Love, life and why idealism is everything

Sometimes Colombians ask me what my dream is, which I love because I don’t think that is a question people in England really ask. I guess we are too busy worrying about keeping our jobs, paying our mortgages and looking over our shoulders at a Europe that is slowly collapsing.

Of course, I tell the truth. I want to win a Nobel Prize. Sometimes smart people ask me “Which Nobel?” to which I always confess, equally smart, that I would “prefer literature but peace would do” (I have an answer ready for everything except the statement: “Wow, you’re tall,” so if anyone has a good answer to that, please email me immediately)

Equally the Nobel Prize thing is not something I would admit to in England, the home of sarcasm, self-deprecation and cool understatement, but in Colombia it’s fine, because most Colombians believe anything is possible if you work hard enough and anyway, they’re too busy chasing their own dreams to worry about the practicality of someone else’s.

I was thinking about my Nobel Prize dream the other day though and wondering if it was not a little unrealistic, considering I have not so much as finished writing, let alone published, a single book and when I am asked about the subject of Colombian peace I tend to shake my head sorrowfully and say: “Well, it’s very complicated. I think we just have to hope for the best.”

But then I realised that, really, we all need crazy dreams because otherwise our dreams will be too achievable – if you work hard enough that is – and if you find yourself constantly achieving your dreams then what exactly are you working towards in the end? (I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately too, as part of an article I am writing about happiness. As yet the article is a dream in itself, because none of it exists on paper)

Central to the happiness-article-in-my-head is this quote from Holocaust survivor Viktor E Frankl: “What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.” In other words, he says, the key to happiness is not the life of comfort you imagine but rather, a life of struggle in pursuit of your dreams.

That led me to this speech from Dr Frankl and the first time I saw it I nearly cried (I have the weirdest emotional triggers) because it summed up everything I think about life, particularly about politics.

For those at work right now, or those who loathe videos, I think Dr Frankl basically says it is okay to be idealistic and to expect the very best from people because, if we do that, they will only surpass their potential. Even if they can’t quite match our expectation of them, they will at least be moving in the right direction. If we expect little from them, he says, the only way for them to go is down.

It’s basically one-in-the-eye for anyone who has ever been told, “But that would never work, you are so idealistic, it goes against human nature, man is just not like that, blah blah,” whenever they have expressed a view that relies on receiving the very best from humanity in order for it to succeed.

But I also took another meaning from amazing old Dr Frankl. I think Dr Frankl is cheering me on regarding the issue of the Nobel (I know he thinks we shouldn’t pursue neither happiness nor success but hear me out) If I set the bar really high, the chances are I am not going to achieve my dream. I am sorry to say those hours spent mentally writing my acceptance speech may be wasted. But the constant toiling and writing and being hard on myself and trying harder and working harder in its pursuit may just take me a whole lot further than I would go otherwise. Basically, if my unrealistic little daydream helps me finish one book, it has fulfilled a purpose.

I always sort of knew I was right about the Nobel dream though and about the political idealism and I really wanted to take more from Dr Frankl’s wise words so I started wondering where else his idea could be applied. And then it hit me. Love.

How often have you heard someone say: “She makes me want to be the person she thinks I am,” or some other version of how being in love can elevate people, can encourage them into surpassing themselves? If your lover has some idealistic, rose-coloured view of how amazing you are, well, isn’t that the perfect opportunity to just get on with it and, er, become that person? All it takes is a little faith, right?

Right. Except I am not in love (ssshh, I am trying to win a Nobel Prize here. One thing at a time) so the only world in which I get to test the theory is, yes, you’ve guessed it, the world of Bogotá dating. A world in which, judging by the emails I received after this article, there is plenty of opportunity to elevate suitors – potentially just by showing a little idealistic faith in them.

Now I am not saying Colombians are unreliable. That is simply untrue, I know many who are better timekeepers than I am. But throw in a bit of game playing and the fact I (and a fair few readers apparently) are only attracted to guys and girls who don’t wear watches, or own diaries, or phones that ring, or phones that receive messages and you can frequently find yourself waiting hours for your date – if they happen to turn up at all.

So how am I planning to tackle this behaviour? Why by following old Viktor’s advice, of course. I shall stop rolling my eyes and making sarcastic comments and turning up late and making several Plan Bs. Instead I am going to expect the very best from the gentlemen I date, helping them to surpass themselves. Rather than laughing and saying: “Okay. We’ll see,” when someone asks me out (a terrible new habit of mine) I shall say: “Perfect, well you are clearly a reliable person and one I trust to be there at 7pm, like you say, so I will also arrive at 7pm, in fact, we’ll probably find ourselves arriving together at 7pm, being as we are both so punctual and that won’t be at all awkward but actually rather pleasant.”

And if I should find myself waiting an hour for a young man only to call and be told it would be more convenient if we moved our date 40 blocks north (true story, happened two weeks ago) it won’t be that I am embarrassingly gullible, or too trusting or overly British. Oh no. I am simply helping a person achieve their full potential by expecting the very best from them. And if you ask me, that is exactly the sort of thing for which we daydream believers should one day receive a Nobel Prize.

Like this? You’ll love Colombia a comedy of errors.


  1. Arianwen

    If it were up to me, I’d give you the Nobel Prize for literature for that article… I wish you luck with both your potentially far-fetched dreams and your love life!

  2. Stan

    The reasons I like to read your blogs are not just because you write so well, but because you have something to say. I also have some weird emotional trigger points. I wonder if everyone does.

    1. bananaskinflipflops

      They must do! I have to say, like everyone, mine are stronger when I’ve not been sleeping enough. I’ve had friends who have become more emotional since having children (that’s long-term) and others who always cry on a hangover. I have to say the latter doesn’t happen to me so I like to abuse it 🙂

  3. HARRY S

    That one made me think really lovely thoughts. Thank you again. One day I hope to live in Bogota and wait for hours for my date, then I could say to myself I remember reading about this. It wouldn’t be so bad then would it.

    1. bananaskinflipflops

      Have actually discussed this with friends, although we haven’t got too far yet with our organising! I think twice a week would be too much for me, we were thinking once a month, but let me know how you do!

  4. Martha Urbina

    (I have an answer ready for everything except the statement: “Wow, you’re tall,” so if anyone has a good answer to that, please email me immediately)
    That’s because you are 2602 mts closer to the stars!!

  5. Ceri

    I can’t really comment on the dating aspect because I don’t seem to have any interest in pursuing a love life but I can’t even begin to tell you how much I resonate with the way you talked about dreaming big. I always had dreams I never thought were realistically possible until I moved to Mexico and was surrounded by Mexicans and Americans who really DO believe that they can achieve anything if they work hard at it. You can laugh off your dream and say it’s silly and they’ll immediately look at you with a serious face and say, “Why is it silly? DO IT.” It’s so different from the cynicism of Britain where everyone rolls their eyes at your dreams. You get such a wonderful feeling of being able to take on the world on that side of the pond.

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