BY ALICIA KOCH OF THE LEGAL BELLETRIST (with section contribution by FRIEDA LEVYCKY OF BRAVING BOUNDARIES)
The month of love. Or as some would say – the month of Tom Foolery and shenanigans. Depending on which side of the love pendulum you fall.
Money is spent aplenty on roses and chocolates, champagne and expensive romantic dinners out with our Valentines. Wooing is the name of the game and courtships begin and end amidst waves of “things moved too fast”, “I just needed a Valentine for Valentine’s Day” or simply “it’s not you, it’s me”.
That darn Cupid flitting about shooting his arrows left, right and centre. Irresponsibly, I might add. I mean, you just know that a little guy in a diaper and wings, with red cheeks and pouty lips, armed with a deadly assault weapon, is most certainly up to no good. Causing mischief wherever his flits and flops.
But Cupid or not, it’s the month where people like me – those that “love love” – get to indulge in rom-coms galore, reminisce over times we were wooed to perfection and showered with red roses and chocolates. Recalling our very first Valentine’s Day with our significant others.
But, I’m kind of getting ahead of myself. A little bit.
Sure, the point of this article is love. And more so than that, the truth about love. And when better to discuss this subject pondered over by poets, philosophers and the broken hearted over thousands of years, in the month that’s all about love. Make’s sense, right?
But there is another side to this article. And that’s also talking about relationships. After all, isn’t that the point of love?
As professionals, we can all relate to how hard it is to find our (sometimes) better halves. It’s tough out there. With the high expectations we set both for ourselves and our partners, our ”wish lists” grow ever-longer with each “single” year that passes – “why should we settle”?
The simple answer to that – you shouldn’t. Settling for love is like settling for (sugar-free) grape juice when all you wanted was a glass of champagne. And that is just plain disappointing.
But working long hours whilst trying to build a career doesn’t leave much time for finding love. It’s a simple truth. Valentine’s Day, in the professional world, may not be as romantic as Cupid would have liked to believe.
I hear you. Meeting in bars is really not conducive (always) to a budding romance. Tinder is a plunder with Swindlers (have you watched The Tinder Swindler?). And set-ups by well-meaning friends or aunts often just leave everyone disappointed – least of all the setter-upper.
“Love is a Battlefield” by Pat Benater certainly comes to mind right about now.
“Heartache to heartache we stand”.
And we can relate. In one way or another.
Love (and relationships) affect everything!
Whoever said that your personal life does not affect your professional life (or shouldn’t) is lying. Both to you and to themselves. Think about it – you have a fight with your partner and whether you consciously think about it or not, your day is that much worse than it ought to have been. You go through a break up and suddenly the world seems like a sadder, darker place, filled with love sick fools doomed to have their hearts broken too (or so you kind of hope in your despair). You find out your partner is cheating on you and you instantly hate the opposite sex, call them liars and cheats and stop believing that you too can find happiness.
Again, love is a battlefield. A fight that is not a fight waged in isolation.
The different aspects of our lives (which most certainly includes our love lives) will have an impact on the other areas of our lives – our work, our health, relationships with other people. It has an effect on everything. Our lives are swayed by how we feel. Especially about love. And about ourselves because no matter how grounded and self-assured you may be, how your partner makes you feel will most certainly have an impact on how you see yourself.
Love life – personal life – professional life are all linked
It therefore stands to reason that if your personal life is in shambles, you will either over-perform to compensate for your “failing romance” or under-perform because you simply cannot motivate yourself enough to do anything productive – “what would be the point?”.
Often, as professionals, we invest huge chunks of ourselves into our professional lives, simply because our personal ones are not quite living up to their potential. We over-compensate in an effort to disguise how awful, how lonely or how sad we feel inside. It’s ok, you can admit it.
You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t. No one is immune to Cupid’s charms (and sometimes terrible aim).
And then there are those of us, who find the loves of our lives and live smugly forever after. And this too will have an effect on other aspects of their lives. It will affect their work, their health, their mental state, their wellbeing, their outlook on the world and their health. All of which would seemingly be better, because they are in a happy place and in a happy relationship.
For all intents and purposes, it would seem that love, relationships (and all that goes with it), go hand in hand with everything else in our lives.
The “truth about love (and relationships)” at least on the face of it, is this – they are complicated because love (and life) is tricky and messy and affects us all at one or other point in our lives. It even goes so far as to dictate how we react to things. We each have different stories. Our love lives have influenced our personal and professional lives in different ways. There is beauty in that.
And I think that is the crux here – love affects us all in different ways. Sometimes in positive ways and other times in negative ways. And it extends to so many other aspects in our lives.
The love pendulum
Frieda and my love lives are perfect examples of the “love pendulum”. One of us found love (relatively) young and that helped mould who she was as a professional (and as a person). Whilst the other one of us forged her own professional path, not reliant on a partner, singularly focused on over-achieving and being the “best of the best”. Going on to find the love of her life a little later on, because (quite simply), she was ready.
You can probably figure out which one is which, but these are our stories:
Love at first sight – Ali’s story
I never believed in “true love”. Not really. I was exceptionally skeptical and a terrible cynic. And I had every reason to be. I had got “involved” in relationships very young, having had my first boyfriend at the age of 15. But sadly, I was a magnet for love in all the (very) wrong places. If there was a bad boy anywhere in sight, I was instantly attracted. I was Love’s Fool to a T.
I had been cheated on, used, abused (physically and most certainly emotionally). I was not skinny enough, not pretty enough, not intelligent enough, or too intelligent (which just rubbed their ego the wrong way) or we simply “didn’t have a spark”. This last one resulted in a famous line between my friends and I – “our wood was wet”. This particular boyfriend meant that we didn’t have that “spark”. That something extra. And together our wood just wouldn’t burn. Not the way it should. A reason that still perplexes me to this day. Because I tried so hard. But it is funny. Now. Isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing?
So, I had resolved to give up on love. At 25! That was until my Jewish family got wind of my plans – they were having none of it – and I was marched off to “matchmaking school” with my Rabbi’s wife. Awkward doesn’t even begin to describe that conversation!
A couple of days after the “matchmaker visit”, I was (almost) strong armed into going to a “speed dating event” with a work colleague of mine. Be her “wing woman” as it were. Reluctantly, I accompanied her. It was for professionals only. Both men and women within a certain age group. I was dreading it.
Until I saw him.
I was outside the event, trying my best to acquire “Dutch courage”, about to light my Dunhill menthol slim line cigarette (I still smoked at the time) when I saw a Jack Daniels t-shirt wearing man walk towards me. It was funny – I was drinking Jack Daniels at the time. Before I could light my cigarette, he offered to “Light my fire”. Being a Doors fan, I was immediately intrigued. Must be another bad boy, I thought.
It was then that I noticed his smile and his beautiful blue eyes. I was a goner. I often wondered about “love at first sight”. I didn’t believe it could actually happen. At least not in real life. And not to me. But there I was. Falling in love. At first sight. Cupid had finally shot his arrow straight. And at the right people this time.
My (now) husband was unexpected. He was not who I imagined spending my life with. Simply because I had proudly declared to the world that I would remain single. But I also did not believe that I “deserved” someone like him.
We met during my last year in Articles. And I can say with all honesty, that he has helped me become the person and the professional I am today. He has stood by me and guided me through some of the toughest years of my life (both professionally and personally), he has helped me to always see things clearly. He has helped me make some extremely important life decisions and then stood back and cheered me on as I found my place in the professional world.
He changed my entire world. In only the best of ways. He became my person, the one I went home to after each hard day, the person I woke up next to every morning. He was (and still is) always happy to see me. And I truly believe that because of his love, because of his faith in me, because of his guidance, his wisdom and his humour he has made me not only a better person, but a better lawyer. And (most of the time), a better writer. He helped me become The Legal Belletrist because he believed in me, he supported me and he gave me the grounding and foundation I needed to ultimately become who I am today.
I guess you could say that I am one of those lucky people who are living smugly in their “happily ever after” with the love of their lives. And I couldn’t be more grateful.
Loving yourself first – Frieda’s story
Ha! 25?! Geez, I was nowhere near ready to settle down at 25. It wasn’t that I wasn’t looking for my perfect match, but I was so distracted by and invested in the lifestyle of an international corporate lawyer that the thought of diverting any time away from my career was really not an option. In fact, if my memory serves me correctly, at 25, I was celebrating my birthday in Wan Chai, Hong Kong by falling rather drunkenly off the bar in Carnegie’s! Not one of my proudest moments, but it makes for an amusing story!
How different our love lives were Ali!
In all seriousness, as much as I was loving “living the high life” in my 20s, it acted as the perfect distraction from looking closely at the patterns which were so clearly forming in my romantic relationships. I was attracted to “Mr Unavailable”. Whether he be physically unavailable (married, attached, newly separated) or emotionally unavailable (vague, non-committal, part-time, hot and cold) – that was my poison. For my 20s, that didn’t really phase me too much. I wasn’t ready to commit, so how could I expect anyone else to? But, once I hit my 30s, and watched every one of my friends marry and start having children, that is when the imbalance between my professional and personal life started to emerge and, inevitably, merge.
I ended up in relationships with people in the office because that was where I spent most of my time and they were the only people I met. But rarely do work and play make for good bedfellows (there are exceptions, of course). And, inevitably, the emotional toll of the breakup seeps into the working day. It’s hard to hide heartbreak, but rather than address it – I just worked harder. To the point where both my physical and mental health took a hammering. As law and life collided, it soon became evident that there were clear patterns in my romantic relationships that needed to be addressed and some proper work needed to be done on my self-esteem if I was going to stop repeating those well-engrained patterns.
It took two years of therapy to address the underlying issues which had led me to: (a) become a workaholic; and (b) settle for breadcrumbs in my relationships. But, by 36, I had the self-confidence, self-esteem and self-love to quit my job, travel the world for a year, and go in search for the life (and love) that I wanted (and deserved).
I know it sounds corny, but it was during my year off that I fell in love with myself. Not in a narcissistic way, but in an acceptance way: I learned about myself. I saw what I could bring to the table in a relationship. I remembered what was important to me. I set boundaries. I talked openly. I stopped trying to be someone that I thought people would want me to be. And the more I liked myself, the more I attracted the right people around me. Gone were the “Mr Unavailables”. I deserved more than that.
People often talk about “good timing” “luck” and “fate” as being the reasons for finding the love of their lives. There is an element of that, but I think it is more to do with the work you put into yourself. When you are comfortable and happy with who you are, you attract the right people. Then let fate take its course.
So, what is the truth about love?
Whether this February is your first month of love or your 50th with your partner, whether you are still looking for someone special or are happily single – whatever your status – the truth about love (we think) is this – it affects us all in ways we can’t really imagine. It is different for each of us because each relationship is unique and each one of us is an individual – special in our own ways.
Love is not a battlefield, it is a beautiful thing that takes work. Daily. It can be strong or fragile. Love can be found in everything or nothing. Relationships can break you down or build you up. They can complete you or destroy you. Simply put, relationships are hard and love is… complicated.
It is so complicated in fact that there really is no right or wrong way to be in love or to have a relationship. It is all relative. There is not any one thing that makes love love. It is a complex mix of a multitude of things. And we can only hope that Cupid in all his wisdom, good aim and occasional mischief sees fit to shoot straight and at the right people – for each of us.
There really isn’t any real advice we can give you. Because we are all learning as we happily plod along.
About the writer, Alicia Koch, Founder of The Legal Belletrist.
Alicia, an admitted attorney with over 10 years PQE, and now a legal writer and researcher, has established The Legal Belletrist to assist companies (in different sectors) to write well-researched articles that speak to each company’s core business, enabling growth and commercialism.
Click here to visit The Legal Belletrist website.