Ep 23: How Our Parents Shape Our Romantic Relationships (Ft May Liu, Therapist, Clinical Psychologist)

Ep 23: How Our Parents Shape Our Romantic Relationships (Ft May Liu, Therapist, Clinical Psychologist)

About our guest: Sis May Liu

May Liu, a practising clinical psychologist cum caregiver, who believes in empowering lives by connecting with people. She is a mindfulness practitioner who is passionate about bringing mindfulness to families and couples. She is currently leading Seremban Sudhamma Sunday Dhamma School’s teens and children in learning the Dhamma through group work and exposure to nature. 


[00:00:00] Kai Xin:

Hi there. This is Kai Xin and you’re listening to the Handful of Leaves podcast, where we bring you practical Buddhist wisdom for a happier life. Today’s episode is really interesting. We are going to speak with Sister May, who is a clinical psychologist, about how our parents’ relationship influences our very own romantic relationship, and our outlook on love, marriage and life, and how it influences the way we respond and react to situations around us. All of this has very much to do with our experiences as a child.

Some people would have a very positive outlook on love while others can be downright sceptical and even vouch to stay single for life. Some couples quarrel a lot out of jealousy, fear of abandonment and anxiety, while others seem to communicate pretty well to make each other feel supported, to feel loved.

So what really makes a difference between all these relationships? Now, we first have to look at how we are being shaped by our parents in terms of how we define love, and then try to unlearn certain habitual behaviours that we’ve picked up since we were a child. All of these are what Sis May is going to help us to unpack.

And she’s very generous in sharing her own personal experiences, dealing with her husband, dealing with her ex before she got married, as well as her mother-in-law whom she is now caring for. She also shared a couple of examples from working with her clients in order to help us understand certain concepts, especially the part about identifying what is the underlying cause of all these emotions, and seeing things as they are in order to sustain a healthier relationship.

We will be talking about multigenerational baggage, attachment styles, how do we navigate situations when we have very different styles from our partner, and how do we communicate well and iron out those differences. Whether you’re single, in a relationship or you’re already married, in this episode, you’re going to learn something from it if you were to pay close attention to the contents of the discussion. I really hope you enjoy the episode and learn a lot from it. Without further ado, let’s dive right in.

[00:02:35] Hi, Sister May. We have today, Cheryl and myself chatting with you.

[00:02:41] Cheryl:


[00:02:42] May: Thank you for inviting me.

[00:02:44] Kai Xin:

It’s our pleasure. Sister May, I know that you are very active in the Buddhist scene giving a lot of talks and in your day job as a senior clinical psychologist, you teach people how to parent well. I don’t think I’d do your job justice, so I think it’s better for you to share with our listeners, just very briefly, what you do and what you’re passionate about.

[00:03:06] May:

Thank you Kai Xin. I’m a senior clinical psychologist. I am more like a part-time clinician now. I’m also a caregiver for my mother-in-law who had a stroke and has dementia. In my work, my so-called special expertise is guiding parents on mindful parenting. So I incorporate mindfulness in my work and of course, I do see youths, young adults and all that. So whenever comes to me with concerns, I always have that family at the back of my mind. I want to know how they are being brought up or how they are being shaped in terms of how they see things and experience things.

[00:03:46] Kai Xin:

You mentioned something interesting like how our parents change the way we see things. Can you give a couple of examples and what are some of the common scenarios?

[00:03:56] May: I think a very simple example is our way of doing things perhaps say cleanliness. Some people are not particular about it because the parents did not really emphasized this so much. Perhaps they emphasize their academic work and whatnot, so in terms of personal cleanliness or hygiene, they may not be paying so much attention. In terms of relationships, in a single-parent family, perhaps when the child is in a relationship, they tend to be very careful in terms of relating themself to their partner because they really want to safeguard that relationship. Some become very conscious. They are very alert about how their partner relates to them and all that. So, what they have experienced from their upbringing transpires through their relationships.

[00:04:46] Cheryl:

I think particularly in romantic relationships, the dynamics that we see from our parents is the first time we witness the love between two people. So I remember having this conversation with my friend. A little bit of background, my parents always fight, always quarrel. There’s not a day where you don’t hear them shouting at each other. So I have a rather pessimistic view of relationships or long-term love. So I told my friend, I think relationships are meant to be short-term. If you get together with a person and you don’t feel like the person is contributing, it makes sense for you to go your own ways.

Meanwhile, my friend grew up witnessing a relationship where their parents modelled a lot of loving behaviour even in their sixties, e.g. they’re still saying “I love you very much” and things like that. He had a very optimistic view of relationships. He was saying love is possible to go all the way to the end. It’s the most beautiful thing in the world and things like that. So I found it very surprising because before talking to him, I didn’t realize that people could have that kind of view where a loving relationship is possible after 30-40 years of marriage. So it is just crazy how much our parents can affect our views.

When you gave the example that growing up with a single parent may cause the child to sometimes be very careful with their partner because it’s the love that they don’t want to lose, a thought that came up to me was, “can an apple really fall very far from the tree?” Like, are we able to really not take after the mistakes of our parents and build something positive if all we have seen is negative modelling?

[00:06:33] May:

Of course. You know, like people have the ability to change. They learn and then they change. It requires the intention to shift the dynamic to an ideal one or to a better one. So I always believe that people have the ability to change. For example, in a family, you have a parent who may have modelled not-so-pleasant experiences for their children. Among the children who grew up in the same family, you will see some of them repeating the patterns of their parent’s marriage and some do not, you know? So what is the difference then?

It is how one picks up or learns new things from their exposure. So, as you said, seeing how your friend’s parents are so loving and all, opens up your perspective. That’s how you’ve been nourished and you know that there’s a possibility of a different model of relationship. That gives you hope that there are opportunities and possibilities to shape a more optimistic relationship.

[00:07:35] Kai Xin:

That’s very interesting. Just now you also mentioned that if a person goes through a single parenting kind of experience, they would kind of look at their situation very differently. Cherishing their relationship versus being too careful or very avoidant. You mentioned having more exposure to broaden the view, and you also mentioned something about being deliberate. Can you share a little bit more on how we can be more aware of how this affects us?

[00:08:03] May:

Yeah, definitely. This reminds me of a client. She’s in a relationship now, in her twenties, just graduated from university, currently starting her career. She experienced domestic violence between her parents and her father was absent all the time. She’s the youngest in the family. So she witnessed her siblings’ respective relationships and their marriages as well. After stepping into this relationship, she realized that she clings to her boyfriend so much that her happiness comes almost exclusively from her boyfriend. So there was one occasion when her boyfriend did not reply to her and did not attend her birthday celebration. They were supposed to have a celebration, but he had an emergency and was uncontactable.

So she was very depressed, you know. She wanted to break up and whatnot. She came for a session and of course, we processed all this, right? And one thing that helped her to understand her situation is how her previous experience of witnessing her siblings’ marriages has taught her that if her partner is not attending to her immediately or responding fast enough, there’s something wrong. So when there’s something wrong, her immediate response is to run away, to get out of this. Hence she reacted very strongly to this. But her boyfriend is a policeman. As a policeman, he needs to attend to emergencies and they have to be discreet about their operations at times, right? So that’s the context of the situation where she felt that she cannot spend time with her boyfriend anymore because he cannot be there for her consistently.

So, her distorted perspective on a relationship, of needing a boyfriend who can be there for her 24/7 stems from her childhood and from witnessing her siblings’ marriages where they are not able to communicate well. So she needs a lot of communication from her partner. She needs consistent communication to help her to feel secure, to feel safe. So, I have to really help her to recognize that there are a lot of injuries and wounds — wounds of attachment. It took a lot of trial and error to help her understand what is a normal degree of attachment, or what a normal relationship should look like. There is always give-and-take in certain situations.

She deliberately wants to have a good relationship, that’s for sure. We can see that, right? But her distorted perspective on relationships is something that needs to be done away with. Also, she needs time to heal the attachment wound that she has experienced for such a long time.

[00:11:03] Cheryl:

Can you maybe share a little bit more about attachment wounds?

[00:11:08] May:

Well attachment is the first basic trust that we built since we are born into this world, from zero to two years old. This is where we learn how to trust the outside world. As a baby, we do not have the ability to take care of ourselves. We have to rely on our caregivers.

So whenever we cry, are we given immediate attention? Are we given a response that is caring enough for us to feel safe and secure? Sometimes when our parents do not respond immediately, we keep crying. As a baby, we keep crying until we receive what we need. So some babies learn that they have to cry hard to get attention. They learn to cry harder because when they cry harder, their caregiver will respond. Perhaps, some children may become manipulative. For example, they do a lot of things to make other people happy so as to get their needs fulfilled.

Each of us has attachment wounds of different severity, including you and me here. I wouldn’t say that there is no one without attachment wounds. But how do we heal from attachment wounds which are formed while growing up, how do we build relationships with other people and what are the responses we received externally? Will It help us to heal or will we worsen the injury from within?

[00:12:42] Cheryl:

It reinforces the belief that is unhelpful when the interactions with people become negative.

[00:12:48] May:

Correct. Yeah. So this is very much the interpersonal process of building trust and shaping our worldview.

[00:12:57] Cheryl:

I’m just very curious, do you have any attachment wounds that you’re open to sharing? How has It affected your past relationships or how do you see it show up in your current marriage?

[00:13:07] May:

Um, okay. I do have two relationships before my current marriage. I think the second relationship is the one where I got very, very hurt. But through this relationship, I learnt a very important thing about myself. I stepped into my current marriage because I’ve learnt what is called a moderately good relationship. Of course, in every relationship, we hope that this is our last relationship, right? I don’t know about youths nowadays, but for a person who seeks a serious relationship, we always want our first relationship to be the last one.

So, what happened in that relationship? The relationship was actually not approved by the ex-boyfriend’s family. So, we had to break up because of that. At one time, I was very resentful. Why did we have to submit to our parent’s wishes despite being so in love? We always say that love is between two people. What I’ve learnt from it is that our parents are also part of our relationship. Although they’re not directly involved, we carry them behind us as we enter into a relationship.

So what I can see is that when she disapproved of our relationship, my instinct was to rebel. I want to prove to her that she was wrong for not choosing me. You know, I had that kind of ego. I modelled this behaviour after my mother. My mother was always like, “I’m not going to bend down to you. If you look down on me, I’ll strive to do even better.” I’m a fighter, you know, my mom too. So I really realized that this was how my mom fought with my father.

So, in my current marriage, I’m living with my parents-in-law. I do appreciate this because I know a lot of youth nowadays, even if they’re married, they will choose not to live with their parents-in-law. But I can see that when I’m living with my parents-in-law, I can understand my husband much, much better, and I can empathize with his situation. Somehow he also appreciates me more because I show appreciation to his parents by taking care of them. So I guess, that’s my give-and-take in the relationship. While I’m learning how to rebel reasonably, I also learn to respect more. I think this is an important lesson that I learnt. What didn’t happen in my parents’ relationship is now happening in my own marriage.

[00:16:09] Kai Xin:

Thanks for sharing. So if I can put what you have shared in clear steps:

  1. We need to first be aware of our behaviours and then investigate because behaviours usually have some form of hidden expectations, right?
  2. Then, we re-evaluate what are the causes. Is it caused by our parents? How does it translate to our current relationship?
  3. And then we rebuild and repair.

And I’m thinking, at which point in the journey did you become aware that there is this cause and effect? Is it when you feel really angry, or do you have to be deliberate in reflecting all the time, even when things are peaceful and calm? How can we build healthier relationships through whatever we have just discussed?

[00:16:58] May:

Of course when you are in the mud, you need to learn how to survive. Or maybe to stand still and really look at what else can be done differently. I will say that actually, I learn a lot when I’m experiencing challenges. Those situations or those challenges, on a day-to-day basis, can be small things like, not replying to messages or forgetting something, to big things like perhaps sickness or trauma. I find that when I was drawn to challenges, especially those associated with romantic relationships, I really needed a lot of space to talk and express my feelings and thoughts.

I was lucky that I had my friend’s support at that time and I had the time to reflect on what is actually happening because I was finger-pointing. It’s very hard for me to reflect on myself when I was hurt. I was caught up in thinking that I was hurt, I was injured by another person. That was my younger self.

What I’m learning now is that when I’m able to practice meditation or mindfulness more often, I find myself really at peace when I look at my own struggles from within, instead of blaming others. For example, now that I’m taking care of my mother-in-law. She’s in a lot of pain and has a lot of difficulties. She cannot move easily. So every time I move her, she will grumble and shout. So every day I have to really practice patience and acceptance of who she is.

When I’m not mindful, I will always think — “Is she making my task more difficult?” But when I am able to be more mindful, I can see that this is what she is because she is in so much pain, so much discomfort, that I’m the only person to whom she can express her anger and frustration. I am not the cause of her anger. I kept reflecting on this for a long time to realize that the anger I was feeling stemmed from my expectations of how she should behave, how she should appreciate my effort and all that. So, I realized that, wow, okay, it was me. The ‘I’, the ‘mine’, the ‘self’, was polluted by my own expectations, and that made me struggle to connect with my mother-in-law.

So this realization only came quite recently, even though I’ve been practising for a few years. This was a breakthrough moment. So, I really see that daily practice is important. We might not be getting there so easily, but every little effort we make, however small, still brings us one step or maybe one baby step forward.

[00:20:11] Kai Xin:

I’m curious, how do you get that sense of expectation for reciprocity? And did that also strain your relationship with your husband if it’s not too personal to share? Because typically romantic relationship is affected by our parents as well, right?

[00:20:27] May:

Yeah, definitely. My husband and my mother-in-law do not have a good relationship, but they still somewhat maintain a cordial relationship. Many times, I am the middle person. So I do have that feeling of “why me?”, you know. “I’m the external party”, I can say that very easily since I’m the so-called outsider in the family.

So this is where the ‘me’, the ‘mine’, the ‘I’ come in so strongly, creating this kind of boundary which makes me feel that I am not supposed to be involved. I will also try to throw the responsibility back to him.

[00:21:11] Cheryl:

finger-pointing and blaming.

[00:21:12] May:

Yeah, correct. The finger-pointing comes out again. I realized that when I’m not able to take care of myself, it happens. When I’m burnt out or overwhelmed, then, of course, it will burn my husband as well. But, I’m happy that, when I complain and all, I am given the cuddles and the listening ear that I need from my husband. Even though he doesn’t help much, he’s there to listen. “Oh, okay. Okay. I understand. 辛苦了,辛苦了。” which translates to : Thanks for your hard work.

This soothes me a little bit so that I know I can continue, I’m not alone on that journey, even though I expect him to help me more physically. But, I know that there are certain challenges between him and his mother. So, what I can see here is that this kind of parent-child baggage really takes courage and intention to confront so that you can slowly reconcile with your parents. I felt that it benefited me a lot to know what is moderately good. I do not have to be good, but moderately good. I think that is good enough.

[00:22:38] Cheryl:

That’s interesting. Moderately good is good enough. So I guess what we can say is, there isn’t going to be a perfect relationship, be it with your partner or your partner’s family. And as long as you’re able to be content with what is going well, finding the goodness in what is going well, that would make it good enough, is that right?

[00:23:02] May:

The contentment comes from really understanding the nature of things. The nature of things is just how things are. They have been living in such a situation and things have been done in this nature for a long time.

When we are there, if we do not have enough understanding, we may not be content with such a situation. We want to change things, we want to have our way and we want to perhaps insert new things. So it really takes a long time to get to understand and accept the nature of things as they are. That is really the contentment that makes you know, “Ah, this is good enough”.

[00:23:46] Cheryl:

I think like as a Buddhist, right, I want to be very wary about this contentment as accepting it as good enough in a very resigned way. You’re just like “算了 (Forget it)”. The opposite of that would be, “I think I deserve better. I should get more. I should do more”. It’s very hard to balance.

Just tying it back to what you mentioned just now about attachment wounds, everyone hurts differently. Everyone has been conditioned differently. So how do you know you’re doing yourself justice in the sense that, you are fulfilling your needs as a result of your attachment wounds versus settling for, uh…

[00:24:35] Kai Xin:

Settling for less?

[00:24:37] Cheryl:

Not, not settling for less, but you’re trying to not live with an unhelpful coping mechanism. Does it make sense?

[00:24:45] May:

Um, how do we still have our own individuality while we are living as a couple or we are living as a family? So, this is where you really have to understand that before we say that we can understand other people, we have to first understand ourselves. How much do we accept ourselves? Improvement is not wrong but this tendency of wanting something to be better always comes from desire. And this desire arises because most of the time we want to feel good; it pushes us to do something. So, we need to be aware of how we feel when we come into contact with certain things before we try to change things. These feelings that arise, where do they come from? They come from our consciousness. They come from our past experiences, right?

For example, whenever your mother is not responding to you, you feel bad about it. Now, if you were in a relationship and you want to improve your relationship, and when your husband, boyfriend or partner didn’t talk to you about certain things, your past experience or your memory about that unpleasant feeling of abandonment arises. You do not like this of course. You want to change this, right? So then you will try to talk a little bit more or maybe do different things to please him or to get him back. You might make him a good meal to get him back, or you might dress better or make yourself more attractive, right?

Is that right or wrong? There’s no right or wrong, but are we aware that it’s the unpleasant past experience of abandonment that causes us to keep blaming others? “Oh, you know, I’ve put in so much effort already, but you are still not responding to me. Is there something you are not happy about or are you not content with me?”

We’re pointing fingers, again, right? So we must have an understanding of this. Well, of course, when you understand this abandonment, it’s very scary. And now that you want to talk again, we can first soothe ourselves by knowing that it’s okay to give our partner some space. I can also give myself the space to work with my inner child a little bit more, to know that I am worthy of this love. I don’t need to rush on changing anything. I just need to be patient. So be patient with myself, give myself some time and I’ll continue to do my own thing, but I’m also giving space for the other person to come back to me.

Of course, I will express myself because I also want him to connect with me. I will express that I really want to talk to him again. But I can also learn to soothe myself knowing that I don’t need to keep worrying about whether or not he will come back to me. I don’t need to keep trying to do more so that he will come back to me. So I’m not sure if I’m answering what Cheryl has asked directly. Correct me if I’m wrong.

[00:28:26] Cheryl:

I think you, you answered it very, very powerful way. I feel that what you essentially highlighted is that a lot of times we focus on the momentum and the energy of frustration and anxiety, and we try to solve that, right? And sometimes, the more you try to fix that, it gets a little bit more rigid.

But actually, you bring the awareness that we need to understand what is the narrative we are holding behind all these kinds of emotions. And that will help us to be able to recognize what is actually going on here and to then turn around and soothe the anxious little inner child inside that is actually calling for attention or in a way wailing for some sort of attention.

Kai Xin, do you have any thoughts?

[00:29:14] Kai Xin:

I think fear of abandonment, on the flip side, what if a person is avoidant? I kind of fit under that category. So when you put an avoidant person and a person who has the fear of abandonment, and you ask the question like, okay, I’ll just wait for the person to come back, wouldn’t there be more friction? And how can we navigate that kind of situation?

[00:29:38] May:

Thanks for asking this question. There are different patterns of attachment. Actually, there are four patterns of attachment if you will have to categorize them. These are between parent and child.

  1. Secure attachment
  2. Avoidant attachment
  3. Anxious attachment
  4. Disorganized attachment

So for a person who has more of an avoidant attachment style, when they have any concerns, they may avoid it. Correct me if I’m wrong Kai Xin. If I understand you correctly when you’re in a conflict, perhaps you will tend to not want to talk about it or do you want to talk about it?

[00:30:19] Kai Xin:

It’s more of like, give me some space to process things first. I don’t really wanna tackle the issue head-on, I’m not ready yet. Yeah, like say if my partner was to feel anxious, then it would be quite difficult to deal with right? Just like, talk to me, tell me what’s wrong, then how do you reconcile? Because on one hand, I have my needs, like give me space. If my partner feels that the space creates anxiety, how can one navigate that situation?

[00:30:48] May:

In a situation like this, perhaps for the avoidant type, he or she could learn to give a timeline because when you work with another person who has an anxious attachment style, setting expectations will be helpful, to know that, “Hey, I will come back to you, you know, give me two days to think about that.” This would also help the person with an avoidant attachment style learn how to face it. Maybe it is very hard to talk about issues for the avoidant type because they want to avoid unpleasant situations. To handle a conflict, it becomes very scary, you know. So, how to stay through the unpleasant feeling is what the avoidant type can learn, instead of running away. You can choose not to say anything, but to stay there and not go away. Just be present. Yeah. I think that’s a big learning, takes a lot of courage for the person to stay there.

[00:31:58] Kai Xin:

Yeah, that’s very helpful. So it’s about understanding, yes, I have my needs, but I can’t run away forever. I need to find a common ground. Yeah, that’s helpful.

To wrap up our chat, do you have any practical daily practice that we can adopt to build stronger relationships? How frequently should we check in with our partners or how frequently should we reflect on our behaviours and how that’s linked to our relationship with our parents or our parents’ relationship with each other? Yeah. Any practical advice?

[00:32:40] May:

For me, it’s the practice of mindfulness, to anchor yourself in terms of being able to stay still whether or not you are facing any challenges. Learning how to stay still is very, very helpful.

You can spend some time to come back to your breathing every day, just to really take a moment to be with your present breath, your bodily sensations. That’s always very helpful. In psychology, we call it grounding. In our day-to-day tasks, there are so many things happening – conversations, thoughts, ideas, problem-solving, etc. So it’s very much, up here, you know. The mind is always actively thinking and processing information. So to have time to ground ourselves, to come back to the body, to the sensations, to the senses, is very helpful. We know that our hands still feel, our legs still touch, our tongues still taste, our noses still breathe well and all that.

And of course, if there is also an opportunity to reflect, say, for example, to really allow yourself to hold space to be with the feeling, it is also very helpful. I know that a lot of youths will sometimes say “I don’t know how I feel. I just feel blank. I just want to lie down and do nothing. I just feel like not doing anything.” So this is where the need to be with one’s feelings and emotions arises. When they are overwhelmed or when they finish one thing, they will experience the emptiness, you know, a sensation of emptiness. It’s actually not empty if you really look into it. Maybe there are so many feelings that you can’t even name one. It is a sense of loss perhaps.

Do we have time for ourselves to write or to express ourselves? Do we express to friends or write to ourselves, like, “Hey, you know, how have you been doing?” Do we spend time getting in touch with nature? We could just sit there and enjoy the wind and the air, and just be surrounded by nature. This is to take care of our own feelings and our own senses so that we are not so lost. We are carried away by too many things in our life that we forget how to be in touch with our feelings and our inner child. To have a space to express ourselves, whether it’s by being in nature, by writing something, by drawing something, or maybe just by sitting down and meditating, is very important. Yeah, just be, just be.

[00:35:52] Kai Xin:

It’s interesting how you bring it back to ourselves. When we stabilize our inner child, meet our own needs and be able to self-soothe, then our relationship with our partners would be so much healthier because it’s not like we are trying to fill a void or a form of lack, and our behaviour around them would also change because our needs are met then, you know, it becomes a lot happier to be around with the person and, we can truly be present. This shifts my mindset a little bit. Thank you very much. It all goes back to inner work and understanding the causes and conditions.

[00:36:30] May:

Yeah. The person we need to connect with is ourselves before we can connect with another person.

[00:36:39] Cheryl:

To wrap it up, thank you Sister May for sharing a lot.

We started with understanding how a lot of how we react is also because of our parents, our upbringing, the dynamics that we observe from them, and the kind of interactions that we learn from them. And obviously the kind of exposure that we learn from our friends, from the different kinds of relationships we see modelled around us can change our views too.

We also talk about really understanding what the root cause is in terms of your distress and frustration, and really trying to understand that many kinds of healing can happen from within. Thanks so much for sharing all the practical ways that we could use mindfulness to help us to ground and like you say, just be.

Yeah. Thank you so much for coming onto this episode.

[00:37:27] May:

Thank you, thank you for having me and sharing on this interesting topic.

[00:37:33] Kai Xin:

Thank you.

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3 wise dating tips to keep you away from the hell realm of dating

3 wise dating tips to keep you away from the hell realm of dating

TLDR: Single and in your late twenties? Mabel shares her stories of realisation and wisdom from navigating the dating world. From opening the door to your heart to understanding the drawbacks of mundane love, this article explores deeper into struggles of dating in the environment which pushes us to find romantic love.

Being single in your late twenties seems to scream that you are broken and bad. It feels like a problem that needs to be fixed. 

A life devoid of romantic love is often painted to be imperfect and empty. And although I’ve been happily single and mostly unperturbed by narratives like these, my immunity has been waning the older I get. I feel pressure, shame, and anxiety. Dating used to be fun and exciting, but now it feels like a chore.

Dating leaves us feeling vulnerable, afraid and imperfect. 

It is such a courageous thing we do – showing up for complete strangers, opening up to them, and letting them into our lives. No matter how many times I’ve done it, it still scares me. I’m so thankful to have met with nice people and formed genuine connections. Looking back, I’ve made mistakes and probably caused some hurt, but it is also through experiences like these that I learn about myself. 

Here are a few things I’ve learned as a twentysomething navigating the dating scene:

Tip 1: Opening the door to your heart

During the dating process, I noticed a lot of self-sabotaging tendencies that emanate from feeling not good enough. 

I felt the need to have achieved certain things or look a certain way before I am worthy of romantic love. 

I would meet nice guys who show interest, and think to myself: ‘oh, he can’t be interested in me, he’s too good for me’. I would be fearful that they would see my flaws and lose interest.

Using dating apps magnified this feeling of inadequacy. I felt like a two-dimensional, searchable item looking to fit into someone’s dating checklist. 

I had to take on society’s demands and live up to its expectations to feel worthy of love.

These feelings of imperfection and deficiency stemming from a strong sense of self could lead to love prone to impurities and more suffering. We could end up being in relationships that don’t serve us, or find a partner for the wrong reasons. 

Only when we extend loving-kindness to ourselves can we examine love with a neutral mind, and know when to keep trying or when to end things. 

I read renowned Australian monk Ajahn Brahm’s Opening The Door To Your Heart 10 years ago, and I’ve always thought the key message was being kind to others. The story, I realised, was about opening the doors of our hearts to ourselves as well.

You do not have to be perfect, without fault, to give yourself love. If you wait for perfection, it never arrives. We must open the door of our hearts to ourselves, whatever we have done.

Tip 2: Understanding the drawbacks of mundane love

I extended this unreasonable yardstick for worthiness to my partners. After ending things with a few guys, I unwillingly acknowledged that perhaps I’m part of the problem.

The Buddha points out that we suffer due to cravings that arise when we don’t understand ourselves. I unpacked my approach towards dating and saw how easily put off I am by signs of flaws and recognised the ideals and desires I projected onto others.

These are desires not rooted in reality, and I was creating suffering for myself.

Dating apps with their filtering functions and abundance of choice give us the illusion that there is a perfect human being out there.  I loved the idea that I would find someone with instant and perfect compatibility. 

But the truth is there are no relationships with no conflicts, and we will always have to work through inevitable differences.

Conditioned things are impermanent and unsatisfactory. We and our partners, as unenlightened beings, will always have our own sets of defilements which will render the dating process unsatisfactory at times. 

Almost all of us reach dating age with some form of wound or trauma. Perhaps the more space we can allow for the deficiencies of love and the flawed reality of nature, the better chance we’ll have at being good at love. 

Suffering ends when ignorance-based cravings end, not when you find ‘true love’.

Tip 3: Knowing what you want and communicating it

When I started using dating apps, I knew I was looking for a committed relationship with someone who shares similar values. So I would swipe left on guys who were looking for something casual, or guys who ‘don’t know yet’ simply because our goals were not aligned. 

I believe this saved me a lot of time and heartache. During the dating process, I have found it helpful to communicate these goals and needs.

Don’t assume that they will figure it out on their own, or that they should know these things instinctively.

It is worth investigating what we are looking for in a relationship. Are we hoping to end suffering with love? Are we looking for an antidote to boredom? Are we hoping to gain coarse rewards through this relationship such as sexual pleasure, wealth, social status, or fame? Is this kind of relationship sustainable? 

I reflect on these questions quite a bit.

It is when both partners are ethical, of good character, and equal in standard of conduct that they can live together enjoying all the pleasures they desire. (Numbered Discourses 4.53 Living Together). Perhaps we could use this as a guide when dating.

Dating is a skill and something we can learn to be better at through experience.  By practising more qualities of metta (the superior kind of love), we can strive to be one who neither suffers from this dating process nor be the cause of others’ suffering.

Wise Steps:

  • Be respectful and kind, and treat the other person the way you would like to be treated. 
  • If you’re feeling burnt out from dating, take a break, don’t go through the process mindlessly.  Enjoy the beauty of being single.   
  • Reflect on what you’ve learned from previous relationships or dates. Did it teach you something about what you want and don’t want? What are the ideals, desires and expectations that you tend to project onto others?
  • Be gentle with yourself, you’re doing great. 
#WW🥰: Dhamma advice for hopeless romantics…a nun shares more

#WW🥰: Dhamma advice for hopeless romantics…a nun shares more

Wholesome Wednesdays (WW): Bringing you curated positive content on Wednesdays to uplift your hump day.

As more peers get married, there is sometimes a creeping sense of urgency to find a partner. How should we react to the idea of love? For those in love, how do we maintain our relationship through the tough and easy times?

1. Waiting for someone to ‘supply’ you love? Think again

2. Curiousity may kill the cat…but not your relationship

Waiting for someone to ‘supply’ you love? Think again

woman on bike reaching for man's hand behind her also on bike

What’s going on here

Venerable Tenzin Palmo, a Tibetan Buddhist nun, shares why and how we should rethink the way we approach love. Most people fall in love with the idea of love and not the person. She explains, in under 4 mins, why that is a tricky approach to understanding love.

Why we like it

As we grow through the stages of life and see more friends get married…we may feel the rush to settle down. But Tenzin Palmo reminds us to chill and first understand ourselves. We have to first be fulfilled before ‘chasing’ love.

“They think that the more they hold on to someone, the more that it shows that they care about that. But it is not, they are trying to grasp at something because they are afraid that they themselves might be hurt.”

“Attachment says ‘I love you therefore i want you to make me happy’. Genuine love says ‘I love you and I want you to be happy.’ “

Wise Steps

Reflect on our idea of love. Is it attachment or real love? The more we grasp, the more afraid we are to lose.

Watch the video here!

See what we wrote on expectations and finding love

Curiousity may kill the cat…but not your relationship

black and white cat lying on brown bamboo chair inside room
Unsplash: The cat

What’s going on here

@alifecoloredamber, a therapist, shares how we can reshape the way we ask questions in our relationship to build deeper bonds.

Why we like it

This short post reminds us of actionable ways we can interact with our partners. When tough times strike us, we often resort to destructive ways of communication. Amber, the therapist, gives us ways to rewire our communication style.

“Remember, you both come to life with your own subjective experiences, and making assumptions is often damaging.”

Wise Steps

Follow her tips for a happier and more curious relationship!

#WW: 🤭And…I wish I didn’t say that

#WW: 🤭And…I wish I didn’t say that

Wholesome Wednesdays (WW): Bringing you curated positive content on Wednesdays to uplift your hump day.

We often talk about finding love. However, it is rare to talk about how we can maintain love. With Valentine’s Day just flying pass us, how do we maintain relationships? (Clue: It has nothing to do with creating catchy couple hashtags). Here are two stories we have got for you today!

1. How to not screw up your relationship with poor communication

2. Overthinking? This horse’s advice might help you

How to not screw up your relationship with poor communication

purple and yellow abstract painting
Unsplash: Poor Communication

What’s going on here

Nawal, an Instagrammer who talks about neurology, shares four ways we can screw up our relationships by communicating wrongly. Avoid the four horsemen: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling. Use the antidotes she recommends!

Why we like it

Nawal places the 4 things to avoid in a relationship in a very accessible manner with the solutions to them. We all have tendencies to fall into one of these traps especially when talking about difficult topics in a relationship/friendship. Don’t kick the can down the road and engage mindfully and holistically!

“When the conflict becomes too much to handle, people might fade out of the conversation by turning away, staying quiet, replying with one word, or completely ignoring the partner. This is ineffective because it’s an evasive response where no problems are solved.”

Wise Steps

Be very mindful of any of these horsemen in your relationships. Capture them before they capture you

Read it here or below

2. Overthinking? This horse’s advice might help you

woman covering eyes with hand

What’s going on here

A Grenfell Firefighter shares how he overcomes overthinking by borrowing a quote from The Boy, the mole, the fox, and the horse. He shares how that quote helps us to shift from a huge far-away goal towards our next step.

Why we like it

“Think long term!” can sometimes be jarring advice as we navigate an uncertain world. This Tiktok video helps us to prioritise what matters now and reduce the overthinkers in us.

“We look at how long a journey it is and feel overwhelmed. Instead of thinking of that. Just go right, I am not going to worry about that because that will come”

Wise Steps

Sometimes we tend to tie our self worth to huge outcomes, crippling us from taking the first step. Maybe just start by taking the steps ahead of us!

Enjoy the video here or below!

Ticking Boxes to Find your Life Partner? Here is what I Realised

Ticking Boxes to Find your Life Partner? Here is what I Realised

TLDR: It is not uncommon to start any connections/interactions with exchanging expectations, the transactional nature in mind. Have we stopped and asked ourselves, is that helpful in living fulfilling enriching relationships?

“You have changed” – this ran through my mind when my then-boyfriend told me he preferred to spend the weekend apart from each other after long busy weeks at work when we had plans to meet. Little did I know that it marks the beginning of my conscious contemplation of what a ‘life partnership’ constitutes.

Long story short, we spent the final moments of our ‘relationship’ trying to point fingers at each other and wanting to change the other person into the ideal image in our mind.

I was exhausted and felt I have turned into this ugly person (not figuratively, of course 😊) and called it off. 

Having been immersed in personal development themes for some time now, I took the subsequent weeks and months to reflect and review. “What was that experience trying to teach me?”, “What have I learnt from it and how will I respond in a more helpful way for the relationship in future?” – these questions were coming up, nudging me to honestly find answers within. 

Life Keeps Sending You Messages…Are You Receiving Them?

It is true, life will keep sending the same lessons in one form or another if we did not fully understand the whole message the first time around. Deeper reflection surfaced to me that I was holding onto certain expectations strongly. 

The idea that my boyfriend should be caring, consistent with his words and actions, generous – written in ‘the list’ (no joke, I did have a list of 10 qualities of a life partner!). 

On the surface, it might seem reasonable to have expectations for someone I consider spending the rest of my life with (or however long it turns out to be). Many relationship experts even encourage both parties to clarify expectations early and regularly to avoid future misalignment or disappointment.

While I am not speaking against these experts, I have now taken another angle to this topic. 

Reviewing my experience to date, I realise I have adopted my parents and society’s view that I need to have the career, the spouse and the child(ren) to be considered successful in life (whatnot with my mom’s regular comment of “You are my only worry now, that your brothers have their own families”). 

There were rebel days when I challenged my mom with “Is my life purpose only to get married and have children then?” which she had no ready and convincing answer to. 

Ticking The Boxes Of Society

Sure, many are happy with ticking these boxes and it is not the intention to reduce those ‘accomplishments’ and make them any less. I too would find joy in simple family life, at the same time I have the inkling there is more to life than just ticking the boxes. 

I restarted contemplation practice in silence, coinciding with the Circuit Breaker period which gave much-needed space for such retrospection.

Various thoughts and feelings arose; from questioning my worth as an individual, to swinging moods of wanting to take back my decision – all are valid experiences, though might not be the truth. 

I dutifully journal the thoughts that arise during those sessions and find myself acquainted with a friend who nudges me to review my beliefs and expectations on everything. This included the impermanent nature of life, personal relationship expectations.

And the journey begins.. more questions surface “Who’s to say life has to be lived only this way?”, “How can I be sure that my expectations are reasonable?”, “Where have I picked up these beliefs, do I truly believe them?”. With more contemplation, the questions get deeper and more challenging. And I face them one after another as there isn’t much to lose. 

Monologues And Realisations

The first realisation arises: this person is not my boyfriend, he is a person of his own – with his habits, preferences and nature of mind. I cannot dictate how he should behave to my liking and not to my disliking. 

It was my strong grasping of an image of how he should be that contributed to the arguments and blames. It was almost like I had these monologues in my mind during our interactions – “You do this, that’s why I love you”, “You are like that, and I dislike that part of you”. Although it is part of human experience to have preferences, it does not mean these preferences are the be-all and end-all. 

It is okay to have them, it is even more important to be aware of them as they are, preferences – which is also changeable.

The outside world serves as a mirror to me, reflecting the part that I value and dislike of myself. Being clear on my values serves as the lighthouse for life’s journey, though it is not my position to demand that others align to them

In the case they do have similar values, we might have a great time together! Otherwise, it is an opportunity for me to expand my worldview or even practice being kind to others who are different from me. At the end of the day, there is no need to see me and others as opponents in a battle.

Wanting to be with someone with qualities in the list is probably not as within my control as being someone with those qualities. 

And if I need to ask for someone to be a decent human being (there might be judgment here too), he/she is probably not someone whom I want to associate with, at least not for long. 

Even more, wanting someone to be a certain way so that I feel pleasure or ‘happy’ is fleeting – like trying to draw on the sandy beach, it will be wiped out by each splash of waves. 

That pleasure and happiness will change when (not if) the person changes for whatever reason. As we learn, the nature of life is ever-changing – the impermanence lesson which we are trying to truly understand.

Of course, I have not decoded the mystery of relationships and dare not claim to know even a tiny bit of it. This is my learning so far, and I have felt more peace today with what is than ever before. Who knows, life might consider me receiving the message now and send me another lesson to learn 😊

Wise steps:

  • Understand the difference between grasping on expectations and practising our life values

  • Embodying values within ourselves, rather than demanding the qualities from others, will bring about a more peaceful state of mind

  • Whenever there is an inclination to place a source of pleasure on something or someone, pause and ask “is this right action based on right view?”