We all drink our tea differently

I came across a screenshot on my phone today, it probably resonated with me as much on the day that I took it as today. It reads “I am not for everyone”. I suppose the author might have meant something else by it, but how I understood it was that it’s like saying “I am not everyone’s cup of tea.” A year ago this realization might have bothered me more than it does today. I definitely am not everyone’s cup of tea, and I am learning to be ok with that.  I am often that cup of tea that you drink out of necessity or obligation though. I am less ok with that.

There is something profoundly painful about realizing you are being tolerated. Its the type of lukewarm commitment that should say more about the person acting that way, than it does about me. Yet, I am the one that feels the heartache. The option exists, of course, to exclude everyone from my life that makes me feel this way. But that’s acting in the way people describe bitterness, you know, drinking poison and expecting someone else to get ill. Again, I am the one drinking the poison and getting ill.

I am a walking contradiction. I have very social aspects to my life. I love a chat on campus, I am irritating to sit next to on a plane and I enjoy having coffee with friends. I am also painfully private. I can count on my two hands who knows any detail of my private life this year. And it has been a year. I hardly invite anyone to spend quality time with me around my family because my family is my safe space, and I do not like complications in my safe space. It occurs to me that two of my best friends are my aunt and uncle. And they have seen me at my best and more often at my worst.

I phone, I buy flowers, I invest quality, face to face time. Three things that come across as being “too much” in 2018. I don’t have a fancy job, but I work hard. I don’t have office hours, but I am not permanently on holiday either. I go overboard when I help. Like way overboard. I am acutely aware that I am a lot to handle. I am also acutely aware of my value. My value to myself. My value as a friend. My value as a human. I am after all only human. I found myself trying to impress people at the expense of my own self-worth. Making self-denigrating jokes about myself in terms of my career and my relationship status. For who? Not for myself. And there lay the problem. I have been acting for other people. But other people are not there when I am putting in the long hours in front of my books, for zero financial rewards, and when I drove the 200km last week to escape the nightmare of my own mind. Other people are there when my family holiday home is attractive. When I am of measurable value. When I am fun.

So whats my conclusion? I am not for everyone. I am ok with that. No one is for everyone. Do I stop being the irritating person that lets a list of people know when I am in town? Disappointed at the quality of excuses? Or does that list just keep getting shorter? It’s funny how the busiest people sometimes make a plan, without leting you know how much effort it was to rearrange a day, at short notice. And others literally take out the diary.

Everyone drinks their tea differently. How many people have I made feel like an obligatory cup of tea that you accept, after someone has offered you something to drink 5 times? There’s the scary question. How many people do I make feel like my favorite part of the day, the cup of tea after a deadline, with a naughty sugar in and plenty of milk?

I am grateful for those that make life a little more bearable by being present, being honest, and being human. That’s the conclusion I reach tonight.




I said coffee, not marriage

Why don’t we just commit to having coffee when the suggestion is made?

What about social interaction via the means of human-to-human verbal communication, as opposed to screen barrier communication, freaks us out so much? I’ve thought about this for a while now. When I was in a new City at the beginning of the year, for a research course related to my current degree, I met a lot of people. I met locals, I met expats, I met academics, I met students, I met three tinder dates and many other people through these people. I made plans with some and have yet to get around to “a drink” with others. It’s too late now in most cases. During this time I noticed two things. The first was, that when plans are being made for drinks after class, non-committal language was always used by someone. This was even worse for weekend plans away or anything that requires effort beyond showing up at a pub. The second thing I noticed was people’s surprise when the answer to “do you want to do X, Y or Z this weekend?” was an immediate, “Yes, what time should I meet you?”. Not “yeah, that sounds great, I MIGHT join, keep me updated?”

During my time away, I met a great friend Nic (on Tinder). Nic and I were so happy to meet someone else that spoke English and has a general dislike of the international rat race towards corporate and emotional burnout that I think we instantly “friend-zoned” each other. We spent many hours having very deep conversations over San Miguel beers and particularly enjoyed a small pub on my side of town. Nic brought it to my attention that I commit to social engagements and that it surprised him that I was inclined to call and just ask “Hey, are you busy, do you want to go for a drink – now?”. I also immediately said yes to a hike to a 9th century Chapel on a hill. Perhaps my time away was the general exception to my usual rule. I have since then thought about this a lot. Why was he surprised? In one of our chats, I remember telling him that I think our generation plays life as if it’s one big Tinder app. You swipe, you match, you message in a semi-committed, semi-disinterested way until you are sure that nothing better is coming along; or until the app refreshes or your location changes. Do we treat friendships the same? We’re spoilt for instant and varied choice. Think about it. When was the last time you said to someone “let’s have coffee sometime!” and had no intention of being the one to set a time and date and actually do it? Is it the effort or the commitment? Are we waiting for something better to potentially pop up? Or are we so self-centered that we can no longer plan our days around others? I’m asking and I am guilty of this too.

I find we are surprised by action. But why? Probably because we are so used to hearing “maybe” and partly because we think it’s all about us. How many times have you jumped to conclusions about someone’s suggestion for coffee? He/she is “into” me, I can’t go to coffee, it sends the wrong message. He/she wants something from me, what can it be? This kind of thinking is exhausting and self-centered. Don’t over analyse coffee. This person may be genuinely interested in your company and is probably not already naming your kids and weighing up different surname combinations. If from the context of the conversation these are genuine concerns, address them.

I am ruthless in terms of career and academic chances. I apply for the grants that I am “unlikely” to get, I speak in front of people that are likely to challenge me but I stick to what I think is right and argue my point. Why then the weak approach to social interaction? “The answer is always no if you don’t ask” is my guiding principle in bursary applications. It rings true with coffee dates as well. How many degrees did it take me to reach that realisation? The answer is both -too many and none.

“Maybe” is so weak and wishy-washy. In a partner, I find assertiveness and decisiveness attractive. In friends and colleagues as well. Make a decision, stick with it and follow through. Do you want to have coffee with this person? No? Then don’t proceed with the empty conversation of “we should have coffee sometime.” Yes? Then commit. Commit to a day, commit to a place, time is also best to commit to immediately. It’s coffee, not marriage, it requires much less thought and deliberation.

The “lets ACTUALLY do coffee” challenge:

Think of 3 people that you have said “let’s do coffee sometime” to in the past year. Commit to seeing them in the next 3 weeks. One a week? That’s reasonable.

Message them, or better yet, phone or ask them in person whether they would like to have coffee with you. Beforehand, decide on the date, the pace and time options. Commit. If they can’t, they can’t, but you won’t not be seeing them due to inaction and hollow small talk on your part but due to an actual reason.

Be more mindful of hollow forms of conversation. If you have no intention of 1) having coffee with someone, or 2) making time to have coffee with someone who contacts you as a result of such a hollow comment, don’t say it. It’s not Tinder. And, even with Tinder, don’t be that person. The one that is all too eager to have a coffee or a beer and then something better or blonder comes along and ghosts. If you’re not interested don’t open the door.. or better yet, don’t swipe right – to continue the tinder analogy.

*coffee is really any beverage, and the act of going for coffee can be substituted with any activity – you know what I mean. Gym, book club, park run – you know.