Tuesday, November 26, 2013

All Things Must Come To An End: My Last Post

Saba7o LOVEanese. Tomorrow, November 27th, will mark the 2 year and 4 month anniversary of the founding of LOVEanon. I've written almost 60 posts concerning a range of topics, and I've clocked almost 60,000 page views as of today (Nov. 26, 2013).

This entire project came about because so many friends and peers were eager to know more about my thesis research. I was always so grateful that many individuals would ask me, "what did you find??" and were genuinely interested in knowing more about the research I conducted. But because I purposely took longer to write my thesis than many had hoped for, I began LOVEanon as a way to: 1. appease the individuals who had a very healthy and curious appetite for information and 2. to engage in connecting research to the public by translating research into meaningful and digestible (as well as funny and entertaining) posts. I never intended this blog to be an advice column, nor did I intend for it to be a hub of expertise or answers. I always saw myself as the middle man--just connecting you to the research and resources that were out there to hopefully foster a richer understanding of relationship science.

So, with that said, the title of this post is not about break-ups or dealing with relationships ending, it's about me and it's about this blog. After 2 years and 4 months, I've decided to stop blogging. As of this post, I will no longer be writing on LOVEanon, nor will I be interested in licensing the name or the brand to anyone else.

I will continue to support the blog, and I will not delete it. Any time you wish you read a previous post, the archives as well as the URL (www.LOVEanon.org) will remain intact, and you will still have the ability to comment (and I'll still reply back). However, no new posts will be added in the future and I will stop sharing links on the LOVEanon Facebook Page.

If you are wondering why I decided to do this, let me explain the multiple reasons:

1. When I started this, I was in the midst of research and academia. But I've been outside of both of these fields for over a year and a half now. I still have the skills to do it, but I am getting farther and farther from things I consider important to writing good research. This includes the discussion and discourse that is required to write meaningful posts, but also a critical awareness of the target population. I've been outside of the Arab world for this long as well, and I am disconnected from the relational problems of individuals there (e.g., the problems here in India are incredibly different).

2. I no longer feel like I have any authority to write (and I'm skeptical I had any to begin with). As I have always said, I'm not an expert, and because I am so distanced from both my thesis and from research as a whole, I don't think I should be tackling the pressing issues that many Arabs and others face today vis-a-vis their relationships.
There are many people out there who are doing great research and really know what they are talking about, and I am not one of them. Moreover, I have no plans to continue the research I began in my thesis, but I encourage anyone to contact me if they would like to carry out related research.

3. Living in India now and focusing on other things, I have neither the time to dedicate to it nor the incentive to do so. LOVEanon is and always will be ad-free, but the time it takes to write a good post is time I don't want to make anymore, especially as I focus on my work and career. As I've said, it can take hours to write just one post, and I don't feel like spending that time is really worth it anymore. My writing is also sporadic, and that lack of consistency as well as energy is ultimately not fair to my readers.

4. Honestly, I just don't want to write any more. I don't have the energy for it, and I feel like writing has become an obligation instead of a pleasure. Part of the reason also stems from the fact that I'm also incredibly tired of being introduced as "the guy that writes about love." I didn't start this blog to be a pick-up a line;
I'd rather be introduced as a person that truly cares about the happiness of others and tries to engage with the problems of the world. I really, really care about building better relationships, and I think most people (including myself) have no idea what it takes to keep a relationship healthy and strong in today's world. But I don't want this to be a part of my identity anymore, and I don't feel like my blog is accomplishing what I want either, especially within my immediate surroundings. I wrote my thesis about romantic relationship formation in Lebanon, and it was an amazing and incredibly enriching experience. But it's now the past, and ceasing to write for me also represents the final closing of a chapter in my life--one that doesn't involve relationship research or the assumption that I have any answers because I definitely do not.

Hopefully this can represent a new beginning of my life where I can focus on other things, but I still encourage you to use previous posts for reference. I also encourage you to keep the discussion alive and well. Do check out my page on recommended relationship resources for lots of great links and places to find good information (such as Science of Relationships).

I want to thank everyone who has made this blog such a huge success, but most importantly, I want to thank my readers. The comments you leave are so beautiful and insightful, they always leave me feeling touched. I thank everyone who has shared my blog, felt inspired at some point by something I've written, or made me feel appreciated because they liked the words I wrote.

I really wish everyone happy and successful relationships in your present and futures. I also hope you never stop challenging yourself and your partners to be better relationship partners and create/maintain better, stronger, and healthier relationships. Everything takes work, and relationships are no different. Thank you for letting me be a part of your life for over two years.

Good luck, and never stop spreading love,
-Ogie, MA 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

When in Doubt, Follow Your Nose

"The subject tonight is love,
And for tomorrow night as well.
As a matter of fact,
I know of no better topic,
For us to discuss,
Until we all
Die!"

Saba7o LOVEanese, joyous Dussehra, and Eid Mubarak! This is my first post of October, but I am happy to have taken a bit of time off from blogging. My log of potential blog posts, however, continues to increase. Something I am INCREDIBLY happy about is that, after about 2 years and 3 months, LOVEanon finally hit over 50,000 views!

 Screen shot from October 6, 2013

Thank you to everyone who made it happen. This includes everyone who reads my blog, shares it, Likes it on Facebook, ReTweets it, etc. 3anjad, shukran kteer!

Before I get into the core of the post, as usual, I want to highlight some cool articles, quotes, and other resources. One is already listed above, and is short prose about love by the Persian poet, Hafiz. But here are the others:

1. The first is a Biblical quote from the 1st Book of Corinthians (13, 1–13). I've always loved this passage, and just wanted to share:

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I thought as a child, I reasoned as a child. But when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face–to–face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So, now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love."


2. The second is a short poem entitled, Quiet Girl, by the African-American poet, Langston Hughes (1902-1967): 

"I would liken you
To a night without stars
Were it not for your eyes.
 
I would liken you
To a sleep without dreams
Were it not for your songs."

3. The third is a fantastic article about compatibility, and simply says that love is not enough to make a marriage or long-term relationship of any kind (married, or long-term partners) lasting and successful. There are multiple factors at play, including life goals, family, relationship dynamics, and a host of others. The article I linked to at the beginning of this paragraph explores this concept in greater detail, and I suggest you read it, especially since there are even more considerations to bear in mind as well. The fact is, most Westerners are obsessed with the idea of love, whereas people from Asia are obsessed with (social) compatibility. I believe there is a healthy in-between though!

4. The fourth is a blog post that was circulating around about what it means to really love (in this case, it was that he didn't love his wife before they were married). It's not contrasting love marriage vs. arranged marriage, but simply argues that his interpretation of what love is before he was married was completely different and in some ways, shallow, compared to the love he discovered after getting married. This was one of the most powerful parts:

"From Disney movies to my favorite shows like “The Office” to practically every pop song released, love is constantly sold as an emotion we have before we’re married. An emotion that, once had, somehow magically stays within a marriage forever. I can’t imagine a bigger lie. And I’m saddened to think about how much those messages bounced around in my head for so long. And how much I’m sure those messages are bouncing around in other people’s heads as well. I think that might be a big part of the reason the divorce rate is so high in this country. Imagine a whole nation of people constantly chasing the emotions they had when they were dating. A country of people trying to live a Disney movie. That’s a recipe for disastrous marriages; for a country with a 50% divorce rate;  for adultery (the classic attempt to turn the fire back on); for people who do stay together to simply live functional, loveless marriages. It’s sad to see just how common all the above is. How many people are in pain simply because they’ve been lied to. Those people deserve better. We all deserve better. It’s time that we changed the conversation about love. It’s time that we redefine it. Because until we do, adultery will continue to be common. Loveless marriages. Divorce. Living Disney movies in our minds, and tragedies in our lives."

It's relevant too because in many ways, love is true understanding. And in today's world, the concept of love (and especially romantic love) is often misunderstood in itself. Just remember: love doesn't discriminate, per se, but compatibility does. 

5. The fifth is an article about the dating habits of (American) Millennials, specifically covering the 40 Days of Dating "experiment" that two friends(?) in New York documented. It provides some interesting insights, though its general applicability is most-likely questionable.

6. The sixth is more coverage of India's "Dark is Beautiful" campaign that I covered in this post, which celebrates the range of beauty in the form of skin tones and features. 

7. The seventh is an article from the Good Men Project debunking 6 marriage myths. Really interesting read! It includes the myths of pursuing your own individual needs is incompatible with making a marriage work, and the goal of marriage is for both partners to get exactly what they want (these are two big myths!).

8. The eighth is a good, light-hearted article entitled, "Get Married or Die Fasting" that is circulating around about marriage and courtship, and the frustrations of marriage and dating within Arab and Islamic societies.

9. The ninth is a collection of dating tips with some interesting and overall good advice. Although it's directed at "feminist men," I think that it is really applicable to most men AND women.

10. Lastly, there is some really big news that just recently broke, which is that kissing is, indeed, very important! "Psychology graduate student, Rafael Wlodarski, from the University of Oxford, wanted to find out. Results from his experiments supported two of the existing hypotheses about why we kiss. First, we kiss to assess potential mates. Second, we kiss the mate we've found to maintain attachment."

Note to self: Do this more.

Now, with all of that out of the way, let's get to the meat of this post (soy if you're vegetarian). The title comes from an exchange between Gandolf and the hobbits of the Fellowship in the (awesome) movie, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, while they were in the Mines of Moria. Gandalf is leading the party through the abandoned mines, when he suddenly realizes he cannot remember which path to take. After sitting down, and conversing with Frodo for a bit, he finally figures out which way to take. Upon one of the hobbits (Merry) announcing that he's remembered his way, Gandolf jokingly replies, "No. But the air doesn’t smell so foul down here. If in doubt, Meriadoc, always follow your nose."

And with a beard like that, how could you NOT believe him!?

As with navigating abandoned minds in a fantasy world, your nose is also useful in navigating the often just-as-confusing real world of dating. How so? It's due to evolutionary biology (Thornhill and Gangestad, 1999; Tregenza and Wedell, 2000; Bhutta, 2007; Roberts and Roiser, 2010). Bloggers and writers have discussed this widely (e.g., see: this article, this article, and this article that reviewed and critiqued the Discovery Channel's series, The Science of Sex Appeal's coverage of the topic).

Bhutta's (2007) review explains how smell is related to dating, specifically, how it's related to mate selection and attraction. In his conclusion, he writes, "Olfaction as a sensory modality in humans has declined in importance subsequent to the evolution of trichromatic vision, and perhaps even more with the use in contemporary society of perfumes and deodorants to disguise our body odors. However, emerging evidence shows that it may play a far more important role than we suppose, and that in common with other animals it may be involved in endocrine regulation, behavioral responses and in determining when, how and with whom we choose to reproduce. The research in this field remains sparse, and the potential implications of these findings on people clinically afflicted with nasal blockage or anosmia have not been investigated, but could be significant."

What exactly does that mean? Well, try this: he presents findings from studies that suggest that someone else's bodily scent is often an evolutionary clue that predicts your genetic similarity and compatibility (otherwise labeled as "genetically complimentary"). The higher the similarity, the lower the compatibility because genetic similarity will create less genetically diverse babies with lower genetic fitness. Imagine it like this: when a baby is being formed, DNA from the male sperm and female egg are combining to create a new life. Genetically-speaking, the more the two individuals have in common, the fewer genetic "resources" are available that can be assembled to create a healthier baby. That's not to imply that more genetic similarity will always produce unhealthy babies; it's merely asserting that human evolution has programmed us mentally and biologically to seek out partners who can help us create offspring under the best conditions possible (one reason why incest is so damaging for offspring).

One blogger explains why this is so: "From an evolutionary perspective, choosing a mate with a different immune system makes survival sense. Kids of parents with different immune genes are more likely to be disease-resistant and are therefore more likely to survive. The women in [these studies] also reported liking the scents that reminded them of their current or previous boyfriends, showing that MHC attraction is consistent. And because MHC profiles differ greatly from one person to the next, there is no universally "good" smell. One woman’s Romeo was another woman's raunchy."

And you can proudly tell those parents to piss off when their kid gives your kid chicken pox.

Moreover, an article from Science of Relationships states: "We choose potential mates based on how suitable they would be as genetic contributors to our offspring. Therefore, we look for (or smell for) signs that a person has good genes, good health, and fertility."

I think you are getting the point. This information comes out of a long history exploring the connection between smell and mate selection. One famous study was the "sweaty T-shirt study" by Swiss zoologist, Claus Wedekind (1995). Wedekind et al. was working with the hypothesis that human odor correlates to personal genetic makeup. They brought together 49 women and 44 men, and he gave each man a cotton T-shirt to wear for 3 days. They asked the men to avoid wearing any perfumes or deodorants. Those shirts were returned to Wedekind, who put each one in a box with a "smelling hole." The women volunteers each sniffed seven shirts, and to indicate which smelled the best to them. They were also asked to rate the odors in each box according to pleasantness and "sexiness." The researchers found that women didn’t just choose their favorite scent randomly. They preferred the scent of man whose major histocompatibility complex (MHC)--a series of genes involved in our immune system--was most different from their own (information borrowed from here and here).

Other good links and resources to learn more about this include this article that further explains the science behind it (hint: it involves the creation and secretion of pheromones), and another article from the Science of Relationships that reviews a study, and sheds light on why body scent is connected to mate selection. For instance, of the chemicals that are supposed to be involved in communicating genetics via body scent are pheromones. They are produced by both men and women, however, men apparently give off many more than women, and is closely related to the hormone androsterone. According to the first article mentioned in this paragraph, "the term pheromone was coined by two hormone researchers, Karlson and Luscher, who created the word from two Greek origins: pherein, meaning to bring or transfer; and hormon, meaning to excite. Pheromones are primarily perceived through olfactory sensors, and studies suggest they are excreted by several areas of the body, including the skin, sweat glands, saliva, and urine."

This photo explains how pheromones influence our brains

The article continues, explaining: "Men primarily release androsterone through their skin and hair. And while both men and women excrete trace amounts of it through their urine, men excrete up to four times as much as women do. This particular pheromone, which is produced by the adrenal glands of both sexes, is also present in sweat under the armpits of both sexes. In addition, it is present in smegma, the substance secreted by the sebaceous glands of the penis and vagina. Researchers have found that women secrete at least one other attracting pheromone from their vagina. Studies of the vaginal secretions of sexually alluring women have demonstrated the presence of copulin, a pheromone which is mainly present in these fluids. The appearance of these chemicals appears to correlate with hormonal variations corresponding with changes in the female menstrual cycle."

Since Wedekind's study, much more light has been cast on this phenomenon. However, something that is beginning to happen is that people are throwing "Pheromone Parties." As this article explains, it's exactly what you think it is. It involves someone hosting a party where they basically reproduce Wedekind's study, but with the hopes of finding a date. Colbert does a particularly funny segment on these parties.

"Mmmmm, let's make babies!"

There is much more to discuss related to this than I included in the post. But mainly it's because the articles I have linked to really do a great job at presenting the information (although they do not often cite their sources, but generally just say "studies show." Be careful when you see this because we tend to trust this language, but it may be misleading).

What do you think about it? We can probably easy recall a time when we were turned off to someone because they smelled bad, but do you remember a time when you were attracted to someone because they smelled good? Let me know!

Spread the love,

-Ogie, MA

References:

Bhutta, Mahmood F. 2007. "Sex and the Nose: Human Pheromonal Responses." Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 100(6): 268-274.

Thornhill, R., and S. W. Gangestad. 1999. "The Scent of Symmetry: A Human Sex Pheromone that Signals Fitness?" Evolution and Human Behavior, 20: 175-201. 

Tregenza, T., and N. Wedell. 2000. "Genetic Compatibility, Mate Choice, and Patterns of Parentage: Invited Review." Molecular Ecology, 9(8): 1013–1027.
 

Roberts, T., and Roiser, J. P. 2010. "In the Nose of the Beholder: Are Olfactory Influences on Human Mate Choice Driven by Variation in Immune System Genes or Sex Hormone levels?" Experimental Biology and Medicine, 235(11): 1277-81. 

Wedekind, Claus, Thomas Seebeck, Florence Bettens, and Alexander J. Paepke. 1995. "MHC-Dependent Mate Preferences in Humans." Proceeding of the Royal Society of London Series B, 260: 245-249.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

"In The Ladies' Room, Pt. 2" (Cover Post)

Marhaba LOVEanese! As I promised, here is the second installment of "In The Ladies' Room," a work of creative fiction by Rami Daya. In case you missed part one, check it out here. When the third part is written, I will post it. 

And now I am proud to present:

 In The Ladies' Room, Part 2
By: Rami Daya


We were alone in the ladies’ room again, sitting on the tempting red sofa. The sounds from outside were distant and inaudible compared to the rushing beats of my heart. Her brilliant blue eyes had a perplexing charm that captivated me. I couldn’t lose contact with them, and somehow I felt they were calling upon me. Closer and closer I leaned, and my heartbeats grew wilder... finally our noses touched gently, and there was only one last move to be done. The sweet scent from her cheeks was like opium. It made my senses rebel against me! Unconsciously, yet with extreme determination, I found myself heading for her lips. I tilted my head sideways and she raised hers slowly. Halfway through, our lips met; they were a perfect match. At that moment nothing mattered anymore except Maria. I couldn’t stop! Kissing Maria was something I didn’t want to let go of. An indescribable feeling of warmth filled my heart and set out to the rest of my body! This was too good to be true, I thought to myself... too good to be true...

All of a sudden the ladies’ room became pitch black. Maria’s beauty dissolved in the darkness, and the red sofa faded into my ragged-looking bed. I was sweating profusely, my heartbeats still on fire. This wasn’t the first dream I had about Maria. I checked my phone for the time, and saw a missed call from Jasmine! I couldn’t help but laugh bitterly at the dark irony of the situation. Seconds later, the feeling of “something is inevitably wrong” pervaded me again; this feeling had been lingering around my conscience for a while. I thought I would gradually get over it, but on the contrary, it made me feel more hypocritical day-by-day. I intended to miss-call Jasmine back, but halfway through I felt repulsed by the idea and refrained. Instead I skimmed the contacts for Maria’s number and just looked at it. I had deleted that number and re-saved it again tens of times during the last month. It seemed impossible to erase the memory of Maria. Despite my hard endeavors to alienate her from my mind, she still lingered in my thoughts and dreams. I knew I was angry at her; but I also knew I was crazy about her. In spite of my bruised pride and the great sense of ambiguous resentment that clouded the situation, the thought of Maria still made my heart beat faster. I remembered the Monday when we were supposed to meet, and how the unexpected turn of events started...

***

...I was restless like a child all day. I had never felt that excited about a girl before. I skipped a class so I would have enough time to prepare myself. I rushed home, showered, shaved, and primed myself to the last notch; I even wore my “good shirt!” I bought a rose from a small flower shop next to my house; but as I was over thinking about it in the cab, I felt it was too soon to be romantic. What if she panics? What if she doesn’t accept it? What if she thinks I have issues? All of these questions rushed into my lavish imagination and depicted rather undesirable scenarios. I sheepishly left the rose in the cab, hoping the driver wouldn’t notice it until I was out of eyesight. I thought I would ask Maria for dinner, or at least for a drink. My head was crowded with ideas as I walked to our intended meeting place. I felt glad the crowd of AUB students was starting to subside, for hordes of people usually made me nervous. Luckily, the bench I was imagining the rendezvous on was empty. I sat down, staring out towards the glimmering sapphire Mediterranean in the distance, and yearned to recognize Maria’s face in the faces of the people walking by. Maria would be here any minute now, I thought to myself.

Half an hour passed, and Maria still hadn’t showed up. My anxiety was rising, but my enthusiasm refused to subside; I waited and waited, not patiently but very intently. Whenever I saw a girl coming from a distance, I would cross my fingers hoping that was Maria, just to realize later on it wasn’t her. Tentative thoughts started to crowd my mind: What if she doesn’t show up? What if she forgot? My genuine enthusiasm started giving way to doubt. Maybe she is stuck in traffic... but isn’t she supposed to be inside AUB? Should I call? No, that would sound desperate! I’ll wait five more minutes then call. I should call, shouldn’t I? Maybe send her an SMS? Where is she!? I was having a violent internal monologue when a familiar distant fragrance knocked gently on my senses.

“Nick?”

My heart skipped a beat at the sound of Maria’s voice. I turned my head, and there she was standing behind me. She looked a little different, but I still found her beguiling in her own special way. She wore her blond hair in a simple ponytail, and she had glasses on. Apparently she had contact lenses on Friday night. She was wearing jeans and a blue top that made her eyes stand out. My heart was welcoming her with the rhythm of a very special beat. I missed her so much!

“Hi Maria! It’s nice to see you!” I stood up quickly, and shook her hand more than warmly. I was so happy to see her, and my eagerness was very obvious! I had totally forgotten her belatedness; seeing her made me oblivious of the tentative time I spent waiting. I gently gestured for her to have a seat, and she sat down silently. In contrast to my enthusiasm, she seemed a little cold. She wasn’t smiling at me like she was in the ladies’ room. She wasn’t emanating her usual charm. I couldn’t help noticing something was wrong.

“Are you okay Maria?” I asked. She slowly turned her head and looked at me; her expressions were solemn. Something was definitely wrong.

“I’m sorry, I can’t stay long Nick. I have to leave. But it wasn’t appropriate to keep you waiting here,” she paused for a while then continued. “You are a really nice guy. But please forget everything that happened last Friday,” she turned her head away, as if shy to confront me. “Please forget about it, and just let it go.”

“What...?” I still hadn’t fully comprehended what she said. This was the last thing I had expected to hear. I couldn’t describe the feelings that permeated me. Shock, disappointment, confusion... She was still looking away. “Maria, look at me. What happened?”

“Please Nick,” she was still looking in the opposite direction, as if talking to the tree next to her rather than me. “Just let it go, there is no way for this to work out.”

“Why Maria? Please tell me,” I pleaded. I tried to put my hand on her shoulder, but she withdrew immediately and stood up. She was about to leave, but paused and turned back. At that moment, she delivered the metaphorical coup de gras that causes shock waves to penetrate into the depths of your heart.

“I have a boyfriend Nick.” She said it in a quiet voice without making eye contact with me, and walked away.

“What?” I shouted unconsciously. I was dumbstruck; I could feel the mushroom cloud of nuclear fallout dissipating into the atmosphere inside of me at the thought of her words; the aftershocks of the echoing inside my mind. I couldn’t see her walking away like that; something stirred me up from inside. I stood up quickly and caught up with her. “You what?? Why didn’t you tell me before!??”

“Please Nick,” she started walking faster. “Please leave me alone...”

“No Maria, listen to me!” I held her arm and pulled her back. But I immediately felt guilty because I did it with a furious attitude; I moderated my tone. “You know, I have liked you ever since the moment I saw you. And I made it clear that I want to get to know you better. I honestly meant it. I think I deserve more of an explanation. Do you really have a boyfriend or are you just saying this to push me away?”

Maria finally looked me straight in the eyes. Her beautiful blue eyes were clouded with tears preparing to be shed on her beautiful white cheeks.

“No Nick, it’s not like that. I’m not saying it to push you away. But it’s beyond my control.” She sounded sincere, but I still found it hard to believe.

“Why didn’t you tell me on Friday? Why did you give me hope, knowing you would take it away like this?” I sounded bitter, and my fury was rising again. I felt manipulated; I hated that feeling. Then my anger said something I regretted right away, “Or did you grow a boyfriend over the weekend?” for the first time Maria looked frustrated. Her white cheeks turned crimson, and she gave me a scornful frown.

“On Friday I had an ex-boyfriend who wasn’t talking to me and who I was still hung-up on. He wants me back now. I know it’s messed up; I’m messed up, and he’s messing me up even more. But I love him, I do. And I need to believe that this time he has really changed. So Nick, understand my dilemma. I’m sorry for the way things went on Friday. I wasn’t trying to mislead you. I’m sorry.” She said it with such grief and anger, and teardrops fell from her cloudy blue eyes. Without saying another word, she turned around and left. And I stood there speechless, watching her walk away...

***

...Back in the darkness of my room, those memories made me feel uncomfortable. I turned and turned in bed trying in vain to fool myself into sleeping. Instead, other images from the past chaotic two weeks flashed into my mind...

***

…A couple of weeks later, as I was still bitterly trying to recuperate from Maria’s rejection, a familiar ringtone opened a door I thought I had shut for good. It was Jasmine, asking about me and how I have been. She triggered a remote sense of nostalgia that had been smothered by Maria. It struck me that the amount of thought I allocated for Jasmine was negligible compared to the time Maria occupied my mind. It was uncanny how little I remembered Jasmine, and how much I fantasized about Maria. But Jasmine’s call stirred something inside me, something I couldn’t describe or define. The aftermath of our break-up went smooth for me; I didn’t reflect deeply on what happened because I met Maria the same day, and she engaged my mind and feelings since then. But hearing Jasmine’s shaky voice still shook me somehow. She wanted to see me the next day, and I couldn’t refuse. I still had a tender spot for her in my heart.

Ironically, she met me on the same bench where my rendezvous with Maria was. Jasmine was wearing the outfit I liked best. She was also adorned with accessories I had bought her throughout our relationship. She was still the most beautiful brunette with hazel eyes I have ever seen. I approached her cautiously, and only shook hands with her. But she gave me a smooth kiss on my cheek. I didn’t feel anything at the moment. Jasmine confronted me with her feelings, explaining how she was sorry for what had happened before. She promised she was willing to put all her effort into our relationship this time. She didn’t want to lose me. She was crying by the time she reminded me of our imminent first year anniversary...

I held her hand, and wiped the tears off her face. She did mean something to me at some point. But I realized right then that it wasn’t the same anymore. I tried to find a reason that made me want Jasmine back, but I couldn’t find any solitary emotion left for her in my heart. Indeed, I did cherish the relationship we had, but that had already been archived into the pages of the past for me. There was no doubt she still had ripe emotions for me; it was obvious. I, on the other hand, was hoping it was Maria’s hand I was holding instead of Jasmine’s. The biggest problem was that I felt too guilty to confess my lack of emotions when she was openly admitting her perpetuated love. That tender spot was sympathy, not love. I kept the conversation going, though; we discussed how our relationship had been going downhill for a while, and how we had changed throughout its ups and downs. I offered her my consolidation, but refrained from giving definite answers. Jasmine was obviously trying to redirect the plot of the conversation to the same point.

“But don’t you want to give it one more chance? We deserve this!” Jasmine didn’t know my emotional interest in her had ceased, and that someone else was reigning over my heart.

“Jasmine, you are a wonderful girl. But what if we end up in the same place like we did the first time?” I had to be as diplomatic as possible with her...

“Maybe we shouldn’t rush back into a full-fledged relationship right away,” she offered. “Nevertheless, I want you in my life. Take me out on a first date again. Remember how wonderful those days were? Let’s take it step-by-step all over again,” she pressed hard on my hand, and fixed her gaze at me; I knew her well enough still to know that this meant she was waiting for my answer.

“Maria...” 

It took me a while to realize my tongue slipped; luckily, she didn’t pay much attention to it.

“Jasmine!” It came out more like an answer or a statement rather than the beginning of a sentence. I didn’t know what to say next. I went blank! Mentioning Maria’s name broke my chain of thoughts. “Listen Jasmine, I need time to think about this. I can’t give you an answer right away.” I didn’t know what else to say! I couldn’t break her heart, but I couldn’t claim her as mine either.

“I love you Nick...”

Jasmine was on the verge of tears. She seldom cried before. My face turned red with shame; I couldn’t tell her I loved her too, I just didn’t feel it. Awkward silence hovered over us, pending the answer I didn’t have. Jasmine kept looking at me, as if convincing herself I would answer her any second. “Nick, don’t leave me hanging like this. Please!” Her hand was still holding mine. “Don’t drag my love around. Tell me right now, do you still love me or not?”

“I care about you Jasmine,” I lied; it was excruciating pain to push forth those fake words, but I couldn’t break her heart. Guilt demoralized me as I uttered another lie, “I do care. I just need some time to figure things out more clearly...” 

*** 

...The projection of memories stopped, and brought me back to my room and the morbid feeling that I was doing something wrong. I had been indirectly avoiding Jasmine since then. My sole pretext was that I needed more time. But the more I procrastinated, the harder I found it to confront her with the truth. Over and over I turned in my bed, as if searching for a solution in the folds of my sheets. I had to put an end to the collateral damage I was inflicting; I just didn’t know what to do. One person would truly understand my dilemma and help me solve it, I thought to myself. Peter couldn’t give me any helpful feedback in that area, neither could Mo or Tom. I needed some quality time with Sally.

Sally was a very close friend of mine. We met during my sophomore year when she was my registration guide, and our friendship grew strong in a very short period of time. She was one of the few people I would trust with my life. Sally graduated a year ahead of me, and was already working in a prestigious consultancy firm. We were both beyond busy most of the time, so we weren’t seeing each other very often; we only talked on the phone from time-to-time. Luckily the next day was a Sunday; I called her early in the morning, and we agreed to have lunch together later that day. 

We had lunch at Bliss Street, and went for a walk inside AUB. I had developed a strong sense of belonging to the campus in the past three years. I particularly admired it on Sundays when it was quiet and almost empty, and the scene of young children playing on the green oval gave me a sense of peace. Sally shared my taste in the tranquility of a Sunday-afternoon walk at AUB. I didn’t realize how much I missed her until I remembered how her company felt. We caught up on a lot of pent-up news. I was glad she was gradually acclimating to her new job. Naturally, at some point she asked me about Jasmine. The last update she had was rather obsolete; she only knew that we were passing through rough times. I explained how Jasmine and I had broken-up, how she tried to make-up again, how I was currently afraid of confronting her with the truth, and how puzzling it felt to have Maria standing in the middle of everything. I started from scratch and didn’t skip any minor detail, although it was agonizing to go through the subject all over again. Sally burst out laughing when I mentioned the ladies’ room part! But by the time I was done she had on her scrutinizing look that meant she was interpreting everything in her mind. I liked how she listened to the whole thing before giving her opinion.

“First of all, Jasmine doesn’t deserve this. She thinks you still care about her. She is going to keep convincing herself that you do. Do you know how hard this is?” Sally’s expressions were serious. I intended to answer, but she continued talking. Apparently it was a rhetorical question.

“It’s true I never liked her in person that much, but you made a huge mistake by not ending it right away when you had the chance. You shouldn’t have agreed to meet her in the first place.”

“I thought I might still care about her!” I knew I was starting to talk rubbish.

“You thought you might? You don’t think you might still care about someone. You just know this kind of thing.” She made utter sense, I thought to myself.

“I think Maria messed me up!”

“No. This is not the point. You don’t want to admit you moved on so fast, so you’re blaming it on Maria. Maybe you even started moving on before you actually broke-up!” she said, and gave me a deep look. I loved how Sally understood me in places where I lost track of myself. “The sooner, the better Nick. It is unfair for her. And you know it is the right thing to do,” she smiled at me. “And what about Maria?”

“It’s been a month and I’m still not over her. I keep dreaming about her!” I sounded rather pathetic, but Sally wasn’t a stranger.

“But how could you like her, much less love her? You barely know her! I think it’s just a crush,” Sally said, and we sat on a bench facing the green oval.

“I think it was meant to be. Think of it, what are the odds of entering the ladies’ room and falling asleep inside!?” Flashbacks were running back and forth in my mind. Feelings of happiness and bitterness clashed inside me. But my heart still felt light.

“Dude! You were drunk! How can you tell your perception wasn’t compromised?” I knew Sally was trying to bring me back to Earth. But what happened was indeed beyond the realms of reality. Sally continued, “Even worse, the girl is emotionally unavailable. Why don’t you get that?”

“The way she acted all night obviously showed she did like me. She didn’t mind giving me her number. We were doing great. By the way, she admitted her boyfriend was messing her up.” 

“Nick, that is her problem, not yours! It’s inappropriate to attach yourself to her. You know you can’t have her. Why bother yourself that much? This is just irrational.”

“Who said love is rational?” I asked without much thought.

“Ha! Fall in love then act irrationally. Don’t act irrationally and convince yourself you are in love. There is a huge difference.” Impatience was growing in Sally’s tone. We realized we weren’t going to reach a consensus, so we agreed to move to a less controversial topic.

Sunday afternoon reluctantly withered into night, and the battle inside me refused to ebb with the fading sun. I had two hard things lurking on my mind; first, I had to talk to Jasmine, and confess that I didn’t want to be with her any more. The second and definitely harder thing was alienating Maria from my feelings. I decided to start with the easier of the two, because only God knew how much it was going to take me to put Maria completely behind me. I reluctantly texted Jasmine, and asked her to meet me the next day. She answered right away with a very excited tone in her message, she said she would meet me at Jafet [Library] at five, and sealed her message with a kissing smiley. It was our thing...

All Monday I kept avoiding the idea that I had to confront Jasmine. Moreover, I struggled with keeping Maria at a distance from my thoughts; yet she still seeped into my mind very often. And repressing thoughts of her was both hard and painful. After a long and tedious day, the College Hall clock chimed five o’clock. I found myself walking to the library unwillingly and very slowly, as if wishing I wouldn’t make it on time and Jasmine would have left by then. I finally arrived at the rear stairs of College Hall facing the library fountain. I looked around the vicinity very quickly, but Jasmine was nowhere in sight. I sat down on the stairs, hoping she wouldn’t be late; I really wanted to get it over with as quick as possible. In spite of that feeling, somewhere deep inside I was still hoping against hope that she wouldn’t show up at all...but things don’t always go as one plans them.

Something beyond my control happened as I was waiting at the stairs of College Hall. A beautiful scent flared up into my senses. The opium-like scent I hadn’t forgotten, the one that reminded me of the red sofa and my recurrent dreams!

“Nick?” A familiar voice called my name. Only it wasn’t Jasmine. It was Maria! 

“Maria?” I was shocked to see her. A strange feeling pervaded me, a feeling of utter happiness. I hadn’t felt this way since the last time I saw her. My heartbeats accelerated, like they did in my dreams of Maria, only this time it was much more intense and real! But my mind intervened right away, dictating me to preserve my bruised dignity.

“Hi.” I held out my hand and shook her hand rather carelessly. I adopted an air of nonchalance to smother my sore ego. “How are you?” I asked, fighting the urge to hug her.

“I’ve had better days, but I’m okay. It’s been some time since I saw you,” she smiled gently. Her smile perplexed me; I couldn’t understand why she was being sweet. 

“One month exactly,” I said rather bitterly. I had to show her I wasn’t weak towards her at all. But she was looking intently into my eyes as if trying to see beyond my lie. I felt she was looking inside me; at the very essence of my being.

“I know. I have something to tell you Nick...”

“Hey baby! Sorry I’m late!” Jasmine’s lips found their way to my cheeks, and her arms were already around me. “Who’s your friend?” she asked happily. I couldn’t believe Jasmine had to show up at this particular moment!!

“Umm... this is Maria,” I said nervously. I looked anxiously at Maria; her expression was beyond grave. She looked as if she was frowning, but struggling not show it. She was alternating her look between Jasmine and me, apparently really confused at what was happening. I shook my head slightly in attempt to convey to her that Jasmine wasn’t important, but Jasmine blew it all off.

“Hi Maria. I am Jasmine, Nick’s girlfriend!” Jasmine said with a silly smile, and gave me another kiss on my cheek. I automatically withdrew myself, and removed her hands from my shoulders. A dormant emotion erupted in me, something beyond bruised ego and pride. Something beyond everything that had happened during the past month. It made me want to shout at the top of my throat NO! I felt the burning urge to explain to Maria that Jasmine wasn’t my girlfriend anymore, and that all what happened was a mere misconception.

“No, Maria!” I yelled, as Maria laughed sarcastically; she turned her back to us and was apparently leaving. I had to explain to her the truth, I had to know what she wanted to tell me... and I had to tell her I loved her! I had to tell her I loved her ever since I saw her!

“Nick, what are you doing!?” Jasmine exclaimed. “What’s wrong??”

“Just leave Jasmine. There is nothing between us anymore!” I said it with my eyes and mind still on Maria. I saw her entering the library; and without any further thinking I followed her. 

“Maria, Maria... wait!!” I yelled as I entered the library, but she didn’t look back; she disappeared to the right immediately. Everyone in the lobby of the library was looking at me, but I didn’t care. I followed to the right, but by the time I reached the top of the stairs, Maria had already descended the stairs very quickly, and was walking to the ladies’ room in the basement. I jumped down the stairs two at a time and ran to catch up with Maria. Eventually, I found myself facing the ladies’ room. I paused at the door for a moment, but I didn’t need to think any further. I had already entered the ladies’ room before by mistake when I was drunk. This time I was going to enter it deliberately and fully sober. My Maria was inside, and nothing could keep me away from her this time. 

I took a deep breath, pushed the door, and entered the ladies’ room once again...

TO BE CONTINUED... 

© 2009 Rami Daya

Sunday, September 8, 2013

"In The Ladies' Room, Pt. 1" (Cover Post)

Saba7o LOVEanese! Today's post is actually part one of a two-part series. My good friend and fellow AUB-alumnus, Rami Daya, told me about a short story series he wrote for a creative writing class at AUB in 2006, and then published on Facebook in February of 2007. He then independently followed-up with the next part of the story in 2009, and now he's in the process of writing the third part.

I read it, absolutely loved it, and asked for permission to publish it here--to which he happily consented! Also, don't let the name confuse you. Much to my surprise, it is NOT a "porno for stalkers."

Seriously, massive fail on my part haha

It's actually a very nice, engaging, and relatable story. And part two is even better! But it does take place in Lebanon, so hopefully anyone reading from there will be able to identify.

I'll post the first part now, and the second part later this week. Moreover, I encourage all of you to e-mail me at LOVEanonBlog@gmail.com if you would like to submit content you have created that is relevant to LOVEanon's themes. Alternatively, you can Tweet me or Facebook me. I do not mind a guest post at all, just as long as the content is high-quality and relevant.

Without further ado, I present to you: 

In The Ladies' Room, Part 1 
By: Rami Daya


It was a Friday afternoon, and I was feeling blue. After a very turbulent week, I had a huge fight with my girlfriend, and our relationship was over. I didn't attend my classes in the afternoon; I decided to go home and sleep. When I sleep I stop thinking, and I was in desperate need for that. Luckily, no one was home; I threw my bag on the floor, and dived into my sole source of solace: my bed. I quickly fell into an uneasy sleep, dreaming of break-ups and misery. When I woke up hours later, the room was completely dark. It was drowned in silence except for a distant noise from my bag. It took me a while to understand that it was my cell phone. I got out of bed hastily, tripping over the edge of the carpet. Still lying on the floor, I stretched my hand and grabbed the phone from my bag. There were five missed calls from my friend Peter. I called him back reluctantly and still half-asleep.

“Where on earth are you?” He shouted right away.

“People might say Hi first!” I said laughingly. “I was asleep.”

“Hi sleepy-head! It's nine o'clock. The guys and I are going to the new club in Downtown. It's been a long time since we last went out.”

“I'm not sure Pete. I just broke up with Jasmine, and I'm not feeling very well. I think I need some time alone,” I said miserably. I was in no mood for clubbing at all.

“Come on man. Don't stress about it. Tonight we'll have fun, and you will forget her for sure. Besides, you were way too good for her.” Peter's tone got higher, which meant he wasn't being completely honest, I could tell he was trying to compliment me.

“I don't know man. I'm not so sure...”

“Please Nick. We are counting on you to have so much fun. And you need this man!” he retorted. Peter was very persuasive; I was actually starting to change my mind.

“Well... Okay. When will you pick me up?”

I shaved and showered relatively fast! Then hastily dressed up and fixed my hair. By then, it was almost ten. I took some money from my closet and left my parents a note (I was starting to wonder where they were!). I heard Peter's impatient horn outside, and rushed to meet him and the guys. He was sitting in the driver's seat; Mo and Tom were in the back. I sat in the front next to Peter, and we hit the road. Peter had been my friend since intermediate school. We did a lot of things together: we studied together, went out on double dates together, and even got our driver's license together. Except that he had a car and I didn't. Mo and Tom were also good friends of ours ever since high school. We all went to the same university, but with very different majors. Still, we remained good friends.

“So, you finally broke up? I saw that coming ever since the holidays you know,” Tom said. Tom always had a knack to predict things!

“Girls come and go like seasons! You will find someone much better,” Mo said laughingly. Mo had a record for short-lived relationships. He never lasted more than a month with a girl!

“I intend to take a break for the mean time. Maybe set my priorities again and do all the things I have been neglecting lately,” I said rather pitifully. I sounded old!

“You always say that!” Peter said as he burst out into laughter. “Remember when you broke-up the previous times? You always fixed yourself with someone else fast. You are a natural Nick. You will find someone quickly, I know that.”

“I just want to have some fun tonight to lighten me up. I deserve it.” I really wanted to change the topic of the conversation, so I asked Peter about the Premier League. This would definitely ensure no more talk about Jasmine.

We arrived, and made our way past the steroid-infused bouncers. The club was really big! There were more than thirty tables, a grand bar on one side, and a huge dance floor in the middle. There was a small cabinet higher than the floor facing the bar. A young DJ was sitting in it, apparently revising the songs he would be playing for the night. We found an empty table and ordered four beers as starters. I was hungry but I thought it would be odd to order food. The guys just wanted to drink all night! We sipped beer and talked about funny things. They were obviously trying to cheer me up. In an hour's time, all the tables were full, the lights went out, and the DJ started spinning. Crazy lights flashed from the ceiling all over the place.

“I like it,” I lied to the guys, “It's fun!” The truth is that I wasn't very fond of crowds...

“Look at all the girls over there!” Peter exclaimed, pointing to our left. The tables were literally filled with extremely good-looking girls. We ordered more beer, and then moved to the whiskey shots. I was drinking as much water as possible because my stomach was empty. I knew I would get drunk, but I was somehow okay with that...

Already tipsy, Peter asked a girl to dance, and both of them disappeared in the crowds. Mo and Tom had their eyes on two girls, and decided to ask them to dance as well. By then I was officially drunk, but I liked the sense of euphoria it gave me. I decided to go to the restroom to kill some time while the guys were busy. I stood up slowly, and walked carefully lest I trip over someone. My senses weren't at their best, and I didn't have a good history with drunken episodes.

I was walking so slowly that it felt like a journey to the restroom. I couldn't help noticing that the bathroom was really clean and smelled very nice. It even had a small red sofa in the corner. I stood for a while, admiring the beauty of it. I looked around for the urinals, but I didn't find any. “They must be doing their annual maintenance,” I muttered to myself as I entered a stall. After an unusually long visit, I stepped out walking in zig-zags. As I was washing my hands, I rediscovered the presence of the sofa. I felt it was calling upon me! I thought I would give it a try; it occurred to me that I haven't ever sat on a sofa in a bathroom. Laughing at my drunken humor, I threw myself at the sofa, and lay back for a while. The sofa was really cozy and comfortable. I hugged a smooth red pillow, adjusted my head into a sleeping position, and without thinking of anything... I just slept.

It felt as if I had slept for long hours, and I woke up with a slight headache. I opened my eyes quickly, aware that I was drunk, and hoping that I didn't do anything stupid. A girl was crouching over the sofa, gently sprinkling water on my face!

“Are you okay? Do you know you're in the ladies' room?” she asked inquisitively. She was very puzzled, but wow, she looked so beautiful (or maybe I was imagining!). Her bright blue eyes with mascara on their contours were the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen!

“Hello, can you hear me?” she asked again when she saw I was staring blankly at her, waving her hand in front of my face.

“What? The ladies' room?? I guess I walked in by mistake! I'm sorry,” I sat up quickly and rubbed my eyes, “I guess I was too drunk to realize I entered the wrong bathroom!” I sounded so stupid.

“You boys don't know when to stop drinking, do you?” she smiled. At that point I shifted half of my attention from her eyes to her smile. She was amazingly beautiful!

“I'm really sorry for the inconvenience,” I said rather sheepishly.

“It's okay!” She smiled again, and my heart sank deep into the sofa. “You have to be really funny to walk into the ladies' room by mistake!” she continued.

“Heavens! Was she hitting on me? Should I make my move?” All these thoughts rushed inside my head at once. But her beauty made me gain consciousness somehow. I simply knew what would be the best thing to do next. I loved it when I just knew what to do! I smiled at her gently, “As a thank you for waking me up, may I ask you for a dance?”

She blushed a little and smiled again. “Well, I have never had such an offer for waking someone in a bathroom. Sure, why not!” she said. I felt extremely ecstatic to gain her consent!

“My name is Nick, by the way!” I said confidently as I held out my hand.

“My name is Maria,” she replied as she shook my hand. She tried to say something, but laughed instead, then she rephrased it. “Um, but before we dance, I have to use the bathroom. That's why I came here in the first place!” she blushed again, and we both burst into laughter. This was a once in a lifetime situation, I thought to myself! Still somehow, I couldn't take my eyes off her; she was too good to be true!

“I'll wait for you outside then,” I said, and walked out sheepishly. It was much harder to walk out than in! I rushed to the men's room and washed my face. Then I rushed back to our table; Peter was sitting there with a beautiful girl. I could tell from the way he held his head that he was still drunk.

“Look man, do you have any Tic-Tac's?” I asked with haste.

“Tic-Tacs?” he looked at me blankly. He looked drunkenly hilarious!

“Just give me a Tic-Tac!' I shouted angrily. He pulled a pack out of his pocket and gave it to me. Then he went back to talking to the girl next to him. Tom and Mo suddenly came back, and Mo gave me one of his angry looks.

“Where have you been? We were worried about you!” he shouted.

“I was in the bathroom!” I retorted (I was actually telling the truth). “Never mind, I'll be back later. I'm going to dance.” I could tell they all felt I was weird. But I couldn't explain anything. I rushed back to the bathrooms, and found her standing next to the door.

“I thought you fell asleep somewhere else!” she said smiling.

“You've got a sense of humor!” I said. Her blue eyes looked more beautiful in the darker setting outside. “Shall we dance now?” I held out my hand for her. At that time, blood was pumping in my adrenaline and not the other way around!

She was a good dancer, and so was I. We both danced so well that we weren't even talking. We were just concentrating on our moves. Dancing is a language of its own. I indulged in keeping eye contact with her all the time, and occasionally smiling bashfully. While we were dancing, I mutely told her that I think she is cute. She blushed, and smiled in return. Her eyes told me she was enjoying her time.

“What time is it Maria?” I had to shout in her ear a little bit so she could hear me. I had totally lost track of time. She looked at her watch and signaled “two” with her fingers.

“I'm tired” She said. “Can we rest for now?”

We sat down at the bar so we could talk.

“What do you do in life?”

“I am a senior at AUB,” I said (I always liked the “senior at AUB” part).

“Oh really? I go to AUB too! I'm a political science junior. What about you?” Her eyes seemed to widen in interest, it made them look more enchanting than ever.

“I'm majoring in medical laboratory. I'll be graduating this year, but I intend to continue my master's degree at AUB!”

“This is really interesting!” She smiled back.

We talked about many things, and the time slipped quickly. There was so much chemistry between us; I couldn't believe this was happening! Unfortunately, she had to leave at three with her friends. We exchanged phone numbers, and promised to meet each other on Monday. The guys and I had to leave too. Peter wasn't completely sober, so I drove on the way back.

“Seems you've already found someone! You are unbelievable!” Tom said. “She looks amazing. What's her name?”

“Maria!” I sighed. My heart felt very light, and it definitely wasn't from the alcohol anymore. It was a good night after all.

I stopped at my house and said goodbye to my friends. Mo would drive the rest of the way because it was too risky for Peter. I climbed the stairs thinking about how lucky I was to find an amazing girl like Maria, and in such speed! I opened the door very quietly; my parents were asleep, but they left me a note saying, “You're late... again!” I couldn't care less! I went to bed thinking of Maria, the red sofa, and the accidental entrance to the ladies' room. I couldn't wait for Monday to come!


TO BE CONTINUED...

© 2007 Rami Daya