Feel-Good The Ultimate Guide to Dating Love + Sex Love

I keep forgetting that my boyfriend exists and it’s the healthiest relationship I’ve ever had

A few weeks ago, I was hanging out with my friends Omid and Malu. We were eating dinner, and mid-mouthful of lasagne I realized that I had completely forgotten that my boyfriend existed for a moment. I just hadn’t been thinking about him. Bemused, I said it out loud. They both laughed it off and we all kept eating. Then around half an hour later, I noticed it happen again. This time, Omid called me out on it and said “you realize it’s normal not to think about him 24/7 right?” Wrong. The concept was completely new to me.

You know how you have a little voice in your head? One that narrates your life and talks you through your decisions and feelings? Well, during my last relationship, my ex’s influence was so pervasive in my life that I developed a second little voice, and that voice was his. So, quite literally, he was always on my mind.

Granted, it wasn’t until the next day that the thought of this had me spiraling. I was shocked. I was sad. I was angry. My entire body felt nauseous. I’d already acknowledged the emotional abuse; I’m still working through some of it. Yet, I hadn’t really understood the gravity of it. He had a say in everything, whether it was about how long I stayed out with friends, how many times a week I went to my dance classes, or what I wore.

He was smart about it though, and never forbade me from doing anything. Instead, he withheld affection, made me feel guilty for not taking his “perspective” into account, and threatened to end the relationship. So I did what I had to do to feel loved, and it was always my choice because I’d internalized his overly critical, possessive, insecure voice.

Everything (and I mean everything) that I thought went through a mental checkpoint: What will he think? How will he react? How can I include him? How will this affect him? If you want an example to demonstrate the extent of it, I even asked him how he would feel if I decided to go vegan. 

It was exhausting, and I do remember feeling unsettled at the time. But whenever I expressed my concerns about our lives being too intertwined or feeling like I had to base my every move around him he would say that relationships are all about compromise. That we were “a team,” and that I was the problem. I was just a selfish, shitty partner. The truth of it was that our relationship dynamic was just toxic.

There is a part of me that feels ashamed while writing this. I never painted myself to be the “type” of person who would get themselves into an abusive relationship, let alone stick it out for three and half years. When I talk about it, people seem to think the same. They say things like “I just can’t imagine you being someone who would be okay with that.” But it wasn’t something I allowed and there isn’t a type of person who attracts or accepts abuse. I realize too that there isn’t really a type of person who abuses people either. We’re all capable of being both. Perhaps it’s up to how we choose to tell the story. 

Once I had a bit of time to sit with all of the above, I messaged my boyfriend who was on a trip with his friends at the time. The conversation went like this:

My message: “So this is a weird thing, but I keep forgetting about you and I realized how good that is the other day. ” Followed by a 1:14 minute voice note of me explaining why.

His response: ” 🙂 I’m glad you feel that way babe xx. I love you and can’t wait to see you when I’m back.”

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No, I will not be taking my hijab off for my wedding and you can’t make me

We often talk about how the hijab is viewed negatively in the Western world. But I don’t think that many people realize that discrimination against the hijab doesn’t only happen in western society. In my experience, it also occurs in my home country, Pakistan, and my own family members are a part of the problem.

My sister and I started wearing the hijab when we were 15 and 13, respectively. For us, it seemed like a natural choice since we’d spent most of our childhood in Saudi Arabia, where the hijab was mandatory. When our family in Pakistan found out we still wore the hijab after moving to Canada in our teen years, they were ecstatic. They thought it was wonderful that we chose this for ourselves and praised us for making seemingly religious choices. 

But that all changed when my sister turned 20 and someone tried to propose to her. Our mother rejected the engagement and it sparked a debate within our entire family. Most of them believed that more proposals would come her way if my sister took off her hijab. I still remember my mother arguing with our aunt who said that hijabs are only meant to look good on girls who are “white, thin, and pretty.” She thought that I was too dark and my sister was too fat, so we were ruining our prospects by sticking to our hijabs.

The worst part about all of this is that my aunt wasn’t entirely wrong. The hijab didn’t make men jump at the chance to marry us. Due to pressure from extended family members, my mother was constantly on the lookout for potential matches for my sister. But every guy who approached would run away just as fast once he heard that she wouldn’t be taking her hijab off for him. 

After a while, my sister did it. She found a guy who seemed accepting of who she was and agreed to marry him after a year. Suddenly, the tune the family was singing changed, but not for the better. Everyone asked if she’d be taking her hijab off for the wedding and discussing how beautiful she would look in this or that hairdo. They tried to talk my mother into making my sister buy lehengas, which would show off her midriff and arms. This completely goes against the very purpose of wearing a hijab.

To reach a compromise with my family, I nominated myself as my sister’s makeup artist and hairstylist for the wedding day and began experimenting with different hijab styles. We naively thought that if we could show them that the hijab could be dolled up, they would accept her decision. They did not. In the end, when the engagement was broken off, they simply returned to their earlier comments about taking off the hijab to score a husband.

The sheer amount of criticism that came with all this has my sister unsure about whether she ever wants to have a wedding, let alone one in Pakistan with our family. It hurt to watch my sister try and deal with the harsh judgment and then come to realize that her opinions hold no value in our community. It hurts more to think that other Pakistani brides might have to put up with the same level of harassment all over one headscarf

My sister was always much more staunch in her love of the hijab. Truth be told, I started wearing it on the condition that it would be pink and glittery. If you asked me just two years back, I might have given in to the family pressure and agreed to take off my hijab for my wedding.

Yet, knowing the struggle and judgment that comes with making a choice has given me an appreciation for the fact that it was a choice. However petty my reason is, it is my choice to put on the hijab, and I will be damned if I let someone else try to make decisions about my body and my attire for that one day in my life.

Now I can say with confidence that I will not be taking my hijab off for my wedding.

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Work Career Career Advice Now + Beyond

How being a stay-at-home mom helped my career

Mother’s Day is a celebration of all the cherished forms of motherhood. This one is for the strong mothers, the nurturing ones, for the mothers who have lost children, for the children who have lost mothers, for those who are aching to be mothers, for those who choose not to be mothers. Read more here.

Nine months may sound like a lot, but really, it’s quite short a time for life to enter this world and a career to end. For me, I went from planning my travel schedule to scheduling prenatal visits. One minute, I was on a plane to Cairo, prepping for a week-long shoot and lots of R&R. The next, I was puking in the bathroom of my 40th-floor advertising agency.

I knew things had to change; I just didn’t know how fast time would move. My belly was growing and, soon enough, I was taking a sabbatical from work, shifting from working nonstop for 13 years to take care of my daughter. And just like that, in a blink, three years passed. I continued freelance writing, but I didn’t know how it would be once I was back to work.

The opportunity to get back onto the working scene finally presented itself and I remember feeling like I would pass out from the stress of walking into an office again. I felt like I didn’t know how to talk. I kept checking to see if there was any dribble of milk on my clothes and making sure I didn’t babytalk to my boss. However, as the days went by, I realized there were skills I had learned as a mother that would be integral to work success.

Here are some skills that helped me transition from home to the office:

1. Patience

There are very few things or people in life that test you as much as your kids. Whether it’s spending half your day waiting for them to put on their shoes or spending a good part of the evening trying to make them finish their meal, kids have a way of trying you. And boy, do mine try me!

But, actually, this helped me become a stronger career woman. I used to be an impatient soul, always rushing because I didn’t want to waste time. Now, I’m open to long debates and questions in the workplace because I get a lot of them at home. This helps with team management and deadlines because you know how to manage tough situations and moody colleagues.

2. Time management

Remember the days when it was all about you? When you languidly made it through the day, doing as you pleased? Those days are long gone. Say hello to a strict schedule and routine. Because without those necessities, kids are just a hot mess. I spent so much time putting my kids on a schedule that my own free spirit somehow caught on as well.

Now, I’m a master of time management. I can have her to ballet, him for tennis, both dressed for a party and in bed, without blinking an eye and losing any time. So imagine the importance of multitasking at work? I can craft an idea, write it, delegate, and move to the next within a day. You’re suddenly not drowning in deadlines and not having panic attacks when someone requests a 3000-word document by end of the day. You’ve got this.

3. Multitasking

I was always good at this. But now, I can order groceries, change a diaper, put baby-shark on the TV, and velcro my other kid’s shoes at the same time. When I returned to the office, I found that I could use this to better manage my work as well. In my pre-kids life, I would focus days on coming up with a creative concept and refuse to take on any other task. But now, I know that I can do all that while preparing a presentation and reading the news.

I’ve always been a list-maker, but when a lot is on the line, it helps me immensely to plan my week on a Saturday. I plan right down to what they will be eating, who they’ll have a playdate with, my work deliverables, my gym routine, date night with my husband, even a walk to clear my head. It helps me to feel like I have control of the situation and lets me focus solely on the task at hand, instead of panicking about everything at once.

4. Perspective

When a kid gets sick, even with the minor flu, a lot of stuff falls into perspective. All the stuff you’re worrying about seems less daunting. You stress less about the house being too messy, not fitting into your old clothes, and not reading enough. You focus on the big stuff. And it carries forward into work also.

You pick and choose your battles at work. You realize if you fail, it isn’t the end of the world – you will do better the next time. If you’ve got too much work, you take a breath and plow through because at least the important stuff is in place. It’s all about perspective and realizing what really matters. It’s the same in the office, right? My day used to be ruined when my boss yelled at me, or I messed up on a big pitch. Now I realize that pretty much nothing is the end of the world. You plow through and do better.

5. Appreciation

You know what they say. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Time away from work leads to a greater appreciation of it. You realize how privileged you are to be able to work towards something you love. I used to whine about my late working hours incessantly. Then when I became a mum I cribbed about the sleepless nights. But now that I have to juggle both, I realize how fortunate I am to have an opportunity to do both. This means when I’m at work, I can put my heart into creating amazing campaigns, working on strategies, and tossing ideas around with my peers. But at home, I can then focus on the stories of how my son made a new best friend, and my daughter finally perfectly sketched out a unicorn.

So at home, I am able to feel like I am leading by example. My kids see that doing what you love is the best gift you can receive, and that hard work pays off. And at work, I am mindful of how my kids are the reason I can really put myself out there, and how my career helps me feel better about myself and in turn, be a better parent.

6. Conflict management

You can imagine the chaos that commences every morning at 5:30 am with two kids, barely two years apart. However, both are exceptionally important personnel so I cannot offend anyone. This means if he’s snatching her doll, I need to explain to her that he’s hurting her feelings as well as his future chances of playing with her. And if she’s grumpy about the extra hugs he got, then I need to explain that his predicament (a nightmare) warrants this response, but she’s equally important to me. Isn’t this the same attitude we need to excel in the workplace?

I deal with stressors every day at work, but it helps to realize that sometimes my peers just need a bit of venting, someone to hear them out, and then we can return to work. I use this same logic with managing my own stress. To understand that every day, I will be faced with a new challenge, but with some positive self-talk, I can take it on, just like my kids do.

7. Inspiration

Your mission to become better has become not just a personal need but one that will be viewed by two little humans as well. Life changes when you’ve suddenly got to uphold the title of ‘role model.’ I now put the same heart and soul into my work that I do at home. Because for me, both define an exceptionally important part of who I am, and I must succeed.

These are just some of the ways that being a mother has helped me be a better career woman. So when I see in the media that mothers are sometimes sidelined as being ineffective members of the workforce, I cringe. Employers need to realize that life lessons are harder to come by and mothers are masters at making it all work. Because after all, what other choice do we have?

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Life Stories Weddings

Being engaged for two months made me realize I don’t want a marriage

The idea of marriage and a wedding was never a question of if, but when. I grew up in a fairly conservative Pakistani household and I was very close to my mother. She has been my idol for all of my life, and I have wanted to live up to the image of the amazing woman who raised me. She came from a complicated family background, but she put her all into giving my siblings and me a stable upbringing and all the opportunities we could ever ask for. Somewhere along the way, I decided that she was the kind of person I needed to grow up to be, a kind-hearted mother who loves her children. Getting married and having children seemed like the future I should work towards, the ultimate goal in a way. 

But of course, it didn’t end there. I grew up, like many young women, in love with Disney princess movies. Something about the fairytale stories of a young woman meeting a dashing prince, going on these fantastical adventures before ending with a huge, magical wedding just spoke to me. I spent most of my life believing in these dreams, thinking somehow that marriage and children would be the big thing I strived towards. 

When my older sister received her first proposal, she was scared. She was concerned if they would be a good fit as a couple and worried over all these details of their life together that I couldn’t even understand. If anything, I was excited for her. This was it, her big wedding! I couldn’t care less about who he was as a person. I went ahead and planned all the details for her potential wedding. I pulled out all the stops for this supposed wedding, despite the fact that she never agreed to the engagement, and later went on to reject his proposal. I still have the document I typed up with pictures and wedding details. Each time some other guy came to propose to my sister, I would pull it out and add to it.

As the younger daughter, I’m not expected to get engaged or married until my older sister does. Add to that the fact that I was a med school hopeful for most of my time at university, and everyone assumed that I would not marry until later in life. I was fine with living vicariously through my sister until then.

Then at 22, I accidentally ended up engaged. It was a stupid move, and every friend I spoke to tried to warn me against it, but I didn’t care. In my family, an engagement is essentially the dating period. We don’t ever enter a relationship without the intention of marriage. But even considering that, this engagement was pretty casual. He was a friend of a friend. He didn’t even live close enough for the two of us to visit or meet up. In fact, during the two months of the relationship, I never once met him in person. We just talked over the phone and texted, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that this wasn’t for me.

We met right around my birthday. He sent me this sweet and sappy message about how he was so glad to have me in his life. I felt so uncomfortable that my only reaction was to laugh out loud when I read it. No one understood it when I tried to explain how the message made my skin crawl. The more serious he got, the more I felt sick to my stomach. It’s not a feeling I can really put into words, but all the talk about our future, living together, and the hypothetical children I thought I wanted didn’t sit right with me when the words and ideas were coming from him.

But I still didn’t want to back out. I pulled out those plans for my sister’s wedding and began reworking them for my wedding. That feeling kept me in this relationship. But I knew it couldn’t last forever. He started getting clingy, he wanted to talk to me more. In hindsight, he was justified in asking for more of my time, but I wasn’t interested in him enough to care about his needs. I only saw him as becoming a hassle, someone I would have to tolerate instead of someone I would happily spend the rest of my life with. I once even told my mother that I’m more interested in trading him for a robot husband instead – I could have my wedding without dealing with another person in the mix.

It got messier after that, with several petty arguments left and right. There was one fight that he thought he could win by giving me the silent treatment. Unfortunately for him, that silence was everything I wanted. The next time we spoke, it fell into yet another argument. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back and the whole thing was called off the next day. I happily moved on, packing up all my wedding plans and studying for the upcoming exams.

It’s been over a year since my engagement ended. I’ve spoken to several other potential suitors and it’s always the same. I stick it out for the idea of a pretty, magical wedding where I get to be a princess for the event. But inevitably, things break down and I move on to the next wedding plan.

I like the idea of love and romance. It sounds beautiful. But somehow, when actually faced with the realities of it and coupled with the responsibilities of marriage, I crack. I’ve never found myself capable of caring about these men the way they claim to care for me; they remain faceless entities I use to check off on my list of goals. It sounds callous, but it’s not that I want someone else to suffer for my little fantasy wedding. I don’t think I have the emotional energy to spare on someone else and I don’t know if I ever will.

And maybe that’s okay. I’m fulfilled by my family and my career aspirations. I am happy with life. And one day I’ll earn enough money and throw myself that big wedding and be my own princess.

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Culture Family Life

How oppressive life expectations continues to burden my twenties

I was six-years-old the first time someone asked me what I wanted to be in life. I still remember my answer. I want to be a fairy-princess bus driver, I responded. Notably, I said that with full confidence, and of course I earned some laughs; but what was I supposed to say? A data scientist? I didn’t know any better. All I knew was that I liked fairies and princesses and all the bus drivers I had ever met back then were lovely. So, I just combined them all. However, I was told by the adults around me that my intelligence was far beyond aspiring to be a mythical being or an “ordinary” bus driver. I could be anything, they said. 

And that definitely stressed me out. 

I began to stress because I started to internalize how there was always so much expected from me at a young age. Though, the inclination of my future career endeavors mostly came from my extended family members rather than my parents. My sharp tongue was apparently unusual for a girl to have in Bangladeshi culture, so I was suddenly destined to become the family lawyer, according to members of my family.

At the same time, I was also really good at art, so they suggested I should become an architect. But how could I forget to mention my love of technology, which led to everyone believing I would be the first female engineer in the family. To sum up my point, there were a lot of expectations pinned on me and it was not enjoyable being on the receiving end of other people’s projections. Especially while combining all the impossible expectations I already had for myself. 

After realizing that a fairy-princess bus driver was not quite a plausible career path, I started looking into other options. I’ve always loved fashion. Even now, I would love to be a fashion designer. That dream diminished, however, when my weight was pointed out by those whose counsel and advice I sought out regarding how to make my dream a reality as well as how difficult it is to join the industry without the proper funds. 

So, I changed career projections again. When I was eight, I then realized my love for writing and wanted to become a journalist. But I quickly went through another change of career option when I found that I did, in fact, want to be an engineer. I loved machines, whether it was taking them apart or learning the inner mechanics of how they worked. I adored learning about machines, just not science- the very lessons I needed to take on engineering at a degree level.

What did I want to be next? Well, I’m an artsy soul; in turn, I wanted to be a graphic designer. I did graphic design at A-Level and enjoyed it very much. Although, what I didn’t enjoy was my graphics teacher who would constantly put me down for my preferred style of art by calling it “gothic” and “outdated.” All of which, brought me back to my love of writing, the one thing that has never failed me. I went to a university to receive a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing and an MA in International Journalism.

However, what differing career burdens mimicked from childhood haunt me into adulthood? Finding a job. 

I’m more than aware that being an intelligible young girl came as a shock to many members of my extended family who never, unfortunately, had the chance to complete their education. Perhaps that is the reason they pinned all their hopes and dreams onto me. However, I somewhat feel like I missed out on various aspects of my childhood because I was too busy trying to find what could make me become the “greatest” or “most accomplished” kid in the family.

What’s worse is that I can feel the repetition from my childhood of trying to choose a solid and lucrative career path happening in my twenties. And while I should now be having fun trying to figure life out, most days I stay away from friends and family, applying to job after job and slipping deeper into anxiety. I also know I’m not the only one who feels like this. A friend I have, who is around 3-years older than me, is going through the same thing I am. One of my acquaintances is stuck in a job she doesn’t enjoy simply because it pays the bills.

I can’t speak for other cultures, but here’s what I know about Bangladeshi culture: girls, particularly ambitious ones, must have their lives sorted out by 25 with a job, orderly finances, and assets, etc. After that, according to our elders, we get old and no man will ever want us. I’ve heard people use ‘expiry date’ when a woman ages because she faces the possibility of being less fertile. What on earth is a woman without a family? Well, every bit still a woman.

The non-progressive Bangladeshi mentality pushes women to have achieved everything they must in order to be successful by their mid-twenties, so they can spend the rest of their lives pleasing their spouse and his family. So many of us spend so much time and energy worrying about how time is slipping through our fingertips. As a result, the vast majority of us then feel as though our twenties were just a blur of tears and failure.  

Although my parents do not push me to live with these oppressive life burdens, I can’t help but feel the pressure radiating off of my extended family members. Even my friends sometimes voice their concerns for me and my future projections in life. Sadly, even though I am not physically forced to stay in this trap of life insecurity at such a young age, I remain here as a part of the tradition.

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Best Friends Forever Life Stories Life

Friends can break up too and it’s painful

I’m sure everyone has had the displeasure of a friendship break up in their life – for me personally, I’ve been through two; one during my time at secondary school and one as an adult. Neither was easy to get through. 

Friends are valuable people in any individual’s life – a spare sibling if you will, away from home, out in an environment similar to yours. Kids cartoons advocate the importance of having a friend in life, but why is it that when a friendship breaks down, we don’t treat it the same as when a romantic relationship falls apart? We do end up telling our friends the most personal aspects of our lives and when the friendship goes sour, it fills us with anxiety and loneliness. But because the topic is not widely discussed, many people are inclined to believe that they’re not valid for feeling that way, in truth they are and the conversation starts here. 

My friends in my life now are a huge part of who I am as a person. I’m thankful that the friends I made as an adult are not enablers and are more than comfortable discussing and helping me solve any problems that come my way. But I only made proper friends as an adult; an experience from secondary school had left me traumatized to the point of me seeking therapy and isolating myself from people in general. 

I suffer from quite a few health problems; I’ve always been a little weaker than the average person in terms of health and often my peers at school would mock me for it. Whether it was for my broken finger that never healed, my constant migraines and nosebleeds or for my weight gain attributed to PCOS – I was an easy target and I lived with it. That was until I got halfway through secondary school and met a girl who wasted no time defending me against people calling me fat amongst other things. She was the first friend I had who would actually do something about people bullying me. Bit by bit, I started confiding in her; she knew everything. My health problems, arguments I had with my siblings, people I disliked in school. One day, she decided she wasn’t my friend anymore.

She would bully me as much as everyone else but of course, with me having told her everything about me, she had much more to bully me about. I don’t know why the friendship broke down but I remember begging her to tell me why. I just wanted to apologize and move on. I asked her via text to please forgive me if I had done anything to offend her and I would just stay out of her way – her exact words were “you think I’ll just leave you alone because you asked? You really are pathetic”. My biggest regret to date is telling her about a health scare I had – something I was cleared of and never got to tell my once best friend about. Instead, she went around telling everyone I lied about my health problems which resulted in even the nicest kids at school ignoring me. The next two years of school were hell – my parents grew concerned with the fluctuations in my mood and weight but didn’t know how to help me.  I only started the process of healing when another girl in school known for visiting the school counselor reached out to help me by directing me to the loveliest therapist I have ever known. 

When I left school, I continued going to counseling but the damage was already done. I made no friends that I communicated with during sixth form due to the trust issues I had developed and not to mention that my low self-esteem meant that I would deprecate myself before anyone else could. It didn’t help that I faced the same thing all over again when I started working part-time but there was something I had realized the second time around; trust your gut. Going to therapy has taught me one thing in abundance and that is your mind will do anything to protect you from harm. My previous issue with my ‘friend’ had made me hate myself to such an extent, I couldn’t even trust myself around family members, let alone people outside of that. Seeking help after that rough patch taught me to trust myself again so the second friendship failure hit me less hard than the first. Not to say that it didn’t hurt at all because that would be a bald-faced lie but this time I knew I couldn’t let myself get to where I was before. 

So what am I saying? I’m saying that people come and go – even when we don’t want them to. Friendships fall apart for many reasons; some are malicious and some aren’t and it is okay to not want to be friends with someone you have outgrown. But tell someone – it’s not ridiculous at all and it helps in the long run with a wide array of things. Having experienced what I have done made me realize that I wasn’t the only one that lost a friend, the other person did too. 

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Life Stories Life

Writing about my accident is hard, but I know I need to do it

I’ve always thought that writing something worth reading should come easy – like the words would just flow out onto the page. In some ways, this is what writing has always been to me: a puzzle that when put together, simply sounds right. 

Well, nothing I’ve written about my accident sounds right. 

So, I haven’t been writing. Which is sad – because the fear of being vulnerable is now stunting the thing that brought me the most joy.

When I first tried to write about my accident, I didn’t actually write it. At the time, I was so badly injured that I could barely look at the screen before nausea kicked in. Instead, I vocalized my feelings over a voice recording – and boy, there quite a lot. The main one? Anger. 

I was really angry. 

As I sat, looking outside my window – I was angry at all the people who could move about the world freely. I was angry at all of the people who never showed up, or never told me they cared. I was angry at the people who couldn’t understand what I was going through – or proclaimed that “everything happens for a reason” – but mostly, and more potently, I was angry at myself. 

It’s now been ten months since the accident. My anger has dimmed, but I’m embarrassed to say it still resides uneasily, ready to erupt. It’s one of the many reasons why writing has been so difficult – so unenjoyable. 

In the medium most suited for vulnerability, it makes apparent the emotions that I’ve been trying to avoid. In other words, maybe words haven’t been sounding right not because they’re wrong, but simply because they aren’t the ones I want to hear. 

I want to pause for a moment on this last phrase – “want to hear”. As my anthropology professors said constantly, let’s unpack the meaning. One reason I hated talking about my accident was the signs of visible discomfort that came with it. 

People wanted to look at the grotesque x-rays, measure scars, or feel the metal under my skin, but beyond the morbid curiosity we all have towards that accident on the freeway, they didn’t want to hear anything else. 

People wanted the beginning of a tragedy but the ending of a fairytale. Many wanted me to say that I was thankful for the trials and tribulations. Others wanted to know how I had grown from the experience. It was either that, or they didn’t want to hear anything at all. 

However, while I wasn’t at the beginning of the narrative, I certainly wasn’t at the happy ending. My current existence rested somewhere in the middle. Many things still felt off and I was learning to adjust to my new circumstances. 

Whenever I’d discuss the reality of my situation, I’d always hear in return, “well, it could’ve been a lot worse”. 

It wasn’t as though I didn’t realize this or that I wasn’t thankful to be alive. I was incredibly grateful to be alive. Along with anger, it was one of the stronger emotions that existed within me. 

However, hearing this constantly made me feel something else: shame and embarrassment. 

I was ashamed because I felt like I was over-complaining and that my story wasn’t worth listening to. I developed the belief that while I was objectively going through something difficult – in the eyes of others, it would never be difficult enough.

Thus, whenever I put pen to paper, I always had this nagging fear that maybe others would perceive me as overly emotional and dramatic. However, over time, I’ve realized that letting others define my experience not only prevented the (admittedly difficult) journey of acknowledging my emotions, but also the personal responsibility of validating these feelings for myself. 

During the initial months following my accident, I wallowed in the pool of self-pity. The only way I unearthed myself from this was to share my experience – and listen to the experience of others. I quickly realized that while the details may be different, the essence of a life-changing experience is oftentimes similar. We all feel a cacophony of emotions – some that embarrass us, others that shock even ourselves. 

I’m writing now for a plethora of reasons. Personally, I’m still trying to learn how to forgive myself, how to acknowledge my feelings, and how to move forward. However, I also want to write for the people who have found themselves in the middle of misfortune: the moments that sometimes feel overwhelming, never-ending, and lonely. 

Now, I’ll be honest. My gut instinct is to lace all of my writing on this topic with a warm, comforting thread of humor. This past year, humor has been my safety net – the quickest route to avoiding societal discomfort and awkward pauses. As I write, even now, I have to restrain myself from diminishing or hyperbolizing. Although I love poeticizing, I ultimately know that this type of writing doesn’t currently serve my goal to be authentic

My only hope is that by maintaining my authenticity, I can create a space for those who are also stuck in the beginnings and middles of their story – because I know that’s what the past version of myself needed the most. 

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How reading taught me to be emotionally competent in life

I’ve always loved reading. While other children often got told off for being naughty, I often found myself being told off for ‘being away with the fairies’ as my Math teacher called it – simply put, I love books.

Reading is fun; you come across so many characters that you like and dislike and so many to relate to. Personally, I’ve always related to Matilda – a tiny human that wants to do nothing more than read and be the best version of herself. Even as I’ve grown older, I seek knowledge through books rather than the internet and if there is one thing reading has taught me, it is how to be emotionally competent. 

I read all types of literature; essays, novellas, poetry, short stories. Hand me anything with words and I’ll absorb it. Remember during English class where your teacher would tell you to find the deeper meaning of the crow in the background or the gloomy setting of the book? Everyone would groan in disbelief – “Miss, it’s just a crow.” And it’s true, it may very well be just a crow, but secretly, I enjoyed looking for the deeper meaning of the scenes and characters in the book. I found it helping me to develop my understanding of humans in general. 

I think what a lot of people forget is that when authors write, they write what they know so it is likely that the characters in the book are a mirror image of someone the authors know or used to know. That would mean that all the little traits that the characters have in a book suddenly make them a part of who they are. When we were reading The Kite Runner in class, I knew that the protagonist’s father’s thoughts on Islamic leaders were his own personal thoughts. I had seen an interview somewhere where Khaled Hosseini described his hatred for Islamic leaders as he had grown up watching Kabul fall down at the leader’s expense. The same thing happened when we were reading Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones. Sebold drew from her experience as she wrote of Susie Salmon’s death. 

But it’s not just character emotions and insight that I’ve learned to pick up through reading; my friends will tell you that sometimes, I jolt when I walk past people because I can almost see their emotions. I didn’t have a social life growing up (story of every broody teen ever), but I am no longer a broody teen. I turned to books for comfort because of the lack of people in my life and somehow, I have ended up with the ability to feel other people’s emotions and their fluctuations. And I know I’m not the first person something like this has happened to. I have a friend who often calls herself emotionally inept – you could tell her the saddest story in the world and unfortunately, it will go in one ear and out the other. And that not to say that she’s not paying attention – she is. Her eyes zoom into your soul and everything in between. But she can’t comprehend emotions unless she is reading about them. 

I think that although the death of the book is on the rise, it is important to appreciate what a good book can do for a person; for a lonely person, it provided me with an endless variety of friends and a boost in confidence. For many other people, both children and adults, it provides entertainment and knowledge. It allows you to put yourself in someone else’s shoes for a brief moment in time and just escape.

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Culture Family Life

A love letter to libraries

I know that I am not alone when I say that we, as humans, find a lot of solace in libraries. They are temples of knowledge, housing collections of stories and dreams alike on their shelves. Libraries are as much a part of our culture as anything else. People have relied on these spaces for warmth, insight, and marvel for centuries. In a way, they hold the key to all of our stories,

I love libraries, and I am terrified to see their eventual demise, especially as our world becomes almost entirely digital. They are gems from the past that have maintained vitality no matter the circumstances or happening outside of their walls. Not to mention they are the cornerstones of entire communities, maybe even countries, granting light and stability to people when nothing, or no one, else seemed able to. They offer more than just books; they offer entry into a space that seems more like a sanctuary run by people grounded in compassion, commitment, creativity, and resilience.

People have relied on these spaces for warmth, insight, and marvel for centuries.

I used to go to the library near my grandparents’ house every other Friday. For the most part, my mom took my brothers and me there to get a new book for school or to see what DVDs we could bring home to watch that evening. But I remember roaming around, starstruck, in between the tall shelves, wondering about the people who wrote each and every single one of those books and how long it might have taken to get them all here.

Most weeks, my mother let me get two books instead of one. I could spend hours there if it was permitted. I always liked watching my mom pick her books for the week, too. She seemed so sophisticated and gentle while scanning the shelves, yet she never knew exactly what she was looking for. If it was winter, afterward we would all pile back into the car with our hardcover books and grab a slice of pizza. If it was summer, we would walk to the Italian Ice shop down the street for some cream ice – those were the best days. 

I fear that libraries have been taken for granted, even in my own life, and am always spellbound to find them chock full of unexpected people, doing unexpected things, with unexpected passions. There is absolutely nothing that compares to the feeling, the pure excitement in my stomach, that erupts every time I am searching in a library for the perfect tale to dig into. A trip to the library seems, to me, to be enchanted. I become whimsical, enveloped by the completeness and simplicity of the entire journey.

Even the smell of a library is impossible to replicate because of its specificity and poignance. I am reminded of sandalwood, dusk, and a particular, antiquated, dampness. Its familiarity is beyond comforting. The air itself seems to be saturated in possibility and imagination. 

I feel at home while pattering around and tracing my fingers between the shelves of books. I fall in love while blowing the dust off of the covers, revealing bright colors and exquisite lines. I spend hours crinkling through the aged, already yellowing, pages of novels wondering which I will pick this time. It is never an easy decision, and I always leave with dozens underneath my arms wondering if the others will still be there when I return the next week. But, that’s the beauty of libraries, isn’t it? Every visit is entirely different from the last and there is no telling what you might stumble upon. Yet each visit is also starkly familiar. 

The air itself seems to be saturated in possibility and imagination.

Books have changed so much of my life, with plotlines, characters, and lessons that have been woven into nearly everything I do – that is every decision, every consideration, and everything that I have grown to appreciate or even pay a little bit more attention to. Books are there to remind me of what’s important, and when I’m not so sure, they’re there for me to lean on. Without libraries, though, I might have never been allowed membership into such a world of splendor. 


I ended my engagement after ten months. Here’s why it was the best and worst thing

There’s something about an engagement ring.

The weight of it on your finger. The way it rubs against your skin. The glimpse of sparkle when you stand in the sun. The tiny rainbows you find on its diamond.

These daily reminders surprised me at first.

I thought I’d wear the ring, and it’d become a part of me. The same way you forget where you’ve put your glasses, then remember they’re on your nose.

For the 10 months I was engaged, it wasn’t like that at all.

The ring’s existence stuck out to me. Mostly, I wanted it to. I’d fiddle with it when I was nervous. I’d look at it when I felt low. It was a promise; things would be alright.

Because I had been chosen.

I had found someone to support me through thick and thin. A person willing to invest their whole life, and self, to be with me.

I had made it, at 27, to the camp of the ‘chosen ones’. Those women, pretty enough, good enough, worthy enough, to be proposed to. You know the ones on your social media feed. Smiling and showing off their rings on empty beaches and luscious trails.

Getting there meant I could breathe easier.


Because, like them, I had fulfilled a wish. One I didn’t know I had. To be freed from worry about getting to that part of my story. That narrative I share with all of womanhood. To be chosen, promised marriage, and the happily ever after.

I was never one to buy into the fairy tale. Yet the sense of calm I felt post-engagement was unmistakable. It was a resolution to the subconscious, but surely there, discomfort of waiting to be chosen.

As a feminist and young woman, I never thought of marriage. In fact, I was repulsed by the routine questions about my relationship status. Conversations started and ended there. Anything else about me didn’t matter to my extended family.

Yet, here I was. Engaged and relieved.

Until I wasn’t.

Getting closer to happily ever after than I had ever been, I failed to see it. The irony of it was tragic.

Faced with impeding marriage, reality had struck me. The fantasy was over. If I couldn’t imagine being happy with my would-be husband 30 years down the line, what was I doing?

Being chosen had guided my life, unbeknownst to me, and it wasn’t a good story after all.

I was brave and ended my engagement.

Weeks and months of panic and despair followed. I clung to the idea that all I had to do was open the search again. Start over. Find someone more compatible. And wait to be chosen again. I hadn’t lost my chance at happiness. It was a delay. One that sent me into crying fits on the bus. And one that made me ask myself “what have I done?” too many dark nights, clutching a ring I couldn’t give back yet.

I knew then, as I do now, that you need to be happy on your own. But trying, really trying, meant letting go once and for all of the easy story. The romance script I had failed at.

Did I want to follow it again? And delay my happiness? Wait for prince charming number two?

No, I wanted to be happy now. And only, I, could see to that.

Getting there may seem harder but in the end, it’s the only happiness worth anything. Forcing myself to see my previous engagement for what it was took me a while. A whirlwind of romance I had gotten lost into, believing fantasy would turn to reality.

Getting a ring, and wearing it was a powerful artifact of the cultural narrative I never thought I’d be one to buy into. It made me confront the internalized stories I didn’t know I had.

I’m afraid we all have them to some level. I didn’t dare admit to myself that I wanted to find my forever partner before I was 30. I didn’t dare admit I wanted to be chosen. And that I wanted these things like a child wants candy. Because it tastes good in the moment.

It’s embarrassing, looking back.

Yet, I wouldn’t change things. I would end my engagement again. It led me through the worst and best moments of my life. Confronting and losing my shoddy illusion about happiness in favor of something real.

Next time I get engaged, if that ever happens, I’ll be the one to ask. Because I’ve chosen myself already and it’s time to write my own story.

Family Life

I’m in love with hoarding, and I’m never going to stop

We went to Le Cafe Crepe for our eighth-grade French club field trip – it was one of the best field trips I took. Some of my best friends went on that trip and it was just so much fun. On that trip, our sponsor, Madame Mattioli, gave us each a Godiva chocolate. It wasn’t special chocolate or anything. But, years later, I still have that very same wrapper in a mason jar. I’ve also got movie stubs, paper wristbands, and other random bits and pieces that my mom insists is all trash. Hoarding became a legit issue since that trip. 

My whole room looks like this – old stuffed animals from 5th grade and crafts that my cousins created for me smear my walls. A design that my little cousin made still sits on the wall next to the polaroids and concert flyers. Old images and painted decorations and bracelets and keychains and lanyards from years ago dot the corkboard in front of my desk. In the corner, I even have a certificate from our 5th grade Valentine’s Day box contest, which I can proudly say that I won. 

The rock that my cousins painted for me via Srilekha Cherukuvada
The rock that my cousins painted for me via Srilekha Cherukuvada

My room is a static memory of my life, filled with all the happy shades of color that I could ever need.

I didn’t realize I was hoarding until last year I think. Up until then, I deemed every object as crucial to my memory. One day my mom came into my room and saw a huge mess. It was exam season, so I really didn’t have time to clean, and it was worse than usual. That was really when I started questioning myself. What do these objects even mean? Do I even remember everything?

And then, I took out my mason jar with all of the movie stubs and little pieces of paper and sifted through them. And I was right. I didn’t remember the sentiment or lessons behind anything. All that was left were the raw memories associated with them. For years, I told myself that keeping a movie stub from 2017 or those Mardi Gras beads from 2016 was essential. I told myself that it would help me remember something I learned from my experiences. Now I look at these things and all I see is a reminder of what happened–a memory, but there is not even a glimmer of what I wanted them to mean.

I wanted them to mean something. I wanted them to teach me a lesson, or to be something to lift me up. But, a wristband to JumpStreet is just a piece of paper, and a painted rock is just a rock. Yet, even if nothing else, these things remind me of a memory. And, that is more meaningful to me than anything, An object doesn’t need to be assigned an initial lesson when the memory attached to it is already more significant.

Image of items that I've hoarded via Srilekha Cherukuvada
Image of items that I’ve hoarded via Srilekha Cherukuvada

Although those initial lessons are important, my memories are equally as important.

I’ve also been lying to myself for years. Those lessons I made up each time I kept an object were just covering up my real fears about leaving them behind. Self-improvement doesn’t depend on a couple of objects that I associate with a specific lesson, and I know that. That’s just something I’ve been telling myself.

I’m terrified of throwing them out. I could never bring myself to let go of the past, much less the objects that represent my past. I’m scared of change and I’m scared of losing myself in the process of that change. I think that’s why I’ve invested myself in hoarding so much. My whole body just trembles at the thought of giving away my stuffed animal that one of my best friends gave to me, or even that wristband from JumpStreet two years ago. I know it’s silly, but it just means too much to me.

Image of items that I've hoarded via Srilekha Cherukuvada
Image of items that I’ve hoarded via Srilekha Cherukuvada

Now, when my mom complains about all the“trash” in my room, I fight back. I guess I’m the only sappy, sentimental one in my family. But that should mean something. Memories should mean something. And having objects to represent those memories is completely reasonable. My hoarding reminds me of my past, and my past is a part of my identity. 

So, is it really all worth it when I’m 50 years old and drowning in candy wrappers from when I was a kid? 

Hell yes.

Family Life

The men in my family taught me how to love and be loved properly

I have spent nearly every day of my life actively trying to keep up with the men around me. They are spontaneous, excited, proud, and empathetic. They’re damn hysterical too. 

Take my father, for example, the first and only man that I trusted to treat me right and to love me all the same. I get my goofiness, and of course my obsession with The Beatles, from him. He doesn’t take anything too seriously, even though sometimes I wish that he did. Nothing seems to bother him, meanwhile, everything bothers me. I don’t know if I wish that he reacted more or that I reacted less. Regardless, I want to be able to let things roll over me, un-phased, like he is able to. I’m still working on that.  

My father is incredibly kind and generous, and he cares tremendously about any person he comes in contact with. One day, he spent hours showing me how to do the time warp dance from Rocky Horror Picture Showwe did the combination repeatedly until I got it down. That’s when I learned that he and my mom met on a blind date at a live viewing of the show. I’ve been obsessed with it ever since. My dad never fails to make me smile, too, even when it’s the last thing I want to do. Seriously, I could be bursting into tears and all he has to do is make a silly face or say something bizarre, and I’d feel like a million bucks again. That’s my dad for you. Always the pleaser. So, although he never taught me how to ride a bike, I am willing to replace that life skill with another one that he did teach me. That is, the keen ability to conduct an entire performance in the car to practically every song from the ’80s.

He was my first friend, and even my first date given all of those daddy and daughter dances that I spent cradled by his side. He is the gentlest man that I’ve ever met, but because of him I like to think that I am much tougher, more resilient, and a hell of a lot funnier. I found confidence in our moments of bliss together, knowing that this is all I’d ever need to lead a complete and fulfilling life. 

I have four older brothers too, with whom I have spent days upon days fighting for things like the last pancake at breakfast, and, eventually, for the car keys. It has certainly never been easy, but I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. They are all different in their own right and if I were to tell you about the uniqueness of my relationship with each of them, I might as well write a book. But I will tell you this: these men are my forever and a day’s. 

They are my history holders, sharing with me all of the turbulence and tribulations that we have ever and will ever endure. Because of them, I’ve learned to be quick, but not sloppy. They taught me how to tie my shoes, swing a bat, draw a car, and build a make-believe fort in the middle of the living room. We’d trade candy every Halloween, spend hours with a deck of cards playing go-fish, and watch movies on the DVR. For every holiday or birthday I’d make a personalized, handmade, card for each of them and now, years later, they are quick to show me these sentiments of mine, which they have all kept and deemed precious. 

So, maybe it took a while for me to realize, but I can tell you with certainty what it feels like to be loved, respected, protected, and appreciated because of my brothers. They never treated me differently just because I am a girlexcept when we played football in the basement with my dad. I was the lucky one who got to wear the only helmet we had. 

Sure, to this day I am always the one sitting in the middle seat during car rides since it’s the smallest spot, and I am always the first one to cry. But, I’ve also always admired each and every single one of my brothers since the day I was born. They seem infinitely cool and I am desperate to emulate them, even just a little bit.

Growing up, I remember that I’d do anything, and I mean anything, to be like them. So, I’d sit and watch and do everything I could to imitate their actions and behaviors. The catch here is that they believed in me, the real me, all along.  I was the one who had a hard time believing, until now. 

My family is my backbone; they are constant and reliable. I have learned a lot from them, but one of the most important things that they have taught me is how to love and be loved properly. Because of them I am stronger, wiser, and more independent. I can stand on my own, even though I would prefer not to, all because of the lessons that they have enriched in me.