Love ain’t easy. Heck, even picking the right flowers is a full-fledged science. That’s why we could all use a little help from an African ostrich.

During several safari drives on a recent trip to East Africa, I was often left speechless at what I saw. Words fail to express the chills that race through your body when confronted with a powerful sunset over rolling African plains, a lioness rounding up and chasing a large herd of wildebeest, or a magnificent family of elephants in close proximity. Man is truly humbled before nature.

There was no shortage of such wonders in the infamous Masai Mara game reserve, but the most surprising (and hilarious) had to be the failed attempt at love by an African ostrich, who we’ll call Lucky. I captured the moment on a badly shot video, which you can view here:

 

 

In those few short minutes of disastrous courtship, I realise Lucky was teaching all of us some pretty deep lessons about finding love. Conventional wisdom tells us that to successfully win someone over, you must make extra efforts to impress them. Dress better. Have compliments up your sleeve. Be funny. Smell good. Persevere with all your might. Get friend-zoned the first time round? Retreat, regroup and retry.

But from experience and observation – and as Lucky found out – conventional wisdom is wrong a lot of the time. So that his moment of shame would not have been in vain, I’ve distilled from it three unconventional lessons that will make this whole love business a lot more enjoyable and stress-free. Just as it should be.

Female African ostrich

(A caveat: I realise there are many different experiences of love as there are individuals, and I don’t claim that these lessons necessarily apply to everyone. Unless, of course, you’re an ostrich.)

1. Don’t try to impress anyone

The best relationships are between two people who appreciate exactly how God made the other. So don’t go out of your way to impress. You were given a certain disposition, physical features, desires, interests and talents for a higher purpose than to merely attract another human being.

Of course, this isn’t to say you shouldn’t do things like improve a bad temper, explore new interests or keep a bottle of shoe shine. It’s just we should be striving to become better versions of ourselves regardless of whether a love interest exists.

It also means that having to impress someone by compromising fundamental aspects of your personality or value system does not bode well for a fulfilling relationship. After all, when push comes to shove, it’s the shared understanding between two souls that they want the same out of life that really keeps the fire going.

 

2. Don’t chase

I’ve seen this mistake numerous times, and not just on the plains of Africa. It’s a mistake rooted in the failure to distinguish between getting to know someone because you genuinely want to know them as a person, versus getting to know someone because you think an exclusive relationship might result – or worse, because you only enjoy the thrill of the chase.

With the former, your only goal is to discover everything there is to know about someone, and vice versa. Thoughts of a relationship may surface every now and then, but push them aside. Give yourself the space and time to form a mind map of all that defines a person – their highest goals, deepest passions, best memories, greatest fears, lamest jokes. If you find yourself appreciating them more and more, and they feel the same way, there won’t be a need for any chasing. No calculating how many days to wait before calling, no vexing attempts to read their mind, no lines or gimmicks.

On the other hand, chasing someone as a potential partner from the outset tends to cloud your judgment and unleash that dreaded harbinger of disappointment: falling in love with an idea of that person, rather than the actual person themselves.

 

3. Don’t back off so easy, either

If you’re chasing as hard as Lucky was and you’re still getting the door slammed in your face, it’s probably time to give up.

But if you’re in the process of getting to know someone properly, you’re guaranteed to come across a few things that will make you pause and consider backing off. Things that surprise you – in a bad way. Don’t panic just yet. Better to find out about all those insecurities, that misplaced sense of humour, complete lack of chicken-wing eating etiquette or secret stash of illegally imported stuffed animal heads now than when you’re already in a relationship.

To proceed or not comes down to whether you feel you can live with, and love through, all those imperfections. Don’t underestimate your ability to develop a patience or even a strange fondness for them. The willingness of two people to embrace the flaws and not-so-glam bits in each other is key. At the same time, never assume that someone will eventually change their colours for you. Because if you do, perhaps it is they that should consider backing slowly away.

 

Location

Masai Mara, Kenya


View Masai Mara in a larger map

 

Fiona is an impulsive collector of moments. People, places and their stories fascinate her. Having lived, worked and/or travelled on every continent except Antarctica before breathing the last of her first quarter century, she is now chasing the tails of a law degree, some ethereal notion of justice and, above all, the words to make sense of it all.

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