Chopsticks, Traffic Lights and Relationships


When breaking up is hard to do

While academic and career success are important to youth these days, the topic of relationships will, more often than not, be brought up during my coaching/mentoring sessions with them.   Especially when dealing with heart breaks and betrayal, I sometimes wear the hat of a befriender and “Aunty Jo”, as they would commonly call me.

And so, this brings me to the next challenge. What do I say to them when they’re already feeling so hurt and lost? How may I encourage them so that they won’t lose hope in relationships and learn to fall in love all over again? What encouraging words can I articulate to support and help them “sense make” to what they’re currently going through? What if I say the wrong things and hurt them more?

To begin, I often use chopsticks as a metaphor to help our precious young ones to understand and hopefully, see some light at the end of the tunnel during this difficult period of their lives.

“Why do I feel so hurt, Aunty Jo?” Well, sometimes in a relationship, a couple behaves like a pair of chopsticks. We stick closely to each another, we do the same things together over and over again, and we are basically inseparable. We lead our lives as a couple, depend on each other, spend all our time together, and try to be ONE.  Very often we neglect our friends, family and even caring for ourselves.

When separation occurs, we feel insecure, lost, aimless and lonely as we’d already experienced, invested and gone through so much of each other’s lives that we’d forgotten to lead our own independent lives. A pair of chopsticks has to work together, side by side. When separated, one side of a pair won’t be able to function well. Hence, you may end up feeling lost, meaningless, and even useless.

And, so I go on to add …

What if, healthy relationships were like forks and spoons? They are individually unique and yet, when put together (as a couple), they help uplift and function better. On the other hand, when taken apart, they still can work well on their own. A fork can be used alone for eating noodles, salad, etc. and a spoon can be used for drinking soup, eating cornflakes, and so on. You get the idea.

“But I can’t seem to get over it, Aunty Jo!” You know, traffic lights have a “yellow light” in the middle. Do you know why? That’s because it takes time to go from “green to red” – actually, “green-yellow-red”. It takes time to heal and get back to your “normal” self, your pace of life, being positive, energized, motivated, and on your own again.  You’d need momentum to get going, perhaps a push from behind or someone to hold your hand alongside. If traffic lights need time to stop, slow down and go, why not human beings?

As a coach and mentor, it brings me great joy to see sparks in their eyes again as we use these simple metaphors of chopsticks, forks and spoons, and traffic lights to make sense of a painful relationship for them. Oh yes, very quickly, this would also remind us that perhaps it is time for a well-deserved lunch.

– Josephine PL Ong

Josephine PL Ong


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