Book Review : The Unexpected Joy of Being Single By Catherine Gray

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As you all know by now, #englishrosiee recently took a much-needed sabbatical from the world of online dating.  As I found myself contemplating my Tinder hiatus, I stumbled across this book titled The Unexpected Joy of Being Single by Catherine Gray. To be completely honest, as much as I hated/hate the rigmarole of the dating game, I did find myself scoffing at this ludicrously titled book.  Although my initial thoughts were that this would be some silly Feminazi justification for spinsterhood, I knew better than to judge a book by its cover (quite literally) and seeing as the author is a Sunday Time’s Bestseller, I figured she probably had something worthwhile to say and there probably was no more appropriate time to read such a book than during a self-imposed period of singledom.

So, the book is part auto-biography, part self-help but with lots of factual insights into the realities of modern dating and being single. It starts by putting things into perspective – apparently more than half of Brits aged 25-44 are single. and increasing numbers of people are putting off marriage and babies till later in life (if they choose to pursue that at all). It’s reassuring to know, especially when you consider the stigma attached to being single. I mean, it’s normal for everyone and their dog to offer you dating advice and tell you not to fret because Prince Charming will fall from the sky when you least expect it. Ugh, not so long ago a Sri Lankan waitress in a Thai Restaurant offered to set me up with some dude from India (who can speak English – how lucky am I!!) because according to her my life would be OVER if I wasn’t married and knocked up by the age of 35. Sigh. Exactly.

I think there are probably single women in their 30s that will be able to resonate with the content. At first I literally felt the book was written for me and sent a friend a picture of one of the chapters titled something along the lines of A 33 Year Old Spinster (yup, there are days when I think that is me!).  The basic gist of the story is how the author goes from being a love addict (having desperate need to always be in a relationship for validation) to confidently embracing her single status.

The book also explore how, thanks to popular culture, we’ve been led to believe that single life is inferior to the traditional package of marriage, kids and happily ever after. It is also touches on some interesting economic perspectives as why people (may) feel more motivated into pursuing a relationship rather than remaining happily single. For example, single life tends to be more expensive. In many western metropolises, it is difficult for single people to get onto the property ladder. Its also more expensive to travel solo versus splitting the costs with a man-friend. But as she points out there are always ways around these thing.

In essence, the message behind the book is well intentioned and gives you a lot to think about. It is also reassuring to realise that you aren’t alone as 30-something singleton, and there is really nothing wrong with you (you really aren’t single because you are morbidly obese, ugly and dumb). However, I think it is mainly written from the perspective of a well educated, white, middle class woman in her mid/late 30s living in an affluent western city. In other cultures, it would be more difficult to have this ‘I am a strong liberated woman’ attitude when you factor in cultural, religious and various family pressures.  I think we are lucky in that while they can get irritating, most of the comments we get from family and friends are somewhat LOL-worthy and easy enough to fob off but I think in other societies the pressure would be more real.

So while I do agree with what Catherine Gray says about having to be a sorted single person before you can expect to be a functional part of a happy relationship and how people should try to date in moderation rather than out of desperation. There is a lot I don’t agree with. Of course its nice to believe that there are other forms of love – from your family, friends, dogs and various other sentient beings. But lets be real none of these compare to romantic love. Yeah, yeah I know what you are thinking. We live in an age where you can easily pay for sexy time if you have the cash money, hit up Anne Summers or use your trusty hand if you really are broke. But you already know my thoughts on the whole WISO way of thinking. Even beyond those basic animal instincts though, there are other elements of romantic relations that can’t be replicated elsewhere. So while periods of singledom are well and good, I don’t think this should ever be a permanent state of affairs.

Speaking from personal experience, I’ve probably had both my happiest times and most heartbreaking times thanks to relationships. Having a fulfilling single life can certainly save you the emotional rollercoaster that comes from engaging in human relations. But to me its, just that a happy medium, a safe haven essentially. And I think we should always strive for more. So yup, the #tinderhiatus was a good thing on many levels and as much as being back in the game will get infuriating, I’ll keep tindering along while still finding time to all the other stuff that life requires till Prince Charming makes an appearance.

Rinsers. Give me your thoughts on single life. Is it something that should be embraced and seriously considered as an alternative to the happily ever after BS fed to us by the media? Do you think people these days are legitimately single out of choice, or because basically they are unwanted, fussy or lazy? Share your thoughts in the comments below. 

 

 

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You Won’t Change Your Life in 30 Days (or 90 days or Whatever)

change_your_lifeHello beautiful Rinsers! I’ve missed you! Today I’m going to talk about something which I think is very important in our culture that focuses on quick fixes. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about – all these lose weight/change your mindset/quit smoking etc etc in 30 days self-help books and programmes.
For the record,  I’m not being a hater here because you can certainly BEGIN to change that quickly but I really think more realistic expectations would help people stay on track and improve their lives long-term.

Example 1: Losing weight and becoming fit

Especially if you have not been an active person and you haven’t been eating well most of your life, it’s very easy to jump start your weight loss. Your body will go into shock because of your new habits and you’ll lose weight in no time. What’s the problem then? Sooner or later you’ll stop losing weight at an astounding rate you got used to. Your body won’t be in shock forever and your weight loss may either slow down or stop entirely. Who wants to do all the work and see no results? No one. This is the reason why a lot of people either 1) become more restrictive with their diets and exercise regimes and develop unhealthy and unsustainable habits or 2) get demotivated and get back to their old habits, which now are likely to cause a yo-yo effect. If you’re just chasing the high, the low will get you.

What’s the solution then?

Try to make sustainable goals, depending on your current fitness/eating habits. Do you eat junk food every day and binge on sweets? Try to address one problem at a time by first decreasing such behaviours and then making them an exception (which btw you should allow yourself to make from time to time guilt free). Add two exercise sessions per week to that and you’ll start to see sustainable results.
The big plus of such an approach is that you start enjoying the small changes and you can truly incorporate them into your life. With restrictive diets and quick fixes, you feel like something is being taken away from you and you’re likely to rebel against it or just feel like you live a life of deprivation. Healthy lifestyle is a marathon and not a sprint. Don’t listen to friends and acquaintances offering you overnight effects. Make small, sustainable changes instead and your results will last for a life time.

Example 2: Changing your mindset

This is even more difficult than changing your eating and exercise habits. Why? Losing weight and becoming fit will get you a LOT of approval in our, let’s be honest, superficial culture. Your friends will tell you that you look great and even if some will hate on you for saying “no” to gorging on Pick’n’Pay cake for colleague’s bday, your visible effects should keep you motivated. Now, with changing your mindset, things are much more difficult because culturally there are many wrong believes that are accepted. Just as an example, many women still believe that men are cheaters or abusers and this is just the way they are. It will not gain you popularity to decide for yourself that it’s not true and refuse to accept so little for yourself. People will get upset with you and resent you as a result. “Does she think she’s better than us?” they will ask, which may make it difficult for you to upkeep your change. The same will go to saying “no” to anything that’s socially accepted and expected but you don’t feel is good for you (examples include: becoming less stressed, deciding worrying is pointless, saying “no” to fear-mongering, not indulging in constant complaining or in gossip…).

What’s the solution then?

Decide what matters to you and stick to it, whatever others say. It’s difficult, it’s challenging but if it’s important to you, it’s important to you. You have one life.

Example 3: Bad habits

Maybe it’s the New Year’s Resolutions Time and maybe you’ve just decided to change your life. This is why you will now quit smoking, get rid off all your pot or stop overspending. From now on you’re going to be perfect! For a day or two… and then you’ll fail. If you aim high and you rely solely on your will and self-determination, it’s a really rough ride. Think about it! Your life won’t change overnight so you’ll still have to deal with your friends who smoke or ads on TV encouraging you to spend.

What’s the solution then?

I’m not saying here that going cold turkey is always a bad solution and it never works. There are also some drugs for which it’s the only way forward but I really hope that you’re not addicted to any of those. For most of us mortals, however, getting rid off bad habits is much more successful long-term if you change them gradually.
When I eventually successfully quit smoking (touch wood), I started by cutting down to 10 cigarettes a day and then downgrading slowly but surely. When I was down to 1 cigarette per week I stopped enjoying smoking and I realised how it affects me negatively (increased anxiety, immediate but temporarily shortness of breath). At 1 per month I found it gross. I haven’t had a cigarette in 4 years but I’m still craving one as I’m telling you this. This just shows that it may take 21 days to change a habit but that doesn’t mean that your inclinations towards it disappear entirely.

Growth in life should be constant and you should strive to keep improving every day. Once you’ll lose weight you may figure out that you want to cut down on sugar too not just on calories. When you’ll stop dating bad boys, it’ll be time to focus on meeting the good ones. And so on and so forth. There’s no change in life that will change EVERYTHING and you’re setting yourself up for a disappointment, if you think that what you’re currently striving for will make you a completely new person in 30 or 90 days or whatever it is that your current plan assumes.

How to Set New Year’s Goals

new_year_goalsI will lose 20 kilos, quit smoking, stop drinking, hit the gym 7 times a week…! Sounds familiar? Perhaps you’re also one of the people who try to make radical New Year’s resolutions every year and find yourself failing in week one and giving up entirely? Is it even possible to set truly life changing goals? I think so, you just have to be a bit more patient.

The biggest problem with achieving New Year’s goals is that people tend to be aggressive and not really realistic about setting them. I don’t know how it goes for you but how I used to do it is I’d watch an inspiring video or listen to a motivational speaker before the new year and decide that “I can change EVERYTHING”. And so I would decide to get abs, quit smoking, cut out negative people from my life and write something substantial. I would even make a proper plan how to achieve those goals because everyone tells you they’re meant to be measurable. Year after year, however, I would fail in achieving any of them. Then I realized that often it’s difficult to know what’s an achievable goal. 5 kilos for one person is more difficult to lose than 20 for someone else and if you spent your life being a walk over you won’t become a champion in assertiveness over night. You only learn what’s too much in the process so as slightly more vague goal like “I want to eat healthier” or “I want to learn to say “no”” isn’t a bad idea. Therefore, I decided to try to be more gentle with myself and just make sure that I’m heading in a good direction.

The year I actually ended up quitting smoking was the year I cut down cigarettes first. As a box/two box smoker I failed every time I tried to go cold turkey. My lungs would really suffer from such a quick withdrawal, I would be sad, extremely irritable and very very hungry. That particular year by cutting down I had a nicotine free life by March with minor side effects. I’m still a non-smoker after almost three years. I think part of the problem with setting goals is that people (in life, on TV, in books) often encourage us to have the big change NOW, while often a small step today will give you more long term. If you have ever done any of the this “change in 3 months” courses or read such books you should know that it never really works this way. You can jump start your development with a 90-day solution but nothing gets done in such a short period of time. A lasting change takes time and sometimes requires mini-steps, especially if a habit has been a big part of your life for a long time. In other words, for instance, if exercising is not a part of your daily routine, you may get ripped in three months but you’ll probably also lose your mojo after that. With such experiences in mind, I’d say that a part of setting good goals for New Year’s is deciding on your direction and steering your life there. Very few people manage to move from couch potato to a fitness enthusiast in few days. Don’t make a resolution to hit the gym every day, rather try to exercise three times a week and upgrade it when you realize that you enjoy it. Part of staying on a good path is realizing that your life is getting better thanks to the change. This is the whole point of resolutions, isn’t it?

Another thing which I find important in achieving goals is choosing things that make sense for us. Life’s busy and perhaps learning 5 new foreign languages next year isn’t what you should be spending your time on. I think a big reason why I’ve been failing at a lot of my goals was that I just didn’t care enough about them to keep going. The abs resolution is a good example. Yes, it looks great when people have a ripped tummy but it’s not an easy thing to achieve. It’s not only about exercising a lot and focusing on this part of the body but also about  being very rigorous with what you eat. This is why, as much as I want to be fit and eat healthy, I probably will never have perfect abs. This goal is just not important enough for me to keep myself in check all the time and skip an occasional treat. Don’t set goals you don’t care about because the problem with one failed goal is that it changes your mindset to “I’m a failure”. If you’ve set ten goals that year and you failed at one, you’re actually less likely to achieve the other ones. This is why it’s super important to set a few non-aggressive goals around things that matter, if you really want to see yourself changing.

Last but not least, you need to want to change. I know it sounds trivial but it isn’t. All the times I tried to quit smoking before I actually managed to do it,  I didn’t  really want to get rid of the habit. I was thinking that it’s a good thing to quit smoking because it costs me money, harms my health, stinks and for many other reasons why everyone thinks that smoking is bad for you. I was reasoning with myself that I should do it but I didn’t want to do it. The last time I actually decided that I didn’t want to be defined by an addiction anymore. It still wasn’t easy to quit but when you tell yourself “Yes, I can have this cigarette but it will make me want to smoke more and I don’t want to be a smoker”, it has much more power than saying “I shouldn’t have this cigarette”. Remember that “Resistance is futile”. The rule applies to any other goal like, for instance, learning to cook. The element of wanting and not feeling forced (even by oneself) is crucial. I’m not saying that it’s impossible to force oneself to do things, it’s just easier to achieve goals if you consider them to be a a choice based on what you want, rather than a necessity.

To sum up, good goals are those which may be a bit vague but slowly but surely take you in the desired direction, which you actually care about and which you can internalize as a “want”. Good luck with your New Year’s Resolutions! Also, please don’t forget that any time of the year is good for goal setting so you can reuse this post later in the year, if you find it helpful.

Any thoughts on the topic, Dear Rinser? Do you have any success stories about goal setting? Maybe tips to share with others?

Book Review – Why Buddhism Is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment

Why_Buddhism_Is_TrueYou may think that this book doesn’t belong here. After all our blog is about dating and relationships. However, I would argue that how we approach life in general and how much we act on autopilot of our programming has a lot to do in how we choose our partners and behave in relationships. A book about a tool that helps us to think before we do, is a tool that has its place on this blog.

Robert Wright’s book “Why Buddhism Is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment” is a much more down to earth book than the title suggests. Wright is also a very reasonable guy himself and has an amazingly dry sense of humor. He describes the perks of meditation from his point of view, which is that of an evolutionary psychologist. In his book he compares the ancient knowledge with what we know from science. As we are animals (just deal with it), we are ruled by natural selection. This means that most of the things we do have to do with how we’re programmed to perform. Natural selection’s goal is to make us reproduce, this is not a human goal most of the time (even if someone wants kids they don’t want to have kids all the time either). I touched upon this topic in my posts about pragmatism in love and rethinking romanticism, where I explained that butterflies don’t seem to be much more than our body yet again tricking us into reproduction. For the same reasons we are programmed to choose our kin above strangers, to label people and put them into us vs them categories and even to gossip. All these mechanisms were valid tools of survival in the hunter-gatherer society but they don’t serve us in the modern world. Meditation is a tool to undo some of such useless programming. I will not get into any more detail because a) Wright has already written a book about it and b) in his book he actually does a great job at explaining things.

Someone could say that the book isn’t a good manual for meditation but the fact is no manual is really needed. Maybe like me you’ve spent a lot of money on meditation courses, guided meditation CDs and other devices. They may help you but the truth is they usually just make you procrastinate. The simplest guide to meditation is: sit down, close your eyes, focus on your breath, when your thoughts appear don’t follow them but keep focusing on your breath, repeat it for at least 20 minutes every day. Ta-dam! Here, I saved you some money. The book serves a different purpose, however, and this is to help to popularize meditation as it is a very helpful device in living better and just becoming a nicer human being. Of course, there are a lot of misconceptions about meditation. People are scared that it will change them, deprive them of feelings and other things. Wright answers to all of these concerns in a knowledgeable manner of someone who not only studied the subject theoretically but is also a regular, yet not heavy, meditator.

I recommend this book to anyone, really. As meditation is challenging in the beginning and often counter-intuitive as it’s not a part of the Western cultural heritage, it’s good to read a book that explains in a (not overly) scientific manner the benefits of meditation. I can only tell you that it’s really worth it. I may be still far away from being the person I’d like to be but both myself and my relationships have significantly benefited from my meditation practice.