(Non) Romantic Notions: Takeaways from Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance

 

Fits right in with my decor.

Fits right in with my decor.

Having picked Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance: An Investigation as the selection for my group’s book club, I feel like I can probably talk about the information gleaned from it for days on end. After all, I led a few meetings where we delved deep into what it all meant for those of us who were/are still wading in the dating pool. It’s a tome that felt so relevant to my life over these past few years, meaning it was ripe for discussion.

If you’ve read my previous post about the things I learned from our first book club read, Calling in “The One”: 7 Weeks to Attract the Love of Your Life, you’ll understand that love, life, and bettering one’s self are constant themes that I reflect on. Modern Romance was a great continuation of our investigation into the idea of relationships without the urge to throw the book at the wall as we experienced with book two, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus (not our choice, but we stuck it out), which seemed to set the whole idea of equality back and then some. Instead, Modern Romance has a present day sensibility and humour that makes it easy to relate to.

Our last meeting was in January. A lot has happened since then. I’ve allowed my thoughts about Modern Romance to stew, and these are the points that still stick out in my mind. They’re not necessarily things that make you feel like love is out there, or that romance is possibly around every corner. In fact, some of the findings from Aziz Ansari’s research and interviews has me questioning whether or not romance can even be found in modern life; have we stripped all notions of romance away? Yet, this is the reality for a lot of people today, myself included, and, for better or worse, we’ll muddle our way through it until we’re happy.

1) Online Introduction Services

With the Internet came the biggest change in the way we date. We’re no longer relegated to people like our neighbours and schoolmates. The pool is large and vast, and it’s online. Our biggest problem with online dating is that it is often seen by users as an instant way to find a soul mate. When we first sign up, we see so much potential and, often, our expectations can be high. But, those of us who have had the pleasure of sifting through all of those profiles know that it’s actually a huge chore and a lot of work. Usually, the outcome isn’t great. What I took away from Modern Romance is that you can’t go into online dating thinking of it as DATING. All dating sites or apps are essentially introduction services. Nothing more. It’s a way for you to reach out to someone you may never otherwise have a chance of coming into contact with. However, once you do, it’s up to both parties to put in the effort (i.e. actually talk, really make plans to meet).

2) Don’t Be So Judgemental

People are too quick to judge. They make snap decisions and refuse to give someone good a chance. Sometimes the reasoning might be sound. On other occasions, it just seems like it’s because we/they didn’t fulfill all of the boxes of perfection. Maybe we’re scared of opening up to a new person and that’s why we back out so fast. I’m not entirely sure. All I know is that there are times, for me, when it seemed like a meeting went well and the signs were there, but it still went nowhere. Now, I find myself wondering, what if? What if I had given so and so a second date? What if that guy didn’t ghost me after we met and he actually took the time to get to know me past that hour-long coffee date? He might not be my boyfriend, but maybe he’d end up being my friend. You never know.

3) What is Chemistry?

Chemistry is a funny idea. We’ve all experienced it. That sense of attraction to someone that just can’t be explained is something people continually seek out in friends and partners. Why do we have to have that off the bat though? In the past, I’ve found that I’ve become more attracted to someone the longer I know them. As friends, you learn a lot about each other and you’ve got that comfort that doesn’t necessarily appear out of the blue with someone who is, more or less, a stranger. Chemistry is great, and the idea of it has been around for a long time. However, living in the age we do now – constant connection and immediate access to our social spheres – we’ve become accustomed to the feeling of instant gratification and it’s not always a good thing. Sometimes the best outcomes take time.

4) No Talking Allowed

When I say no talking, I mean out loud and face-to-face. It has become the norm to text using your smart phone rather than to pick up the phone and make a call. I’m not sure of when we started fearing the idea of hearing each others’ voices, but it has happened. I know people who avoid speaking to someone over the phone whenever possible, and I find it funny because it’s not my favourite thing either anymore. Yet, rewind to when I was in junior high and high school, and I loved to phone up my friends just to catch up with them. Granted, we didn’t have the ability to text back then, but the sound of someone’s voice is so much more telling and warm than font on a screen, isn’t it?

5) Technology Has Ruined Romance

I might be exaggerating a little bit. Today’s dating endeavours are aided by the use of technology. But, all of it can be a bit of burden, too. Technology creates the ties that bind us, and, while it’s helpful, we’ve sort of lost that ability to communicate well. With that, we’ve also lost some of that spontaneity that many of us grew up with. No longer can we be satisfied with an impromptu date at the closest taco place. No, we’ve got to find the best possible date and the top-rated Mexican cantina in town before we even fathom going out. It’s all or nothing.

Look at all of those stickies.

Look at all of those stickies.

6) Too Much of Something is Bad Enough (thanks, Spice Girls)

Endless options create less satisfaction and make us more indecisive. Have you ever gone to a restaurant where the menu goes on for pages? You’re sitting there with your friends and none of them can make up their mind because, every time they flip the page, there’s another item that catches their eye. Dating today is like that, multiplied by 1,000. Is there someone better than the person I’m seeing? I want the best. The problem is, you’ll never know if you’ve got the best until you’ve sampled 100 per cent of the offerings, which is impossible. So, if you find someone you like who makes you happy, just be happy with them and don’t overthink it.

7) Quid Pro Quo

We often want what we’re not willing to give in return. I went to Aziz Anzari’s stand up show in San Diego last year. During the event, he asked the audience what approach they take when they’re not interested in someone: a) tell them, b) pretend to be busy, or c) say nothing. The audience was most responsive to Options B and C. On the flip side, when Aziz wanted to know how we’d prefer to find out that someone wasn’t interested in us, the majority cheered for Option A. Aziz thought that was a double standard and he was right. We ask for honesty and straightforwardness from others even when we refuse to offer the same.

8) The Non-Existent Relationship Status

Let’s just call it what it is. Early on, when getting to know someone, I totally understand that the relationship status is going to be in limbo. It’s likely that neither party has made a decision about where they want things to go yet. However, past that first meet and greet, I want it to be clear whether or not the next get together is an actual date. “Hanging out” is a term that I want to disappear unless it’s used in the context of friendship. I think that guys often utilize it because they want to be casual about things and women might say that because they don’t want to seem too eager. Either way, it’s frustrating when you get stuck in that zone.

9) Burn the Rule Book

There are many so-called rules of dating, but these “rules” can be debilitating. They’re ridiculous to follow and they’re often contradictory, so throw them out the window. For example, if the person on the other end is so judgmental about you replying to their text within minutes of you receiving it, then they really have nothing better to think about. People often reply quickly out of courtesy or because they know they’re forgetful when they wait, not because they don’t have a life. Being in “game” mode all the time is tiring and a waste of thought and effort. The rule is that there are no longer any rules.

10) Stigma Be Damned

Online dating used to be frowned upon by many. It probably still is by a few, but the stigma has certainly waned. Most singletons I know have tried it, and those who have been in long-term relationships and have never had a chance to use it themselves seem curious about how well it works. I would say that full acceptance depends on the forum (i.e. Tinder vs. Match), but even ideas about various sites and apps are changing over time. Regardless, the notion of meeting your significant other online isn’t so far-fetched nowadays. In fact, it’s more common than you’d guess.

Have you read Modern Romance? What were your takeaways? I’d love to hear in the comments section below.

Notes, notes and more notes.

Notes, notes and more notes.

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Cooking at Home: Eggplant Stuffed Bell Pepper

Dinner is served!

Dinner is served!

Continuing with the cooking journey I started late last month, I had every intention of picking a new recipe to try sometime in March. But, I already had a fridge full of new groceries and I wasn’t too keen on having to pick up specific ingredients from the store, so I decided to forgo any form of instruction and I opted to do my own thing.

Really feeling the need to detox (I use this word lightly), my kitchen was stocked with eggplant, asparagus, zucchini, grape tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, tomatoes on the vine, avocados and salad mix. When it comes down to it, I’m all about keeping things simple, and when food is involved, I’ve learned that less is often better. As I wrapped my head around the items I had at my disposal, I realized that I should try making stuffed peppers. It’s something that always looks so tasty, healthy and relatively easy, so I figured it would be a piece of cake.

I decided that my basic ingredients would include one large bell pepper (I went with an orange one, so it was sweeter), eggplant, tomatoes on the vine, jalapeno cheese, Uncle Ben’s Bistro Express quinoa & brown rice with garlic flavour – I will often cut corners by going this route to save myself time – and a bit of garlic olive oil.

I’d say this took about 15 minutes to prep and about 25 to 30 minutes baking in the oven at 200 C (392 F). The cheese had melted through giving the stuffed pepper some kick, the eggplant had softened to a nice texture without becoming a squishy mess, the diced tomatoes added acidity, and the quinoa & brown rice with the garlic flavour made it a satisfyingly savoury dish.

Here’s the recipe:

Eggplant Stuffed Bell Pepper
1 Serving
15 min. prep
25 to 30 min. cooking time

1 large bell pepper (any colour)
1/3 of an eggplant
1 small tomato on the vine
1/2 package of Uncle Ben’s Bistro Express or bowl of rice
8 small slices of jalapeno cheese
1 tbsp Garlic olive oil

1) Cover a pan with tin foil and set aside.
2) Preheat your oven to 200 C.
3) Wash your pepper. Slice the top off and scoop out the seeds.
4) Take your eggplant and cut into half inch cubes.
5) Dice your tomato.
6) Warm the package of Uncle Ben’s in the microwave.
7) In a bowl, mix the cubes of eggplant and diced tomato together. Stir in a tablespoon of olive oil until the veggies are coated.
8) Add a portion of the rice to the bowl. Mix well.
9) Put your pepper on the pan and start filling it with layers of cheese and veggie/rice mixture. Alternate between the two until the pepper is full.
10) Once the oven is ready, place the pan on the middle rack.
11) Let cook for 25 to 30 minutes.

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This is an excellent recipe when you’re cooking for just yourself. Or, easily modify the portions and you’ll find that you can serve this to your guests next time they drop by for dinner. Enjoy!

Learning to Be a Better Home Cook

All of my ingredients for panna cotta gathered on the counter.

All of my ingredients for panna cotta gathered on the counter.

A couple of years ago, inspired by a friend who cooks and talks about food like he’s a chef, as well as by the meals I’ve eaten at restaurants in Edmonton and during my travels, and from watching the more popular than ever Food Network, I decided that I want to better my own culinary skills. Cooking is a science and an art. A beautifully presented dish can bring joy to the eye, but you also need to know what can work together to create something pleasing to the palate.

I had every intention at the beginning of 2014 to learn a new recipe once a week (or perhaps every two or three) – actually take the time to make a delicious and balanced meal. But, now, more than 12 months later, that hadn’t really happened. However, after having enjoyed a year’s worth of amazing lunches and dinners at eateries across the city, I’m now feeling a little more motivated to go ahead with my initial idea. I want to be able to make myself, my family and my friends dishes that are as good as those at all the fine establishments I’ve had the opportunity to dine at.

Up until now I’ve been winging it and, don’t get me wrong, I’m not terrible in the kitchen. Everything I’ve ever cooked has been edible and even quite tasty, but I’d like to add variety by building on what I already know because I want what I put into my mouth to be healthy and nothing other than delectable.

But, where do I begin? My biggest dilemma is that I never have a fully stocked pantry of food or ingredients just lying around waiting to be molded into some spectacular meal. So, I have to be really proactive about planning ahead. I also think I have to slowly work my way towards dishes that require a little more technique.

My plan is to scour the cookbooks I’ve amassed and the Internet for what, I hope, will be a yearlong experiment. If I am able to keep up with it, I’ll do my best to chronicle the more successful attempts here on my blog.

And, should set recipes not work for me, I’ve told my parents that they can go the way of Chopped (or Chopped Canada) and bring me random baskets of various ingredients and I’ll take up the challenge of preparing them a meal that is fit for consumption. So, wish me luck!

In the meantime, I have dipped my toes in by learning how to make one of my favourite desserts. In no way does this recipe really help me add to my repertoire of main dishes, yet it is a handy one to have in my back pocket should I need to whip a little treat up with short notice.

Panna cotta is a traditional Italian “cooked cream” dessert. I typically order it at restaurants when I want something that is subtly sweet and feels relatively light. The ingredients and cooking method have changed over time, but, regardless, it’s a classic that is surprisingly simple to make. It can also be garnished a number of ways to bring in different flavours. Making this, you’ll feel like a proper dessert chef in no time!

Vanilla Panna Cotta*
6 servings
10 min. prep
6 hr. cooking time

7 g (1 pkg) unflavoured gelatin
1 1/2 cup milk (2% suggested)
1 cup half and half cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract
Fruit or cinnamon to garnish

1) Grease six 1/2 cup ramekins and set aside.

2) Pour milk into a small saucepan. Sprinkle the entire package of gelatin into the milk. Let stand for 1 minute.

3) Heat the milk and gelatin mixture on medium, making sure to stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved.

4) Add the cream, sugar and vanilla extract to the pan. Keep on medium heat so it remains hot, but not boiling (be very careful about this!). Stir occasionally until smooth.

5) Pour the liquid into the six ramekins. Let cool, then cover and chill for at least 6 hours or overnight.

6) Once set, you can slide the panna cotta out of the ramekin and serve in a bowl or on a plate. You can also opt to serve it in the ramekin. Top with fruit, honey or a sprinkle of cinnamon.

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*Modified from Cook iPad app contributor Reizel Ayeras’s recipe.

Things I Learned From a Book About Finding Love

One of the daily practices prescribed in the book, Calling in "The One."

One of the daily practices prescribed in the book, Calling in “The One.”

My friend talked a couple of us into starting a book club with her. The book was Calling in “The One”: 7 Weeks to Attract the Love of Your Life by Katherine Woodward Thomas. Needless to say, I was skeptical. It ultimately took half a year to finish, but I did it. Six months for a seven week program, or approximately 178 days versus the 49 it should supposedly take. The point is, it was more drawn out than it should have been.

Nevertheless, we juggled our work schedules, hobbies, social lives along with the readings and exercises, and, eventually, we managed to finish our final discussion. It has been about a month since our group last met, and I’m not sure the premise of the book worked. It may have for one of my friends, just not for me. Not yet, anyway. Granted, it doesn’t guarantee love is going to magically appear in your life within the time allotted on the cover.

Rather, as I worked my way through the pages from cover to cover, I understood that it’s not about doing things to make you seem more attractive on the surface. Instead, it’s a matter of getting to know who you are as a person, aiming to better yourself, and knowing that what you put out there is what you hope to receive in return because that’s what you deserve, for better or worse.

Honestly, I never imagined I’d read a book like this. I didn’t think it would come down to that. Then again, I never used to think I’d try speed dating or online dating, so never say never! However, despite my reservations, I found the author’s writings to be quite interesting and insightful, even when I felt like the examples didn’t quite apply to me. So, if you’re interested in giving Calling in “The One” a go, I’d recommend it.

If you’d prefer not to, but you’re wondering what kinds of nuggets are tucked away in the tome, I thought it would be good for me to list out the most important things I learned (or, at least, was reminded of) and to share them with you.

We are connected to everyone and everything.

We are connected to everyone and everything.

1. We might all live in our own little bubbles at times, but it’s important to remember that you are connected to everyone and everything. Think of the butterfly effect.

2. It’s necessary to make room for people in your life. If you cannot literally set aside space or time for them, you’re probably not mentally ready for a relationship.

3. Know what makes you happy and understand that you are allowed to be a bit selfish. Ask for what you want and need. Be okay with what people are willing and able to give to you.

4. Be the person you want to attract in your life. For example, you can’t expect to snag someone who’s ambitious if you’re perpetually lazy.

5. Have an idea of what you want in life. Vision boards can help you better visualize your goals and possibly guide you towards them.

6. Understand that you’re a work in progress and so is everyone else in this world. People are not perfect, but it’s important to be the best we’re capable of being at any given moment.

7. Believe that sometimes a loss is actually a gain. Often times, things happen for a reason, even if the reason isn’t clear at first.

8. Avoiding toxic ties and all around negativity is paramount in life. If we stew in all the bad, it makes it really hard to wash it out. Strive to be as positive as possible and only keep those whom you trust and who make you happy in your inner circle. Read about my quest for positivity here.

9. Take each mistake or failure as an opportunity to learn and improve yourself.

10. Life and love may not turn out to be exactly as you pictured, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Be open to possibilities.

11. Nurture any passions you have or think you might have because they build your character and make you who you are.

Simple pleasures can make a big impact.

Simple pleasures can make a big impact.

12. Live in the moment. Appreciate things as they happen because it may be your one and only chance to experience it. Show gratitude for even the smallest things because simple pleasures often make the biggest impact.

13. Know your own boundaries and don’t be afraid to draw lines if you need to. Others should have the decency to respect them. You’re allowed to say no and to speak up for yourself.

14. Your worries really can be put in a box and forgotten about until you wish to bring them out again. This one probably requires a little bit of explaining. One of the practices we were tasked with doing one week was to select a box, decorate it and then fill it with all of your worries. When you were done, you literally sealed them away. It made me realize that life can be overwhelming. We’re often trying to deal with multiple things at once. Yet, sometimes, it’s best to deal with difficult situations one at a time. It’s kind of a daunting thought, but if something isn’t solved right away, it’ll always be there later. For me, when I put my stresses on paper and then tucked them into my wisdom box, I felt so much lighter, and, truthfully, since I did that, I haven’t really dwelt as much on each and every thing that had been weighing me down.

15. There’s no point in having regrets about the past. You can’t change the past (unless you have a time machine). Just be sure to do the things you want to do now (as long as it’s feasible for you), so you don’t have any regrets in the future.

16. There are things I’d love to change about myself physically. However, it’ll either take a lot of time or it’s simply not going to happen (save for a body swap), so know that nobody has a truly perfect body (not even supermodels). You can be thankful for every inch of yourself for some reason or another. Ex. I wish my legs were longer and a lot slimmer, but, hey, I have legs and they give me the ability to walk. Win!

17. Cultivate solitude. You need to know who you are by yourself to know who you are when you’re with others. Read my post about being alone, but not lonely here.

18. Take some risks. Be a “yes” person.

Writing this post is my version of a personal risk. I probably would have been embarrassed to tell people about something like this in the past, but, nowadays, I believe that sharing is caring. I hope these words may inspire some of you or help you on your journeys in life and love. All the best!

Living a Positive Life

Folded papers with my positivity notes written on them.

Folded papers with my positivity notes written on them.

I’m not one to make resolutions when the new year rolls around. My track record when it comes to seeing them through isn’t great. So, I’m not calling this a resolution. It’s more a change of heart and mind, and this is something I opted to do in the last quarter of 2014.

Most of the previous year, I endeavoured, along with a couple of friends, to work through a book that was going to help us find love. Maybe it sounds a little silly, but it’s not like cupid had been knocking on my doorstep, so I figured I had nothing to lose. While not everything discussed in the book and during our club sessions felt entirely applicable to me, it was still an eye opening experience that helped to pave a little more of the path I should strive to follow.

All-in-all, the book wasn’t some immediate solution to solving my woes in the relationship department. However, it did give me more insight into the things that are important to me, and important to opening myself up to receiving what I need and want.

More than anything, I realized that I was beating myself up too much. I’ve always been one to compare myself to others. Yet, I understand that doing that serves no purpose. Over time I’ve begun to see that everything isn’t always what it seems. The people who have what look like picture perfect lives on the surface, may be suffering inside. Who knows, right?

The biggest takeaway for me as we reached the half way mark of the book was that I had to stop letting negativity into my life. I have always prided myself on being a very positive person. I hate to see sadness or disappointment, so I try to be a light. Sometimes it’s hard though. I’m well aware that things aren’t always sunshine and roses. Watching or reading news stories can get me down fast, thinking about where I am in my career and knowing I’m not even close to where I want to be bums me out, and other peoples’ consistently pessimistic views of the world push me to grow weary, but I finally decided that I had to counteract that.

As crazy as it may sound, I now believe that if you think and act optimistically – see the glass half full – you’ll feel a thousand times better. You can’t expect to think bad thoughts and not have them continue to affect you. Just saying you’re doing well when someone asks, even if you’re really not, works wonders. Honestly, it’s all a state of mind.

One of the best ways to do this is to remember all the things you’re grateful for. Do this every single day, not just once a year on Thanksgiving. Appreciate the little moments.

A joy jar that holds all of my wonderful memories until I shake them out come New Year's Eve 2015 and read them one by one...I think I need a bigger one!

A joy jar that holds all of my wonderful memories until I shake them out come New Year’s Eve 2015 and read them one by one…I think I need a bigger one!

That’s why I’ve started contributing to my joy jar. Every single time something that is nice, happy, funny, exciting or any other number of positively skewed adjectives happens, I’m going to write about it on a piece of paper, fold it up and place it into some sort of container. When New Year’s Eve 2015 finally arrives, I’m dumping each piece of paper out, and I’m going to go through them one by one to remind myself of just how fabulous my life has been and is. Big or small, I want my memories to be good ones.

Here are some rules that I think are essential to live by:

Be part of the solution. Pursue your interests, you never know where they may lead. Be a good friend. Listen to people, sometimes it’s all they require of you. Be your own person; avoid comparisons to others. Love fully and truthfully. Be giving and forgiving. Don’t hold things in, it never ends well. Be in the moment. Accept compliments. Be kind because kindness spreads. Smile.