Not Marriage.

Maybe I was a weird kid. I don’t know.

I grew up watching Star plus TV serials like “KUMKUM” and “Woh Rehne Wali Mehlon Ki”, absorbing the cultural ideas that were all too real in my own culture. I would idealize the lead female characters who’d get married off to a random guy and then bravely tackle the problems she’d face by her in-laws.

As a kid, I had decided on two goals:

  1. Have a wedding so I can have all the delicious food and dance to my favorite music.
  2. Wear a bright red bridal dress with lots of gold jewelry and makeup, like my dolls .

It was all of course a dumb fantasy where I got to be the center of everyone’s attention. My idea of weddings was more or less like playing dress up for a while and then returning everything back to normal.

I ignored the parts where the protagonist of the show had to suffer an extreme amount of sexism and emotional abuse from her husband and her “evil” mother in-law. Somehow, the problems would be portrayed as something that any married woman was meant to face.

While re-watching some of these shows, I realized that the problems were too normalized to be noticed, especially by a kid- who’d just be dazzled by the elegant staircase in the house, the make up of the bride and the food.

Or maybe I was just too dumb as a kid to notice.

The latter reason probably explains the death stares I got from my mother when I told her of my “life goals”. To this day I remember her outrage to my words.

Me: When I grow up I’m going to get married.

Mom: *with gritting teeth* What did you say?

Me: I said, I’m going to get married when I grow—

Mom: Chup! (Shutup) Don’t you ever say that again. Do you even know what you’re saying. Oh my God! Who told you about this?

It would probably have seemed cruel of a mother to reprimand her kid on something really simple like marriage. If only I had known as a kid that it was everything but simple.

And to this day, the mention of this word gives me goosebumps and I always cringe.

But I was a rebellious kid that time. I always did the opposite of what my parents told me to do. Hence, I kept nagging my mom about getting married. I always cringe at the childhood version of me and salute my mom for having to bear my idiocy.

Thanks to my mom who was even more rebellious and discouraged me from associating the word “marriage” with myself. In very subtle ways, she’d always distract me from anything related to weddings and direct all my attention towards concentrating on my studies.

Majority of the people in Pakistan worry more about the money they’d need to spend on a girl’s marriage rather than her education. According to them, it is parents’ responsibility to get their daughters married as soon as possible before they could bring any “shame” on the family. Every time a girl is born, they feel burdened with this responsibility.

If my parents (especially my mom) didn’t have a different vision for me and my sisters’ futures, I would probably be engaged to some man 8-10 years older than me with an already established career. Why is it that he got to establish his career and then got engaged while I would just be waiting for my bachelor’s degree before I got shipped off to his goddamn house.

My mother believed that the life of a woman is much more than just waiting for her “big day”. If it wasn’t for her, I would have been brainwashed by the Star plus serials and the Hum TV serials where the “victory” of a woman depended on getting the man.

In elementary school, when many of my friends were being told that their real home was their husband’s home, my mother completely discouraged us from even mentioning the word. She linked independent life and a successful career to the idea of a bright future for us.

As is the case with desi families where “The sex talk” is a huge taboo, our list of taboos also included the word “marriage”.

As time passed by, my mom’s influence spread in my veins and I began to see the horrifying reality of putting a girl’s marriage as a higher priority than her career.

Putting your own financial responsibility on your husband not only makes you dependent on him for the rest of your life but also gives him an upper hand over controlling you.

  • What if he turns out to be this emotionally abusive monster?
  • What if he has sexist views and imposes them on you?
  • What if he rapes you? (Marital rape)
  • What if you don’t want kids but he and his family pressurize you into having them?
  • What if he beats you for going out of the house without his so-called fucking “permission” ( I’m ANGRY NOW!)
  • Imagine having to ask for money from him for buying your personal stuff. This one makes me cringe.

Why on earth would I think of someone else’s money as mine? Am I mentally and physically incapable of earning and providing for myself? This is probably the most degraded that I’d feel.

And these are just a few of the things that no woman should ever have to deal with or compromise with.

Can you, having no university degree and no career, ever escape an abusive marriage? Not having established a solid career and getting married puts you in an extremely risky position. You are handing over the keys of your life to someone else and handing him a certain power over yourself.

You don’t even have the choice to take those keys back. Unless you take it in a tug of war where everyone would be on his side because “All hail patriarchy”.

If that’s not modern slavery, then what is?

Matters are worse if you live in a country that fully supports the male. A place where the divorce of the woman puts her family to shame instead of liberation from tyranny. A place where a woman is considered “used goods” after her divorce and no one would marry her again.

Imagine having no where to escape! You begin to slowly kill all those dreams you had for yourself. All you do now is wait for death. It’s equivalent to serving a life sentence in prison.

Or worse.

You have to put up with having to bear his kids and then raising those brats on whom you have no control over. Maybe you won’t even have a say in raising the kids. You’d just end up literally cleaning their diapers.

The only way to avoid this is to acknowledge the fact that you NEED to have an equally successful career.

We need to to teach little girls that they can have an independent life where they can choose their own way of living. They have capable minds to contribute to the world in ways more noble than “raising a future generation”.

Some people focus on girls’ education for the purpose of raising good citizens. When those educated girls can themselves contribute to the world, then why produce more humans into this overly populated world, wait for them to grow up and then be that productive future generation raised by those girls?

Damn! Can it get more complicated than this?

Why even link their education to raising better future generations? Aren’t these girls a part of the future? It is more important for a girl to spend hours honing her talent than to worry about the wrinkles on her face.

Several parents tell their daughters that they can travel the world or hang out with friends after they get married. Such ideas create a future zone in their minds where they get lost in dreaming of a beautiful life after marriage. When it is time for their minds to develop and for these girls to discover themselves, they are instead lost in this future zone.

It breaks my heart to see that such possibly bright minds are being put to a waste in believing that their happiness lies in a life after marriage.

As Mahatma Gandhi has said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world”.

And the first step to changing such mentalities is to acknowledge that life begins at birth.

Not marriage.

 

 

Books that speak to you

While browsing through books, in my university library, I noticed a book, set out separately from the other books on the top shelf. To this day, I’m not sure if it was our common loneliness that drew me or the magnificent halo that surrounded its borders.

In big blue letters, it read: “Why people fail”.

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It was one of those depressing times when I was desperately seeking inspiration from the books in my university library. Usually, I’d read a page or two from JK Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” or “Harry Potter and the sorcerer’s stone”. These books would always inspire me to keep moving and expect good things to happen and were literally (still are) my guides to maintaining my sanity.

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Yet, a book titled with a question that my inner voice kept nagging me with, was like the moment when Tom Riddle spoke to Harry.

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In those days, I was suffering from one of the darkest times of my life. Speaking from the perspective of a freshman student, whose happiness lay only in getting good grades, the “dark times” were nothing but the mere failure to get A grades in all my course quizzes. I still believe that those were indeed my dark times, due to the emotional instability I had put myself through.

I had linked my social life in university to my grades. According to freshmen me, having bad grades meant that no one would want to associate themselves with me.

Looking back now, it was only an adjustment phase in an international university with students that spoke different languages. I was too self-centered to notice the awkwardness of every other freshman student in my batch. However, unlike me, they approached each other to share in the awkwardness.

On the other hand, I lacked the self-confidence to make connections on my own and had (still have it) a resting bitch face that made me unapproachable!

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When I smile

You would say that in times of loneliness, you are the only one who can support you. I, on the other hand would find every way for negative self-talk. My confidence and self-esteem were almost dead at that point. This is the sort of talk that happened between me and my sub conscious mind:

Me: No one talks to me

Inner voice: You’re ugly and fat.

Me: I have bad grades

Inner voice: of course.

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How I talked to myself in Freshman year

Never mind that the title spoke to me; my inner voice was much louder and as is the case with negative thinking, I had very few expectations from this book. I thought it was probably just a fact book that I would put back after reading a few pages.

Everything changed, when I read this line:

Do you have an overall philosophy of life, a primary reason you get up every morning? Or are you just pulled along by current events, deadlines, and people asking you to do things?

My heart beat increased and my breathing intensified. This book had just described me! This book was meant for me! It was my Holy book!

I suddenly started to write down all my life goals. Goals that I hadn’t imagined before because of the fear of failure. I wrote them down and slept with my stomach bumping with butterflies. Writing those goals for the first time on paper made them seem possible and filled me with a sudden adrenaline rush.

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The next day I woke up before sunrise and was too excited to sleep again. For the first time, I began to exercise daily, resist fast food, complete my work on time and get free time to work on side goals. I was so excited after that. Life had suddenly changed in one night.

Every time, while returning home in the public bus, I’d talk to my personal coach Siimon Reynolds through the book and together we’d discuss the 16 obstacles to success and the ways to overcome them.

That semester, I received a GPA of 4.00, lost weight and made lots of friends. I couldn’t be happier.

I call it the “Semester of enlightenment”.

This book understood me and believed in my abilities, when my own inner voice had abandoned me. Three years have passed since I first read the book and it still serves as my reason to becoming better everyday.

Not that I didn’t fail after that. This book opened my mind to having a meaningful life purpose and as is the case with any huge life purpose, failure is inevitable.

In fact, after reading this book, I faced even greater obstacles than I already had.

While failure in freshman year might have felt like a slap on the face, failure in later years felt like falling head first from Burj Khalifa and walking all the way back, to fall again.

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Trying to reach life goals be like

Fun fact #1: I couldn’t stand a simple slap but was strong enough to face the fall more than once.

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When life slaps you

Fun fact #2: Falling from Burj Khalifa is exciting and so is your road to achieving a greater life purpose.

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Disclaimer: Don’t literally jump from Burj Khalifa. Seriously tho.

I believe that there is a book out there for everyone and it would understand you the way no one else did.

Fun fact #3: It doesn’t have to be a self-help book.

As Steve Jobs said,

“If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”

I know I know! He meant your life purpose. And so do I.

Italy Internship Guide: Packing and Budget calculation

Your visa application has finally been approved. Congratulations!

All you need to do now is to buy your flight tickets and pack off your bags.

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Try to find flight offers with convenient baggage weight. I booked my tickets via the Rostamani travel agency inside my university to avoid wasting time on searching for flight offers and deals. However, travel agencies are limited to certain airlines only. You can find better deals with more flight options online. Buying tickets with the round trip option is always a budget-friendly option, unless you are planning to visit another country after Italy.

In my case, I had booked a flight to Pisa with a transit flight from Rome. Depending on the flight duration, book an appropriate date to avoid any late arrival problems. Make sure that you take the flight on any day except Sunday. On Sundays, literally, everything is closed in Italy. If you reach the institute on Sunday, you’ll have to camp outside until the guardian arrives the next morning to give you your room keys. You will also need to make sure that you reach the institute before 9 pm, since the guardian leaves after that time.

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Once you have purchased your tickets, you can check in online and print your boarding pass with your seat number written.

You are now one more step away from beautiful memories, unforgettable friends, learnt life lessons and a better you.

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Take a deep breath and take out a pen and paper. Time to make a packing list.

What to wear:

It gets real hot in summer in Italy around mid-June. In order to keep your cool, literally, pack lots of cotton made T-shirts. Try to buy more of those basic tees. If you wear a head-scarf, make sure you pack those light-weight cotton shawls sold at your local store. If you are not bounded by any religious restriction, then pack tons of shorts for summer. Everyone, in Italy wear shorts and they look gorgeous!

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One thing I regret is not taking a summer hat with me. You would really need that during day time to avoid the strong heat on your head.

Despite the usual cool breeze, the sun’s glare is concentrated on you which can burn your skin. Save that one place in your bag for lots of sun screen and make sure you put it on before going out. The amount of times I forgot to put on my sunscreen was equivalent to the level of tan I underwent.  Lastly, pack some cool sunglasses to avoid squinting too much in the sun and give you a permanent RBF. (Resting Bitch Face).

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Don’t get too carried away with the summer packing though. It can sometimes get really cold at nights because, let’s face it: the summer of Italy is approximately equivalent to the winter of Abu Dhabi.

If you visit Italy around May, it’s still quite cold. Or maybe I find it cold because I have never lived in temperatures approximately below 18 degrees. At night time around May, it can get as cold as 11 degrees! So make sure that you have enough warm clothes with you for those exciting after-dinner walks.

Sometimes, without any apparent reason, it’ll start raining cats and dogs and suddenly a warm sunny day could turn into a thunderous wrath of the heavens. Be prepared!

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Also, get yourself a good pair of running shoes. I regretted so much for only taking summer slippers and loafers which, by the end of my stay, looked like a dog’s chewing toy. You will have a lot of walking to do.

Accessories:

Once you’re done making a list of your Italian wardrobe, it is time to pack for maintaining your basic hygiene.

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Here’s a small checklist that you can use to make sure that you do not forget anything.

  • Tooth-paste
  • Tooth brush
  • Floss
  • Hand Soap
  • Shower Gel
  • Shampoo
  • Bathing Brush
  • Hair Brush
  • Hair pins
  • Hair bands
  • Hair clips
  • Makeup
  • Hair-removal products
  • Menstrual Pads
  • Tissue boxes
  • Perfumes
  • Body lotion
  • Washing powder for clothes

Apart from your bathroom accessories, you should make a basic first-aid kit in case of any emergencies. You can use the checklist below:

This kit should be in your shoulder bag at all times. Therefore, try to make it as light weight as possible.

Miscellaneous items:

  • Umbrella
  • Lightweight Iron
  • Phone charger
  • Laptop charger
  • Adapter for two hole socket
  • Shoulder Bag
  • Locks: Buy locks for each compartment of your luggage and keep the keys safe with you at all times.
  • scissors

Kitchenware and food:

When you can just eat at the local restaurants everyday, then why bother to take kitchen utensils and food with you? Because, this blog is meant to teach you to live on a tight budget while travelling. I will talk about the amount of budget needed for a two months stay in the next section.

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This section is really important if you want to avoid wasting money on food and do not want to starve yourself either. However, I do not at all mean to discourage you from buying meals occasionally at Italian restaurants. Heck no! I’ve got one full article on the type of Italian food you should be ordering.

Since I was allowed a 46 kg baggage weight (23kg/piece), one of my bags carried only kitchen ware and food. However, I took a hell lot of unnecessary kitchen accessories including the dish-washing soap! You only need a few basic utensils that the kitchen does not have.

I’m assuming that you’d live in the guest house of the Biorobotics institute and hence, the list below is based on that sort of living. If you plan to live elsewhere though, I would advise you to contact that house owner and ask him about the house conditions. You might want to ask him or her whether they have enough kitchen utensils for you to be able to cook easily. Below are the items that I would advise you to take with you.

My check list for Kitchen stuff:

  • Electric boiler (really important)
  • Insulated water bottle
  • Medium sized cooking pot
  • One fork, knife and spoon (personal)
  • Cup noodles (20 would do)
  • Doritos chips (How I missed them)
  • Home-made cookies
  • Tea (for tea addicts).
  • Corn Flakes
  • Milk Powder (big size)
  • Cream cheese (to put on bread)
  • 1Kg long grained rice

Don’t bother buying coffee because if you live in Italy, you only drink Italian coffee.

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Cappuccino with chocolate syrup

If you don’t have enough weight but you will be staying with your room mate in the guest house, you both can divide the checklist items.

Also, if you are a Muslim and adhere strictly to your religious duties, then you are obviously restricted from eating the non-halal meat. Don’t worry! I’ll be also discussing with you the shops that sell Halal meat.

I generally eat food with lots of spices that come from my country. It is very hard to find such spices in Italy and so it is better to take all those from your home country, provided of course, that you are a big fan of spicy food. But then, travelling is all about adapting to a new culture.

So, just carry a little of your home food with you in case you start feeling homesick. Once you get used to living in Italy, you’ll be buying a lot of food from the local store and cooking your own invented recipes.

Budget

Living on a budget comes with lots of difficulties and emergency situations but it is the best part of life. You sort of learn the way your early ancestors lived and it brings you closer to understanding the strongest weapon that you have developed in the evolutionary process: your mind.

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With limited resources, you learn to create novel recipes that are actually really good for health and taste delicious. You’ll learn to deal with emergency situations that bring out new habits in you. Most importantly, you learn to value the unlimited resources you have back at home.

I was amazed at the list of ideas my brain threw at me during emergency situations. Before my travel, I sucked at cooking and I had zero ideas about combining appropriate food ingredients. Limited resources however, forced me and my friends to make our own food combinations.

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After my trip, I’ve learnt to spend money only on things that I NEED and this have made a huge difference in my savings. Limited resources also makes you think more about useful investments.

For example, I managed to save enough money during my trip to be able to apply for a driving license in Abu Dhabi!

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And this is exactly the sort of savings I want you to do during your stay in Italy.

To calculate your budget for the trip, you need to consider the following:

  • Rent for two months

The institute will have emailed you the amount of rent you would be paying for your room. This also includes a percentage of VAT (Value Added Tax). My advice for you is to get a room-mate to share the rent with.

  • Transport Costs

This includes your flight ticket costs and train ticket from Pisa to Pontedera and back.

If you have heavy luggage, it is better to take a cab from the airport.

The one way train ticket costs around 2.6 euros while the cab costs around 60 euros.

  • Buying groceries

There is no fixed cost for grocery shopping and it obviously depends on your spending and managing. However, I considered spending 5 euros per day for food and hence took 300 euros separately for living. This, however, is an exaggeration. There were days that I spent 0 euros and there were days that I spent up to 20 euros.

  • Travelling on weekends

I did not consider this part in my trip. I still managed to explore different cities in Italy by saving up my food money. I suggest, however, that if you can afford, have a separate travel budget as well.

Overall, I carried approximately 2380 euros with me apart from the flight cost and I managed to save around 1000 euros while coming back to Abu Dhabi. Just in case, though, I suggest you take no less than 2000 euros with you. This covered my living costs, rent and leisure travelling.

To be on the safe side, get a go-cash card and carry all your money in that. In case you lose it, you can block it and no one will be able to steal your money. You can buy train tickets and groceries with that card. However, you have to pay your rent in cash and will have to go to the ATM to withdraw your cash. Upon withdrawal, they charge you 3 euros.

On last note, keep track of your spending in a journal. I carried a small journal where I kept track of my weekly spending. This is important in the beginning weeks so you don’t run out of money. Although, I got a bit slack in the end over my journal keeping which I really regret.

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Even if you have a lot of money left in the end, it is still crucial that you are aware of the amount you spend every day.

Managing your money depends on your priorities. I gave a higher priority to exploring different places and the least priority to eating food. Most of the times, I’d skip either breakfast or lunch and just have a proper dinner. By the end of the week, I’d use my saved food money on train tickets, museum tickets, gelato and Pizza!

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It all depends on you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eat and Forgive

 

Do you have an unhealthy obsession with Tomatoes?

Do you find food without Tomatoes offensive?

Or maybe it is someone’s birthday and they asked you to get them Tomatoes as a present?

Just look at this image of red juicy tomatoes for 2 minutes and you’ll know what I mean.

Tomatoes

In this blog, I will teach you exactly how to add fuel to your obsession of tomatoes or of those closest to you.

From the past one and a half months that I’ve spent in Italy, my appreciation for this juicy vegetable has multiplied. The reason being obvious in the following pictures of Pizza and Pasta.

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Margherita Pizza in Pontedera

When you put this Pizza in your mouth, the Tomato juices along with the mozzarella cheese just encapsulates your taste buds while the basil and oregano make sure to not let go of your tongue. Basically you’d look like this:

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How I wish I could bring this piece of Italy back home. I genuinely believe that this divine food can end so many fights.

Imagine someone is arguing with you on some bullshit topic. Just stuff this Pizza into their mouth and watch as the hate transforms into love.

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I took the next picture before dinner. I snapped it with shaking hands because I was trying really hard to keep my shit together and not eat it before a proper picture. I cooked this with my room-mate at the university kitchen and we’ve been literally depending on this “invention” during our stay.

Spaghetti

If you want a break from your work, you make Spaghetti! It works best if you make it with your friends. It is so much more fun when you share food together. Cooking with friends is a great way to strengthen your friendship and it makes sense. Both of you are literally helping each other survive. One thing I learnt about friendship during my stay in Italy is that you only truly love someone when you share your own limited resources with them.

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Anyways, I digress.

I want you to cook this spaghetti with tomato sauce at least once a week!

It is important that you invite a friend or a relative over to help you with the cooking. If that’s not possible, cooking under the glaring eyes of your cat, dog or cockatiel works too.

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Don’t you worry! I’ll watch over the cheese

The recipe below serves two people. Here we go:

Ingredients for Spaghetti:

  1. 1 pack of spaghetti
  2. A deep cooking pan filled with water to the top
  3. 2 tbsp of cooking oil
  4. Salt (to taste)

Cooking instructions:

  1. Fill a pot with water and put it on high heat on the stove.
  2. Pour out the contents of the spaghetti pack into the pan. I prefer breaking the spaghetti in half.
  3. Add appropriate amount of salt and cooking oil.
  4. Leave it to boil on medium heat. You will know that it is cooked when the spaghetti is soft to eat. (Check after 20 minutes).
  5. Once cooked, filter the pasta from the water and spread it out evenly on two plates.

Ingredients for Tomato Sauce:

4 tbsp. of sunflower or olive oil

1 medium-sized red onion (cut into small cubes)

1 clove of garlic (crushed)

4 fresh tomatoes (cut into small cubes) or 1 can of tomato paste.

Salt (to taste)

6 tbsp. of freshly squeezed lemon juice

Instructions for the sauce:

  1. Add oil into a sauce pan and then fry the onions on high heat until crisp brown. (VERY IMPORTANT STEP). It shouldn’t be burnt though.
  2. Then add the garlic and sauté for 10 seconds.
  3. Then add tomatoes! (That’s the exciting part) 
  4. Keep mixing until the sauce thickens and then add salt and lemon juice. Make sure you add the right amount of salt. Keep tasting it after every addition of salt.
  5. Put on low heat for a few seconds and then remove.
  6. Pour the sauce over the spaghetti and sprinkle grated Parmesan cheese on top.

Now take a deep breath, relax and enjoy this savory tomato filled fun!

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A beautiful Illness

So you’ve got a crush on this guy but it’s wearing you out? Why won’t he notice you when you wear that special outfit just for him or that bright red lipstick? It’s a miserable feeling when you can’t really force him to like you.

You start to doubt yourself and begin to change your personality and looks according to his taste. Yet, he doesn’t even notice! You keep passing those places where he hangs around and you begin to notice his absence more often.

Having a crush is probably the best and the worst phase of your life. It is like a country having all four seasons at once. You experience the extremities of all your feelings during those four months.

Somehow you lose the ability to properly communicate with them. Then there is this blindness to your crush’s flaws. Your friends  might as well do some sort of blood pact to prove your crush’s flaws to you, but all you do is swoon at their name. Your claws are always ready to scratch out the eyes of those who make fun of them.

And Ahh! The pain of missing them every moment and the later embarrassment of blowing up your chances when you talk gibberish to them.

If you are suffering from a crush, you will just have to wait for time to pass and one day you will get up and realize that there is more to life than that person who doesn’t even remember your birthday.

Sometimes you might need a day off to spend with your siblings or parents (whomever you’re close to) and talk to them about it. They can be a great emotional support for you. Allow yourself to be sad because that is just one of those times when you’re mourning for something that might have turned out well. And that’s a good sign because you’re getting over it!

While you can’t really do anything in this phase, you might as well listen to these songs I’ve compiled for you below.

Beginner Crush Phase (Warning: You might lose yourself)

  1. Wildest Dreams
  2. Sad Song
  3. See you In my Dreams
  4. Everytime
  5. Pretending
  6. Rather Be
  7. Beautifully Unfinished
  8. Sky Full of Stars

Symptoms Experienced:

  1. Loss of appetite or feeling extra hungry
  2. Itchy Palms
  3. little or no focus on work
  4. Improved Stalking skills
  5. Loss of rational thoughts

Trying too hard to get over and move on but you still like them Phase

  1. My heart will go on
  2. Little Do you Know
  3. Should’ve been us
  4. All In My Head

Symptoms Experienced:

  1. Depression
  2. sweet cravings

“I think I’m over him”  phase

  1. Fight Song
  2. Brave

Symptoms Experienced:

  1. Numb feelings
  2. Over acting of not being interested anymore in your crush.

“Finally Over” Phase.

There are no crush related songs here to listen to. You’ve been cured!  You have accepted that your crush doesn’t really care and why should you? It was a hard time but you got over it.

Now go out and treat yourself to a large scoop of Gelato!