Smug ‘Together’

Are you two, um, friends? Together? Married? Asks the yoga instructor at 6:15am. She’s seen us arrive together. I can barely open my eyes but I’m thrilled by this question. Yip, we’re together, that hottie’s with me! We love each other soooo much we do couples yoga together. The next 90 minutes dripping in 100 degree heat should be hell but I get to look in the mirror and think, ‘oh yes ladies, step aside that body’s with me!’.

I’ve had the feeling for the past few months that I’m too happy. Too happy in love. Like if I’m not careful I’ll appear smug. Or more concerning, I am actually already smug but too smug to even realize it.

Why am I so happy and in danger of smugness? Well, because I’m with the most incredible man on the planet, obvi! I’m dumbfounded that he has managed to remain single for uncharacteristically long and has now attached himself to me. I’m sure everyone in love feels like they’ve met the best person in the world or the best person for them. But I actually believe that the American is vastly superior to any other man, in an absolute sense.

Supporting facts:

He’s handsome – people sometimes think he is Bradley Cooper

He’s sensitive – he gets an anguished look on his face in movies when there’s a scene depicting emotional hardship

He’s generous – he puts energy into creating surprise experiences for me and the ones I love. He also knows when to pay for things.

He’s competent – he can fix boat engines

He’s funny – he makes me laugh unexpectedly in a raucous unflattering way

So, yes, I get that my list isn’t unique – we are all looking for a handsome sensitive man with a sense of humour. But I think what makes me feel so lucky and borderline smug is that I can see that he really thinks he’s won the lottery. Not just thinks, he acts like it. He really behaves like he respects me and wants the best for me, instead of his first thought being ‘is this going to inconvenience my life?’ or ‘how can I prove that I’m superior to her?’. I think the best illustration of love is in the ways we don’t behave. He is NOT trying to compete with me, NOT overreacting about little things, NOT acting jealous, NOT holding me back, NOT judging. And it’s this behaviour that really stands out as exceptionally rare to me.

So why do I feel intermittently panicked?

Stop being so self-congratulatory, a little voice whispers inside, or you’re going to have that smile wiped off your face.

It feels too good to be true. But there are only two ways to respond to that – freak out and self sabotage or stay calm and be thankful. I’ve decided to let myself get swept away by it all. If it hurts later it will be worth it.


Three things I learnt in my 3 single years

In my post about what I learnt from a 4 year break up I mentioned that I also learnt ‘lots of other things, about myself, the kind of person I want to be and the kind of person I want to be with.’ This is true and here’s a breakdown of that journey.

Single Year 1: Learning about myself

In my first year of being single, amidst the initial trauma of a break up, the first thing I learnt is that I knew my own mind enough to have made the right decision. While I was stuck with some feelings of guilt, the focus shifted to what I really wanted in life. Where did I want to live? What kind of career did I want? I realized I could be anyone I wanted to be and anywhere in the world. I only had myself to consult. This was liberating but also overwhelming. Should I quit my job and work on yachts in the South of France? Or should I get a job in a cinema on a ski slope and learn to ski? I seriously investigated any kind of life that was nothing like my current.

I concluded that I didn’t want to live in London anymore. I was stagnating there and I wanted an adventure. And that’s how I got plotting to move to New York. I had a goal with a unique focus and it made me feel like my own person again.

What I also noticed about that year, on reflection, was that I sought male attention. I wasn’t used to being alone and made a string of bad dating decisions. I dated more than one person at a time, I hooked up with a friend, I had my first one night stand. All a disaster. I slowly realized that I was affected by the behavior of these men I supposedly didn’t care about. The common advice for singles is ‘make the most of it’ but I would be more selective if I had to do it over again.

Single Year 2: Learning about the kind of person I wanted to be

Freshly arrived in New York for my adventurous new life, I adopted the ‘yes man’ approach. I said yes to everything. I didn’t necessarily stay friends with all those people I met in the early days but sometimes I met other people through them. I also did a lot of solo travel to locations I’d always wanted to go to, like Mexico and girls trips to party places like Ibiza. I even went on a mom daughter cruise around the Caribbean and discovered that my mom was a very cool person and travel buddy.

Girl Time in Ibiza

                                                               Girl Time in Ibiza

Party Boat with Mom

                                                             Party Boat with Mom

While on this busy exploratory streak, I also learnt that I had some work to do on myself. There were things I was fearful of, things I was angry about and things I didn’t know what to feel about. I decided to self examine more. The easiest way to do this (if you live in the US and have health insurance) is to go to a therapist. I don’t say the best way, just the easiest. If you can’t afford a therapist, I would suggest setting a timer at home and talking to yourself as if there is a therapist listening on a chair opposite you. One hour of uninterrupted time with yourself will tell you everything you need to know.

With a little bit of probing I learnt that I could let go of certain emotions and stop fearing certain others. I felt much calmer about life in general, less like I was racing against a clock or competing against a sea of un-named faces. I spent more than a year away from my family that year, fighting against the balance of what was expected of me and what I wanted to give. By the end of that year, there was still lots to learn but I felt like I knew what I was striving for. I’d made enough mistakes to see what needed more work but I stopped self-flagellating.

Single Year 3: Learning about the kind of person I wanted to be with

In my third year, I decided to reset. I was looking for discipline and rigour. I was tired of saying yes to everything, tired of eating out and staying out late. I moved into an apartment by myself, stopped drinking for a month and signed up for a cycling training program with New York Cycling Club, doing long distance rides in a group every Saturday for 10 weeks. I felt fit and strong and focused. I stopped dating (for a bit) and I don’t recall but I apparently told a friend at the time that I wanted to be in a real relationship. So I know that I knew what I wanted.

I spent the Summer with friends going to the beach, sailing, cooking at home. I didn’t realize that in amongst this group of friends was the person I would end up being with. We would talk about everything, including what we were looking for in a person. I recall citing a list of ’10 things I was looking for in a man’ to him on a car journey home.  Things like ‘quietly confident, ambitious, must think he’s won the lottery, good face’. I remember it fleetingly crossing my mind that the American fit the description of most things on my list other than thinking he’d won the lottery (he showed no interest at the time). I think it was this exercise of actively naming what I wanted and recognizing that there was someone in front of me who represented the majority of the criteria that prompted me to explore the option when it became available.

7-10 of The 10 things I look for in a man: Feed me, take me to the beach, take me on a boat (please):



Don’t get me wrong, three single years is a long time to learn all these lessons and if I were to find myself single again, I hope I wouldn’t have to re-learn all of them. I was also 3 years away from 30, trying to make a life in a new country, hating my job and at one point adjusting to the idea of having a very sick father. But we all have things going on all the time and break-ups and being single probably won’t come at a good time. Whatever your circumstances, I guarantee it will be a great time to learn about yourself.

Love 101

I sat next to a colleague today who moved to NY it feels like just a minute ago. He’s been here a year and a half, max. And in the city where people only date, he met someone and proposed a year later. I just learnt about the proposal today and what I said to him was ‘OOOOOH, I love love!’. I do, I love everything about it. How people meet, why they’re attracted to each other, why they sometimes run away together and sometimes throw knives at each other. The giddy irrationality, the heartbreak and what we learn from it. As my mom says: Love is the elixir of life. More choice quotes from my mom in my last post.

My friend Leigh and I were inseparable at varsity (that’s uni in the UK and college in the States). We we studying Politics, Philosophy and Economics but couldn’t understand why there were no Politics of Love, Philosophy of Love or Economics of Love courses available. These would’ve been so much more applicable to our lives. To make up for the lack of quality courses available we frequented Love 101 lectures, held by and attended by, ourselves. As neither of us had boyfriends or went on dates the course material was totally fantastical. I also don’t think that at the time people were as academically interested in the subject as they are now. Many years on (Leigh and I have thankfully acquired more personal material) and there are lots of legitimately clever people talking about love.

I’ve selected some of my favourite reads and resources to share with you as the foundation of my Love 101 curriculum

The brain in love:

When to watch it: when you know you’re acting crazy and need some reassurance that you’re just behaving the way you were programmed to.

The secret to desire in a long term relationship:

When to watch it: Uh, if you’re in a long term relationship  – obvi. And also if you’re not, for the pure sexiness of this woman’s voice. It’s a great conversation starter for couples but also just fascinating.

How to Think more About Sex, Alain de Botton: 


When to read it: Today. Whether you’re in a relationship or not. This book demystifies all the crap you’ve heard about sex from the world and teaches you to think intelligently about it, for yourself.

The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje:

eng patient

When to read it/watch it: Literally on a journey or when you feel like taking one. If you’re a reader, read it first. If you’re a film lover, see the movie.  Both are slow and beautiful.

OK, lovers of love, I’m excited for you to go forth and feast on this Love 101 course work, whatever stage your heart is in.

Let me know what you learnt and what you loved please.

Sail Away With Me Honey

In the last post I spoke about falling in love. Well, the story goes, we fell in love and then we sailed off into the sunset, quite literally.

The American is passionate about water and floating on it. He went to sailing camp as a child and now owns a sailboat of his own and dreams about traversing the world in it one day, emulating couples like Alex and Taru, the ex sound engineer and yoga-model-hottie, whose blog he follows. This video gives you a taste of their adventures (warning, the first 30 seconds are total gratuitous boat yoga porn):

Naturally, with roles models like these, the American’s first choice for our first ever couples holiday, was to do a bareboat charter. Note: bareboating is a disceptively sexy word. While it does mean you will be alooooone, it also means you will have no crew whatsoever and have to do all the hard work.

Despite having grown up at the beach, my own boating experience is tainted with apprehension. The first time I went proper sailing for a work regatta I almost chickened out twice, first when I heard I would be sharing a boat with four middle aged men from our Technology division and then during the safety briefing, when one of said middle aged men concluded by telling us how many people die every year by ‘silly’ things like being hit by the boom. When I expressed concern, he told me I’d be ‘just fine honey’ and assigned me to winching duty for the next 48hrs, during which I abstained from a single toilet visit but was briefly released to cook the boys rice and beans over an open flame at high sea. I winched and boiled like a trooper but cried when I got home.

Subsequently, friends have tried to convince me that the the right kind of sailing is more cocktails and sunsets, less rope burn and I’ve had enough pleasant outings on the American’s boat to realize that I got off to a wrong start. And as the American hadn’t had a proper holiday in four years, I thought it was only fair that he get to go on the holiday of his dreams. So we booked seven nights onboard a 37 foot Moorings Monohull boat in the pristine BVI (British Virgin Islands) and the countdown began.

GB_Virgin_IslandsBefore we left, we talked playfully about what it would be like working together on the boat. I suggested that shouting at me under hurricane or other unforeseen nautical conditions would be unacceptable. He seemed in total agreement and assured me I wouldn’t have to do a thing. I could provision (Boat for shop and cook), keep an eye out for pirates and do boat yoga like the hottie in the blog. It sounded idyllic. I would read, tan/freckle and impress him with my galley (Boat for kitchen) and not getting seasick skills. While I had mentally psyched myself up for the trip I was a little surprised by peoples reaction to our choice of first couples holiday together. The thought of seven nights ALONE together, AT SEA, seemed to freak people out. Wasn’t it a lot of PRESSURE? What would we SAY to each other for all that time? What if I needed to POOP? What if we needed SPACE? All good questions and I had no idea what the answers were but I figured as long as I wasn’t yelled at or left to starve I’d be fine. And I wasn’t (yelled at or starved) and I was (fine).

Some time has passed now since that trip and I fondly refer to it as TOAL (Trip of a Lifetime). It was in many ways the trip to end all romantic trips:

Sunrises and treasure hunt surprises,

IMG_0539followed by on-board breakfasts to fuel sunny days at sea in the Caribbean trade winds,

IMG_0691swimming with techni-colour fish in turquoise blue water (sad side bar: the coral is going brown and disappearing),

bluefishPina Coladas on secluded sun loungers,

IMG_0606and bareboat exploration…

DCIM100GOPROWhile it was amazing, it could have been stressful. People are people, whether we’re in paradise or going about the daily grind. We get moody and tired. Sometimes on vacation, when all the noise dies down, we can be even more reflective and plagued by more existential thoughts than usual. I sometimes find that the more sublime the location and experience, the more my petulant mind will wonder, to the past and to the future, suddenly wanting to confront things like meaning and failure and hope.

Our boat, Escape Yourself, was aptly named:DCIM100GOPRODespite the serene refuge of Escape Yourself and the extreme proximity to the American, I felt needier than usual. I wanted him to stop fiddling with the boat instruments, hold me tight and gaze into my eyes for seven days straight. I also missed missing him like I do in the city when I don’t see him for a day and hoped we’d still miss each other when we returned and not be saturated from our sail time together.

Luckily, I know how my mind works on holidays and decided to shut it down for the duration of the trip. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, meditation helps with this.

GOPR0299As I also mention in that post, I haven’t yet mastered the art of meditation. I’m still on 5 minutes, which is apparently not enough to totally silence the mind on a TOAL vacation in paradise with the LOML.

And having thought long and hard about why this is, I leave you with a great sea faring quote:

All the thoughts of a turtle are turtle
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Special thanks to Maureen Muller for providing us with provisioning recipes fit for sea gods

And to Simon and Cate of Surfsong BVI for being such wonderful ambassadors for the island and almost hosting us on on our return from sea.

Falling in Love Again

When I was in my all girls high school and boyfriend and boy friend-less, I wasn’t so worried. Worst case scenario, I could invite one of my well-mannered Afrikaans tennis pals to the school dance with me. All the normal people end up with another normal person eventually, I thought. And I am definitely normal compared to some of the freaks out there who have had relationships and even babies. School is now a distant memory (thank goodness) but outside of a few panicked pre-30 moments, I’ve continued to cling to my belief that normal people find other normal people, even if it hasn’t always worked for me.

The first time I fell in love, I think I got swept away by charm. Wait, it was 8 years ago, so I actually can’t remember why I fell in love. That’s why we keep diaries. I recorded the following: ‘It was just so comfortable being around him and fun…I was so excited, like on a breezy cloud.’ Followed by this DH Lawrence quote: “Love is the flower of life, and blossoms unexpectedly and without law, and must be plucked where it is found, and enjoyed for the brief hour of its duration.”


The blossoming and withering of love.

YUCK, that’s also why I no longer write a diary.

So for round 2 I was prepared, there would be no declarations of love in week 3, no premature wading into that murky pool of infatuation. And just as well, because it took the American I now love almost a year to ask me to be his date. And by that I mean accompany him as his date somewhere, not actually go on a date. We’d been cycling friends in the run up to this (Nov 2012-Aug 2013) and spent w ends with friends at the beach over the Summer but he’d never thrown so much as a special glance my way up until this point. Before the ‘date’, there had been some mini signals of interest, like an awkwardly long hand linger when passing me his cell phone in a car and an equally awkward bum tap in a kitchen, but otherwise zero. To this day, I have no idea if he was slowly psyching himself up to make a non-move by inviting me as his date to this event or if we could just as easily still not be together if we hadn’t been forced to squish up very tight in the car on the ride home. Anyway, in his case slow and steady wins the race.  It’s also the air of certainty he has about him (like, no rush, I got this) that makes him especially attractive. Once we’d navigated the first kiss, the calm approach also translated into regular, stable dating patterns that I welcomed compared to prior New Yorker experiences. Being friends, we already had a foundation of trust and respect but it took some time to figure out how not to just be friends. Luckily, his angst free spirit rubbed off on me and I managed to silence all the ‘what ifs’ and ‘buts’ swimming around in my head  and follow his carefree lead.

After about 3 months of mutual appreciation, I recall my sister asking me if I was in love and I was like ‘whooaaa, no way’ but I think she planted the seed. Shortly after that, I had friends staying with me and being Franco-German, they wanted to make us a quick Quiche before going out. I clearly don’t use the oven much and had left a plastic utensil in there that proceeded to start a real fire in my kitchen. The German, being a responsible surgeon, screamed for us gentile ladies to evacuate but a minute later as I was sneaking back in to rescue my passport, I saw that the American had calmly put out the fire and saved all my worldly possessions. That was the moment I started to fall in love.

It took another 3 months for the falling, falling, fallen process to complete. By then I was so starry-eyed it was burdensome to hold it in. I could feel the love coming from him too so I thought that in the same way he opens doors and carries bags for me, he would just be the man and say it first. He was definitely moving steadily in that direction when he came out with ‘I really like you’ as part of a bigger appreciation speech one lazy afternoon in February. Whilst I was drinking in every word about how he’s so happy with me and has always wanted a relationship like this, blah blah, blah, I was mainly thinking that if it’s taken him 6 months to conclude he really likes me then he’s probably at least another 3 off from the big L. There was no way I could match such stoicism so I decided I’d have to get it off my chest that day. After multiple attempts at finding the right moment and stilling the queasy feeling in my tummy, I finally confessed. His face lit up in a way that placated my nausea. Apparently he loved me too but had been looking for the right words (for male readers, the right words are I love you). We both breathed a sigh of relief.

Now that the words are out there we say them when we really mean them, a special treat and a reminder not to take them for granted. Sometimes when I hear the words unexpectedly my heart is still momentarily arrested. Because, as DH pointed out, love is that rare flower that must be treasured for the potentially brief hour of its duration.



Following the Yellow Brick Road


When I left my homeland seven years ago, I wasn’t running from anything. I hadn’t been stock-piling food for fear that South Africa was ‘going the way Zimbabwe’ had gone. I believed, and still do, that the country has a bright shiny future. I was following my own little dream – to see the world, to meet weird and wonderful creatures and learn clever things. At least I think that was my dream, but it’s all so long ago now, who can really remember? The days and the years speed by, the lessons change and the faces rearrange. All I can be sure that lingers on is the desire to see the world, to discover new places and people out there on the untrodden road.

There is a price to pay for all this newness and adventure. For every fascinating foreign encounter, a heartfelt homely one is forfeited. For every new relationship forged, an existing one is neglected.  All the energy we expend in adjusting, adapting and acclimatizing to new environments is used up and cannot be invested in other things. Emotionally, I live in two countries and service two sets of relationships. It’s important to recognize which of these are transient and which have really got your back, and invest in them accordingly. A big bad city like New York really helps to put things in perspective, you learn quickly that for all the wow factor, people here are self-involved and unlikely to invest in you. When a hurricane hits, that person you thought you had a really solid relationship with, is unlikely to invite you to stay in their guest bedroom on the Upper West Side.

But that ‘s just the flip side of why people come here in the first place, in search of self-sufficiency and self-expression. The anonymity afforded by a place that is not your own can be a convenient guise and fuel for freedom and re-invention. Or it can just be fucking lonely. It all depends on what you’re hoping to discover on your path at that point in time. And herein lies my massive conflict: I want to be invisible but I want to belong, I love my family and my country but I also love living here. In such unclear-cut cases, one has to make a choice –  to abandon one world or to inhabit two simultaneously and dedicate a little more energy to a double life. For me, this is a privilege rather than a sacrifice. It affords me the luxury, of one day, when the going gets too tough, to be able to click my heels and wake up in a place where the sun is shining, the language is colorful and the love is abundant.New York, I adore you, but there’s no place like home.