Was I born a masochist or did society make me this way?


It’s strange sometimes, how little value is placed in motherhood. Now, I’m not one to preach that “being a mother is the hardest job in the world”, in fact, I’m almost more inclined to agree with Bill Burr on that notion. But actually being a mother, actually creating life, growing a living being in your womb for nine months and then allowing it to come tearing out head first, occasionally ripping you apart in the process, that part, we like to gloss over.

But it’s getting harder and harder to pretend, to lie to each generation. Women are becoming more and more aware of the pain, the dangers, the aftermath of being a mother. Watching an OB-GYN discuss the actual statistics noting that the dangers of eating food during labour are in fact, negligible, and an outdated practice that probably only increases discomfort and fatigue. I started to share this fact and he interrupted me with: “well eating something before I have knee surgery is probably not going to kill me, but what’s so fucking hard about not eating for three hours”. As if labour was the same as knee surgery, and it only ever lasted three hours.

It was such a benign comment, and yet it ignited such rage. To equate hours of conscious, excruciating pain, with a surgery that happens in your sleep. To claim ignorantly yet confidently that labour could only last three hours. When confronted with the knowledge that the first stage of labour can last 10 – 14 hours, the second stage one – two, and the third stage 45 minutes, and that in fact some women are unlucky enough to suffer far longer than that, he continued to argue that only the second stage really counts, and that’s what he was referring to anyway, despite not knowing five minutes ago that there were several stages.

“I’m not interested in knowing more.” That’s the end of the conversation, as it often is with him. “You’re completely wrong, because I say you are.” His opinion is fact, and mine are merely misguided, incorrect, emotional outbursts.

I am a carefully curated convenient package of all the attributes he desired in a wife, and how dare I disagree with him. How dare I have opinions that differ from his truth. Not just his version, because why would there ever be any other version than his own? He has always been the centre of the universe.

It’s surely not a surprise to all that happy families are so few and far between, that more and more women are choosing not to procreate. Certainly none of my career oriented, financially independent friends find the idea of changing nappies and drowning in piles of dirty laundry desirable. Nursing an ungrateful child and then caring for an even more ungrateful husband, it’s the stuff nightmares are made of. But dishes magically clean themselves. Food miraculously appears in the fridge. The soap dispenser replenishes itself. Clean laundry appears folded in his wardrobe. The toothpaste never runs out. All courtesy of the faeries.

Then to add insult to injury they mock you for giving up on your career in the first place, as if it were a choice you made. Would you like to erase any chance of progressing your career by actually caring for your child, and watching them grow up, or would you like to sacrifice 60% of your salary so someone else could do the bare minimum to keep them breathing by the time you pick them up, too exhausted after a day of work to do much better than that yourself? We’re always presented with such superb options. Who even cares about your career anyway, he probably makes much more than you. Surely your “sacrifice” is the only one that makes any financial sense. How could it possibly be considered a sacrifice when everyone agrees motherhood is oh so beautiful and rewarding, the best thing to ever happen to you. You should be eternally grateful for the chance to be a housewife, condemned to your new and only identity. No longer contributing to society, and merely a burden to it. Mostly a burden to your husband of course, the one doing all the work.

No wonder most Chinese parents are still disappointed when they have a daughter. What a disappointment it is, to be born with ovaries.


Why do we always feel like we have more time. Where does this confidence stem from? Would we live our lives differently if the clock hung above our heads, reminding us exactly how many hours, minutes, seconds remained?

I always thought I enjoyed being a cog in a wheel, a wheel in a machine, just a minor component in the grand scheme of things, plodding about, completing the bare minimum to satisfy some invisible quota, my contribution to society.

There’s always profit to be made on other people’s misery. Other people’s misery belong to other people, and guilt is reserved for the weak, we know better than that.

I feel unbearably tired, a fatigue that can’t be warded off by sleep, even when sleep deigns to visit. Is it too narcissistic and bourgeouis to admit that “I should be happy” and “I am happy” are two very different things? I Should be many things. A better wife, a better daughter, a better friend, a better human, perhaps.

You never know how much cruelty you’re capable of, till you really want to hurt someone.

That cheap expression:- “Hurt people hurt people.”

As if that relinquished you of all guilt, rather than cementing it.

Maybe I don’t know how to be happy because I was raised in a world of chaos. A mother who was always screaming, always angry, and a father always hiding from her, content to never participate nor mellow her style of parenting. These days I can no longer bring myself to blame him. I blame myself for not being better at hiding. But there’s only so much you can attribute to childhood trauma before you’re accused of wallowing.

I catch glimpses of her in myself. The same familiar rage, the inability to accept petty inconveniences. The misdirected anger at other people’s unintentional stupidity. I was always lacking, in her eyes. In ambition, in perseverance, in all the qualities that made other people’s children great.

Even now, when I’ve finally achieved everything that allows her to gloat to family and friends, convinced that every ounce of my success can be traced to her superior parenting abilities, I can’t shake this feeling that I’ve failed. In small ways, in many ways, in every way, I would always be her poster child of wasted potential.

Tick. Tock.


I just wanted to know if you were happy, that’s all. If you could give me a sign, a hint, some faint promise that you are doing just fine, then maybe I’d be satisfied with your absence. Maybe I could believe that it’s for the best.

Look me in the eyes and tell me that you’re content, stop smiling like you’re being held hostage. I’d never seen such a gloomy wedding. You looked like you were stepping forward to your execution.

Tell me that she is everything you’ve dreamed of and more. That she evokes your heart’s deepest desires and heals the wounds you’d hidden for as long as you could remember. Wounds you never dared to show me. Promise me that you’ve never looked back, never regretted your cowardice, never for a moment doubted your sincerity, never mistook fear for passion, nor pain for connection.

Tell me that you’ve never missed me, not for one single moment. No song has ever reminded you of me. You’ve never heard a joke you wished you could share with the only girl so dead inside, she could never be offended.

Tell me if you’re still listening, just so I can hear your voice again. The echoes of fading memories don’t do it any justice. Tell me it was all in my head, you never loved me at all, not even for a minute.

19 November 2022

The differences between a man and a woman are at the best so obstinate and exasperating that they practically cannot be got over unless there is an atmosphere of exaggerated tenderness and mutual interest.  To put the matter in one metaphor, the sexes are two stubborn pieces of iron; if they are to be welded together, it must be while they are red-hot.  Every woman has to find out that her husband is a selfish beast, because every man is a selfish beast by the standard of a woman.  But let her find out the beast while they are both still in the story of “Beauty and the Beast”.  Every man has to find out that his wife is cross — that is to say, sensitive to the point of madness: for every woman is mad by the masculine standard.  But let him find out that she is mad while her madness is more worth considering than anyone else’s sanity.

Love is not a feeling. To love is to will the good of the other.

Just a dash of hopeless, unreasonable optimism got us this far. I want to love you this much, always. I want to feel such affection for you, always. I want to remember the good in you, always.

Not a knight in shining armour, but always willing to pass me the sword.

Life would be so dull without you whispering risky jokes in my ear at the most inappropriate moments.

Till death do us part, because I could never plan a wedding again.


We’re living through strange times. The bell curve of human intelligence or lack thereof has never stretched so far apart. It’s difficult if not outright impossible to discern the truth from the barrage of information we’re constantly bombarded with on every screen we glance past.

As a child, I had always assumed being an adult meant something. As if age magically bestowed you wisdom, or at least common sense. But it isn’t so. People do not miraculously become clever or more sensible after consuming nonsense for most of their lives.

I have always avoided reality TV like the plague, and on the rare occasions when I watched them, I felt bewildered by their popularity. The cheap theatrics filled me with an irrational passionate hatred. It felt like a betrayal, that in this short time we have on the planet, this limited journey, we were being studied religiously, then targeted with the most likely trash to elicit a click, an endless scroll. We were being robbed on a daily basis, of seconds, minutes, precious hours wasted by clever algorithms, designed to keep us complacent, bored yet satiated, just tired enough to never strive for more. Let the homeless carry iPhones. They will own nothing and be happy about it.

Isn’t it strange, that we’ve never had more and felt worse about it? For all that the younger generations complain of wealth inequality, unaffordable housing, and the con that is higher education; we have never had so much material comfort, access to information, opportunities to be more than the circumstances we’re born into.

But we squander it every fucking day. I watch my youth slip away as I inflict irreparable damage to my spine because I’ve not yet aged enough to regret my poor posture. We share the same cliche quotes with pastel backgrounds and pretend it’s as good as therapy. We experiment with different pills till we find the right one that numbs our pain with the least repercussions. We nip our problems at the bud so we never have to examine the roots too closely.

We’re the first generation in a long time that’s had it worse than our parents, and we’re angry but not quite sure at who. At our parents for doing their best? At ourselves for believing lies about dreams being achievable? At the teachers tasked with pretending we weren’t mediocre? Who needs a mid life crisis when you can experience anxiety on a daily basis? It’s not a drug addiction if a pharmacist labels the bottle.

What if their best was not even remotely close to good enough? Can you ever really break the cycle? Home used to be a place I would hide. A roof over my head, enough distance between me and her temper. Never quite enough distance.

I was never given permission to make a home my own, and even now, sitting in the house I own, it feels lacking. I never quite know how to answer when the designer asks what I want, because for so long “wanting” was a crime. The audacity of a child to want more, when the parents had so little. A crime beyond repent.

There was a time when my mother was so miserable that the very act of expressing happiness in her vicinity was a recipe for disaster. I find myself experiencing the same irrational rage at mild inconveniences and it feels like a cruel cosmic joke, to become what you loathe the most. The irony that I’m now the favourite child. The successful yet obviously not successful enough lawyer she can humble brag to her friends, whilst making quips about how she never had high expectations of me.

All that I am was despite her good intentions. Yet she wears my achievements like glorious validation.


Maybe it was a mistake that you made love feel too good once upon a time. Nothing ever compared or came moderately close to that feeling of being the one and only, that complete blinding faith of yours which never wavered. Where did that come from? How did we lose it so quickly?

What would have happened if I had let it run its course? Would you have eventually realised that I wasn’t quite as perfect as you had pretended? Would we be having the same miserable fights, petty squabbles over the mundane and never ending tasks of functional adulthood? Functional only in the most ironic sense.

Would you take the usual path? Would I start to lose more arguments because winning becomes more important to you than my happiness after all? The same stubbornness you once found endearing begins to wear on your patience. You wonder if I had always been so unreasonable. Who really changed? Was it ever love if we could only tolerate the most agreeable version of each other?

What’s it like to be called dramatic when your tears have finally dried? What’s it like to love someone who prefers you make appointments for any and all grievances? Who is less concerned about the actual grievance than the potential inconvenience of it to his schedule. “Don’t wake me unless it’s actually important.” What’s it like to not be actually important?

How long can you chip away at superficial love until it’s only a sum of all your friends’ memories of who you used to be? You don’t look your age yet but you will and you wonder if that’s when he’ll find the courage to leave. Nothing makes a man quite as brave as a younger woman’s admiration.

What are we now other than a sum of all our disappointments? The totality of our faults, real or imagined, leaving marks wherever we go, determined to be remembered badly for fear of not being remembered at all. I almost forgot your name the other day, it took some searching to recall. What a terrible feeling of freedom, to forget we ever loved at all.


It dawns on me that you would no longer be the boy whom I remember. In the end I’m mourning a soul who no longer exists, perhaps never existed at all. There are days that I forget your name, the sound of your voice. I no longer remember the way you kissed, I suppose it was tender. I don’t remember the way that you smell, but I remember I liked it. I don’t remember the way you fucked, but we left marks to celebrate.

All I really remember is the pain. A pain all consuming that it blurred my sense of reality, a pain so deep that death appeared less frightening. All logic dictated that my heart was still a functional organ, diligently beating, cycling blood through my body. You shouldn’t be able to feel a heart, yet I felt it. A searing, red hot sting, I felt it tear into pieces with every word, crushed by the weight of your apologies.

Sometimes I miss the pain, not in a masochistic way, although perhaps a little. But truthfully I miss the way you broke my heart so completely. One must love completely in order to be broken. But we grow and we learn and we never open up quite so sincerely again. We put up walls or at least some respectable fences. We leave one foot out the door, for safety.

I don’t miss being young but I miss the innocence of our youth. I miss saying I love you without caveats. The days of saying words like forever and meaning it, the way only foolish children could do. The days of never worrying about the future, as it was simply too far out of reach. When the greatest crime was the assault of a stranger’s perfume lingering on your shirt, not a lipstick stain.

I suppose, in a way, you still complete me. I may have been a different person had you not kissed me. Would I have been happier? My heart lighter? My soul unobstructed by the weight of your transgressions? Who would you be? Who would you have broken instead of me? Would she have recovered more elegantly?

Would she still wear her heart on her sleeve?


I still underestimate how much people mean to me, even after all this time. You’d think I’d be prepared by now, I should know how to cut my losses, stop hurting myself over people who never think of me at all. Wouldn’t that be the saddest thing, if you never thought about me at all.

Maybe that’s why I pretend we meant more to each other than we really did. It’s been four years since we spoke. Long enough for memory to become unreliable, and I was never a reliable witness. Maybe that’s why I pretend you never loved her. It’s easier to tell others you’re in a loveless marriage than to believe you might be happy in a life without me. The truth is, I know better than anyone that a man as calculating as you would never fail a question as big as marriage. You were always far too clever to sign yourself up to a life of defeat.

Or perhaps the truth is far more wretched. That you carefully considered the possibility of me, the wasted potential of me. You wrote a pro and con list, you reviewed my deficiencies and concluded that I was a disaster waiting to happen. You’d rather be bored than to suffer at my unpredictable hands. I never learned how to put you at ease. I excited you, I terrified you, but I was still only a stranger in your bed, never noticing you could only fall asleep alone.

Now you kiss her good night before retreating to separate rooms. You say “good morning darling” with the same ease as I pour my first coffee. You both promised the counsellor you’d remember to say “I love you” with more empathy, whatever the hell that means. You close your eyes and still you think of me. Your gin soaked breath tracing the curvature of my spine, your hands gliding along my shoulders, your lips on my skin, remembering every groove, every imperfection. Every scar, every near miss. The smell of my hair, the taste of my lips, the bitterness of unspoken goodbyes. Still you miss the shadow of me, yet you never grieve.


There are days when it is easier to miss you. Then there are days when my whole body aches for you. Days when tears stream silently as I sleep and dream of you. There are times when I wonder if I actually miss you at all, or simply a memory of you – my own distorted recollections of a man far more impressive than the truth could ever live up to. The kind of man who wouldn’t have abandoned me out of fear, the kind who had conviction and loyalty. That man would have stayed and loved me as a friend, as I have stayed faithful to embellished memories and searched for bearable imitations, chasing feeble flames to feed the flickering wicker you left behind.

There was a time when my smile could brighten up a room for you, when your gaze would always be the first to find me, claim me as your own. There were days when your smallest gestures were enough to hide the shame, mask the pain, make existence tolerable again. Those were the foolish days when we both practised smiles, feigned passion, and mistook our pride for intimacy. Those were the brief moments of honesty, when you weren’t afraid to admit that you were choosing her out of guilt rather than love. But if the guilt is powerful enough, who needs love anyway?

I scrutinised all your wedding photos, searching for a semblance of happiness, the vaguest promise of contentment you sorely deserved, but all I found was a mask on the brink of collapse. Your strained smile, her clasped hands, choking on meaningless vows, promising to love someone forever when you couldn’t love her a moment. Man of her dreams. You couldn’t bear to crush her fantasy, disappoint so many. You at least have the decency to pretend.

Because who are we without our masks? The cloak of civility masquerading as decency, the voice you put on for polite company, the jokes you tell with variations, distinctly catered to different guests. The way you move your body, the urgency of your kiss, the bruises you leave, the people you hurt with names you no longer remember. Do you still remember me?


Were you happier before or after you had children? Does correlation imply causation? Are you really happy or do you just think you should be? Am I really happy or just afraid of seeming ungrateful? Do you complete me or will I never know what that feels like?

He’s never had to fight to be heard so he always assumes he should be. If he can’t win the argument he’ll simply deem it is over. He acts like walking away is the rational adult thing to do, and when he’s ready to make amends, I’ve been quietly seething in resentment and chosen my hill to die on.

I didn’t know it was possible to have this many fights about nothing. I’m so tired of existing in this perpetual state of purgatory. Some days it’s not just failing to be on the same page, some days I’m not sure we’re even reading the same book. Some days I want to erase him from my story altogether and start over. Try again. If only it were as simple as hitting refresh.

When I get complacent I start to look for creative ways to self destruct. Happiness is the enemy, then you have something to lose. I’d forgotten how to love without one foot always out the door. Always watching, waiting for the other shoe to drop. When do you intend to fall out of love with me? I’d like a memo please, add an alert to my calendar. Maybe we could have a zoom meeting about it? Schedule the break up like one of your conference calls. Be efficient about it, leave a five star review.

It feels like we’re stuck in a warped simulation set to boring dystopia mode. Some alien child created us for a social studies assignment and forgot about us after handing in his report. Or maybe Earth is the universe’s version of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. We’re the trashiest reality show in the galaxy and aliens have been laughing at us for eons.

Most days it all feels futile. Chasing a lost dream that only ends in heartache. It’s never a question of if your heart will break, merely when. Does he leave you with a splatter of youth left, a chance to recoup your losses? Or do you grow old together until one of you gets to plan the other’s funeral? Write your vows and obituary at the same time, be efficient about it.

He says he loves me but I don’t believe him. The more he repeats it the more I convince myself it’s a conspiracy. Mostly it doesn’t feel like we’re together because we love each other. Most days we’re together because it’s better than being alone. Mostly he says what he must to tick the boxes. Most days I let him think I believe it too.

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

― Elisabeth Kübler-Ross


You’re almost thirty now, and what do you have to show for it?” is a favourite line of hers. It’s a great line, used by many generations of Chinese parents to guilt their children for their lack of accomplishments. How dare you, the descendant of a first generation immigrant, not achieve the same level of greatness as the likes of Elon Musk. Such wasted potential, it surely arose from your lack of discipline, not inherited mediocrity. 

It started when I was 25, and as each year passed it became more desperate, more anxiety inducing. It dawned on me a long time ago that nothing would ever be enough. I turned 30 a few weeks ago. You know you’re the favourite child when both your parents forget your 30th birthday. They remembered the next day, and I received a heartwarming screenshot of a payment receipt with the reference “Happy Birthday” on it. To be honest I hadn’t given it any thought on the day until someone asked me about them. An innocent question, an awkward moment of realisation. I tried to explain why this was normal, when in reality nothing about my relationship with them has ever quite fit the definition of normal.  

I realised in that moment that I wasn’t hurt anymore, which hurt in its own way. I have no expectations of them, and yet that disappoints me too. I wish I could say with confidence that I would never repeat her mistakes but some days I have felt such rage that I feel I understand her better than I ever wanted to. I’ve gone from craving children to fearing the damage I could inflict upon them. It would be so terribly unfair to pass on these burdens. I can never really be sure if I am who I am because of them, or in spite of them. 



Do you have anyone you miss?

Someone you think about often, when you know you shouldn’t at all. You chastise yourself for wasting time when you don’t ever have enough to begin with, yet the mind still wanders when you let your guard down.

I miss him on Sunday mornings, waking up next to the man of my dreams, in a house full of peace except when I stir it. Still I find myself wondering, where are you, what you’re doing, did you ever learn to be happy? Does she make you feel loved the way you craved, did you ever feel the passion you longed for? I worried when you said you never felt it. You deserved to know what that felt like.

We’re told over and over what it takes to fall in love. What flowers to buy, what chocolates on what holidays. No one warns you how little it takes to fall out of love. How many petty squabbles, how many minor grievances can mould themselves into relentless disappointment. How the smile that used to brighten your day can turn so quickly into a smirk, how swiftly infatuation dissipates to leave only heartache. You can never really turn the page if you’ve stained through the next.

Misery doesn’t knock on your door one morning bright and early to announce itself. It creeps up on you slowly like a parasite, digging itself deep into crevices while you attempt to ignore the warning signs. By the time you notice, you’ve already lost your composure, your compassion, and though he witnessed it all, he’ll claim he has no idea what happened. How did you turn into this monster? What did he do to deserve it? When did you start to bring out the worst in each other? Like an itch you know you shouldn’t scratch but just can’t help it. We start to enjoy making each other bleed. We revel in the precision of our inflictions.


In the end all that matters is that you chose me once. That you smiled at me across the room and invited me into your life when you were still a recluse. That we enjoyed every moment in each other’s company and you kissed me like a lover who felt like a friend.

That you saw my pain and believed it because you felt it too. We didn’t wallow together but I felt understood.

In the end what matters is this: kindness and faith. Waiting for the light at the end of the tunnel and seeing it shine brighter than you ever imagined possible. That gnawing sense of regret in the pit of my stomach because you’re not here to see it, I so wished you were here to say you’re proud of me.

In the end it doesn’t matter that you chose her.


In a lot of ways the past few years have felt like a blur. A mostly happy blur, or at least limited to a level of sadness that I could handle without falling apart. I don’t know whether to attribute that to age or wisdom, or perhaps an uninvited combination of both.

It might be a testament to my own narcissism that I seemed more distraught over losing my university boyfriends than I was about losing my grandmother, or hearing about the death of our family dog. It felt like a different sort of sadness, a dull ache, not a shattering. Or perhaps the defining difference was that I had the chance to say goodbye this time, with a full heart.

I was too young to be concerned about her mutterings when she lived at home with us, but thinking back, it pains me to remember how deeply unhappy she was. She would constantly tell me how she wished she was dead, and was annoyed with her body for not obeying. Even being surrounded by her children and grandchildren couldn’t ground her enough to make up for the loss of her husband. She was from a different era, and the idea of seeking new happiness never even crossed her mind. As far as she was concerned, her life was over when he so selfishly passed away so soon, and she was merely waiting to follow.

As the dementia set in, we became a blur too. But there were a few moments of clarity towards the end, or maybe just my wishful thinking convincing myself that she was happy to see me.

I remember feeling an uncharitable degree of anger towards members of my extended family for being true to themselves. Aunts who refused to let her live with her sons despite it being custom. People who balked at the idea of spending money on someone with one foot in the grave, now trying to alleviate that guilt by contributing to an expensive coffin. Their giant crocodile tears and banshee screeches at the funeral almost making me laugh out loud. Her favourite son who decided he didn’t need to be there in her final moments, but rather stayed in China to guarantee his inheritance and avoid inviting squabbles. A cousin who cited young children being difficult to travel with, and a demanding work schedule as reasons for his absence. I’ll concede that funerals don’t have quite the same appeal as an island getaway.

I know that I am being unfair, yet felt that anger magnify whilst scrolling past cleverly worded social media tributes to a woman who could barely turn on the television without assistance and had never owned a mobile phone. It filled my mouth with a bitter taste I was unaccustomed to. I was never close to them but had always felt a fitting level of camaraderie, which vanished as quickly as their feigned trauma. I grew up being told that family was more important than anything, and blood was thicker than water. It took years to unlearn those little white lies, and let go of the associated disappointments.

I might not ever become one of those people who wake up in the mornings feeling a sense of purpose, but I no longer wake up with dread. It’s taken years to drag myself away from depressive and suicidal thoughts but they no longer take up the majority of my day. Most days they’re not even an afterthought. I still feel anxious and I worry too much despite knowing better, but I’m comfortably optimistic about the future. I want to build a family, the one I’d always wanted, filled with joy and laughter, and bursting with love. For the first time ever, that doesn’t seem impossible.