Other People’s Love Stories: Of Lovers, Dogs and Cats

a person and a dog making a heart shape with the hand and paw toned with a retro vintage instagram filter effect app or action

“The way I see it, my friend,” he says – in between his sips of teh o ais limau (ice lemon tea, minus the sugar, to be pedantic) – “is that there are two kinds of people in the world.”

“People who are like dogs, and people who are like cats.”

I sit there listening to him half-heartedly, drowning my sorrows in my bandung ais (iced rose syrup water, with lots of sugar and evaporated milk, to be pedantic).

“Dog people are like this – they are loyal, very affectionate and always excited to see you – they run up to meet you at the door even though you’ve only been gone for 3 hours and lavish you with slobbering amounts of love. Dog people will assume the best of you, and always want to be your friend.”

“…only if they like what they taste when they lick your face,” I said, remembering Pepper, our hyperactive King Charles Cavalier, God rest his soul.

“…right. So. And then, there are people who are like cats. Cat people are aloof, self confident, it matters little to them whether or not you love them or even if you exist, they couldn’t give a rat’s…”

“…as long as you feed them…” I interrupted.

Cornish Rex kitten isolated on white background

“Correct! And the cat may take a temporary interest in something – be it a ball of yarn, a mouse, or a toy and then play with it – until it either dies or the cat loses interest in it – and then it just tosses it aside and moves along to the next thing that catches its fancy.”

“And you,” he points at me with the prongs of his fork, his maggi mee goreng dangling precariously on it. “The problem with you is that you are a dog guy who keeps falling for cat girls.”

I look up from my pink diabetic inducer drink, his revelation a small ray piercing through my cloud of depression.

“I think you should pay more attention to the girls who love you like a dog would love you.”


I remember hearing this conversation that a friend had some years ago as he was reeling from another disastrous putdown, and I thought it was really quite fascinating. Could we be so easily stripped back and just simplified into these two domestic creatures? I wish I could have heard his story in its entirety.

I never really grew up around pets (slow clap, KL upbringing!) but if I had to make a guess, I think I am more of a dog person – excitable, friendly, playful and ready to hump anything that resembles a leg.

Purebred dog outdoors on a sunny summer day.

I think about the girls I have fancied in the past, and yeah, certainly mostly dog people – warm, smiley, down to earth and great with people, and certainly Karen is about the most dog-loving-type person I know.

I certainly did not know how to handle the cat girls – the elegant yet aloof creatures, always distant and unattainable, the ones who loved to play games – although I could have liked some of them, those relationships were definitely over before they even began.

I do wonder about the cat girls. Over dinner yesterday, a friend postulated that there are two kinds of cat girls – those who are certainly supremely confident with set standards of who they would even consider worthy of their attention; and then there are those for whom it is a defence mechanism – perhaps they are really shy and try to hide their terror by behaving the opposite extreme, or perhaps they had been vulnerable and hurt badly before, and now all their walls are up.

As always, I am interested in other people’s love stories – and the chase: whether it is you bounding towards the object of your desire with your tail wagging so hard it could fall off, or even if you were the one slowly walking away, nose in the air, until a better one comes along.

May we all find someone who will love us the way we deserve to be loved.

The Mistress

Spin Of Girl With An Elegant Short Hair

“Why didn’t you answer the door? I’ve been out here in the cold banging for the past ten minutes!”

So-rry, okay!  I was on the phone in the bedroom talking to my friend and I didn’t hear you knocking.”

“You knew I was coming over! Am I not important enough for you to remember? And who’s this friend of yours huh?!” he demanded.

“Why do you need to know who I’m talking to? It’s a friend! I’m getting sick and tired of all this arguing!” She storms past him and slams the bedroom door close.

“You think you’re the only one who can slam doors, is it?” he retaliates, and angrily stomps out, closing the front door so hard that the lock fractures.


She was his mistress. They had been together for two years now – she had freshly broken up with her first boyfriend, and had run to him for comfort. One thing led to another.

He was a father, and he knew he was old enough to be her father but he didn’t care. He was a rebound, but so what? Here was this attractive girl in her mid-twenties who Fate had shoved into his arms, and he had seen enough of himself in the mirror of late to know that he could ill-afford to turn down a gift like that.

pouring red wine in goblet, isolated on white

It had started so well – the dinners, the music, the flowers, the lovemaking (he’s still got it), the sneaking out of the apartment at 3 am so as to not wake her house mates. The newness and thrill of the relationship lasted for all of six months before they descended into the zone where all lovers end – familiarity, and not in the well-loved pair of sneakers kind of way, but a fertile breeding ground for contempt.


He returns at midnight, only to continue their argument in the bedroom. The issues that have simmered just under the surface of their fantasies all boil over.

“Why haven’t you introduced me to your parents?” he bellows. “Are you ashamed of me?”

“How am I supposed to introduce you to my parents?” she asked. “How do you think my father will take it? Of course he won’t approve! You’re… ” she stops herself short of bringing up his age, just in time.

She recovers. “And what about you? When are you going to leave that bitch? I thought you said you love me, right?!” she yells.

“I have to spend time with my wife and sons, you know! I am their father, after all! And stop calling me all the time to check on me, okay?! Why are you so controlling? Sometimes I feel like I am the mistress in this relationship, not you!”

“FINE! You can go and leave then! Run back to your fucking family! Run back to that bitch of a wife of yours!”

Angry woman screaming against her husband with his face deformed

The tears come hot and fast, and he does not raise his eyes to look at her crying ones.

He is silent for a moment, furious at how much they were arguing in these past few months. Why did it have to come to this? He tries to remember the paradise he had envisioned, that they had envisioned, and looks up instead at how he had exchanged one hell for another.

One week later, and they have made up, like they always do. Some flowers, a hurried I’m sorry, a half-hearted I love you and soon a tenuous peace is restored. She builds up their fragile beautiful castle once again – there are candlelit dinners, cuddles on the couch, Taylor Swift playing in the background and her prince restored once more in his rightful place while they both wait for their fairytale ending.

The Surgeon’s Funeral

 Surgeon's hands

The turnout was huge, unsurprisingly.

He had, after all, dedicated most of his life to that hospital, and everyone who had ever worked with him were there – theatre nurses, clerical staff from his private rooms, colleagues and steadfast old friends, younger surgeons that he had mentored himself. He had left behind a legacy, and everyone who had ever been touched by his remarkable presence remembered his stern exterior that hid a soft heart, his commitment to excellence, his unparalleled medical acumen, his masterful hands and his boundless energy.

That energy, cruelly, had slowly left him over the past five years when they had diagnosed him with an incurable cancer.

One of the most poignant memories among the scores that were shared that night came from his son. You could tell that the son, choosing a non-medical path himself, had long lived in the shadow of his father’s remarkable achievements, and, whether real or perceived, never needed reminding that his father was a lot to live up to.


The surgeon and his son had taken the morning to go to Grandma’s house, to get his affairs in order, so to speak, as there was an air of inevitability about his condition.

The ‘affairs’ that stood before them were these five adult-height filing cabinets filled with patient’s records which Dad had seen over the years.

It was a beautiful morning out in the garden where they hauled out the five cabinets. Dad, his energy levels no longer near where it used to be, was exhausted by the effort, and sat down to cast a watchful eye over the son as the files were taken out and thrown into the recycle bin. There were thousands of files, each of varying thickness, and the son shook his head a little at the task before him, but got on with it.

Dental Records Landscape

The morning wore on, and the son sat down with one of the files to take a break.

‘Hey Dad, do you remember all your patients?’

Dad peered over his half-moon glasses, scowled a little, shrugged his shoulders and turned back to his newspaper.

‘I mean,’ he said, opening the yellowed pages, ‘Who was Mr T___?’

Dad motioned for the file, and flipped through it, his lower lip pouting as he racked his brain in recollection.

‘Ah yes,’ Dad mused. ‘Mr. T__. Yes he had a very complicated cancer of his kidneys but we managed to operate on it. He lived on another twenty years after that.’ There was a matter-of-factness about the way Dad said it, without any pride or boastfulness.

The son continued throwing away file upon file, occasionally interrupting his rhythm to take a break and peruse another file.

‘What about Mrs M___? What’s her story?’

Dad took the file, frowning again as he thumbed through the pages.

‘Oh, she. She was crazy. There was absolutely nothing wrong with her. But, I was so nice that she just kept coming back.’ Dad smiled wryly.

‘What about this one?’ The son had moved on to a new cabinet.

‘Let’s see. Mr. P___, Mr. P___. Oh, I remember him well. We operated on him a few times but…’ his voice trails off into the peaceful mid-morning sky.

A few more files from the same cabinet, and there developed a recurring theme.

‘Oh, we couldn’t save her.’
‘His cancer had progressed too far…’
‘We did everything we could but…’

The son soon came to the sobering realisation that the ‘D’ marked in black marker-pen ink at the top right corner their dog-eared files stood for ‘Deceased’ and quietly finished emptying the rest of the cabinet without troubling Dad with any more questions.

The sun blazed overhead and beads of sweat started forming on the son’s head as he felt the physical weight of Dad’s involvement in his patient’s lives over his forty-something years of practise. They spent the rest of the morning in an otherwise comfortable silence as they had all their lives. Sometimes the son wished that Dad would say a little more, show a little more of himself, let him know that he was proud of him, but Dad was not one given in to the weakness of expressing his love in words.

green leaves of maple on blue sky background

‘You know,’ Dad said suddenly, putting down his newspaper. The son looked up briefly from the pile of files on the floor.

‘I was going to write a book, you know. Malignancies of the Kidney and Reproductive Systems.’

Dad peered off into the distance quietly for a moment, as if he could see his whole life before him – from the cradle to the formless eternity that greets us all in the end. He seemed to reach an epiphany, as if someone had whispered the meaning of life into his ear at that very moment.

‘What a bloody joke,’ he concluded.

He leant back, shook his head a little, and smiled. Overhead, the birds chirped obtrusively as the leaves fell around them.

The son looked down again and smiled knowingly, as if they had just shared an inside joke, his arms tightening as he hauled the next batch of files into the recycle bin.

Every Single Year.


She turns thirty-seven next year. She used to joke with another friend ages ago that if they weren’t married by forty, they should both just set up a spinster home together. That home is now three years away.

All her well-meaning attached friends look at her and feels that all that she was missing now was a man. She held a respectable, well-paying job, had her own place, loved Jesus and her family, and now just needed to tick the husband box, and then life would be complete.

Not that she ever felt incomplete, as if there was a man-shaped hole in her life waiting to be filled. Sure, there was the issue that her ovaries had an unfairly finite best-before date, and she would love to have children of her own, but she shrugs it off – if it happens, it happens. She was pretty content with her life at the moment – open to dating, but not desperately so.

She had a mix of married and single girl friends, and was privy to both worlds. She hears of the unhappily married, she shares tales of men who change when the babies come along. She tells the story of her forty-two year old corporate woman friend, who almost fell for this sweet-talking colleague of hers, a notorious playboy. She knew he was bad news, but her increasingly desperate need for companionship and fear of growing old alone almost got the better of her. Smart enough to climb the corporate ladder deftly, almost stupid enough to fall for the ‘You’re my everything’ and ‘I love only you’ SMSes he sent her way. Her friend had caught herself just in time.

‘I’ve got someone to introduce to you’


All her well-meaning attached friends took it upon themselves to try and set her up with someone, because she was obviously a good catch, and just not marketing herself well enough.

Whenever they sniffed out a man with even the slightest potential, they would always soft-sell their Cupid services to her. ‘Hey, I’ve got someone I would like to introduce to you,’ they would say. She was the unwitting victim to many of her friend’s match-making ploys, and all of them were duds so far – forty year old men with mummy issues, teenage boys in grown-up suits, men to whom commitment was not just a fear, but a full blown phobia.

One such incident was when she was in Singapore visiting relatives recently. In retrospect, some of the positive signs were there – she had been listening to a sermon while running on her friend’s treadmill that morning. The pastor was talking about how he had given up on the dating game, and decided that if it were God’s will for him to marry, He would bring the right person into his life. Somehow the moment he let go, all the pressures of finding the right one dissipated and he subsequently met his wife-to-be. She greeted his words piping through her headphones whole-heartedly with quiet Amens and Hallelujahs.

She had also bought a dress (she rarely bought dresses, more  a T-shirt and jeans kind of Malaysian girl) which she wore out that day, when her well-meaning girl friend turned around to her and said those all-too-familiar words – ‘Hey, I’ve got someone to introduce to you! He’s really nice… you should give him a chance!’

She shrugged and smiled ‘Sure’, her mild cynicism and dampening curiosity rising in equal measure.

They met up over coffee together. ‘He’ was a 41 year old man. An accountant  – so, pretty well off – single, surprisingly with no parental issues (he was one of five children), loved Jesus, had similar backgrounds, was actually really nice and was working in Singapore. Perfect, it seemed – she could visit her niece and nephew and dote over them often while seeing where this goes.

He asks her friend for her phone number and asks to catch up with her. She agreed, thinking another coffee catch up would be a natural next step. He says how about dinner instead.



The first sign of trouble was the fancy twelve course Italian dinner, half of the dishes whose names she couldn’t pronounce. Rookie mistake, but then again this was one of his first dates ever. To his uninitiated mind fine dining signalled sincerity (right, Hollywood movies?), to her it said, Run.

And then she found out that he had the personality of a single 41-year-old accountant – he seemed to know a lot about accounting (and wasn’t afraid to share it) and very little about anything else. They had about as much chemistry as a child’s first ‘Build-Your-Own-Lab’ set. She attempted to maintain some kind of an interest, but it was quickly flagging.

The combination of carbohydrates and conversation led to her unsuccessfully stifling a yawn. It is nine pm.

He is quick to point out the Merlion and the  full moon rising behind the Marina Bay Sands, and she tries to look interested but her eyes glaze over. He offers her a coffee, which she declines because the night is over. But erm, wait, he says nervously, like a novice magician pulling his final trick out of his hat. I have these two tickets for a cruise along the Singapore river. It will only take forty minutes and I will be able to get you home by eleven pm. Just sit this one through with me, okay? 


She remembers the boat chugging along the length of the river and the monotone of the automated guide rattling off the history of the surprisingly unremarkable Merlion. He looks at her hopefully. She smiles back politely.

He sends her an sms the next day. ‘Hey, I really had a good time last night and I hope you did too.’ She is on her way home to Malaysia, and does not answer him for a whole day.

Hey, thank you so much for taking me out last night. I had a great time too, but I would like it if we just remained friends for now, okay?

Something breaks inside of her as she presses the ‘Send’ button.

She was tired of being introduced to men, tired of this Divine Joke that was her love life, tired of reading all the signs, tired of Trusting God For That Special Someone To Come Along. And seriously, what was her problem? Here was this perfectly nice eligible man who had gone out of his way to show her a good time, and still she couldn’t give him a chance? Sure, part of her wished that he was more ‘right’ for her, but why couldn’t she settle for Good Enough? What’s wrong with you hah?! You’re not getting any younger, you know!

The confusion sets in, the self-chastising, the guilt, the weariness – and she breaks down. Not one of those quiet sobs but a full-blown shoulder-heaving, nose-dripping, face-scrunching inconsolable release of the pent-up grief with her life and her self-sabotaging fears.


To all my single friends, to all the indecisive men and too-successful women, to the introverts and the wallflowers, to those who scare potential partners off by being themselves, to those tired of being pulled up for wedding bouquet catches, to those weary of people praying for you or setting you up on another blind date.

Contrary to what everyone seems to be telling you – your singleness is not a curse to be lifted, a disease to be healed, a problem to be fixed. Your issues and hang-ups may be, but your singleness is not.

May this year bring you greater clarity on who you are and who you love.

Choose Marriage.


Choose marriage. Choose well. Choose to work on yourself first, choose to figure out who you are, choose to be healthy. Choose to believe that you are worthy of a good love.  Choose to come together not as two halves to form a whole, as if marriages were meant to repair you, but as two wholes to form a partnership. 

Choose to overcome your fear of getting hitched. Choose to give up your list of what you want in a man, because lists are for groceries. Choose to relinquish your insecure belief that you should hold out for someone better to come along. Choose to give her a chance. Choose to give him a chance. Choose to believe that you’ll know when you know.

Choose to learn to give up your inherent selfishness. Choose to let her into your life once filled only with other boys, Playstation games and soccer. Choose to let him into your world once known only to yourself. Choose doing things they like because it’s important to them. Choose that, because what is important to them is now important to you.   


Choose to believe that you will not end up like your parents did. Choose to believe that you will end up exactly like your parents did. Choose to see a better version of them. Choose to stop trying to change him. Choose to change naturally because that’s what a good love does to you.

Choose against massive public displays of affection because what really matters is how you treat them when no one is around to see it. Choose dinner dates and long walks in the park. Choose unawkward silences. Choose knowing glances. Choose inside jokes. Choose to laugh at the same old jokes, with rolled eyes,  even though you’ve heard them a hundred times before.


Choose to be each other’s sounding board. Choose to talk about your day even when you don’t feel like it. You won’t have a choice, but you will get used to it. Choose to be soothed by her reassurances when you are convinced that the whole world is about to explode. Choose to pull her close and tell her that it’s going to be okay.

Choose not to carry the world upon your shoulder because now that weight is shared. Choose to share the housework. Choose ironing because she hates it. Choose doing the dishes because you love her (and won’t subject her to your cooking). Choose to be great at eating what she cooks. Choose to be a dog person. Choose to love cats. Choose her waking you up when she can’t sleep so you can talk. Choose to stroke her head to soothe her to sleep. Choose to unconsciously inch your body towards her warmth when you sleep.

bigstock-Upset-young-couple-having-mari-42708604 (1)

Choose arguments. Choose threshing it out with each other in the safety of your love. Choose anger, choose honesty, choose your words carefully. Choose forgiveness. Choose to say sorry even if it is not necessarily your fault. Choose to give up your right to be right. Choose to make up and make peace and make love.

Choose trust. Choose to be secure in your love. Choose to believe that she can hang out with other men and not threaten your love. Choose to be able to hang out with your own friends and not have her feel threatened. Choose to come back to each other at the end of the day and quietly renew your commitment to each other with ‘I love you because…’


Choose to worry less about what other people think about you because at the end of the day she still loves you. Choose her knowing you almost better than you know yourself. Choose her loving you anyway and encouraging you to do what makes you come alive. Choose to give her the space to do what makes her come alive.

Choose love. Choose to commit to that love, in sickness or in health, for richer or for poorer, for better or for worse, till death do you part. Choose marriage.

People throw around ‘happily ever after’ as if all marriages could be summarised as such, as if it were a foregone conclusion. It is not. It is something that needs to be guarded and nurtured, it is a sum total of all our choices. Choose well.