Truth In A Chinese Fortune Cookie

Katie Young
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Wednesday - July 20, 2005
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Don’t throw away the old bucket until you know whether the new one holds water.

This is what my friend Tessa’s fortune read when she cracked open her cookie after Chinese dinner.

“Huh?!” she said. “I don’t get it. I don’t own a bucket.”

“This is the perfect fortune for you!” our friend Lance laughed. “This is how you live your life.”

“What are you saying?” Tessa asked, thoroughly confused. “What does this thing mean?”

“Of course you own a bucket,” Lance continued. “What about Simon?”

Simon was Tessa’s boyfriend of two years. Good old Simon. Tried and true. Devoted. Nice. Predictable. The “old bucket.”

Tessa was always complaining about how boring Simon was. She loved him, she knew he was a good man and a great boyfriend. But Tessa was always struggling with the idea that Simon was “it” — the one she’d be with forever and ever.

Tessa thought maybe there was something better out there. She dreamed there was. But honestly, she wasn’t sure.

So instead of leaving Simon because she knew their relationship was lacking, she held on, thinking that she’d keep him around until something better happened by.


Sure enough, something more appealing did come along, and Tessa jumped head-first into another serious relationship, leaving simple Simon to contemplate the new “friendship” Tessa had offered him in her departure.

“Simon is your old bucket,” Lance explained, back at the Chinese restaurant. “Get it?”

Tessa still didn’t understand the metaphor. In fact, she was dumbfounded by the tiny words that emerged from cookie.

So our story continues: Only two months into her new relationship with Raul, Tessa thought she was in love. He was handsome, exciting and made Tessa feel the way she had always wanted to around Simon: Alive! Not only was Tessa completely into Raul, but he seemed totally enamored by her as well.

Tessa and Raul became the couple everyone wanted to hate — mushy, over-the-top public displays of affection and joined at the hip.

But four months into the relationship, Tessa’s devotion to Raul began to waiver. Raul began to act erratically. He didn’t call as much; he wasn’t as attentive. The “new bucket” had sprung a leak.

Of course, this development with Raul made Tessa begin to wonder if she had traded buckets too soon. She called Simon to commiserate. Simon still missed Tessa so he obliged, but the thing was, Tessa didn’t really want Simon back either. She just wanted to know she had a date on Saturday night.

Tessa was very confused.

“Fine, let me spell it out for you,” Lance finally said to her. “This fortune is totally the way you think. You kept Simon around, waiting for the new bucket, Raul, to sweep you off your feet. You tossed Simon aside to live in la-la-love land with your new man-bucket, and now that things aren’t so good with Raul, you are trying to find comfort in Simon again. You keep two buckets at a time, the old and the new, because you’re waiting to see how good the new one is at holding on to you!”

“But … but …” Tessa protested, though she knew Lance was right.

“OK, I get it now,” she sighed. “I don’t like to throw away the old bucket until I know the new one can hold water. I just don’t like to be alone.”

“Yes!” Lance yelled. “She finally got it!”

Tessa was ashamed to admit it, but she knew it was true. She had lived a lifetime collecting bucket after bucket, man after man, always fearful of being without a boyfriend.

Because she couldn’t be alone, she often jumped into new relationships without doing two very important things:

No. 1 — Giving herself time to heal and grow stronger as an individual.

No. 2 — Taking the time to find out if the new guy was really someone she wanted to be in a relationship with.

Tessa is like many people I know, both men and women, who just can’t stand the thought of being alone. Having an attachment to any other human being makes them feel like there’s safety in numbers. Alone feels like rejection.

I understand this because, as an only child, attention was always abundant and in my young adulthood I became someone who felt very uncomfortable with being by myself.

A friend encouraged me a few years ago to “try it out.” Single herself for three years, she encouraged me that it might be a tough road, but if I could figure out how to be OK with being alone, it would be one of the best things I could ever do for myself and for my future partner.

It took a while, but in the end, it was one of the best things I ever forced myself to learn.

Being alone is not about new buckets or old buckets — it’s not about any buckets at all. It’s all about finding a better way to carry the water.

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