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Monday, July 9, 2018

Six Signs You're in a Healthy Relationship

*This article was originally published on Thought Catalog.*

Over the weekend, I scrolled through some old notes on my phone and stumbled across a few entries in a private folder titled, "People." I had completely forgotten about this folder and quickly remembered that it contained juicy files about my ex-boyfriends: things they did, qualities they possessed, aspects about them that I admired and disliked. I used to write down every little thing about the men I dated as a way of analyzing whether or not our relationship was successful and how closely this person compared to the ideal version of the boyfriend I wanted to date. These notes were also a reminder of the positive and endearing qualities that I saw in my significant other, especially when I needed a personal reminder after a fight or if I was questioned about my relationship by close friends.

After reading my old entries, I realized that I never took any notes about my current relationship, with a person whom I've been friends with for three years now. That's not to say we haven't gotten in fights or that I haven't doubted my decision to be in a serious relationship as a fresh college graduate, but there aren't many aspects of us, of him, or of myself in this relationship, that I need convincing of. Part of maturing and becoming more self-aware is understanding what you need in a relationship, what makes a relationship work, and recognizing when you have something good. It's refreshing to be with a person who brings me peace of mind and values our friendship above all else. So with that being said, I've made a list of signs that you'll probably notice if you're in a healthy, hopefully, long-lasting relationship.

1. You are like-minded and have similar values

If you're in a healthy relationship, you share similar values and aspirations. You may have different personalities and ways of achieving certain goals, but ultimately these goals are the same. My boyfriend and I had similar childhoods and experiences growing up and we have comparable temperaments, so we often joke that we're the same person in respective boy/girl form. We're both restless when it comes to staying in one place, enjoy feeding our artistic sides, and need time for ourselves. This is not to say we agree on everything or that we're carbon copies of each other, but we're like-minded when it comes to the things that matter most.

2. You respect each other and maintain your own identities

You value one another as individuals and maintain your own identities in the relationship. You are respectful of each other's lives and privacy, giving you time to nurture different aspects of your own life, including your career, family, and friends. My boyfriend knows that I need enough space to reconnect with myself and be productive in achieving my own goals, but he also gives me enough attention and care that I feel loved. Your significant other is genuinely happy about your accomplishments and trusts you to make your own decisions and carry yourself in the world.

3. You feel balanced and safe

It's a huge warning sign if the majority of stress in your life is caused by your partner. In a healthy relationship, you don't wonder whether or not your significant other cares about you, or values you as a person. You feel free to express your opinions and needs, and you can be vulnerable and honest with each other, even when disagreeing. If your partner is away or you're in a long-distance relationship, you might feel lonely, but you don't feel hopelessly alone. A friend recently said to me, "You must be really happy. You barely vent about him!" That's not to say I don't talk about my relationship with others, but there's not much to whine about. It's the least drama-filled aspect of my life. I rarely worry that my boyfriend doesn't get me, or doesn't understand how I'm feeling. I don't constantly check my phone to see if he texted or called, nor do I have to talk to him every day. I know that even if we don't speak for a while, we'll circle back and check up on one another because we care.

4. They make you a better person, without trying to change who you are

There's no such thing as a perfect partner, but there's something about the way your significant other acts or treats you that makes you want to be a better person. They do not try to change your character or disposition, but inspire you to continue improving yourself. If I ask my boyfriend for advice, he gives me an honest answer, even if it's not what I want to hear. Your significant other helps you reflect on the decisions you've made in the past, and think about how to approach situations in the future. They challenge and push you outside of your comfort zone, but ultimately give you the confidence you need to succeed.

5. You can talk about the future

In most relationships, timing is everything. Life is always changing and there's a lot that's out of our control, but talking about the future is a healthy way of communicating with your partner. It's not a topic that you avoid even if you're scared, but a way of acknowledging that despite uncertainty, you feel safe in your relationship. You don't feel anxious about the direction your relationship is going. My boyfriend and I don't know where we'll be in two years, but we're willing to support each other's dreams, however way we can. You are able to talk about the future in a way that isn't terrifying and you both recognize that when it comes to you two, a relationship isn't all or nothing.

6. You're happy with yourself 

Healthy relationships are full of laughter, fun, and intimacy in the simplest ways. This can range from inside jokes to playing video games to kissing goodbye in the morning. You're happy to learn everything about your significant other, like the name of their childhood pet or their favorite place to order a Chimichanga. My boyfriend has a weird obsession with clouds, can't make a sunny-side-up egg to save his life, and likes to sleep on the left side of the bed. These seemingly insignificant details are intimate parts of his past that embody who he is. In a healthy relationship, you take the time to really get to know each other, learning about yourself along the way. For me, that means being with a person who appreciates art and music as much as I do and understands the need to talk about everything, including emotions. If you're not happy with yourself and confident in the way you express love, you're not in the right relationship.

Most people have unrealistic expectations for a relationship. Books and movies tell us that opposites attract and sparks have to be flying 24/7, but that's just not the reality of life. Sometimes you'll be bored, frustrated, angry, or downright miserable. The real question is whether or not you value each other enough to make the relationship work regardless of hardship and change. There's always a reason to end things, but if you're with someone who treats and understands you like a genuine friend would, you'll want the best for each other. This is a relationship worth holding onto.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

I Have Lost My Way

*This review was originally posted on Teenreads.com*

Three strangers. Three different lives. One day. What could ever happen? Gayle Forman’s newest young adult novel, I Have Lost My Way, brings together three characters who are each grieving in their own way. Loss is at the center of the novel, but so is friendship and fate, and how pure chance can bring you the people you need the most at just the right times.

The story takes place over the course of one day and is broken up with flashbacks that reveal how Freya, Harun and Nathaniel have all lost something important to them. Freya, a rising popstar, has just lost her voice. Harun has lost the love of his life. Nathaniel has lost the most important person to him, his father. The teens are brought together after a series of strange events, and although each character’s background differs dramatically from the others, their shared feelings of grief bind them together in a strange and powerful way.

Forman’s writing is very lyrical and the story is fast-paced. Forman is effective at slowly revealing each character’s history through alternating chapters and points of view, and having the narrative switch back and forth between past and present. While each character’s loss seems surface-level at first, it quickly becomes apparent that these weren’t just things that were taken from them, but essential parts of their identities that have become the core of what makes each of them special, and what keeps them going.

The level of representation in this novel is also impressive. Freya is a half-Ethiopian girl who has a complex relationship with her older sister, Sabrina. The backstory to their relationship was a page-turner for me, and I kept wanting to see how their sibling rivalry would play out in the end. Harun, a Pakistani boy, is figuring out how to reconcile his sexuality with his family’s religion. He’s expected to marry a Muslim girl, but Harun is hopelessly in love with his ex-boyfriend, James. Nathaniel is blind in one eye and struggling with depression after his father’s death. All his life, Nathaniel has coped with his father’s strange childlike tendencies: his inability to live in reality and his insistence that they are a “fellowship of two” like Frodo and Sam in The Lord of the Rings. It’s clear that Forman has done her research and has done the best she could to portray these characters in an authentic way.

Aside from delving into important discussions about identity, race and mental health, Forman shows a messier, more complicated side of New York City rather than the romanticized version that you find in most young adult novels. This is partly due to the time she spends on scenes with each of the character’s families, in different parts of the city. The only aspect of the book that I wished Forman spent more time developing was the relationship between Freya and Nathaniel, which developed at a pace that seemed a bit unrealistic for a one-day romance.

Although the book is mainly about loss, it is ultimately a hopeful story. I was emotionally invested in every character, and I am left with a satisfied feeling knowing that by supporting one another, Freya, Harun and Nathaniel were able to overcome their struggles. This book was everything I expected from Gayle Forman.

Rating: 4/5

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Wicked Charm

*This review was originally posted on Teenreads.com*

After moving to the murky swamps of Georgia with her family, Willow Bell is warned to stay away from her new neighbor, Beau Caldwell. He’s mysterious, cold-blooded and on the top of the suspect list for a series of murders in their small town. But there’s just something that draws Willow to him. When the dead bodies of young girls begin to surface, Willow questions whether or not she should trust her instincts about Beau. Part-murder mystery, part-love story, Wicked Charm, Amber Hart’s young adult romantic thriller will appeal to fans of Pretty Little Liars and April Henry.

On first look, you’d think that a love story set in the Okefenokee swamp—a location that also serves as a murder scene—would be odd, but somehow Amber Hart makes it work. Willow and Beau fall in love with each other from the moment Willow sets foot in the small town. The story is told from the alternating perspectives of Willow and Beau. From Willow’s perspective, there’s something captivating and mysterious about Beau, and she’s determined to find out what he’s hiding. From Beau’s view, Willow is totally unlike the other girls he’s dated. She sees right through the walls he puts up to protect his heart from being broken, again.

Wicked Charm is a fun, late-night read with a charming romance and a mystery to keep you on your toes. The unusual setting of Georgia’s creepy woods and swamps made a fabulous backdrop for a serial killer’s rampage. Additionally, the multilayered characters of Gran and Grandpa Caldwell offered a different perspective from the younger generations. Charlotte, Beau’s sassy twin sister, had a cool exterior that was a refreshing contrast to Willow’s more reserved temperament. I’m new to Amber Hart’s books, but found her writing style to be simple, fast-paced and compelling. Reading Wicked Charm was like slipping into bed with a cup of coffee and a warm blanket.

Although there were things to love, the plot of the book was predictable and the main characters often read like caricatures rather than real people. Beau in particular quickly falls into the tall, dark and handsome trope. There’s not much depth to his character other than his clich├ęd “tortured” past. His reasons for picking Willow over every other girl in school was unconvincing, and their relationship felt forced. Similarly, Willow, a relatable and somewhat authoritative character, was too trusting of the people around her. She lost credibility for me when she became more focused on making out with Beau in the swamp than on the five murders that happened in the same area. Overall, the romance had little substance and the characters could have been better developed.

This book would be great for younger teens. It is not so much a mystery rather than a love story though, so I would not recommend this for people who don’t want romance taking a front-seat.

Rating: 3/5

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Looking Back, Saying Goodbye, and Staying Healthy in 2018

(Gunnuhver, Iceland)

2017 was an immensely difficult year for me, for many reasons. Every time I sat in front of my computer and attempted to blog, words jumbled together in my head. I didn't have anything to say that didn't sound superficial, and I had no desire to share my private, often painful experiences so publicly. All in all, I no longer enjoyed the idea of having strangers read about my personal life.

Aside from wanting to keep my personal life off social media, my family went through a number of severe health scares in 2017 that I find myself still coming to terms with. I believe I will always have trouble putting these experiences into words, but it doesn't feel right avoiding them entirely, as they marked two major transitionary periods in my life. Before I post another book review or travel post, I feel that I owe my friends and readers a bit of transparency, something we often do not see online.

The first health scare happened in February, a day before my 21st birthday when I fell off a motorbike in Yangshuo, China. I was immediately taken to a hospital (more of a clinic) where I was treated for cuts and bruises, and given 10 stitches on a deep wound just an inch away from my left eye. The next few days were a blur. I was in pain, could barely open my left eye, and was in the worst state possible to be celebrating a 21st birthday.

My mom, being my #1 support system, was devastated after hearing about the accident. She actually flew to Shanghai to make sure I was okay. She told me, after seeing a picture of my black eye and bruised face, that she banged her head repeatedly on a table. I imagined the absurdity of that image: my mom sitting alone in a room, gripping the edge of a wooden table and hitting her forehead over and over again like a madwoman.

“Why?” She must have begged God. “Why did you let this happen to my daughter?”

The physical recovery period took about 6 months and the scar has finally faded to a dull baby pink, but the emotional trauma of that experience took much longer to overcome—for both myself and my parents. Looking back on that experience now, I realize the accident could have been way worse. I could have lost an eye or broken a bone. Despite how we appear on the surface, self-esteem comes from a genuine contentment with life and a happiness within oneself. This is something that I had to learn on my own.

Fast forward to August. I was in New York City at the time, interning and enjoying being back in the city. Yes, our country was going through a hell of a time. Diversity took a backseat to deep-rooted hatred and violence. Women were forced to lay bare their trauma in order to prove that our cultural norms foster sexual assault. We decided not to protect a free and open internet. But despite these terrible events happening in America, I was still thankful; at least my family and I were healthy.

It was a Thursday night when I got the call from my dad. He told me he had waited a few days to call because he didn't want to scare me. But because he had no idea what was going to happen, he felt he should finally come clean: my mom had a hemorrhagic stroke.

Suddenly, all of my worries and frustrations—everything from the national news, to having to move apartments three times, to starting my last semester in college—disappeared. Nothing mattered anymore, except for the fact that my 56-year-old mom was in the hospital and we weren't sure if she was going to make it.

In the time between Thursday and my flight home on Tuesday, everything seemed to move in slow motion. I threw things, I banged my head on a table, I yelled at people I loved. I prayed to a God that I have never believed in. You could say that I was a zombie, because that is absolutely how I felt.

A number of MRIs and tests were done in the two weeks that I was home. The first MRI showed about a quarter-size bleed on my mom's right frontal lobe, a second one 5 minutes later showed that her brain was 90% full of blood and that nothing surgical could be done. My mom was transferred to Neuro ICU to wait for the swelling to go down. Her brain continued to swell for weeks while she was in a medically-induced coma, even after I had flown back to New York City to start my last semester of college.

A month later, my mom woke up in the ICU and immediately started writing with a pen. Her left side was completely paralyzed, but her mental capabilities were still intact. I flew home again in October to see her, and finally in December for winter break. As of now, my mom is learning how to walk again with a cane and doing physical, occupational, and speech therapy every week. She's returned with a refreshing sense of humor, an optimistic outlook, and a new purpose in life: to stay healthy and to get better.

2017 was tough. It really, really was. However, I'm choosing to look back on last year as a learning experience with a few important lessons:
  • Emotions (esp. showing emotions in public) do not make a person weak
  • You absolutely cannot rely on someone else to bring you happiness or support
  • Everything painful in life is a reminder not to take anyone or anything for granted
These all seem pretty self-explanatory, but these are lessons that I benefited from. No matter what life hurls at your face and then continues to hurl, there are always places and people to be thankful for.

So with that, goodbye tough year. Hello, 2018. I will not take you for granted.