The One You're With

Growing up, Patrick - my Dad - often told me in a half-joking fashion: If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with. I can’t remember the varying contexts he would say it in, and I would often annoyingly dismiss him because it seemed like his usual trolling of my Mom (which he derived an almost sick joy from).

It has been 7 years since his passing, and for some reason, this particular Dad-quirk has been popping up in my mind like a ghost’s whisper in the last few months. And I’m actually listening to it.


I have ‘wanted’ for my entire life. I’ve wanted the perfect partner, the perfect job, the perfect family, the perfect body, the perfect squad - the list goes on. I'm beginning to think I can't continue to blame the perfectionism on account of my Virgo-ism. No, I'm pushing 30, and mama has got to get her act together. It's taken a minute, but things are coming into focus - that focus on perfection and projecting perfection on certain people, jobs, and scenarios has driven me further away from those very experiences. And maybe the same is happening to you.

I wouldn't characterize a large part of my life as truly 'happy'. I mean, I have had happy moments, and generally a good time. But my inner life has mostly been chaos. And that has meant that even though I've had incredibly happy moments, they've always been fleeting and searching for the next happy moment, rather cultivating a steady stream of good in the face of fortune and misfortune. I've had my share of anxiety, a lot of it stemming from how I'm perceived: if I say or do the wrong things, will people dismiss or abandon me? So, much of it has been hiding and, in effect, silencing a pretty decent, articulate person to avoid judgement, rejection, and the pain those things come with.

That makes for a pretty desperate outlook, looking outwards to make oneself whole. That's where 'wanting' comes from - it comes from not having the resources (yet) to make oneself whole. Wanting makes people unhappy, because when you don't get what you want, you become obsessed with every reason why or why not, and you burnout getting nowhere closer to where you want to be. Potentially, you might be farther from it than ever. In math class, we learn that the sum of a positive and a negative makes a negative product. I am learning that in life, the thing we want has to want us back. It's simple math: if something or someone doesn’t want you back, it’s a waste of time trying to change the outcome. Wanting things to be different is the thing that takes us out of the present and into a future that doesn’t exist.


If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with. On it's face, it sounds like flippantly giving up on love and settling on a less ideal alternative. But reflecting on it - it means exactly the opposite. It means something so much more meaningful. To love the one you’re with is to truly love the situation you are with presently. To love the one you’re with means accepting that whatever didn’t want you or didn’t work out is simply the way it is, and that all that can be done is focusing on what’s at hand - the things that you are with, that deserve your attention, right now. For me, it’s meant working on myself to grow out of old relationship patterns. It’s meant embracing a job I didn’t like and making it home. It’s meant being more present than ever with my friends and family. It’s meant letting go of the idea of how my life should turn out, and just letting it turn out.

This summer, I was travelling in Europe with a couple of girlfriends. We were laying on a beach in Tarifa, a beautiful windsurfing town on the southernmost point of Spain. Earlier in the day, I’d had a single Aperol Spritz at brunch to help with a pretty formidable hangover from the previous night's debaucheries. The fact that it helped (and then some) was my first clue that there is a God. My second clue came when we were on the beach and I had this strange sense of calm and peace. The kind that makes you just feel so okay with everything, with the people around you, with nature, in your own skin. The kind that makes you walk away from your friends, straight into the freezing cold sea water. Damn.

The last time I was in those waters I swore I’d never go back in it was so cold. But something was different this time. It was still the same cold, but my attitude was different. I was ready for it, I accepted it and without complaint I was swimming out there like it was a heated salt water pool for at least a half an hour, happy as a goddamn otter. It was certainly one of the most beautiful moments in my life I’ll never forget, because I felt connected and present with everything around me.

I wasn’t thinking about how cold the water was, or my friends back on the beach, or all the fires I left slightly kindling back home. That entire day was magic because it was the first time that I knew that the only things that have ever been constants - the things that I can count on - are the sun, the moon, the earth, and myself. And the same is true for everyone else who ever lived. For everything that ever happened in your life, the sun was always there, the moon was always there, the earth was always there, and you were always there. And when you look at it that way, you have these friends in things you thought were just random. And suddenly you aren't so random, you are a part of something so special from macro to micro. You stop being thrown around by events in your life, and you start becoming are a co-creator of your life and in the world. 


If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with. If things are not working the way you thought they would, stop thinking and just do something good right now. Any small thing. If things are not ideal, make your situation ideal.

  • If you want a fancy home, but can’t afford it right now, make your shitbox apartment the best shitbox apartment there ever was and love it.
  • If you want a new job and you’re not getting any of the jobs you want, make your soul-sucking job suck less by buckling down. Spruce up your desk, make friends out of enemies, do the wok, and love it.

  • If your family situation isn’t what you want it to be, love the family you still have and work on including others into the mix to make a new family, and love it.   

  • If the girl or boy of your dreams doesn’t want you right now (or ever) no sweat. Believe them. There doesn't necessarily have to be someone around to practice loving - you have yourself, so love you. You are always the one you are with - always.

If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with, and you just might start to build something so beyond your wildest dreams. You can thank Patrick for that little gem.

Arianne TongComment