On Love.


 “If there’s any kind of magic in this world it must be in the attempt of understanding someone sharing something. I know, it’s almost impossible to succeed but who cares really? The answer must be in the attempt.” Celine, Before Sunrise


It was as if someone was squeezing my gut and refused to let go. I felt nauseous and weak. The feeling was especially painful at night, as most pains are. It was the daunting realization that I may never see this person again. I wondered if this was love. The love they sing and make movies about. The love I was told to find if I had any hopes of ever being fulfilled, complete.

Countless times, I’ve attempted to define romantic love. How do we meet strangers and soon find ourselves enthralled by their existence, depending on them as if they were the very air we breathe? Why do we crave the entwining of our minds, bodies and souls with one another? Is such kind of romantic love real or even necessary? Have Disney, Hollywood, and Jane Austen duped us into believing the unreal as something to dream about and strive for?

Such love is the “love of the adolescent.” As adults we tend to dismiss it as unreal and unnecessary, especially once we have made a public declaration transforming our love-based relationship into a marriage, breathing commitment into it. We now have more important things to think about; 8-hour workdays have to be lived through, bills have to be paid, and the Joneses have to be kept up with. Once we decide that kids are a necessity then of course, the kids have to be fed, clothed and sheltered. Hours of our days are sacrificed screaming and instructing these small creatures to brush their teeth, to finish their vegetables, to practice their reading and to, for the last time, GO TO SLEEP! The everyday mundane existence of the adult mind doesn’t have the luxury of fantasizing  about intangible ideas of love and fulfillment of the soul. At least, not until you’re dozing off to sleep tired from your long day and wondering if this is all there is. Luckily, these moments are few and far between, since, of course, you have to focus and plan to wake up the next day and adult all over again.

But even without the weight of adult existence, the intensity of the adolescent love seems to wither with time. The man who had once declared to worship the very ground his angel walked on, now looks at her with a certain kind of disdain, he can’t fathom that his once beloved beauty is this overbearing and nagging woman who seems to be overly concerned about his choice of attire and the cleanliness of the toilet seat. The woman who had once looked at her lover and marveled at her lucky stars for delivering such a brilliant and caring man into her existence is baffled with the careless, somewhat un-affectionate man looking back at her across the dinner table. What happened?!

So, in a way we know that the adolescent love doesn’t necessarily translate into adult love, it dissipates. Our inability, for some of us at least, to believe in such love and our haste to dismiss it as mere infatuation lays in this very nature of the adolescent love – its inability to last. If it passes, was it ever real?


Yes. Yes, it was and is real. (Please excuse me while my logical, younger self goes and vomits).

Ok, I’m back.

The adolescent love, whether experienced at 15 or 50, is real, practical and mind-mindbogglingly fantastic. Its transient nature should never be seen as a reason to disbelief in the realness and beauty of it. Things do not need to last for us to label them real. Picturesque sunsets last mere minutes, beautiful movies – just hours, houseflies – weeks, all four seasons – months, and our bodies’ – just years. These things do not need to remain permanent for us to be awed by them or to be convinced of their realness.

The adolescent love is awe inspiring; two separate beings immersed in bliss together – mind, body and soul, giving both a rare chance to experience the “eternal now.” When they are together, they cease to think about the past with all its regrets or the future with all its anxieties. They are just there, indifferent to the world outside, experiencing a kind of peace that comes when one no longer feels that natural nagging of loneliness.

So yes, the adolescent love is real and beautiful and if you’ve been fortunate enough to experience it, count yourself very lucky.

But, (you have to have known a but was coming), while such love is real, it would be amiss for me to not reflect on a slightly deeper level as to why it dissipates. It dissipates because, as weak and fallible humans, we expect too much out of our relationships. We demand the love and our beloved to provide more than they can bear. We tend to deify our lovers; we want them to be our heroes and saviors, we want them to complete us. We forget that they are mere humans that can neither save us or themselves. As Ernest Becker said, “no human relationship can bear the burden of Godhood.” So, once their humanness becomes too apparent, that infatuation subsides, they, all of a sudden, become too real and we find ourselves awake to a “reality” we never signed up for.


This is why adult love is necessary. This love understands reality with all its hardships. It accepts commitments and sacrifices. It recognizes the humanness of the lover and yet attempts to stick around continuing to be compassionate and understanding. The adult love also requires a kind of vulnerability that the ego finds unbearable. When we decide to love someone in such a manner we’re open to seeing the worse of who they are and still be willing to stick around and continue to love them, without judgment. We have to put an immense amount of faith in them as well. That, once they see our worse side – as we all have that side – once they see our weakness, our ugly flaws, smelled our morning breathe, they will look at us not in dismay, but will see our full humanness in our failings and, maybe, potentially, unimaginably even love us more for it. The adult love is complicated and is not for the faint of heart, which is why half the time it fails.


Thus, while adolescent love is beautiful and real, we still have to be willing to also adultify it at some point. As much as we want to remain with our hearts in the clouds, we live in a temporary world that’s constantly and harshly reminding us of its transient nature at every corner. We need not be dismayed by our practical lives that don’t necessarily involve love poems or red roses. We need to be grounded enough to understand that even mundane everyday realities of our lives serve their own purpose, can even be viewed as sacred for the simple fact that we are alive to experience them.

But if your lucky stars align and you get a chance to experience the adolescent love, I hope you indulge, swim and dance in it – not all people are so fortunate. Just make sure you take it for what it is. Nothing more. Nothing less. The magic is not in its ability to last forever; it’s in your ability to live fully in the moment, connected.

Tena Yistelegn.


Of Love and Life.


Romantic Love.

It’s not the butterflies you feel in your gut.

It’s not the excitement of a first kiss.

It’s not the romantic dinners, fancy vacations, long walks on the beach.

It sure is not something you fall into.

Such love is the kind we mostly dream of and fantasize about. The kind we show off to our friends, the kind that takes over our Facebook news feed. This love feels sweet. This love feels exciting. This love, we let sweep us off our feet, into the heavens and get lost in dreams.

Surprisingly, this love is easy. If you’ve realized this, you’ve come a long way.

I’ve come a long way.

Real love is not something you fall into. It’s something you choose to practice. Day in and day out, not only through joy, laughter and bliss, but also through struggles, fears, and failures. It’s something you actively choose. The real, deep, genuine kind of Love is too deep, drenched in reality. The real kind of love requires so much struggle, so much awareness, so much strengths and commitment. The longer its life time, the stronger it becomes, the sweeter.

It’s easy to be in love when the road is easy. When the sacrifices revolve around letting her pick where to eat dinner or letting him control the TV remote. When apologies revolve around why she was late for a date or why he seemed to avoid dinner with her friends. For whatever reason, we have come to believe that this is love.

Inevitably, the everyday, banal and harsh realities of life will teach us that we are sourly mistaken. This love as sweet as it feels, is fleeting. It doesn’t like pains or struggles. When it faces them, it falls apart. But, If we’re lucky this love can be the foundation of the real kind of love to come. Most of us can fall in the easy kind of love, indeed, most of us have. But the real kind – you need the strength, the patience and the commitment to be deserving of it.

And the lesson begins when two people commit to each other, be it while amongst friends and family or amongst themselves and God. How easy it is to say the words… through sickness and health, through wealth or destitution, through fear and joy, through it all. How different it is to live it, how rare.

Love, I read somewhere, is about bottomless empathy. Love is when you truly identify with the struggles and joys of someone else as if they were your own. It’s choosing to realize the other person is as real, as needy, as sensitive as you, and at times, just as lost.

Love, I’ve recently learned, if done right, is one of the most powerful weapons that can help us go through this life, not as mere survivors, but as worthy humans. It’s what gives us the strength and the courage to go after our dreams, to not be shackled by our fears, reminding us we are only human, so insignificant, so weak, so needy, yet very much worthy.

When you love someone, in the real sense of the term, You not only find yourself saying you will constantly choose to be there, but you will find yourself actually doing it. You will find yourself doing it in the most trite, “unsexy,” yet so meaningful of ways. You will find yourself genuinely believing how beautiful she is when conventional wisdom, so unwisely, may say otherwise. You will find yourself letting him dump his anger and frustrations on you, because you realize he’s doing it because you’re his safe haven. You’ll find yourself making excuses after excuses when she behaves in the most irrational of ways. You’ll find yourself hurting by his pains. Her loss will feel like your loss. You will find yourselves sitting side by side, together, lost, confused, at times defeated, yet you will remain there, choosing the struggle.  And that’s when you’ll be a witness of the sweet and merciful side of life. You will be the witness for the knowledge that truly “with hardship, there will be ease.” Because you chose to love, you will experience the strengths and courage that comes with it, the ease within the struggle.

But I wonder how many of us will be able to experience such kind of love. I wonder how many of us still remain relatively unchanged by our current world of individualism, consumerism and narcissism. I wonder how many of us have the guts for such kind of love. The kind that requires bravery of the heart and acuteness of the mind. The kind that reminds us that you or I, as unfortunate as it sounds, are not the center of the universe, yet lets us know that is exactly how it should be.

I wonder.

Tena Yistelegn.

A Letter to a friend: To Commit or Not To Commit.

I wanted to share with you a letter i wrote to a friend on August 3, 2008. It was written in a moment of confusion, in my moment of naivete. I’ve learnt a lot of lessons in these past three years. If there is one lesson that resonated with the me today while rereading this letter three years down the road, it’s that of listening to the self, listening to your heart. It is true what they say, your heart will never deceive you, it will lead you to your destiny.


P.S the letter has been edited for the sake of clarity.

“My Dearest Friend,

How wonderful it is to be single! What a relief it is to have nothing to lose, to not be responsible for another individual, to simply live for yourself, being the best person you know how, and just be. You know that feeling where you have everything under your control, to wake up every morning and know what you’re going to be doing for the rest of the day, to know that you are the one and only individual who can harm yourself, thereby decreasing to the minimum the risk of pain and disappointment? You have everything and everyone at a distance and you can be your fabulous self, and – not care. Period.

I know, of course, there are those nights when you crave for another humans touch, where loneliness creeps up and makes you question that very fabulous self that has always been on ‘the straight path.’ Loneliness is a difficult emotion to get use to, yagerochachen sewoch endemilut – meches men yemayelemed neger ale, i doubt applies to it. Can anyone of us really ever get use to the feelings… our bodies screaming for affection, our emotions seeking deep understanding, without having it be fulfilled? Aren’t there moments where for a few scary minutes, nothing matters under the sun except having a significant other next to you? And you want it so bad that nothing, absolutely nothing else matter… making you forget the blissfulness of single-hood?

So which path to take? Are we to be so terrified of loneliness so much that we bring in so many complication in our lives just to avoid it? If i chose to be single, am i risking too much? Will i be one of those women my mom talks about – “rasachewen semay seklew komew yehew keru!” – yemibaluten. Will i regret that decision i’ve made of going only after my career in a couple years and realize that it was simply not be worth it? Should I just give up on a human beings’ ability to stand up just on its own?

If i choose to be two, who and what is the other individual suppose to be? Is that touch i crave for each night expected to come from a specific kind of individual? Or are relationships much more than the touch, the security, the simple beautiful moments of bliss you share with that one person? Should i be satisfied if he satisfies me and only me, or should i make sure that he goes beyond that and satisfies my – mom, uncles, aunts, brother, friends, my friends families, professors, my fellow workers, financial advisor, that man my dad was close friends with, and that other lady I’ll meet while having coffee at…Why am i not so certain, why do i think of everyone’s opinion except my own?

Of course there is that incident where i find that ‘Mr. Perfect,’ the right guy on paper. Wouldn’t it be easy to just commit to him? I know such a guy might most likely fail to get up in the middle of the night to go get you cold water because he has that research to work on first thing in the morning, he lacks to understand that him showing his vulnerability does not mean he’s showing his weakness, he lacks to impress you even when he has himself placed within the creme de la creme. With such a man, you might go to sleep each night being thankful for the life God has given you, because such a life mostly comes with security and predictability, but that same night you will probably wonder if that true love they write about, in fact, exists. If you are lucky, you’ll be given the ability to brush such thoughts out of your head and live your ‘good’ life, if you’re not so lucky you’ll have convinced yourself that true love is only a fairy tale created for the entertainment of the mind, nothing really- only fantasy – and you will have lived the life lived by millions – void of pure love, real intimacy, dedication and inner joy. The sad thing is, no matter how bad I’ve attempted to make this sound unattractive – how easy this path is! you receive approval from your surrounding, you deny your naive self and convince yourself of the truth contrary to your initial ‘idealistic’ beliefs. Really, what more would you want if you’re successful when it comes to your financial stability, if you have the handsome and “educated” husband, your Mercedes and a house with a backyard…. Isn’t this what I should want? Isn’t this what I want? Is it? I don’t know. What is it that’s going to matter 20 years from now?

Oh yeah and also, what’s that bullshit that people talk about – ” you’ll just know when you meet the right person, that he is in fact the right person. Really?!? I’ve never heard of anything so ridiculous!!! what the heck happens to those of us who haven’t been able to ‘just know’. Are we somehow deprived of an instinct that the few lucky ones have been given? Are we suppose to feel somehow inadequate? If your logical self hasn’t made you get to a certain conclusion, are you suppose to wait for some sort of a sign that will tell you what your next action should be? By the way, does it come in a whisper in the night or some sort of a loud God-sounding voice telling you – He’s the one? really, what should we expect? This would be a good tip to have. I mean we wouldn’t want to not be alert enough to miss the sign, do we? So please why don’t these – ‘you just know’ communities share their wisdom? Bullshit! – that’s what i think it is, you just don’t know. you live and you see, you work hard on relationships and you become honest about what it is you really want in your life, you stop being a hypocrite and embrace the ideas you’ve been preaching all your life. There is no way you just know. You take time and then you know… after that, maybe, you pray to the all mighty that you’re done your best to find the perfect mate (if there is even such a thing), after that point, he will hopefully take over…

I hope i’m not sounding bitter, because i’m really not. I am confused – i can’t deny that and i wish i could just crawl under my bed and stay there for the next six month… well i guess that’s not reality and that doesn’t show the strength i claim to have. so i’ll pray and i’ll just wait and see…

Awaiting your reply,

P.S uffff, it sure does feel good to vent!”

Tena Yistelegn.

The boy who cried ‘Wedding.’

A famous Ethiopian entertainer was once being interviewed on ETV when he was asked about his children, ahun yet dereja endederesu. The man, sitting up straight and proud, answered andu lige graduate adergo teru sera yizo eyesera new, lelagnaw demo Talian ager yedual. Eee, Talian ager….and?! Well, you see Talian ager mehed was a great accomplishment all on its own. No one asked what happened addisu ager ketegeba bewhala.

These days, after millions having left their country and having witnessed the harsh realities that can come with life as an immigrant, leaving is no longer viewed as an accomplishment, definitly a way to possible success, but not as success on its own. You know what seems to have replaced it, standing on its own as a great achievement without too much of handwork and labor? – Marriage! Yes, walking down the aisle, kulun tekula, mizew fezo, hayloga techefero…. the whole shir gud is given a rather superior status.

All this came to me a couple days ago when i got a call from a close friend telling me that he’ll be getting married in a couple weeks. I’ve received this call, from the same dear friend twice already, announcing the same news – the great wedding – the only thing different was the would be bride. The supportive friend that i am, I announced, once again, my excitement and joy to hear the news. Later that day, as i shared the news with others, i was reminded, by a witty friend, of the boy who cried wolf… in this case wedding.

This friend of mine is definitly not an exception, everyone these days seems to be getting engaged, married, planning on getting engaged or married, talking and obsessing about getting engaged or married! – that is according to Facebook and conversations i have with countless friends who are quite caught up with their relationship status. As a bit embarrassing as it is, relationships seem to dominate as the main topic of conversations… does this render us lifeless or has this been the norm for people in their 20s and 30s since decades ago?

When did marriage become a goal to achieve all on its own? Why has it become such an issue? Has this always been the case?People as young as 26 and 27 are actually worried about finding a husband/wife. I know i’m not the ideal person to discuss this issue given the fact that i am married. But, the irony is that when i did decide to get married, i thought of all my friends who were pursuing higher education or chasing after their dream jobs, while i chose to move to a state with less than ideal conditions for finding a job that i felt suited me, to be with the person i loved – i have to say, i felt a little less than. If i knew then what i know now, i would not have stressed so much about it.

Yes, being with the person you love is a beautiful thing, but it has to be because you want it, not because you feel like that’s what you’re suppose to want. Marriage is a freakishly difficult thing, being married is a lifelong road to travel through, not a destination to reach. Especially given the high rate of divorce that currently exists, please be dame certain that it’s what you want, that it’s he/she you want. Whatever the future holds, at least you’ll know it’s you and only you that made the choice . Hopefully however romantic your decision, you will have made a logical one also.

You see ‘the boy who cried wedding’ seems to be more intrigued about the idea of getting married rather than what’s to come after the marriage. He just wants to “settle down,” with whomever, however. I couldn’t blame him, since most of his friends where  getting engaged, married, planning on getting engaged or married, talking and obsessing about getting engaged or married!

If there’s one thing i’ll end with it would be – just be yourself, do what YOU want – you’re going to be stuck with yourself for quite a while.

Tena Yistelegn.

Ye’Wendoch Guday – Part I

         “There just aren’t enough date’ble habesha guys around, that’s the problem,” said a friend who as of late has been considering broadening her options when it comes to finding a date with a potential of “turning into something more.” Broadening her options meaning venturing out into other races – non Ethiopians, something she thought she’d never consider ( for reasons which I’ll discuss in Part II).

          I couldn’t help but be buffled by how difficult it has become for most habeshas to find a suitable ‘significant other’ they could potentially spend the rest of their lives with. The Ethiopian population in the US and Canada is constantly increasing, but the prospect of finding a mate seems to be decreasing at the same rate. As much as I’d like to deny it, I spend more time discussing relationship matters with my friends then I do any other topic, and some of these friends are the kinds you can discuss topics ranging from Descartes to  our current economic depression. 

         Since i’m a woman i’ll try to stick to the female perspective, i’ll hope a few men reading this will indulge us with their two cents. The following are some of the complaints I hear from the ladies.

          chewa wend teftwal – A very common theme that seems to be the center of conversation is the issues of the cheeataas! Too many pretty girls  – most guys are just not ready to settle down, and give all that up. I remember walking into an Ethiopian restaurant with a guy friend of mine and he gently hinted that I shouldn’t be “too playful” with him cuz the girls dining in the restaurant might assume that we’re “together.” He needed to keep his options open. I of course understood, what this 29 year-old cutie wanted was simple – keep it casual, play the fields before he choses his mate. Playing the fields of course is going to mean a few broken hearts on the way. Isn’t there always that unlucky lady who manages to ignore all his signs and decide to fall in love with him anyways, and find out later he’s been “having his fun” on the side? Yeah, that one. Thus you can easily imagine for most logical females trusting such men can be too much of a risk to take.

         Then there is  the man who’s ready for the relationship – yet abatu -he wants the whole hoopla and then more – this is the habesha who wants what emayena abaye had. Rega yale sorta guy, a girl wouldn’t even be too embarrassed to bring him home to mama. But after a few dates it becomes obvious what he’s looking for – emayen erasuan! On the very first date, the girl can almost picture herself with him –  cooking, cleaning and catering to his needs while having a full-time job. ( I never use to believe that such habesha men existed in the US of A, but to my dismay there are plenty of them). 

            ” Bedebert gedelegn gena kemejemeria kenu” is yet another complaint. He’s decent looking, successful, with a potential to be a good father, but the brother is just plain dull. He wouldn’t know how to be romantic if a dozen red roses and a bottle of wine hit him right on the head. That might even be ok, but when his idea of fun revolves around playing cards and a bottle of beer in his hands with his buddies every evening and weekend… well let’s just say that can be a problem.

             One last thing that is of course brought up is not anyone’s mistake really – it’s just hard to meet people. A few individuals i know are so busy with work and life be’America that they don’t have the time to go out and meet people. Even if the initial meeting happens, it can be difficult to actually try to maintain, and hopefully develop, that relationship.

           Anyhoo these are just a few of the issues that are constantly discussed among my peers ( mostly the ladies) when it comes to why so many habeshas are single but yet almost desperate to find a significant other. But I do not want to end this without putting my own two cents on what I consider to be a debilitating problem of most habesha women ( those I’ve met at least) i.e waiting for Mr Perfect! It took me a long time to admit the problem was in fact real. It is quite accurate when attempting to understand why some women have a hard time getting into relationships. Here’s an example of what some women want.

           Handsome, but not a pretty boy, he needs to be manly. Educated, but not nerdy or boring. Needs to be able to carry on a good conversation with family and friends, but not be too much of a talkative. Smart but in touch with his emotions. Enjoys sports but not too much of a fanatic. Dresses well, takes her out to fancy restaurants, makes good money, tall, good body, no bad habits, but modest about his attributes. Honest, loyal,kind, respectful, enjoys reading and spending time with her, but isn’t too needy. That’s right fellas – we want it all!

          Well, if you know such a man – dead or alive – please let me know cuz i still haven’t met him. I believe no matter what, compromise is going to be the order of the day and all the days to come. There is no perfect man, just like there is no perfect woman. We all will have to weigh our options and chose what we think is most important to us – is it love, money, excitement, security… whatever it is, we’ll have to know it and choose.

              I’ll end this by telling you that I’m in not, in the least bit, an expert in relationships. What I’ve written is an accumulation of many hours of conversations I’ve had with friends. This entry in no way exhausts the countless issues revolving around relationships and the habesha community living in the United States, but i think it can be a good start for an interesting dialogue. Enjoy.

Tena Yistelegn,