Quotes [new quotes]
Me, Myself and Mine
14 July 2007, The Straits Times
I lost a friend last year. No, no, he's well, as well can be. What I mean is that I lost a friendship last year.
It was sad because it was one of the longest surviving friendships I'd left.
We met when I was 19, and in over two decades, stayed in touch although we lead very different lives. His is glamorous whereas mine, well, you know what my life's like.
It wasn't a friendship in which we shared deep and dark secrets. We met infrequently and there were even periods when we didn't communicate for years.
But when we did finally get in touch, as we always seemed to do, we could pick up from where we'd left off. Maybe it was because we kept things light.
Anyway, we had a disagreement one day and it was, of all things, related to work. The matter escalated - bewilderingly - to some nasty name-calling hurled over a flurry of self-righteous SMSes on both sides.
He was angry, I was fed-up, and so that was that, the end of a 23-year friendship.
It did sadden me, and over the Christmas and New Year period when I was feeling more emotionally vulnerable than usual, I was tempted to offer the olive branch.
But I couldn't, and didn't.
I felt I didn't deserve the harsh words flung at me and didn't see why I had to make the first move.
I also realised that maybe the friendship wasn't much of one if it couldn't withstand a quarrel like that.
Most of all though, I didn't send a conciliatory SMS because what would it have achieved? What purpose would it have served?
Because the older I get, the more I've come to realise that, one, it's not worth getting upset when people disappoint you because, more often than not, they don't give a hoot that they are letting you down; and, two, it's pointless to depend on others to make you happy.
Far safer and saner for one to be self-sufficient first, and to be the source of one's own happiness.
Of course, you should show empathy and concern towards those around you, and if you can make others feel good, don't stop. Just don't expect or demand for that to be reciprocated.
Maybe I've been disappointed by too many people too often and am seeking comfort in cynicism.
Whatever the case, when I look back at my 20s and 30s, it does seem to be one endless period of seeking approval, striving to be nice and desiring to be loved and liked by the people I loved and liked.
Sometimes, the efforts were reciprocated and I'd be flying high.
But when they weren't, I'd beat myself up over it. What was it about me that they didn't like? Was I not nice or kind or understanding enough? Or was I too nice, kind and understanding, therefore suffocating them?
(I do realise, of course, that this is from my perspective; I could well be self-deluded about my positive qualities.)
For too long, my happiness and sense of worth were tied to things beyond my control - how I was regarded, whether I was being thought about, whether the phone would ring, whether I was considered worthy enough company for the weekend.
I needed approval, my expectations of others were high, but I was only setting myself up for disappointment.
Just because you want someone's life to revolve around yours doesn't necessarily mean that he wants that, too.
And even if he does, well, people are busy with their own lives, too. You can't make another person fit your specifications and your demands just so you - and only you - can be happy.
And rather than behave in this unreasonable way, isn't it smarter to be more independent? To not have to depend on others for validation?
The problem is - how does one go about making oneself happy, especially if, like me, you don't particularly like your own company that much?
Oh, there are things I've learnt to do alone. I'm fine with shopping, watching a move and even attending a pop concert alone. But to spend a whole weekend by myself, to travel alone, to face me and my thoughts 24/7 - that's awful.
To escape such a spectre, I've been willing to contort myself to be pleasing to those whose company I hankered for. I've been willing to eat humble pie and yes, send conciliatory SMSes when I shouldn't.
It's not surprising, really, for in his latest book Social Intelligence, Daniel Goleman talks about how the human brain is "wired to connect".
Neuroscience has found that the brain is designed to be sociable. When people are together, their brains "engage in an emotional tango, a dance of feelings."
And he points out, research has found that good-quality relationships are one of the strongest sources of a person's well-being. "Resonant relationships are like emotional vitamins, sustaining us through tough times and nourishing us daily."
That's well and good, but what if you encounter more toxic relationships than positive ones?
What if, as Goleman himself describes it, your encounters with others leave you with more of an afterglower than an afterglow? How do you inoculate yourself against disappointment?
For me, the answer must be to be more self-sufficient, and the key to that, I reckon, must be to respect yourself more - to find ways to be at peace with yourself and content with what you are and have.
It is also to do with finding what I call a happy place within yourself where you can retreat to, your own safe haven, if you like.
Soon after my quarrel with my friend, I went on holiday to a spa with Hua Hin in Thailand. (With my mother; I wasn't brave enough to face a holiday with myself.)
One evening after a massage and before getting ready for dinner, I sat by the balcony and looked out at the sea. It was that dusky twilight period before night fell, a time of day I often dread.
Maybe my endorphins had been stimulated by the massage, but at that moment, I felt a sense of utter well-being, of being completely self-contained.
My mind - usually in overdrive mode wondering, predicting and hoping that I was on some loved one's thoughts - was a nice, clean blank.
I knew then that I did have the ability to be by myself and yet happy, that my own company wasn't half bad.
I had found my happy place which didn't require anybody.
It felt good.
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