“I don’t want to offend you, but…”

“… I like you. Is that ok?”

A friend revealed last week that he has not yet told a girl that he “really really likes her” after several years of casual friendship and no less than ten recent dates. His reasoning? He knows that she attends church every week. His assumptions, based on this one fact? That a) she is uber-conservative, b) does not believe in sex before marriage, and c) will be offended at his suggestion that they date.

“If you remember,” I yelled at him him loudly, waving my beer in his face, “this sounds exactly like that time that [boyfriend] waited to tell me he was breaking up with me until after I took the GRE because he thought I couldn’t handle all the stress!”1

What is an appropriate way to make affections known to the object of said affections? More generally, what is the best way to inform someone else of a decision you have made that may affect his or her life, without being presumptuous and revealing your own prejudices?2 How does one say “I’m attracted to you” with absolute guarantee that the other party will not take it as objectification? Can we ever believe that “it’s not you, it’s me” will ever indicate complete, honest, self-awareness?3

I got mad at my friend. I was perhaps a little too critical, perhaps projecting my own frustration after hearing so many unclear messages for so long. I told him that he was patronising, and offensive. I told him that he was being ruled by his (definitely sexist) assumptions about her preferences. There is a distinct possibility that she is not interested, I acknowledged, but let’s give her some credit.

No one, I said, should ever be offended by a simple “I like you”.4 If she is, I continued, you owe her the opportunity to explain her own assumptions, prejudices, and circumstances. I walked away from the conversation in a huff, but I was only halfway across the room before I realised that my response was probably just as informed by my opinion of my friend, who I’ve known since the age of nineteen. My own dismissal at his ability to responsibly, and maturely, begin relations with the fairer sex was a result of many years of witnessing his mistakes.

Our wimpy selves often take over before we get the chance to say something that we really mean. Sometimes we end up saying nothing at all, but on occasion, we lash out, blurt, and ramble. Our old uncertainties, morals learned from past experiences, and values transmitted to us from our respective cultures — in other words, all the things that make us the way we are — make us project our assumptions onto others. We can move to new countries, date different demographics, and shop around for new religions or political allegiances, but these factors will still nag.

I’ll give both of us some advice here. Make your own life, with your relationship history, physical insecurities, and yes, your prejudices, your normal. Acknowledge it, deal with it, present it as such, and own it. I’ll go first. I am a thoughtful but somewhat insecure internet blogger who calls herself The Bun.5 I have a fake tooth and weirdly fat fingers. I have a finnicky uterus and the weirdest health problems. I have some trust issues, care too much about what people think, and have serious imposter syndrome. I probably drink too often.

It is a pleasure to meet you. This is my normal, as of May 2016. What is yours?

 

1. I’d actually heard about his decision from another friend as I walked happily towards the campus bar to celebrate my 99th percentile score on the GRE. Funny how things work out. Also, beer.

2. I use the term “prejudice” here rather loosely. I don’t mean it as something that is intended to be negative — rather, an assumption about another person often arises out of one’s desire to protect. But, I’m sure we are all aware, protection can quickly turn into offence when expressed in a patronising way.

3. Long-term readers of this blog will remember that I question every verbal utterance that comes my way. As someone who has been on the receiving end of this speech one too many times, I often wonder about sincerity. More on this later, I hope.

4. Let’s put it another way — how many of us have waited, hoped, and pined to hear these words come out of another’s mouth? How nice it is to know that another individual is willing to put him or herself out there to reveal some (albeit tentative) feelings?

5. Therapists would probably look at this symptom and diagnose several different personality abnormalities from this one fact, including, but not limited to, inflated sense of self-worth, love of being talked about, and obsession with food.

Advertisements

What I Write, How I Write, and Why I Write

During several periods of intense sadness caused by various health-, friendship-, family- and boy- (gross!) related SNAFUs over the last several months, I have, fortunately, had a support network that was jumping at the chance to offer me suggestions for how I could improve my mood1. Most suggested that I write about my feelings, in a private journal, raw and unedited for the purposes of self-therapy.

I’ll admit, it’s something that I have thought of, but not anything I thought I would ever do. This seems counterintuitive. After all, I’m always writing anyway! I consider myself a whizz with words2!

So let’s get meta. Let’s self-diagnose and try to get to the bottom of my ick factor3. What is it about confessing to a spiral-bound notebook that seems so offensive to me?

I write constantly. Mostly with my fingers, tapping away at a keyboard. I write my thesis, the hopefully current, but probably permanent, love of my life. I write text messages to friends, I use instant messaging apps, and I update my Facebook status at times. I write posts for two blogs, neither of which will ever go viral.

I don’t know if I like writing; I certainly like having written things that I can feel proud of, pieces of work that I can slap my name on in perpetuity. I have always been an untrained, potentially arrogant, amateur writer who soaks up the praise and dwells unhappily on the criticism before dismissing it completely.

But my writing has always been performative – owned by me, read by others. Whether I am completing a chapter of my thesis or texting about a particularly interesting anecdote to a close friend4, my writing is meant to be seen, read, judged, and hopefully, loved. As a child, I often considered how I could write my private journals in a way that would elevate me to a position of fame, or at the very least, gain me some kind of recognition. I am the first to admit that I am (unfortunately?) unhealthily dependent on validation for my own happiness.

And therein lies my issue with writing. An activity that for some is therapeutic becomes a stressful race for me, a challenge to commendably entertain, instruct, and inspire my reader. If I ever re-read a previously written work of my own, I decided, Future Me would be appropriately impressed. I haven’t yet gone back through my 1oth grade musings in a starry notebook, nor have I been able to muster up the courage to open up a word document from one very emo summer during college.

However, this blog (right here!) and the piles of annotated thesis chapter drafts littered on my desk and around5 compel me to face my own work on a day-to-day basis. I am forced to review, to edit, and, because of the nature of the internet and my own self-important ways, consider how my writing can be an everlasting contribution. Writing makes me bite my nails and frown at my computer screen. It makes me pour myself just one glass of wine so that I can sit in a controlled, timed environment6 to reach a goal. It’s not relaxing, for sure. It’s only very occasionally cathartic, but certainly not therapeutic. But why I write doesn’t have to be.

And readers, will you please join me in my conceited journey of performance? Will you read my musings, engage with any provocative statements, and chuckle politely at jokes that I have crafted, deleted, and re-written many times? I promise I will do my best to make it worth your while.

 

1. I’m better now! Hooray! More to come in the next few weeks on big moves, life decisions, and other pesky things that keep me up at night but not my jetlag at bay.

2. Sometimes, however, I am prone to using a silly alliteration to get my point across.

3. Things I also don’t really have a desire to try: bungee jumping, skinny dipping, and smoking crack. We can discuss them in detail too, if time permits.

4. Or a not-so-close-friend, a romantic interest, or a forgettable acquaintance. Hell, let’s just also throw in that sometimes the anecdotes are not even that interesting! The point is, I bring all the interesting.

5. On some occasions, one will find me on the floor, under my desk, with my collection of binders. I have a secret hope that one of my colleagues will take a photo of me looking adorably, geekily frazzled, and it will the iconic book-jacket photo of my memoir as an academic. If anyone is reading this… hint?

6. I am notoriously clumsy with wine glasses, so no sudden movements and/or gestures are allowed when that amazing liquid is being consumed. My environment is also timed by the length of time it takes to drink a glass of wine. I am my own behavioural scientist.

New Year Resolutions for a more mature, professional Bun

  • Introduce myself with first and last name; learn to say such full name with intonation that just rolls off the tongue.
  • Learn to like wearing lipstick and other confidence-raising cosmetics, such as concealer for dark under-eye circles. 
  • Work up alcohol tolerance to college senior level so that I don’t get shit-faced in front of important people. The alcohol is unavoidable; I must change myself.
  • Get those business cards printed… finally!
  • Come up with updated, more professional sounding one-liners to describe my work and myself.
  • Dig out a couple of nerdy jokes for the cocktail chatter. Grammar jokes are always appreciated, I attempt to convince myself.
  • Have handy “did you know” fun facts on file, preferably in reference to Chinese history.
  • Don’t bother checking for wedding rings on conversation partners — in my field, most of the men are married. Most of the women are single.
  • Practice self introductions balanced with a healthy dose of confidence and imposter syndrome (the latter in good humour, of course).
  • Change Tinder photo of me in a suit talking at a podium to a more updated photo of me in a suit talking at a podium. I’m definitely not a junior in college anymore.

Here’s to a fantastic semester of research, writing, and above all, schmoozing!

New Year, new profile, new image?

Hello, my name is The Bun. I am a twenty-something Western-educated graduate student in the humanities, perpetually single, and politically moderate. I like eating bread, wearing skinny jeans, and reading works by Oscar Wilde. When I grow up, I want to write a book1.

In 2016, I will endeavour to spend more constructive time (and enjoy spending this time) alone. I will try to become less invested in other people’s problems when they ask me to give them advice. I will also kick off the year in this post by walking readers through the excruciating art of profile writing. The Bean has discussed the effectiveness of Tinder profiles and greetings on the recipient of a message, at good length, with good detail, and in good humour2. I am here to take on the process of writing a profile for myself.

I have always been the kind of person who spends a long time thinking about how to represent myself, in a variety of different situations, to achieve maximum impact with those around me3. But my recent experiences writing scholarship applications was entirely too draining. Did I want to sound smart? In need of financial support? A potential leader among equally smart and qualified individuals? Writing about my achievements in the professional world began to sound disingenuous, and I ran out of synonyms for “opportunity”. I am not shameless enough to exaggerate a story about the plights of being a woman or a not-quite third culture kid4. I could not go over the word limit, yet did not want to write too little.

Curating a Facebook page or Twitter account is just as troublesome. How can I sound socially aware, but quirky and follow-able? But when we move onto online dating profiles, the “follow-able” criterion becomes “date-able”, the space to express ourselves becomes smaller, and the stakes, at times, are higher. We may also never know how our profiles are perceived by a viewer; currently, my Tinder information is a Zoolander quote. No one bites5.

And let’s not kid ourselves — profiles are not always representative of the people they are supposed to represent. Scholarship applications can be ghostwritten and profile photos can be touched up. The ease of curation is, often, a myth, and it never stops with just creating the one profile. When we don’t get the attention we believe that we deserve (too few likes! The “we don’t have any more matches for you” message on Coffee Meets Bagel!) is to change the profiles themselves. Do I switch the order of my photos? Try to sound less smart? Hide my super fancy undergraduate degree?

As an experiment I will be writing into a magazine’s dating contest as a part of a Valentine’s Day promotion. To do this, I will need to submit a profile — a photo of myself, my age, my occupation, and some information about myself. As The Bean has already demonstrated, first impressions really do matter. Maybe I should write in that I would need a glass of wine, a bit of inspiration, and a spot of courage to get this one done.

 

1. I’ve got some half-baked drafts of teen romances somewhere in the depths or a USB memory stick. At the age of 15, I was wannabe-precocious and thought that I was pretty funny. I guess nothing has really changed, except that I now write postgraduate-level thesis chapters.
2. And with pictures, scathing remarks, and just a tad of sentimentality. Pretty good, I think!
3. On my first day of college as an international freshman, my chosen fun fact at my dormitory orientation event was “I had my first ever bagel this morning! It was delicious, just like they say on TV.” I became “the exotic one”. I had instant friends.
4. Really, I prefer the term “worldly”. Or, “not allowed to register to vote anywhere”. 
5. No one also cares about my super duper fancy university degree or the fact that one of my photos is adorably goofy. What’s up with that? We’re really going to have to get a male Bean in here one day to discuss the other side of Tinder profile perceptions!

Dear Scholarship Committee

Dear Scholarship Committee,

There are many reasons why I deserve a scholarship to study at this prestigious institution. I have decent grades, a nice range of extra-curriculars, and I am really good during networking cocktail parties with your donors1. To be fair, I do not know how well this will set me apart from other candidates, so I will stop trying to write a cover letter and instead go about this application in a need-based vein.

You should give me a scholarship because at this point in time, I need one. I have just been discharged from the hospital after a 4-day stay, slightly anaemic, dizzy in the head, and completely behind on all my work. I have been… not quite right for the past month — some undiagnosed female issue to do with hormones or endometriums that no doctor seems to take as seriously as I do. I’ve had intense pains and some other grossness I will not write about here2, so my schoolwork, gym sessions, and cocktail party-schoomzing have all taken a hit. I haven’t forgotten about your scholarship however, because I really need the win right about now.

It doesn’t seem like I can rejoin the land of the living any time soon. I am jealous of anyone who can have a beer without having intense stomach pains, go for a run without feeling light-headed, or stay awake past 10pm. I no longer dominate after-work-drinks and Friday night party routine. I have spent most of the recent money I have earned on doctors, ultrasounds, and health supplements, but at least I am no longer paying for fancy cocktails and expensive meals3. And while the doctors have shrugged me away, all the other advice I have received seem to be versions of “take care of your body!” This is baffling — I haven’t had a drink in over a month, I sleep more than 10 hours every night and eat all balanced meals. I do not consume anything oily, spicy, or icy. I drink plenty of warm water and herbal teas and use a hot water bottle (instead of take painkillers) to keep the cramps at bay4. But I can study, I promise. I can sit at a desk (or if need be, propped up in a hospital bed) with my laptop, working on some intense piece of historical research.

I could give you an argument that addresses the intersectionality of my status as a minority — I could make something up about being a female ethnic minority who had to, at some point, learn English from scratch5. The truth is that I have never felt discriminated against because of my sex or my race. However, I know first-hand what it’s like to feel alone, helpless, and scoffed at in a city of 7 million. Friends who, inadvertently rubbing it in, send “are you out tonight?” texts at 2am. A man-friend who disappeared once the sex was put on hiatus. Doctors you can’t help but cry in front of, not because you are trying to use your feminine wiles for better treatment, but because you are frustrated that they do not seem to care.

And then, a half-finished thesis and a bunch of applications that stare at you, sending the subliminal reminder that if you fail this, you will have nothing, not even your once-dependable health.

When the media discusses whether women can have it all, it comes down to three main things — career, family, and active social life. Health never seems to come into the equation, and generally with good reason. We are living in 2015! There’s medicines and cures for pretty much everything! Eat organic and practice mindfulness and you’ll live to be 100! If I had been suffering from a broken bone, I would have been given time off work. If I had contracted an STI, a course of antibiotics would do the trick. Instead, my first two visits to the emergency room were met with sneers and nary a doctor certificate. My undiagnosed gynaecological dysfunction left doctors dismissive, my uterus in pain, and me uncomfortable and embarrassed to talk about it. Writing a short email to a supervisor asking to be excused from a meeting became a nail-biting affair, with no sick note nor visible symptoms to prove my distress. Explaining my inability to drink at an alumni social left me exhausted and finally pretending to sip from a glass of wine.

This scholarship would at least enable me to achieve some kind of self-pride, and empower me to redirect a conversation with coworkers from blood tests to, finally, a piece of good news. I want to earn this scholarship because I need to regain control over my life. I want this scholarship because I want to feel like I’m being accepted into something bigger and more important. Most importantly, I need validation that I’m not going crazy — that whatever is happening to my body will pass and leave no lasting damage, and that it’s ok to feel right now that my work, which I love, is the only thing that matters.

“Undiagnosed gynaecological dysfunction” needn’t define my life right now, and nor should I let it6. I would be honoured, instead, to call myself a scholarship recipient.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Kind regards,

The Bun

 

1. I can small talk about anything from the The Matrix to The Republic, from hashtags to the value of hashtag activism, from Isis the dog in Downton Abbey to ISIS in the Middle East. Just try me!

2. I understand appropriateness, how to change the tone of my words for different situations, and how to channel respect for my readers. I’m really mature, I promise.

3. This shows, dear scholarship committee, that I can be responsible with the money that you give me! I’m also too unwell to go stumbling around drinking in the middle of the week — pick me, and you’ll be guaranteed one candidate who does not embarrass.

4. I lead a very wholesome lifestyle, and I listen to my elders. While I trust western medicine (and science!) wholeheartedly, I embrace the colourful background of my eastern community, and take its beliefs and values to heart. Supported by your scholarship, I hope to continue my investigation into how east and west can grow together, harmoniously.

5. But because I learned English from scratch, I learned it the right way! Grammar doesn’t phase (or “phrase!”) me; neither do semi-colons. I have submitted a writing sample for your review — I hope it demonstrates my strength as a communicator.

6. I am an advocate for clear, specific writing that helps my readers understand exactly what I am talking about. This term does not meet my standards, and I would like you to know this.

Not enough to go around

Since this blog discusses things like technology in dating, the Bean and I have to seriously keep up to date with news and developments in this field1. This new article in the Guardian seriously needs to be discussed, a challenge which I’ll take on in this post. It discusses Jon Biger’s new book Date-onomics and its findings that “there may not be enough educated men [i.e., those who have a university degree] to go around”.

The article postulates that the “pool is smaller” for women looking for college educated men to date. Of course, after reading this, I started to think about my own pool — am I having trouble finding university-educated men? Or am I just having trouble finding men that I like?

Considering that my cohort of the university-educated meet new people primarily through work, school, and friends of friends, the possibility of our even making small talk with someone without a college degree is miniscule. I can count on one hand the number of non-college graduates I have met and become somewhat friends with on one hand in my 10 years of living in Hong Kong2. College graduates, especially those from foreign universities, congregate at the same bars, cafes, and restaurants. We go to the same house parties and probably know a lot of the same people. In other words, for most of our peers, our entire pools — whether for dating, screwing around, paddling — are university-educated. What’s more, the customisation of online dating for users helps us pre-select only the “like-minded” types of people we want to see — you can toggle your settings on Coffee Meets Bagel, for example, so that no non-diploma-holding individuals ever get presented to you on your phone screen3.

If we only meet college-educated, somewhat “like-minded” potential partners, saying that we are “looking for someone with similar education” doesn’t mean very much at all. In fact, it becomes a given, controlled variable in all of our social interactions — trying to find someone who doesn’t actually have a degree is hard!

The question I’m attempting to answer today is this: is the bachelor diploma the single utmost, dealbreaker-esque criterion of young women looking for a potential partner, or even a date?

I can imagine that many young women would say “yes” to the above question. After all, we don’t want to seem like we’re selling ourselves, nor do we want to see too arrogant about what is within our leagues. But the reality of our little criteria checklists is much more messy. Last night, I indulged in a little Gilmore Girls binge and watched the episode where Paris goes to a speed-dating event hosted by a Yale University student club. When the first guy reveals that he’s an art major4, she immediately jumps up and moves on to the next station, pushing another girl out of the way.

So let’s put it bluntly — would you rather date a painter who graduated with a visual arts degree from Yale and has no steady income, or someone in a profession that does not require a college degree — a flight attendant, perhaps, or a chef? Now, an individual answering this question would probably say “that depends”, and proceed to list off a bunch of additional criteria5. These selection factors are unique for every person, and while they probably exist in addition to “college-educated”, they have got to be more important.

Dating is very often not about finding someone “like-minded” — it’s about optimisation of several different criteria, in a highly personalised matrix, in a radar chart6. Articles and books about the lack of college-educated men isn’t doing any single women any favours. I’d like to see, instead, someone take on a population study of single men who have jobs and are not in debt. Or have been promoted more than twice in the last five years. Or can perfectly demonstrate the use of a semicolon.

1. I also recently started following many many news outlets on Facebook so that I can jump over the paywall by linking through social media; goodbye to productive thesis writing days in the office!
2. Of course, I realise that this situation may be specific to metropolis living, and even more specific to metropolis living for expatriates. In Hong Kong, even the bars are opened by Ivy League degree-holding ex-investment bankers. It probably won’t be the same if I were living in a small American town.
3. CMB also asks why a user likes or passes on a particular profile. One of the drop-down menu options is “well-educated”. I’ll be the first to admit that I have clicked on this particular bubble many times. On the contrary, when I pass on a profile, I often write in “too many typos” or “bad grammar”.
4. I feel like I have to emphasise that he said ART major, not ARTS. I am in the ARTS faculty of a major university, but I will not come within 10 feet of a paintbrush unless it’s for DIY purposes. Excuse me for my self-delusion, but I do believe that the ARTS discipline that I am in is a lot more useful.
5. The analogy I used earlier when trying to discuss this with a friend is that it’s like economic regressions: If <college educated> then <x>. If <not college educated> then <y, z>. All my regression knowledge comes from an econometrics course I took in my sophomore year of college, so it’s not very good but I still think the analogy is apt.
6. This is becoming the post in which I expend all my possible Excel/data analysis knowledge. For a historian, I have nothing to be ashamed of.