.Sometimes Hangry – Early lunch at 11.30 am.

“Slowly at first, then all at once”— these Hemingway lines are just one of many literary quotes that I have fallen victim to over-utilization to the point of tedium. But that’s only because it has yet to be associated with the undertaking of routinely eating lunch at 11.30 am or 12:00 p.m. from Monday through Friday. I’m hard-pressed to find a more accurate way to describe the evolution of my weekday meal habits over the past few weeks. What is now one of my most passionate crusade: consuming a salad and soup at the cafeteria with my colleagues and looking forward to having dinner with my son in the evening.

Guided my ambivalence toward the endeavor known as “breakfast” I found myself compelled to skip it accelerate straight for lunch (intermittent fasting) a few hours later. Intermittent fasting feels good to me and I love to do it. When I first sat down again under the glare of super early-morning light in my kitchen I contemplated joining my son having at least for a bowl of cereal because I knew that satiety will await later. But I could not. That early, my digestive system is just on a strike and wishes to sleep a bit longer I guess.

I am a Certified Holistic Nutritionist and before I proselytize further, I must state for the record that I do not recommend skipping breakfast and eating lunch as your first meal of the day if you loooooooveeeeeee breakfast or if you feel like you need it. Some people actually do. I would never dream of convincing you to forgo the sweet pleasure of your daily warm oatmeal or Friday eggs. However, if you, like me, are ambivalent about breakfast but ardently enjoy grilled cheeses, spaghetti with meat sauce, hearty salads, lentil soup, sourdough pretzels, french toast, dinner, snack time, or brunch, then this article has your name written all over it in balsamic vinaigrette. Its benefits are plentiful, but allow me to enumerate some of the most notable benefits to skip breakfast and have an early lunch at 11.30 am instead.

My benefits of an early lunch and skipping breakfast:

I will be hungry but will have given my organs a chance to rest since I did not have eaten anything since dinner last evening. Usually, in my case, this is around 6:00 pm.

I avoid the lunch rush. While the hoards of sweet but foolish innocents cram themselves in line at “normal” lunchtime, I will be in and out of whatever eatery I choose to patron in two shakes of tzatziki. Unless I bring my lunch, in which case, I will be eating even quicker.

I have the opportunity to ingest one of my favorite meals of the day with renewed vigor and enthusiasm, not only because I will be hungrier and therefore equipped to eat more than I usually would for lunch, but also because I will have yet to hit the inevitable midday slump that occurs with regularity at around 1 p.m and riddles any concurrent meal with a sense of sluggishness.

I can get away with eating stuff like eggs and bacon on a bagel without feeling like I am trespassing on Saturday’s territory. Or order 6,000 chicken fajitas just because.

Like I said, I only dabbled in the late morning weekday brunch intermittently, but eventually, it morphed into something I pursued with jubilant deliberateness because of all the reasons listed above. I picked up recruits along the way, too; colleagues who were willing–nay, eager–to join me in my recalibration. Or those who have no choice. I very much advocate for converting others as it’s never easy being ahead of your time–in this case literally–and when it comes to eating roasted cauliflower or broccoli at strange hours of the day, the more the merrier!

Occasionally I will message a regular weekday brunch companion at 11:30 a.m. to see if they’re almost ready to venture forth, and they’ll sheepishly tell me they happened to have eaten breakfast that morning and won’t be hungry until later. At first, it might feel like a particularly piercing betrayal, but after a few disappointments I started to understand: This path isn’t for everyone. It is, in every sense of the word, a calling.

.Guilt &Forgiveness.

I cleaned up my bookshelf and found a letter that I have never sent. I wrote it to someone who was once special in my life. Our break was nothing like the petty, go, gossipy fights I had in childhood, or even the slow drifting apart so common in adulthood. Instead, it was worse and happened one day, sudden as a lightning strike with mean messages and phone calls. I heard the thunder from miles away. I recently asked a friend if I should send the letter, or at least a text, some kind of signal that the door was still a bit open on my end, that I wanted to talk things through because there is a child involved. I wanted to make things right or at least get some closure other than the divorce papers.

This person, once special, does certain things that make no sense to me. To send this letter wouldn’t be wise because it is not my job anymore to appeal his decisions. It is job of the agencies now. There is no need to put more compassionate words in my mouth, trying to make it all work out differently or better for my son’s sake. But that does not mean that I have not spent time playing the ending back in my head, trying to see our disagreement from his point of view, trying to make sense why he acts this way.

Each of us may require different words and actions to heal when we have been wronged. For me, understanding the language of love and trust in a relationship is crucial to keep it healthy, and to know how best to apologize is just as important. By no means do I want to repair my previous relationship but for my son, I would take the extra step to repair it to the point that we can at least talk in a civilized matter about important things like for example how to be in touch with your own flesh and blood. Common sense is not so common for some, so I will give you some hints and help if you want to express regret, apologize, accept responsibility, make restitution or genuinely repent something. I think that a sincere apology will contain more than one of these options, so it can be helpful to gain “fluency” in at least a few. Do not be an emotional polyglot.

Expressing regret. What do you think is the first apology language I will mention? Right! The words: I am sorry. It may seem, at first glance, too rudimentary to qualify as a language, but the impact of a simple, direct apology should not be underestimated. Sometimes, saying sorry is easy, sometimes it is not. In some situations, an apology like this is all that is needed but in other cases, some explanations need to be added.

How to say it: “…..I need to apologize for the way I ignored my son for so long. I would love to change things because I love and miss him. I feel guilty every single day, too.”

Accepting Responsibility. I think it is important for the apologizer to directly acknowledge the impact their actions and words have had on the person they have wronged, rather than making a slew of excuses or blaming circumstances. The key is to make sure the burden of apology stays with the one who is apologizing. It is easy to create even more distance with phrases like, “I am sorry you feel that way” when what really needs to be said is, “I am sorry I made you feel this way”.

How to say it: “….I am sorry I reported you to Immigration Canada for forging my signature. I know you did not forge anything. I am also sorry that I reported you to Canadian Child Services. I know you are not a bad mother and would never hurt, starve, beat, or leave a child. I know I should not have done that. I am sorry I made you feel this way and that you had to go through all this trouble. Damn, I didn’t know he lost his Canadian passport because of my actions!”

Making Restitution. Restitution can be a little more complicated I guess, especially since it often involves placing a relative value on something after it has been damaged. In my case, I am not talking about a borrowed dress ruined by melted lipstick in the dryer but rather trust broken by an affair and not taking care of a child. Then it gets more complicated. Match the scale of the apology to the original mistake. It is important to note that in some cases, it is not actually possible to completely rebalance the scale, or that making good on the promise to do so can take time. However, on my end, there is no substitute for a good faith effort to repair and rebuild.

How to say it: “……thank you for taking care of him for so long without any help from my side. I am really sorry I did this. He is my flesh and blood, too. I miss him so much and would love to see him, speak to him and be in touch. I am sorry that I haven’t contacted him in almost two years. I am sorry that I rather spent the money to travel and enjoy my life. I know he needs clothing and food because kids grow so fast. I was wrong. I am sorry. Things will change from now on.”

Genuinely Repenting. Here, the key component is changed behavior. The apologizer must acknowledge the wrongness of what he/she did, but they must also accompany that acknowledgment with a plan for avoiding the same mistakes in the future. So, restitution is about fixing the past, repentance is about to change the future. In other words: What are you going to do to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

How to say it: “….. I want you to know that I feel terrible about how I treated you and did not pay child support. I didn’t know any better at that time, but I know now that my ignorance, actions, and assumptions were wrong and shitty and hurtful. I would like to rekindle some sort of communication if you would give me the chance.

Requesting Forgiveness. If someone has hurt me very badly and wants me to forgive them, I would want to see them expressing it all – expressing regret, accepting responsibility, presenting a strong plan for restitution, including plans for the future – before I consider it. I know, this may seem high-maintenance, but it sounds reasonable to me after what I have been through. However, the power of forgiveness is of course solely at the discretion of the wronged party. It is all a power game, too. Asking for forgiveness is about giving power back to the person we have hurt. For some, this is impossible. When we earnestly ask for forgiveness, we are acknowledging that the other person may need something more from us; effort, understanding, or time tor each a place of resolution, and we express willingness to make up the difference on their terms. I want to give the person the opportunity to make it right, but I understand that that day may never come. Sometimes, people are unable to say what they want to say.

How to say it: “I know that there is no excuse for the way I treated you in the last two years, but I am doing my best to change this now. Can you ever forgive me?”

Yes, I can. I guess I sent this letter anyway.

.In Pretending We Sometimes Forget.

Being obsessed with my soup and noodle letters.

“How brittle and fugitive is all life, how meagrely and fearfully living things carry their spark of warmth through the icy universe.” – Hermann Hesse

I moved many times in my life. I have never felt more at home than being back in Europe and in Vienna. I also started my new job and could not be happier. I am very fortunate to be able to live in a great apartment building in Vienna where everybody is super friendly, too. My neighbor, an elderly lady, comes over for tea and cookies sometimes. So sweet. 2020 started out great for me.

Throughout my life, I encountered many peculiar characters, many in small doses and some in this-it is-a-huge-mistake-dose. In New York, for example, there was the queen of my apartment building who never failed to slip me the side-eye and refused to touch the elevator buttons with her bare hands because they are not sterile. There was the building super, who strutted around in a white ribbed tank top and silver chain, chain-smoking while fixing a water leak in my apartment. But the person I remember most vividly, and with the most affection, was the doorman.

Whether I walked into the lobby at 10 p.m., giddy from a goodnight kiss, or drunk at 1 a.m., he would greet me with a warm and welcome and polite chit-chat. He had the distinct ability to engage people past the superficial: He remembered birthdays and referred to pets by name. Although the conversations never lasted too long, they always stayed with me, lingering in my mind like a catchy refrain.

“The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.” – Henry Miller

I have been reminded of his talent when I walked the long maze-looking hallways at my workplace. A place where small-talk demands grow taller than the Rockefeller tree. Or the random chit-chat when my son found a tampon on the street on the way to work. “What’s this?”, he asked. “It is a tampon,” I replied. “What is it for?” Initial silence because it seems like a loaded question. To understand tampons means first understanding menstruation, which means understanding the whole life cycle. Not in the mood for a Friday morning chit-chat about all that. “Well, you know how babies are made, right?” “Not really, mom. Cameron told me that two people have to be naked and rub against each other.” It is not even 7.30 a.m yet. How should I respond? I begin to talk around the edges but could gladly pause because he saw two squirrels chasing each other.

I love words. I love to talk to people or to myself but not in public. I am not a chit-chat-pro but I know how to talk. To anyone, really. In order to glean some wisdome in chit-chatting, I will share some tips that help me keep my chit-chat in tip-top shape. This way I can walk into any situation with my head held high and comfortable. In my experience, it is not always the choice of words that matter, but how you say them.

Start the conversation with a compliment. If I feel you wear something nice, I am going to tell you just that. The same goes for nail polish, hair, make-up etc. This usually always opens up a conversation even if it is a superficial one about a product the person uses.

Be willing to veer into unexpected topics. The trick to making small talk is letting myself be surprised by the conversation. I try not to have a rehearsed conversation outline in my head because it closes me off to make an actually organic connection. I think a lot of people enter these types of interactions with an idea of how it’s going to go, and that ends up limiting the conversation. If I truly just enter with an open mind, people will usually really surprise me (for better or for worse).

Ease other people’s anxiety with a warm smile. I realized that when entering an unfamiliar space, some people can be very withdrawn or nervous. So, I smile. Not a fake smile. A smile and a kind greeting have the power to immediately make someone feel welcomed and comfortable.

I use each exchange as an opportunity to learn something new. I enhance their experience and walk away having learned something new. I treat everyone as my teacher. Because they are. For example, I ask people what they read, watch, or listen to. What inspires them, what makes them happy. I usually do myself a favor and skip the weather. Most boring topic. Ever. For me, it works to stay in-tune with current events, media, books, movies, travels, etc. I am also highly observant of people around me, but casual. I pay attention to how they react, the sound of their voice, how they dress, what they read. How they react toward me. Anything can slowly engage or spark small talk. I love to look people in the eye while they are talking and listen. No matter how little they have to say, I just never know how lending a listening ear can impact someone’s day.

I remind myself that this is about them. I don’t take anything personally. Usually, small talk is inherently brief, so most of the time a person’s reaction is not about me. And last, I tailor my topics to the person I am talking to. I am not talking about my divorce if someone just got married. I don’t bring up death to someone who just had a baby. Well, maybe I do. And I absolutely do not forget to listen. My goal is to have an impact or influence on someone with just a few memorable words. And to make some happy because I am interested in their stories.

.Hold It Through The Curves.

I planned on dying alone in a monastery or silent retreat, but then I realized how comfortable I am with myself and with someone else.

When is a relationship toxic? When is it time to leave him or her? When is a relationship going well? I have had quite some upheaval within a few relationships and tried to find out what it is I actually want. There were also times when I assumed that I would live in an unfurnished studio apartment, shouting incorrect Jeopardy! answers at my projector while 15 cats keep me company. Why is it that some relationships seem to work effortlessly and others are a disaster? I was indeed very unsure of what to look for, or worse yet, I didn’t know all the positives that I truly deserve to have within a relationship. I was blind, assumed and thought that certain patterns within a relationship or marriage are “normal”. What I was lacking was a good understanding of what an awesome relationship looks like. When it comes to relationships and what I perceive as healthy and functional, I would like to share a couple of characteristics that should not be optional. If they are, they should be addressed as soon as possible.

Trust is one of the most important relationship characteristics to me. Without trust, there is a lack of a solid foundation on which to build anything. Without trust, I cannot count on my partner. For me, once trust is broken, the relationship is over.

Communication. Talking to each other honestly and respectfully, especially about things that are difficult, is something that does not come naturally and is not easy. Usually, uncomfortable topics are kept under the surface for the sake of harmony or perfection. I love a partner who doesn’t take things personally or who lashes out when he feels threatened. No need to escalate a conflict into a full-blown nuclear meltdown.

Respect for each other and don’t expect too much. I believe partners in a healthy, loving relationship extend each other a basic common denominator of patience that allows for flexibility, peace, and support for each other. Nothing and nobody is ever perfect but I think it is important to adjust to the ebbs and flows of a partner’s moods, within reason, on a daily basis. No need to scream and shout! I also think there is no need to say I love you but rather to show it in a form of affection and genuine interest. Kind of “a liking” for each other: hugs, kisses, comforting touch and whatnot. A relationship works in my opinion if both partners are truly interested in each other and are together out of attraction rather than obligation. In a healthy relationship, partners value each other’s time and opinions like they value their own. Compromises and flexibility are key, too. The relationship will change because people change. Nothing ever stays the same; to expect that two people will remain the exact same across months or years and decades is downright unhealthy thinking. You know why? Because hopes, fears, goals, and interests constantly evolve and this is a good thing. Also, the give-and-take roughly works out to equal over time, and neither partner feels resentful. There are exceptions of course and this is okay as long as both partners feel comfortable overall with the level of give-and-take as it exists. Oh, and don’t expect too much and you will never be disappointed.

Healthy conflict resolution. Usually, it does not work like this: boy-meets-girl-loses-girl, then boy-gets-girl-back-and-lives-happily-ever-after and they ride off into the sunset together and things are okay from now on. I believe that in a healthy relationship, partners are able to talk anything through with respect, empathy, and understanding.

Individuality and boundaries. Opposites attract. If two people were the exact same they would probably not have much to talk about after a while. And people who are so different that they don’t share each other’s values or daily styles of living are bound to have too little in common to maintain interest in each other. Do you know what the sweet spot is? A relationship where the similarities create a foundation to connect with each other, but individual differences are still respected and valued. Jealousy kills and I want to give my partner the freedom to still live his own life, especially in terms of friendships, hobbies etc. I believe it is important that each person has aspects of their lives that are theirs alone, and that boundary is respected by both. Lastly, but most important is honesty. Say what is on your mind and don’t mask your true self.

Do I need to be in a relationship?

I am in an awesome relationship with myself. I am perfectly happy by and with myself. Nobody needs to make me happy, heal me, help me or create my life for me. I am capable of taking care of all this on my own. But still, it is nice to have a partner by my side.

Then we met. He was there for me when I needed someone the most, yet we got to know each other slowly. In a way that felt totally fine. We read books together and didn’t call it a date. We watched movies. There was no pressure. Does the word commitment mean anything if two people live separate lives in two separate cities or countries? Even so, I wasn’t actively looking for anyone else and neither was he, but for me, that felt less like a decision I was making and more like a realization that “Hey, this feels good, maybe we should keep this going.”

I guess I spent so much time believing that there is a perfect person out there waiting for me and that my life’s primary directive is to tirelessly hunt that person down until finally I catch them and convince them to fall in love with my “strangeness and quirks”. Maybe this is all a fairy-tale rainbow and most couples haven’t come together in the end but that is okay, too. At the same time, I tend to think of commitment. The serious kind, permanent, capital -C Commitment as a bogeyman, with a clanking set of rusty shackles gaining on me, waiting for me to trip over a raised corner of the pavement so it can lock me up and trap me in its vice grip forever.

Honestly, committing feels less like impending doom descending on me to snuff out the flames of desire and more like crushing on a comfortable couch, reading to each other and cooking together while drinking tea or wine. Isn’t that sexy? Add intense fireworks, appreciation, and passion later and literally nothing sounds better than just staying where I am, forever, with a person who says they want to keep sitting there next to me.

.Come as You are.

Happy Holidays!

I want to thank you so much for being here, whether you’ve been reading my blog for years or just stopped by. I’m so grateful for this incredible community of smart, funny, thoughtful readers, and I love your comments so, so much. This year, I am fortunate to celebrate Christmas with my family. We laughed, we cried, we ate great food. I loved having my grandmothers with us and to see how much fun they had. “Be glad you are healthy, young and pretty, ” one grandmother said. “Being old and sick is no fun,” the other one added.

Of course, they are right. Getting older is perpetually complicated, especially when our bodies don’t feel as comfortable and cozy as they once did. It is difficult to watch a body shift and stretch and increase in capacity and size. As a woman, it can be even trickier to embrace who we are physically, to celebrate our unique aspects rather than compare them, and to be grateful for a fully functional form.

I will turn 39 next year. Wow! Time flies. Unlike many of my friends, I am pretty lucky and have not undergone major surgery, had a significant health diagnosis or experienced any physical trauma. Instead, my body has worn and grown in all of the usual, subtle ways. I may be wiser (ha!) now than when I was 29, but I have also accrued a few wrinkles. My body has simply changed. I also cannot (or rather don’t want) eat chips and drink wine every night anymore. Hangovers also felt a lot different in my 20s.

While the idea of self-acceptance is straightforward, the context is not. I don’t know if it is just me but I feel that today’s culture is too loud and confusing when it comes to defining what is physically desirable. I have wisened up and intuitively understand that reaching towards the unrealistic goals of beauty seen in the media is not a good use of my time or energy because comparing my body to others and looking at photoshopped models thinking that this is the norm is just ridiculous.

While my grandmothers spoke about the past they also mentioned ideas and goals based on what they used to look like, what they used to weigh, what size they used to wear and the evolving seasons of their life. I remember one day in my early 20s that I found myself in a fitting room with a rack full of jeans and summer dresses, hopeful that they would fit and cover areas of my body that I did not like. I remember this poorly-lit-fitting room and my very critical eye. I felt too big! My legs were too big! My skin was not glowing! I also remember leaving the fitting-room frustrated and sad. This scene has happened periodically over the years, but with growing irony until it just stopped.

While my grandmothers spoke, it became clear to me that no matter what age I am, it is perpetually tempting to look back, envious of my pre-marriage, pre-baby, pre-divorce, pre-job change and pre-whatnot.”I wish I would still look like that, ” my grandmother said while she showed me a picture of her on the wall. “You are beautiful the way you are, Oma,” I said.

See your body as a strong, healthy vessel. I believe that my current body is precious and healthy and beautiful as it is, rather than comparing it to previous iterations and images. I show compassion to myself and where my body is right now. Weight loss and gain can be normal, cellulite is not a curse, and hormonal changes are a powerful force within the body’s system. I have the power to elicit change. I can help myself to grow stronger and healthier, lose weight, or gain weight and that this is a privilege. Also, my friends, many changes take time as does anything worth embracing.

And, instead of seeing my body as personal billboards for all of the things that I am not, maybe it is smarter to look at it for what it truly is: a physical representation of the life I have been given, the life I have birthed, the places I have seen, the experiences I have had, and the memories that I have accrued.

If my body is my most tangible testimony of a life wholly-lived, well, then I’m choosing to celebrate the hell out of mine. Want to join me? I’ll bring some chips.

.The Gut Feeling.

Trust your instincts. Go with your gut! Regardless of the vernacular, I love to romanticize intuition. The feeling, which many call “a deep knowing”, is characterized by understanding something with little to no explanation. It is why some people avoid specific alleyways, why others turn down seemingly perfect jobs, or why two lovers marry after six months: Some just know. But what about the times when I don’t have that level of clarity? What if I ask my intuition for guidance and get nothing, or worse, conflicting answers? Is it as simple as looking inward? How can I decipher something so illogical and yet so crucial?

A couple of times, I was debating whether to stay in a relationship or not. Breaking up sounded horrible, but it felt good. Something told me that the relationship just wasn’t right. But this feeling was quieter than anxiety and rather a hum of a clothes dryer as opposed to a shrieking kettle and thus hard to trust. Over time, it downright tormented me. I wanted to know whether the voice I was hearing was fear, anxiety, my gut, my brain, or simply something else. In talking through the predicament with a friend, she asked, “What does your gut say?” Though well-intentioned, the question led to a different type of torment. Intuition became my obsession. I read books, research articles and more but everything always led me back to the same conclusion: My relationship was not working. This bothered me, and I so badly wanted to prove it wrong, a contradiction of emotions that fueled my anxiety, making it more difficult to take action.

The dictionary’s definition of intuition is “being able to understand something immediately, without any conscious reasoning.” I interpret this as no pro-con lists, no asking friends for guidance because I just know. The feeling is sometimes difficult to distinguish from fear, which is defined as “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain or a threat.” Though technically quite different, both feelings stem from a place of protection and can be experienced in similar ways, like for example fear of abandonment. So how can I tell the difference? Am I leaving because I am afraid or because it is the right thing to do?

I stumbled across an article by psychologists at the University of New South Wales in Australia who ran a series of experiments in an effort to quantify intuition and analyzed how much “nonconscious emotional information” dictates our decision making. The study illustrated that intuition increases one’s accuracy in interpreting and outcome, but it also revealed that similar to using logic or reason, we become better at using intuition over time. The psychologists suggest that the best way to reintegrate intuition is to have a dialogue with it, to pay attention to our random, seemingly nonsensical hunches that tell us when something is wrong when to call a friend, or even when to wear a certain outfit.

Eventually, the gut feeling regarding my relationship became too strong to ignore, and we broke up. But once I was out of the relationship, I worried that it had been the wrong decision to leave, and strived to rekindle that sense of knowing that led me to end the relationship in the first place. Shouldn’t I have had more clarity after I researched the f*** out of intuition? Apparently not. And during moments of crisis, it can be harder to hear intuition speak because I was obsessed with making the right decision and choice.

So, I guess intuition is steady and rational, while the response to it might not be. Decision-making such as calling our texting an ex, might also spur anxiety, which can ultimately separate from the calm hum of intuitive thought. In this case, I guess it might be best to take action and know that intuition will come when and where it needs to. I may not be 100 percent sure about a decision but sometimes 70 percent is enough to pull me to a save shore where uncertainty is okay. It is not about having all the answers, but rather using the information I have to make the best decision I can.

.Burning Matchsticks Setting Fire to its Neighbor.

Neighbor 1: I was jumping up and down with excitement. I felt like I am back in high school sitting through one of those mathematics classes that seemed to last for ages. I haven’t seen him for weeks. It was the longest time we have been deprived of each other’s company since we started dating. During that time, I couldn’t stop thinking about him. We have spoken on the phone and texted a lot, and now, finally, we are going to be reunited. I felt jittery. I paced around the apartment and called friends to distract myself. I arranged and rearranged my books and dishes in the cabinets to try to pass time. I started to walk to the restaurant where we have planned to meet. I replayed my favorite romantic moments with him over the past months and years. The late nights, the conversations, the moments together, laughing for no reason, deep discussions over dinner. I lived the cliché that people think is unrealistic, but I think nobody has been in love like this.

Neighbor 2: This relationship seems too perfect!

N1: Others said this relationship does not work. They say I don’t spend time with them anymore. Others worry that it is moving too fast. Others say that he is a bad person. I am convinced they are all just jealous and bitter. They cannot understand my incredible bond. I don’t listen to any of them. What do they know? I love his face, his body, his cool, relaxed way of living. It does not matter what anybody says, I will follow him anywhere. I want to do everything he wants to do. I felt more powerful with him by my side than I have ever felt before. So, I arrived at the restaurant. I was way too early, but who cares. I could not stop imagining those first glorious seconds when we will be reunited. My heartbeat was fast. I dressed nicely, nothing can shake my confidence. And then, finally, I saw him. He didn’t look happy. He looks tired and angry. He said, “It is not you, it is me. I need some time for myself right now.” The language of breaking up, I guess.

N2: Just like that? This is weird. Why did he say that?

N1: What was supposed to be a romantic comedy has turned into a tragedy. The people around me, the audience at the restaurant, looked embarrassed, too. Others eyes me with sympathy. My boyfriend, I guess now ex-boyfriend, decided to leave me a the table. He just stood up and walked away. I was completely crushed. I still hoped this was a joke and that he will come back but this just made it worse. I realized he is never coming back. It was sad and confusing. I am still devastated.

N2: I believe you were and still are. This is crazy and seems so unreal.

N1: I felt like the last few months of my life have been some elaborate, nasty trick. How could he have changed his mind so quickly? He was so loving, so nice! I didn’t want to call my family or friends because they would have told me they were right all along. I don’t know what to do or what to think anymore. I just want a glass of red wine and some solid philosophy to help me calm down. So I called you.

N2: A while ago, I read this amazing book “When you Kant Figure It Out, Ask a Philosopher” by Marie Robert. Relationships and marriages are a huge riddle to me, too though. But I usually have red wine and can tell you what Immanuel Kant would say about this. While reading the book I understood that Kant probably wasn’t too familiar with the trials of love because his life was pretty drama-free. I read that all he did was meditate and teach. Nothing, no crushes or breakups or any other matters of love, got in the way of his intellectual life. His existence was centered on reason and how to best make use of it. You know what though? You can draw inspiration from this way of thinking to heal your broken heart and protect it from the next romantic crisis.

N1: Go on. This makes sense!

N2: Kant defined reason as everything that comes from reflection and not from lived experience. This means that we don’t need to be confronted by something. We don’t need to live it, touch it, and feel it to be able to think about it. Reason is a beacon of light, a tool that gives us the power to analyze, to zoom out, to reflect and to better understand situations and react to them in calm, reasonable ways. Passion is a feeling that no amount of rational thought or reaction can control. Reason has no power over passion. According to Kant, passion is not simply an emotion but a disease of the soul. This passion that flares up when we start to fall in love which makes us crazy. We then hope and wait to idealize everything. Our reason crumbles when this fever spikes and we cannot think clearly. We are removed from reality and make sometimes pretty dumb decisions. To Kant, the idea of doing anything to separate ourselves from our reason is inconceivable. Kant explains in Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View all the risks we take when we yield to passion.

N1: Wow, this is interesting. What is the connection between passion and immortality?

N2: According to Kant, passion prevents all reflection. When we are in love, we lose the ability to hear the reasonable voice in our head or the advice of our parents and friends. I think it is like we lose our ability to compare, measure, choose, confront, or question anything because we are caught in a storm of feelings. Sometimes we count the minutes until we see our beloved the next time and whenever we are not with the person we love, we feel lost and fragile. According to Kant, moral law’s only base is reason. In a nutshell, I think this means that before we do something, we should ask ourselves if the act we are about to perform will be good for everyone involved.

N1: I can follow. But how do I do this?

N2: I guess we need to be able to put our reason to work more. We cannot just listen to our heart beating like crazy when someone kisses us and says they love us. Simply because reason and morality go hand in hand. If we lose track of one, we cannot expect to keep the other.

N1: Yeah, yeah, yeah… but that’s not all. I was completely overtaken by a passion for this ass****, unable to reason and to take a step back from situations that I know are not good for me. I was so attached to him and not able to rationally think it through.

N2: I understand. I have been there, too. Passion made me a slave to something that was outside myself. Kant explains that when we are consumed by passion for another person, we are letting ourselves be cheated by a feeling that is not based on anything stable. Kind of like, once the honeymoon phase is over and the relationship starts to feel normal, the passion falls away. Kant does not say we should be eternally single but draws a distinction between passion and love, which is very comforting. He says that passion is unhealthy and ephemeral. But love is real. So, I guess a person who loves another person can stay clear-sighted and can support their feelings of love with free will instead of just imagined, perfect ideas.

N1: Does this mean, real love is less turbulent and more solid than passion?

N2: I think so. It is time to stop being controlled by passion. Dry your tears, gather your strength and stop expecting your life to be the plotline of a romance movie. Strive for love. For me, this makes the journey more beautiful, longer-lasting, and stronger than any fleeting infatuation.

.A Conversation with Alcohol.

Mr. X: I don’t like alcohol anymore. I want to slow down drinking a lot! It just does not do anything for me anymore. Actually, I think it never did. It makes me feel crappy and anxious the next day. Even just one cocktail does it. Stop looking at me like that. I rather take sparkling water instead.

Alcohol: What do you mean? So you are thinking about breaking up with me. As unlikely as it may sound, you are not the first but c’mon. Chances are you have got a lot on your mind right now if you tackle such questions but I think you are making a huge mistake. Breaking up with me could mean a very confusing time in your life. You will miss me so much, I guarantee you that. Make sure you have examined the short- and long-term effects of straight-up dumping my ass.

Mr. X: I thought about it. I feel so much better without you. I am more creative. No headaches and I can have fun at parties, too. Minus the major hangover the next day.

Alcohol: F*** you! Don’t do that. I know you love me. Grow old with me. Don’t turn your back on the best thing that ever happened to you. You risk a lifetime of gnawing regret!

Mr. X: Breaking up with you does feel a bit overwhelming but I know it is the right thing to do. You know why? My health! I don’t like how you make me feel.

Alcohol: Health blablabla. We all going to die anyway. Why not party in the meantime? Leaving my sweet embrace will make you feel lonely. Imagine everybody drinks alcohol while you sip on your water? Pffff… hello???…. boooooring. Your dumping me will trigger a swift chain of events that culminates at a bar. All your friends will have fun, except you. Oh wait, some effects are more insidious. Should you really kick me to the curb, you must anticipate that I am going to sit on that exact curb eating chocolate. I will eat chocolate every day, sometimes at strange hours, because I have seen sad women do this. You might meet different non-alcoholic drinks but honestly, good luck replacing me. Do you find yourself doubting yet? Because breaking up with me would mean a huge scale of devastation that can be blamed only on you.

Mr. X: I feel so much better without you. Also, anybody who cares that I don’t drink has a problem with alcohol. Honestly, f*** off.

Alcohol: It is with near certainty that, if you really break up with me you will break my heart. Also, don’t think you can just break up with me and head on your little “Eat Pray Love” – style journey. You neeeeeed me. You waaaaaant me. Always remember that. Many people need me. This is a conclusion based on years of data collection and analysis from bars, my friend. Oh, you won’t go to bars anymore either now? I could go on and on. You just make me angry. Breaking up with me is a very personal choice. No one can make it for you. Damn, I think you feel pretty strong about this.

Mr. X: I do. Honestly, it is fun to drink but one drink is usually not enough. I have another one, which leads to another one. I rather have a clear mind to live in the here and now and be fully present.

Alcohol: I really hope for you that you have gained a helpful new perspective, one broad enough to confront the fiery, drought-ravaged world that awaits you in your sobriety. Alternatively, we could stay together and preserve this beautiful friendship we have had over the years. I eagerly await your decision. You know I will be around for comfort. I always was, I always will be.

Mr. X: We were never friends. I always considered you a lying, backstabbing friend who never made me feel good. I consider this moment a brave act of not allowing a poisonous substance to dim my bright light. I know alcohol is never the answer. I am.

.Questions to ask before buying Anything.

Just in case you have not noticed: Christmas is around the corner. Years ago, my Christmas gift-giving approach was a lot different from now. Sometimes, I felt obligated to give material items to attempt to make up for the time I didn’t spend with people I love. Usually, little thought went into it because I felt obligated to give anything, just for the sake of giving. I purchased gifts without asking questions such as: What is the purpose behind giving this particular gift? Will the recipient find value in this gift? Is this something they need? I bring all this up because we’re on the precipice of consumption season. That time of year when all the stores and all the brands and all the websites rely on us to buy shit-loads of shit for both ourselves and our people.

Because of this, I changed how I handle gift-giving. I tend to avoid physical gifts. I love to give gifts of experience, or, if I give material things, I give consumables, such as a bottle of wine, cheese, coffee, chocolate or homemade chocolate liqueur. For me, it should be something someone can use, or, if it is an experience, it is a memory that can be shared: concert/movie/theater tickets and such. A great gift is also an evening spend together cooking, talking in the kitchen, while enjoying a bottle of wine out of new wine glasses. It sounds cliché until you actually do it, and then you will realize how awesome it is. The simple things.

How I make Christmas and shopping more meaningful: I avoid big shopping weekends to buy things (Black Friday etc.). Overall, for many, consumption is an unquenchable thirst and retailers and manufacturers know this too well. I rather support local businesses, friends, and people in my community and those who make a difference. If you could receive only one Christmas present this year, what would it be? The answer for me is simple: time. Another great gift is presence. You see, the people I care about and love mean much more to me than a fancy gadget and things.

Ultimately, it comes down to setting the appropriate expectations with the people in my life. Yes, gift-giving is a common practice in our society. Yes, many people, friends, coworkers, family expect us to hand out gifts on holidays. And yes, it is difficult to deviate from this inveterate tradition, especially in today’s consumer-driven, heavily mediated world in which our adequacy is constantly questioned. I made my intentions and expectations known to friends and family and explained why I am making the decisions I make. The people who love me support the choices I make, whether that’s choosing not to participate in gift-giving, or gifting alternatively and creatively.

Love and to be loved is what everybody really wants.

“I love you – see, here is this expensive shiny necklace I bought you”– someone I thought I knew.

Do you want to know a secret? It is support, not gift-giving, that is the hallmark of love. As soon as Christmas is over, Valentine’s Day is around the corner and stores are filled with love things and hearts. Gift-giving is not a love-languages. The idea that we can commodify love is nauseating. Sometimes I get the feeling that people give gifts to show their love because they are troubled by real love. Buying diamonds is not evidence of everlasting devotion, commitment or trust. Love is not a transaction; love is transcendent.

“Love is about bottomless empathy, born out of the heart’s revelation that another person is every bit as real as you are. To love a specific person, and to identify with his or her struggles and joys as if they were your own, you have to surrender some of your self.” – Jonathan Franzen

Obligatory gift-giving isn’t surrendering yourself to someone; it’s surrendering to consumerism and the status quo. Again, this doesn’t mean there’s something necessarily wrong with buying a gift for someone. But we should not fool ourselves by associating that gift with true love. Love doesn’t work that way. Instead of thinking of love as some sort of abstruse emotion, I think of it as an action verb (language nerd). If I want to show my love for others, I must do so with my actions. Creating great experiences for the most important people in my life by gifting experiences instead of stuff is a great place to start.

.Joel & I: Not your Traditional Family.

When you hear “traditional family,” what comes to mind? A mother and father, 2.5 kids, a cat, a dog, a white picket fence around your property and a huge framed “dream-wedding” picture in the living room? This all sounds romantic, prosaic and vanilla. The old school notion of what constitutes a family is one that still pervades our culture for some reason. But, there is always notion and there is reality. I consider my son and I an “unconventional family” and would like to share how it feels to scribble and sketch outside the “traditional family” and the unique joys of our daily life. With this essay, I want to challenge the outdated stereotype of how a family is supposed to look.

Six years ago, I worked in New York. This is also the place where I met Joel’s father – at this time, a very handsome, sweet, loving man. We fell into deep “like”, then pretty soon love. We had a simple wedding – nothing big is required I believe. We married because we loved each other. That love was what would become Joel. Then, five years later, Joel’s father and I split. Ever since then, it was primarily Joel and I who survived in Canada. Then the divorce was finalized and we moved to Vienna. With zero support from my ex-husband but help from friends and family, life slowly goes on.

“Extreme” long-distance relationship (meaning: over 48 hours travel and several flights to see each other): We never were a traditional family to begin with. My ex-husband left for a job overseas shortly after Joel was born and came home every four/five/six weeks. My son and I lived with my parents for the first 2 1/2 years of his life. There was barely the mom-dad-child-we-are-doing-most-stuff-together kind of feeling. We acted more or less to be a family whenever my ex-husband was at home with us. Even when we moved back to the States and were a “traditional family”, this feeling did not change. My son and I were mostly alone. What I can say, however, is that he grew up in a loving, comfortable surrounding with mostly me, my parents, family, and friends in Germany. I learned that security and a calm routine is what my son needs the most. Long-distance relationships are very challenging indeed.

I come from a traditional family. My mom stayed at home to raise my siblings and I for ten years while my father worked. Regardless, I never saw myself married or being a mom. The thought actually gave me goosebumps. The way some girls dream of their wedding, I would dream about independence, traveling, studying and exploring. When I got pregnant with Joel, I was 32 and have “explored” quite a bit. His dad and I were in a whirlwind romance at the time, and I was like, “Why not?”. It was a planned thing with a mix of love and adventure I guess. That perspective changed after Joel turned three, we moved to Canada, and I started a Master’s program. I really missed the feeling of knowing who I was because I felt like a fish out of water with the stroller stay-at-home mom posse and basically single parenting most of the time. So, I went back to what made me feel electric – writing. There were times when I really missed my ex-husband, felt unfulfilled and lonely many times. But, my son and I managed because everything is possible. I knew then that, although I was not cut out for the stroller- mom- life, this little person had changed me. I knew I would have to figure out my own version of stability. I switched gears and dedicated myself more to writing and reading. This way, I am super fulfilled, and he gets stability and cool-ass books to read.

Single-parenting has raised me. It really tested the stuff I am made of and affirmed my experience in ways I could have never imagined. Every day I am challenged to get up and do things that aren’t self-serving while balancing my own dreams and existence. Sometimes, maintaining this balance has been harder than expected because I also take raising my son seriously. It is not always happy sunshine here either. Single-parenting requires that I am an ocean and not a puddle, so I can facilitate his growth. More often than not, I can feel my depth of understanding and boundaries being tested. It is uncomfortable. Growth is uncomfortable sometimes, yet rewarding.

Two years ago, my son talked about how he didn’t have a mom and dad who were still together and that it wasn’t normal. We spoke about it (and still do sometimes) because I want him to know that he is complete and whole. I explained to him that our family, though unconventional, is super awesome. That turned into a conversation about happiness and challenging societal norms, which ultimately turned into a conversation about patriarchy and how a family is just as valid with a mom only, a dad only, two moms, two dads, and a mom and a dad and any other variation. What matters most is that whatever the makeup of the family, it is a safe, healthy and supportive place for everyone to live their best lives. And this we do. We have so much fun. I get to teach him so many things I love, too: reading, writing, museums, art and so much more. I feel happy and proud. Proud of myself what I have accomplished in a rather short time for both of us.