My 3 Lessons Learnt From LDR

My 3 Lessons Learnt From LDR

TLDR: Surviving a long-distance relationship is not easy and some say it’s a work of art. It requires firm conviction with a goal in mind, effective and mindful communication as well as the willingness to compromise.

“Hey, since you are enlisting soon, aren’t you afraid of long-distance relationships (LDR)?”, “You are going to Tekong, how is your relationship going to survive?” 

These were the exact words directed to me when I enlisted back in 2016. I am certain I am not the first to receive such comments. As a terribly unromantic person, I had concerns about keeping the relationship going. 

Thankfully, despite the distance, my partner and I recently celebrated our 5th anniversary. We have emerged stronger and closer than ever before.

Before sharing my observations, it’s crucial to note that LDR has the disadvantage of being subjective. Hence, no single manual works for everyone.

Nevertheless, I hope my 3 observations provide a brief guide to survive the “apocalyptic nature” of LDR.

1. Sharing Commonalities

It’s a common misconception that sharing commonalities means sharing common interests and hobbies. Of course, when both parties share the same goals, values, interests and hobbies,  this alignment ideally benefits any relationship.

What happens when interests diverge? Do relationships naturally break apart due to the lack of shared passions? 

The sustenance of a relationship need not be based on shared hobbies. My partner and I are on the opposite ends of many spectra. I am more liberal while she is conservative; she is idealistic while I am pragmatic. Touch is her love language while I prefer to take a step back. 

We do not share many common interests. I find her interest in Korean drama stodgy while she sees my interest in books boring. However, we share the common goal of tying the knot. To me, having an end goal in mind is crucial as it sets the relationship’s foundation in place.

The author & his partner celebrating their 5th-anniversary over dinner

With a firm foundation, both parties can erect pillars to grow their relationship.

Just like the black pepper tree that requires a stake to lean on to grow, every relationship would require a pillar with a firm base. This helps in both managing conflict and strengthening communication.

Many conflicts in relationships arise from selfish thinking and rash decisions made without consultation. Working towards the goal of marriage, my partner and I discussed issues ranging from career pathways, education prospects, investment and housing plans, and even which side of the family will look after our future kids. 

We thought that if we aligned from the start, there is less chance of being in a rude shock when communication falters. If one individual was prepared for marriage but the partner refused to be tied down, it would end in eventual separation. 

In the inevitable ups and downs of a relationship, having a pillar of shared commonalities mitigate squabbles. A firm foundation realigns us back on course if we deviate.  

Living in a separate time zone, I often take Singapore’s safety for granted and forget to check if she is back home safely from work. A conflict might arise if there is an assumption of me lacking the effort to show concern.

Now and then, we clash over ‘trivial’ pickings. I would much rather have these ‘trivial’ arguments than have her suspect my intentions when I am abroad. This is because she knows that we have marriage as the end goal.

By doing so, trust is built. We may argue over the ‘processes’ but never the outcome. In turn, she understands that I live by the Buddhist’s 5 precepts and thus has the faith in me to do the right thing. 

2. Mindful Communication

Communicating effectively is a crucial aspect of any relationship. The willingness to communicate effectively. At the start, it was difficult. We were both used to the physical presence of one another. 

From meeting up and chatting all day to not even chatting at all on some days was tough.

As a result, we fought a lot more. However, we realized what we fought over was not due to the absence of physical presence. What we fought over was the lack of effective communication.

Effective communication entails presenting your views, feelings and values in the way best understood by the receiver. I was not doing that. When we spoke, my replies were often monologue, indirect and anti-climactic. I was merely regurgitating what happened throughout the day and mainly talking about “myself”.

I assumed that sharing my daily overseas routine would keep the conversation going and promote understanding. These assumptions proved to be wrong. While it is instinctively in our nature to talk about ourselves to feel a sense of validation and sympathy, boredom eventually sets in and attention wanders.

Such boredom or agitation is a result of your neural receptors being starved of the attention needed to feel a sense of self-validation.

In simple terms, people don’t always want to listen to everything about you. 

My self-esteem was boosted at the expense of my partner and it soon became one-way traffic where our communication was living off the other. There wasn’t an outlet for her to express her daily discontent or the opportunity to talk about “herself”.

Being aware of this, we made the effort to rectify it and that has helped us tremendously in our LDR since. Be mindful of the tendency to unconsciously fall into the “Self-Appreciating trap”. We unintentionally fall for such traps because we are not mindful of our speech. The lack of tack in our speech tends to cause offence, which may gravely affect our relationship. 

The Buddhist teachings of the noble eightfold paths include right speech as one of its core tenets. I view right speech as not just abstention from telling lies, slander or abusive language but also mindful speaking. 

Being aware of how we speak and what we talk about, clear boundaries are set.

As I hone my mindfulness, I started talking less about myself and presented my partner with opportunities to speak up. Our communication soon improved and became a two-way street.

Moreover, incorporating mindfulness in our everyday speech and actions allowed us to be considerate of one another’s needs.  

By practising mindfulness, we have transformed the way my partner and I communicate and have mitigated many potential flashpoints. Until today, even when I am studying abroad, our communication has improved and that boils down to being aware of how we communicate.

3. Put in the Effort & be Willing to Compromise

Humans can be selfish. However, we humans can cooperate too. Each partner can coexist in a relationship but opt to pursue his/her interest. Be it to flaunt the relationship as social status or to be satisfying sexual needs. If one is not putting in the effort into the relationship and is bent on pursuing his/her own “selfish” endeavours, the relationship is unlikely to last.

It takes two hands to clap. For the couple to succeed in a relationship, they must put away their differences, identify potential weaknesses and cooperate to work towards the goal.

If both parties share the same commonalities, then the relationship has a set goal.

However, the outcomes only become real if the process is set in place and acted upon through effort. 

This involves compromising on some of your interests for the relationship. For example, living in different time zones, I had to stay up past midnight and she would wake up early to skype. Although this does not seem like much, it reflects two points in maintaining a healthy LDR: 

Firstly, we both share the same commonality and are willing to put in the effort to achieve it. Secondly, that process meant that both parties had to compromise, forgo sleep, etc to keep the relationship growing. 

My mentor once mentioned, “Sharing similar hobbies doesn’t necessarily make the relationship work, it’s about you putting in the effort to settle your differences and make sure it works. It’s important to note that every relationship is a collective effort. Both parties must be prepared to put in the effort and willing to sacrifice some short-term interest for longer ones.”  

Closing Thoughts

Undergoing an LDR or any relationship for that matter is no easy feat. Our relationship had to overcome numerous obstacles and social stigmas. However, our relative success can be attributed to these 3 takeaways. 

These 3 lessons must be seen as complementary to one another and not mutually exclusive. Like me and many others who have gone through LDR, it’s not going to be easy but it is possible if one bears these 3 lessons in mind. In any relationship, it always takes two hands to clap.


Wise Steps:

  • Develop commonality in your relationship on how you envision it to be and the dreams you hold together
  • Practice mindful communication with your partner by avoiding the ‘self-appreciating trap’
  • Be willing to compromise, even if it means putting your ego & interest aside.
I’ve Let Go (Or have I?)

I’ve Let Go (Or have I?)

TLDR: As “spiritual people” we might go through difficult events thinking we have transcended them – but actually, it may have just been spiritual bypass. To truly let something go, we must first find a way to meet ourselves and our suffering.

A phenomenon I’ve often observed within me is spiritual bypass. According to clinical psychologist John Welwood, this is the tendency to use spiritual explanations and practices to avoid facing unresolved emotional issues and psychological wounds.

Why It’s Problematic

With spiritual bypass, we may go through something traumatic and then pick out a line of Dhamma and think, “Yeah, the Buddha said this and he’s right, so I should get over it now.” 

For example, say someone close to you has passed away. Spiritual bypass in this situation may look like telling yourself that “everything is impermanent” and that “death is natural, it happens to everyone” so “I shouldn’t feel grief”.

 You use the Dhamma to rationalise the grief away – but without healthily processing the emotions that naturally arise.

This is problematic because externally, it may appear like you’ve been able to transcend the suffering, completely unaffected – but you haven’t actually done the real work of processing the painful experience and unpleasant emotions that come with it. 

Without properly taking the time to receive these things and truly let them go, they might stay repressed, festering away until they come back to bite you in the a** later on.

I’m Buddhist, so I Should Just Get Over It

Something that can make this tendency worse is a strong attachment to “being Buddhist”. You may hold yourself to very high standards, putting pressure on yourself to “be strong” and “get over it”, thinking you need to be unfazed by suffering. 

“I am Buddhist, so I shouldn’t be angry. Instead, I should be contented.”

“I am Buddhist, so I should be beyond such petty emotions.” 

“I am Buddhist, so I should be able to let go of suffering.”

From my experience, this can be a kind of conceit. It’s a deluded expectation stemming from a heavy attachment to a “Buddhist identity” – an idealism about how your practice “should” look like, instead of working with what actually arises.

 You may feel guilt or aversion around the unwholesome thoughts, intentions and desires that inevitably arise. And because of the shame, you want to hide them away, from others and even from yourself.

But what happens when you don’t allow yourself to process all that? 

It doesn’t just disappear. Instead, it gets buried in the heart and resurfaces later on.

In my late teens, I experienced several traumatic events and at the time, spiritually bypassed them and then left to study abroad (which was a niceee, biiig distraction). 

Years later, when I returned home during the pandemic to familiar conditions with lots of quiet, idle time, many of those unresolved negative emotions and thought patterns began to resurface. 

It was surprising because for the last three years I thought I was “fine” for the most part. But evidently, I had just swept things into “the basement of unawareness”. Now that they’d reappeared, it was time to clear out the basement – to finally meet myself and deal with the repressed suffering.

This was important because, as Pema Chödrön says, “Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know”.

So, How Should We Approach Suffering?

We know that everything is impermanent. We know that everything decays and dies one day. 

We often know the Dhamma very well on an intellectual level. 

But if intellectual understanding was all it took to let go, then everyone would be enlightened, wouldn’t they?

How do we apply the Dhamma beyond just a conceptual level?

In Thai, one of the terms for the mind is jit jai – “mind and heart”. There’s an ambiguity in the language that likens the mind to the heart. To me, this seems to say that processing things up in the head is not enough – we must also deal with them on an emotional level.

One of my favourite authors, Yung Pueblo, says “Manage your reactions, but do not suppress your emotions.”

Certainly, if there is, say, anger in the heart, we should take care to ensure that it doesn’t leak into our actions and speech in a way that harms ourselves and others. We might have to suppress it for that little while, but then we should make sure to process it healthily later on – this is necessary so that it can really be let go of. 

Of course, this sounds straightforward in theory, but it takes a lot of skill to acknowledge these emotions without indulging in or avoiding them. 

One way I practice receiving negative emotion is by being mindful of how it feels in the body. Focusing on how anger physically feels and changes helps me to receive it without indulging in it or denying it. However, I find this difficult to do for certain emotions (e.g. depression, which tends to lure you in and make you want to wallow in it), if I have a strong attachment to the issue at hand, or if my mindfulness is weak at that time.

Apart from mindfulness, the Buddha recommends five ways to remove distracting thoughts, which you can read about here. What works for you may depend on your temperament.

Letting Go of Repressed Dukkha

A process I find effective for dealing with old negative emotions is this:

1. Returning to familiar conditions in which the trauma took place can cause these old emotions to resurface. So if a situation is too triggering, remove yourself from it to prevent unwholesome speech and action.

2. Find a way to calm down. Interestingly, Ajahn Munindo suggests that meditation might not be that helpful at this time. If you’re completely agitated but try to meditate, you might just be mentally proliferating the whole time. Or you might just be tranquillizing yourself and not feeling your emotions – making it a form of spiritual bypass! What has worked for me is doing something physical with that energy, such as taking a long walk.

3. When you’re calm enough, receive the emotion. Let yourself feel all of it. If you need to cry, cry. If you need to vent, do it with a trustworthy friend. I remember a story by Ajahn Sumedho, who had so much aversion towards a particular visitor to the monastery that he sat down one day and just began writing out all his anger –completely unfiltered, not trying to be nice or reasonable or “a good monk” – until there was none left. This is acceptance and release.

4. I find that receiving the emotion comes hand-in-hand with developing insight around it. When your mind is calm enough to look at the situation, you may develop new perspectives and understandings. These “paradigm shifts” are the real good stuff that helps to create lasting “liberation” from the issue. Bit by bit, they help you make sense of the experience and let go of it.

For me, this process usually takes place over a few days. You may also find that you have to go through it multiple times. That’s because, after some time, these habitual mindsets that we carry can become cemented in the psyche, becoming our “default mode”. Reframing these thoughts can thus be very challenging – so don’t be afraid to even seek guidance from a therapist.

To quote Yung Pueblo again, “If the pain was deep, you will have to let it go many times… Letting go is not a one-time event, it is a habit that requires constant repetition to become strong. Sometimes the reaction to the pain is so deep that you will have to observe and release the tension repeatedly to fully cleanse the wound.” 

With each cycle, you might find that you let go a little bit more.


Wise Steps:

  • If you realise that something within your heart is unresolved, the first step is to let it come to the surface. Practice loving-acceptance.

  • Recognise your triggers and set boundaries for yourself. If certain situations are too much to handle, remove yourself from them. When you feel stronger, you may test the waters further in the future – but for now, protect your mind.

  • Having to deal with old trauma may feel like you’re regressing, but it is actually progress. Be patient and kind with yourself throughout this (often painful but rewarding) process.
The truth about grieving over a loved one

The truth about grieving over a loved one

Are you fighting reality?

What is the opposite of love? Ill-will.

A lot of the suffering in life is stems from ill-will, anger.

That’s why whenever there is a loss and grief, it’s often associated with ill-will and anger as part of the symptom of grief. It’s the opposite of love. It is fighting reality, fighting the world.

“This shouldn’t be. This mustn’t be! I’m not going to let this.”

It’s controlling again.

When you cry for someone who is dead, who are you crying for? You’re not crying for them. You’re crying for yourself. You want them around, now they are no longer there. It’s not a selfless love, it’s a self-love.

“I want to control life and death.”

“I want all the people I like, to be around.”

“All the people I don’t like, may they drop dead.”

“For all the people I really love and care for, I want them around for a long long long time.

That’s what people think, isn’t it?

Life is like a concert

The detached love can actually love death, can love separation, can love things going wrong, can love mistakes. It embraces them; it embraces death as this wonderful sunset ending the day. It embraces it like the simile I say of the ending of a concert. Stand up, give an ovation to the band or the orchestra. You shout for more, you scream, you feel so good.

This is what we do in Buddhist funerals. You give a standing ovation for the person who has died. What a wonderful life. It’s been such a wonderful concert, so great knowing you. Thank you so much.

The door of my heart is open to you. My heart is open to the reality of life and death.

In fact, all the people you like and love, they will only be with you for a matter of days, months or years. It’s like a concert. When you go into that concert hall, you know it’s not going to last forever, but you still go in there and enjoy every moment.


The above a transcript of an excerpt of the full Dhamma talk by Ajahn Brahm in year 2001.

Sutta reflection:

If, by lamenting, confused, harming yourself,

any use could be gained the prudent would do it as well.

But not by weeping & grief do you gain peace of awareness.

Pain arises all the more.

Your body is harmed.

You grow thin, pale, harming yourself by yourself.

Not in that way are the dead protected.

Lamentation’s in vain.

Not abandoning grief,

a person suffers all the more pain.

Bewailing one whose time is done,

you fall under the sway of grief.

Seeking your own happiness,

you should pull out your own arrow:

your own lamentation, longing, & sorrow.

With arrow pulled out, independent,

attaining peace of awareness,

all grief transcended,

griefless you are unbound.

Extracted from Salla Sutta: The Arrow

A Fresh Take on Different Faiths in Singapore

A Fresh Take on Different Faiths in Singapore

TLDR: Are we truly a rainbow of a thousand colours, lighting up the sky? With Singapore’s myriad of diverse identities, we can receive its cultural melting pot with kindness and an open heart. Reflecting on two vignettes, we refresh commonality and connect uncharted dots between faiths.

Take a spin around your neighbourhood or a stroll down Central District this weekend.

How many different places of worship can you find along the way? And when was the last time you stepped into another, other than your own?

It is likely that the number nor the lack of visit will surprise you. Have you ever wonder why do they not?

Greater than the Sum of its Parts

I pondered on how parts of the world fit snuggly into modern Singapore, partly implemented via intentional planning of her policy makers and partly developed through her history of immigrants.

The feat that so many chapalang people, cultures, identities and faiths can co-exist within the limits of this space calls for a cake. As we learn of various national conflicts arising from differences, the ‘peace’ we share in Singapore may just be good enough.

When I say ‘co-exist’, I talk about awareness and at best, acceptance of diversity, differences and conglomeration. Let’s face it, relating harmoniously with everyone or anyone we encounter is no rosy picture. Humans have likes and dislikes.

It is natural to agree and disagree; to identify and cluster, what more to differentiate and – god forbid – discriminate. Yet, how often do we understand each other?

If my belief is right, the hodgepodge of cultures, races and religions goes way back beyond when Sang Nila Utama first stood on this island. Thanks to the 2019 Bicentennial efforts, we now acknowledge Singapore’s history to stretch over 700 years and longer.

To co-exist with such intense diversity in a cramped space for that long, this morphing society has learnt to draw upon individuals’ virtues and their conscious efforts to overcome inherent human cognitive biases. 

Psychology of Goodwill towards “Different” People

Think about that one time when you felt uncomfortable or emotional in an encounter with someone outside your usual community in Singapore. What immediate perceptions did you form about this particular person and his/her/their community?

What decisions did you make about future interactions with this person/community during and after this encounter?

It takes open hearts, basic kindness and willingness to communicate and understand that someone of a different race/faith/culture does not pose a threat to what or who we identify with. It takes courage and patience to say: 

“Hey, I don’t know you well enough. Help me see what’s going on for you,” or;

“Let me put aside my tightly-held conceit to appreciate who you are and what stories you live”. 

Sometimes, we latch onto our views so strongly that we forget how it is like to be open to other perspectives or to not have any views at all. When we hold onto our version of reality as more important or deny others’ realities, the aversion and hurt ensuing from our attachment are poisons that we choose not to see.

Only when we rightly acknowledge and accept the multitude of truths held by different communities as their ways of life, will we have a more generous heart to learn and adopt inspiration from each other. Then, perhaps, we can love our neighbours as ourselves.

Honest Encounters with Various Faiths

The rest of my writing contains two vignettes of my local encounters with various faiths, as a late millennial female, straight Hokkien-Teochew Chinese, Theravadin Buddhist, who lives in a HDB flat and works in the construction industry. 

The slew of labels is not necessary but what do you see? Look at the portrait you can construct using those stereotypes.

How many different intersections of faith, race, culture and identity can you imagine I have (not) crossed? What lessons will you uncover?

1. Bells

 “Ting – ling ling ling ling ling ling ling ling ling ling ling ling ling ling ling…” 

A continuous ringing of a bell shrills through the entire HDB flat at around 8am and 5 pm daily. 

When I first heard it, it was the last thing I wanted to hear amid my activities. I complained to my mother. She explained, “It’s part of the Hindu prayer lah girl,” “Not peaceful leh?” The disgruntling echoed after each ring in my mind. 

One evening, the ringing pierced through my body when I had a pounding headache from the foggy consciousness caused by drowsy antidepressants.

The bell rang with such vigour that I could picture the faithful hand that shook it so earnestly. I wanted to be annoyed but there was no strength to resist the daggers of sounds. 

If I can’t run away, why don’t I accept it? I embraced the ringing with my awareness. The heart shifted.

Each ring sent my mind right back to the present moment. Each ring lifted me one inch out of that terribly dull drowsiness. As the last ‘ling’ landed in the air like a finale, the headache dissipated with a ripple. Since then, the ringing became a familiar soundscape at home, no longer a frustrating auditory contact. 

On National Day, the bell rang again, as if to alert me that I have yet to fulfil my learning of this Hindu ritual. Seizing the opportunity to understand better, Google affirmed that I was not the only one hearing “bells ringing at home”.

It turns out that ringing the bell (or Ghanti) is part of the Hindu puja offering, where the worshipper announces his/her arrival to the Hindu deity worshipped. 

Dear Lord, I am here. Please bear witness to my presence. 

One offers his/her presence to greet and honour transcendence. This meaning of presence flows very much like the kangse meditation bell: a reminder to recollect the moment and to stay with one’s awareness that is larger than self.

Well, how could I forget that bells are also used in Taoist, Buddhist and Christian traditions? That they come in all shapes, sizes, tones, pitches and manners of ringing?

 “Ting – ling ling ling —-” Here and now. Here and now.

2. Cleaning Ourselves

During the Ramadan of 2019, I was invited to participate in breaking fast with migrant workers at Masjid Yusof Ishak Mosque. As part of the interfaith circle’s initiative to promote appreciation of Muslim practices, youths from different faiths observed the evening Muslim prayer and joined in the mass breaking fast.

A scent of communal dedication to Islam hung in the air throughout the entire evening. What stuck with me was this particular quote outside the common toilets:

“Cleanliness is half of the Faith.” 

In my mind, I drew an immediate parallel to Upaḍḍha Sutta, where Venerable Ānanda asked the Buddha if having admirable friendship is half of the holy life. If admirable friendship is the whole of holy life and cleanliness is half of the Faith (Imaan), then how much weight does the latter hold in a Muslim’s life?

Following the teachings of the Quran, Muslims cleanse their faces, heads, hands (forearm up to the elbow) and feet (up to ankle) to prepare for their prayers.

This ritual washing purifies the body of the filth before Muslims convene with God as

Truly, God loves those who turn unto Him in repentance and loves those who purify themselves.

Quran 2:222

Body purification and spiritual purification are both crucial in the Islamic Faith. Being pure brings one closer to God.

The principle of keeping up cleanliness is also prominent in Theravada Buddhism: monks wash their feet after walking their alms round barefooted; tidy and clean living quarters reflect the practitioners’ clear states of mind. 

Often, the metaphor of cleaning a dirty and cluttered room is used in Thai Forest teachings for the practice of meditation and mental cultivation: what used to be a pure mind was tainted by unwholesome qualities or defilements (kilesa) since the beginningless time.

The way to liberate the heart is to clean out the defilements through the patient and consistent practice of the Noble Eightfold Path. 

Essentially, we practitioners are cleaners scrubbing out stubborn stains with our tools and cleaning solutions. More importantly, the room does not belong to us. After cleaning it up, we can appreciate it as a pleasant abiding, close the door and leave.

But first, we have to recognise that the room is indeed dirty from our self-centred activities and that we want to clean it. Then, we go about learning how to clean and then actually doing so. 

Some folks are okay living in a dirty room because they are unaware of what a clean room feels like. Think about an elderly who hoards compulsively and fills up his flat with precious things that ultimately breed dust.

The ways of the world can be distressing because so much clutter and filth get into our mind-rooms, through our own ignorant volition and through unfiltered acceptance of external influences. 

We definitely deserve better.

I find the following verse from the Bible resonates with the Buddhist practice so saliently:

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

Proverbs 4:23

If the heart is filled with impurities, then what comes out of the heart is hazardous to others. Likewise, if the heart is imbued with unconditional love and kindness, goodness permeates in our interactions. 

Regardless of who we meet in our “living-room” (be they religious figures like Lord Vishnu, God, Jesus Christ, Guan Yin, the Buddha or our family, friends, fellow Singaporeans, foreign talents, migrant workers etc.), I hope that we maintain as hospitable, self-respecting hosts to welcome and honour the guests’ presence in a clean and fresh space.

Perhaps, that hospitality may just be why Singapore tries to be as clean as it can.


Wise Steps:

  • In a world of turmoil and confusion, recollect on the goodness of the place you live in. Gratitude can light up your heart.

  • Share with your friends and co-workers from other faiths your similarities and differences. There are many lessons out there for us to learn amongst other faiths when we are open.

  • Reflect on your ‘living-room’. Where have you done well in keeping clean? Where needs cleaning? 
The 3 types of Love | Wisdom from Ajahn Brahm

The 3 types of Love | Wisdom from Ajahn Brahm

People, especially in today’s age, assume that love has something to do with romance. The idea of romantic love should be investigated because when we don’t know it properly, it can create so much suffering inside of us. So often, when you fall in love, what you are really loving is the way the person makes you feel. 

The first type of love: Possessive love

Many of us, even though we think we love our partner, really, love ourselves more. If you really think you love your partner more than your own life, what would you do if your partner runs away with the postman? 

If you really love her, you should be so happy that she’s found happiness and love. You should feel so grateful that she is happy. Isn’t that what love is all about? You want her to be happy, and now she’s happy. 

But you wouldn’t be happy would you? Why is that? That’s because your love is like an attachment. It’s a love, which has ownership. This is the first type of love, and the Buddhist context. The love, which comes from the word “mine” — “I will love you, as long as you are mine.” 

It’s love that creates a lot of problems. Problems because, in this life, the Buddha pointed out that we own precious little. In fact, we don’t own much at all.  If anything, we only rented it for a period of time. We only have our loved ones with us for a very very short time.  Sooner or later, there has to be a separation. 

The second type of love: Love without attachment

But of course, there is a much more wise and deeper type of love, which is the second type of love – “The door of my heart will always be open to you no matter what you do.” 

There’s a sense that you can feel happy when somebody else, someone you care for, is happy.

This is love that frees the other person because it wants the other person to be happy. It does not have any concern about oneself. It is truly a selfless love, which has no strings attached. 

That type of love gives you peace. It’s a love, which embraces reality. The unconditional, selfless love. It allows you to be at peace with other people in the world. It stops arguments, it stops separation. It stops the biggest war in the whole world – the war inside of you. It is a love, which can let go. This type of love is selfless. It accepts. In its acceptance, it is embracing, it is letting go. Love, which leads to freedom rather than love which leads to possessiveness. 

The way to love a person is a way to look after a bird. A bird needs a cage but you should always leave the door of the cage open. Just make sure that the bird stays in that cage because the cage is really beautiful, and the food is really delicious. There, the bird can get lots of love and care. They’d want to always come back to that cage. They may fly off a few days but they’d always come back again because there’s the best food in town, and people are so nice and kind. 

If you put your loved ones in a closed cage, first time that door is open, they’d run away and never come back. So, the love which has freedom is the only love that can really give you what you truly want. If you control and possess, people will always escape. They’d run away and never come back again. 

The third type of love

In the English language, the word love has two meanings. The second meaning of love is zero/empty/nothing. This is what the second type of love inclines towards – where you have a kind of love that doesn’t possess, which lets go. All these things, which you think you truly need to be happy, all these possessions, which are so important to you, you can free them. You will realise that you don’t need anything. It’s inclining towards the emptiness in this world. 

This is the third type of love – the empty love. When I say “empty love”, sometimes people think that that’s very scary, very cold. But that emptiness type of love is far from being cold. It is the emptiness like the sky, which can accept everything, which embraces everything, which surrounds everything. That emptiness type of love is what connects everybody and everything. That’s what love is. It is embracing, accepting, with a deep contentment with what is. 

That you might call is the highest type of love. 

How Seeking To Balance Everything Nearly Cost Me My Relationship

How Seeking To Balance Everything Nearly Cost Me My Relationship

TLDR: Be mindful of the underlying metaphors that shape your view of relationships. Relationships are not transactions to be balanced out, but collaborative artworks that are infinitely deep. Give selflessly with no expectation of return. Ironically, this is also how you are rewarded with beautiful and deep connections.

My Journey Into Seeking ‘Balance’

I am not sure which came first – my fascination with order or obsession with building card towers. Either way, this childhood hobby created an attraction to balance. I recall many Chinese New Year holidays where I would eye decks of poker cards and make mental notes to squirrel them away as building blocks for my castles and city blocks. 

And though I certainly delighted in the splendour of a make-believe cityscape, my deepest absorption was reserved for the delicate balancing act of 2 plain poker cards, repeated ad infinitum.

Years later, this hobby faded away, leaving a faint but indelible psychological imprint. This shaped the way I arranged my academic life, family time and relationships.

My secondary school life was the first proving ground for this worldview. Friendships were cordial, positive and respectful. I excelled in group discussions, where everyone gets proportionate air time. I was a reliable team member in group projects, where I always put in my fair share of work. 

Being a natural listener, I made sure to listen and speak in equal measures, I was an easy conversationalist who struck up many acquaintances. Favours were always reciprocated. All these made me an uncontroversial choice for the class monitor, and eventually the consortium council chairperson.

Everything stood in beautiful order, and I played my discrete role in this tower of cards to the tee.

When Balancing Everything Frays

And yet, these neat, clean lines showed signs of fraying. Somehow, I was deeply unsettled in more personal settings like stay-overs and class barbecues, where our roles and lines blurred into a confusing mix of funny personal stories, boyish mocking and crude jokes. This discomfort didn’t entirely stem from a growing sense of moral superiority.

Even as a council chairman, there was an invisible wall that separated me from the rest of my executive committee. This wall thinned during official meetings, thickened in informal work sessions and get-togethers. Was I drawing my boundary lines too thickly and sharply? Could they be drawn any other way?

Someone once told me that life will keep teaching you the same lesson until you learn it. In my case with relationships, the lesson first came in pricks and then bludgeons.


Who Should Pay for The Food?

We were at a Bishan hawker centre filled with the usual lunch crowd. I parked our bags down on a recently vacated table and signalled my girlfriend to buy our lunch. She hesitated a moment and then merged into the crowd. I sensed something was off but brushed it off.

Later, on our walk home, with eyes downcast, she remarked with a touch of resentment that she had paid for our meal.

“I footed the last few bills, isn’t it only fair that we split?”, I protested almost immediately. In my mind, our 2 poker cards had started tipping over, and her paying for our last meal tipped them back into poise. At that moment though, something else hung in the balance.

“Yes, that makes sense dear, but in our relationship, I had expected you to pay for the meals.”, she said softly.

That comment hit a deep, raw nerve, setting off an emotional quarrel about values and equality, a quarrel that did not resolve when we reached her house. 

I turned away, fuming, without so much as a goodbye. She later called, apologized for the comment, and we agreed to an uneasy truce that we would split our couple expenses down the middle.

Like a hastily plastered band-aid, this agreement tided us through easy and safe couple activities over the next few weeks but tore apart in the face of the truly difficult issues.

When Seeking ‘Balance’ Spirals into Pain 

We were talking about settling down, and the question of who was paying for the house naturally came into the picture. I wanted us to split the expenses proportional to our income; she wanted me to shoulder the entire cost. This was the meal payment quarrel all over again, on a larger magnitude.

Almost immediately, the same disagreements erupted with greater fury. We argued for weeks, with frustration and mounting anger.

I was adamant about following the principle of fairness, of staying true to the idea of gender equality in treatment and contributions. 

I was taken aback by her outdated concept that males should be the leader of the household. She wanted to be assured that I could provide for the family and felt insecure about her economic future because of her hip condition which might render her wheelchair-bound in a few decades. Above all, she sincerely believed that relationships shouldn’t be about transactions. The house of cards was coming apart.

In a moment of darkness, after what felt like our umpteenth call that ended in logical logjams and emotional breakdowns, I seriously wondered if I had made a wrong choice of partner.

Uncovering The Author of My Pain

What hurt me the most was how this recent row contrasted with the deep sense of connection and resonance we shared in every other aspect of our relationship. How could such an otherwise beautiful and stable relationship crumble so quickly just because of a crude matter of dollars and cents? 

Our shared vision of a future family, the beautiful child we dreamed about, the cosy home we talked about all felt like naive lies we told ourselves.

Tall, black walls of emotional anguish enveloped me. Our house of cards was being demolished.

She called again, I answered.

“I had been thinking. If we can’t agree on such a fundamental belief, then perhaps, we might not be meant for each other,” I said quietly. She paused. In that heavy pause, the whole world ground to a standstill.

“Why would you…why would you say that?”, she managed a feeble reply, in between muffled sobs.

Right there and then, it struck me how much pain I was causing myself and her. It struck me that the way out of this impasse was not more incisive logic. It struck me that perhaps, just perhaps, I had dead-ended in a maze of my creation.

“Actually, you know what,”, I sighed a breath of relief, “I’ll pay for the house.”


The Givers, The Takers, and The Matchers

When I came across Adam Grant’s work about giving, it gave voice to my growing realization of how my metaphors for relationships had stretched beyond its limits. 

According to Grant, there are 3 broad types of people, namely givers, takers and matchers. Givers derive immense joy from giving to others, takers burn bridges by asking for favours and not giving back, and matchers always seek to balance every favour and thing. If it is not already obvious, I was a true blue matcher.

Though matchers may seem the most pragmatic in this dog-eat-dog world, it is the givers who experience the most unbridled joy in their relationships. 

Rethinking Balance and Seeing Artwork in Relationships

If anything, my most intimate relationships have taught me that this metaphor of balance between 2 people hinders deeper connection. This idea of balance creates a  misconstrued duality between the self and others.

Perhaps a more enriching metaphor is that of a collaborative artwork, where every single brushstroke, regardless of who it came from, adds to the beauty of the infinite, ever-deepening whole. Give selflessly without any expectation of reward, and ironically, you will be rewarded with the most breathtaking and meaningful masterpiece.

If you are wondering, these days I generally pay for meals and she foots the other bills. This is not so much a calculated arrangement as an organic evolution in how we express our contributions to this piece of art we call our relationship. 

We also don’t keep score anymore, but it does seem that somehow, we end up shelling out equal amounts at the end of the day. Maybe, just maybe, the 2 cards don’t need the straining attention of this recovering matcher to balance after all.


Wise Steps:

  • Review how you view and treat your relationships. Are you a giver, taker or matcher?
  • Evaluate if your relationships are where you want them to be. Are they a source of joy and beauty? If not, what are the underlying reasons?
  • In your most important relationships, think of 3 ways in which you can give selflessly, solely for the joy of the other party. Act on them as soon as you can.