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One day, as I was discussing how dog-friendly California is, with a friend in San Francisco, he told me about the dog he used to have and his "out of the ordinary" behaviour, to say the least.

"My parents had me quite late, in their early 40’s, especially by the standards 30 years ago.

At the time of my arrival, my sister had a Doberman, Rhett, named after a character from the movie “Gone with the wind”. Naturally he became a family dog that grew attached to my parents, who took care of him the most. 

By the time I was born he became very jealous of me, a newborn in the house getting all of the attention...

Doberman are very territorial and a lot of them have neurotic tendencies, and this one was no exception. He started to display growing frustration and hostility towards me. He began to lash out at my parents as well when they would attend to me. It went as far as blocking the doorway to my bedroom not letting anyone attend to my cries. 

I know this might sound crazy but I think me crying in my crib and keeping everyone away from me he was perhaps hoping I would die...

Rhett was a very smart dog. One summer he stayed at my grandma's house. He woke her up in the night tugging away at her to get her attention. When she got up she discovered there was a gas leak from the stove. He saved her life that night.

In the meantime, his behaviour towards me was escalating out of control so my parents ended up tragically giving him away to our close family friends. This way they could visit him frequently yet I wouldn’t be exposed to him. 

 

Even now It’s hard to imagine that my existence meant his separation.

 

As years went by when we'd visit Rhett, I’d try to pet him and every time he would get irritated shaking me off instantly. I didn’t know why this dog would reject me when all I wanted was to hug and pet him. 

It took me many years to understand his behaviour and feelings towards me but when I understood the context explaining his behavior, I stopped blaming myself, rather got impressed at his intellectual capabilities".

Funny how we automatically question ourselves and feel responsible when somebody (whether dog or human by the way ;)) displays hostility towards us.

Often, the vibe just isn't there, but quite as often, it's a matter of jealousy..

Think about it, when somebody tries to put you down, instead of questioning yourself - what do you have that they don’t?
If it Doesn't Feel Right, it Probably Isn't
Estimated reading time: 3'

Estimated reading time: 3'

 

We've all seen a lot of publications around sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and general disrespect of women lately, with the #Metoo campaign.

I come a little bit late in the game, but I am tired of witnessing red flags and seeing men behaving like predators. I am tired of having to stand up for myself as a woman, having to set limits because they've been crossed, and having to comfort my girlfriends for the same reasons.

So I've decided to share a few examples of red flags (true stories), from my experience, from soft to risky:

Situation 1: you are on a date. Your date spends more time looking at your breast and your bottom when you turn around, rather than listening to your conversation. And when a bunch of girls passes you, he literally turns his head back. No surprise there. Oh and in case you wondered, it was not a Tinder date. And I did not wear revealing clothes.

Situation 2: you walk up the street with heavy bags from the supermarket. A car stops. The dude asks you to come closer so he can talk to you... You naively think he wants to offer his help. Instead, he tells you (warning - raw language): "Don't move, I will come back to break your legs and lick your pussy until you scream". You're so confused you forget to note down his license plate.

Situation 3: you are interviewing for a job. The HR advises you to not look under the table. 

Situation 4: you apply for a model gig and meet the 70 y.old manager in a cafe. He asks for your cup size for the bikini you are going to wear, and before you have time to answer, he swiftly grabs your breasts to "measure himself". 

Situation 5: you book a massage online. Turns out the massage takes place in a private home, and the therapist spends an awkwardly long amount of time massaging your upper thighs. 

Situation 6: you are in a cab in Mexico, middle of the jungle, no network and no soul in the streets. The car driver puts his hand on your leg. You push him away and pray.

I have experienced a million small situations like that. But despite the red flags, I kept going for it. I saw this guy again, I kept seeking those jobs, I stayed in the car.

And worse, most times, I did not speak up.

Why? Low self-esteem? Probably. Fear of making the other person uncomfortable? Definitely. 

At the moment, I knew exactly what to do, I knew exactly what to say. I was screaming inside of my head.

But I got paralyzed. Shame was taking over. I thought I had misunderstood. It thought it was not real.

Earlier in January, three of my friends confessed having been raped.

But that's not what shocked me the most.

What shocked me the most was that they KEPT HANGING OUT with the predators. They did not see themselves as victims.

They blamed themselves for not having known better.

For having accepted their drinks.

For having trusted them to take care of them and respect them as they were saying no. As they were crying. After they blacked out.

And the only thing they wanted to do in the morning was to hide away and pretend it did not happen.

A pure walk of shame. 

So I am begging you ladies to go ahead and speak up. And if you can't do it on the spot, it is never too late. Trust your instincts. Remove toxic people from your life. Respect yourself and do not let anyone enter your intimacy without your consent.

There are too many stories of disrespect towards women, abuse, and sexual harassment.

My trick is to count the red flags:

- One red flag: be on your toes. Speak up.

- Two red flags: just walk away.

If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
Which red flags do you look for?
Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid
Estimated reading time: 6'

Estimated reading time: 6'

Pamela is a girl that I met back in London. She was one of my clients, back when I had to work as a babysitter and cleaning lady aside to my full-time work, to be able to pay for my expenses.

She had two children and confessed how having the first one impacted her relationship.

“Having a first child, and in our case, twins, is the best moment to have a crisis in your relationship. You don’t have time to go to the gym, you don’t have time for each other…

You cannot surprise your husband at the door with sexy lingerie, spend the weekend at the spa, nor go on a spontaneous escape. You have your routine, you don’t try new things anymore.

So when this colleague approached me and started to flirt and compliment me non-stop, I fell for it.

I had become a mum, and needed to feel desired as a woman.

 

The first phase: attraction

First step. You idealize the lover. Everything he says, does, his projects sound perfect.

You think that if you are attracted and start having feelings for somebody else, you cannot turn back, and that your husband is not the right one for you, because what you get at home is not enough, since the new guy gives you something new that your husband doesn’t. Compliments. Attentions. Gifts.

You contemplate leaving him. This guy in question was a serial-lover. He had had conquests from 18 to 50 years-old. He knew exactly what he was doing, and how to do it.

He was an expert in seduction. He was well-dressed, cultivated, charming, mature, straightforward… A real Christian Grey.

 

The second phase: disgust

The honeymoon phase starts fading and you see the lover’s true colors. You understand you were blinded.

In my case, that guy was egoistic, and after 6 months, I started to see that. He had no problem fucking me, but if I would leave everything behind for him, he would not want to take the responsibility and he would let me deal with the mess alone. It would be convenient so that he could see me more often, but he would not be a support...

While I was crying every day, devastated because he was messing up with my head and I had no perspective of the future, he would be whistling around, feeling grateful for the moment we had had, and for having seduced a girl almost half his age.

I was an emotional wreck, and all he had to say was “don’t worry it’s gonna be fine”.

He would meet other girls and tell me about it. Not to make me jealous, rather to make it clear that there would be nothing “serious” between us.

To protect myself, I kept thinking “do not react in the heat of the moment”. Every single thing I do is thought-through. I never take any decision that could be a turning point hot-minded. I'd rather leave the room, wait, one, two days, breathe, have a good cry, meditate, think…

I understand where he was coming from though. He had been married. He had had a lot of relationships. He wanted to feel free and was afraid of the routine and commitment. But that’s not was I was looking for. I wouldn’t leave everything I had for something haphazardly, and I understood that I would lose so much more than I would gain if I went down that road.

Also, even though I was fantasizing about him, and I was feeling waves in my body when he was around, when he finally kissed me, it felt wrong.

I got disappointed and though: “don't you see that you're jumping into something that you're not even going to enjoy?!”.

It broke the spell.

When you kiss your husband and have your way, you know what each other likes after ten years, it is hard to find this somewhere else. Same with love in general, my husband knows me by heart, and we just clicked from the beginning.

Once, I told him to tease him that someone else had admitted his feelings for me. He said” nobody will love you like I do”. At the time, I thought “yeah, right”, but afterwards I figured it was true.

The last time I met the guy at his place, I thought “I’d rather be home right now”, as things were starting to settle back from my side.

And that’s how I knew it was over.

Now when I cross path with him and I have to hug him, I feel completely neutral. It’s over.

 

The third phase: switching focus

Just like he used me for instant gratification, I used him for the lesson he had taught me.

He was complimenting me all the time, boosting my self-esteem.

I felt more desired and it started to impact my relationship with my husband. I started to feel more dary, more sexual, at ease. I broke down my barriers, physically with my man.

I’ve always been an adventurer, while my husband had a more traditional education. Especially after we had our first child, he could not combine "the mother and the whore". So, I had to take things a step further to feel sexually fulfilled, especially approaching 30, when you are reaching your sexual peak. I needed that.

This little adventure, I did it for me, not against anyone.

But at that stage in my life, I did not want my children to blame me later on for not having tried harder. For having destroyed their lives before giving my marriage a proper shot. So, I did everything I could to make it work, and it did. It brought us closer.

Funnily enough, Christian (the lover), had told me right from the beginning that our little affair could actually save my relationship, because it had happened with other women. At the time, it sounded silly...

Of course, I don’t know what will happen in the future, maybe one day I will freak out and feel unsatisfied again. But right now, I am happy.

And I will always remember that lesson, of that time when I had doubts and managed to pick myself up.

And even if I suffered, I do not regret anything. Because he taught me so much, he changed me for the better, and it changed my relationship. Because sexuality is the strongest bond in a relationship.

Some people say: "you need to leave before you cheat". I disagree. I don’t think it's worth ruining your life for a stupid side-story, to end up disappointed. I think that faithfulness is also coming back. And I also think that we shall keep our secret garden, there is no point in breaking someone’s heart to ease one’s conscience. Our secrets “make” who we are".

Patricia is the first person I met who managed to use her desire for somebody else, to bring passion back to her relationship with her husband.

A lot of people don’t try hard enough and that’s why there are so many divorces. But if you believe that you are with the love of your life and that there is still a chance, do everything to save that. Give 200%, try anything, it is never over.

Just like a businesswoman: did you try everything to not let the company go bankrupt?

If you want things to change, you need to pay attention to things that your husband or boyfriend complains about, and change yourself instead of expecting him to do the work (and the other way around, obviously).

Some men do not communicate, they are just in a bad mood, and we have no idea of what we do wrong. You’re always alone in life. Even if you are in a couple. Don’t count on anybody. If you want things to change, change them, and be determined. And you need to be two to tango, so the other person needs to be responsive.

What’s your take on that? How do you deal with your sexual drives?
Self-Love is the New 30
Estimated reading time: 4'

Estimated reading time: 4'

When my sister turned thirty, I gave her a card that read:

"Turning 30 is a celebration of the free-to-be-yourself decade:

Feeling comfortable in your own skin,

Realizing you can do whatever you put your mind to,

Being surrounded by loving friends and family,

Knowing your deserve to be happy".

I am 29, so I was curious to hear her feedback on that description: she agreed 100%.

"As time passes, the more I know myself, and the better I feel about myself," she says, "it's not related to age. It's a journey.
Everyone is not necessarily comfortable in their own skin at 30. But what is certain is that time has a positive impact on our well-being.

We know what we love, and we choose to do what makes us feel good. We take more time to think about it and act upon it. It becomes a lifestyle, a wisdom almost. And if something does not please us, we change direction.

It seems simple, so why do so many of us remain in situations that do not suit us? A job? A relationship? Toxic habits?

I think the trigger was my independence. Most people have this revelation on average at 30, once they are out of school, have a stable situation, become financially independent. Relationships to our environment are freed from all these constraints and focus on the emotional, we preserve the long relationships, we have deeper, even more spiritual discussions.

For example, instead of investing only in ephemeral things as before (perfume, shoes, etc.), I also invest in sustainable things, like an apartment, it's quite revealing. When I eat, I try to eat well, whereas before I was swallowing potato crisps on my way home. I went back to sport ... So on.

I see. It is the age where one chooses one's life.

When I had my teenage crisis, it was difficult for me to differentiate between my desires, those of others and those of society. And how to get there when we do not recognize ourselves as individual, when we are still part of a group? At 30, we take independence from our social circle and our well-being is refocused on oneself .

On the other hand, attention not to be confused between being an individual and being an individualist! Others are essential to our happiness, be it in love, in friendship, or for any type of relationship.

The other day, I was listening to a podcast with sociologist Durkheim, explaining that the suicide rate was very low in united communities. I concluded that selfishness does not make happiness. To think about, know and accept oneself makes happiness, and once you've done that, you can direct your thoughts towards what the outside brings you and appreciate a good book, a painting, a meal, a person, or the contemplation of a landscape.

Self-love allows you to appreciate external pleasures better.

I have a small relaxation and beauty ritual that I practice every night without fail, for at least 45 minutes to do good to my body:

I start with a good hot shower with music, then I remove all the makeup and I put cream on every square millimeter of skin, from the toes to the neck, through the tips of the hair and the eyelashes, I stretch out, I make yoga greetings, I relax ...

Self-love is taking time for yourself.

The other day besides, at my yoga class, we were doing a stretching position and I was focusing on my body in motion and my breath.

The teacher said," Look at Pauline, she's in mindfulness!" He approached, crossed my feet behind my head and walked away.

Well, I found myself stuck and had to call for help (!), but the bottom line is that being satisfied with yourself and your body shell helps relieve tension as well!

To give a contradictory example, another participant was only giggling, scratching, dressing up, and so on. She could not let go, she could not just be there, feel the good waves, be satisfied with this moment of relaxation or the sun on her face.

Self-love is also consciousness of one's body.

Before, my happiness was defined exclusively in the intensity of the moment. Now I've realized that happiness is a global equilibrium, a sum of moments and emotions that fluctuate.

My relationship to time is different: when I was 15 years old, one year was 7% of my life. Today, one year is 3% of my life, it has nothing to do!
I am not afraid to grow old, but I am aware of having to develop and optimize my time. I do not want to waste it, so I become demanding.

I focus on the quality of relationships with others, and I surround myself with people I find exceptional. Of course we do not always have discussions of intellectuals, we also take pleasure in passing superficial moments! And sometimes we can not talk to each other, but just be together, and feel good".

Self-love is awareness of time.

In conclusion: you have to be the person you want to talk to... I would like to have the chance to be my best friend or my boyfriend, or my sister ... (laughs) Helene, do you confirm ?!☺ "

Are you a person you’d like to meet? What is your own definition of self-love?
Stand Up for Your Sexual Orientation
Estimated reading time: 1'40

Estimated reading time: 1'40

I was stepping out of the supermarket when a homeless man, wearing a Buddhist robe, approached me, asking for food.

As I was carrying a bag full of groceries, I searched for a couple items to give him.

"I just want to warn you, he said, I only eat fruits and vegetables, I am vegan".

Being on a plant-based myself, I was quite impressed to see that he was making a point of honor to stick to his ethics and maintain his diet while being homeless, pretty much a matter of life and death.

Curious, I initiated a conversation.

After a few minutes, to "thank me" for the couple fruits I had given him, he decided to "warn me" about a religious prophecy he seemed to believe in.

He started explaining in great details that in a near future, a divine retribution would happen to all the homosexuals and that he needed to spread the word to turn them "back to heterosexuality" (NB: we were standing right by Castro in San Francisco, one of the first gay neighborhoods in the United States).

Now, I am not someone who gets worked up when I hear an opinion I disagree with.

Rather, I always try to understand where people stand, and find out where their beliefs come from. So I digged deeper.

As he justified his view on homosexuality, he ended up admitting that he "used to" be homosexual himself.

And there I understood. Some people base their fear (in this case, homophobia) on repressed urges they've been shamed for. They take out their internal frustration onto others, because they can't be who they really are, so why would anybody else?

As I always do, I, in turn, explained why I believed that each person should fully embrace who they are, do what they love, and see religion as a channel for love and acceptance, rather than hatred. 

I never saw him again after that day. I like to believe that our conversation led him to want to stand up for his sexual orientation, just like he did with his diet. 

That was the day I met a homeless vegan homosexual homophobic Buddhist.

Curiosity Doesn't Kill the Cat
Estimated reading time: 6'

Estimated reading time: 6'

I met Ruhana at a concert organized by common friends.

One of the biggest secrets she rarely discloses to anyone is her age. And when we became close enough, she told me she was 18. You could not tell by the way she speaks.

She can talk about any topic for hours.

She has this talent for connecting with people and connecting people: you put her alone in a room and she will leave with five friends.

She studies, has two jobs and multiple side-projects, and is part of various ethnic, feminist, spiritual and artistic communities.

As we were chatting about her involvement with minorities, I asked her where it all started.

"Far back. I come from a highly disciplined and traditional family in New Jersey. I studied at a preppy private school. Money was never an issue. People's family name and size house represented their status. One of my friends owned a jet, another one had a monthly $500 allowance; that was normal. Naturally, my friends and I selected people to hang out with based on level of intellect and status. Kids from public school were considered 'improper and unsheltered'. We also would select friends according to their ethnicity. There was only one African American in my school and no Hispanic students. Even as a first generation Bengali American, possessing fair skin was the standard. I always made sure to hide my darker hands under the table, or in my pockets. 

One of the core values that was instilled in me since attending that school was practicing discipline to earn respect.

At home, my parents were expecting me to know everything about all sorts of topics (physics, politics, conspiracy, etc) from a very young age. And at school, I'd get a fine if I wore grey socks instead of white, for instance. We were all expected to go to Ivy leagues and land a 6-figure salary job. The GPA determined my entire life and my worth to society. The "A" defined confidence, and I would beat myself up for anything less than that".

I tease her about her current 4.7 grade on Uber.

"Yeah I don’t understand why Uber drivers are judging me so hard...!" We laugh.

"On the other hand, everything was granted, including the teacher's behaviour. Students would have their parents make appointments with the principle if they were unsatisfied with their fixed grades. To be honest, I never realized I was entitled to good treatment until I went out of that situation. I never even learned how to register for my own classes or find classrooms on my own since we were given designated point of contacts to find classes for us on the first day of school. 

When I turned 13 years old, I went on a trip to a spiritual Islamic retreat in Tarim, Yemen, for 40 days. In that specific city, it is said that the sun purifies the dirt of your soul.

We spent the days praying in a sacred atmosphere, which opened up the doors to a spirituality that I had never been exposed to before. I understood that life was more than the materialistic things I was exposed to back home. Through a new perspective of religion, I discovered a deeper relationship with a higher being, and gained a new outlook on life and people.

Each Friday evening, a spiritual celebration was taking place where a congregation of women would be gathering, singing, dancing and playing instruments. Each person would play their own music, though somehow manage to all sync together. They were all living fully in the present, enjoying with what little they had. Their inner beauty and independence was glowing.

There were people from all parts of the world; Germany, France, Russia, Malaysia and so on. They had different ideologies, different upbringings. I figured that everybody's life is customized to bring up the best of themselves.

What happens in their lives defines their personality and crafts their motives for doing things.

 Once, a clerk at a store, a complete stranger, invited my family and I over for dinner during the stay. She hosted us in such a grand manner with a huge feast of kafsa, an enticing Arabian dish of perfectly seasoned meat and rice. The rest of her family members sat down to put henna on our hands. It seemed so unreal I got skeptical. I supposed she would be asking us for help after she hosted us. It was hard to fathom that she hosted us purely out of kindness. I asked her why she was feeding us in Arabic. And she responded with one word as if the answer was obvious, “Ya’ani adaab.” “I mean...it’s etiquette.” A sense of morality came to thin air and I wondered, “Why aren’t we this nice in America?”.

Again, this made me embrace and respect each individualities more, differences and viewpoints, as well as taking pride in my own views and values and learned to differentiate between the real and the fake. I became interested in understanding behaviours and people.

I redefined knowledge: I was not learning for the sake of learning anymore, because of peer pressure or for the best GPA, rather, I wanted to learn out of genuine curiosity. 

Obtaining supplementary knowledge rather than studying the American education system's redundant core curriculum seemed more important to me. So I decided to homeschool for the next 5 months upon my move to California at 15, unaware of the detrimental social consequences. Although the silently killing isolation drove me insane, I was able to learn more about myself and internalize everything around me.

In California, the state of liberalism to the max, I referred to myself as a FOE, fresh off the East. We’re pretty ignorant about racial diversity there. I re-evaluated how I saw people of color; taught myself how to humanize people based on John Locke’s principles of natural rights. I unlearned racist behavior and mentality.

After I switched over to public school, I also began to understand the importance of sisterhood, tied with female empowerment. Insecure but “popular” girls at Santa Clara High swooned over immature foolish boys. Subtle sexism was everywhere from high school to corporate employment.

From body gestures to language, gender discrimination became more prevalent as I started college. I decided to experiment with men; 21 men in the span of three months to be exact. I kept a mental report of my dates' different characteristics associated with races, occupations, ethnicity, their views of women and expectations. Getting hugged rather than having my hand shook in a group full of men; being called an attention seeker for dressing too “provocatively”; being asked why I come home late on the weekends; encountering mansplaining on a daily basis by bosses, colleagues, and friends; my 40 year old male roommate denying that sexual assault is even a real thing; being asked why I go to the gym because my figure didn’t imply it was necessary; friends not believing things happening to me non-consensually. Getting mistreated as a women subtly was something I could no longer tolerate. The values of self respect I learned at school were put in place in my childhood for this reason. Self respect implies the intolerance of bullshit. And in hopes of ending such patriarchal bullshit, I’m planning to start a nonprofit to empower young women in a few years down the line. I embrace my own self. I know who I am, what I like and what I want.”

By switching her focus from "having the best grades" to "real-life experience" through being confronted to different social, spiritual, artistic and ethnic environments, she has become exponentially more curious, open-minded and comfortable networking, and so can anybody,