Balance

This is my very feeble and subjective attempt to explain my current relationship status. It is by no means accurate or meant to be objective. Rather, it is a way to consolidate my thoughts on what  the terms ‘dating’ and being ‘in a relationship’ has come to mean for me over the years as I was growing up.

I must have grown up indignant about the need for companionship from the opposite gender. My education in an all-girls’ mission school for ten whole years has certainly etched that feminine identity and independence in my fellow schoolmates and I. My parents’ rocky marriage and subsequent divorce throughout my Primary School years must have also played a part to warn me that first of all, marriage and relationships may not last; and second of all, you did not need a man to be complete. (You did not look far beyond my mother to be persuaded – she is the epitome of independence and success, having raised four children on her own during the most turbulent times of her life.)

It was in Secondary School when my family began to go to church regularly and the church became an essential part of my teenage years. Although I started to develop feelings (more like an interest) in friends of the opposite gender during this time, I never acted on it. During this time, I met girls who got squealish and excited being around boys at some of the combined church camps and events. At one camp, girls skimpily clad in bikinis were at the beach playing beach volleyball and water polo with the boys. Needless to say, I was hugely affected by the culture I observed and wrote an article about it, expressing my discomfort at the inappropriate outfit and behavioral choices of teenagers, as well as implying my conviction to remain blameless and pure.

I read my first teenage girls’ magazine Brio shipped monthly from Colorado Springs. It taught me how to be discerning about many things related to my faith. It also introduced me to Joshua Harris, and his huge release, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”, a romantically unromantic story about how he and his wife met and kept their love pure before God. What I took from this book was a deep (and probably very misguided) conviction that the concept of ‘dating’ is secular and unbiblical. In fact, ever since, I frowned upon spending one-to-one time with guys I did not know would be my future husband.

It gifted me with a very unrealistic and idealised version of love. On top of that, my mother cautioned me against seeing any boys until I quote, ‘grew up and started work’. She may not have meant it verbatim, but it was a guideline a shy girl would live by. In any case, junior college came and went by too quickly – I had no time to mingle socialise and fall in love. Growing up in a conservative family did not exactly give me reason to challenge these beliefs and guidelines either. I did not know how to look good, use cosmetics, buy pretty dresses or do my hair, and my mother did not exactly have the time to teach me. Everything I knew I learnt via trial-and-error and from my friends. Oftimes I looked like a fool.

In university, my ideal romantic story continued to accompany me. Each time I went out with a guy for lunch or dinner – alone, I would start questioning myself: ‘Did I like him more than a friend?’, ‘What was my purpose?’, ‘What was his purpose?’ and it hardly ended. I over-complicated and over-analysed every friendship I had with a guy, unless (1) he was already attached, or (2) he was not a Christian. I did not envy my social circle (given my very cautious way of managing my friendships), but I did not know how to balance it either.

And sadly, now that I have graduated and started working for nearly four years, there is barely any time to mingle, widen my social circle, meet new friends or invest in friends who could be potential boyfriends. I have fed myself with my own career and self-love that I find it hard to break down the idealised Joshua Harris-love I carried with me for so long.

It is only lately that I admit how imbalanced, and possibly hurtful, this view of love is. We do not lightly invest our heart and mind into relationships, but neither do we hold back from getting to know someone just because we are not sure where it may lead to. The truth is that we will never know who that person may be, and by writing off every single person you might like, just because there is no certainty involved, you are in actuality writing off your future.

It is after all, like our plans isn’t it? We never know the full picture or the final destination, only God does. But that doesn’t stop us from taking the plunge to try something radically different, or giving new ideas a shot to see where it may lead us. I hope 2015 becomes that kind of year. One of self-fulfillment, passion and love.

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Straight Talk I

In all honesty this has been an issue talked about to death since i started working. But that does not invalidate its importance.

I am twenty six (for a moment i typed 27.) this year, and am really seeking for a way to have a healthy social life (of which family and church comes under) and work life. There is a recent Facebook post that says if you have those two, you cannot have enough sleep – you can only pick two out of three.

As teachers, we have tons of teacher-friends on facebook, and I have to admit that not all of us are the happiest beings on earth. We are often bearing the gripe of marking our homework over the weekends, commiserating in the same poor fate together.

The more I think about it though, the more I felt that something isn’t too right. How could such a big proportion of teachers, albeit from my perspective, be taxed as such? It is hard for someone who isn’t a teacher to understand. Many parents and members of the public have contributed their fair share to the discussion of the workload and expectations of a teacher. But without an authentic understanding of the reality going on in an actual classroom, whatever remark or advice just comes across as tacky and based in ignorance. Someone recently mentioned that as teachers we should learn to “manage expectations”. That stirred up some frustration amongst some teachers because it implies an incompetence to do what we should be able to do.

I also realised in increasing measure, that we are not quite doing what we signed up for as educators. I would like to become more adept at doing my thing in the classroom, but there are many other things drawing our attention away from the actual practice in class. I find myself drained and because I’m drained, I find myself settling. Settling for minimum effort, and thinking less about how to maximise learning.

I do try. I believe I do take pride in what I do, although at times, we face situational constraints that compels us to make choices, just like the choice between a career, a social life, and good well being.

But truth be told these are sentiments I am not proud of. Why should our thoughts be always so bleak? If we are facing constraints, do our minds need to be similarly so?

In the past week, a colleague had approached a friend and I for help to be substitute oral examiners on a few afternoons. This led to a conversation that sparked off some thoughts for me. My friend was quite upset that people seemed unaware of the work we had done on the other afternoons when we have had to help cover for them in duty. There were other alternatives, taxing us was just one of a few other reasonable alternatives. We had committed slightly more than 2 weeks of afternoons 3 to 6+ doing oral testing. As much as I was glad someone was voicing out a similar displeasure, I felt uncomfortable by it too. Shouldn’t a department work together in mutual support? It was my responsibility to support the learning and assessment of my students, sometimes at the expense of my afternoons, my holidays, my personal and social lives. Should we be defining our job scope in the workplace in order to “protect” ourselves? Does it really have to come down to that? That seemed to run contrary to what I believed a calling is. If everyone began drawing boundaries to work, the world would be terribly unpleasant.

But I am far from being noble. I find that I am much inclined to being grouchy about the workload we are given. Is there any guiding principle that will help me decide where the meaning and joy is in all these? 

Just this morning a few good friends (and inspirational teacher figures) shared an article on Facebook that seemed to specially acknowledge and speak to my concerns and gripes. But the article sounded a very optimistic outlook – one that called for young, noble, aspiring educators to stand together and fight hard for change. It sounded very … fresh-faced and ideal. I do agree that we need people who are in it for the right reasons (not the money, the lifestyle, or even the acknowledgement from the kids) to help lift up this foreboding shadow of teacher-hood off our shoulders. But the article seems also to deal with the issues on a very idealistic and generic level. What about the individual teachers who are willing to fight for an education which they believed in? How long can they last?

Not everyone is made for this. Then I find myself asking: am I?