If You Want to Be Happy, Learn to Love the Little Things Cover

If You Want to Be Happy, Learn to Love the Little Things

I’ll never forget the day I got to drive my friend’s Ferrari. I had been staring at Ferrari posters in my bedroom since I was five, so it was a dream come true.

I’ll also never forget what he told me a few years later: “The car now means absolutely nothing to me. I’ve grown 100% used to it. It’s sad, isn’t it?” He sold it soon after that.

The only car I’ve ever owned was a first-generation BMW 1 Series. Here’s a picture from the day I picked it up:

For many people in Germany, even people my age — and even back then — a car like this was nothing special. But to me it was.

I still remember the unique government program that made it affordable, the sound of the handles when opening the doors, and the feel of the materials inside. I remember the whirring of the engine, the vibration of the tires rolling around a corner, and the click of the locks opening as I pressed the button on my remote control key.

It was always a good moment, approaching the car. I saw it standing there, always in the same corner of the square in front of our house, always ready for another adventure. I knew we were about to embark on a new journey together, and that made me happy. Would it be a short trip to the gas station? A long drive back to college? Whichever it was, I knew I had my Bavarian companion to rely on. Music on, sunroof open, gears falling into place.

I only owned that car for two years, but I never got tired of it. I always enjoyed climbing into the driver’s seat once again. How can one person grow completely indifferent to a Ferrari, while another cherishes every second with their tiny BMW? “Well, you’re a car nut, Nik! It’s easy for you to enjoy any car,” you might say, and to that I can only respond, “You’re probably right.”

Then again, I’ve had that same, joyously-approaching-the-car-feeling many times since selling my BMW — and that was ten years ago. Therefore, I have a theory: I think I’ve learned to love the little things.


Every morning, I step inside the small, Middle Eastern café across the street. Beneath cannolis in a glass display, the counter bends and stretches towards the far end of the restaurant. Wooden chairs and tables rest amidst a sea of green. Plants on the wall, plants on the ceiling, plants on the floor. The king of this urban jungle casually leans against the counter. “Good morning! What can I do for you?” the manager asks. “One cappuccino to go, please!”

Then, the magic begins. Their device is no mere coffee maker. It’s a whole apparatus of alchemistic instruments; an Italian portafilter — the Ferrari of coffee machines. Dynamic displays show temperature and pressure. The coffee is ground on the spot, the milk freshly steamed. After a complex series of physical and chemical micro-processes, the prized brown liquid drips into a biodegradable cup. It may as well be gold. Without having to ask, the manager puts chocolate powder on top. “Here you go!”

£3.20 is an insane amount for a tiny cup of coffee. That’s $4.37. Or 3.83€. A few months ago, it was £3.00. That’s a near-7% increase. Then again, coffee beans now cost twice as much as they did a year ago. I guess 7% is not so bad.

There’s so much fortune in this interaction: My girlfriend living in a nice area with a nice restaurant across the street, the manager of which happens to know how to make the perfect blend of milk and coffee. Me being able to afford £3.00 a day for such a treat and not even needing to worry about a 7% price increase. Of course, we worked hard to get here, but just because you deserve something does not mean it’s not worth pointing out.

In fact, the longer you can appreciate something long after you’ve earned it, the happier you’ll be. Thankfully, the smell of great coffee never gets old.


Ding! “9th floor,” the robotic, female voice announces. Fresh, warm cappuccino in hand, I make my way to the rooftop garden.

Behind a glass door lies a beautiful maze of stone, wood, grass, earth, and plants. It’s not a huge space. A few shaded benches, a small patch of green, and a rectangular walkway that goes all around — but dropped into the middle of what feels like a roundtable discussion among a dozen high-rise buildings, it’s nothing short of a sanctuary.

London isn’t exactly known as the world’s tanning bed, so whenever the weather doesn’t look too much like Game of Thrones, I go to the rooftop for all of five minutes before starting my day. When the sun is out, I just stand there, shamelessly absorbing my dose of rays. When it’s a bit foggy, I test how far I can see. In the distance, Canary Wharf, London’s finance hub, presents me with its best LA impression. Seagulls are scanning the rooftops for scraps.

Inside their glass boxes, people type, stitch, and talk. They fold, pace, and file away. Around me are hundreds of apartments, home to thousands of people. The garden connects two 20-story buildings — yet none of their inhabitants are here. Nine out of ten times, I’m alone on the rooftop.

“Where is everybody?” I wonder. Are they too busy for five minutes of beauty? Do they even know this garden exists? “I can always go there” is the death of every local. After all, how local will you truly have been if you were always physically present but never truly there?

It’s a fascinating thing, this temple in such a secular place — self-evident to those who can access it but rarely do, yet almost certainly a miracle to those who’ve never known the splendor of modern metropolitan compounds.

I sip on my cappuccino. Three more deep breaths. Ahh! Okay, time to go back inside.


If you want to be happy, learn to love the little things. If you want to love the little things, understand the following:

Gratitude is not a creativity exercise. It’s a gratitude exercise. You don’t need a new thing to be grateful for each day. In fact, the more you realize it’s the same things, over and over again, that make you feel warm, sheltered, and loved, the easier it’ll be to savor those things — and find true, lasting contentment in them.

Hedonic adaptation is the treadmill that adjusts its speed to keep us running after happiness without ever catching it. Making a habit of loving the little things is how you step off, step outside, and marvel at everything life has to offer, allowing you to come to just one conclusion:

You don’t need anything more than what you already have — because the little things are, actually, the biggest things of all.

5 Lessons I Learned From Meditating for 800 Days in a Row Cover

5 Lessons I Learned From Meditating for 800 Days in a Row

Two years ago, I finally began to meditate. Inspired by Naval Ravikant, I managed to turn a decade-long aspiration into an actual habit.

For the first week, I did an hour a day, and, ironically, the sheer size of that commitment helped. I learned several things from my experience, the most notable being that I should continue to meditate, no matter how much.

As expected, life happened, and for a while, I only managed to meditate five minutes a day. Nowadays, I’m back up to 15.

When I say “meditate,” I mean “sit comfy yet straight, close your eyes, and wait.” That’s all meditation is. Beyond a timer, there are no apps, no music, no neural-activity-tracking headbands or wonky gadgets of any kind. Those things cause stimulation, which is the opposite of meditation.

Looking at my habit tracker, I see today marks my 825th consecutive day of meditation. What an appropriate day to share a few more lessons, don’t you think?

1. It’s okay to think

This is both a common and obvious lesson. I’ve seen it a million times. Yet, I, like most people, constantly forget it. “Damn it! Why can’t I stay in nirvana? Where the hell is my zen today?!” Probably wherever I left my manners.

The goal of meditation isn’t to not think. It is to realize that you think, what you think, and learn to change it if you want to.

Whatever states of blissful emptiness you may or may not achieve are as fragile as they are pleasurable, both of which make them dangerous to pursue. If you turn meditation into yet another pointless chase of the near-unattainable, you might as well stop.

When you notice yourself being lost in thought, that’s a good mediation session. When you realize you needed your entire 15 minutes to process an issue in your life, that’s a good meditation session. When you decide to let go of one thought in favor of another, that’s a good meditation session.

Meditation is the art of observing — and deliberately participating in — the activities in your mind. If our goal was to merely shut those activities down, we could develop a habit of napping instead.

2. Lean into what irks you

The best trait meditation will give you is patience. Calmness, serenity, inner peace — these are mere consequences. Patience is where it starts, and, forced to sit there without acting, it’s your only option.

Naturally, life will find ways to be particularly annoying in those 15 minutes you’ve anointed as your sacred time of silence. In my case, common instances are construction work in my building, passing cars honking outside, ambulance sirens wailing, and my ears starting to itch right when I close my eyes. These are perfect opportunities to practice.

For as long as I can, I try to resist scratching the itch, often literally. “It’s all stimulation. You don’t have to act on it.”

On a good day, I won’t fall for the distraction. Instead, I’ll become the distraction. I sync my mind to the rhythm of the drill or the sirens. They too are the pulse of life. Who am I to resist? I become the hair on my cheek, sitting lightly on human skin, ready to fall anytime. I become the hum of my fridge, buzzing away to keep the universe in balance.

It is a good skill, the ability to keep yourself from erupting like a volcano. It is better still, however, to be able to realize what’s poking you is just another, natural part of life.

3. Imagine your thoughts as a river

What makes thinking difficult to observe is that you do it all the time. Your default mode of consciousness is going from one thought to the next, never breaking the chain. It’s a chain that is highly flexible, seamlessly adjusting to impulses and interruptions. As soon as they’re handled, it’s back to the original lane.

If you want to observe your thoughts rather than bathe in them, you must turn them into a dynamic, abstract entity. Which image you choose is up to you. I like the idea of a river.

When my mind is calm, I’m sitting in the grass next to a little stream. I watch it ripple along, shimmering in various colors. I can see topics, ideas, even individual sentences float by. “Work.” “I need to check my inbox.” “The room feels cold.” My goal is to keep sitting, to not reach into the river and grab what I can see.

Depending on how active my brain is, the river will look different, but the goal remains the same: Just sit and watch. Don’t jump into it. Sometimes, my stream of thoughts feels as big as the Thames. I could sit next to gushing rapids or at the edge of Victoria Falls. It can be hard to stay on land.

This morning, I was sitting beside a creek. It was peaceful. Then, I thought about something I saw on Twitter. I chuckled and began to craft a response. Just before I could send it, I woke up: “Why am I wet? How did I get here? Why am I splashing in the river?” I stood up and, clothes dripping, sat back on my patch of grass.

That’s meditation.

4. Create a sanctuary (or two, or three)

Nirvana is not a place you can enter at will, but how you design your mind is up to you.

In the video game series Kingdom Hearts, there’s a place called Castle Oblivion. All of the rooms are white. One houses an egg-looking device called a “memory pod.” I like that room. I go there a lot.

I also like the version of King’s Cross where Harry meets Dumbledore at the end of Harry Potter. In the game Fable III, there’s no menu. Just a room, literally called “the Sanctuary,” where you can safely recover, change your equipment, and so on. Even the music is relaxing.

In Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It, Kamal Ravikant says about his meditation: “I imagine all the light from space flowing into my head and down into my body, going wherever it needs to go.”

Light is healing, calming, warming. It keeps you away from the river.

When I meditate, I imagine myself in my sanctuaries. I just stand there and marvel at their infiniteness. Their bright, white light stretches out in front of me, never-ending, ever-comforting.

Design your own sanctuary. You will not regret it.

5. Don’t dismiss great ideas

You won’t be able to anyway. The only ideas you can dismiss during meditation are mediocre ones. Maybe they’re not fully fledged out. That’s okay. If they’re actually great, they’ll come back later.

Sometimes, a train of thought is too good to not board it. Whenever that happens, however rarely, get on and enjoy the ride. Chase your idea until you can grasp it. Like a salmon swimming upstream, it might slip through your fingers regardless.

The other day, my meditation was steamrolled by the idea to recap my experience of choosing a book cover. “I could do a workshop, I could do an interview, I could even do it live on my friend’s YouTube channel!” By the time my phone rang, I was ready to pour a sea of notes into it, which I promptly did.

Meditation is a time of gestation. Usually, the ripening will be passive. It’ll happen quietly, subconsciously, somewhere in the back of your mind. Sometimes, however, the fruits of your thought tree will bloom. When they do, it’s time to collect them. Don’t let them go bad.

Every now and then, it is time to jump in the river. Dive deep enough, and you might emerge with nuggets of gold.


In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry must catch the exact right specimen of a thousand flying keys. As soon as he gets on his broomstick to chase it, the entire swarm starts whizzing like angry hornets. Sticking his hand into a tornado, eventually, Harry manages to grab the right key — but not before the wrong ones have left several cuts on his skin.

Thinking can be like that. We’re ants holding out against a torrent of mental activity: Occasionally, we’ll get washed away. I think that’s normal. Nothing to be ashamed of. It is honorable, however, to try and step out of the torrent.

Meditation is the practice of observing the keys. You can look at them for hours. See all their marvelous colors? The shapes! The sizes! There is so much to witness; it takes time to zone in on the right one. Once you have, however, thanks to first observing, you’ll have clarity and confidence in what you’ve picked.

The right thought at the right time will fit into your life better than any key can ever match its lock. Meditation allows you to sync your mind’s activity with what’s happening around you, and nothing will open more doors than that.

What Makes You Attracted to Someone?

What Makes You Attracted to Someone?

Why do you keep dating douchebags? How come you can’t you get over your ex? Why do some relationship feel effortless, while others force us to try very hard? The answer to all of these questions lies in understanding attraction.

I’m not talking about sexual attraction, although what I’ll share will, to some extent, explain that too. I mean attraction as in: “Oh, I like that guy!” The kind of attraction that’s natural, effortless, and that you might feel towards a great deal of people, even if you don’t have any agenda involving them whatsoever.

It’s a good thing, this attraction. It allows humans to get along, which, in a world this crowded, becomes more important by the day. When you easily hit it off with others, you can seamlessly navigate thousands of relationships, no matter how microscopic their role in your life may be. Which do you prefer? A queue at the bakery in which everyone gives each other the death stare, or one with light banter and the occasional, “No way, I always go for the chocolate-frosted ones too!”?

As we shall discover, this last bit of “me too” is a key element of attraction: Likeness breeds liking. I mean, it’s in the word, isn’t it? “Josh likes Trina” indicates that, in one way or another, Josh and Trina are alike. This phenomenon is so universal, it lets Seth Godin explain marketing in a single sentence: “People like us do things like this.” For now, let’s remember that since likeness is easy to find, so is attraction — and that turns our superficial chemistry into a double-edged sword.

If you quickly relate to others, beyond forging genuine friendships, you’ll also connect with many people that, ultimately, don’t belong into your life. Sometimes, that connection extends far beyond a brief encounter at the bakery, and that’s when things get complicated: A shared love for jello shots becomes a six-month stint of endless arguments. A brutal assignment survived together makes you cannon-fodder for your coworker’s quest to get promoted. That’s attraction leading us astray, and the consequences hurt.

While it won’t prevent you from ever falling for the wrong person again, understanding why attraction forms is the first step towards getting better at knowing when to trust your attraction and when to double-check your gut.

“Knowing” is the key word here. That’s where the answer to the seemingly simple yet surprisingly complex question of “Why are we attracted to people like us?” begins. Given humans have been trying to understand each other since the dawn of time, it might come as a little less of a surprise that that answer can be found in a 2,000-year-old book.

The Grandest Sport of All

“All human beings by nature desire knowledge.” Thus goes the opening line of Metaphysics, the 14-volume magnum opus on philosophy by none other than Aristotle, one of the fathers of philosophy itself. With the hindsight of history, we might call Aristotle a genius, and, looking at his dozen other “father of…” titles, it seems that we have. If you had asked him back then, I’m sure he would have said some variation of what Einstein echoed 1900 years later: “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”

The premise of natural curiosity will be integral to our theory, so let’s state it clearly and then probe it for truth: You are curious. All of us are.

We may forget it from time to time, but if we think back to our childhood, it’s easy to realize curiosity drove virtually every step of our growing up. As a baby, you grabbed everything, licked everything, and constantly looked around in awe. Once you were able to crawl, you crawled wherever you could go, and you only went further once you were on your feet.

This is Aristotle’s first piece of evidence that to be human is to be curios: We love using our senses. We enjoy garnering data about the world, be it through our noses, mouths, ears, eyes, or hands. Do you ever stop and smell the roses? Your coffee? Your lunch? What about vibing to a new song? How about watching the sunset? Clearly, our senses can be the source of great pleasure.

When it comes to using our senses ferociously, we’re no different from any other animal. Many smart creatures, like dogs, crows, dolphins, elephants, and others, can even form habits from experience. That, too, is something we learn early on. “If I touch the stove, I’ll get hurt, so I’ll touch the stove no more.” Simple if-then-loops, however, are where our similarities end.

Once we hit preschool, our human uniqueness fully blooms: Unlike any animal, we can understand why the world works the way it does. We can see why certain actions in certain situations are the right or wrong ones to take, and we can do so even before we take them, before we’re forced to learn from experience.

If you’ve ever solved a crossword, fixed a home appliance, or figured out the right technique for your favorite sport, you know how satisfying it is to successfully employ your capacity for logic and reason. In fact, it is so satisfying, Aristotle claims, that most of human culture and civilization is based on our singular, omniscient desire for knowledge.

That’s his second piece of evidence: If we weren’t relentlessly curious, would we ever have ventured this far beyond mere survival? Why study nature? Why make art? What about science, religion, and philosophy? What about Formula 1, Microsoft, and the Taj Mahal? A simpler animal would have been content to eat, sleep, breed, repeat — but not us. Therefore, we must be curious.

We have turned knowledge into the grandest sport of all, and every human loves to play.

A 21st Century Psychologist — in 345 BC

The English language contains 171,476 words, of which we use about 3,000 to handle our everyday reading and interactions. Some might call this efficient. I call it a shame, because for many a word we don’t know, we use five more to describe what we mean. That’s everything but efficient.

While the precision of language always depends on the eloquence of its wielder, at anywhere from 1.6 to 6 million words, Greek suffers no lack of specificity — and the deeper you dig, the more vocabulary you’ll find that you wish you had at hand. One such word is tekhnê (pronounced “tech-knee”), a word Aristotle used to establish a hierarchy of competitors in the game of knowledge.

Tekhnê combines what we today call “skill” or “technique” with “art” or “craft.” It describes both the task itself as well as the understanding and craftsmanship one might attain from (or in order to) perform said task well. Cooking is a tekhnê. Studying recipes builds tekhnê. And a master chef likely has lots of tekhnê.

The core element of tekhnê is understanding. Can the task be explained in an intelligible way? Does it have its own rationale? What about the actor? Does she know why she’s doing what she’s doing? Or is she guided purely by instinct? Without understanding, there can be no tekhnê — not that that necessarily hurts the result. Even if the painter works in trance, the painting can still be beautiful.

In German, there’s a word called “Technik,” and it gets close to tekhnê. You might watch a documentary about “die Technik des Stoffewebens,” the craft of weaving fabrics, which explains the general process of weaving by hand or via loom. At the same time, you might commend your friend’s “Technik beim Tennis,” his technique in swinging his racket while hitting yellow balls.

Today all roads might lead to Rome, but in Aristotle’s world, all tekhnê leads to pleasure. After all, understanding satisfies our curiosity, and employing said understanding to make something engages our senses on top.

Here’s an example: While spending two years on the island of Lesbos around 345 BC, Aristotle extensively thought, researched, and wrote about animals. Among the many creatures he observed was the paper nautilus, a species related to the octopus. Aristotle noted that one of the male nautilus’ tentacles looked different than the others and, seeing how he inserted it into the female during courtship, concluded it must be the animal’s reproductive organ.

Aristotle had no way of verifying his theory as correct (it was, but we only confirmed that in the 19th century), but exercising his mind and senses provided him with a rewarding feeling. That, too, is tekhnê. If somebody had drawn an accurate representation of the nautilus for Aristotle, the artist would have enjoyed the drawing as much as Aristotle enjoyed analyzing the subject — at least he suggests as much in Parts of Animals. Finally, if a skilled art critic would have looked at said drawing, they, too, would have found joy in judging the artist’s skills.

The lesson here is that expertise is fun — both building it and using it once you have it. This is astonishingly congruent with 21st century psychology. It’s in line with Daniel Pink’s Drive, Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You, and dozens of studies on passion, grit, and deliberate practice, all of which come to the same conclusion: The better you become at something, the more fun you’ll have doing it. Obvious? Today, maybe. Yet, given we still so often fail to act on this knowledge, I think someone discovering this on a small island some 2,300 years ago is pretty impressive.

Well, okay, so much for the experts — the biologist, the painter, and the art critic — but what about the average Joe? Where are our rungs on the ladder of knowledge? Fret not, for there is another way to quench our curiosity, and it does not require tekhnê of any kind. In fact, it is accessible to all. The only demands it makes are the right vocabulary and, in the case of looking at Aristotle’s imagined octopus drawing, the realization that, “Yes! This is an octopus!”

The Second Time You Saw a Tree

If it takes an expert to appreciate the craft, how come even an amateur can enjoy watching one in action? What does the casual football fan get out of observing a great pass, and why can a child in the backseat gaze at passing cars for hours, content in silent wonder?

The answer, according to Aristotle, is mimêsis — another one of many Greek words worth adding to your roster. In Poetics, the book that shall answer our questions about dating and relationships, translator Malcolm Heath considers mimêsis a broadly defined version of the word “imitation.”

Unlike the imitation we know, mimêsis need not be literal. While it always indicates likeness, “an imitation need not be a straightforward copy of the object imitated.” A heavy metal song in which the singer screams can easily be linked to being angry, even if the lyrics never directly discuss the emotion. Furthermore, mimêsis is not limited to reality. To Aristotle, a play about a vengeful god starting a heavy metal band could be just as good as one about a vindictive carpenter doing the same. Finally, he saw mimêsis as an elemental human activity, one that pervades all the arts and many other, seemingly non-artistic activities, like making animal sounds or children playing house.

Aristotle’s contention, then, is that human beings are by nature prone to engage in the creation of likenesses, and to respond to likenesses with pleasure, and he explains this instinct by reference to their innate desire for knowledge. A likeness is (by definition) a likeness of something; to take part in the activity of making and responding to likenesses we must recognize the relationship between the likeness and its object. This engages and satisfies the desire to exercise our distinctively human power of understanding, and is therefore pleasurable. This exercise of our capacity for understanding is, to be sure, a rudimentary one. But Aristotle’s purpose here is to explain how poetry and painting are rooted in basic instincts shared by even the least intellectually sophisticated people.

The first time you saw a tree, you may have wondered what it was. The first time you saw a tree after your mom had pointed one out to you in a picture book, your eyes lit up. “A tree! It’s a tree! Mom, it’s a tree!” The key element here is recognition. You recognize the tree because you’ve seen one before. You understand there is a connection between the two, and understanding is what you were born to do — it’s what makes you human and uniquely so.

As a side note, this also explains taste and how it can be so subjective: Since everyone has different experiences, we don’t all recognize and connect the same things. If you’ve never seen a zeppelin nor know how rare they are, you might not care when one pops up in the sky — or even think it’ll usher in the apocalypse. Meanwhile, if you had lots of posters of red cars around the house while growing up, you’ll probably want your car to be red. The endless variety of mimêsis in our individual lives ensures: Not everyone likes what you like, but everyone likes something.

Returning to our little tree enthusiast, I’ll grant that the thrill of point-and-name soon wears off, but if you bring a little patience to the park, you can still summon that same spirit of awe and excitement decades later. Just sit on a bench and watch the willow for a while. You enjoy looking at it, don’t you? After all, you recognize it. The willow is familiar. At the same time, there are a million things you don’t know about it, and those are equally intriguing.

It’s fascinating how quickly fascination forms — and nowhere is this interplay of recognition and inquisitiveness stronger than in human relationships.

How Curiosity-Fueled Attraction Can Lead Us Astray

Let’s recap what we’ve learned so far:

  1. Humans have an undying, irrefutable desire for knowledge.
  2. One way of consistently fueling said desire is to become an expert in something and then rigorously exercise your expertise.
  3. Another, more rudimentary approach is to engage in imitation, and the most basic version of that is to simply recognize how two things are alike.

Once you put together curiosity, understanding, and likeness, you have everything you need to explain the magnetic pull of human relationships: Recognizing likeness feeds understanding, and understanding satisfies curiosity. That’s why attraction often feels effortless: Every time you discover another likeness-nugget, you get a little hit of dopamine. The more you realize you and your coffee date are alike, the happier you’ll be in their presence. Your understanding barometer goes through the roof, and since nothing feels better than “getting it,” you’ll soon be on cloud nine.

You’re using your senses to scan for likeness. Is her hair the same color as your celebrity crush’s? Does he have freckles like you? Your similarities-monitor is on. “Oh, I know that keychain!” “That sounds like the time I was in a band.” Your imagination is blossoming. “Where does her ambition come from?” “Was he cheated on as well?”

Now that’s great when you’re sitting across the love of your life, and it can make waiting at the DMV less boring, but, unfortunately, this process does not only work well when it’s supposed to. Your brain is so desperate for mental check marks, it’ll sometimes construe the flimsiest relation as a profound, shared connection — and that’s where the trouble begins.

“Oh, he loves Italy. I love Italy!” This implies a shared understanding of what “Italy” means to each of you — which, actually, may or may not be there. If your date associates “Italy” solely with translating Italian poetry from the 15th century into English because that’s what he spent half a year doing somewhere in rural Canada, that’s very different from you thinking about the pizza, ice cream, and beautiful palazzos you indulged in on your last vacation.

Your brain, however, rarely bothers verifying. Relying on its memory of other, equally shaky connections, it concludes there’s a decent chance your ideas of “Italy” overlap enough to warrant being excited — and up the dopamine hatches go. Even if your brain didn’t constantly jump to conclusions, you could still get away on a single, shared opinion about Italy. “The Italian language is beautiful” might be enough to get both of you to date number two. That’s how strong the pull of understanding others is. It’s the curiosity game on steroids — and that snowball will gladly roll downhill if we let it.

This also explains why, especially in unfamiliar settings, people tend to huddle together in ethnic groups. When I studied abroad, it took all of one day for all nine Germans to find each other and spend the evening in the same room. For better or for worse, likeness feels good and safe, so why not go where you know some likeness will be guaranteed? This is a trap, of course. In my case, it led to a lack of new ideas and perspectives — you know, the thing a college exchange is for. In others, it could lead to racism, bullying, and worse.

Unless…

The Slow-Burn Movie of Real Understanding

Going back to the dating game, our likeness addiction makes it easy to jump from similarity to similarity — and thus fall in love head over heels. But the question is not how many corresponding easter eggs you can find — it is whether you’re compatible in a few key aspects that matter.

If you’re looking for a long-term relationship, the three big Ws are a good place to start: What, where, and who? What do you want your daily routines to look like? How does work fit into living together? Where will you do said shared living, and who will you want close by? More than one divorce has been filed over living down the street from one’s in-laws.

The truth is if you can deflect the big bullets, your differences are a matter of management, not elimination. That’s what rooms in houses are for. You do your thing, I do mine, and we’ll reconvene at dinner. Discovering how we are different can be just as satisfying as finding out we’re alike. Unlike the latter, however, the former is not a fast, dopamine-fueled carousel. It’s more like a slow-burn movie, the fruits of which we can only reap in time.

My girlfriend loves refunds. If there’s a damaged item to return, a hotel room sub-par, or a voucher that’s not being honored, she is your gal. I’m more timid. “Diplomatic,” I call it. On a bad day, I might perceive this difference as friction. “Why can’t she just let it go?” On a good day, however, I see this difference as strength. I can count on her playing bad cop at the front desk, and I’ll play good cop to go along. Together, we’ll deliver a convincing performance that gets us what we’re owed — and we have. Situations like these have happened, and they’ll keep happening in the future. So why not combine our talents?

The kind of understanding this cooperation requires does not come with a jolt of energy that feels like caffeine hitting the veins. Instead, it triggers a slow, long “aaaaaaaahhhhhhhh, that’s why she is like that.” My girlfriend grew up in a country where consumer rights don’t exist. Imagine living in a place where, in every economic transaction, you can expect to be ripped off, and the only question is how much. If you moved to a country where your purchases are protected by the law, wouldn’t you invoke the 30-day-guarantee? I would.

It’s a bit like mimêsis vs. tekhnê: Anyone can giggle over realizing they went to the same school, but the joy of being an expert on why your partner is who they are is a prize few can claim.

The Good Life — A Life of Good Relationships

If we want to build great relationships, we must understand why, when, and how we connect with others. Attraction is the spark that forges these connections, and it includes everything from a smirk at the cash register to a full-blown addiction to the devil in disguise.

While some baseline of attraction allows us to glide through society’s waters, too much of it too quickly can cause us great pain and misery. Once we know how the process of attraction unfolds, however, we are better able to pause, speed up, slow down, or even reverse it.

Let’s summarize the tenets of attraction we’ve discovered:

  1. One of our strongest, most fundamental desires as humans is to learn, know, and understand.
  2. Any activity that engages our mental faculties with the goal of understanding is, therefore, pleasurable.
  3. When it comes with a continuous cycle of learning new lessons and applying them in creative endeavors, being (or becoming) an expert can steadily feed our need for intellectual stimulation.
  4. One of the plainest, easiest, and quickest ways to repeatedly exercise our understanding muscle, however, is to simply recognize that two things are alike. That includes realizing we are like others, and others are like us.
  5. When we detect many similarities with another person in quick succession, our knowledge-guzzling brain sends us into a dopamine-induced stupor of attraction — even if those similarities are built on the shakiest of foundations.
  6. To not get carried away and into the wrong relationships, we must fact-check our gut checks, using logic and reason to discern which correlations matter, and which ones don’t.
  7. Once we look past superficial tit-for-tat comparisons, we’ll not only see ourselves more clearly reflected in others, we’ll even start appreciating the beauty in our differences — and see them for the complementing strengths that they are.

One of Aristotle’s main concerns was what it means to live a good life. While the concept of virtue, which we may summarize under the maxim of “be good, do good, feel good,” remained front and center in his answer, he was acutely aware of the role our relationships play in achieving the good life ideal — his idea of true friendship being only one of his most prominent examples.

Good relationships, like anything good, take time. We can’t rush into them over fleeting experiences or same-logo sweatshirts. Until the right person appears and reveals the right level of synchronicity at the right time, be patient. Enjoy the ease of light connections, but don’t let your dopamine glands fool you. When it comes to people’s behavior, consider all reasons, yet never take the seemingly obvious ones at face value.

After all, Lowell Bennion’s 1959 imitation of Aristotle was only slightly like the latter’s original phrasing: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

If You Can’t Beat the Fear, Just Do It Scared Cover

If You Can’t Beat the Fear, Just Do It Scared

Glennon Doyle knows what fear is. The fear of eating, fear of drinking, and fear of speaking. The fear of saying what she wants, changing her mind, and admitting her marriage isn’t working.

Doyle struggled with bulimia, alcoholism, and other addictions. Her ex-husband was unfaithful. How should she raise their three daughters? How could she explain she now loved a woman?

More so than most people, Doyle needed her own advice: “If you can’t beat the fear, just do it scared.”

I hope your fear won’t come with as much trauma as Doyle had to go through, but I do know this: Today, fear rarely tell us what’s dangerous — it tells us what matters. If you follow the fear, you’ll find the growth. In fact, it’s one of few things reliably pointing in the right direction.

The scariest thing for a blogger is to write a novel. The scariest thing for a developer is to quit her job in hopes of better. A month-long solo trip for a busy stay-at-home dad? Blasphemy! And yet, they’re all steps towards our true north.

When you feel the fear, can you lean forward? At least don’t run away. It’s the better of our usual two options — to escape or wait until the dread fades. While you’re waiting, consider the fear won’t dissolve. Why won’t it subside? Well, how could it? It’s here to show you the way.

Whenever you’re ready, fear will lend you a hand. Oh, it’s coming. You bet. Ain’t no solo seats on this ride. Once you accept that part, you can let fear do its job. Make it your guide instead of your game over.

Welcome the skepticism. Cherish it. Use doubt to keep your head on straight. And always keep growing towards the scary bright light.

Hit Rock Bottom? Don't Waste It

Don’t Waste Your Rock Bottom

On August 1st, 1976, Formula One racing legend Niki Lauda crashed at the Nürburgring. In an instant, his car burst into flames, his helm flew off, and he was trapped in the wreckage.

Other drivers were able to pull him from the car, but because of the burns he suffered and toxic fumes he inhaled, he fell into a coma. A priest showed up to perform his last rites but, luckily, Niki survived.

When he woke up, he was in pain. He had lost half his right ear, and his face would never be the same. Just shy of a miracle, Niki recovered in six weeks — and got back into his car. He missed a mere two races of the season, and yet, to add insult to injury, he lost the title of world champion to his arch nemesis, James Hunt, by one point.

Imagine how that must have felt — to nearly die and then come back — and lose by one point. For Niki Lauda, this was it: rock bottom. He had been destroyed physically and psychologically. What did Niki do?

On the first day of the next season, he showed up for practice. He drove. He studied. Niki tweaked his car. And by the end of the 1977 season, he became world champion.

The universe works in mysterious ways. Common sense will tell you: Wow, here’s a guy who succeeded despite his setbacks. Here’s an interesting question: What if he succeeded because of them?

It’s nearly impossible to see it when you’re in the middle of it, but there’s true beauty in hitting rock bottom: It’ll break you into a thousand pieces, but then, you’ll be on solid ground — maybe for the first time.

You won’t need further dampers. There’ll be no more uncertainty. You’ve lost. In fact, you’ve lost so much, you’ve got nothing left to lose — so you might as well start building.

In 2009, after decades of hard work, late night talk show host Conan O’Brien achieved his dream: He took over The Tonight Show from Jay Leno. It took just nine months for the network to fire him. It was a PR disaster of epic proportions. Leno came out of retirement and grabbed the show right back. Can you feel the humiliation?

Two years later, O’Brien gave a commencement speech, in which he said:

“There are few things more liberating in this life than having your worst fear realized.”

After his failure, O’Brien shunned the spotlight. He went on tour, made an album, and filmed a documentary. He claims he never had more fun or conviction in what he was doing. O’Brien used rock bottom to completely reinvent himself. “No specific job or career goal defines me, and it should not define you,” he told the students.

Don’t have such a fixed idea of where your career should go. This is very common in high achievers. Accept your dreams will change. Sometimes, they might have to — and so will you. It’s great to shoot for the stars, but you can’t let your identity drift through space when you miss.

You know who else hit rock bottom? A woman who, in her 2008 Harvard commencement address, said:

“Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was and began to direct all my energy to finishing the only work that mattered to me.

Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one area where I truly belonged. I was set free because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea.

And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

In 1994, J. K. Rowling was broke, divorced, a single mom, living on welfare, and had just filed a restraining order against her ex-husband. She was the biggest failure she knew.

Whether it was despite or because of everything that had happened, she decided to turn rock bottom into fertile ground. She watered it, sowed some seeds, and slowly built new footing to start from. A “solid foundation,” as she called it. After all, rock bottom is made of rocks.

Rowling put all her energy into the one thing she cared about beyond her daughter: the Harry Potter books. Eventually, she didn’t just find greener pastures; she became the first billionaire author in history. All because she accepted rock bottom.

So here you are. Another weekend sacrificed at the altar of alcohol. Another afternoon wasted in front of the screen. Maybe, you’re embarrassed to tell your children you can’t afford a nicer place. Maybe, you feel ashamed you’re late on paying back a friend.

Whatever your big failure that stings right now, in the long run, it will set you free. Once you’ve given up your expectations of yourself and the ones others put on you, you’ll finally be able to genuinely try new things. No more fake attempts. Truly break with convention, and create a new self-image.

You can’t envision it right now, but the next iteration of you is the exact person you need to be to reach new heights.

No matter how harsh your rock bottom feels, don’t punch it until your fists bleed. See it for what it is: Rough terrain, sure, but one that won’t give way beneath your feet. Don’t waste your rock bottom. Let it be the foundation of something new; the start of better.

Be grateful you’ve arrived, and then start climbing.

If You Drove Half as Fast, You'd Still Get There on Time Cover

If You Drove Half as Fast, You’d Still Get There on Time

When he lived in Santa Monica, Derek Sivers found the perfect bike path: A 15-mile round trip along the ocean with almost zero traffic. In his afternoons, he’d get on his bike and race full speed ahead. On average, the trip took him 43 minutes to complete.

After several months of arriving with a red face, a sweaty head, and feeling completely exhausted, Derek decided to take it easy for once. He looked at the scenery. He saw some dolphins. He casually pedaled along. It took him 45 minutes.

At first, Derek couldn’t believe it, but he double-checked his numbers, and, sure enough, he achieved 96% of the result with 50% of the effort. Reflecting on the experience, he writes:

When I notice that I’m all stressed out about something or driving myself to exhaustion, I remember that bike ride and try dialing back my effort by 50%. It’s been amazing how often everything gets done just as well and just as fast, with what feels like half the effort.

A few years ago, my Dad and I used to do something similar: We raced home in our cars. It’s about five miles from the city to the suburbs, and we too used to speed, catch yellow traffic lights, and overtake anyone in our way.

One day, we did the math: If you go 50% over the limit on such a short trip, you’ll save about one minute. We’ve been cruising ever since.

Life is like that a lot. You go all out to be 50% faster, better, stronger, only to arrive one day early at the finish line.

It’s easy to get caught up the everyday hustle. “Let me queue in the other line.” “I can cut a corner here.” “Maybe, I can get them to approve my application faster.” Switching lanes often feels efficient in the moment but won’t make a big difference in the end.

This applies to our daily to-do lists as much as it applies to our biggest goals. If you get the report one day sooner, the company can go public one day earlier — but all that means is that its shares will trade one day extra. On a 10-year-timeline, who cares about that day? No one.

You can stay up till 2 AM and post one extra article. But in your five-year-plan of becoming a writer, does it really matter? Sometimes, it will. Most of the time, however, it won’t. But if you don’t get enough sleep, you can’t see through your five-year-plan. That part always matters.

You can race to your friend’s BBQ and honk and yell at every other driver along the way. Or, you can drive half as fast and still get there on time.

You’d arrive relaxed, happy, and in a positive state of mind. You wouldn’t be exhausted from all the stress that took so much from your mind but added so little to your outcome. This is what Derek learned from his frantic bike rides:

Half of my effort wasn’t effort at all, but just unnecessary stress that made me feel like I was doing my best.

Sometimes, doing your best means having nothing left to give. Usually, it doesn’t. More often than not, feeling completely spent is a sign that you wasted most of your energy.

Energy is precious. Conserve it. Direct it efficiently. Take pride in doing your best in a way that lets you do your best again tomorrow. Life is short. Enjoy it. Don’t burn through it too quickly. Be content with the 96%.

After all, what good are two extra minutes if you can’t use them to gaze at the sea?

Learn How to Meditate Properly in 2 Minutes Cover

Learn How to Meditate Properly in 2 Minutes

“Meditation is literally the art of doing nothing,” Naval Ravikant says.

You don’t need an app to meditate. You don’t need peaceful sounds or guided instructions. And you definitely don’t need a $299 headband.

All of these are distractions. By turning it into a billion-dollar industry, we’ve done to meditation what humans always do: We overcomplicate it.

“All you need to do for meditation is to sit down, close your eyes, comfortable position, whatever happens happens. If you think, you think. If you don’t think, you don’t think. Don’t put it effort into it, don’t put effort against it.”

The purpose of meditation is to “just witness,” Naval says. Concentration only helps insofar as it quiets our minds to the point where we can drop whatever we concentrate on, so you might as well go straight for the end game.

When asked if he focuses on his breath or uses a specific technique, Naval goes: “Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.” That’s how much we’ve baked virtue signaling into mindfulness: If you don’t have any techniques to share or 1,000 minutes to display on your app, we’ll doubt how legit you are. We’re looking for gimmicks while you’re doing the real thing.

“It’s one of those things that everybody says they do, but nobody actually does.”

It’s true. We turn meditation into a sport because the real practice is scary. Who wants to sit in solitude, alone with their mind? Who wants to face the void? No one. And yet, if we actually did it, we’d benefit immensely.

Noticing and processing are not the same thing. Being self-aware, I thought I didn’t need meditation. I was wrong. For nine months now, I’ve meditated every day, often just 5–10 minutes. Finally, on top of knowing what goes on in my life, I also make time to acknowledge it, if only a few seconds. Like Naval, I just sit. I close my eyes, and whatever happens happens. That’s how to meditate properly.

Meditation won’t solve all your problems, but it’ll solve the problem of not dealing with your problems. It’s not about being spiritual or smart or chasing some fleeting state of bliss, and it’s definitely not about being better at it than your neighbor.

Meditation is about making peace with yourself today. If you have the courage to look inside, that really is an option. To not just find peace but to create it.

Tune out the noise, and give it an honest try. It just might change your life.

How to Not Waste Your Life Cover

How To Not Waste Your Life

If you’ve wasted your whole life, can you make up for it in a single moment?

This is the question at the heart of Extraction, Netflix’s latest blockbuster and, at 90 million viewers in the first month, biggest film premiere ever.

Following Chris Hemsworth as a black market mercenary trying to rescue the kidnapped son of India’s biggest drug lord, the movie is full of car chases, gun fights, and a whopping 183 bodies dropping at the hands of Thor himself.

At the end of the day, however, it is about none of those things. It’s a movie about redemption.

After freeing his target, 15-year-old Ovi, from the hands of a rival Bangladeshi drug lord, Hemsworth’ character Tyler shows true vulnerability in a brief moment of shelter.

When Ovi asks him if he’s always been brave, Tyler claims he’s “just the opposite,” having left his wife and six-year-old son, right before the latter died of lymphoma.

Sharing the kind of wisdom only children tend to possess, Ovi replies with a Paulo Coelho quote he’s read in school:

“You drown not by falling into the river, but by staying submerged in it.”


You’re not an ex-special forces agent. Your life is not a movie. There will be no obvious signs. No excessive violence. No rampant drug abuse.

Just a slow, steady trickle of days, each a little more like the last, each another step away from your dreams — another day submerged in the river.

The river is pressing “Ignore” on the reminder to decline a good-but-not-great project request. The river is saying, “When I’ve done X, I’ll start writing.” The river is postponing asking your daughter about her dance hobby because today, you’re just too tired.

The river is everything that sounds like a temporary excuse today but won’t go away tomorrow.

Trust me. I’ve been there. It really, really won’t. No matter how much you’d like it to.

At first, it doesn’t feel like you’re drifting. You’re just letting go for a bit. You’re floating. The river carries you. It’s nice. Comfortable. Things happen. Time passes. It’ll keep passing.

Eventually, the river leads into a bigger river. You’re in new terrain. You’ve never seen this place before. Where can you get ashore? Where will this river lead?

Soon, you don’t know what’s ahead anymore. You can’t see what’s next. The river could become a waterfall. It might send you right off a cliff. You’ll stay submerged forever.

There won’t be a big shootout at the end. Just a regretful look out the window. A relative visiting. “Oh yeah, that. I never did it. I can’t tell you why.”

All rivers flow into the sea. If you don’t push to the surface, if you don’t start swimming, that’s where you’re going.

No one is coming to save you. You won’t get an extraction. No one will beat you into writing your book or asking her to marry you or being a good mother. No 15-year-old boy will serve you the answer in a quote from a book.

The only way to not waste your life is to do your best to not waste today.

Write a sentence. Make a hard choice. Pick up the phone.

We all fall into the river from time to time. But we can’t stay submerged in it. Don’t let small regrets pile up in silence. Take one step each day. One stroke towards the surface.

You’re not a soldier, and no single brief can save you. No standalone mission will define your legacy.

Don’t hope for a shot at redemption. Redeem yourself with your actions.

Redeem yourself every day.

Failed Relationships Cover

Your Failed Relationships Hurt Because You Think They Ended – But They Never Will

Why does it hurt to lose someone you were never meant to be with?

Often, after a relationship falls apart, we realize it’s for the better. We spot the flaws in ourselves and the other person, and we accept there’s work to do for both of us. Work we’ll have to do alone.

Like Ted Mosby says, “Sometimes, things have to fall apart to make way for better things.”

Whether it’s a romance, a friendship, or a relation with a colleague, as much relief as this realization brings, it rarely absorbs even a fraction of the pain that comes with cutting the relationship rope. Like a steel cable snapping in half, there’s a bang, an echo-y sound, and then, somewhere, a slash wound that runs deep.

Why is that? Why doesn’t the score feel settled when everyone agrees it’s time to leave the court? I think the answer lies in how we look at relationships.

We tend to define the success of a relationship mostly by how long it lasts. At least, I used to do so. Now, I’m not so sure that’s right.

Throughout life, we all start many relationships. We work hard to maintain, cultivate, and cherish them. That’s honorable, but when our efforts fail — and, occasionally, they do for all of us — we assume the relationship has failed too. We couldn’t hold on to that person. Oh no! What did we do wrong?

Chances are, we did nothing wrong, except making that assumption. If all relationships that fade are failures, wouldn’t all relationships inevitably fail? We all die one day, so, really, there’s no relationship we can hold on to forever.

Ugh. What a depressing way to look at the world. I’m not sure I want to play that game. Even without the death barrier, I’d be a terrible player. I’m sure I’ve lost 90% of “total relationships started.” Not a great stat on my profile. You probably have it too.

Maybe, we need a new way to look at relationships. Maybe, we need to play a different game. And maybe, in that new game, time isn’t part of the rules. In any case, one thing is for sure: Just because you and your former connection left the field does not mean the game is over.


When I walk past a wall, I love running my hand along the stones. It makes me feel connected. Earthly. As if I’m leaving an invisible trail of paint that says, “I was here.” No one can see it, but someone might feel it. Maybe, a thought will hit them. A thought I left there years ago. Like this one:

What if our relationships never end?

What a comforting one. Every human connection ripples out into infinity. Can you imagine? Yeah, feels good. Maybe, I’ll leave that thought here.

Have you ever placed a coin upright on a table and then flicked it so it spins? That’s what meeting a person is. The second you collide, momentum changes. The movement may not last, the coin may stop spinning, but the shift in direction can’t be reverted. It’s etched into the marble of time, and it’ll stay there forever.

You might not get a second date, your best friend might move away, but the flicks you gave each other? The tiny pushes towards all kinds of paths? You can’t take those back. Their effects will compound in that person’s life. Even once they’re gone, the effects of effects will persist. Who did they flick because you flicked them? You’ll never know, but the energy was there.

What if relationships aren’t meant to be collected? What if they’re not stamps we can put in an album, store away on a shelf, and then feel good about knowing they’re there? Maybe, all we have is the coin flick.

Your boyfriend left you. Your favorite colleague quit. But they didn’t stop playing. The game is still on. It’s called life. It’s called being human. You’re in it as much as they are. And the plays you made together will always have been. No one failed. Nothing has ended. It’s just the coin that’s no longer spinning.

When we declare our relationships broken and finished, we disrespect the compound interest of our actions. We take more credit than we deserve.

Who says you won’t meet again? Who says they won’t think of you each year? No, no, this ain’t over. The rope didn’t snap because there was never a rope to begin with. That’s not how humans connect. The rope is cut when we’re born. From then on, we’re individuals. Individuals made of atoms, and all we have is particles. Little sparks we can eject and hope they’ll react with one another.

Those reactions can happen anytime, anywhere. Like infinite rows of dominoes, each one falling over at its own pace. I like that. None of my relationships have failed. They’re all out there, meandering, and, at some point, I flicked my finger at each of them. I spun the coin.

I don’t know if my touch made them better or worse, but I think it’s always too soon to say. What I do know is this: Instead of trotting through life, thinking I’ve failed at most of my relationships, I’d rather flick more coins. I want to leave sparks everywhere. Paint every wall and fence I pass.

Your relationships never end. They may take a turn you can’t follow. That’s okay. You can celebrate at the intersection. Wave at the person. Be grateful you caught some of their spark. Its imprint will always glimmer on your soul.

One day, maybe you’ll meet them again. Maybe, you’ll stick with the memory. For now, know that you did your best. That it’s time to keep moving. Keep touching the walls.

Soon, you’ll bump into a new person. Another player full of sparks. Like a coin sitting on a table, they’ll be waiting just for you. There’s no telling when you’ll arrive, but whenever you do, promise me one thing: Promise me you’ll flick it.

The Perfect Couple for a Day Cover

The Perfect Couple for a Day

Girls don’t superlike me on Tinder. They just don’t. In fact, they don’t ‘like’ me much at all.

So when, once in an aeon, like a meteor entering the atmosphere and immediately going up in flames, I see that blue glow on my screen, I assume that, like the meteor, it’s an accident. But I don’t think this was. Whether it was or not, the name of this meteor was Bibi.

Bibi’s bio gave plenty of talking points (yes, men do read it), but her pictures sent only one of two possible messages:

  1. I have no idea how to take selfies.
  2. I know I’m beautiful so I don’t have to care about the pictures.

Having spent an entire day taking photos of her, I can now confidently guess it’s about 80% of the former and only 20% of the latter which, in an Insta-perfect world, is sweet and refreshing. We hit it off immediately.

There were GIFs, there were jokes, there were interesting lessons about the places we were from and the people we’d become — and it all flew around in this cosmic storm of coincidence inside a tiny chat box that soon moved from Tinder to WhatsApp thanks to Rule #1 in Nik’s Weird Book of Dating Vol. 1: Try the opposite of the stereotype.

Instead of asking for her number, I just gave her mine. If she wanted to, she would message me. I don’t know why men often feel like they have to break through the barriers around all kinds of firsts with brute force. I like making it easy for a woman to just say, “Yes, let’s take this next step together.” If it doesn’t work, I can always directly state what I want later.

Regardless of why it happened, it’s been a while since I smiled so much and laughed so hard while looking at my WhatsApp screen. Before we knew it, we had more inside jokes than we could count. They involved pandas and stereotypes and Kinder chocolate, everyone’s favorite, legal, European drug.

Getting to know Bibi was like spinning a diamond and then putting my finger on it, stopping it by grazing one of its countless, tiny edges. Every edge came with a new fact, a new attitude, a new little piece of the Bibi-puzzle. It was easy to get addicted to this game.

One of the edges was that Bibi was from Brazil. Actually, she was in Brazil, some 5,000 miles away from Munich and me. But not for long: Bibi was about to go on a 3-month Euro trip, partly for work, partly for vacation. In about a week’s time, she would land in Munich. Her original plan was to hit Paris and then Berlin much later, but what’s a plan against a conspiring universe, right?

Through the remaining week’s chatter, we agreed to meet for breakfast on Saturday and, as is possible only in a world as small as ours, a few days later, I walked into a cute little cafe, looking for an angel standing in the corner.

I’m not a tall guy, 5’7″, but, despite hating the stereotype, I have to admit I think it’s sweet when a girl is a bit shorter than me, which Bibi was. She was petite and light-skinned and, with green eyes and blond hair, otherwise not stereotypical at all.

Supposedly, guys always check boobs and booty first. That’s not true. While these things jump at my stupid, reptilian brain early on, maybe even first, they’re never what I double-check at first sight. It’s the face.

A few hours later, I would take a picture of Bibi in front of one of Munich’s many Christmas market stalls, pointing at a pair of feathered, decorative angel wings. I don’t think she realized they were hers, but her face made it clear the second I first saw it, and it’s the only adjective I’ll use to describe it: angelic.

I’m not sure if it was me or her or if it’s a matter of person-to-person fit, but I think it’s mind-boggling how easy it can be to fall into someone. Not for. Into. How easy to connect, to trust, to share. To feel warm, accepted, safe. Here we were, two people who had never met before, yet would easily have convinced anyone watching they’d known each other for years.

Over a pile of delicious pancakes, we continued right where we left off. Jokes, smiles, questions, thoughts, it all poured out of us and off we were. Two people in the same boat on the river of life, a boat labeled ‘Perfect Strangers.’ And then the current just swept us away.

Through the crowded streets, we made our way to Marienplatz to see the famous Glockenspiel at noon. “Don’t lose me,” she said. I had to smile when I took her hand. Seems like she read Nik’s Weird Book of Dating Vol. 1. Nothing around us was unfamiliar to me, but everything was new and strange to her, and yet, somehow, we still felt perfectly familiar to each other.

The temperatures weren’t bad for December, but standing atop the city hall tower in freezing winds probably still equates to an Everest climb if you’re used to an annual low of 15 degrees Celsius. Bibi started shaking more and more, so I held her tighter and tighter, and then we kissed for the first time.

Throughout the day, Bibi repeated some variation of the following: “This must be so boring for you, doing all this touristy stuff with me! I bet you would never spend your Saturday like this.” She was right. I never would spend my Saturday like this. But she was also wrong. I loved following in her tourist steps. There was an invisible cloud of curiosity in front of her, and it was a blast to see her follow it wherever it went. We were two particles in a chaotic universe, one following the other, and the other following the spirit of the universe itself. It was magical.

After a whole lot more of this and capturing some of it through the lens of her phone, we settled in at Starbucks. Me, disappointed I couldn’t find a better cafe that wasn’t crammed, her, excited because Starbucks isn’t quite so ubiquitous in Brazil. You’d think that after five hours, you’d at least get tired a little bit of talking, but I can’t remember that feeling. What’s Brazilian law like? Why do you like history? How do you say ‘bird’ in Portuguese? I can be a know-it-all, but I definitely want to know it all.

Having warmed up, we slowly made our way back to one of the main squares. Around that time, a few lines from Sam Smith’s Stay With Me started repeating in my head, over and over and over again:

Oh won’t you 
Stay with me 
Cos you’re 
All I need

I didn’t know how or when or why, I just knew I didn’t want this day, this feeling, this connection to end.

Back at Karlsplatz, I showed her the mini Christmas village they always build this time of year. It has food, Glühwein, and even a small ice-skating rink. I hadn’t done that in ten years and Bibi had just learned how to do it so, obviously, we were good to go. Unfortunately, they were just redoing the ice, so we stuck with Bratwurst and fruit punch.

It was getting late and I was supposed to be at a Christmas party, but then, between a long hug, a stolen kiss, and a light touch that gives me goosebumps just thinking about it, Sam Smith decided to speak through me: “I want you to stay with me.”

No matter how romantic you are, this is the part where you can’t help but think, “I know where this is going,” and I now have to tell you that you have never seen a crazier romantic than me — and you don’t know where this is going.

At this point, it was obvious that I was crazy about this girl, yet I had no intention of sleeping with her on our first date. It’s hard to believe both of these can be true at the same time, but they can and, in my case, always will be. There are many reasons for this, all worth explaining in the future, but for now, all you need to know is this:

Every time Bibi stroked my cheek, played with my hair, or lightly touched my temple, the weight of the world just fell away.

Notice I’m not talking about making out. I’m not talking about a pre-sexual rush of chemicals. I’m talking about the thing I — and a lot of other men — want, crave, and need way more than sex: safety. A sanctuary of unconditional love and zero expectations, hidden in the faintest physical gestures. And even though the gestures are physical, the result is entirely emotional. Emotionally speaking, I haven’t felt safe in over three years.

This lack of safety has nothing to do with money, fear of violence, or health concerns. It is the result of a harsh competition for not physical but emotional survival that takes place entirely in men’s heads 24/7/365, whether it’s at work, in sports, or masked as social gatherings. It is the result of a crushing load of expectations under which men silently allow themselves to be buried each and every single day. Imagined, real, new, old, socially accepted, socially condemned, it doesn’t matter — the weight is there and it’s not going away. It is the result of a lack of honest communication all around, whether it’s men talking to men, men talking to women, women talking to women about men, and, most of all, men talking to themselves.

I can only speak for myself, but the combination of all these has conjured a fear so paralyzing, it comes with its own list of “unspeakable lines for men,” a list so long it’s impossible to breathe let alone feel safe under its rule. Here are some of the items on that list, things you feel you “just can’t say” as a man, almost regardless of age:

  • “I don’t want to have sex.”
  • “I’d rather have a girlfriend than date many women.”
  • “I’m a virgin.”
  • “I feel ashamed.”
  • “I’m hurting.”
  • “I feel alone.”
  • “I had to cry.”
  • “I need help.”

And, of course, and this might be the biggest: “I just want a woman to hold me in her arms and make me feel safe.”

I’m not sure I even fully realized this at the time, but now I can see it all over my subconscious. That’s what I need most in the world — and that’s why I asked Bibi to stay with me. I was thrilled when she asked whether I expected anything of her if she did, and I said, “No, not a thing.”

Eventually, we arrived at my apartment and, for a while, for the faintest of moments, I felt the safest I’ve felt in years.

When you run alone, you just have to find a path for yourself. When you run together, you have to find a path wide enough for both of you. Naturally, you’ll hit more, different, hard-to-pass obstacles together. After about 12 hours, Bibi and I hit the first of ours. We took a few wrong turns on the relationship river that had turned into a highway, and, in the end, we wanted, didn’t want, wouldn’t, and then couldn’t have sex, most of which we share responsibility for, but the last one being entirely on me.

There is a lot more to unravel here, but for now, suffice it to say that, the next morning, I woke up alone. Not that you could call two hours “sleeping.” It was hard to collect myself and my clothes off the floor, but, eventually, I did it anyway. Self-love is strong with me; a balancing force I’ve painstakingly built throughout the years of staring down the abyss of emotional un-safeness.

The day before, I couldn’t remember all the lyrics to Sam Smith’s song. Just those few lines. In the morning, I listened to it. And then, right with the first verse, all of it — all of this — hit me like a truck:

Guess it’s true
I’m not good
At a one night stand
But I still need love
Cos I’m just a man
These nights never seem to go to plan
I don’t want you to leave
Will you hold my hand

I don’t know if I’ll ever see Bibi again. I hope so. I’m not ready to give up on her just yet. If you knew me, you’d already label me crazy at this point, as you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who moves on faster from the things, events, even people in his life, good or bad. I don’t know why, but this one, I have to fight all the way until the end.

I hope you find this kind of earth-shattering optimism in your life. The kind that lets you look at a 48-hour period, 36 of which were a complete mess, and still say, “Hope dies last.”

Even if it dies, however, there’ll always be the memory. The perfect “dayte,” we called it. One of our insiders. And for a day, it really was. We were. The perfect couple.

Somehow, we compressed a lifetime of love into 12 hours flat. When the love is pure, aren’t the two the same, really? Maybe. Maybe not. But when push comes to shove, when the chips are down and the curtain is about to fall, it’ll always be the one thing we forever struggle to find: enough.