One trait that has allowed our species to survive for so long is our ability to plan ahead. Whether it be hunting an animal, preparing for a winter, interviewing for a job or making a move on a romantic interest, we think of all the ways the situation might play out. Our brain has an extraordinary capability to imagine and simulate possible outcomes. Based on this, we can optimise a plan of action.
Let’s look at an example. When we plan a trip, we choose a location and research sights to see, foods to eat, places to stay in, what the weather will be like… Then, we come up with an itinerary by thinking of how to group everything into different days, what transport to take and setting aside enough time for rest and to buffer against unexpected changes. Planning allows us to travel efficiently so that we can pack as much fun and experiences, while preparing us for when things go wrong.
But of course, life is full of surprises and it never play out perfectly. Our instinctive ability to simulate and plan for the future is probably evolution’s way of tackling this. We are trained to think of all the different ways our plans can fail, to maximise our chance of survival.
Therefore, as powerful as this ability may be, it comes at a great cost. It makes us obsess about “the right moment”.
When we face a crossroads in life, we have to make choices and take action. Should you take this opportunity to move to a different city? Should you ask out that girl or guy on a date? Should you make that leap of faith and change careers? Because these important decisions carry greater consequences, our brain goes into overdrive thinking of how things may fail and ruin our lives. We worry that we are not ready for the change or that a better opportunity may arise. So many times in life, we see opportunities slip by while we are hesitant, leaving us with regrets.
No matter how much you plan and prepare, the universe can easily find a way to surprise you (see Murphy’s Law). There is no such thing as the perfect moment, or a perfect person, or a perfect life. So waiting for the right moment is as futile as waiting for a train that is never coming. A ship waiting in a harbour for perfect conditions before setting sail is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.
What we can do is to just live life. It is certainly good to have a rough sketch of a plan, to know what general direction you are heading in. But when it comes to the finer details, it is best to just make a decision and act on it, whether it be based on rational thinking or gut feeling.
If things work out, that’s great. If it doesn’t, you still gave life a chance instead of letting it pass by you. You can learn from the experience and try different decisions the next time.
Instead of waiting for the right moment for everything to be perfect to take action, we should be taking actions and making the moments right.
We are critical by nature. This is especially true when it comes to relationships, because we’d like someone as perfect as possible to accompany us on the journey of life. A large part of dating is meeting people, getting to know them better at a deeper level and trying to judge how compatible they are with us.
During this process, we might come across something that we consider a dealbreaker – that is, something that we find annoying, repulsive or unacceptable enough that we no longer desire that person. This may range from serious behaviours such as alcoholism or unfaithfulness, to benign but annoying behaviours such as chewing with an open mouth or being messy.
But with so many potential dealbreakers, how do we know which are legitimate and which are frivolous? Are we being too picky, meaning we will be forever alone, or are we trapping ourselves in a miserable, incompatible relationship, because we are not brave enough to leave the relationship?
An American columnist named Dan Savage answers this question with the concept of paying the “price of admission”. His process is extremely simple: if you cannot count the number of dealbreakers for you on one hand, then the problem lies with you. Choosing the right partner is a very important decision and you are encouraged to have a reasonable idea of what you want and what you don’t. But if your list of what you cannot live with is long and full of superficial things, then you will never find a happy relationship.
People are far from perfect, but we try to hide that fact. On a first date, we try to present an idealised version of ourselves to impress each other. We dream of finding “The One” – someone who is perfect for us. We set unrealistic expectations in our head and use it as an excuse, lamenting that we cannot find the right person while turning away potential partners because of trivial reasons. These delusions distract us from the harsh truth that no two people are perfect or fully compatible for each other from the get-go.
So if your partner has a characteristic that you dislike and it is not one of your core, serious dealbreakers, then ask yourself the question: is it worth it? Does this outweigh all of the good qualities they possess? If you believe it is, then you may leave the relationship, but you must accept that this was your choice and not your partner’s fault. If it isn’t that big of a deal, then this is a price of admission to this relationship. This is the price you must pay for the privilege of the joy, the laughter, the connection and the love your partner could provide you through the relationship.
When you see it this way, it becomes easier to accept their bad qualities. We can be angry and frustrated and annoyed, or we can choose to accept our partners for who they are – flawed, but wonderful people who are worth the trouble. Of course, you can communicate with your partner to see if you can compromise on some grounds, but this should not be an ultimatum and you cannot expect your partner to forcibly change who they are.
Lastly, remember that just as you find some qualities to be suboptimal, your partner will also feel the same way about certain parts of you. So hopefully, both parties can understand that every relationship has a price of admission that must be paid. Then, they can work on smoothing out the rough edges through communication and compromise to produce a strong, healthy long-term relationship.
The secret to a fulfilling relationship is not expecting to find The One, but instead striving to become The One for each other by rounding up.
Many people dream of finding “The One” – the perfect romantic companion who is destined to be with you. It is a dominant trope in stories, both old and new. Plato’s The Symposium contains a story about how Zeus split human beings in two to weaken them, so we are always searching for our other half. An old Chinese tale tells the story of the “red string“ – an invisible connection between two people created when they are born, that will eventually bring the two together in the name of true love. There are countless examples of books, movies and TV shows that reinforce the notion that we will all eventually end up with just the right person.
What makes The One so special? Typically, instead of a list of ideal features such as a certain personality or look, most people describe The One as someone who they can connect with, be understood by and feel completed by; someone who they can’t imagine not being with. People who believe in the idea of The One may picture a relationship where things are easy, because the other person will just “get” them and there will be no trouble in paradise. In short, The One represents a perfect relationship with the perfect person, tailored just for you.
But how realistic is the possibility of finding The One? If we look at it from a purely statistical point of view, the chances are infinitesimal. Not only does your match have to be born of your preferred gender, but they must live in the same space and time as you at some point in your life. Even if you happen to find this one person, you have to accommodate for whether you will even notice, let alone be attracted to, them since the qualities you are looking for may vary depending on what stage of life you are at. (Read this wonderful What If? article: https://what-if.xkcd.com/9/)
Of course, the whole point of The One is that despite all of these odds, the two of you are supposed to be brought together by some external force – fate, destiny, the gods, or whatever supernatural power you believe in. Then, it is said that the moment you set eyes on each other, you will feel an instant connection and true love will be born. Some people even believe that “if it is meant to be, it will happen without fail”. Because of this, some people test their relationship by stressing it, or will be more open to letting people go because they believe that if they are truly The One, then surely they will meet again and everything will be alright. This is explored in a short story by Haruki Murakami named On Seeing The 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning.
(Bacchus and Ariadne by Titian)
However, as beautiful as the idea of finding The One is, it can be a dangerous – even toxic – idea.
The most obvious problem is that dreaming of The One sets unrealistic expectations. Even when they are with an amazing, supportive, kind partner, some people will consider them only 80% or 90% perfect. Because of the nature of human greed, we always want something better or greater than what we possess. This makes us less grateful for what we currently have and we fail to appreciate how lucky we are to be with our partner. We may even decide to end a relationship in search of greener pastures, only to regret it and remember that person as “the one that got away”.
On the other hand, people are so afraid that they might not realise that someone is The One that they make the classic error of the sunk cost fallacy. They think that they invested so much time in this relationship that if they leave now, they will forever lose the chance to live happily ever after. This often leads to unhappy marriages and even divorce, causing people to miss out on opportunities of finding someone that they will truly be happy with.
Similarly, because we feel the pressure of time passing by while others seemingly find their soulmates and happy endings, we end up feeling desperate. This desperation may push us into forcing relationships with people who do not share our values, treat us unkindly or generally incompatible with us. Some people will fake an encounter with a supposed soulmate, marry them and hide their problems and resentment, while struggling to put on a happy face for the rest of the world.
Another problem with believing in The One is the concept of fate. It is comforting to think that things are predetermined, but this also makes us lazy. What is the point of looking for the right person or fighting to make a relationship work when fate will just throw you The One at some point in your life? If you believe in fate, it makes you complacent and take less action. Instead of taking the leap of faith, communicating and trying to improve yourself, you think instead “it shouldn’t be this hard if they were The One” and give up. Believing that there is someone out there set aside for you is entitlement. Much like anything in the world, luck and probability will only take you so far. Good things will only come to you if you take action and make an effort.
The inherent flaw in the concept of The One is that it is a black-and-white, binary question: “is this person perfect”? The quest for perfection is as futile as a dog chasing its own tail. When the standard you are comparing everything or everyone is perfection, you are sure to be disappointed.
Furthermore, how can we demand a perfect person when we are not perfect ourselves? As we mature, our preferences and needs change with us. Is it not arrogant to think that we know ourselves so well that we can pick out someone that we think will be perfect for the rest of our lives at first glance?
The perfect partner is not someone that will understand our every action, thoughts and words, and cater to our every need. The perfect partner is someone who possesses qualities we value, have imperfections that we can accept and will communicate openly so that we can work things out with them. No human being is perfect, so every relationship needs to be fine-tuned, negotiated and improved on, which involves each person undergoing change, compromise and sacrifices.
This philosophy sets a much more realistic expectation on our partners and ourselves. We don’t have to be perfect or find someone who is perfect: we just have to find someone who is willing to work with us to become perfect for each other eventually. Someone who makes us happy, while helping us grow to be someone that can make them happy.
There is no one true “The One”. The One that matters is the one who – out of all the imperfect people out there – you chose because you find them awesome and want to try work with to build a happy relationship together, and they feel the same way about you.
The One is someone you made a conscious choice to round them up to The One.
Life is a series of choices. As you only live once, you must decide what type of life you will lead. However, we are plagued by the uncertainty of the future. How will we know that we made the right choice? The career you decided on as you entered university could become obsolete in 20 years due to technological advances. You might end up regretting uprooting your life to move to a new city.
Perhaps the most difficult choice is the question of whether we are in love with the “right person”. Even if your partner is a perfectly nice, kind person, you may feel that something is missing. Some people call it chemistry, others call it connection, some even believe in fate and destiny. We are wired to try predict the future to protect ourselves. Therefore, it is natural to be concerned that we may end up with the “wrong person”: love’s equivalent of buyer’s remorse.
Ideally, we want to be with someone who we can’t imagine not being with. Someone who you can enjoy the silence of a Sunday afternoon with comfortably. Someone who you can be silly with like children. Someone who you can open up to for support and understanding without fear of being judged. Essentially, someone who completes the equation of 1 + 1 = 3, rather than the typical 1 + 1 = 2.
If you find someone like that, all you have to do is focus all of your energy in making that relationship work, through communication, compromise, kindness and love. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to find ourselves feeling that the person is 70% the person for us – maybe even 80% – but we are not sure if we are sacrificing the possibility of being with “the one”.
There are two possible solutions. If you have hope that this is the right person for you, you could give them a chance by giving it your best shot and see if things improve or not. Perhaps there are barriers easily solved through communication.
But if the seed of doubt in your heart grows, saying that this is not the right person for you, consider what you would do if you were unhappy with other aspects of your life. If you hated your job, you would train in a different discipline. If you hate the new city you moved to, you can always move to a different one.
Love is a choice. Whether you choose to stay and try to make it work, or choose to leave in search of a person who you feel a deeper connection with, it is up to you to make a choice.
Life is difficult, but at least we have the luxury of choice. Fear gives us tunnel vision – we can only envision one possible way our life will play out. By settling with the comfortable choice, you may be extinguishing the possibilities of a happier life.
It takes great courage to make a choice. But regardless of the outcome, at least you gave it an honest go; you took charge of your life and tried to live a happier life with less regrets.
Take a step back to examine your life – are you truly content with it? Or is fear blinding you from the leaps of faith that can make you happier?
In many Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand and Burma, owning a white elephant has been traditionally considered a show of great opulence. To this day, white elephant are a symbol of peace and prosperity and are kept by royalties of some countries. On occasion, a monarch would bestow a white elephant upon a citizen to reward them for their service to the country. But this was regarded as a blessing and a curse, as elephants are notoriously difficult and costly to maintain.
Today, the term white elephant refers to items that are gifted that serve little practical use and take up space, such as tasteless decorations. In some cultures, “white elephant swaps” are held around Christmas where people will trade gifts, under the philosophy that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”.
A related psychological phenomenon is the sunk cost fallacy. This is when a person sees that an action or investment they made has an increasingly bleak outlook, but instead of bailing, they make the irrational choice to continue. For example, you may pay $3000 for a car, which then breaks down. The mechanic bills you $1500 for repairs, which you choose to pay. The car breaks down again and this time it costs $2000 to repair. You think that since you have already invested $4500 in this car, it is worth paying $2000 to repair it. However, you have now spent $6500 on a car that may cost you even more in the future. The more you invest in it, the more you justify keeping it as you feel you are committed to the investment, resulting in a greater loss.
The sunk cost fallacy affects many aspects of our lives. A common example is relationships. Many people will settle down with someone they do not think is the “right one”. But despite many warning signs you are not very compatible with your partner, people think “well, I invested all this time with this person, I might as well see it through”. Eventually, the two end up in a bitter marriage, regretting that they did not break up earlier to find someone that they could be happy with.
The reason we fall into the sunk cost fallacy is that we do not want to “waste” the investment we have put in already. But economically speaking, you will profit far more by walking away from a bad decision as early as possible. It is a “sunk cost” which you will never get back.
Now think about your life. Are you really happy in your job or relationship? Or are you lying to yourself that it will be alright because you don’t want to face the cruel reality that you chose poorly? Knowing about the sunk cost fallacy will help you save time and money, whether it be putting down a bad book before you finish it, or learning when to walk away from the wrong commitment.
Suppose that the woman is X and the man is Y. Firstly, X and Y need to be born as human beings. They cannot be born as a worm or an onion or something. Here, we will say that the total number of species is M and the population number of each species as P (technically this part is forcing it slightly, so we can skip it).
Although the two have to beat ridiculous odds just to start, just being born as human beings is not enough. One must be born with XX chromosomes to be a woman, and the other must be born with XY chromosomes to be a man.
Let us assume that the two were lucky enough to be born as a man and a woman. Next, they must live in the same space. If one lives in some Korean city and the other lives in some American rural village, it is unlikely the two will ever meet.
Even if they did live in the same place, X and Y must have subjective qualities that the other person finds attractive. If they are not interested in each other, nothing will happen even if they did meet. By this stage, we have clearly gone past the scopes of mathematics.
Then let us assume that a man and a woman, who fit each other perfectly and born as people, are living in the same space. We are still missing one variable: time. Even if we took only the 5000 years that civilisations have existed, the odds of the two being born in the same era as similar ages is less than 0.001%.
Species, sex, space, time… Statistically speaking, the chances of a man and a woman beating all of these odds to establish a perfect couple seem nearly impossible. But we can clearly see that “true love” exists all around us. Numbers are just numbers. If you find a person that makes your heart skip a beat when your eyes meet, that makes you feel that the more you get to know them, the more you think you cannot live without them; in essence a person that makes you think “this person is The One”, do not let the person slip away. The scenario of you and that person existing on the same space-time and loving each other is something that verges on the impossible.
There is no treasure as rare as true love. If you have found true love, or believe that you have found it, fight to seize it and do everything in your power to protect it. That is the greatest accomplishment you can make in life.
During the Tang Dynasty, there was a man named Wigo. He wanted to find a partner but no suitable girl showed up, so he decided to travel instead. One day, he came across a strange old man. In fact, the old man was Wolha-noin, a man who could tie a sacred bond between a man and a woman with a red string. Wigo, already desperate, begged the old man to tell him who his future spouse was. The old man, simply pointed to the three year-old daughter of a poor vegetable store owner. Wigo was furious and he told his subordinate to kill the child, but luckily she survived with only a scar between her eyebrows.
14 years later, Wigo finally married a beautiful, nubile wife. However, Wigo’s wife never appeared to show her forehead. Wigo found this strange and asked his wife: “Dear, why do you always hide your forehead?”. His wife replied: “When I was three years old, I was hit by a knife which left a scar between my eyebrows”. Wigo realised that his wife was the child from the past and begged for her forgiveness. The two, as predicted by Wolha-noin, lived happily ever after as man and wife.
According to this legend, we are all born with a red string tied to our little finger. This red string is tied on the other end to the little finger of your true love, with every person in the world having a destined partner. It is said that if two people who are linked with the red string meet, they will fall head over heels for each other and eventually marry.
The legend of the red string is, in some ways, half mythical and half true. Of course it is impossible to follow some string to your true love (how good would that be?), but whatever people say, there is somebody out there for you to love and be loved by. However, unlike the legend of the red string, you do not have just one person you are destined to wed. If we were truly born with one destined partner, then what guarantee is there that they would be born or live in the same place as you, let alone the same time period as you? If this is true, then it would be statistically improbable for a “happy couple” to form. But look around you. Happy couples are everywhere. This tells us that we are not bound to love only one person. Yes, the “red string” is not a single predestined bond, but a symbol of someone who is just right for you. “The One” is simply someone who is right for you, someone who lives in the same time and place as you, someone that makes you happy and someone you want to make happy. Whether there is one, ten or a hundred of these people depends on your preferences and your heart. So never lose hope and believe that you will be forever alone. Somewhere, “The One” who fits the empty spots of your heart like a puzzle piece is looking for you too.
Love is not a single strand of red string, but a network of countless strings crossing each other. When the string of the person that perfectly complements you crosses your string, you must make a decision. Will you continue onwards in the same direction as before? Or will you make all the effort to bend your string so that you can travel with your true love, side-by-side? If you two are truly meant to be, only then will a real red string form between your hearts. As the two lovers get to know each other and spend time with each other, the line shortens and shortens until someday, the two become one.
Once upon a time, there lived a beautiful girl named Psyche. Psyche was so beautiful that she even caught Aphrodite’s eyes. Despite being the goddess of love, Aphrodite was known to be very jealous and felt threatened by Psyche’s beauty. She commanded her son Eros, the god of love, to put a spell on Psyche. Eros uses the Bow of Love and anyone shot by his golden arrows falls immediately and helplessly in love with the first thing they see.
Aphrodite came up with a devious plan to have Eros shoot Psyche and have frogs around her, making her fall in love with frogs and fall into a despairing relationship. But her jealous plan was overthrown by an unexpected event. When Eros first saw Psyche’s face, he became entranced and accidentally pricked himself with his own arrow. Thus, Eros became madly in love with Psyche. Aphrodite, enraged by this, cursed Psyche to never find a mate for the rest of her life. Eros became depressed from not being able to see Psyche and gave up shooting golden arrows. After he gave up his job, no animals or human fell in love and no new life was born. Aphrodite could not bear to see such a scene and begged Eros to start shooting arrows again, offering him one thing that he wanted. Eros said that he desired Psyche without hesitation and Aphrodite reluctantly allowed them to meet.
While this happened, Aphrodite’s curse made no man come to propose to Psyche. Her parents became worried and asked the advice of the oracle at Apollo’s temple. The oracle stated that as she is destined to marry a monster, she must be placed atop a mountain in bridal attire. Accepting her fate, Psyche stood on the mountain but eventually jumped off a cliff in despair. But Zephyrus the West Wind caught her and brought her safely to Eros’ place, just as Eros planned. Psyche enjoyed a comfortable life in the beautiful castle with many maids at her service. However, her husband only came in the deep dark of the night. Whether it was because he feared Aphrodite’s wrath or the difference between a god and a mortal, he asked her to never try find out who he was and that if she truly loved him, she should trust him. But Psyche eventually fell victim to her jealous sisters’ scheme and her curiosity, leading to her accidentally dropping candle wax on Eros’ face as she took a peek at his face. Eros was awakened and became enraged. He chased her away and forbade her from coming back. Psyche fell in despair and threw herself into the river, but the river carried her to the riverside where the shepherd god Pan rescued and consoled her.
At first, Psyche tried to find Eros while avoiding Aphrodite, but eventually she decides to plea directly to her. Despite her bravery, Aphrodite threw challenging tasks one after another at her like a mean mother-in-law, ultimately commanding her to retrieve some beauty from Persephone, the queen of the underworld (since travelling to the underworld signifies death, Aphrodite must have truly hated Psyche).
However, Psyche was determined to see Eros even at the cost of her life. Admiring her commitment, a tall tower before the underworld gave her a hint. It told her to place two coins on her tongue and bread in each hand when going to the underworld. The coins would be to pay Charon the ferryman while the bread would distract Cerberus the three-headed dog guardian. She succeeded in seeing Persephone, who gave her a box of beauty and told her to never open it. But wanting to look beautiful in front of her lover (Eros), Psyche opened the box. The box did not contain beauty, but instead contained a death-like sleep from the underworld, putting Psyche in a deep sleep. Although he chased her away, Eros came back to see Psyche and found her in this sleeping state. He took the corpse-like Psyche and kissed her softly on her lips, awakening her from the deep sleep.
Eros eventually sought help from the king of gods, Zeus, to persuade Aphrodite. After Zeus’ persuasion and seeing the love the two have for each other, Aphrodite accepted the relationship and Zeus gave Psyche the immortal drink ambrosia to make her into a goddess. The now immortal Psyche and Eros were married and had a daughter named Hedone (like in Hedonism), the goddess of sensual pleasures.
Eros symbolises physical and sensual love while Psyche is a Greek symbol for butterflies, the soul and emotional love. Ergo, Eros and Psyche represent the union of physical and emotional love into perfect love. Love and the soul are inseparable things. The most basic instinct of any organism is to reproduce and human beings have evolved that into the sacred concept that is love. To speak bluntly and without philosophy, from a purely biological perspective there is no greater purpose to life than to find a suitable mate and leave descendants. There is nothing more fundamental than pure love.
Voici mon secret. Il est très simple: on ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.
“Here is my secret. It is very simple. It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is important is invisible to the eye.”
(from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupéry)
In The Little Prince there is a story that goes like this. At the age of six the protagonist, after seeing a picture of a boa constrictor swallowing an animal in a book, draws “Drawing Number One”:
He showed it to adults and asked if the drawing frightened them. They replied: “Why should any one be frightened by a hat?”
Drawing Number One was not a drawing of a hat, but a boa constrictor digesting an elephant. However, adults could not understand the true meaning of the drawing. So the protagonist drew Drawing Number Two which showed the elephant inside the boa constrictor. The adults advised him to put aside drawings of things like boa constrictors and elephants that could not be seen and instead take interest in geography, history, arithmetic and grammar. That is why he gave up his dream of becoming an artist.
Even after growing up and becoming a pilot, he sometimes showed people Drawing Number One and asked what they saw. But they only saw the hat, never the elephant or the boa constrictor. Unlike when he was young, he did not try to explain the true meaning of the drawing and instead brought up “adult topics” like golf and politics.
Money, status, beauty… Things that can be seen can fool you just as an optical illusion does. Things that are invisible such as the mind, creativity, understanding and love are the only things that can truly bring you satisfaction. So how can we look for things that we cannot see? We can infer that the wind blows from the rustling of leaves. If the leaves are not rustling, it means the wind is not blowing. To find like-minded people, a “password” needs to be used, just as we used leaves to find wind.
The Encyclopaedia of Absolute and Relative Knowledgeis like a “password” to me, just like Drawing Number One was for the protagonist of The Little Prince. It is something that can be used to see if the other person shares my way of thinking and beliefs. Whether it be a book, a picture or a quote, such a password that represents you as a whole can be very useful in finding a true companion. If they ask you why you write such a thing, what the meaning of the picture is or why you respect the quote, then they are not the one you were looking for. The person you are desperately looking for will never ask “why” but instead respond with honest curiosity. Yes, the correct answer to the password is an expression of childlike curiosity. Upon seeing that person’s pure smile, you will know: that that person can decode your password, that they understand you, that they will accept your everything. That person is the one you have been looking for to accompany you for the rest of your life.