Old vs. New

Sometimes I listen to songs on repeat-one for an entire day. I usually eat at the same places. I like meeting new people, but only sometimes. For my pension, my mix of investments is quite aggressive because I can handle a lot of risk while I'm young and have a higher return long term. In some areas, I can handle risk and try new things, but in others, I prefer the old and familiar.

What do I mean by risk?

What I mean when I say risk tolerance is that when I engage in an activity, I hope to enjoy it enough that my emotional state is more positive than where I started. If I'm going out to eat, the food better taste awesome. If I'm listening to music, I better like it. If I'm hanging out with someone, I hope to laugh, hear them out, and be heard by them. If I read a book, I want to be smarter and more inspired than when I started. It feels a bit obvious to say all this, but it often isn't the case. With social media, people engage in activities in order to be seen. We have all sorts of motivations. For me, trying something new can mean I can enjoy myself more. This is what I mean by risk tolerance. It means that nothing is perfect and I should always be on the hunt for the best experiences in order to have the fullest life.

Why is my risk tolerance low?

Carrie is already assuming a lot of risk because of her investment in education, and as a result, I inherit a bunch of her responsibilities, both in the home and in the relationship. Carrie has been in school for almost four years, and we've been married four and a half. I know I talk about her school all the time, and that's because it dominates my experience these days. Her time is heavily committed, and our relationship is pulled in a certain direction. She's carrying a heavy burden, which leaves us with very little margin for error. It's been nice having her off school for a bit between semesters here because it means I can actually converse with someone who's available, whereas normally she's like "sorry, I can't engage right now because I have school work to do."

On top of this, I've been improving my mental health since early 2015. I don't necessarily have to now, but that's a recent development. I had a pretty terrible 2016, but things have only really stabilized in the last few months. Being more accustomed to living in Logicville, working in Emotionlandia is much harder for me. My emotional muscles are weaker than my mind muscles, so I've been playing a lot of catch up in the pursuit of being a balanced and complete person.

Having so much time and energy invested means that spending the remainder is a delicate exercise. I can't necessarily just work a regular job and neglect chores when I feel lazy. Everything has to run on time, or else it snowballs and our schedule gets more messy than if we had done things right in the first place. Groceries have to happen on a certain timeline because Carrie has the car during the week to drive between work and her practicum site. The place is so small that if we don't tidy regularly, you're walking over clothes and garbage. Even with my free time, I can't totally relax because I don't like to take the risk of listening to a new artist, watching a new show, starting another book. In these areas, I usually keep to the familiar. There's so much change happening that I need to find comfort and solace somewhere. I started to think that I was just not a very adventurous person, but instead, I'm so adventurous that I've been strongly encouraged to stop. I need to have a secure base. My marriage used to be a support I could fall back on, but it's been quite lonely in this relationship for some time, save for the times between semesters. I feel like I live a very lonely life. I still see people, I still go out, and moving forward, I might just sit in public places more to feed my extraversion. Only a few more months...

Let's look at a couple corners of my life and examine my ability to handle new and old.


I have a friend who, when we eat out together, always asks what's new and hot in town. I never really have an answer because I just know what I like, not necessarily what's trending or new. I just like to stick to what's good, even when it gets old. I eat a lot of McDonald's, MAMA tom yum-flavoured instant noodles, lemon pepper salmon on rice. I thrive on routine. Every time we visit Edmonton, we eat at the same pho restaurant and get the same dish. In Calgary, I order the same pizzas from the same three places: Inglewood Pizza, Without Papers Pizza, and Pizza Hut. Sometimes I wait until there are overwhelmingly positive reviews at a restaurant before I try it.


I'm all about the repeat one. I have a few EDM playlists that I just cycle at different times every day. Within the past few months, I've been more intentional about finding new material. In my group chat with The Worst Friends, we have a channel for sharing music. With EDM, whenever someone puts out a new song, there's usually a follow-up album with half a dozen or so remixes. Not a bad system for finding new material in any of many flavours, but people hate electronic music because it's so repetitive. Sometimes that's what I like about it.


I always rewatch TV shows. Arrested Development, Scrubs, Workaholics, Always Sunny. I use TV to calm down my emotions after a rough day or sometimes just to pass the time. I'm not really seeking mental or emotional stimulation. The shows I watch are smart and funny, even emotional sometimes, but I just keep watching them until I don't find them funny anymore. I can't really watch Arrested Development anymore for that reason.


It's easier for me to start a new book than to finish one. It's not so important for me to finish because whenever I pick up the book again, it takes me 15-30 minutes to get hit right in the feels and then it becomes too hard to keep reading. I stop to focus on what just happened.


Everyone is leaving me. My support system is made up of people who've had a rough go in this world, which sometimes means they're unavailable to me. Things change. It's hard when love moves away. It means that I have to build a new system, but then things will keep changing. They that adapt will survive and thrive, but it takes so much work. In 2016, I've seen my bench of cheerleaders and supporters take a big hit, some moving away, some dealing with their own overwhelming problems, so as I'm trying to help them out for giving me support through my dark days, the sense of loneliness slowly builds. A good half dozen people have become unavailable to me in some sense, which is a bit selfish and hard for me to accept. It just burns. I know I did the same for some people when I moved from Edmonton to Calgary, so it's just sometimes the way things have to go. It feels like as I'm trying to climb back up in life, people are letting go and I'm forced to create new supports as I falter. It's like I'm climbing a mountain as my spotters walk away and my ropes fall apart. A half dozen is a significant number because there's a finite number of people you can carry on close relationships with. I've seen numbers being thrown around like 5-8 for the max number of close friends you can have, and something like 50 for a wider social circle which seems deceivingly small with the huge number of connections that can be made with social media. It goes back to the difference between Logicville and Emotionlandia. It doesn't take much mental energy to keep up connections and relationships, but it takes a lot more emotional energy to draw people close, really open up, and lean on them to back you up. My inability to take risks is also why it's sometimes hard to accept help from people. Friends offer a helping hand, but I only have so much energy to spend on my recovery. Even as I'm doing a lot better from taking six months off work, it still feels like I'm treading water until Carrie finishes school; there will probably be a few months where her body detoxes from the fast-paced living of school too. Since Carrie's school is tailing off, it'll be easier to commit more time to seeing friends.


Christmas was a bit lonely this year. The old me enjoyed having a lot of family around, being surrounded by loved ones, swapping presents, but we didn't do anything this year. Carrie and I didn't really buy each other anything special, partly because we're always buying each other stuff throughout the year. We didn't have the emotional room to even pretend to try to do something special. We just did our normal family dinner on Sunday, played games, then went home. It feels like there's pressure to make new traditions for our new family, but it's a little inauthentic for us right now. We're so much more concerned with enjoying our every day experiences that we don't have much left over for the big events. The past few years running, even before getting married, we didn't have any little inside jokes or traditions for Christmas. We just do what we feel like every year. It's always something new, and this year it was almost nothing at all. We watched TV, talked, ate. I don't know. I missed my family of origin, but old doesn't necessarily mean comforting, familiar, or better.

I know that not much will necessarily change about my circumstances now that the calendar has changed. I shouldn't feel so bad about needing comfort from the old and familiar by avoiding new things and change. However, my outlook is improving because I'll return to work somewhere soon and Carrie will finish school in under four months.

Jonathan Phan Lê @jon_le