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Friday, 10 September 2010

Gym and Girlfriend -- Passing Fancies

The Story of the Girlfriend and the Gym

I have a problem with my girlfriend, and the gym. You see, they are linked: Because at one point of time, my girlfriend said, "Let's join the gym, I wish to stay slim and fit. Don't you like a slim girlfriend instead of one who has become flabby?" And so I said "Yes, I would like that", and we signed up for a gym. We were locked into a contract for 12 months, each month's membership subscription is RM185/=. Thus for two persons I pay RM370/=, this amount is directly debited from my credit card.

And so it was, that we became members of a gym. At first we were excited, thinking: "Yes! We are now members of a gym." But because we live in different parts of town, she goes to her own gym and I go to my own. Occasionally we go to a mutually convenient gym. You see, the gym has many branches all over the Klang Valley.

A few months passed. She began to feel that going to the gym was a chore. Originally, we thought of it as a way of saving money. "Let's go to the gym on weekends instead of spending it on expensive things in town," we thought. "Let's keep fit, rather than ingesting meal after meal and growing bigger and bigger." It was nothing but fanciful thinking. I was for the idea of going to gym, but for her, driving across town, after having put on her make-up, and dressed up to the nines, the idea of going to gym and sweating and taking a shower in a public toilet, simply wasn't inviting. It was a big no-no. So there were many weekends when I heard the familiar line, "Ha? You want to go to the gym? But I'm all dressed up and I've put on my make-up." This led to some degree of frustration.

Later, I decided to go to the gym on my own. Her interest in the gym had faltered by this time, but she was still willing to accompany me to the gym -- reluctantly, it seemed, at times. "Hi dear, I want to go to the gym tonight," I would sometimes tell her. And she would look at me blankly, and say, "Why don't we go together? I will bring my things tomorrow." And so I would postpone my visit to the gym. She would say to me, "You know, just because you have already paid for the membership, you needn't think that you have to maximize your membership fees by going as often as possible!" And so it happened that I went to gym less and less.

My gym subscription expires on 31st October 2010. At the moment my usage of the gym facilities has reduced, so much so that it is now virtually nil. 

Passing Fancies

I think that all people have passing fancies, and it is important to realise that it is nothing but a passing fancy. These passing fancies may mean nothing more than a momentary pursuit, a short fling. If we allow ourselves to be persuaded by our passing fancies to commit our time and money for something that may later prove unworthy of our investments, then we are setting ourselves up for pain and heartache. It's the same story when young children in school fall in love, only to find later on that it was nothing more than "infatuation". (The Malays call it "cinta monyet".)

I think that there are several stages in these passing fancies. The first stage is the "I wish I had it" stage. At this point, the person just has this overwhelming desire to obtain a certain sometihng. Then comes the second stage, the "I have it" stage. This is when the person becomes exceedingly happy. This is when their desires are realised. The third stage is called "I have it, but I'm starting to get bored with it" stage. They have what they had wished for, but it's becoming a bit of a chore to them. Perhaps the peak of the experience has already passed, and the only gratification is in showing off to other people, "See? I have it, and you do not!" The fourth stage is the "I am bored" stage. At this stage, the person says, "Yes, I have it -- so what? It's nothing big." And the final stage is the "I don't want it anymore" stage. This is the terminal stage of the passing fancy, when it has come full circle. The person is tired of it, and wants nothing to do with it. Does this "passing fancy" theory sound familiar to you? It's my personal paraphrase of the theory of diminishing returns in economics.

For me, there is a danger in this kind of indulgence in passing fancies. This is more so when the person who "desires" the passing fancy, makes a big show out of it, constantly whining and asking you, "Well what do you think about this XXX (passing fancy)? Wouldn't it be great to have XXX (passing fancy)?" This person may think that s/he is obtaining the passing fancy at an investment of RM0.00 -- totally free -- because you will come up with all the money. In all honesty, I must say that I had indeed come up with money for my girlfriend to join the gym, but it was also because that I was concerned for my own health. I had wanted to cultivate a healthier lifestyle, and it was an idea that she seized upon with much enthusiasm. "Yes," she said, "I want to go to the gym too! It is a splendid idea." I do not know whether it was the feeling that she would be left out or that I would be tempted by nubile young people, that prompted her to want to join.

Then my rational side kicked in, before I (or rather, we) signed up. I wanted to minimize my expenses, because money doesn't come easily. I told her, "Dear, I will send you for the gym, and I will exercise on my own. How about it?" But she would not hear of it. She wanted me to join as well, or she would not join. Sigh! What could I say? It was a generous gesture, which I appreciated. But at the end of it, I felt that she could say such things simply because it was with my money that we both joined the gym, and it would be with my money that we would pay for the subscription. Since I love her, I agreed, rather enthusiastically.

Joining the gym, the main selling point for me was that the gym had many branches. Naturally I asked her to go with me to the gym, especially the PJ branch. One evening she took the LRT to the PJ Axis branch, and came out from the LRT complaining: (1) "Do you know how quiet and dangerous this stretch of road is?" (2) "I had to sit on the hard plastic chair all the way from xxxx to PJ. It really hurt my butt!" Well, what could I say. There are many members who ride the LRT daily and visit that particular branch of the gym, which was only about 100 metres away from the LRT station.

Many months have passed, and I have since decided to purchase an apartment -- the very basic condition that my girlfriend put as the pre-requisite for settling down. (She refuses to stay in a rented apartment, and she does not relish the idea of staying with my parents. She wants a place to call her own -- our own.) With things like the housing loan coming into our lives, servicing monthly gym subscriptions of RM370/= becomes a bit of a luxury. Life's like that, the old people tell us -- work hard, when you are young, so that you can save up a bit for your old age. Working in the private sector, I have to simply agree, because my salary has a limit, and I don't have a pension fund waiting for me. On the other hand, since I am working in my own (so-called) enterprise, hard work and frugality will lead to success, which I will enjoy. (I haven't reached that stage just yet)

I think the stages of passing fancy apply to many situations. Take the example of a person who has this passing fancy of wanting to study a part-time course. At the first stage, he becomes excited to think about the possibilities if he were to study night classes for XXX. So he bugs his parents to pay for the course. Day and night he whines about the course, looking up and presenting his parents with obscure statistics and stories of people who have become successful ever since graduating from the XXX course. Eventually he wears them down, and out of love, they give in to their son. At the second stage, he enrols in the XXX course. "Yay!" he thinks, "I am now a student of the XXX course. My dreams have all come true." But then the third stage swiftly ensues. He becomes bogged down with work, and he has become tired. But he soldiers on anyway, thinking that this was his dream. Besides, he also has the "bragging rights" because he is a student of the XXX course. "Wait til I graduate!" he thinks. After much effort, he has reached the fourth stage. He is tired, and he wants to get it over with. "Exams! Assignments! Arrrrghhhh! My head is going to split!" he thinks. But since the money is already invested, he has no choice but to go on. Finally, he graduates (if he is lucky). And the course having completed (or not), he has arrived at the fifth stage. "I am done! I am finished with studying! I want to hear no more of it!"

In our hypothetical situation, it is about enrolling into and completing a course of study. Of course there are many courses out there in the wild, so it is often that people wonder to themselves, "Ha! Wouldn't it be nice if I were to study (for example) rocket science? I bet that would be a hoot!" Once the preliminary conditions are fulfilled, enrolment is sure to follow. It is a question of whether the person can complete the course, that is of paramount importance to those funding this expedition -- this passing fancy. The person may feel that he has invested nothing (financially) to the endeavour, and so it is open to him to "abort". Additionally, if he were to push the endeavour and see it to its finish, it would mean additional investment for him. When the going gets tough, he goes away. He drops out. He runs away thinking that "This is the perfect situation to use strategy #36 from Sun Tzu's Art of War!" He is of course totally mistaken.

Coming back to my girlfriend and me. I sincerely hope that I am not one of her passing fancies, although I am starting to feel that I am. In her blog, she recently wrote that she is bored with me. She wants freedom, freedom to see other people and to invest her time in her friends. She wants to meet other guys. It's not that I have done anything wrong, in fact I work on weekends with my files (and even invite her to join me at the office!) and so I qualify as a "hard working man". She knows that. But even so, she wants freedom. And this makes me want to ask her, "What about my freedom? You check my Facebook account all the time, and I hardly check yours." Additionally she takes it upon herself to delete some of those "unknown" people she considers "threats" from my Facebook list. If people want to add me as a friend on Facebook, is it your business is it that you should delete my friends! Let it be. I am sure that many people (who have become popular) have friends requests on FB, and this is a perfectly normal thing. We have privacy settings so that we can group our friends according to their categories, and each category can be tailored so that certain groups of people may be excluded from certain information.

Perhaps I am just her passing fancy after all, and once she has become tired of me, she will kick me away into the far, far horizon. I must be ready for it.