I’ve never been in a relationship and I’m scared that I have no experience and may not find anyone. Help!

A student wrote to me with this question:

I’m going to be 20 years old but I have never been in a relationship because of my family. They will only let me date after I’ve graduated and started working. But I’m scared because by the time I graduate, I would have no experience and I may not be able to find anyone. Help!

Let me assure you that I have friends who only started dating after graduation and they are happily married now. So it’s perfectly fine not to date now. You’re not going to lose out on anything.

Relationships are not jobs. You don’t need a portfolio of experience. Sometimes having no experience is better than having bad experiences of hurt and pain that will make you carry emotional baggages into subsequent relationships. And these emotional baggages can affect your ability to trust and love well. So this is the opposite of Pokemon – you don’t gotta catch them emotional baggages!

Now, I’m not sure what kind of experience you are talking about here. I am aware that right now, many people your age are saying on social media that you need to acquire sexual experience so that you won’t disappoint your partner or future spouse (i.e. that they will leave you if you cannot perform). This is utter rubbish!

You can learn to be better with your spouse over time. And it becomes a means for developing greater intimacy and closeness with each other because, in that very moment, you both are learning how to communicate about something so sensitive, and so very intimate with each other while being so very vulnerable.

In a healthy long-term relationship, sexual union is more than just pleasure. It’s about communication at a more intimate level. If you cannot talk about your likes/dislikes in bed, or figure out how to pleasure each other better, there’s a lot of things in the relationship that you won’t be able to talk about or resolve.

In fact, and contrary to popular belief, people who feel that they have become “experts” in bed may have trouble with honest communication with their partners because it takes a lot of humility to accept that the techniques they’ve “mastered” may not suit their partner. And their pride can get in the way of intimate communication.

Whatever it is, the fun of a relationship is to forge shared experiences together by learning things and experiencing new things together. So don’t stress over not having any experience. You will acquire all the experience you need when you finally get into a relationship.

In the meantime, the experiences you have in dealing with family, friends, frenemies, enemies, and other difficult people in your life will prepare you well for a relationship. You don’t need a relationship to learn such things.

What advice can you give to someone who’s never been in a relationship but is looking for someone to spend the rest of their life with?

A student asked:

What advice can you give to someone who’s never been in a relationship but is looking for someone to spend the rest of their life with?

I have two advice to give:

(1) First, don’t rush into one because it’ll force you to settle on the first person who likes you, and you’ll rationalise and make exceptions on why you should stick to that person even if the person displays many red flags, or if you feel that you’re both incompatible. So please don’t do this to yourself. There are so many people who are unhappily married because they did just that.

(2) Secondly, there’s no such thing as a soul mate or a partner who’s perfect enough that there’s no need to put in effort to understand or be understood. Relationships are hard work, and the bulk of that hard work comes in the form of communicating each others’ expectations, needs, and wants; and learning how to manage differences.

Every problem and difference can be ironed out through open and calm communication. The hard part is learning how to communicate effectively with each other and to be patient with each other about it.

And you must never be complacent that you’ve figured out the art of communication. Why? Because people change over time. We’re not static. And so our needs, wants, and desires will also change with. So too will the the communicative needs and communicative methods change over time.

You know communication has broken down when one party says to the other in frustration, “You’ve become a different person.” They’ve failed to update each other’s idea of who they are through communication.

There is no issue that cannot be talked about or shouldn’t be talked about. So please learn to talk about difficult matters openly, honestly, patiently, and in a non-accusatory, non-aggressive method. This will help ensure the health of the relationship. And overall, you’ll learn to become a better human person as you know how best to effectively communicate with other people.

What advice would you give to a girl whose boyfriend tries to pressure her into having sex even though the girl says, “No”?

A student asked:

What advice would you give to a girl whose boyfriend tries to pressure her into having sex even though the girl says, “No”?

I would advise the girl to hold firm with her decision. Stick to the, “No,” and don’t budge.

You have every right to say “No,” to your boyfriend, even if you don’t have a reason. And if you don’t feel ready or comfortable, or if you feel that the relationship hasn’t progressed far enough for it, it is well within your right to say, “No.” It will not and should not affect the relationship in any way.

I’ve heard stories about guys who desperately want sex and will conjure all kinds of sad and even pathetic excuses to make their girlfriends give in to sex. It’s important to remember that no one has ever died from not having sex (conversely, people have died from having sex). So there is no valid reason that should change your mind.

The decision not to have sex is yours, and if the guy truly respects and loves you, he should back off from it. If he is persistent in constantly trying to pressure you into it, it is a red flag for more problems to come in the relationship. Such actions signal that he doesn’t respect your choice enough and thinks that he can eventually get his way with you. This is a very bad mindset and one that can and will eventually affect the relationship in other ways.

Sometimes, guys will use emotional blackmail techniques, like threatening to break-up, or threatening to see a prostitute or a one-night stand, or making accusations that you don’t love him enough.

If it comes to this, it’s a really huge red flag that the guy is toxic. Such threats are distressing. And the guy knows that he can put you under such mental duress to pressure you into doing things you don’t want to do. This is clearly an act of manipulation. A person who genuinely loves you will not manipulate you into doing things you don’t want to do.

If this does happen, I strongly recommend breaking-up with the guy. Because if he has no qualms applying such emotional blackmail techniques for one of the most intimate acts of love in a relationship, it means that he would have no qualms to emotionally manipulate you in other ways.

So the main point is this: don’t feel bad about saying, “No.” It’s your body and your choice, and people who truly love you will respect your decisions, even if it may disappoint them. But that’s what love is.

If you find yourself in a relationship with someone who doesn’t respect you or your choices, then you should reconsider the relationship. There are many wonderful people out there who will respect and love you, perhaps more so than the person you’re currently with. So don’t feel trapped thinking that you cannot find a better partner and that you have to settle with what you have. You deserve better.

I’m afraid that I won’t be able to find a partner after graduation because I have no experience in dating!

A student wrote to me with this question:

I’m already going to be 20 years old and I have never been in a relationship because of my family. They said that I can only date after I have graduated and started working. But I’m afraid that because I have no experience, I may not be able to find anyone after graduation. Help!

I wouldn’t worry too much if I were you. You’re still so young. Let me assure you that I have friends who only started dating after graduation and they are happily married now. So it’s perfectly fine not to date now.

Relationships are not jobs. You don’t need a portfolio of experience. Sometimes having no experience is better than having bad experiences of hurt and pain that will make you carry emotional baggage into subsequent relationships.

Now, I’m not sure what kind of experience you are talking about here. I am aware that some people say you need to acquire sexual experience so that you won’t disappoint your future spouse. This is utter rubbish. You can learn to be better in bed with your spouse over time. And it becomes more intimate that way because you learn how to communicate about something so intimate. In a healthy long-term relationship, sexual union is more than just pleasure. It’s about communication at the more intimate level. If you cannot talk about your likes/dislikes in bed, or learn how to figure out pleasure each other better, there’s a lot of things in the relationship that you won’t be able to talk about or resolve. In fact, people who feel that they have become “experts” in bed may have trouble with such communication because it takes humility to accept that the techniques they’ve learnt may not suit their partner. And their pride can get in the way of intimate communication.

Whatever it is, the fun of a relationship is to forge shared experiences together by learning things and experiencing new things together. So don’t stress over this lack of experience.

The experience you have in dealing with family, friends, frenemies, enemies, and other difficult people in your life will prepare you well for a relationship. You don’t need a relationship to learn those things.

What do you think of couples who take the same major, and they enrol in the same modules and tutorials together?

A student asked me:

What do you think of couples who take the same major, and they enrol in the same modules and tutorials together? Would it become boring after awhile where projects are always done together and every minute of school is spent with that person?

Boredom isn’t the real problem that these couples should be worried about. While the idea of spending a lot of time together seems good, it’s actually not healthy for both individuals. It’s important to remember that a relationship comprises two unique individuals coming together to enrich each other as individuals. It’s not two individuals merging into a single hive mind as if The Singularity had taken place.

If you are already studying together or going out on dates, do you really need to spend even more time together?

While it is important to spend time together, it is just as important learning how to spend time away from each other so that each can continue developing their own individual selves, whether it is professionally, intellectually, or even socially as they meet new people or old friends.

Spending too much time together by taking the same classes would mean a loss of opportunities for each person in the relationship to explore new things on their own or to make new friends. It may feel really good now, but in the future you will look back and regret not making new friends or gaining new experiences on your own.

How do I confess my love to someone?

A student asked me:

How do I confess my love to someone?

This question is lacking context. Do you mean to confess: (1) to someone you like from afar whom you’ve not gone on with? Or (2) to someone whom you’ve been hanging out with quite a lot?

If the context is (1), please, don’t confess. It’s creepy as hell. It’s also a sure way to lose that someone. It’s not even love since you haven’t spent enough time with that person. It’s only an infatuation. You can’t love someone you don’t know well enough. You should at least ask to hang out with that person regularly and be in regular contact with that person.

If the context is (2), the question is, how long have you been with that person and have you dropped hints of interest thus far? Most people have an internal clock in their mind/heart about deciding whether that person is relationship-worthy before friend-zoning them.

So let’s say you’ve been hanging out for a year, and nothing happened, no interest, no hints whatsoever, that person might have concluded that you’re not interested in him/her and moved on. Or, if you’ve done something that’s a huge deal-breaker, e.g. very whiney, too clingy, or some other reason, then the person would have concluded that you are not relationship-worthy and moved on. You can sense when this has happened if the person displays less interest in you. Doesn’t text so regularly, or not so keen to hang out like before. Basically, the person is avoiding you but just being nice by responding to you from time to time. If you get the sense the person is avoiding you, don’t confess. It’ll make things super awkward.

But let’s say things are going great, and the person isn’t avoiding you. Then you can start dropping hints of interests. Do things together that are slightly more date-like, e.g. visiting more romantic places, etc. Whatever it is, don’t go overboard. You can also start talking about relationships in general. It’s also a good way to get a better gauge if the person is indeed interested in you.

Suppose you’ve done all that and the signs are going well, then you can declare your interest. Personally, I don’t like to say “confess my love,” because at this stage, you still don’t know the person well enough to say “I love you” with full sincerity. But I leave that to you. Some people prefer a more organic approach where they just gradually shift into holding hands, or talk about relations and in the spur of the moment decided to clarify whether they like each other and want to go steady.

Some people prefer something more romantic. Like a romantic surprise whether they confess over a meal. If you are the nervous type, it helps to write it on a card or something for the person to read. In my case, I wrote something like, “I really like you and I love hanging out with you so much, and I’m wondering if you’d like to take this friendship to the next level?” And then I clipped the note on my cat (ok, it’s not really my cat, it was a stray cat that owned me and came to my home every day). That was quite a cute thing to do.

I’ll leave you to decide what works better for you. I didn’t want to say too much because you should do what is in line with who you are. Don’t do stuff other people did in the hopes that it’s like some magic formula. There’s no model answer for these sorts of things.

Any advice on how to make friends of the opposite gender?

A student wrote to me with this question:

Any advice on how to make friends of the opposite gender? Or is it okay not to have friends of the opposite gender? I always feel like I can click better with ppl of the same gender, but like I have nothing to talk about with people of the opposite gender. It’s very awkward. Why is that so? Or am I just an awkward potato?

Haha! I’m the opposite of you. I find it easier to click with people of the opposite gender, than it is to click with people of the same gender. But I think it has to do more with your own personal interests than it is about gender (unless you’re putting necessary pressure on yourself of hoping to date one of them).

I think it’s important to have a diverse group of friends. Not just different genders, but also different ages. You need this sort of diversity to open your worldview on a variety of matters.

The secret is that everyone’s awkward and lonely. So it helps to be the one to break the ice. You have no idea how many people appreciate the fact that you’ll come up to them with a smile to talk. As Mother Teresa once said, the greatest poverty in this world is loneliness. So be that spark. Don’t give up just because you feel awkward.

Here’s some conversational tricks I use to sustain conversations with random strangers:

One trick I’ve learnt is to prepare a wide array of topics to talk about. I like to think of it as carrying out an independent study on popular culture. There are some songs, movies, TV shows, books, art, and games that you must know about. It helps if you’ve watched/read/heard them. Otherwise, at least make sure you’ve read about them enough to talk about it. My typical script when conversing with people these days is to talk about Netflix, and then I’ll talk about some popular shows that I’ve watched, before I proceed to ask them about show recommendations. People are pretty passionate about Netflix, so you’ve got that covered.

I’ve learnt that this doesn’t work very well with older people. They like to talk more about stuff relating to politics and the economy. When I’m in the mood, I usually practice small talk (because I get bad at it if I don’t practice) with the taxi/Grab driver. I’ll say something like, “Oh, the economy lately has been really bad, yeah? How’s business?” And then the driver will go on a tirade about Singapore’s politics and economy, and maybe talk about how they’re coping with life. Usually, you learn interesting facts that you can use in other conversations, e.g. “The other day, my Grab driver shared that ….”

One other trick is to keep asking people to talk more about themselves. People love talking about themselves, and if you ask/probe further about their stories, they’ll be very happy to share them. You can imagine yourself like an interviewer preparing to write a magazine article about them. So you can probe parts of their stories that sound interesting to you. You often learn an interesting nugget or two along the way. As you do this, you’ll discover common topics of interest, which hopefully you’ll be able to latch on and talk excitedly about those things.

Here’s some conversational starting questions you can ask:

“What did you do last weekend?”

“I want to pursue a hobby, but I’m not sure what hobby to pick up. What do you recommend?”

“Which country do you hope to visit some day?”

“My friend says that she loves sparkly vampires. I don’t know. I prefer them less sparkly and maybe a little more dead inside. What do you prefer?”

“Which is cooler? Star Wars or Harry Potter?”

Give it a try!

What do you think of girls being attracted to “bad boys”?

A student asked:

What do you think of girls being attracted to “bad boys”?

It’s not so much that they are attracted to “bad” boys. Rather, what they want in a partner is someone who isn’t as boring as a brick wall. And I think it’s fair to say that it applies to any gender. Nobody wants to be in a relationship with someone who’s as exciting as watching paint dry on a wall.

As an example, I once hung out with somebody who was incredibly one-dimensional. All she could talk about was her academic achievements and her studies. Every meet up was a discussion about her studies. There was nothing else that was of interest to her. After a while, there’s really not much you can talk about with such a person.

We do need to revisit an important question: what’s the point of a long-term relationship? Marriage counsellors will tell you that a healthy relationship is one where two whole individuals come together to ENRICH each other. It shouldn’t be two non-whole individuals seeking to be made whole by the other, because we can’t make the other whole. It is we who make ourselves whole.

There is a reason why one-dimensional and boring people aren’t attractive to most people. They make a compelling case to the other that they are incapable of enriching the other’s life. If a person is one-dimensional and boring, it’s usually the case that the person hasn’t quite understood what it means to live life to the full. I don’t mean living a life full of fun or pleasure. Rather, living life to the full means doing one’s best to realise the potential that is within his/her own being; to discover the hidden talents and strengths that one has, and know how to tap on them in order to become more of who and what one really is. I suppose you could think of it as a Pokemon evolution: and so you become a better and stronger you.

But if you can’t already do this to yourself, so as to enrich yourself, how can you expect to enrich someone else? It’s not possible.

I don’t want to subscribe to this whole “good” or “bad” boys/girls thing. It’s a bit of a false dichotomy, premised on vague senses of good and bad. It’s not very helpful.

The reason why the stereotypical “bad” boys and girls you see on TV are attractive is because of how exciting their lives seem to be, with their high risk appetites and a relaxed system of values. They’re more willing and happy to engage in extremely thrilling activities that most people wouldn’t normally try.

But we need to be very careful here. Living a life of excitement and thrill doesn’t necessarily mean that the person is living life to the full (in the wholesome sense I described earlier). Sometimes people engage in thrilling activities because they are trying to escape from themselves or runaway from the pangs of boredom and existential emptiness. Some of these adventures can be very thrilling and exciting for sure, but we must be careful to discern if they are done out of a genuine desire for self-enrichment or if it’s some form of self-destructive behaviour. It’s hard to tell the difference between the two.

For the rest of us who aren’t “bad” boys and girls, we must not fall into the error of thinking that if you’re not as exciting as the “bad” boys/girls, then we must be boring as hell. No. Boring is not the same as not-exciting. They’re not mutually exclusive. In fact, you can be both not-exciting and not-boring at the same time. And that’s where most people are anyway.

And if you think that you are one-dimensional and/or boring, then… Try not to be: go learn to expand your interests and hobbies. Try new things, and discover new interests that you can be passionate about. And when you make that step out of your comfort zone to explore, that’s when you begin to live a little more fully.

How far do you think a person can try to accommodate or tweak their habits for their partner before it becomes inorganic or that they are forced to become someone they don’t wanna be?

A student wrote to me with this question:

How far do you think a person can try to accommodate or tweak their habits for their partner before it becomes inorganic or that they are forced to become someone they don’t wanna be?

I get that sometimes we got to change our ways and allow for a significant other to come into our lives, but is there an extent to which one could radically change because of that, and lose themselves in the meantime?

I totally understand your question because I’ve had a past experience of changing too much for the other that I became much less of who I am, and it was affecting me a lot emotionally, and ultimately how I responded in the relationship.

In my view, there are three categories of change to ourselves or habits that we might have to deal with in a relationship:

(1) Change that’s inconsequential to yourself as a person. Especially when we have to spend a lot of time together, either working/studying or living together, it’s the little things that we do that can drive the other person crazy. Many of these things are inconsequential to our being as a person. For example, you might be the kind of person who likes to leave dishes in the sink and not wash them until night, but your partner is the kind that demands dishes be washed immediately. It doesn’t change you as a person to make a sacrifice like that to accommodate living with your partner. There are many things that fall under this category, and they usually have to do with hygiene and issues of cleanliness. I’d say, do what you can. Doesn’t cost much other than a little effort to make the other happy.

(2) Then there’s change that makes you a better version of yourself. I’m very careful to word it as a “better version” rather than a “better person,” because here the change is not about being someone else, but being someone better. Things like correcting bad habits, challenging yourself to be more enterprising, etc. A good partner is one who reminds you, maybe even nags you to be better, to do better. But if your partner begins to treat you like a personal pet project for a personality makeover in this category of change, that’s dangerous. It won’t end well. Such change must come from within yourself. If it’s forced from outside of you, you will only resent what you’re being put through even though your partner has the best of intentions. I used to spend a lot of money on things whenever I got very stressed with work, and my partner helped me to break that habit by nagging me about how bad such purchases are, and how I must not give in to filling the void in this way. Eventually I broke out of it, and I am a better person because now I am more conscious about saving money. So these kinds of changes are good for you, and you should embrace it.

(3) The third category is change that makes you less of who you are. And this is the kind of change that you must resist at all cost because it will make you very miserable (maybe even very regretful), and it’ll also affect your attitudes/feelings towards the relationship. I was once in a relationship where my partner was very clingy. She wanted to spend as much time as possible with me, and she’d make me feel guilty whenever I spend time with friends, or go out to do things I like (hobby interest groups, etc.). She hated doing all those things and so I couldn’t bring her to share in my interests. And because I felt so guilty, I gave up many friendships and many interests that I used to have. In fact, one thing that pained me so much was to give up my hobby and passion in writing. I used to write a thousand words every single day. But I gave all that up for her. My thought at that time was that I should give up these things because her happiness is important to the happiness of the relationship. But over time, it made me feel very miserable and quite dead inside. I had to occasionally use the excuse that I’m busy with work just to find time to pursue my own interests. That’s not healthy. A large part of me felt so empty not being able to do the things I enjoy doing, of not doing the things I want to do because of who I am as a person. That lingering unhappiness affected the relationship a lot.

I talked to someone about this problem, and she said, “If she’s not happy that you are busy doing what you need to do to be yourself, then that’s her problem. It’s her happiness, and she’s responsible for it, not you.” There’s a lot of truth to this. Changing who you are, becoming less of who you are just to make your partner happy is a no-deal. Because if you yourself are unhappy, then you won’t be responding to your partner in a happy way. And the whole relationship won’t be very happy. So you’re not doing your partner a favour by sacrificing and changing yourself in this way. You must retain your interests, your passions, and your friendships. If your partner is unhappy that you’re not spending enough time, then your partner has to learn to deal with it, or at least come to a compromise where you’re giving your partner enough time, care, and attention.

What do you think of girls who confess? Since it is more normal for guys to be the ones doing it.

A student asked:

What do you think of girls who confess? Since it is more normal for guys to be the ones doing it.

I think it’s ok for girls to confess. We are living in a modern society after all. I know some guys might be a bit more old-fashion minded, so an approach like that might freak them out a little. So you can hint your interest a bit to test water and see how it goes.

Now… Regardless of gender, I do think it’s very important to critically evaluate the person’s moral character before you decide whether or not to confess. I say this because some people are very opportunistic and manipulative. They’re not interested in a long-term relationship, and they’ll use your confession as an opportunity to enter into a relationship for the purpose of milking benefits from you like sex, free food, free expensive items, free holidays, etc. And they’ll break up once they get bored or found someone more exciting/providing. This has happened to some of my friends, both males and females.

I don’t think this happens very often. Nonetheless you should always be on your guard. Don’t rush to get into a relationship. That’s how we get hurt very badly.

Take it slow and easy, and use the time to get to know the person better to see if the person has a decent moral character and is potential boyfriend/girlfriend material first before you decide to confess.

Is it better to be dependent or independent in a relationship?

A student asked me a question about relationships, but I’m reframing the question a bit here:

Is it better to be dependent or independent in a relationship?

Dependency is never a good thing.

Here is something marriage counsellors will often tell you: “A healthy relationship is one where two whole individuals come together to enrich each other. An unhealthy relationship is one where two non-whole individuals come together expecting the other (or the relationship) to make them whole.”

What I mean by a whole/wholesome individual is minimally, one who is able to love himself or herself.

I think it is part of the struggle of the human experience to go through phases of disliking or hating who we are. I suppose it’s an important process of discovering more about we who are and what we want out of life. There can be no end to the amount of imperfections we can find within ourselves. We are saturated with imperfections at every nook and cranny of our being. And it’s easy to go down the rabbit hole of self-disgust at every imperfection.

The Japanese have a concept in their aesthetic philosophy known as “wabi-sabi,” which is a cultivated ability of appreciating beauty in the imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. And I do think that that is a very powerful idea to embrace, to be able to look at our imperfections in their full glory and learn to see beauty in that.

Allow me to digress a bit into this. One of the most fascinating things I’ve learnt about visual art is that you need to add imperfections either as noise in digital art, or “imperfect” brush strokes or seemingly “unmatching” colours to the canvas to increase the level of realism and beauty in a picture. If you didn’t do that, the image looks too clean, almost like a cartoon. In a similar way, I do like to think of my own imperfections as contributing to the aesthetic quality of who I am.

Why is this important in a relationship? Because if we don’t know how to love ourselves, we outsource the love of ourselves to an external party, and become entirely dependent on the other person to make us feel whole, and with it comes the insecurity of losing that wholeness. It often gets confused with the insecurity of losing the person who can make us feel loved and wholesome, and depending on the individual that insecurity may manifest itself in different ways: either sacrificing far too much of yourself or who you are just to please the partner in the hopes that the partner will stay; and/or, attempting to manipulate and control the partner in the hopes that the partner never leaves your grasp.

These are things I am sharing from personal experience. Because I was once in a relationship with someone who could not love herself. She was very dependent in the relationship, and thus was very clingy and fearful of losing me to the extent that I was emotionally manipulated into giving up a lot of my friendships and personal hobbies and interests much to my own personal detriment. And in many ways, I too am to blame for this, because I should have stood my ground. But I think at some point, I also forgot how to love myself and prioritised the relationship as if it would make me whole and wholesome, that I was willing to give up all these things that mattered so dearly to me. In the end, we gave up so much, we sacrificed so much of who we once were for the sake of preserving the relationship, that we both became empty shells of who we used to be.

The moral of the story is this: Don’t be dependent on your partner to feel loved and whole. And don’t be dependent on the relationship either. It is our lives and it is really up to us to make ourselves feel loved and whole. Relationships are meant to enrich us. Relationships are not meant to save us from ourselves. So don’t ever prioritise your partner or the relationship at the expense of giving up who you are.

But even if we make such mistakes, that’s ok. It’s normal to make such mistakes. Even I made such a mistake. I guess it’s an important learning experience, perhaps it’s an important experience for our own growth and development. Humanity seems to repeat this mistake again and again, and we know this because stories like these are recorded even in the earliest of writings. The history of humanity is filled with many stories of heartbreaks, miseries, and regretful sacrifices people made for the sake of one’s partners or the relationship.

We just have to learn to love ourselves so that we can be better and kinder to ourselves, our friends, and our partners.

How do you deal with people who are passive aggressive (paggro)?

A student wrote to me, asking:

How do you deal with people who are passive aggressive (paggro)?

Usually passive aggressive people do what they do because they want do avoid confrontation. The reasons for avoiding confrontation varies. Sometimes it’s because the matter seems too trivial to warrant a direct confrontation and so feels like s/he has no outlet to vent his/her frustration about the matter; or the person is afraid of the repercussions of confrontation; or the person is aware that s/he’s so bad at handling direct confrontation that s/he will make the situation worse (it may also be because the person has a very bad temper and is avoiding have to reveal this awful side to you).

It would be incorrect to assume that the passive aggressive person is the incarnate of evil in the form of a paggro individual.

Often times, it’s because we ourselves are doing something to upset them, but not enough to trigger direct confrontation. So it would help to pause and reflect on what it is that we might be doing to upset them, and try to do less of that.

It may surprise you, but it’s usually the little things that drive people mad. This is especially true when you live with other people, or work with them regularly. Someone might be typing way too loudly, or handle things in a way that upsets them. It’s ok when it’s once or twice. But it does make people get crazy upset to have to endure it repeatedly for days or weeks.

Notice how such things seem so trivial that it feels so petty to bring up the matter? But it’s not petty at all. It’s human nature to get upset over the disruptions or small annoyances that make up our everyday routines. But many people think it’s so petty that they can’t bring themselves to talk about it, and so passive aggressive action is, the only outlet to vent their frustration for those who don’t know how best to deal with such issues.

If you can’t figure out what it is, or if it’s not possible to stop it entirely, then dialogue is important. You yourself must be prepared for what they will tell you, and you must assure that person you will not get mad. All you want to do is to solve a problem and make things better for both parties. You can try saying something like, “Hey, I noticed you seemed rather upset yesterday. And I want to better understand what is upsetting you, and what I can do about it to make it better for you.” Make sure you are mentally prepared to respond in a calm way whatever the answer may be.

I once went on a 3-week work trip with someone who made passive aggressive snide remarks at me almost every day. It upset me a lot and I finally told the person how I felt and that I could not understand why he would behave like this. His response was that we hated how I conducted myself, as he interpreted that it meant I was a certain sort of person which he despised. That was an answer I did not expect, and it did catch be off-guard. But I talked it out with him and tried to explain that I’m not such a person. In the end, the resolution was a sort of compromise: I can’t change myself completely, but at the very least, I would not do certain things that would trigger him. The conversation helped as he stopped making the snide remarks thereafter.

This incident happened 16 years ago, but it stays with me as a vivid memory, as a successful model on how I handle difficult situations with people, especially passive aggressive people. Now, as with all things with life, use your own discretion on how you might use the ideas I share here, and assess for yourselw how you might want to adapt to your own unique situation.

My girlfriend got pregnant, and we’re both still studying in university. What do you suggest we do?

An anxious student wrote to me, asking:

My girlfriend got pregnant, and we’re both still studying in university. What do you suggest we do?

I can imagine this must be a really anxious time for both you and her. Please make yourself wholly available to her and support her in this time of need. Let her know that you are someone she can count on as a pillar of strength and support. And if either of you need someone older to talk to, feel free to reach out to me. You can talk to me without fear of judgement, alright? :)

Many people tend to conflate wanting to “get rid of the problem” with the idea that it means “getting rid of the pregnancy.” That is not true, and that choice has its own risks and consequences that will affect her much more than it will affect you.

First thing’s first: don’t rush to solve the situation so quickly. The stress and anxiety can lead to a lot of bad mistakes that will haunt you both for life. I want you to know that there are three possible options you can explore: (1) keeping the baby and raising the child; (2) giving the child up for adoption to couples who can’t conceive and desperately want a child; (3) terminating the pregnancy.

I think one of the issues people worry about is the shame and fear of what’s going to happen. I want you to know that we are living in a very modern and understanding society. Both of your families may care enough that you have to deal with shame. BUT in the bigger scheme of things, events like this happen so often, it doesn’t really surprise anyone these days (I know too many stories of it happening left, right, centre). So I want you to know that it’s not shameful at all. Just so you know, I’m not judging. It’s just one of those things that happens.

Let me tell you a story… Every year during Chinese New Year, my cousin would bring his super hot girlfriend over. He got married eventually (I didn’t attend the wedding). The following Chinese New Year, he brought his wife and baby over. The wife looked very different. So I remarked to my mother how amazed I was that the lack of make-up could make someone look so incredibly different, since she didn’t look anything like the pretty person I remember in the years past. My mother then told me that that woman was a different one from the girl we had seen in the previous years. It was a shotgun marriage. Whoops!

Anyway… Accidents happen. Life happens. And we should just hold our heads high and learn to handle what life throws at us. That’s how we grow. In some cases, it’s lemons. In some cases, it’s a pregnancy.

Let me discuss some options to consider. It’s important you both make the decision together as a couple:

If you both are still unsure about having a future together, DO NOT rush into a marriage or force yourselves to raise the child together. It doesn’t end well. There are many single-parents because of reasons like this. And the one who has to suffer most is usually the mother as she will end up raising the child all on her own.

In such a situation, I personally would strongly recommend carrying the pregnancy to term and giving it up for adoption. There are so many couples in Singapore who try so hard to conceive but they can’t. They have a strong desire to have a child, but they are afflicted with the inability to conceive. That puts tremendous stress on them and it does strain their relationship. You have no idea how much good you can do for such couples, and you can use this as an opportunity to bring joy to another home. At least one great and wonderful good can come out of this incident. I really think this will be most worthwhile.

Fortunately, because of the pandemic, it’s going to be 100% e-learning for most modules this and next probably next semester. So you both can go through the pregnancy without attracting much attention.

Of course, if you both are sure you want to be together in marriage later on in life, then I think it’s worth thinking about keeping the baby. Don’t stress over the finances. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. You might initially meet with parental disapprovals, but usually when the baby comes, their attitudes will change. I must stress that this is the usual case. If you both have dysfunctional families, then it may make it more challenging to raise a child under such conditions.

Regardless, it can and will be tough having to juggle studies and a baby at the same time. BUT, I want you to know that it’s very possible to have a happy and functional family. I know a friend who had a shotgun marriage during their undergraduate days. They both graduated since and they are still happily married after 10+ years, with more kids added to the collection. What’s important for this to work out is to get wide social support. Not just from your immediate families, but from friends, and other older people. You’ll be surprised to discover how many supportive friends you’ll have in uni. And like I have said before, come talk to me if you need to. We can figure something out together. :)

The last option to consider will be the termination of the pregnancy. It seems like the easiest option to get out of a difficult situation. But there is a really high risk that your girlfriend will have to live with the guilt and emotional baggage of termination for the rest of her life. There is also the risk that her physical health/fertility may be compromised too (there’s always a risk with such procedures). Many people have gone through this without much thought, and it does come back to haunt them later in their lives. So I don’t like to recommend this as an option. And please don’t take this option lightly.

All options are difficult. There is no easy answer. Your parents will get upset for sure. But you will definitely discover that you will have many supportive friends who will help both of you out. Whatever is it, please don’t abandon your girlfriend when she needs you most right now. She needs you. So be there fore here.

And whatever it is, it’s important to make the decision together on what to do with the pregnancy. It is a joint responsibility.

If you need someone older to talk to, or if you need help getting the necessary social support or whatever, don’t be afraid to come talk to me. We’ll figure something out together.

Take care!

How do I reject someone politely?

A student asked:

How do I reject someone politely?

Rejection is tough. I do admire your courage in wanting to reject politely instead of ghosting people (which seems to be the trend nowadays).

Personally, I think ghosting people is a really mean thing to do. It takes great courage to step out of one’s comfort zones and risk losing the friendship in order to confess his/her interest. Ghosting just increases the anxieties and worries in that person. I don’t think it’s fair to torture someone who went out of his/her way to tell you that he/she likes you. I think the least we should do, if we’re not interested in entering into a relationship with that person, is to give that person a reply and allow for that person to have some closure.

What I recommend doing is this: Thank the person for finding the courage to confess because it is not easy for that person to do that. Acknowledge the effort the person made. Then, tell the person that you have to turn him/her down and be honest with the reason. And make it clear that there’s no chance in winning you over in the future, because some people think that you may be undecided now, and all they have to do is to work harder at it.

I know some of you may be struggling to figure out what to say. So, here are some samples you can model your rejection after. Please don’t copy word for word – other students are reading this, and there’s a chance the person you reject might have seen this and knows that you plagiarised from me. So please word your rejection in your own special way. Don’t send this as a text. This should be something you say to the person either face-to-face or at the very least, over a call or something.

“Hey, thank you so much for finding the courage to confess to me. I know it’s not easy and I do admire what you have done. I want you to know that it is also not easy for me to give you my answer either. So here goes. While I do enjoy spending time with you, I am not attracted to you the way you are attracted to me. It’s not because of what you have done or haven’t do. It’s just the way things are. I’ve thought long and hard about it, and I just can’t see us in a relationship. You’re a great friend, and I prefer if we remain as friends. I do hope you will respect my decision in this regard. Ok, I know this will feel awkward, so if you like, I’ll give you some space to process this. Know that I value our friendship and so I won’t be avoiding you. I do hope we can continue our friendship the way it was.”

OR

“Hey, thank you so much for finding the courage to confess to me. I know it’s not easy and I do admire what you have done. I want you to know that it is also not easy for me to give you my answer either. I want you to know that being in a relationship is not my number one priority right now. I have no interest in being in one, and I don’t want to rush into one. I think you’re a great person, and I think the best we can be is to remain as friends. I do hope you will respect my decision in this regard. I know this may feel awkward because you have confessed your feelings to me, so I’ll give you some space to process this. Just know that I won’t be avoiding you because I do see you as a friend and would like to continue our friendship the way it was.”

Whatever it is, don’t send mixed signals like hugging the person, or texting the person more than usual just because you feel guilty for rejecting him/her.

Allow the person to have time and space to process the feelings and move on. You may occasionally have to deal with the person still wanting to try. Whatever it is, stand your ground and don’t ghost the person. It’s an important life skill you need to learn for the working world too (it comes in handy when you have to deal with superiors/colleagues/clients who pester you to do things you don’t like to do – you can’t ghost them, so you need to learn how to be tactful yet assertive).

Another student asked a follow-up question on the same topic:

I’ve recently been getting many texts from someone of the opposite gender who tries too hard at continuing the conversation. I’m really not interested in conversing with that person. However, I do feel bad for ignoring (or not replying to) that person, so I’ll always end up replying to those messages out of courtesy. Are there any ways to show signs of disinterest in order to prevent any possibilities of leading anyone on without ghosting him/her?

Since it’s pretty recent, it’ll take a while for that person to get the message. Don’t always reply immediately. You can wait a couple of hours before you reply. Keep the replies short, as long messages can be interpreted that he/she has found a topic you are interested in, and that person may try to sustain the conversation with that topic.

If you keep getting a lot of messages, you can say that you’re busy with something and can’t read/reply. I know a friend who just shuts conversations with people by saying she needs to sleep early and wishes the person good night. You don’t need to explain yourself to other people for these kinds of things. You don’t owe anyone an explanation either. The person will eventually get the idea.

I once met a lady who wears a fake engagement ring. She shared with me how she wears that as a signal to stop creepy guys from going after her (they see the ring, think she’s attached and they don’t bother).

Now, you’re probably a student, so engagement rings and stuff are out of the question. But the idea applies: If you are being chased by someone who doesn’t know you very well, you can just say that you are already interested in someone or something like that. Just drop it somewhere in your conversation. “Oh, speaking of McDonalds, my crush to posted on IG that he just bought a happy meal. So cute. I’m looking forward to having a happy meal with him soon!”

This is even easier when you do it online. Again, you don’t owe anyone an explanation. So you don’t need to say very much. This will be a very strong signal to the person that you aren’t interested and he/she will back off.

Hope that helps!

When do you think is a good time to get into relationships?

A student asked:

When do you think is a good time to get into relationships?

It’s your life. So go into it whenever you feel you’re ready to handle it.

If you think you concentrate better in your studies by not being in a relationship, that’s fine. That said, I don’t like how some parents force their children to refrain from relationships until after graduation. It’s not healthy or productive to control these kinds of things.

However, you must understand the risks involved when it comes to your choices on when to start relationships.

University is a great time because you have many opportunities to meet new people, and to hang out with them. You will not be able to interact with people the same way in the working world as you would in school. BUT, it can distract you from your studies, and you may not realise your full potential in your studies.

One possible road bump you may encounter is when you both transition from school to work. The lifestyle change will affect how both of you will be able to interact. Most can handle the change. Some can’t. So it’s very important to handle the transition carefully. Remember: open and honest communication is important.

So proceed with caution and try not to forget that you still are a student with readings and assignments to handle.

If you want to start a relationship after graduation, that’s fine too. Though, you should be aware that it can be really hard (not impossible, just harder) to find a potential partner after graduation. Work is the one place where you’ll spend most of your waking moments at. As it is, most of the people at work are already attached or married. And for some people, it’s weird to date people from the same organisation/office for a variety of reasons. And because you spend most of your time at work, you have fewer opportunities to meet new people. You will need to make great effort on your part to join interest groups and other activities to meet new people and make more friends. Like I said, it’s not impossible, just harder.

Dating apps aren’t that great. I’ve heard more horror stories than good ones. Though I do know of a handful of success cases that have led to marriage. Let me share a funny story. I have on several occasions witnessed people date strangers they met on dating apps. I don’t know why, but it tends to be the case that they’ll sit at the table right next to me when I’m having dinner (yes, I’m very nosey). The interactions are so cringeworthy. It always feels like an insurance agent and a potential client meeting for the first time. It has the same awkwardness (if not more), and they ask the same kinds of questions that insurance agents typically ask: How many people in your family? What do you do? What did you study? How is work? Do you want children? Have you bought any insurance lately? (I kid!)

If you’re going to meet someone on a first date (from a dating app), don’t do it over a meal. It just increases the anxiety levels, and all of that person’s attention is focused entirely on you and what you say and how you say it. So stressful! You’ll just end up talking like an insurance agent (as I have observed over many dinners I’ve had outside). Frankly, it won’t be a memorable experience.

Here’s my advice… Skip the meal. Meet up, and go do some activity where both of you are shit at it, like those art jamming studios, or pottery class, or cooking class, or something like that. Just make sure both of you are bad at it, so you both won’t feel stressed that you have to make something of the same standard as the other. This way, part of your attention is focused on the activity and you’ll both feel a lot more relaxed. Plus, it’ll be a more memorable experience. (And then go have your meal – you’ll have something fun to talk about over dinner. You’re welcome!)

Regardless of when you want to enter into a relationship, just remember one important rule: don’t be desperate. Desperation can make you do stupid things that repel people. And when you get super desperate, you end up doing things that you may regret, like marrying the first person who decided to date you. I know people who did that. They got engaged in less than a year (that’s pretty fast), and they never really appear happy about their marriage when we talk about it.

Moral of the story: Don’t rush. Don’t be desperate. Good things – good partners too – come to those who wait.

What are your thoughts on people who “steal” their friend’s boyfriend/girlfriend as their own?

A student wrote to me:

What are your thoughts on people who “steal” their friend’s boyfriend/girlfriend as their own?

I think you are ascribing too much moral responsibility to the person who “stole” the boyfriend/girlfriend. You forget that the ex-boyfriend/ex-girlfriend has the autonomy to make decisions as well.

If you need closure, it’s best to talk to your ex about it. But just to answer your question, there are two possible reasons:

(1) Either the relationship hasn’t been going well (or maybe it did at the start, but both sides got complacent about working at maintaining the relationship). This is the most common reason for this happening. This can happen when the basic emotional needs of a relationship are not fulfilled. So if someone is able to “steal” your ex away from you, it’s because that person has been fulfilling that need which you haven’t been able to; or you’ve been working hard, fulfilling the need in a way the partner doesn’t want (poor communication on the part of the partner); or sometimes, it could just be that you stopped fulfilling that need due to other priorities or complacency in being in a relationship for so long.

In such situations, both sides are responsible – it takes two hands to clap. What it points to really, is a breakdown in open and honest communication. It takes courage to tell your other half what your needs are, and it takes even greater courage to tell them that they are not fulfilling your needs in the way you require (people are scared they offend their partners).

Now, I don’t find it productive to blame anyone for this. We are all learning how to deal with ourselves and with other people. And relationships are very hard work – if it were so easy, we wouldn’t be having so many stories of breakups. It’s easy to grow complacent because you have to see that person every day, and so it becomes easier to tell ourselves that it’s ok to do this once or twice since we’re going to spend the rest of our lives together (except that tend to excuse ourselves way more than just once or twice). And when that happens, the other feels neglected.

If this was the reason, use it as a learning point and work on improving communication for the next relationship.

Or, (2) the ex may have been using you as a temporary placeholder until they found someone seemingly better. This is a very uncommon reason, but it does happen from time to time. Such people are under the assumption that they can be even happier if they have a much better love experience with someone else. Or in some cases, they be feeling incredibly lost with themselves, and it so happens that they found someone who inspires them with a sense of direction and purpose. And it is easy to confuse feelings of awe, hope, and wonder with love.

And again, this is a rare occurrence, but I have known this to happen to people from time to time. In most cases, people have the maturity and sensibility to stay with their current partner despite meeting someone “better.” If they do leave, it’s because of specific problems like that mentioned in point (1) above.

In the rare chance that you encounter someone who left you for someone better without any reasons in (1), then I’ll say, don’t blame yourself and well, don’t blame anyone. Sometimes people are just very lost and confused and they are trying to find their own way. Things like this happens. Humanity is filled with both happy and sad stories. These are the things that make us human and more humane when we understand them.

[By the way, since I’m talked about fulfilling each other’s needs, I want use this opportunity here to address a relevant issue. Some people pressure their partners into having sex with them using the reason that they have a “sexual need” (sometimes they threaten to leave the relationship to find someone who will satisfy that need). This is utter rubbish. People have survived their teenage years without having sex. No one has died from not having sex.

If your partner pressures you to have sex using reasons like this, this is a red flag because your partner is trying to emotionally manipulate you. This is a clear sign that he/she does not respect you as a person (to be manipulated is to be treated as an object, not a person) and you might want to reconsider the relationship if you are thinking about the long-term.

Let me be clear: I’m not saying don’t have sex (you’re adults, go do whatever you want – I don’t care what you do – just… don’t leave stains… lol). What I’m saying is: don’t give in to such pressure if you don’t want to or are not comfortable with it. Sexual intimacy due to manipulation is not love.]

Do you think a couple that broke up once can come back together to make things work again?

A student asked:

Do you think a couple that broke up once can come back together to make things work again?

I’m not an expert in this, so I won’t say much about it.

The funny thing about relationships is that we only consider the relationship a success when the relationship ends with at least one party passing away.

If a couple is together for very long, we say we are inspired by them but we know that shit can happen any time to rock the relationship. What I can tell you is that I know one or two old couples who have gone through a break up, and later reunited for years already. Is this successful? I leave you to decide.

While it is not impossible to make the relationship work again, there are many challenges due to past hurts. But I think one problem that can arise is if either party (or both) expect it to be a return to the good ol’ days. Those belong to the past and cannot be recovered. Like a piece of wood that had a nail jammed into it and later removed, the wood will have a hole. That is the indelible mark done to the relationship. You can mend it, but it won’t be the same once again. You both have to accept this as the new normal of the relationship. Expectations of returning 100% to the good ol’ days can potentially hurt the relationship.

What’s essential is open and honest communication, and the willing effort of both sides to want to make it work. Just be careful not to sacrifice so much of yourselves for each other that you end up becoming someone that you’re not – an empty shell of who you once were. Just as much as we want to spend time with each other, we need to give ourselves time and space to be ourselves.

Do you have any tips on what to do if I’m interested in someone?

Last night, a student wrote to me, asking:

Do you have any tips on what to do if I’m interested in someone? I’m very scared to come across as too clingy from the start.

Oh, I know how intimidating that can feel!

I think my best advice is to treat that person the same way you would treat your friends. Just because you feel something for that someone, doesn’t mean you go out of your way to do very special things. If both of you haven’t reached a point where the friendship/relationship has grown closer, doing very special couple-ish things at the start can come across as cringeworthy and awkward.

Now the reason why I say you should handle that person the same way you would treat your friends is because that is how you really are when you interact with others. If you change your manner of interaction just for that person, expectations will be set that you are that other person (which you are not). And it can and will be tiring pretending to be that someone that you’re not. So it’s better to be accepted and loved for who you are, rather than to have that someone accept and love a pretence of yourself.

At all times, get a grip on yourself and don’t cave in to desperation or impatience. That’s when we say or do stupid things that will make that person feel uncomfortable. You need to do your best to be calm and confident about it (even if deep down you don’t feel that way).

If you reach a point where both of you are interacting with each other daily with excitement, try to upgrade the friendship to that of a closer friend. Friendships deepen not because of the frequency or quantity of conversations, but from the quality of conversations. Having heart-to-heart talks are good in getting to know people on a closer level and to establish closer bonds. But be careful not to become overly whiny in your heart-to-heart talks about issues. I know some people who degrade heart-to-heart talks into whining sessions about every small problem in their lives, and it becomes a really bad habit (and bad friend) where all they can ever talk about are their problems. It’s more important to engage in active listening so that you can better understand that person (and maybe evaluate whether that person has potential to be a partner and future spouse).

At the end of the day, conversations can only go so far. What you want is to have shared experiences on a variety of matters (applies to friendships too). So don’t just be texting/calling the person only. I know it’s hard to meet up and do fun stuff during this COVID-19 pandemic, but you can always find interesting and creative things to do, so no excuses! Find common projects to work on. Stuff that both of you like to do, or even better, stuff that both of you want to do but have never done before. Do fun stuff, and have fun!

The key is you both want to feel comfortable hanging out with each other, comfortable doing things together, comfortable talking to each other.

Once you find that you are doing these things on a regular basis, it’s a really good sign that the person has strong interest in you too. You can drop your hints of interest (although if the person is perceptive, that person probably can tell from your body language anyway). I don’t want to tell you what to do, because what works for me won’t necessarily work for you. I guess the rule is: Don’t be creepy, and don’t be desperate.

(Personally, I don’t like the rubbish in magazines that tell people to play hard to get. That is just awful advice that advocates manipulation and mind games. I think the only time this may work is if you are interacting with someone who gives off a player vibe or has been going for lots of casual flings. So it might be a test of sincerity. But if that person is already giving off player vibes, it’s a red flag. And I would seriously reconsider. So… Be warned~)

If there’s no hesitation or aversion from the other party, or if that person is smiling like an idiot non-stop at you all the time, then you know all is going well, and you can start preparing to confess. Don’t rush or pressure yourself or the other person. And try not to do overly romantic stuff because it can be very overwhelming for that person (unless you know that person wants that sort of stuff).

You want to give that person the time and space to think and respond to. Some people can’t say yes immediately (not because they don’t like you, but because they are daunted by the idea of taking it to the next level). So if they feel very pressured, they may instantly say no (and regret it) because they can’t handle the pressure. So give them time and space (unless of course you are super sure, and maybe the other party has already been quite explicit in expressing interest in you).

So, all the best and have courage! Let me know when you are successfully attached. If we can meet, I want to congratulate the both of you in person (I really mean it!). :D

Do you think it’s possible to forgive someone completely?

A student wrote in to ask:

Do you think it’s possible to forgive someone completely? Especially when the person has hurt you a lot a lot. I tried to recall back the painful past and tell myself to let go and move forward but it’s so hard. But then a lot of resources on the Internet tell people to let go, move forward so you can have a better future and all. Do you agree? For me I feel like me having this pain and not letting go motivates me to do better and better so that I wouldn’t be looked down on again. However sometimes I feel like that just makes me a person stuck in the past, full of hatred.

This was a very heartfelt question, so I took quite a long time thinking about an answer:

Thank you for having the courage to ask this question. I know it’s not easy. And I want you to know that I too am going through a very similar situation as I’m writing this. So, I totally feel you on this matter!

Firstly, the advice to “forgive and forget” is complete bullshit. It is not forgiveness if you forgot the event. There is nothing to forgive if you cannot remember it. It is perfectly ok to remember the hurt and the pain. We are the sum of our experiences. All the good things that has happened to us, as well as all the hurts, betrayals, tragedies and dramas. The good and the bad: they shape us to be who we are.

What’s more important is to transform that pain, that hurtful memory into one of loving acceptance: this is me now, this is who I am, and I’m ok with it.

How do we do that? We need to give ourselves time and space to grieve, to cry, to emo, and also to process it. The reason why hurt and pain linger for so long (and maybe even fester in our hearts) is because we haven’t given ourselves the chance to let the emotions run their necessary course, by bottling it up, or simply avoid facing up to it.

So let me reiterate: It’s ok to be sad. It’s ok to emo and cry. It’s ok to feel the hurt. Let it flow through you and out of you.

I’ll be honest and say that I don’t know what you mean by “having this pain and not letting go motivates me to do better and better so that I wouldn’t be looked down on again.” It sounds like one of those gongfu movies. You know, the kind where some villain came and slaughtered your entire village when you were a child, but you were spared because you were hiding inside a cupboard or something. So you spend the next 2-3 decades of your life cultivating that hatred in you so that one day you can have the satisfaction of revenge.

My question for you would be: What is the emotion that’s driving you to do better? Is it anger? If it is, that’s not healthy. You can’t maintain anger throughout all your life. It will affect how you interact with other people, and it will affect your mental/physical health. You still can be just as motivated if you allow yourself the chance to grieve and process the hurt.

I’ll say one more thing. Time does heal all wounds – physical and emotional. I used to do a lot of shit in the past. And it never ceases to amaze me how, after 2-3 years later, many of these people don’t hold my past failings against them. I was incredibly relieved. The experience of being given a second chance by other people was such a moving experience. And it did inspire me to do likewise. If I like and desire to be forgiven and given a second chance, then I too should do the same to others. It is only right.

But you need to be clear what you mean by forgiveness. Minimally, forgiveness (and not forgetting) means you won’t hold their past faults against them. It is akin to saying: I know you have hurt me, and you might hurt me the same way again, but I am going to give you a second chance and I trust that you won’t let me down.

Sometimes, giving the person a second chance doesn’t mean a chance at the same thing. E.g. if it was a bad romantic relationship, then don’t go back to a romantic relationship – a second chance can just be the chance to be friends again. Or if you’re unsure, at least the second chance means a chance to reconnect and see where you go from there.

But give yourself plenty of time and space. There is no hurry to forgive. We all recover from our hurts at different rates.

Do you have any thoughts on love and relationships in general?

A student wrote to me:

Sometimes it seems like others are finding love so easily, whereby the person they like is also single and/or just so happens to like them back. For me, such incidences of fate have never materialised and I wonder how some just have it so easy. No real question, just wondering. Do you have any thoughts on these sentiments/love in general.

Here’s my reply:

I totally feel you! I was once in your shoes for a very long time. I had been friend-zoned a couple of times, and on one occasion, I confessed to a girl, and she rejected me on the grounds that I’m of a different socio-economic class (that was so WTH!).

Looking back, I realised now that I had missed the subtle advances of some girls back in my teenage/young adult life. I was just totally oblivious to it. I think a lot of us are oblivious to noticing the subtle advances of others.

Well, to be fair, confessing and taking the friendship to the next level is a high stakes game. Both guys and girls are incredibly afraid and anxious about it: What if I get rejected, what then becomes of this friendship? And because both parties are often so afraid, none dare to make any obvious moves for fear of rejection.

So let me share with you an advice I got when I was in NS, and it is advice that helped me a lot. If you are interested in a person, but unsure whether that person likes you, treat every non-negative response as a sign that he/she is interested in you. If you ask the person to hang out with you and the person didn’t say no, that’s a good sign. If you said you wanted to initiate a phone call and the person didn’t say no, that’s a good sign. If the person messages you or initiates outings, even better – that’s a really really good sign of interest! Over time, the more you think this way, the more confident you will become around that person. And confidence is an incredibly charming and attractive quality.

Nothing screams – “MARRY ME AND GENERATE SPAWNLINGS WITH ME!!!!!” – more than confidence. You can be fugly as hell but if you have confidence as great as Mount Everest, people will still be incredibly attracted to you. This statement is true for both males and females. If you don’t believe me, when COVID is over and we don’t need to wear masks anymore, go sit at a cafe and watch the world go by, i.e. people watching. There’s a lot of unattractive people who are very much in loving relationships. You might wonder how that’s possible, or disapprove of their coupling because it looks like a live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast. But hey, they’re happy because all they need is that one person to be attracted to them: their partner.