You Can Choose Love

You can choose to stand by your man. Your man, who apart from dimply-cheeks and carefully-carved promises that are actually quite hollow once you get past the surface, isn’t worth your time. You can choose to play the part of the girl who changed it all, even when you know it’s hard enough to change yourself, much less a stubborn male you’ve only known briefly. You can choose to spend your Saturdays with him, instead of your friends, and when those gals doubt his luster, you can choose to turn on them, just to lay on your back with him. You can choose to stay in that dead-end relationship, pretending – and hoping and praying - that you’ll get the happily-ever-after ending you can see if you squint just enough. You can choose to see the tiniest pieces of good and mindfully ignore the bad, though you constantly feel it stabbing your side, and sinking into your heart.

Or, you can choose to walk away from the man you’re afraid to leave and find one who will never let you go because he knows how precious you truly are.

You can choose to wallow in the shattered pieces of your pride and remember the better days that really, weren’t that bright if you’re honest with yourself. You can choose to toss what-really-happened and what-you-wanted-to-happen up in the air a dozen times, trying to get the best scenerio that makes you feel like the pain is bearable. You can choose to hover over your phone and your email, wondering if he’ll come chasing with the right words and the sweetest of intentions, even though you know silence will ring louder than any grand gesture he’s capable of. You can admire those smiling, rosy faces in stilted pictures that have since turned into bittersweet memories you only let yourself remember when you’ve had just a bit too much to drink. You can analyze the situation until there are no thoughts left in your pretty little mind, no tears left in those pretty little eyes or no fight left in that mighty spirit you’ve always been so damn proud of.

Or, you can choose that today, right now, enough is enough. And you, are more than enough than he will ever be or ever be able to offer you. You can choose it’s time to let go.

You can choose to stay comfortable right where you are, doing whatever you’re doing, being whoever you’ve become, and just let your life take place. You can choose to believe those dreams you once had are just a bit too lofty, much further out of reach than your more-naive self imagined. You can choose to believe those who told you that you just couldn’t do it, that you weren’t meant for such amazing things, that you weren’t talented enough to achieve it all. You can choose to take those jaded once-upon-a-time lovers’ words as gospel instead of with a grain of salt. You can choose to think your only skills are in servicing a man who doesn’t deserve you to begin with. You can choose to never chase anything more than your youth and your sense of self, two things you lost when you decided to let go of what you wanted, and settled for what you had.

Or, you can step out into the unknown and find the incredible person you’ve always been, but have yet to get to know.

You can choose to just stay in on Friday night, and promise yourself you’ll go out next week. You can choose Chinese food and wine over high-heels and flirty conversations for weeks that easily turn into months. You can choose to pick apart your dates to death, finding something intolerably wrong with them all, while wishing you could just meet someone great…without it being so much, well, work. You can choose to reject a guy just because he doesn’t meet your robust list of qualifications, though he may give you the best orgasm of your life, if you let him try. You can choose to believe there are just no good men left in the world – or they’re just gay or taken already – and you can seek out a life of flying-solo because you’re far too terrified to risk your heart on that paralyzing feeling of…falling…again.

Or, you can choose to jump when the time feels right, stay put when it doesn’t, and know that some chances (and mistakes) are worth making over and over because they’re just that important.

You can choose to color your wardrobe and your outlook as black as the streets you walk on. You can choose to believe the criticisms of men who called you demanding when you told them what you needed, and they couldn’t deliver. Or the ones who named you hot-to-handle when you stood your ground, when they wanted you to crumble before them. You can choose to put your heart on so much of a back-burner that you forget what those tingling notions bubbling out from the scars you thought you’d never heal, really feel like. You can choose to live in the past and stop picturing the future, for fear that dreaming seemingly-impossible things will make them so. You can choose to give up on yourself and on that person you’re so wanting to meet. You can say “no” to that guy who wants to take you out on just one simple date.

Or you can choose to say “Yes.” You can choose to believe whatever you want to believe. You can choose to be whoever you want to be. You can choose to live that life you wanted, with all the right people in it.

You can choose yourself. You can choose…love.

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You Haven’t Really Been Loved Yet

Feeling the warm water trickle over my feet, I closed my eyes and exhaled, trying to permanently capture this moment in my memory. I lost count of the blue stars above me, and for a second – I lost track of where I was, who I was with and what I was doing. The night burst into a million little white flames, circling and consuming everything I could see, all of what I could feel.

It’s so beautiful! I heard behind me in a few different languages and I whispered it to myself into the air – knowing no one could hear me, but hoping that someone, somewhere did. I can’t believe this is happening to me, I thought as I folded my arms against my chest, pushing sand further into my skin. A meteor shower just happens to happen the night I’m here. After a few failed attempts to take a photo, I gave in and decided it’d just have to be something I see for myself, without looking back at, without trying to show anyone else. This evening, this experience, it would be for me.

Are you okay? a sweet Spanish voice asked, as he reached for my hand. I smiled, tasting the salt on my lips, and told him in as many words as he and I both could understand, that yes, I was more than okay, I was amazing. He kindly wrapped his arms around me and we watched the magic unfold before us, and I thanked him for sharing it with me. After a few minutes, we noticed we were sinking into the ocean – standing still when you should be moving does that to you – and we walked with heavy feet and drunken grins back to the shore, as I wondered if I’d ruined my little black dress with all these tropical stains. I then realized I really don’t care.

So why did you come here alone? A beautiful girl, like you! Alone? I don’t believe it! he, the green-eyed, tall, Puerto Rican cardiologist that my new-found friends called after learning I was traveling solo. I explained for probably the hundredth time in the four days I was there, that I just needed to escape, that I wanted to try being by myself and that really, all I needed was more quiet and sun, less trains and delays. I then casually reminded him that right now, I wasn’t exactly alone. He leaned over and kissed me.

I let him.

Did you come here because you were sad? He asked while tracing imaginary lines up and down my slightly sunburned leg. I closed my eyes and wondered if honesty was the best policy, or if I could just continue kissing the heart doctor who lived to help others, but tonight, wanted to help me. I explained I was healing the organ he knew best, and that while I wasn’t exactly upset or depressed, I was releasing the girl I was to become the woman I wanted to be. Because only I would meet someone who cared about the feelings of a stranger he just met, he asked for the story, and I tried to sum up everything I could in a sentence or two.

You just haven’t really been loved yet.

He said matter-of-factually as he pulled me into him, and looked out into the vastness before us. Confused both by the statement and the tequila that was slightly starting to wear off, I considered what he said. How could this person, who I knew nothing about – not his age, not his last name, not his relationship status (though I hoped single for karma’s sake), not where he’s been or where he hopes to go, not anything – say something he, really, has no basis to claim? The only thing he knew of me was my name, that I write about love in New York, and I was getting over an impossible situation. Wrinkling my forehead, wanting him to stop running his sandy fingers through my hair, I felt anger brewing inside of me  - how could he say that I’ve never been loved?I’ve had how many relationships? I’ve said those delicately powerful three words to how many men? And all of those men have said it back. 

But all of those relationships have ended too, Linds, I considered. Sometimes because of me, other times because of them, and most of the time, because the combination was a little too much or a little too wrong. I’ve thought I’ve found it a few times, only to be proven that whatever it was, wasn’t really what I was looking for – or deserved. These men, the ones I write down in my personal history, the ones I gave myself to and shared portions of my life with, I’ve love endlessly. I’ve felt their love in return, or at least whatever fraction they could offer me at that time. Was this man right? This man who I was teetering between despising and wanting to invite to my two-room suite a few blocks away?

What do you mean? Why do you think that? I asked as I sat up. Look at those eyes, he said and touched my lips again. I pulled away and stared at him, really wanting to know the answer and refusing to let him use lust to distract me. In his best English, trying to make me comprehend, he said, When you’ve really been loved by someone, when that someone is good, they don’t let you get away. They make sure you know they love you, they do what’s best for you, even if it’s bad for them. They fight. When you’re really loved, it doesn’t end. 

Have you really been loved? I inquired, pensively. Not yet, but I hope to be one day, he replied with a crooked grin, begging me to stop talking to him with words, and find another way to communicate. I wasn’t sure if I agreed with him or if I thought he was full of crafty lines and reasons, but I spent the next few hours purposefully not trying to figure it out, and not saying much of anything.

When he left, we shared a kiss in the dark, and he said, Not everyone finds loveBut you will.

And you know, I think he’s right. Though I’ll never see him again – and I like that I won’t – I think he will too. I think we’ll both really be loved one day.

It’s Not So Bad

My last day in Puerto Rico, I woke up to find sand in my sheets and a little tequila hangover — both souvenirs from the night before. Along the beach closest to my resort, there were three tiny huts that passed as bars and after realizing they were where the locals go, I vowed to eat dinner at one for a true Puerto Rican experience.

As I was sitting alone with my Mofongo, reading Condenast Traveler, sipping a Mojito and listening to the ocean, the table across from me — two girls and a guy — waved me over to join them. (Here’s a snippet of the man, trying on my shoes!)

That gesture is what I loved most about PR and about traveling alone: everyone is so welcoming and accommodating, and they can’t stand to see you by yourself, so they don’t let you. I didn’t know if I’d get used to flying solo for four nights and five days, and luckily I didn’t have to- every place I went, the beach, the pool, the local shops, the resort grounds, the bus, I made friends. Everyone called me courageous and a little crazy because they couldn’t believe I would choose to vacation with only my company, so they kept me company to ease their (and my) mind.

I found a North Carolina themed bar on top of the Intercontential with two gals from D.C. I met by the tiki bar while chatting up Pedro, the bartender with a crooked, crazy smile. I heard about the woes of professional soccer – or really, the lack of financial opportunity – from my 20-year-old massage therapist who’s currently going through a “rough patch” with his girlfriend. I helped the guy who made the best iced coffee I’ve ever had plan his proposal to his lady of six years (it’s on May 20th!). And then there was the friendly older man who sat next to me on the bus and asked if I’d tell New York “Hola” for him, since I only live about 20 blocks from where he grew up. I met three sets of Honeymooners, from Texas to Brooklyn. An older, drunken man playing the guitar on the cobble-stoned streets of Old San Juan asked if I’d be his wife, and when I politely declined, he offered his equally intoxicated friend instead.

I sat on the beach at nighttime, covered in sand and feeling the warm water tickle my toes, talking to a Puerto Rican cardiologist with deep green eyes about literally healing a heart. I walked with three families and a couple through the tropical rain forest, and a little girl with blonde curls fell asleep on my shoulder on the way back. I listened to a woman with age spots and wild white hair read her favorite poem in Spanish, and then do her best to translate that it advised when you let go of something or someone, you should do it with love, not hate. Then there was the man who made pottery at the resort and let me spin the wheel, and another woman with piercing blue eyes who told me the locally-made bracelet I selected would bring me luck. And the couple I shared the breathtaking moment when walking by the colorful, historic buildings downtown, a rainbow appeared across the Puerto Rican sky.

I thought about these characters, trying to figure out the lessons I was supposed to learn from these chance encounters, while watching the clear sea splash to the shore that last morning. While I had met and experienced so many adventures in my short time on this island, I was worried I wouldn’t find the inspiration I came looking for. Traveling to this unfamiliar place, I hoped I would find something inside of me that made me believe again – maybe in myself, maybe in the universe as a whole, or maybe just in love. I didn’t come to Puerto Rico to find myself or to rediscover the person I once was, but to let myself be still, be on my own, and let whatever was to happen, happen. That, and get a tan – which quickly became a difficult task with my Irish roots and the fact that I can barely stand still, much less lay still for hours to bake in the sun. But at ten in the morning, sipping coffee to wake me up (and rid of that tequila) I was determined to at least come back with a sunburn, so people would believe I actually went on vacation.

However, as it often does, the tropical rain came without warning, and at full torrential force. I watched as the tourists threw towels and hats over their heads and ran to shelter under the palm trees or the security of their lofty hotel balconies. The Puerto Ricans, though, ran in the opposite direction – toward the ocean, letting the rain be a playful turn in the afternoon, not the end of it. I hunched under my umbrella with my soaked towel draped across me half-way looking out at the scattered scene, while partly trying to keep dry. Though I was trying – very hard – to find my Zen before leaving PR and to discover peace in this place, I couldn’t help my annoyance at the weather. The sun was now entirely hidden, and I worried that I’d be forced to spend my last day here, cooped up in the hotel, ordering room service and watching movies in Spanish with English subtitles.

Just as I was about to follow suit and race back to the room, a Puerto Rican man with a Corona-belly walked past me to join his family in the water, and said:

“It’s not so bad!”

I’m sure he was just encouraging the embarrassingly pale lady he noticed hiding, but those four little words were exactly what I needed to hear. Did I really care if the magazine and cover-up in my beach bag became saturated? Did I have makeup on? Did it really matter if the rain-and-wind mix made me a tad chilly for ten minutes?

Or really, did I have anything in New York to escape from? Is a tender heart that’s been a bit bruised or the stress of a full and robust life anything to really complain about? Or are those things, these unexpected — and sometimes difficult – parts of existing that really make life worth living? Aren’t the times when you’re aching or you’re afraid of the unknown that really, your soul is just awakening? That you’re discovering what you’re made of? What you can do without the help of anyone else, without speaking the same language of strangers, old lovers or friends who know you best?

Why was I hiding under that umbrella, convincing myself that the day I had planned was now ruined? Why did I let myself live under a similar shelter in New York – staying away from anything that could really hurt or put me out of my comfort zone, keeping anything that could make me vulnerable far out of reach? Isn’t it time to just…live? Time to let the weather take whatever course it’s meant to take?

So I dropped my bag, towel and sunglasses and ran to join the locals in the angry waves. The rain stung at first, but then the water felt even warmer than before, and the spirit of those in the sea was joyful because they know a little rain never stops anything for long. It always passes. You just have to be brave enough to let it fall. Brave enough to let it hit your skin and wash away all that you thought you wanted so you can find something you didn’t know you needed. Like a swim in the tropical rain on a tropical island, all by yourself.

And you know what? He was right. It wasn’t so bad after all. It was actually, beautiful.