The Truth About Valentine's Day

Ignore the shoddy nail job--what I'm clutching here is very important to me. 

Sugar.

Okay, okay but really, it's also a confectionary representation of Valentine's Day, which has unexpectedly become one of my favorite holidays.

No, it's not because I happen to be attached. Although AO always makes thoughtful plans, Valentine's Day didn't become special to me when I met my match. It became special to me when I realized that real love is about what you do every day of the year.

Sounds unbearably obvious, right? Except it wasn't for me. It's one of those things I never really understood until the past few years. In my early twenties, I had this grand delusion that relationships were supposed to be simplistic. Easy. Almost...passive. Love was there and all was well. You met the right person, they would read your mind and anticipate your needs, and sunshine and rainbows would fly out of your ass forever.

But love is not passive. It's not something that happens once a year, or in some grand gesture, or in a box of chocolates (although I'll never turn those down.) Love is an action. And that's something AO has taught me.

It's not that he doesn't make lovely Valentine's plans, but it's that he shows me he loves me in a hundred little ways. It's when he gets up early with the dog so I can sleep an extra hour. When he makes me egg sandwiches on Saturdays. When he gives me a back rub when I've had a long day. When he comes with me to a family outing or listens to one of my (longwinded) stories. 

These kinds of actions are not simple, nor are they passive. They cannot be reduced to a greeting card or a single day. You do them for the people you love--significant others, parents, children, sisters--and they do them for you, day in and day out. I'm not going to get all Corinthians on your ass, because I'm still young and I'm still learning a lot. But one thing I have learned from life so far is that love is brave because it threatens the ego. It puts aside the ego's wants and needs and tends to someone else's. It wakes up early. It sits with someone when they're sick. It witnesses pain and offers comfort. And it's every day. 

Love is in the actions. They're not always easy, or sweet, or candy-coated. A real partner is someone who you should be able to have a disagreement with.  Real love is not seamless. It often holds a mirror up to all the subconscious patterns and fears you've grown over your life. It also holds a mirror up to your morning breath. And your patience. And your ability to put someone's needs in front of your own. Showing up for someone every day because you love them is not easy. But it's so, so brave. And it's very often sweet. And it's so worth celebrating. 

That Time I Was Someone's Secret Admirer

Mike caught my attention during the first week of school when I was fourteen and riddled with the onset of hormones. He was a performer on our school’s Improv team, and being able to make me laugh was, and still is, key to winning my heart. He was also a senior, and as my childhood crushes on Kevin Costner and David Duchovny attest, I’ve always had a penchant for older dudes.

I hadn’t had a boyfriend yet. I hadn’t had my first kiss, either. Not even a peck on the lips. The most intimate I got with boys at that time was awkwardly slow-dancing with them in that arms straight-out, corpse-like fashion that preteens do. I hadn’t thought of having a boyfriend before, but my raging hormones were making me feel all kinds of feelings I had never felt before. I soon got it in my head that Mike was going to be my first boyfriend. The only problem: Mike didn’t know who the hell I was.

No matter. Love became my mission in life to experience, to discover, to know, and Mike was my target. I studied Mike how a National Geographic journalist must study its prey. I learned that he rolled into school usually late, and most always with a McDonalds sandwich in hand. I was pretty sure he didn’t have a girlfriend, but he had a lot of female friends (a trait I was pretty sure meant he was sensitive and non-douchey). I discovered his locker was upstairs, next door to the science lab, and that he drove a Pontiac Firebird, which, rumor had it, he purchased himself from his earnings as a part-time cashier at Blockbuster.

One time, I noticed Mike wore Nike tearaway basketball pants to school once during a rehearsal and so I forced my mom to buy me the exact same ones in an effort to create a conversation starter, because at this point (four months after my crush ignited) we had never spoken a word to each other and I was desperate for a head nod or even a brush against his narrow, bony shoulders.   

“Hey, you’re wearing the same pants as me!” I pictured him saying to me, stopping me in the hallway, smiling ear-to-ear, for the entire school world to see. So impressed by this marvelous coincidence (“It’s a sign!” He’d say. “I must know you!”), he’d ask me to join him in the Firebird and whisk me to the 7/11 at the corner for Slurpees.

“Really? You want these pants?” My mom asked me incredulously after reluctantly purchasing them. “They’re hideous.” Having gone to a uniformed Catholic high school, the pants thing didn’t exactly pan out for me. My next plan of action came on Valentine’s Day.

Our school regularly doled out candy-grams at Christmas and Valentine’s Day--telegrams attached with candy, which you were able to send to anyone in the school, anonymously or not. Up until then, I had only given and received candy-grams from my friends, but this time would be different. I was going to nudge Mike into my Cupid’s crosshairs by sending him an anonymous candy-gram. I signed it simply: “From your secret admirer.” I wanted Mike to know who I was, but I was scared, too. Scared of rejection, scared of being laughed at, and, also, scared of what came next. I wasn’t experienced; I hadn’t made a play for first base once. He drove a car, for pete’s sake. Would he be okay with things being stuck in first gear?

I thought I might hear something about the anonymous candy-gram (“Mike has a secret admirer and he’s determined to find out who she is!”) but, it turns out, Mike had more issues at play than just an anonymous piece of chocolate being delivered to him--he dropped out of school a few weeks later. I heard the news from my friend Kara who heard from her older sister, who was in Mike’s grade.

I was heartbroken. I listened to a lot of Sarah McLachlan and Jewel before I finally decided that it was time to introduce myself to Mike in person at the only place I knew he’d be: Blockbuster. My friend, Melanie, and I had my mom drop us off at the mall and we made a beeline to the Blockbuster across the street. I spotted the Firebird in the parking lot, and I knew this was it. We were finally going to meet. Mike was finally going to know my name.

“Do you know what you’re going to do?” Melanie asked.
“I’m just going to tell him the truth in my heart,” I said. Melanie and I entered heads down, sunglasses on, awkward as fuck. Mike spotted us, but before he could say, “Welcome to Blockbuster,” we were at the magazine rack, thinking of the next move. Neither of us had a membership card, so we had to think of an excuse to go up to the cash register. Blockbuster only had shitty gamer magazines, but I figured if I could shell out a couple dollars on a crummy chocolate for Mike, I could buy an issue of Nintendo Power for $6 to buy us some time together. Besides, I thought he’d probably take me out for that Slurpee once I professed my love to him.

We finally made our way to his register. He barely looked at us as he scanned my magazine. I was waiting for him to look at me, to finally lock eyes with me, and to feel all the feelings I had been for the last six months. When he finally did (probably because he felt my eyes burning into his skull), he looked blankly at me; there wasn’t even a single trace of recognition. Not a, “Oh! Don’t I know you from somewhere?” or, “You look familiar…” It was official: Mike absolutely did not know who I was. He didn’t know that I rolled into school promptly because I always took the early bus to school, or that I wore the same Gap cardigan almost everyday. He didn’t know that my locker was downstairs, across the hall from the Media Room.

“Anything else?” he asked. I was going to just walk away and take my stupid magazine with me, instead I said: “My name is Brianne and I am your secret admirer.” Mike took a step back, clearly surprised. He went red. He stuttered.
“I-I don’t know what to say,” he said. “I’m embarrassed.”
“Yeah, well…” I said. “I thought you should know.”
“Well, thank you,” he said. I waited for something more. But there was nothing more to say. There would never be anything more.
I left Blockbuster, and Mike, for good.

When my mom picked Melanie and I up later, I confessed everything to her.
“Why would you do that?” She finally asked me.
“I wanted him to know that I liked him,” I said.
“That’s not how it’s supposed to work,” she told me. “Did you ever stop to think if you actually like him? The real him? Do you two even have anything in common?”
“I…don’t know.”
“You have to know this stuff. It’s important.”

My mom was being overprotective, as good mothers often are, but she had a point. I was basically so in love with the idea of love, so…desperate? hopeful? to have someone who I thought I liked, to like me back, that I didn’t stop to think if a partnership would be for both of our best interests. I didn’t let things evolve organically. I tried to force an unnatural situation because I didn’t know how to let go and let love in; to let love find me. I could chalk up my behavior to being fourteen, young and naïve, and not knowing better. I was hooked on chemistry without doing the math. But it’s a pattern that followed me throughout my love life:

There was the Navajo sweater-wearing hippie, who I was crushing on in college. I ended up joining him at a protest because I wanted to know him better. He didn’t seem to care that I was there--he was all about “the cause”.  To this day, I don’t even know what we were protesting about.

Then there was the office co-worker who I found to be devastatingly charming over Gchat. I had imagined that we were living our own “You’ve Got Mail” scenario, and so I attempted to arrange our first in-person “meet cute,” only to discover he was actually a robotic jerk when he was not behind his computer screen.

And then there was also an ex-boyfriend, who I just couldn’t quit. I would wait outside his work to accidentally-on-purpose bump into him. Once I even sent him a nudie puzzle of myself (back when there wasn’t “the Cloud”) just so I could get his attention. Just so I could get him to want me, to love me again.
 
Sometimes I think I did it because I’m a late bloomer, and I wondered for a long time whether love would ever find me. But love did find me, and when it did, I held onto it so tight that I slowly choked it to death, and prolonged a suffering that would have been best to end with one quick stab to the heart.

Other times I think it’s because I’m a control freak and so type-A that I thought I could plan love--the who, the what, the where – and just make it happen. Like my fourteen-year-old-self, I’ve been scared. Scared of rejection, of what comes next; I was mostly scared of allowing love to happen again because what if it didn’t?

Love still is my mission in life to experience, to discover, to know. But now I’ve learned that love is best when it’s unexpected. When it comes as a pleasant surprise. When it grows and evolves surely and safely. Love doesn’t come because you want it to, but because it wants to. You don’t have to fight for its attention. It sees you. It’s ready for you. Real love is anything but anonymous and that’s because it has to come from within first--the all-mighty piece that was missing from my early experiences with it. When I meet someone new, I often hear my mom asking: “Did you ever stop to think if you actually like him? The real him? Do you two even have anything in common? You have to know this stuff. It’s important.” She’s always been right about that.

I ended up finding those Nike tearaway pants a few months ago in my parents’ house. I hadn’t realized I’d been holding onto them for so long. I finally threw them out. They really were hideous. Fuck, she was right about that, too.

Wedding Confessional Pt. II: The Budget

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Isn’t money the most awkward of conversation topics? Maybe you find it easy to discuss dollar bills (and $500 deposits), but it’s never been my forte.

Despite a fear of large numbers after dollar signs I strongly believe in creating a detailed wedding budget. Why? Because almost every lovely married lady I know has told me, “We went way over budget.” After hearing this over and over for the last 20 years I was determined to create a budget that I would stick to.

As you may have read in Part 1, I have been, um, blessed with a very large family. This can be quite daunting when you consider catered meals can cost upwards of $30 a plate. While our wedding budget took a bit of time to draw up (and let’s be honest, cost me just a few tears), it has been our go-to for every wedding day decision. I know that if I plug the number into that fancy spreadsheet it will tell me if I can afford it. If you aren’t blessed with an Excel-wiz of a fiancé like I am I highly suggest finding someone to help out. I’m never left guessing about numbers or crossing my fingers while I sign a vendor contract. Now that I am six months away and have close to all of my vendors lined up for our wedding I am confident that we will be very close to the budget we drew up earlier this year.

Looking to create a budget of your own? Here are my top three wedding budget tips:

1. Determine who is financially contributing to your wedding. Are they throwing in a specific dollar amount? Will they agree to only cover the cost of the food, but sky’s the limit? By nailing down the specifics early on you and your spouse-to-be are less likely to have unexpected (and often uncomfortable) money conversations when the bills come due.

2. Once you have an idea as to who is contributing, research and create a list of every vendor you could possibly use. I’m talking caterer, D.J., rehearsal venue, baker, invitation designers, etc. Then write down the average cost of each vendor as determined by your intended location, time frame and/or guest count (for example, look up D.J. prices in your area for the maximum amount of time you would need music – say six hours).

By creating this initial list you will be able to see the maximum that each vendor could cost you. Don’t feel too overwhelmed – unless you are working with a huge budget there is no reason you have to go to the max on every aspect of your wedding. I’m sure there will be many vendors you won’t use at all. If you are working on a tight budget, I suggest that you choose two items that are so important to you that you are willing to splurge. Andrew and I decided that we wanted to invite as many loved ones as possible and be picky about our photographer, making our guest list and photos our splurge. That meant that we would be keeping other items like flowers, liquor and cake simple and as inexpensive as possible.

3. Even after making a detailed list of vendor pricing, there are three costs many couples forget to factor in: tax, gratuity and service charge. Many vendors will require all three. Yes, even your bartender’s tip may be set in stone and on that contract you’re about to sign. Please check with your vendors and be sure that you know the percent for each so that it won’t come as a surprise. It’s the worst to find out the week before your wedding that you owe 20-30 percent more than your calculations.  

4 Things I've Learned From Being In an Interracial, Interfaith Relationship

During our vacation at Sugarloaf Rock in Western Australia

During our vacation at Sugarloaf Rock in Western Australia

Come on, it's 2014. Being with someone of a different race or religion is not unordinary. Yet even in the multi-cultural country I live in--Singapore--the topics of interracial and interfaith dating are not largely discussed. Truth be told, it is still regarded as "sensitive." Somehow, never-ending assumptions and stereotypes on how things won't work out abound. But I have never been the kind to look at my partner based on his race or belief system: love just happens, and I have been in my current relationship for 8 years. Despite the negativity surrounding this topic, here are four positive things I've learned from my experience:

1. Understanding is Key
To make things work, understanding plays a vital role. It shapes you into becoming more tolerant and accepting to what you previously thought was "different" from your own norms. Basically, it is the root and the foundation for the relationship to grow. 

2. Little things go a long way
I celebrate Eid while my partner celebrates Chinese New Year. It's definitely fun when we both put in effort to celebrate these two events in one year together with our families.  Before Eid, I fast for Ramadhan. My partner, being the thoughtful person he is, always asks me if there are any errands he can do for me as he knows I'll be quite tired and lethargic at the end of the day. He also tries hard not to eat or drink in front of me while I'm fasting. For me, these are little things that go a long way and make me appreciate him that much more.

3. Openness

There will be times when you both find it hard to agree with each other because of your beliefs. Having differing views is fine. In fact, I feel that having healthy conversations help to elevate your mind to a new scale and remain open to new ideas. It helps to broaden our perspectives and it cultivates a sense of understanding when you are discussing difficult topics. 

4. Acceptance
Accept your partner for the person they are. At the end of the day, it is more than just having a different race or faith. It is really about two human beings falling in love like anyone else. It is what you see in the person, and what they see in you. Viewing things through such a myopic lens has caused us to forget that, and forget the reasons people fall in love in the first place. 

To this I say: love forever and nothing can stop you.