Why?

© 2008 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published in International Family Magazine

Someone said, “Mardi Gras starts today.” Six of us shared a table for dinner at the small engineering college in Indiana.

I said, “Let’s go?”

Four people said, “Why?”

Roger said, “Why not?” Roger, who had grown up in Indiana, had only once ventured outside the state for a weekend in Chicago.

That snowy February evening our friends dropped the two of us on Interstate 70. All we had was $20 and our thumbs. Our friends gave us a phone number. “Call when you’ve had enough of this silliness and we’ll come and get you.”

The next day we called, “You can come and get us if you want.”

“Where are you?”

“New Orleans.”

That day my life changed.

“Why don’t we take a trip around the world next week?”

“Why not?”

“Why go to graduate school?”

“Why not?”

“Why get married?”

“Why not?”

“Why change careers without notice?”

“Why not?”

“Why have children?”

“Why not?”

“Why move your family to Japan for a few years?”

“Why not?”

“Why are you writing this?”

“Why not?”

My world opened up on that freezing day in 1971 when I changed how I react to opportunity.

Live not by “Why?” but by “Why not?”

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Party Time

© 2007 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published in International Family Magazine

Have you ever held a party and had your first guest show up 45 minutes late? Did you have feelings of rejection and doubt? Perhaps nobody would come? Perhaps nobody likes you? Perhaps nobody ever did and they just got tired of being polite?

In some cultures, the feelings of others are more important than one’s own convenience.

John was a recent college graduate who was a member of my trading group when we moved from New York to Tokyo in 1992. The real estate market had recently crashed and with the housing budget provided by our employer, John was able to rent a three-bedroom apartment in Roppongi, the most desirable part of the city. Most Japanese “salarymen” could never aspire to live in such a place, even at the peak of their careers.

John decided to have a house warming party for himself.

He printed glossy invitations and handed them to everyone in the office. We were mostly Westerners and mostly male so, to balance the mix, he gave one to every beautiful young woman he ran across in Tokyo.

At 7:30 the doorbell rang. Fifty beautiful young women crowded the street in front of his apartment.

For more than an hour, John was the only male at his party and everyone felt a bit creepy, especially John. The women elected their best English speaker, “So, what is the deal? Is this party just all of us… and you?” John tried to explain that he’d invited lots of guys, but the ladies didn’t understand.

When the first male guest arrived after 9 PM he was greeted with a good deal of attention from the young women. By midnight, the sexes were fairly even and the party started to warm up. But John wasn’t having much fun because the females were shunning him.

In retrospect, John’s best tactic might have been to have a female friend play the role of host and for John to come to his own party at precisely 7:30. The women who arrived with him would not have viewed John not as creepy but rather as one of the rarest of all creatures: A Western male who was considerate of the feelings of others.

 

 

 

Arrive at the stated time. If you are the only one then you are either considerate or Japanese or both.

Past Love

© 2007 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published in International Family Magazine

I won’t tell you her name, but I will tell you when and where it hit me. It was in Latin class during the spring semester of the eighth grade.

She was beautiful and smart. What a wonderful smile. What a cheerful laugh. Blonde… blonde doesn’t hurt. Poised. Friendly. And smart… did I mention that.

We shared three other classes: Advanced Math, Science and History. How could I have not noticed her before?

At night, as I would go to sleep I could imagine our future life. We would study together. Tell jokes. Hold hands. Kiss, even.

She would be in a car accident and I would take care of her until she recovered.

I would develop a terrible disease and she would stay by my side in the hospital, holding my hand and crying. I’d pull through and we would swear to each other never to be apart.

We would marry.

Our love developed like this from the fall through the winter.

She must have noticed that I was staring at her.

One day she followed me to my locker.

She said, “Hi.”

I was mortified… struck dumb. “I… I…” I stammered, “I can’t talk to you right now. I’m very busy.”

I slammed my locker and ran down the hall. I’d hoped she thought I was needed somewhere in a hurry and that she would not think I was running from her.

That night I could not sleep. What was wrong with me? I was an idiot. Was that any way to treat your lover? She would never speak to me again.

I was right; she never did.

Any wonder? I had treated her badly. I avoided her path; her eyes.

My torture lasted through the summer. I don’t remember when it stopped. Mourning doesn’t end abruptly… it fades away.

I hoped she would never get over me and that she knew that I would one day become her one true love. I hoped she would see that right now I was needed elsewhere for a secret and extremely important assignment and she would wait for me.

So that is how I spent my eighth grade; the first half in the future and the second half in the past.

What a hell is immature love.

Love is found in the now, not in the then or the when.

Science Takes a Look at Love

© 2007 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published in International Family Magazine

In June of 2006 I had dinner with a young newlywed couple in London, England. They had just read my story, How Grandmother Won Granddad in a Beauty Contest, in the May issue of International Family Magazine.

The young bride asked me, “How do you know that you’ve met that one person out there who is just perfect for you?”

I don’t know the answer, but I find the question very disturbing since it implies that there is only one perfect person; yet it is likely that if you’re going to be married for any length of time there will be plenty of opportunity to uncover your mate’s imperfections and convince yourself that you’ve stopped looking too early.

This March I was again in London and again I had dinner with another newly married young couple. They too had read the story of my grandparents. She was beautiful and literate. He was handsome and charming. They held hands, snuggled and kissed a lot

Like my grandparents, they had married within weeks of first meeting.
Isn’t it romantic?

I think so.

But also scary.

I couldn’t put my finger on it until I read the book, The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia. The book discusses the science of happiness. In his chapter Love and Attachments he explains that long-term relationships must be based on companionship, not passion. You just aren’t physiologically capable of extended bouts of passionate love; you’ll develop tolerance to the dopamine you’re producing.

Thinking back, my grandparents never talked about youthful passion. They talked about the great adventures they had together and they talked about how lonely they were before they met.

But passion?

Nope.

For a love to last a long time you must be long time companions, not just lovers.