So This Online Dating & Meeting People Thing…8 Lessons I’ve Learned

I’ve never really had a normal, we-met-through-friends/work/school relationship history. In fact, my first serious relationship was with a guy I met online, and it’s how I ended up living on the other side of the country. Back then, in 2000, I spent many hours in online chatrooms – the kind that existed before there were actual chat software and apps like Skype. Yes, I was a MIRC lurker and moderator for 5FM’s chat channel, however much praise that’s worth. The seedy underbelly of instant relay chat could not have been more frowned upon or weird back then, so you can imagine the shocked reactions we used to get when telling people how we met. I found it interesting though, talking to people from all over, each of us hiding behind handles (not door handles, kids, online nicknames). We’ve come a long way since then, with a lot of people today turning to social media because their lives are too busy or social circles too small to meet new people.

Recently there’s been a lot of discussion about online dating and whether it’s an acceptable form of meeting a partner or if it’s a weirdo’s fantasmagorium of exploration. I find it funny, and a bit interesting and perplexing, because a lot of articles have surfaced which justify finding a partner online, based on behavioural algorithms and the ability to search by interest, age, and even income bracket. The whole idea that meeting people and finding meaningful relationships or friendships can now be narrowed down with cold, hard science and statistics, honestly scares me a bit. It makes the hollow of quick dismissal and instant gratification through apps like Tinder and most dating sites feel all the more shallow and non-empathetic. To me, putting a percentage of compatibility on someone is the equivalent of trying to put a price on a human life. No amount of personal bio information can really give you a clue of whether you’ll like the person, in person.

So, nearly fifteen years down the line (on and off over the years), here are some constants I’ve learned about the process of meeting people online and how it impacts or changes when you meet them in person:

1. You’re going to have the same initial conversations over and over.

I can pretty much predict how the typical flow of conversation and covered topics go when meeting someone online. You go through this initial phase where you figure out if they can make you think, laugh, feel curious…whatever it is you need to invest more time in them. And most of the time you’ll find that not much comes of it and you move on to the next person, repeating the process again. The difference between meeting them online versus in real life, is you don’t spend money on drinks, dinner or coffee, you don’t get dressed up. You also aren’t forced to look them in the eyes and maintain a conversation for longer than you feel comfortable, since you have the convenience of merely closing the chat the moment things don’t interest you anymore. This is the first of a few double-edged swords when it comes to online meeting.

2. You’re probably going to cyber stalk them to some degree. Admit it.

Everyone from people at work to your best friends have embraced the power of social media to dig deeper and find out more about people before meeting them. It’s actually been defended as a way of ‘protecting yourself’ or ‘preparing yourself’ in case they have some skeletons and it’s nowhere near Halloween time of the year. Chances are good that they’re doing the same to you. Creepy? Yeah, maybe a bit. But again, this is why you shouldn’t display your whole life online, unless you’re happy to have anyone know all about you. It’s human nature to be curious though and even when we’re not aware of it, we feel an inherent need to be prepared for what is coming. It’s why we have flights of imagination – whether they are idealistic dreams or fearful thoughts – about anything new and unknown. Going to new places, meeting new people, starting new jobs. We do this in attempt to be more prepared for when it actually happens.

3. The pictures don’t make the person or tell the whole story.

If you’re following some gym fanatic with bulges in every place you desire bulges to be, and then some, you wouldn’t be blamed for developing a bit of a crush every now and then. However, unless you want nothing more than a mute gun-show facilitator in your life every day, you might find your interest in them dwindling or plummeting, soon after meeting them. I could be wrong but I’m pretty sure people who spend 4-6 hours of their day either training or eating and the other 8 taking selfies of themselves, probably don’t have a lot else going on in their lives. Love Playboy bunnies? Great! Just don’t expect them to recite Plato at any given moment in time if you ever meet them in person. These are the more outrageous examples but for general reference, try bear the following in mind: Instagram filters. Photoshop. Samsung’s sneaky Beauty Face filter. Low level lighting. The possibility that the photo is from 4 years ago and some things with them have, uh, gone down since then. Ahem.

4. You’ll get to know a great deal about them, before you even meet them.

Notice I said ‘about’…you don’t actually get to know the person on a non-fact-sheet-based level. The funny thing is that online interaction lets some people share parts of themselves they wouldn’t have talked about in person, at first. You get to learn about their siblings, parents, pets, some random stuff at work. Maybe you’ll even get to know their bigger secrets or deepest wishes. You learn these things because it’s easier for people to be open when there isn’t that pressure of being in the same room as the other person. They feel safe, knowing that they can just click to exit the app or chatroom and never need to worry about the conversation again, if it doesn’t go down well. You learn all of these things, en masse, yet the simple things that make up their entirety and character, fall away. You don’t ever learn what drives them nuts on a frequent basis, you don’t know how they respond to surprises or stress, you don’t know if they’ll smile at you with appreciation if you bring them coffee or if how open and sincere they are most of the time. You’ll have information, but not a lot of observational understanding, which means a much less accurate progressive feeling about them and if they’re actually right for you.

5. Never put all your bets on a person before you actually meet them in real life.

I don’t care how perfect they may seem online and how many chats until 3AM you’ve had about life and your dreams. Stop yourself from going all Tom Cruise and planning your wedding or telling everyone you know you’ve found ‘the one’. Keep that stuff locked up tight until you’ve spent a good amount of real time, having real food and sharing real, mutual oxygenated air together. A funny thing happens in that crevice that divides the virtual person from the real one. You may think it’ll be an easy transition to meet them for coffee after weeks of chatting online, maybe completely flawless even, but often times you’d realize you were so wrong. That disparity, that really weird space between who and what you see online and who and what you see in person, can be pretty much of atom-splitting proportions on a personal level. I’ve met people online who I hit it off with instantly and thought we’d be friends forever. Then I met them in person and we’d sit in awkward silence, discussing the weather and being halfway between trying too hard to make conversation flow, and trying to figure out how to politely end the whole meeting and re-contemplate your entire life in the aftermath. On the flip side though, I’ve met people in person who I really doubted I’d get along with at all initially, yet the moment I met them, a whole new level of radiance, intelligence and compassion surfaced that was never obvious from what I saw online.

6. The person you’re dating probably isn’t a carbon copy of who they are online.

For whatever reason – whether they are deliberately selective about what they share, or if they just think and act different in person – a lot of the time you see a side of them online that either vastly enhances or completely conflicts with the person sitting next to you, eating popcorn and watching TV. It’s understandable if they are professionals who need to maintain an image online, or if they simply prefer not to share much online. Becoming aware of this rift between online and personal behaviour raised my semi-paranoia about the reality that you never really know if the person you see every day is, in their spare time, a serial killer or cross dresser. I never saw a greater disparity than with one guy I dated, who was highly philosophical online but dead silent in person. All the things he couldn’t express in person, he put on his social pages, including his doubts about his relationship with me. On a related note: never, ever express online what you can’t express in person. It doesn’t really make for a strong character or garner respect. We all want to show the better sides of ourselves to the world, it’s normal, but if you find the two personas are not at all the same person, you have valid reason to be concerned. Also, bear in mind that people don’t always type and talk in the same tone or reveal the same information – online activity gives people a chance to consider how they’ll react and what they’ll say, while real life tends to strip people of that restraint. Trust what you see in person, your gut is remarkably good at detecting what you don’t really want to see or think about someone.

7. Don’t let meeting your partner online cheat you out of getting to know them in person.

Something weird happens with dating someone you met online. Sometimes, there’s a feeling that the hard work has been done and you can relax now. Sort of like how many people say spouses slack off once they’re married because they feel they’ve reached the goal of finding someone and settling down. With online connections, you’ve probably spent countless hours talking and sharing endless amounts of thoughts, which tends to make you think it’s cemented the two of you securely enough to carry on having a life together. After all, you know the other person’s hopes, dreams, pet hates, passions, and you two agree about most things. I tend to think initially meeting online, especially if there have been long conversations before meeting, cheats you out of getting to know your partner once you are actually together in person. You almost feel as though there isn’t much left to talk about or ask once you’ve covered all those late night conversations. I ended up in a long-term relationship with a man who I honestly never knew at all, and neither of us ever tried to learn more about each other, we just carried on living, but together. If I could give some advice: keep the big conversations for when you’re sharing dinner together, not wolfing down crisps while staring at your respective laptop screens at 2AM. And if you’ve already crossed that line, be sure to have those conversations again in person, every once in a while, because people grow and their minds, personalities and opinions change over time.

8. Don’t become a fisherman just because you’re suddenly in an ocean full of fish.

This one coincides with a lot of things that worry me about how we live these days. We are, without a doubt, a society that has succumbed to immediate supply and demand satisfaction. With the arrival of social media and the ease of meeting new people whenever your phone has battery life and good signal strength, people seem to think of others as easily disposable and replaceable. It’s far too easy to give up on someone just because you know there are so many others out there who will pay you more attention, give you that feeling of excitement again, grant you that satisfaction of knowing you do still have some game and are still attractive…at least initially. Divorce rates and breakups are skyrocketing with the combination of social media opportunities and the acceptance of having multiple partners or annulling a marriage. Unless you’re a very shallow person, you won’t find satisfaction in this way of life. Remember that you are dealing with people, individual minds and personalities, not tissues out of a Kleenex box. There’s merit in taking your time and putting in effort.

Empires would never have been built if people stuck to building mud huts and rebuilding them whenever there’s heavy rain.

As a final thought…

old-couple

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The Ultimate Trickster

Our minds are tricky, sneaky and pretty freaky things. Your brain can fool you into believing so many things, perceiving and misperceiving, and even change your recollection of past events. As if all these optical illusion posts lately aren’t enough to have you questioning how you see things, there’s a lovely range of things happening to you, caused by your brain, that you’re not even aware of at all.

Your mind warps things, and I’m not just talking about forgetting details or adding them on when you try to remember events. This is especially treacherous when it comes to relationships. Someone mentioned on Twitter the other day that it’s funny how the people you at one time could not imagine possibly loving more, can one day be people you never even think about at all, and when you do you wonder what the heck you were even thinking. Initially it seems like that is pretty odd, but then I got to thinking about all the times I was convinced of something and soon thereafter looked at myself and wondered what the heck I was thinking. Several wardrobe faux pas from my teens come to mind… *cough*

Anyone who’s a bit clued up about human behaviour knows we tend to create a preconceived image in our heads of how we think things or people are. Often it’s a picture painted in the way we want it to be, and the absence of actual personal experience with that person or thing leaves a nice, big open world of possibility that it might well be true. This is how people can easily day dream about their crushes and play out imaginary scenarios in their heads about what the person would say, how they would laugh, how they would interact with them. Often – I’d even go so far as to say pretty much all the time – they have a harsh moment of disillusionment when they do actually meet the person and spend a bit of time with them. The same thing goes for dreaming about a trip overseas, a party, or anything else you haven’t yet experienced. In spite of our outward, cynical reactions to the world, our internal natures tend to be hopeful most of the time. We choose to hope and believe that what is coming, where we’re going or who we’ll meet is good and will bring positive experiences. Many times we build it up so much in our minds that reality just doesn’t live up to it. Let’s face it: even the most critically, methodically planned thing like a wedding, can still go wrong thanks to forces beyond our control. It should be accepted.

So now, there’s also the flip to this whole situation. It turns out, not only do we build up these magnificent hopes and visions of people before we really know them, we also break down our memories and skew them, after we break up with these people or have a fallout where we can’t reconcile our differences. I read an interesting article the other day, explaining how we alter our memories of a person, based on our current feelings about them. We highlight and exaggerate memories we have of people, based on how we feel about them now. So if you were once madly in love with someone and they could do nothing wrong in your eyes, but you had an ugly breakup, you’d find it hard not to suddenly think back and only remember all the things they did wrong, all the times they didn’t do or say what you wanted or hoped they would. Everything from the time they didn’t do the dishes to the way they cleared their throat all too often – things that before were happily overlooked – suddenly becomes all you can think about when you look back now. So what’s happening here? Basically your brain is adjusting your memories – putting some into focus and repressing others that don’t align with what you believe about that person today. I’m guessing this is what makes people have those kinds of arguments where they mention things from months or years ago that the other person did wrong. It’s like your mind detects that you are talking about that person’s wrongful actions and it goes and searches for more information of the same kind, to further bolster your argument and prove you are ‘right’. All of this is obviously terrible for any effort of actually getting along and making peace. Of course there’s the other side of this as well. For example, an old lady who was in a less than fulfilling marriage for years who now finds herself widowed and alone, will tend to think back with fond and happy memories of her husband. When we lose people we love and care for, we only remember the good about them, the things that make us smile.

My take on it all is this: at some point in time you obviously got along with that person or at the very least tolerated them enough to allow them and yourself the opportunity for exploration. You clicked and things took a natural course where you got to know each other better. As much as it takes only a few seconds to decide if you like someone or not, it takes a long period of time to truly get to know someone. Not even an information packed “100 things you don’t know about me” list would get you any closer to knowing if you’ll still get along with the person a year down the line. You have to take into consideration the physiological aspect before you even start delving deeper. From what I recall reading ages ago, the first six months of a relationship is pretty much fuelled by hormones and unusually high levels of mental happy juice like endorphins, serotonin and the like. Once those levels start dropping and level out again, you’re left with the ability to think a bit more objectively and see the person in a more balanced light. This is where it goes awry for many people (although admittedly sometimes it happens way before this stage), as they start thinking maybe things aren’t quite right here, start feeling disappointed in their partners in some way. This is the part where all the other factors that make a relationship work kick in to either save the day or fail miserably. Things like agreeability, trust, confidence, knowing you can rely on the person and that your long term goals are actually lining up. But that’s a whole other post altogether. Point is, next time you start cursing your ex or bad mouthing old partners, bear in mind that you are probably seeing things in a not entirely unbiased way.

Relationships is only one example of how we warp how we think and recall things. In some way or other, we are all twisting our perceptions and interpretations. It’s a hard thing to keep a handle on unless you really have developed well beyond your average human being. If you’ve ever known or seen a fanatical person, you’ll have a perfect example of this in action again. Everyone, from headstrong conservationists to religious zealots to gym freaks, are shaping their beliefs, actions and memories based on what they actively are involved in. If you so strongly want something to be true, your mind will find or invent ways to give you the justification you so badly need to carry on with your life. This is why you can give ten people the same sentence to read and they’ll each come back with their own interpretations of what it means. It’s also how people can see different images when they’re all looking at the same drawing. Again, based on what you already believe at present, and of course also in relation to your past experiences and perceptions in life. People inherently have a need for acceptance, the extreme of which is insecure people who desperately seek the approval of others because they don’t have independent confidence in themselves. I’m thinking that in that same way, if you really want to believe that aliens have infiltrated our planet and walk among us, you would go digging and searching everywhere for proof or justification of this. Your mind is basically trying to have your back, even if what you believe is utterly outrageous or unreasonable.

Our entire world is shaped by our perceptions and interpretations of what happens to us every single moment of every day. It often makes me wonder if what one person sees is at all the same as what the next sees, and at the same time I find it astonishing how nobody seems to be aware of this and stops to question if they are really right in how they are doing things or what they say about people.

The Divide of Difference

I’ve recently realized that, even though most of the people I deal with are well beyond their school years, in some ways a lot of people just never advance beyond the mindsets they had from their earliest years. I’m not saying they are immature and reckless as people. Most of them are married, have stable jobs and pay bonds and taxes like any responsible member of modern society does. This is about something that is so ingrained in how we live that hardly anyone seems to notice it.

We’re taught to see difference in things. From a young age we’re given ‘spot the difference’ illustrations to help hone our ability to seek out even the most marginal incongruity and highlight it. Not that we really need tests like these to shape our minds into being more critical of what doesn’t fit in with the rest. It starts from childhood and anyone who’s been around kids or remember their own childhood can attest to this: kids become very disgruntled when they notice one of the group has a sweet that’s bigger than theirs or if the ice cream cone they get served isn’t quite as loaded as the one that the kid before them got. There’s this sense of great injustice that goes along with it, as if you just deprived them of everything they hold dear in some evil scheme to ruin their day. You’d think that this balances out over the years as kids realize the world doesn’t revolve around who gets the biggest portion of sugary delights, but it doesn’t stop the ingrained tendency to seek out and point fingers at things that are not the same. Kids pick on the kid who’s a bit shorter or fatter than the rest. If you had to ask kids why they bully and pick on others, their response would probably be an indeliberate shrug and something along the lines of, “He’s just different than the rest of us.” Ridiculous as it seems when you look at it from this perspective, often times that’s really as far as the reasoning goes with these harmful actions. Of course, it runs far beyond the borders of the school yard. Kids are not fans of any form of difference – including favouritism, in the case of a teacher’s pet or a sibling who did better at the end of a school term. This doesn’t leave people as they grow older, a lot of the time the balanced objectivity to see situations as individual circumstances with their own unique variables, just doesn’t develop in people.

When you dig down deep, the common cause in most of these cases is jealousy…the sense that you are unfairly receiving less than someone else and that you deserve it as much or even more than they do. It’s what causes uprising and dissension in work environments, labour union representatives make their bread and butter by enforcing and managing the rights of workers to be paid fair amounts when they are angered after seeing someone else got paid so much more than they did. Co-workers turn against each other at the drop of a hat if anyone gets wind that one got a bigger bonus or an increase when the rest didn’t quite get similarly rewarded. This very issue of seeing and pointing at what isn’t the same as everything else has been at the heart of some of the biggest issues modern day man has faced and is still facing. From basic human rights laws to equal rights for homosexual partnerships, our constant hammering on how and why one group or person is not being treated the same as the other has turned tides and simultaneously caused moral and ethical storms, dividing people even further as everyone fights to better their own lives. It seems each attempt to seek equality results in even greater rifts, almost as if ten people are pulling on the same sheet for coverage but the sheet isn’t big enough and starts tearing in places, leaving newly exposed areas.

I’m curious why it is that people tend to naturally focus more on the negative, see the differences, talk more about something when it goes wrong than when it works as it should. We throw our toys when we don’t get our way, let’s face it. Most people are not exempt from this, everyone does it sometimes, or used to when they were younger. We gang up without so much as stopping to ask ourselves why we just jump in there and criticise or reject along with the rest. It takes a lot more guts to reach out to help the condemned than to disappear in the sea of conformity. Above all else, I wonder why it is that we don’t focus on all the things that we have in common, instead of what makes us different. Fundamentally we all have the same needs in life, we all respond in the same way when we are hurt or happy. If you’ve ever met someone, a complete stranger, who in passing mentions something that just so happens to be a quirk you have as well, you’ll know how powerful moments like those are. It creates a moment in time where you connect with someone who moments ago was just another face, yet now they make you feel less alone in your views on the world. It’s a moment where you feel you’ve found someone like you. Someone who gets you. And that’s one of the core needs everyone has: a feeling of belonging, being understood and accepted by others.

I’m not going all ‘hug a tree and dance in the moonlight’ here, I swear. It just makes sense that we’d all get along a whole lot better if we sought to focus on our similarities rather than our differences. It’s been said we are born without prejudice. Kids can laugh and play together, with absolutely no consideration of the other’s upbringing, social stature, intelligence or colour. They share a common bond of finding pleasure in something as simple as sticking their hands in mud and enjoying the squishy feeling between their fingers. They sit there and have this honest, unfiltered, undiluted experience of just being alive in a physical body and sharing it with someone else who is doing the same thing.

If we are born mostly blank canvases, it makes sense that we can grow in any direction over the years. This notion that you shouldn’t put ‘stupid ideals’ and ‘false hope’ into kids’ heads is disturbing because everyone’s so quick to dismiss anything outside of the narrow, pretty sad, creek that we’re expected to all fit into in this world, when there’s a whole valley of options beyond that. There’s no reason why positive reinforcement can’t be nurtured in schools and society, teaching our kids to look for what makes us all the same instead of picking on someone who doesn’t quite fit in. More than that, teaching them to ask ‘Why not?’ when someone suggests another person or group doesn’t deserve the same things as them. Teaching them to celebrate the differences in themselves and others as blueprints for unique talents that nobody else can quite master in the same way. And lastly, teaching them not to condemn or shrug off those who seek to see the good, speak about it, write about it, or live it. It’s the fear of our own potential, the ‘what if’ of imagining that we might actually be suppressing a significant, blinding radiance that scares us into denying it.

Of Black Sheep and Prodigal Sons

I’ll admit it. I was that goody two shoes, teacher’s pet, never-put-a-foot wrong kid in school. Never wanted to let anyone down and kept my mouth shut if I didn’t agree with something. I was the perfect conformist. And I feared nothing more than making mistakes and looking like an idiot. After hours and in my free time I was a tomboy who did none of the typical little girl things. I remember grabbing my mom’s kitchen knives and practicing knife throwing in the backyard and practicing how to fall so I don’t get hurt. Because, you know, falling and accidents are inevitable so I might as well learn how to be ready and avoid excessive damage, or so my kid self reasoned.

Nothing seemed worse to me than being ‘that kid’. You know the one. Always in trouble at school, back chatting teachers and bunking class to go smoke and slack off somewhere. It was a cardinal sin in my eyes and I was super judgmental of that. But then, just when I, in my ignorant childish mindset, was convinced I had it all figured out, life happened, of course.

Me, I ended up becoming everything my kid self disliked and wouldn’t want to ever be. I dropped out of high school (not by rebellion but life circumstances), had a child out of wedlock, did stuff I never thought I would while trying to figure out what I’m supposed to be doing now that my life plans failed (in my mind, dropping out of school meant I was doomed for life). I went totally off the track I was taught is okay. My twenties were spent trying to figure out who I was and where the lines really were drawn for me. I swung between them like Tarzan on Red Bull, for the most part. I’m not afraid to say this now because I’ve grown past it all in recent years.

Stories of the prodigal son rang through my ears several times in my life. The only perception I ever had of him was that he was messed up and failed at life, but at least he got it right in the end and his dad loved him enough to forgive him and welcome him back. Today I understand the story completely differently. I became the black sheep. I am the prodigal daughter. And I’m proud of it today. Because if I stayed home and feared the world out there and how I would deal with it, if I didn’t completely stuff up and see the evils of this world, if I didn’t lose everything and fight to get it back several times over, I would never have been truly grateful for all I am and how incredibly blessed I am today. I would have been the quiet, submissive housewife who never lived and has to keep telling herself she is living the upright way and is impervious to the temptations of the world. I wasn’t impervious, nobody is. I’ve dealt with idiots, psychopaths (not just in a matter of speaking but actual people who were diagnosed as such) aplenty, but the funny thing is, that didn’t break me. Every bad thing made me see the good and beautiful in life more clearly. And I’ve gone from resenting and hating those who harmed me, to feeling truly sad and sorry for them now. Most importantly, I now know my own integrity and character, I don’t assume it because it has been through trials of every kind. I know that even in the midst of pure evil, I still seek out the good and try to nourish it.

The muddled greys of my twenties, of “you should be” vs what I felt I wanted to be, have now become starker, clearer contrasts of black and white. I fight harder today to defend the innocent than when I was a kid, because I’ve seen and understand the true harm out there. I put my foot down now when I get crossed and speak up when I know that things need to be corrected in a situation. I walk around with tattoos and biker boots and don’t care if it’s not ‘appropriate’ to others. What’s not appropriate extends to how you behave, how you treat others and just as importantly, yourself. It takes nothing from my intelligence, my dedication or my character to bear ink on my skin or dress the way I do. And this is what makes me fearless today. Not stupidly fearless, but fearless of being true to myself, of being compassionate wholeheartedly and not holding back that compassion and sincerity.

My one tattoo I have right now, I’ve had for 3 years. The words “Live brave, Die Free” are etched on my forearm for the rest of my days and today I can finally and proudly say I embody that mantra. I got it at a time when I was in a very long relationship that I knew wasn’t right for me, but I was too scared to leave. A time where I was nothing like what I wanted to be, because I couldn’t speak up or stand up to the world around me. I got it on my forearm then, because I wanted it to be right there, staring me in the face every day, challenging me, reminding me to ask myself how close I am to being myself.

My only wish is that someone told me long ago that it’s okay to make mistakes, to get bruises and scars, because it shows you’ve tried, you’ve lived. But then, I know I would not have understood. None of us ever do until we’re there ourselves. You can’t describe standing on top of Mount Kilimanjaro to anyone and have it make nearly as much impact as if they trained, prepared and climbed it themselves, reaching the summit and taking in the sunrise knowing this was their own accomplishment.

Don’t fear your mistakes, they’re helping you figure out your True North…

 

tattoo

Another Year Older

A few days from now I’ll be marking my 32nd birthday. Hard to believe how fast time passes and how tremendously just a short period of time can change you… I have a few friends who are on the verge of turning 30 and while some are petrified of this milestone, others look forward to kissing their 20s goodbye and entering a new chapter. I was extremely excited to turn 30, I felt like I could finally walk away from a decade of tumultuous relationships and experiences and my own stupidity over the years. And not once have I looked at my life in my 30s and wished I could go back.

They say women truly come into their own in their 30s. They’re more confident because they are comfortable in their own skin and care less what other people think, they’re braver and less likely to fall for pretty boys who only have the merits of their looks or cars to carry them through life. I’ve found all of this to be true and far more profound than any book or magazine could ever impress upon me. Every year around this time, I do a stock take on my life. A sort of introspective checkup on what’s happened and if I’m happy with where I’m going. Never have I been more satisfied than I am now with what I’m seeing. So here are a few things that I have to highlight, that stand out from any other time in my life…I guess you could call this blog a bit of a gratitude entry…

I’ve learned to appreciate quality more than ever before. I believe in dedicating my time to the things and people I truly value and no longer feel so okay with having people waste my time or lie to me. I’ve always been a lenient person and still am, but now I abide by a three-strike system if you deliberately cross me – and I stick to it. I’m grateful to everyone who shaped my perspective, whether through true, deliberate care, inadvertently or through intentionally wishing me harm. Each of them have taught me profound lessons about life and myself and made me less angry, less resentful, less distrusting. Funny enough, because of all the bad, I believe even more in the good now and in doing so, I’ve attracted so many incredible people into my life, who are brilliant, compassionate and sincerely care for my wellbeing and development.

It’s also the first time in my adult life that I am single for longer than a month. It’s an odd space to be in, knowing that I’m free to do as I wish and not give account to anyone, but in this state I realized I can unabashedly be myself and have become a more compassionate, dedicated and focused person. This awareness that I’m alone and solely accountable for my choices as a single person, made me think I might as well take the leap in life completely and leave my job to build the life I truly want, not one swayed by anything other than what I truly feel is right for me. And what I believe is right for me is living a life where I can give and care for others, and consciously choose who and what I allow in my world every day. It’s also made me a hell of a lot more responsible and accountable, I look myself in the mirror every morning now and either say “Good job yesterday. Now let’s carry on kicking ass.” or “Okay, own up. You stuffed up last night and got lazy, but today you get to make up for it.”

Now, more than ever, I am consciously fixated on making my word my bond. I can’t tolerate myself making a promise and not living up to it, I am trying hard to ensure that every action and word come from a conscious choice and deliberation, not accident or habit.I put my foot down and will tell you straight what I think or expect, if you mean a lot to me I’ll be completely direct with you and expect nothing less in return. Pussy footing is for people who fear life and their place in it. I’ve grown past it.

I’ve been a mom for eleven years. It’s hard to imagine it’s been that long already, I still distinctly remember being eleven and having this feeling that the world was my playground and one day I’d achieve great things. It’s funny now, to look at my son and see an almost carbon copy of my personality in him. I was always a friend to him, he would trust me with things he’d never tell his dad and we’d goof around for hours, just talking nonsense and being weird. I made him feel it’s okay to be himself and he helped restore my childlike wonder for life, my ability to just be a kid and not care. Now, for the first time in my life, I feel I am ready to be more than that, I’m ready to be a parent on a whole new level. You won’t ever hear me writing much about him or mentioning him, people often wonder why they only find out later on that I am a mom. It’s because the things dearest to me, the people I love most, I keep very quiet about online…I feel he has his place in this world and should be entitled to decide if he wants to be talked about and how he is portrayed on a medium as permanent as the internet. My perception of him is maybe nothing of how he perceives himself. I won’t ever go posting a million baby pictures online because, again, my most private things that lie close to my heart, you’ll never see online. You’ll see it at home, if you know me dearly enough to be here.

I’m not desperate to please people and I honestly don’t care what they think of me unless I respect them greatly. I’ve gone from a shy, insecure pushover to being anything but. Somewhere along the line I managed to achieve goals I’ve had since I was a kid. I might not be quite near the end goal yet but heck I live in an apartment in Umhlanga and everything I own was bought in cash. Life ain’t half bad right now and I’m eternally grateful for all of it.

And out of all I’ve learned, the gut instinct I had as a kid keeps being proven more as I get older – that you don’t become an entirely different person when you’re older, you end up being who you were right from the start, just a bolder incarnation of your childhood self. So this is my letter of stock take and gratitude. To those reading this who know me, thank you so much for helping me get to this place. You’re all awesome.