportive and gives me time and freedom to enjoy & explore Bangkok. I realized that I was still a traveller and I didn’t want to spend my days working Monday to Friday for eleven hours at a time. While I am relieved to have found a more flexible job, I miss my kids from the government school. On my last day, one of the classes wrote me a sweet card and gave me a huge group hug. One girl started crying, and before I knew it, ten girls started crying too! I had to wipe their tears and tell them it was okay, but it was emotional for me as well, and I can truly say my time spent there was rewarding despite how tiresome it was.
While I do have more time now, it also means I am more financially stressed, but I am looking to break into private English tutoring now, securing clients and freelance travel writing on the side. I am lucky that Bangkok is not a difficult place to live in on a budget – fruit and street food come very cheaply, but some days I have to be extra frugal.
Mostly though, it’s been emotionally straining. Living as a solo expat in a foreign country and attracting some really strange people has made me realize how rare it is to find people you connect with, respect and admire. I am so blessed to have friends and family back home who make me feel loved and supported even from a long distance, but I find myself craving that physical presence of friendship and intimacy which has been lacking so far. I have met some great people here though, and I know that quality friendships take time to build. My greatest hope while I’m here is to find meaningful connections and to leave having built friendships that I can cherish for a lifetime.
I think this is the reason why I have been struggling to let go of someone I met here a couple of months back. He doesn’t live in Thailand, but comes here for physical training. I had no idea what was about to hit me when I first met him, but I have come to appreciate and respect his intelligence, depth and playfulness, which to me is a rare and special thing to find. Someone once wrote that while saying goodbye meant that you were going to see that person soon, letting go was different because it held the possibility of never being able to see them again. I don’t like letting go, especially when I find something I consider to be of rare beauty. I am like this child who has been given this wonderful toy, and the father says to this child, “It’s not meant for you, it’s meant for someone else.” And the child weeps in distress at the thought of having to give it up. And the father tells this child that he has a newer, shinier toy to replace it. But even if there is, she knows that no toy, however expensive or beautiful, will compare to the one she loves in her hands right now.
I have a couple of things I’m really looking forward to, though. One of my good friends Luke has brought a ticket to Bangkok to come see me, all the way from New Zealand! I am overjoyed to have him here soon and to hopefully help him fall in love with the city as much as I have. I have already planned our itinerary and all the places we will see, eat and go, including an overnight stay at a beach town. I can’t wait!
I am also going to Myanmar in 3 days time! I need to do a visa run, and thought I might as well take a holiday in a country I have long desired to go to. I have heard nothing but amazing things about Myanmar and its people, and as you can imagine, I am so, so excited to be solo travelling once again.
Despite all of the challenges, which is why I feel especially homesick this month, life is still good. I still know how incredibly lucky I am to be able to wake up in such a cool city and do what I love, to have friends in New Zealand and all over the world who never fail to make me feel loved and supported, to be young and free to travel as I wish. I am living what I believe to be a full, meaningful life and I know that bad days & months does not equate to a bad life at all.