Tuesday, 18 August 2009

To Love and to Be Loved

Like millions of other teenagers, shortly after my 13th birthday, I was really looking forward to having a girlfriend. Unfortunately, the fact that I was attending a boys-only school and that I had no young female relatives made it quite hard to have access to potential girlfriends.

As time went by, the desire became stronger, but I was not having any success at all. All my friends were males and they did not have any female friends. Whenever we used to go out, my mind used to be flooded with images of gorgeous girls and my heart used to be racing like a Formula One car! During those times (and throughout most of my teens), I was extremely shy and that certainly did not help me to start a conversation with a girl I fancied.

By the time I was 18, I had still not had a romantic or sexual relationship with a girl. As more and more people of my age group were talking about having sex here and there as well as about moving from one relationship to another, I felt very sad. It seemed as though everybody was managing to find somebody to love whereas I often felt as though I were invisible.

Shortly after my 19th birthday, the use of the Internet allowed me to get in touch with various single girls. I went out on several dates, but virtually all my encounters were sexless one-night stands. Looking back, I am aware that my appearance during that time could have been better, but it was very painful to go from one date to another - hoping that something would eventually happen - only to be told that it would be better to be "just friends". Of course, whenever things went wrong, the usual phrases were used: "you're not my type", "I got back with an ex-boyfriend", "there was no chemistry", etc. There were even a couple of instances whereby the girls were even fairly malicious - one of them (who is still single) told me that we could not even be friends after our first and only date. Another girl saw me shortly before we met and said that I was so "not her type" that she was not even interested in being just friends!

With such a shocking dating history, I started wondering whether I would ever find somebody to love. A person with whom I could share the ups and downs of my life. An individual who would care about me. I started worrying that I was going to end up like Friedrich Nietzsche (photo posted above). The latter had been a very influential philosopher, but his life was characterised by a horrendous degree of loneliness and unrequited love.

My fears were washed away a few years later when I had my first romantic relationship. Although I am presently happily married, I have occasionally come across blogs written by individuals who are in their late 20s/early 30s and who are still virgins/have never had a romantic relationship. Whenever I read some of their posts, their feelings and thoughts mirror a great deal of what had gone through my mind when I was in a similar situation.

As I come across such blogs, one question comes to my mind: is it becoming harder for certain people to love and to be loved in our times? Considering the individualistic cult - which encourages the belief that if you are fine, you do not have to worry about anyone else - and the enormous pressure to look/dress in a specific way, it is plausible to argue that a number of people might be feeling excluded and totally forgotten when they fail to conform to society's expectations. As a person feels increasingly distant from most of the other members of a particular society, there is a greater likelihood for that individual to suffer from a number of behavioural problems (e.g., depression).

When talking about involuntary single people who have reached a certain age and have still not been in a romantic/sexual relationship, the feeling that "something is wrong with me" could be highlighted by the fact that this reality is almost completely ignored in literature and in most cinematic/TV productions. I remember that even though the Ally McBeal TV series had shed some light on the problems faced by a single woman in trying to find a romantic partner, she was clearly not a virgin or a person who was still trying to go on her first date. Many issues that a virgin has to deal with are different from those of an individual who has had some sexual experience.

Talking about TV productions, I believe that these could often be detrimental in the way that they portray a number of people who do not conform to Western society's expectations. The movie about the 40-year-old virgin was regarded as a comedy, suggesting that a human being who gets to that age and is still a virgin is a figure of ridicule.

Tackling this matter in a scientific way, there must be reasons to explain why Person A goes out there and is hit upon by various individuals whereas Person B may go out there every day and feel as though he/she is invisible. I think that, whether we like it or not, looks play a big part in all this. Many societies have been brainwashing us so much about the importance of having the slender, tanned, athletic physique that whoever does not fit into that equation might have a harder time in finding a partner. In my case, I still remember that some of the girls did not seem to be interested because of my complexion and because I was not 6 feet tall. :) Dress is also important. Although it is not necessary to wear the most trendy items, it is important to wear something which transmits the message that "I care about the way I present myself". The same discourse applies to hairstyles and to other accessories, such as the sunglasses one wears.

Social skills are also extremely important. The subject matter of a conversation, the tone used, the dominance of a conversation....these are all things that could make a difference.

Of course, all this is easier said than done. A person who is obese cannot expect to change overnight. Having said that, weight is thankfully one area that could be controlled. It is much worse when we are dealing with characteristics whereby medical science still cannot be of great help (are there any pills that would allow one to grow taller???).

It is very understandable that the thought process following a rejection or surrounding one's chronic single status could be quite painful. Indeed, a 27-year-old female blogger wrote that "I am trying not to dwell on the reasons why no-one has ever been interested in me romantically, or at least not enough to do anything about it, because it is too depressing, and frankly, too humiliating. Terminal loneliness is fairly ghastly at the best of times, and when a difficult patch in life coincides with the realisation that the overwhelming majority of ones’ close friends are married, engaged or likely to be that way within the next year, it’s pretty hard to take. I think even my mother, previously the champion of remaining independent and only being ‘friends’ with men – and she doesn’t mean the sort with benefits – has started to realise that there is something fundamentally off about a twenty-seven year old daughter who has zero romantic history. Single and twenty-seven is one thing. Twenty-seven, with no past entanglements at all is quite another."

As a chronically single person grows older and more of their friends become entangled in romantic relationships or start having families, it becomes easier to think that "something must be wrong with me". Furthermore, as previously single friends are no longer available, it is very likely that such people will experience severe loneliness. Katya, a blogger in her 30s, wrote the following about many of her weekends: "A lot of my weekends I don’t do much at all, and what I do do doesn’t vary much – grocery or clothes shopping, watching TV at home, a trip to the shop to buy a newspaper, a visit to church (yes I go to church but that’s most definitely not why I’m a virgin. I disagree with a fair few of the church’s rules on sex and relationships). Obviously all of this is done alone. Often the only people I speak to are shop assistants as I hand over money".

I strongly believe that many societies could do more to help those people who yearn to love and to be loved. Local councils could organise events for single individuals to meet and to do things together. Even if no sparks fly following a couple of events, it would still be possible to develop new friendships with people who are in a similar situation. Local councils could also organise a number of events aimed at boosting the participants' self-confidence. Of course, for such events to be organised in the first place, it is fundamental to live in a caring society. A society where no person is left behind.

It is hard to regard most Western societies as caring ones. Yet, it is never too late to start doing something to change the status quo. It is never too late to start contributing to the building of a better world for everyone.


Things I Still Cannot Explain

I consider myself to be a very scientific person. Having studied psychology, I enjoy analysing things. Furthermore, I believe that understanding the world allows us to make a number of positive changes. When people stop questioning things, it becomes quite easy for them to absorb many beliefs in a dogmatic way. For the past few years, I have always ended up pushing religion away from my life because it is way too hard for me to believe something just because I am told that it is the "Truth".

Having studied a bit of physics, I am aware that there are a lot of things going on in the universe which we cannot witness with our naked eye. Of course, the fact that we cannot see something does not mean that it does not exist. The electron had existed for countless centuries, but it was not identified before 1897. Having said this, the discovery of certain particles in the universe is hard to compare with the discovery of, say, an entity that plays an active part in human life.

Although I believe that various phenomena could be explained quite easily nowadays, there are a few things which I still cannot explain. Two specific events are mentioned below.

The Prediction

In October 2006, the Malta Labour Party won the general election. The Labour Party had not been in power since 1987. A few days following the Labour Party's 1996 victory, I remember that I was talking to some friends at the Junior College in Msida. One of them said that a certain woman from Girgenti had predicted that Dr Alfred Sant's government would not last for more than 2 years. (I believe that the same woman was also famous for having visions of "the Virgin".) When I heard the prediction, I was very sceptical; I told the guy that since Malta had become a Republic in 1974, such a thing had never happened. In September 1998 - almost two years following the Labour Party's victory - a crisis within the Labour Party sparked an early election. The Labour Party lost that election and the Nationalist Party was returned to power.

A Visit to a Psychic Medium

In July 2008, I went to a Maltese psychic medium. Although I had read a great deal about a number of famous psychic mediums such as James Van Praagh, I had never been to one. I had received some positive feedback about the Maltese medium and I decided to go with a very open mind. I clearly remember that I called from a phone that did not belong to me, but I cannot recall whether I gave my name. The reading took place around two days after I called.

At first, the guy seemed to be completely off the mark. He said that there were three spirits close to me. One was of a young male called Ivan. The medium stated that he was a dancer from Santa Venera. Nothing.

He then described a woman who seemed to match my mom's physical description ("light-coloured eyes, fair, and stout"). During the session, I was taking notes, but I was not volunteering any information. The medium said that there was a family connection between me and her, meaning that she was a blood relative. The medium was supposedly conveying information that he was receiving from my mom when he told me "inti ma tantx temmen" ("you are not much of a believer") and "inti z-zghir" ("you are the young one"). True. The most shocking part came when the medium told me the exact date of her passing! He was also spot-on regarding the cause of her death.

I am aware of the fact that with reference to both cases mentioned above, it is still possible to argue that the "information" was the result of guesswork. Having said this, I keep asking myself: was it just guesswork? Or could it be that such cases represent phenomena that still cannot be explained very easily using our current knowledge of the universe?