Thursday, 21 February 2013

Unexpected Date

Hopeful 7   Hopeless  2

The same week I had my rather discouraging and upsetting conversation with Thomas, I was very busy.  I had decided that I did not have time to go on any dates.  I intended to resume the following week, which promised to be less hectic.  That is not exactly how the week turned out after all, though.

That Thursday, October 18th, I had class in the afternoon.  It just so happened that Steven was in this class.  I had seen him the week before and chatted with him briefly after class; it had been the first time since the day that our student association voted to end their strike.  Our conversation had been okay, but I was still a bit nervous.  In an attempt to normalize the situation on that Thursday, I tried to casually integrate into a conversation Steven was having with a friend of his.  "Did you go to the conference?" Steven asked.  "I was really interested; was it any good?"  When his friend responded affirmatively, I chimed in, "Listening to M Cartier is always good."  I had assumed wrongly that they were referring to one of the conferences in our department that week, that several people including me were just coming from (hence why I was sitting near him in the first place; seat selection was limited when you arrived late).  Steven's friend corrected me, but not in a polite or friendly manner, rather with a condescending tone and energy that I didn't appreciate.  Steven didn't say anything to this or say anything else that could help me integrate into the conversation, so I simply turned around in my seat and looked straight ahead of me.

I was mildly embarrassed.  That was nothing compared to what happened next.  Someone passing by my seat in this very cramped classroom knocked over my water bottle.  It was so quick, I didn't realize what had happened for a few seconds.  I don't even know if it was him or his schoolbag that knocked my water bottle over.  In my confusion, I didn't react very quickly and therefore was not effective at preventing the water from going everywhere.  I was most concerned about my loose leaf.  It was all wet, some sheets more or less.  Then I saw that some water had splashed into my lap.  My sweatshirt, which had been in my lap since there was no space on the backs of the chairs in this classroom, was soaked.  I quickly put it in the compartment under the chair.  I was surprised to find that my pants were a bit wet, but since they were black, it didn't really show.  Then I looked down to find the puddle under my chair.  Still a bit dazed, I mumbled something out loud about probably needing to find a washroom for paper towel.  Meanwhile, Steven and his friend did not react at all.  The only thing I heard was Steven's friend make some sort of "oops" noise.  There were about forty people in this class.  Not one of them got up to help me.  I had to make two or three trips to the bathroom to clean up the mess all over my desk while Steven and his friend watched.  I was embarrassed and mildly offended besides.

That, unfortunately was not the end of my embarrassment.  It was bad enough to be sitting in class wet trying to take notes on damp or crinkly loose-leaf.  The first twenty minutes of methodology class was reserved for questions aimed at research trouble-shooting.  I raised my hand and asked a question that I should've spoken to the professor about after class.  He was just usually so swamped with students after class, that I decided to ask during the question period instead.  Big mistake.  I asked if he could give me direction for my subject, narrow it down a little and if indeed that was the appropriate time to ask.  This was supposed to be an any-question-goes zone, a class where there were no "stupid questions".  Yet the professor looked at me and said, "But that's not your subject."  I was stunned.  How could I not know my own research topic?  He made a slight correction to one of the words in my topic and that radically changed my research.  It was important to ask before I got much further in my work, but I wish I had not done it in front of the class, because at the teacher's reaction, my classmates burst out laughing.  I just wanted to disappear.

So as soon as we had a break, I left the classroom as quickly as I could.  I felt the need to get out of there.  Usually I sit quietly during the break and often eat a snack to replenish my energy.  Since I had been wanting to disappear for about an hour and a half, I could not fling myself out of the room fast enough.  I wanted to put space between me and that class so I could clear my head.  My concentration had not been very good because my embarrassment had really affected my mood.  Normally I am able to put feelings aside when I am in class and focus on the lecture.  For whatever reason, that day, I was not really able to do so.  I went and found a computer, though I didn't have a lot of time before I had to be back in class.  I had gotten an idea that I couldn't shake.  It was crazy.  It was also very unlike me.

I took Amin's advice for reaching him.  I sent him an e-mail, which he was certain to see on his phone.  He said it was always an effective way of getting him to sign in to chat if he was not already online.  Sure enough, scarce a few minutes had gone by and there he was.  So I told him I was having a bad day and that for whatever reason I just couldn't shake off the bad feelings.  I didn't understand why, but I was really not coping that day.  I couldn't roll with anything; everything was affecting me and I was having great difficulty getting through the rest of the day.  I had to stay after class for an activity for the mentoring program I had joined at school.  I couldn't imagine myself doing so.  In fact, I had wanted so badly not to sit through any of the class even.  I felt sorely lacking in courage.  I wasn't able to help myself, so I decided it was time to ask for help.  I needed some support that day.  Amin was ready to offer it, very ready and willing.  He cancelled a meeting with his PhD supervisor; he rearranged his entire schedule just to meet me after class.  His assurance that he would spend some time with me got me through the second half of my class and the activity I had to attend afterwards.

I felt extremely strange making this request.  I later realized that it was okay for me to ask for help or support, certainly.  I asked the person whose schedule was most flexible and who was most likely to be available at the drop of a hat.  What felt strange, was that it was so uncharacteristic of me.  It was so unusual for me to essentially be falling apart based on such a slight thing as an embarrassment or two.  Normally I am tougher than that and it takes a lot to stop me from getting through my day well.  What was most certainly not like me was to ask someone else to help me in such circumstances, to feel that it was so very necessary.  It felt like I was asking to be rescued and though I realized that was not entirely true, it still did not sit well with me at all.  I despise the notion of the damsel in distress being rescued by the knight on the white horse.  I most emphatically do not want it to happen to me.  I want to be my own independent person, not requiring a man to save me.  My internal objections, however, did not stop me from asking Amin to meet me.

Those were not the only strange feelings that I had that day.  Amin didn't say a lot; he mostly listened to me recount the story of my multiple embarrassments.  He let me vent.  Just talking to him began to cheer me up.  While I was talking, though, all I could seem to think about was hugging him or putting a hand on his arm.  I know I touched his arm a couple of times, but in my mind, I was touching him frequently.  All I wanted to do was touch him.  I was surprised at myself.  I suppose it had been awhile since I had had such feelings and that is why they felt foreign.  It made me confused: Amin was my friend; why did I feel the need to touch him?  In fact, I am not even certain my reflection got that far.  I must've been too preoccupied with self-restraint that I couldn't sort out what those feelings actually meant. 

What did emerge clearly for me, was a further illustration of Amin's character.  This Thursday proved to me that he was dependable and supportive.  It confirmed to me that he was a good listener and also very thoughtful and caring.  He offered to stay till I was done my mentoring activity.  After the function, I brought him a piece of cake to share.  He was very happy with that.  I thought there should be some reward for waiting for me like that and certainly the mentorship program could spare the piece.  Then he accompanied me part of the way back home.

I called this entry "Unexpected Date".  It didn't have most classic elements of a date.  It was unexpected because I had not planned to see Amin that day and furthermore did not consider that I had time for any dates that week.  He just spent a couple of hours with me at school, which is hardly romantic.  Yet, other than feeling bad that day, I had some other feelings, which were quite unquantifiable... 

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Feliz Día del Amor y la Amistad

Hopeful 8   Hopeless 2

The title of this entry comes from how we were taught to say Happy Valentine's Day in Spanish in high school.  I thought it was a good idea to call the holiday "love and friendship day" and have become a particular fan of the expression in recent years.  It encapsulates what Valentine's Day is all about.

When we hear "Valentine's Day", we conjure up lots of images.  Many of these images are chocolates and flowers and big red hearts, but the rest of them tend to be of couples.  Our culture focuses on having a Valentine to spend the day with.  This is such a limited view of what the holiday is about.  Saint Valentine did marry couples against the edict of Emperor Claudius II, but the first Valentines were actually letters to his friends from jail.  So from the very beginning, this story has been about love, not just romantic love, but love in the greater sense.  In fact, the person of Saint Valentine shows all aspects of love: romance, friendship and devotion to God.  These are all things he lived and died for.  That is what Valentine's Day is supposed to be about.

Whatever happened to the days in elementary school when you would get a Valentine from every student in the class?  Am I the only one who grew up in a school like that?  I remember filling out 30 or more of these mini store-bought cards that had messages such as "Be mine" or "Happy Valentine's Day".  That made everyone feel special and included on that day.  It seems when we grow up, we lose that sense of the importance of spreading love to the people around us.  That is such a shame.

I have gotten trapped in the paradigm of needing a Valentine on February 14th.  It is difficult not to get sucked into that feeling.  I think it is understandable in the society we live in to feel lonely on Valentine's Day if you are single.  I would see so many girls going by in the metro or on the street with roses.  It made me feel sad that there was no one to get me flowers.  I realized, though, that that is completely the wrong way of looking at it.  I started getting flowers in the metro or on the street and bringing them home for my mother.  She loves flowers; they really cheer her up and are quasi-therapeutic for her.  If you are thinking about how you are not getting flowers, you are focusing too much on yourself.  Go and get flowers for someone else and I guarantee you will feel so much better.  My mother has been my Valentine since I was a little girl and she will be as long as I live, whether I am dating or whether I am not.  The best part is that you are not limited to just one Valentine; you can have as many Valentines as you like!        

So go out and find people today.  Take the time to send them a message and tell them that they are appreciated.  Organize something with your friends and family.  Make an occasion!  Valentine's Day is not just for couples, so get together with the most important people in your life and have a great time.

Feliz Día del Amor y la Amistad

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Vhat Vas Ve Qvestion?

Hopeful 1  Hopeless 9

This is how I felt on October 15th after a conversation I had with Thomas.  My mood turned abruptly while I was chatting with him online.  In my own words from after that conversation: "It's on days like this where I want to give up on men entirely and am inclined to believe that there is not one decent man on this planet" (hence the hopeful-hopeless count).  When I first wrote this entry on paper (most of the time, my ideas and emotions flow much better on paper, which was the case that day!), I had explained the context in which this question arose.  I realized later, that there was no context in which this question could be understandable or admissible whatsoever, making half of what I wrote completely irrelevant.  This is a question you never ask a girl.

There are a few questions that you never ask a girl.  The first one, I think, is her age.  This is something you learn if you have been brought up with proper manners.  The second, is her weight.  Beyond basic politeness, it is simply that women tend to be insecure about these two things.  It is difficult when media, society and a million other factors are constantly pressuring women to look younger and slimmer all the time.  Don't add to her potential self-esteem problems by asking her such questions.  The question Thomas asked me was right up there with these two.  I wrote on that day: "I nearly choked.  Since when is it okay to just ask that question?  I was so shocked.  The audacity!"

I don't care what times we live in or again under what circumstances this question comes up.  It is unacceptable to ask a girl, "Are you a virgin?"  It is rude and inappropriate to ask such a personal question.  In fact, that question is not only personal, it is rather private.  Normally that kind of information, any information regarding sexual contact or experience is for the girl to know and for her to share with her partner.  It is not for common knowledge, merely to satisfy someone's curiosity.  If indeed, she felt the need to share this kind of information with someone other than her partner, it would have to come from her.  She would have to open up to you about it and not because you asked her.

Furthermore, this information, though it can perhaps make people curious, should not be sought after in the first place.  You may have your own guess (Thomas' was instantly clear when he posed that question), but that is not something you should utter out loud.  If you could refrain from guessing and wondering altogether, that would be even better.  The question of whether or not someone you know is a virgin should not be relevant.  You should not have a different opinion of them based on that, just like you should not think differently of them based on their age, or their weight, or their religion or their ethnic background or a million other things.  Take those things out of the equation and look at the person and their qualities and form your opinion of them based on those things.  Use as few labels as possible, because they usually end up being harmful one way or another.

It had been occurring to me that Thomas and I were not well matched before that day.  A few days earlier, I had blurted during a conversation with him: "What is it about you that seems to bring out all my insecurities and apprehensions?"  This is very important also to consider when you are looking for a potential partner: does this person bring out the best in you?  I know from my experience with my Dad that a guy can bring out the worst in a girl.  I didn't always like who I was when I talked to Thomas.  He seemed to draw out more of my negative emotions.  He certainly did on that day, though I didn't let him have it like I should've.  I was just too shocked in that moment.  I felt betrayed too.  That is the sort of moment I regretted letting him get to know me better.  That is what I meant when I said that I didn't want just anyone to know my name and have access to my facebook page.  I had given him my trust and he screwed up.  He knew he screwed up too, even as he was asking that question.  He should've listened to his instincts and buttoned up.  Though you cannot presume to understand someone based on one thing they said or did, it was finally clear to me that Thomas and I were not compatible enough to date.  He had told me he did not want to date at the moment, but that day is when I realized that even if he wanted to date later and I was in fact available, it would not fly.  At that moment, I was thinking we might not even be compatible enough to be friends.  If Thomas wanted to be friends, he was going to have to make a serious effort to earn my trust back. 

My Birthday

Hopeful 7    Hopeless  3

That weekend, I celebrated my birthday with my friends.  It had taken me awhile to figure out what I wanted to do, so I think it didn't give people a lot of notice.  For that reason, I had a modest number to go for lunch at Cacao 70.  Our party comprised of Étienne, Stella and my sister.  Louis had said he might be able to come, so I wasn't sure if he was going to drop in as well.

What I shared with my sister
the first time I went to Cacao 70
I was really looking forward to going.  I had been to Cacao 70 once with my sister and really enjoyed it.  I was thinking about it a lot the day before.  That is when I started getting the idea that I should issue a supplementary invitation.  I kept turning it over and over in my mind and finally decided on it: I should ask Amin if he would like to join us.  It seemed so logical to me.  I was going out with my friends for chocolate.  He was both my friend and a fellow chocoholic.  He talked about not having a friend to go and have chocolate with, so he would certainly be glad for the opportunity and would be sure to enjoy the chocolate.  The direct consequence of doing this would be that it would also integrate him more into my life.  It would put him on an equal footing with my other friends and it would prove to him that I treated him just like I did them.  It would be elevating his status and I really wanted to give him higher status.  I felt that that is where he should be.

At first,  Amin was not biting.  I was stunned: how could he refuse chocolate?!  He said it was very thoughtful of me to invite him, but that he should not meet my friends at this time.  I had anticipated the possibility of him being nervous, but I did not expect it to stop him from going.  So I used my powers of persuasion, which seemed rather effective on him.  I talked to him about what would make him feel more comfortable.  I explained that it was going to be a small party, which is one of the reasons I thought it was more than acceptable to ask him along.  I knew he was a bit on the shy side, so I wasn't going to expose him to a lot of different people at once.  He was still hesitant.  Finally we got to the root of the matter: he was feeling a bit odd about what my friends would think, given that we had met online.  This is something I suppose I had thought about myself.  It is perhaps a bit awkward to admit to meeting someone online.  It is becoming more and more common, but I think it still feels a bit strange or embarrassing.  It was such an easy fix, though: no one had to know!  So we decided what our story should be.  It was nothing elaborate, but fun to concoct at the same time.  I suppose it is the writer in me that likes to create stories and make-believe like when I was a kid.  We settled on having met "at school".  It is simple to retain and not the sort of answer that usually brings on a lot of questions.  What made it exciting was that it was our secret.  It was also sufficient for Amin to feel comfortable and for him to agree to come. 

I had set the time for 1:00, but I had a hiccup that caused me to run late.  I was positively mortified: I was late for my own celebration!  My sister got on her cellphone and began texting to let Étienne and Amin know.  Stella was with us as we made our way to Cacao 70.  Amin replied and said that he had found Étienne and that they were waiting for us (it turns out that I had miscopied Étienne's number for some reason, so he never got the message; it was lucky indeed that he had collided with Amin!).  I was nearly dying, because it was such an odd scenario.  Here was the person who had encouraged me to go on Plenty of Fish, Étienne, sitting with one of the people I had met on the site, Amin.  I was positively squirming, because neither of them knew who exactly they were talking to!  I would've loved to be a fly on the wall at that point to see what on earth they were saying.

We arrived fashionably late; I suppose the only advantage was making an entrance at my own party.  I stood up on my tiptoes to give Étienne a hug and I went over to give Amin one.  I made a nervous joke about how they had obviously gotten along all right because they hadn't killed one another.  I slunk sheepishly into a chair as soon as possible.  Since Étienne was sitting beside him, I made sure to choose the seat in front of Amin, to make sure that I was nearby.  After all, I was the only person he knew there, so I had to make sure that he was comfortable.  Even later, when my sister and I needed to sit together to share our chocolate, I did not move from that spot.  I asked Stella and her if they could switch places instead.

It was a very pleasant outing.  Much was talked of, particularly Étienne's exciting job opportunities and Stella's upcoming trek to the base camp of Mount Everest to raise funds for cancer research.  The person who talked the most was undoubtedly my sister.  She had lots of energy that day, which will bring out her very sociable and bubbly personality.  She was the life of the party certainly that day and was the main reason (besides chocolate) that it was such a nice birthday celebration.  I have always been quieter than her by nature and sitting back listening to her talk that day, I was not feeling that she was stealing my spotlight or anything; I was just feeling that she had so many interesting and intelligent things to say and feeling very proud of her.  Amin had been self-conscious about being older than my friends, but here was the youngest out of everyone and she was just awesome.  

I had a good time and everyone else professed that they did also.  I received a small gift from Stella: a black and red necklace.  She said it was not a proper birthday gift, but I was happy for this thoughtful token of friendship.  When we left Cacao 70, it was raining a little.  None of us were really equipped except Amin.  He gallantly offered to share his umbrella with Stella (which would've been a challenge, since she is tall!), but she declined.  None of us seemed too worried about the rain, since it was so slight.  So Amin came over to me and asked.  I could hardly refuse such a kind gesture.  My sister and Étienne got ahead of us, then so did Stella.  Amin and I brought up the rear under his umbrella.  I was feeling a bit strange at that point, perhaps recalling that afternoon with Giles.  What I remember is that I could not look at Amin and consequently didn't stay under the umbrella very well.  I couldn't find much to say, but he wasn't very talkative in any case.  I had been a bit concerned about him.  I had expected he would mostly listen rather than talk, since he was unfamiliar with my friends and that he would probably be observing how I interacted with the others.  However, much as he was surrounded by lots of chocolate and a near infinite menu of delicious chocolate choices, he only had a milkshake.  That is what worried me; I could hardly reconcile that with the chocoholic I knew he was!  What I later discovered is that his meal times are different from the ones I keep, so it was simply a question of appetite.

I talked later with Amin and finally got to hear his enthusiasm about the outing.  He said that I had very nice friends and he was glad I invited him.  He was curious to know what my friends thought of him, but they could hardly give me feedback based on one such occasion.  Stella, however, had remembered Amin from my conversation with her after the Gardens date.  She asked me if I was dating him or not yet and how I felt about him.  I could not offer a clear-cut answer at that time, which she thought was strange.  She thought I should not be so confused about how I felt about Amin and where I wanted him to fit in my life.  I was glad to have the opportunity to ask her to shake his hand rather than kiss him as a greeting, which he greatly appreciated.  The one thing Stella did say afterwards, which I refused to repeat to Amin, was that we had chemistry.  I didn't understand how she could possibly tell something like that, based on an outing in a group setting where he and I didn't interact a lot.  She said she simply could not explain it, but that is exactly what she felt.  I take people's intuition seriously as well as the assessment of someone on the outside looking in on a scenario, so I kept what she said in mind.  What puzzled me, though, was how she had felt something, but I hadn't...