What I know about love and relationships.

I have a friend who once told me, “Relationships should be easy, Estella. Not like work. If my relationships were like work, I wouldn’t be in them.”

This person has never been in a lasting relationship.

Another friend said to me, “What’s so good about being in a Chinese relationship? Chinese relationships are…” the comments were mostly derogatory.

This person too has never been in a lasting relationship. By lasting, I mean something that goes on for a couple of years, preferably half a decade or more, where both sets of parents know of the existence of the relationship, as do friends, even mere acquaintances.

I had to add the half decade clause because there are some people, in their eagerness to have their relationship validated by the world, show off just about every partner, regardless of how long they’ve been together or how much further they intend to take the relationship.

For example, one of my friends goes around parading a succession of women, even as he drops elephant-dung-sized hints about wanting to be in a significant relationship with one particular woman. By significant, I mean he wants to have kids with her. But he thinks he’ll impress her by taking his current girlfriends to meet his family and friends first.

You can see the ridiculousness of all this, can’t you?

I may not be the world’s foremost authority on love and relationships but this much I know:

1) Everyone is an expert. Regardless of whether they’ve had a lasting relationship or not, everyone has an opinion on love. Don’t be afraid/perturbed/offended if their opinions are ill-matched to your reality because that’s just what they are: opinions. Everyone can have one; although for your own good, it might be best if you discounted most of them.

2) No 2 relationships are the same. Yes, there are similarities between relationships that endure and relationships that don’t. But what works well for one couple, might not work so well for another. Take for instance, religion. God-fearing people advocate that both man and wife centre their relationship on faith. If I did that, my husband and I would have rows until the end of the earth, because he has absolutely no interest in religion. Zilch. Fortunately for us, I believe faith to be a personal issue, best pursued alone.

3) Arguments are NOT the end of everything. A friend of mine locked her husband out of the house and burned all his clothes because he vexed her. Even though he’s no pushover, he sat outside patiently while this happened. I’m pleased to tell you that they  are still married, their relationship spanning close to 3 decades.

By contrast, there’s this other couple that had no arguments. One day the husband decided to visit his mistress in the next state instead of attending his wife’s niece’s wedding. The wife just calmly turned to him and told him their marriage was over.

She didn’t want counselling, she didn’t want a second honeymoon, she just wanted to move on with her life.

4) We all have issues with the in-laws. People who say otherwise are telling BS. That’s because all families are different. Caucasians  are more respectful of these differences whereas Asian mothers of boys tend expect their daughters-in-law to conform to their values, standards and mores because they did too upon marriage. Then there are some for whom, no girl is ever going to be good enough for their sons. Consciously or subconsciously, these mothers view the wives as usurpers of their place in their sons’ hearts.

Even though I have no mother-in-law, I still have problems with my in-laws because I constantly find myself subject to their Pygmalion Project. As anyone who’s had some sort of contact with me will know, the quickest way to get on my wrong side is to insist I obey.

5) You MUST talk to your partner. It’s not just about the big things, but the little things too. Share your day-to-day experiences, the many hours when you are away from each other. What I’m saying is include him or her in your life, otherwise, he or she will have more of a connection with colleagues, friends, even random strangers, than with you.

6) Have reasonable expectations. Just what is reasonable? Only you know the answer to this. Suffice to say, if you hanker after the life of a tai tai (known in the West as “ladies who lunch”) but are married to a regular Joe, then obviously it’s not gonna happen!

Take me as a case study: since my husband is a surgeon, I can’t expect to have as much “couple time” (actually any time for that matter) with him as someone whose spouse has a desk job. That’s what I tell the wives of newly married surgeons or those whose spouses aspire towards equally demanding careers. As my mother says, “You can either have the man, or you can have money. You can’t have both.” Few have both. Some have neither.

7) Know the things you should keep secret. Most of you, idealists, will probably protest against this. After all, doesn’t keeping secrets undo all your effort to build closeness through continued sharing?

Let’s put it this way. Would you really like to know what your husband thinks of you mothering, wifing etc? It’s all well and good if he thinks Mother Theresa couldn’t do a better job than you. Or that you’re the best thing since sliced bread. But what if he looks at your now grown kids and thinks they are all failures because you were a pushover with them? Would you like to know that? Or how he compares you physically to other women?

What I’m saying is share. But don’t feel like you have to share everything.

8) Couples that laugh together, stay together. Back to my friend who burned her husband’s clothes while he sat patiently outside. She also told him that her ancestors, cannibals, had eaten his. Upstanding guy that he is, he laughed her comments off.

Looking at them and my own relationship, I can tell that humour is all the more important as the years pass. If you can see the funny side of things together, then you can work through whatever rough patch you encounter. It’s when the laughter dies that you know the relationship is deteriorating swiftly, for sure.

9) Staying committed is a daily exercise. I borrow this from a friend who once told me, “Love may began as a feeling, but it is the decision to stay committed that keeps it going.”

The reason people change relationships the way they change their undies is because they are not cognisant of this fact. Back to my friend at the start of this post. He expects love to be easy (there’s already an unreasonable expectation right there), he expects there to be no work; meanwhile, anyone remotely observant, who’s ever witnessed a long marriage within their family, will be aware of how much work is involved with staying connected to another human being.

That’s all I have to say about love and relationships. Have you anything to add to this list?

 

 

 

By Estella Dot Com, a change of tag.

By Estella

After posting 60 odd stories on By Estella Dot Com in the last 3 weeks, it dawned on me that my former tagline “the heart-song of an unapologetic sentimentalist in suburbia”, while representative of this blog, might be less than helpful to the would-be-reader trying to decide if my writings are suitable for him or her. I appreciate that for many of us, time is scarce, and our after-hours reading should not only be entertaining but edifying.

In light of that, I have changed my tag to “Cross-cultural parenting, relationships and lifestyle stories for every person, everywhere.” What do you think about that? Would it better help the potential reader to discern what this blog is about?

10 things I taught my husband.

By Estella

If you read the previous post, you probably wondered what His Royal Highness learnt from our relationship. Here’s what I taught him:

1) You are not your parents. Both of his were overweight gamblers. Even if they were svelte  social icons, I would still say the same thing. We have the right to determine our individual paths through life and what worked so well for them, might not work for us.

2) You can say No. Being from the East, we want to be as agreeable as is possible. We bend backwards and accommodate everyone from our meddling in-laws to people down the street who mind our business but quietly seethe inside. It’s better to risk being seen as belligerent, then to be dragged through what you have no interest in.

3) Speaking up is not rude. Most Asians equate being loud with being rude. People need to be able to hear us. Speaking at an audible level saves them from saying, “Pardon” over and over. Perhaps in the West, people equate being softly spoken with being unconfident.

4) Say whatever is on your mind. Asians are very direct with each other, but find it hard to broach topics with Caucasians without taking a roundabout route. We expect that they know what we are alluding to, but our intent is usually lost in a haze of semantics. This is especially true for His Royal Highness since English is not his first language.

5) Putting your own interests first is not selfish. His Royal Highness is at times, simply too altruistic. If he hadn’t married me, his family would have made away with all his money and he would be embittered by the many people out to use him.

6) Cars are a waste of money. Typical boy that he is, he says he needs to drive a flashier car once he becomes a consultant as that will inspire confidence in his patients. I tell him that if a car can inspire confidence in anyone, they would have to be as shallow as a puddle for a new car loses 30% of its value the moment you drive out of the dealership. In addition, an expensive vehicle costs you an arm and a leg just to service. Often, I can tell how much one has in the bank just by the car driven.

7) Big houses are also a waste of money. You can see a consistent theme here, can’t you? Big spaces cost more to buy, more to maintain, more to heat and cool plus there’s all this furniture you need to buy in order to prevent the space from feeling cavernous. Many say that children need room to run around in but think about it: do you want a child running about your house knocking over all your ornaments and precious keepsakes? Besides, there’s such a thing as a public park.

8) Things last only as long as they are maintained. Whether it is houses or cars or that new shirt you just bought, everything requires constant upkeep. Even relationships need to be nurtured in order to keep alive. If you dislike the amount of effort called for maintaining what you’ve got, then you might not have it for very long.

9) Expensive and good quality are distant cousins. Being royalty, His Royal Highness likes the finest of everything. From numbers 6 and 7, you can tell that I’ve put my accounting degree to some use by doing the math before opening my wallet. The fact is, you can live very well for very little, so why should you pay through your nose for just about everything you touch? I remind him that some of our most enjoyable meals have been cheap ones, just as some of our most expensive ones, total rubbish.

10) You live on through your child. Perhaps I shouldn’t add this to the list because it is something he is still learning. Since he has his own career – one which takes up most of his time – he sees success as being solely in relation to himself. I tell him that the greatest career success would mean nothing if he failed our daughter. He likes to ask me, “Do you not think I love my daughter?” I always answer, “You do, but not as much as I would like you to.”

 

On driving down the road blind.

Sunrise from Uluramaya Retreat Cabins.

Sunrise during my trip to Uluramaya Retreat Cabins last year.

If there be a part of me that bears witness to my recently found Peranakan roots, it’d be my subscription to paganism. I don’t slaughter pigs and offer them to Baal as such, but rather believe in the life force of all living things. I believe in God, but not the God of the Bible or the Torah or the Quran. I acknowledge that I have a creator and our relationship, like all my other relationships, is based on making realistic demands of each other. Of course the balance of power in our relationship is inequitable, Him being the Almighty and me being just plain ol’ me, but we have to make exceptions for one whom superlatives fail to justly exemplify.

The way I practise my “faith” is by being open albeit occasionally unhappy about the new twists or persons who present themselves, being of good cheer even when inside I’m gloomier than Eeyore on a bad day and trusting in divine providence to step in and take my hand when I am at a crossroads in life. It is when I am tested that I remember that ordinary existence is made up of a string of sublime minor miracles, starting with conception right up to where I am today, that makes me think that whatever ails me, I’ll be just fine.

On coming out.

If you had read my earlier post about discovering my Peranakan roots at twenty-nine years of age, you will understand why this has nothing to do with me being gay or a part-time streetwalker. I am neither, although for me, coming out publicly with my real ethnicity was fraught with as much soul-searching as had I been either.

To start with, my mother had long denied having non-Chinese ancestry. My father had asked her many a time, but each time she reacted as though he had said the most absurd thing. In her defence, her mother had nine other children and passed away suddenly when she was fourteen so she probably had no one to enlighten her on how her father was a court interpreter and lower court judge. Pre-independence, most Chinese were merchants or labourers. Apart from Malays, only Peranakan held government posts and by virtue of their mixed-ancestry and fluency in many languages, acted as intermediaries for the British with the locals.

Furthermore, from a young age I had seen other Chinese ostracise my Eurasian sisters by labelling them half-castes. This was Malaysia of the 1980s and our mother was called into their school principal’s office every so often to settle arguments with teachers that arose when they were called derogatory names. There was even a period when she resorted to teaching the principal to making chee cheong fun, a steamed rice noodle dish, at our home, in an attempt to butter up the latter so that there would be fewer of such trips. Thus I knew that in claiming to be other than what every Chinese had sceptically accepted I was, I risked social alienation. After all, with the offspring of modern-day marriages between Chinese and Malays deemed to be Malays and hence Muslims, and many Peranakan from my parents’ generation marrying non-Peranakan’s, we are a dying breed at the mercy of authorities out to peddle our unique cultural synergy to attract tourist dollars.

Me as a five year old with my mother.

 

Men at home on a working weekday.

I know this title is bound to get under the skin of some househusbands, or wives of househusbands. But trust me, it has nothing to with people of either gender staying home to cook, clean and care for their family all day. It is about husbands who ordinarily go to work between the hours of nine and five, from Monday to Friday, staying home.

They may be sick, or in need of a day off, or like mine, about to sit for the Fellowship exam of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons  for the fourth time, but the one thing they have in common is that they expect you to put your day on hold, just because they are around. If unwell, they’ll whine like they are the first persons in the history of the world to ever have a cough, cold or a mild temperature. Fair enough if they have cancer, but the average husband who chucks a sickie doesn’t have that.

Sometimes they just feel like staying home. I’m all for spending time on the couch and holding hands but when they want to do it from drop off until pick up from school? Sometimes they don’t even want to hold hands. They just want you to drop everything, and I mean everything, to hear them whine about life, their hairline, their waistline, their work, while you wonder who’s going to pick up the bread and milk and put the trash out. I get that they want to connect and communicate like I’m doing now, but can we do this after I’ve had a chance to at least use the toilet?

For my part, inspiration for this entry came about when His Royal Highness asked me to look at him while he was speaking. In other words, give him my undivided attention. Mind you, I had woken at the usual time of seven, walked our daughter to school and walked myself home in the drizzling rain, opened my laptop expecting to do some writing when his insistent voice came from our couch.

“What’s more important than your husband?” is his favourite phrase. He’s a Leo. This morning it was, “What’s three more days?”

Nothing, if you have been spending weekdays and weekends by your self for the last five years! “Just concentrate on your exams,” said I, hoping he’d leave me alone.

“Come over here and let’s talk.”

“Why don’t you just, just, just … ” What was a good phrase for asking your spouse to get lost without hurting his feelings? “Just try and centre yourself. Meditate.”

“Come over here.”

“Look, I don’t want to get into an argument with you before the exam. If you keep insisting, I am going to get cross and we will have one.” Perhaps I was edgy because I had heard from his colleagues that he is as good an operator as those who passed on the first go, and if not for being continually picked on for his less than impressive command of English, would have long passed.

“Fine. Wake me up at eleven. My exam is at twelve.”

And with that good people of the world, peace was restored in the palace. His Royal Highness had his nap and I managed to get some work done.