“Somebody That I Used to Know”

My new manager is in town this week, and he took both the success and services teams based here in New York to dinner tonight. My parents-in-law also arrived just for the evening tonight since they are en route to Toronto this week for an event, and so I decided to leave the dinner a bit early to spend some time with them before bedtime.
Towards the end of the time at the dinner table, a colleague and I were discussing with our half of the table relationships in general and how we’ve each gotten together with our spouses. We left early together since he has a longer commute back to Long Island. He walked me to my train stop since it was en route for him to Penn Station, and we continued our romantic relationships discussion. He asked me about my relationship before Chris, how and why it ended, and if I still kept in touch with the guy.
“It’s not that I didn’t want to… he didn’t,” I said to my colleague. “He said it would be too awkward and painful,” especially since we almost got engaged. My colleague told me he had repeatedly tried to get in contact with his ex-girlfriends just to have a coffee or drink together, but they repeatedly refused. They want nothing to do with him.
I told him I get it, though. When you think about it, it’s a pretty painful situation. In almost every breakup, it’s usually one side that initiated the breakup, while the other side didn’t want it. In the time you were together, you probably knew each other intimately in both an emotional and physical way, and once you break up, all of that is also broken, as well. All the shared truths, the intimate details of each others’ lives, the vulnerabilities… it’s all wasted knowledge. All that time spent together is like a sunk cost. The time you spend with people, whether it’s platonic or romantic, in some way can be seen as an ‘investment’ into building a relationship of some sort. But once broken up, neither can do anything with that knowledge. It won’t bring you closer because you’ve broken up, never to return to that same intimate state ever again. You know each other and are aware of each others’ existence, but you are strangers once again. That person is just somebody you used to know. It’s just like that Gotye song that Christina Grimmie and Adam Levine covered for “The Voice.” It’s a bit tragic when you think about it — time spent, invested, that is ultimately wasted; a relationship that once had its glory moments that has essentially died, needing to be buried or cremated. You need to forget it to survive and move on.
“Somebody That I Used To Know” – Gotye
Now and then I think of when we were together
Like when you said you felt so happy you could die
Told myself that you were right for me
But felt so lonely in your company
But that was love and it’s an ache I still remember
You can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness
Like resignation to the end, always the end
So when we found that we could not make sense
Well you said that we would still be friends
But I’ll admit that I was glad it was over
But you didn’t have to cut me off
Make out like it never happened and that we were nothing
And I don’t even need your love
But you treat me like a stranger and that feels so rough
No, you didn’t have to stoop so low
Have your friends collect your records and then change your number
I guess that I don’t need that though
Now you’re just somebody that I used to know
Now you’re just somebody that I used to know
Now you’re just somebody that I used to know
Now and then I think of all the times you screwed me over
But had me believing it was always something that I’d done
But I don’t wanna live that way
Reading into every word you say
You said that you could let it go
And I wouldn’t catch you hung up on somebody that you used to know
But you didn’t have to cut me off
Make out like it never happened and that we were nothing
And I don’t even need your love
But you treat me like a stranger and that feels so rough
No, you didn’t have to stoop so low
Have your friends collect your records and then change your number
I guess that I don’t need that though
Now you’re just somebody that I used to know
Somebody (I used to know)
(Somebody) Now you’re just somebody that I used to know
Somebody (I used to know)
(Somebody) Now you’re just somebody that I used to know
I used to know, that I used to know, I used to know somebody

Memories, the colors of my mind

Chris and I met my friend for afternoon drinks and an early dinner this afternoon. This friend and I met about seven years ago during the summer at another mutual friend’s housewarming party, and we clicked immediately when we met. We had a lot of interests and outlooks in common, and it just felt really easy to spend time together. And unlike so many other people I’ve met in New York City since I moved here about ten years ago, he wasn’t flaky and always committed to spending time with me. It was a refreshing friend experience to have in a city that is so full of people, yet at the same time, ironically, can  feel so lonely.

It’s another bittersweet period, though, because he’s now leaving us for a new job in Seattle. His girlfriend will be joining him by the end of the year, so that’s another set of friends I am (at least locally) saying farewell to. When he messaged to tell me he got the job offer and would be moving this month, the selfish part of me felt so sad. I spent some time reflecting on our shared memories together, even the awkward times when I was not in a relationship, his was ending, and I wasn’t quite clear if he had feelings for me or not that went beyond friends. I still remember one thing he said to me that made me smile and feel so odd… seven years ago. We were talking about our full names and what their origins were. We discussed how my first name was chosen, and that my middle name is Vietnamese.

“Your first name is French, your middle name is Vietnamese, and your last name of Chinese. Your name is like the United Nations!”

He’d likely never remember he said this, but I still remember this quote and smile to this day. I wasn’t sure if that was meant to be a flirtatious comment, but it made me feel weird nonetheless. Those words, that sentiment, stayed with me.

I used to tease him about always alluding to things but never actually digging deeper. “What are you, like a robot?” I would say, smiling and laughing. I knew he was capable of having emotion, but he didn’t like to express it, and when he did, it was obvious he was being asked to exit his comfort zone. I realized later it was a defense mechanism he admitted to using so that he wouldn’t get attached to people, especially as someone who had a childhood where he always had to move for his father’s job every few years, which spanned not just cities, but countries. It was too painful to become close to people and be forced to part ways at any given moment. He eventually did open up a bit and gave me credit for trying. He also tried to get to know me more. I was never one for superficial relationships. As a close friend of mine once observed and said to me, “You’re such an intense personality; you will either go all in or not go at all.”

He even called me when I broke up with my last boyfriend that year. He was texting me because he knew the day we’d meet to break up, and we talked on the phone for a good hour while I was in San Francisco and he was in New York. It was so late where he was, but he stayed up just to talk to me. I think of these moments now and wonder what was going through his mind then. But then, it seems silly to think about because our lives are in such different places now; we’ve both changed jobs twice since then, I got into a relationship immediately after, then got married; he started his own relationship that had its ups and downs. They bought an apartment. Chris and I moved into a new apartment. He and Chris didn’t originally get along. Now, they do just fine. A lot has changed. I wonder what it would be like if we had a “trip down memory lane” conversation and how that might actually go.

Time goes on. Life goes on. Memories, as Barbra Streisand sang, are the colors of my mind, of the way we were. But life doesn’t stop for these memories or thinking of the past. Instead, it drags us by the legs to open the doors to our future, which will become new memories for us.

Power of hugging

I caught up with my good friend over dinner tonight, and as per usual, she gave me a big bear hug and kissed me when she saw me, and did the same when we parted ways. I can  always count on her to increase my levels of oxytocin and make me feel loved and appreciated. She’s been like this ever since we first met when we were 11; this is one of a handful of things that has not changed about her at all. And I love it. With her, I always feel loved and appreciated, like I belong. It’s probably a big part of why we’ve been friends so long; her level of affection towards me.

I thought about this today after I spoke with a colleague of mine who has been plagued by stress, mostly caused by work. His sleep has been really poor in the last few weeks, and he will occasionally wake up with his arms and/or his legs crossed and feel awkward. Increasing oxytocin levels is actually supposed to help decrease stress and improve sleep. Maybe he just needs to be hugged more frequently and by more people?

Morphing colors in the passive state

What I’m about to write won’t make any sense unless I outline the Insights Discovery “colors” that act as identifiers of traits, so, this is generally what each color represents (on a good day):

Extraverted Thinking – “Fiery Red”: competitive, demanding, determined, strong-willed, purposeful

Extraverted Feeling – “Sunshine Yellow”: sociable, dynamic, demonstrative, enthusiastic, persuasive

Introverted Feeling – “Earth Green”: caring, encouraging, sharing, patient, relaxed

Introverted Thinking – “Cool Blue”: cautious, precise, deliberate, questioning, formal

After spending the last three full days with my group of 16 colleagues of all Insights colors and personalities, although it was both enjoyable and productive, I was looking forward to being back at a hotel room in a real bed this evening. Although I love socializing and having stimulating and thought-provoking conversation with crazy back and forth banter, after long periods of having this interaction, what I really crave is alone, quiet time to just be by myself and process all the information I’ve digested. I guess you could say that’s the slow thinking turtle in me.

Before I’d get to my much coveted hotel bed, though, I’d made plans to see my two best friends living in San Francisco for dinner in the Richmond District. I felt so mentally exhausted and even was tempted to cancel because I was a bit under the weather, but I knew I really wanted to see them.

The funny thing about being in a high-energy, constantly “on” environment like our retreat center is that because the energy is so bold and everyone is spit balling and constantly talking and wanting to be heard, it makes you look at your next social situation in a comparative light. So when I arrived at the Mexican restaurant for dinner this evening, although I’m fully conscious of the types of friends these women are, I feel a bit judgmental to say that the level and energy of the conversation was a bit disappointing for me after the last three days. Even though I thought I wanted something quieter and calmer, when I actually got it tonight, I felt dissatisfied. There wasn’t any disagreeing or back and forth banter to clarify topics or opinions tonight; there was no new, exciting information shared that shed light about one another; there wasn’t even a lot of self-awareness sadly that I could notice, and that was probably the biggest annoyance for me given that I spent the last three days working on trainings and exercises that solely focused on increasing self-awareness because it ultimately benefits everyone. I left my actual friends tonight feeling let down, and I wasn’t sure if it was really because of them or because of me.

The entire conversation, with a little button pushing from me, was just so passive. Passive was the resounding word in my head as the night wore on. I had one friend zoning out and not listening when work topics were being discussed (she isn’t currently working and hasn’t had a career-type job at all). She’d bring up superficial topics like which expensive restaurant she should choose for her boyfriend to take her for her upcoming birthday (and literally ask for that – an “expensive” restaurant instead of one that she just really wanted to try that might be pricey. I found it unfulfilling. Even when I wanted to go deeper and talk about the Osteria Francescana meal or how much I loved Bologna’s quaintness, we never quite got there… because I didn’t get the sense that my audience cared that much to hear those details that I enjoyed so much, and so the subjects changed. When I brought up the actual Insights training, my friends were shocked to hear that my subconscious qualities were strongly “green.” Green types are seen as being patient, relaxed, empathetic, the mediators, the peace makers, the ones who want to bring harmony to a group. There was this immediate “no” reaction from both of them. They think I’m on the aggressive side, so a red. And one of them, my most conflict-ignoring and avoiding friend, insisted that of us, she was the peace maker. I told her… awkwardly because she hates confrontation and being countered, that she isn’t truly a peace maker or mediator because a real peace maker mediates a problem and addresses it… she simply avoids and ignores it as long as possible. That isn’t the same as peacemaking, and it would be troubling to think that she believes that. She didn’t respond to this (which I expected given who she is) and the topic changed.

But you know what? What I really would have loved in that specific situation is if she actually did respond, if she did say, well, hey, there are examples in social situations where I did try to actively create peace, and maybe you just weren’t there to witness it. We’re not with each other 24/7. We may have known each other 20+ years, but that doesn’t mean we know every experience each other has had. So maybe what I have asserted is wrong because it’s solely based on my interactions with her. But hey, I’d be open to hearing them and changing my opinion if she’d be willing to share them. However, I’ll never know what I don’t know and what is not shared with me. That countering or rebuttal or continuing of a conversation that has a potential to change the other person’s mind – that just doesn’t happen a lot with us, and that makes me sad. And if it does happen, it’s coming from me 99% of the time.

I guess it also bothered me to think that they would never perceive me as a peace maker given all the family situations I’ve had to navigate and assist in within my extremely negative and dysfunctional family; have they heard me when I have described those situations? Do they remember or do they conveniently forget the most painful topics I bring up around family? How much do we all really listen to each other?

The other thing I thought about is what we discussed in our Insights training. Depending on what the other people in our group are like, our colors “adjust” or morph so that we feel fulfilled and can compensate for what may overall be lacking in the group. So in their perception, perhaps I am a red because out of the three of us, I am the strong-willed one, the aggressive one who pushes for more. I definitely feel that way when I get bored when topics are slow or boring or monotonous or when a decision cannot be made. But overall, in a diverse group of people, I rarely feel that I am the red one…. The yellow one, yes, as that’s the dominant color my evaluation says I am, but almost never red.



Types of friends

After my dinner with my friend last night, someone I’ve known for the last six years here in New York, I thought about the types of people I tend to attract. A number of my friends have a difficult time expressing their feelings about sensitive topics. On the surface, we touched a lot of difficult topics last night: parenthood, infertility, broken families, the political climate of our country right now, but whenever I tried to push it to the next level, my friend’s body language made it clear that he was uncomfortable and didn’t want to continue, so… the subject would change.

But he has no problem sending me articles that discuss difficult issues. It’s just that he doesn’t really want to delve into these topics in conversation. Why do you want to bring up topics and not discuss them? Is it because you are afraid we will disagree and there might be some discord? When do you get to a point in your friendship (if ever) where you can disagree, and it will be just fine and you can move on?

In the book I just finished reading called The Female Brain, the author, who is a psychiatrist, discusses how there are parts of the female brain that on average are larger than the male’s, the parts that have to do with empathy, care taking… and avoiding conflict and ultimately confrontation. Well, on average, I seem to attract both women and men who avoid conflict and confrontation at all costs, even if it means avoiding having interesting and stimulating academic debates.

Dinner with friends’ parents

There are very few parents I’d be willing to eat dinner with without my friends. It’s not that I dislike or hate any of them, but it’s more that if I am going to have dinner with someone who is not family, it better be someone who I can have decent 1:1 conversation with who won’t bore me to death.

A friend from college has parents who, during our college years, would come to visit her at least once a year during the school year. Each time they’d come, they’d generously offer to take one of her friends out, and oftentimes, that lucky friend was me. It was usually her dad coming, so he’d indulge us and provide us temporary respite from the monotony of dining hall grub. And we’d eat delicious things like Ethiopian/Eritrean, Indian, or Tibetan, and he’d happily and enthusiastically dig in with us. And we always talked about things that were interesting to me, like culture, travel, food, and more food. It was so much fun, and I loved seeing him.

Well, my friend’s parents were in town this week, and they messaged me on Facebook to let me know they were coming and would like to see me, so I guess the feeling was mutual. Tonight, I treated them to BCD Tofu Korean tofu stew, and we talked about their daughter, Arizona, politics, culture, language, art, museums, and travel. I was so happy.

And then I thought… it kind of makes me sad I can’t have the same conversations with my own parents.

13 Reasons Why

After hearing about a disturbing Netflix TV series called 13 Reasons Why, I decided to try watching it. In a nutshell, the show is about a teen girl who suddenly commits suicide, leaving a package of tapes to each person who is a reason why she killed herself. She leaves instructions to each recipient of the tapes: each person who receives a package needs to completely listen to all the tapes, and then that person must pass along the package to the next person. If anyone breaks the chain, a separate set of tapes will be released to the public.

So tonight, I watched two episodes, and it’s clear how bad bullying can be with kids in real life. Everyone at some point gets bullied in school, but the extreme cases can and do result in suicide and lasting ramifications on people’s lives and psyches. I realize that this is all fiction, but I can also see how real it can be. In a lot of ways, and maybe it’s because I was confident from an earlier age than average, but I never really got bullied in middle or high school. I was always school or journalism obsessed, always studying. Going to an academic high school, I feel like I may have been shielded from a lot of the usual sex, drugs, and alcohol abuse, bullying, and popularity contests that the average American high school has. And maybe it was a good thing because I don’t know how I would handle even a fraction of what’s in this show.

Three girls and a mute

Tonight after dinner with my parents, I met two of my friends for ice cream. One of my friends came with her boyfriend, who for the last two years of their relationship has pretty much been a mute. He rarely says anything. He just kind of stands or sits there and eats. He’ll occasionally look at you and seem like he’s listening to you, but you’ll probably never know because he rarely verbally communicates. My friend has expressed annoyance to him and says he needs to make an effort to talk to her friends like us (because that really needs to be stated). So tonight, he actually said one or two full sentences. And our second friend gave him credit for it afterwards.

“He was actually a bit more talkative than he normally is,” second friend remarks. “He said like two things.”

You know the bar is set so low that it’s nearly below ground when you’re complimenting someone for speaking two sentences over the course of an hour.

Wedding day ambition

Despite it being her wedding day today, my friend decided to organize an out-of-town friends brunch at 10am. Although I felt that the idea would be very ambitious given that her wedding would be at 5pm, I selfishly hoped she’d follow through with it. It would give me more time to catch up with her, and also more time to get to know her friends from all over the place. Aside from me and our friendship from college, she had a friend and her boyfriend also travel from New York City, who she’d met in Beijing while working at a magazine after college; her high school best friend and his husband come from Minneapolis; and her middle school camp friend and her husband attend from Indianapolis. “You have someone representing each part of your life at this table!” her friend exclaimed.

My wariness over how well we’d get along immediately ended when her high school friend and I hugged and greeted each other, and we already knew who each other was because we’d heard so many stories from our mutual friend about each other. “I feel like I already knew you, but I just hadn’t met you yet!” he exclaimed. It’s like that Michael Buble song “Haven’t Met You Yet.” The entire group got along really well. Her friends were what I imagined — a varied bunch of intelligent, ambitious, witty, and very opinionated people from different parts of her life. We were all loud and laughed insanely, and we all had very strong opinions about Trump Nation, the current state of the union, and how racist and intolerant society was becoming because of this new leadership. We discussed cultural differences across the country and the nuances even in the same metro areas. We even discussed sex and cheating. That’s how much ground we covered over the course of brunch and then the wedding evening. It was a day of very intellectually stimulating and varied conversation. Meeting friends of friends doesn’t have to feel forced or be fake after all. I genuinely loved the entire day.


Wedding attendee

I’m getting ready to travel to my friend’s wedding in Phoenix this weekend. This will be the first non-family wedding I’ve attended without a plus-one as an adult, and it immediately reminded me of my friend who hates attending weddings without her partner and plus-one. I wonder how I will get along with my friends’ friends, because I’m sure as you know, for the most part at weddings, you will spend probably 10 percent or less time actually talking to the bride and groom. My friend is very opinionated, so I’m sure she also has a lot of friends who are like this, too. I actually am a little sad that my own friend table at my own wedding didn’t seem to “click” that well. I guess their individual personalities didn’t really mesh that well even though they all had me in common. Or maybe they just didn’t drink enough.

But if all else fails, I will still have her dad to chat up, as I always loved having him visit her in college. He was always so kind and generous, and would offer to take me out to eat with them, and we always ate interesting food together — Indian once, Ethiopian another — whatever cuisine you wanted, he’d enthusiastically agree. It was such a happy and welcome break from the mundane dining hall food in college. I remember those moments fondly because I remember thinking, how does someone my age have a parent who is this interesting and funny and witty? He’s a father’s age, but he seems to look at the world the way we do — he’s liberal, open-minded, loves to try new things, and is so creative. This is a world I was unaccustomed to, and I can’t wait to see him and his wife again.