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Alone together

mai

On love, power, sex, self-esteem and independence.

As some of you may know, I am born on May 31st. Coincidentally and interestingly, May in French is also Mai. My parents had no idea of such coincidence when they named me. 

“May special” is a series in May every year where I will commit to posting a blog every week on controversial topics in celebration of my birthday month. Embrace yourself for the upcoming exciting weekly posts.

*******

I signed up for Tinder in Jan-2015 and unexpectedly, also met the Monsieur through Tinder. Like many other tools, how useful the platform is depending on how we use it. My experience on Tinder has been surprisingly positive. I have met people I won’t have otherwise met my daily life in finance: for example, actor, movie director, theatre performer, architect, soldier, entrepreneur and for the Monsieur, a shipbroker.

Back then when I was single, I started on Tinder not for a relationship but to research and conducted a social experiment for a book idea I had in 2015. Before the unexpected results of a relationship with the Monsieur, I had my fair share of fun coming up with original and creative comebacks (usually pick-up lines) in conversations, as well as the unique challenges for the fun online conversations. For example, “Guess my number” challenge: Level 1: There are two digits in 0-9 that repeats twice in my number, if you can guess both of them right, you progress to level 2. Level 2: There are two digits in 0-9 that are not in my number, if you get any of them right I’ll give it to you.

Among those many encounters, I have learnt so much about art, theatres and other industries and professions outside of finance. It could be hard for you to believe in my positive experience, I gather. You probably have seen more “Tinder horror stories” populated by the media and think that the platform offers nothing more than a bunch of horny guys looking for one nighter. I believe whether a girl ends up with an asshole or not on Tinder or even in life, is entirely within her power to control. Tinder is only a tool. It magnifies your reach and the speed at which you meet people; it does not make the selection nor converse on your behalf. Who you select, end up with and how they treat you is entirely your responsibility. How you deal with the people you meet and protect your rights and values is also entirely up to you.

For example, this event last year was one of the rare instances when I had to exercise such protection. The name has been changed – for convenience we will call him Jonathan.

It was at the end of our third meeting. We were having some drinks and he was talking about his favourite 1990s albums and songs.

“I have some vintage 1990s albums of at my place. Do you want to come to mine to check it out?”, said he.

I got the hint and smiled inside my head. “This will be interesting”, I thought. I have always liked these sort of encounters where the confrontation could be challenging and require some manoeuvres. Unlike many others, I rather like confrontational situations. They are great chances to practice how to use power.

“No, I can find them on Spotify, but thank you. I would prefer to sleep at my place tonight, have an early start tomorrow.” I replied with an innocent smile that few can fault.

“… I didn’t expect that…” said he, with a confused look “… Surely you should have wanted to come.”

“Why do you assume so?” I asked, still smiling.

“Because… I don’t know.” He paused. I think he’s probably too used to be able to get laid way before the third dates. Notice the “should”.

Most of you have heard this from Frank Underwood in House of Cards.

“Everything in the world is about sex, except sex. Sex is about power.”

In fact, it’s an original quote by Oscar Wilde. In this situation, it was all about power. I have mentioned in an earlier post; power is about having something other people either want or fear. I had the current upper hand as I had what he wanted.

He, instead, had to play the fear card to regain power. As such, it became interesting when he continued. “I am disappointed… I have even prepared…” murmured he, throwing a condom from his wallet to the table. Unfortunately for him, I was not fearful of such gesture.

I sipped my cocktail and said “What are you disappointed about? It was a wrong assumption from your side”. My cocktail was fantastic. It was called “Southside”, with a combination of gin, lemon and mint.

“What assumption?”, asked he.

“The assumption that I can be bought with three dinners and some drinks. That’s cheaper than a hooker here in London. They cost around £800 a night I think.” I looked through him.

He wanted to say something but paused momentarily to find a way to response to that sensibly; while I sipped my cocktail and continued.

“I am not going to pay for for your wrong assumption of the situation. You can try to make me feel bad with your condom play if you like”.

“Why are you on Tinder then?” He muttered, sought to steer the conversation the other way to find a weakness.

“Because I thought a sensible man like you would have understood” I said.

“Understood what? Understood that this is potentially a waste of time? That’s nonsense. I don’t understand why we should keep kicking the cans further down the road. Don’t speak to me as if you expect a fairy tale of no sex out of online dating.” groaned he. I thought he finally lost it.

I finished my drink and looked straight at him. “Jonathan. You want something out of me, with your impatience you failed to convince me to give it to you. Once you force your desire onto me, you have lost the chemistry between us” I continued “I am not responsible for your incapability of persuasion. But I will get this round of drink”.

He ground his teeth with clear annoyance on his face. “No, I will get it” and waived the waiter for a bill. I could sense his frustrations in the air, yet I didn’t have the capacity to feel bad about it. It was simple demand vs. supply; we did not find a market clearing price. In many cases, females are weakened by the obligations they create in their head about “being responsible” for other people’s feelings. They feel the obligations to “make it up” to the guy when any sign of annoyance is displayed, which makes it easy for the guys to use such “feel bad” obligations to control the weakened mind. No, you are not responsible for anyone else’s feelings. You have the uttermost duty to yourself and your feeling first and for all. One should not resign such duty to submit to others, nor to prioritise someone else above themselves.

I recently read a controversial article called “Is it true love or is it just low self-esteem?”  written by a certified psychiatrist on Psychology Today. They mentioned a psychological condition researchers called Relationship-Contingent Self Esteem, which I often observe in many relationships/people around me. In essence, it is a state where someone looks for the positive reactions from another person for their feelings of self-worth, or the strong urge to find/be in a relationship if single to seek such validation. Such condition arises from the lack of any following elements:

  • Autonomy (“I can fully direct my behaviours and I am in control of both my inner and outer states. I am independent of anyone or anything, none of which will increase/ decrease my values if I live without it”)
  • Competence (“I can and will get what I want in life. I am effective at whatever I do”)
  • Relatedness (“I relate to other people/events in my life. I am a part of society and I belong. I have all the necessary support if I ever need”)

Insecurities arising from the deficiencies of any of the above elements motivate people to look to fulfil their handicap in the relationship with others. This action creates dependency or conditional happiness that may fleet anytime as it is attached to another individual. Their relationship, in turn, defines their self-esteem and eventually define their identity. They then believe they “cannot live” without the other person. (“It must be true love”)

Of course, they can. They are perfectly healthy and can live without anyone (including their parents who will die eventually, their siblings who will part ways with them and potentially their future spouse and their children who will leave too). There is no such thing as a relationship that they cannot live without. They just refuse to believe that they are perfectly fine without the other person because facing the reality of a handicapped self is tougher than believing in the false “true love”. I had this same mistake in my first three-year relationship (from 16-18 years old) that I thought I could not live without the ex. I defined my life and my identity by the romantic relationship I had. When the bad break up happen as he was a cheater, I had thoughts of harming myself, which gladly did not happen as I was always in public places.

Five years have passed since those difficult moments. I have learnt many lessons along the way, for which I am glad to have grown into a psychologically stronger, secured and more principled woman today. The Monsieur and I share the same principle on defining the relationship as the state of being “Alone Together”. Alone together is when two complete individuals can live independent lives away from each other, yet still choose to be with each other and spend time with each other when they decide to.

I understand this is not what everyone will opt for. It is a personal choice of the Monsieur and I and what we both agree on how a healthy relationship should be. Healthy intimacy, in my opinion, should not hurt your independence, self-esteem and the way you look at yourselves. I believe the best indicator for such independence and self-esteem is that I should be able to walk away from the relationship at any time, not saying that I will, yet I should be able to without doing myself much psychological harm. A break-up could be an unpleasant event, yet it should not be a life changing event. Despite my ability to do so, I still choose to be with this person, which means I enjoy the connection and the time together. Such a capability and choice are the same for him. We stay to serve ourselves and our well-being, which maintains a stable and sustainable dynamic

Most relationship’s augments arise from the imbalance of power: from one’s unresolved insecurities to the disagreement of core values and choices. The moment you start to have to “make it work” or “focus on the relationship”, the relationship is already failing – it is no longer a partnership, nor a balance of power. I have been long advised by friends and family to “learn to love the guy who loves you” as a way to choose a fulfilling relationship. I disagree with that because such condition creates an imbalance of power that will not sustain in the long term. It is hard to find a partner where the perfect power balance can strike. Once found, it is rewarding to have truly a “partner” in life, whom you can always walk away from, yet choose to be together.

I have collected over 100 of myself and my friends’ cover letters and published it at Cover Letter Library to help you. This member-only library includes successful cover letters from people who secured jobs at all major investment banks, big 4 firms and other. Check it out 🙂 

 

Illustration by my friend Karl.

I am active on Quora – Please follow me on Quora at https://www.quora.com/profile/Le-Quynh-Mai  for more writing. 

Written by Mai Le

My name is Mai. I am originally from Vietnam. After my university years at LSE, I worked in investment banking at Goldman Sachs. After a wonderful time there, I started several of my own business as well as helping others on theirs. I've always been building communities and businesses for as long as I can remember, and absolutely thrilled to see others enjoy what I've built.

Comments

6 Comments

  1. Avid reader

    Are the digits for level 1: 7 and 4 ?
    Avid reader.

    Reply
  2. Truong Toc

    You have an interesting mind Mai Le. Don’t waste it in finance – move to diplomacy or OGA activities. Your name reminds me of a name (and codename) – Le Thu – from a book written in the 1970s called The Tears of Autumn. If you haven’t discovered it yet, do give it a read. I think you’ll enjoy it.

    Reply
    • Mai Le

      I have not heard of The Tears of Autumn before; just checked it out and I’d definitely give it a read. Thank you, Truong!

      Reply
  3. Passing by

    You talk about a "market clearing price" regarding your relationship with Jonathan yet seem generally critical how people approach/understand Tinder as a "just-want-to-get-laid" dating app. Once you put a price tag on yourself in terms of your date- how much money the guy spent on me etc.- you are no different from Jonathan. And this is why a number of people don’t use Tinder.

    Reply
    • Mai Le

      Many readers of this article seem to focus very much on the Tinder aspect of this story (as it does sell), while the article was intended to emphasise the point of “Alone Together” later on. I’d entertain your opinion here as you have kindly spared and shared it with me. I am not certain if I grasp what you are saying right, so let me rephrase and reflect back if I understood you. (Please do correct me if I misunderstood you) Your critics are that I may seem to have double standards. As you said, I appear to measure myself by how much the guy spent on me and therefore I trade myself like a product, which by no mean different from how Jonathan sees the transaction.

      I do not see myself as a tradable product nor measure myself by how much monetary comfort others supply me. I am blessed with a job where I can be fully financially independent from my family and others. “Market clearing price” is a figuring speech to the fact that my demand does not meet his supply. He does not have and respect what I want. My needs (which is, by the way, cannot measure in monetary terms, e.g. things like the similarity of values and belief) were not satisfied hence, it’s an unsuccessful transaction with unmatching demand vs. supply (no clearing price).

      The reason why I refer to the monetary values of this interaction at all (“You seem to believe I can be bought with a few dinner and drinks, and […] cheaper than a hooker”) is that I do believe there is a price to everyone. There is always a price for everything. Yet, some money is too expensive and cannot be bought. This Quora advice may tell you why I believe so:

      "When I got my first grown-up job after college, my dad asked me how much money I’d be willing to embezzle.

      My dad was an aerospace engineer, one of the most straight-edge ethical men you can imagine. So I told him the truth, "You raised me to be honest. There is no amount of money that could induce me to steal."

      But he wasn’t having it. "A thousand dollars?" he asked, "Ten thousand?"

      "Will I get caught?"
      "No one who embezzles thinks they will get caught."
      "Ok, so it would have to be enough to escape the country and get a new identity."
      "Which is?" he asked.

      "Fifty million dollars." I said. "If they left fifty million with me and I thought I could get away scott free, I might take it."

      "Excellent," he said. "Now never sell out for a box of pens and a three hole punch. If fifty million dollars is your price, never steal a penny less."

      Adjusted for inflation, I can tell you I’m trustworthy to a cool hundred mil today."
      https://www.quora.com/What-quote-illustrates-some-excellent-advice-your-father-or-grandfather-gave-you/answer/Diane-Meriwether

      For Jonathan, I am worth a few dinners and drinks. To me, in this personal affair, I am worth much more, e.g. in the millions like this Quora advice mentioned (in figuring speech, not the actual monetary amount. There are other needs that he can meet that will fulfil my demand e.g. similarity of values and belief). Therefore, in this case, demand does not meet supply and we did not have a market clearing transaction.

      Reply
      • Passing by

        Ah ok, so more of a cost-benefit/economic analysis than actually monetizing your and his "value". Thanks for the good read.

        Reply

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