How to Love

This is probably the last time I’ll wake up with him, I thought watching the sunrise over the brick buildings on Amsterdam. It was a slow, gradual morning for the sun, just as it was for him. He didn’t move in the past two hours I was awake, other than to squeeze my hand and sigh silently into my neck, grazing his lips so slightly I could barely feel the tenderness on my skin.

I couldn’t sleep; my mind wasn’t interested in being anywhere but in this moment. I’m not sure what I was thinking when I responded to his text message after ignoring them all for over a week. Maybe it was because it was March and still a little cold outside. Or maybe I felt the sting of being lonely a little too deeply, and the thought of a warm body – especially one I knew as well as my own – was comforting. Nevertheless, I found myself waiting in bed, smooth and fragrant in a skimpy I swore he’d never see.

I asked him to call me when he arrived on the Upper West Side instead of ringing my apartment – I didn’t want my roommates to wake. I didn’t really want them to know, just like I was ashamed to tell my friends. And my readers. How could I preach one thing, promise another and then invite the shadow that was haunting me back into my life? Even if it was just for a night, the aftertaste always lingers much longer. And once you try it once, it’s easier to go back for seconds.

When I opened the door, he smiled that same sad grin I’d known for so long and tried so desperately to forget. But there was no wine, no girl’s night out, no one night stand, no anything that could really make me move on. I knew that challenge was up to me, and that I had been delaying the process by believing many wonderful, lofty things that really, I knew would never be. Especially with his hand massaging my back on the 10-step walk to my bedroom. Maybe it’d be like those dreams you wake up thinking about, but then  disappear from memory ten hours later. If no one saw him here, then maybe I could pretend it never happened.

But it did. And I didn’t hate it, I sighed as I slowly turned over to face him, trying my best to keep him asleep. He never drifted away easily and I didn’t want him to leave before the alarm made him. I studied his face as I thought about all the space between us. No matter how far we got or how much time we spent together, there was always a gap I couldn’t bridge. Now, we’re lying as close as two can get, and yet, I know I’m still nowhere near his heart. He used to tell me that organ didn’t work for him, and then he said he’d try to make it alive again, and now we’ve just stopped talking about it. Have I settled to being his sex buddy? I wondered, terrified of the truth. I placed my hand on his chest and curled into the nook I used to sleep in nightly and reassured myself: No, you’re just now the backburner. Not the frontrunner. Without making a sound, I let a tear get away, and realized that honestly, being on hold was worse than being used for sex.

He felt my weight against him as I sank into his side and he murmured something inaudible as he kissed my forehead and pulled me closer. I heaved a sigh of total confusion – knowing he would always want to be beside me like this, but never beside me in the ways that mattered. The ones that counted in any book I’d ever read. You’re awake, Tigar? he asked, nibbling at my ear. I nodded to where he could feel it but didn’t slip a word, knowing if I did, I’d say things I’ve said a hundred times. Things that have lost their meaning because nothing has changed. Because nothing will.

We cuddled silently until it was time to start the getting-ready routine – something we mastered in small spaces months before. I snuck him into the bathroom, wishing I lived alone just this once so I wouldn’t have to worry about the shocked faces or the disapproving glances I knew I would get, I knew I’d deserve. As I rinsed his touch off of me, wondering if he’d ever stay with me again, he started rambling about work and the week ahead. He asked me questions so casual you’d think we talked all the time, that we had never broken up, that I hadn’t been attempting to get over him for six months. He asked me about my plans and upcoming events, and I gave him simple answers to match his simplistic attitude that I felt weren’t nothing compared to my conflicting thoughts.

And then I dared to go there: Mr. Possibility- what did I teach you? Did I teach you anything from dating me? I asked with the shower curtain spread open, the water falling across my back. I didn’t care that my face was bare, that my body was exposed and my heart was vulnerable, standing before this man I couldn’t understand.

He didn’t miss a beat and answered: How to love. You taught me how to love, Lindsay. And he left the steamy room just as it was getting hot.

Months after this incident, where I’m dating and rediscovering the city through my lens instead of his, I find myself coming back to that moment. Back to those three words: how to love. For a while, I was convinced if that was the case, I must be a horrible teacher if that was his idea of true love or loving someone. Then I cursed my heart (for the first time ever) for being so unconditional, so understanding, so patient and forgiving. I let myself feel so many extraordinary things that weren’t felt in return, and in the end, I never got the apology, the answers, the anything I really needed.

But I did get a lesson. One very important, overly-dramatic lesson.

I learned there’s no course to study or class to take. There are many tests but never any measure of success. There are many words to write, but no rubric to follow. There are no answers to any of the questions or a correct bubble to fill in. The choices are endless, but the options seem limited. No matter the experience you endure or the hours you put into studying — there will never be a tried-and-true way to know how to love.

Maybe someone can teach you – the best anyone can teach something they’ll never fully comprehend or have the ability to describe. Maybe there are people who are shining examples of how to care for another person, and others who are quite the drastic opposite. Maybe the love is different depending on who wears it and who wears on you – but the thing about love is that it’s just a word until it’s put into action.

I may have taught him how to love but he never could translate it into something that meant something more. Into something that mattered in the ways that are significant. Those three words, where they be I love you or how to love – are meaningless until there are gestures and evidence there to support them.

So if every relationship teaches us something – as I have always believed they do – then that’s Mr.  P’s contribution. He’s made me see that love is so much more than words, no matter how often they’re spoken or sincere they can seem. And if he could never show me what they really mean, I know there must be someone out there who can.

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You’re Not Alone

Why do you write? She asked me – her eyes wide and youthful, full of that uncertain certainty only possible fresh out of college. It’s the time before you’ve had to handle the worst kind of rejection and just before you dip your thoughts into the world of paying bills and deciding on your 401K. I may be just a handful of years older than being legal to order the sangria I was sipping, but those years have a way of putting adulthood into perspective.

I smiled and wrinkled my nose, as I always have when I’m trying to think of something thoughtful and profound, something that’ll inspire and provoke. I spat out the things I could think of: because I’m passionate about it, because it relaxes me, because it’s how I express myself, because I’ve just always known that’s what I wanted to do. Because her career goals are similar to what mine were at her age, I knew she was taking in every word, trying desperately to find something to make her feel more at ease in the awful waiting period between where you left and where you want to be. I reassured her that everything works out for a reason, and that finding the right path professionally is a lot like finding your way romantically: you just have to put your whole heart in and hope you’re loved back in return.

The happy hour came and it passed, I shook hands and I gave out a business card or two before heading northwest to my cozy, yet nearly unbearably sticky apartment. Instead of taking the shuttle from Grand Central to Times Square, I decided to walk and inhale the June air. In just a week – or maybe as little as a day – it’d be too hot to be outside anywhere in Manhattan, so I should cherish it for what it was worth now.

I looked straight ahead, pretending my toes weren’t pinched in my brand new wedges that look great but aren’t exactly ideal for strolling avenues. While the lights blazed me forward, my thoughts held me backward – thinking of all I’ve had, what I’ve learned and mostly, what I’ve absorbed. I came to this city full of rose-colored dreams and earnest intentions, hanging onto the belief that if I set my mind to it, I could do it. Whatever it was, no matter the risk, regardless of the outcome.

And somehow, just as I advised, it’s all worked itself out. Not only worked out – but surprised me on how amazing it really can be. I sighed in thanksgiving, remembering the days I thought nothing would ever be what I wanted it to be and I silently said a prayer to the city I love (and the heavens that rest above it) to always keep my spirits high and my brow humble.

But even that remarkable feeling couldn’t get that question out of my head: why do you write?

Why do I write?

I can’t remember far back enough to a time when I didn’t have a pen in my head or something brewing in my mind. I love seeing words stringed together almost as much as I enjoy reading them out loud, listening to the way they flow and they rest in the air. I indulge in the challenge of coming up with a new way to think about something we’ve all thought carelessly about hundreds of times. As any writer will tell you – part of the thrill is seeing you name in print and knowing someone else is affected by something you wrote.

But this blog – which I’ve obviously neglected frequently lately – was just a place to vent. A free, blank space to express what I had held inside for so long. Feelings of insecurity, convictions that I was crazy, worries that I was the only one who ever thoroughly struggled with being single. I never knew it would grow as it has, that it would lead to me things I never imagined would be mine or that I’d reach people from South Africa to Nairobi.

And what it’s taught me about myself as a woman, as a partner, as a friend – and as a writer – has been the best part of all. It’s shown me in black-and-white, in emails, in the faces of strangers who I didn’t know were reading these posts, that…I’m not the only one.

I’m not the first woman who has stayed in a dead-end relationship and swallowed her pride and dignity, with not reward at the end. I’m not the first girl in New York to walk past a gloating couple on the Upper West Side with a newborn wrapped in baby Ralph Lauren and wondered if that’d ever be me. I’m not the first woman to linger by the phone aimlessly waiting for a guy who will never be what I want him to be, even if I love him as hard as my heart will allow. I’m not the first woman to wonder if, really, there are men out there who will desire me even a fraction of what I deserve. I’m not the first – and I won’t be the last – to take a chance on something: a city, a lover, a dream….I’ve yet to feel, taste or see.

And while being single can sometimes seem intolerably lonely and like there will never been a light out of the smoky bars and empty promises – the best part of being solo is knowing that…you’re really not.

You’re not the last single woman standing, and no matter how ridiculous you seem, how scared you may feel, how insignificant fears or people can make you feel – you’re not alone.

And because of all of you, the loyal readers I’ll probably never actually meet, I know that I’m not alone, either.

And Then I Found Love

It was March 16 — and I was having one of those terrible, horrible, very bad, no good days.

It started with a lack of hot water in my apartment for like the 100th time  (sadly, only a slight exaggeration), which resulted in playing chicken with the shower head until I was at least somewhat clean. From there, it only went downhill: the train was late, the weather was depressing, the line at Starbucks was way too long for me to make it to work on time, and as it always does, the course of negative events left me feeling less than 100 percent. Midway through the day while eating the snack-size Lean Cuisine that I somehow manage to consider lunch, something else popped up to make what was a crappy day, completely shot to hell.

He emailed me.

And for whatever reason, even in my near-crazy state, I decided the logical thing to do was to read it. Then and there, on the spot, while chewing highly processed food that I didn’t care for. The sentences weren’t important, nor the sentiment, but the feeling I had my stomach — and in my heart — was. Moving it to trash doesn’t make it any less significant, but it at least gets it out of plain sight, or at least, I thought so anyway. But with the swift deletion, I started to feel them inch their way up, fighting to let out the crisis I felt I was facing. My warmest organ started to burn, signaling it was time to make a b-line for the bathroom where I could exhale in semi-private.

Standing in the stall, counting to ten over and over, looking up to the fluorescent lights, feeling the salty, achy drops form in the corner of my eyes, I got angry. Not for the first time and certainly not for the last in this ordeal, but for the first time, it felt real. I thought about the six months I had wasted communicating when I knew I shouldn’t, the few months I spent going back to what I knew was wrong, and most of all, for trying to be so strong and really, being nothing but weak. Sure, I forgave myself (and luckily my awesome friends did too), but knowing I needed to focus my energy on positive things, like my great job, I decided that it was really, truly time to move the f*** on.

I’m not sure why that particular afternoon meant so much to me — it wasn’t any different or worse than other days I spent attempting to let go of Mr. Possibility. I probably still Gchatted the regulars expressing my frustration and he obviously still made an effort to talk to me, as he did for such a long time. And if I’m honest, even here-and-there now. But in that brief thirty-minute span where my lunch break turned into the moving-on-moment, it clicked in a way it hadn’t before. Maybe I saw that regardless of how much time passes or how many tears I waste, it’s still impossible to make something out of nothing. Or that some sorts of love and relationships simply aren’t meant to last forever, and that’s okay. Perhaps it was just that I finally figured out I wanted more – I truly deserved more – and I wouldn’t get any closer to the best kind of love if I kept holding onto to the hope that mostly-bad could turn into kinda-good.

And so, I did what I always do when I set my mind to getting over someone: I started frantically dating. I signed up for two dating sites, tried to make my profile sound like myself (though, it rarely does), and accepted three or four after work drink invitations. I smiled and flirted, and had meaningless conversations with men who now I can’t remember their names. I didn’t find anyone appealing or entertaining enough to continue to a second date, and I found myself a week later, sitting on Gchat complaining to K about the stress of trying to rebound and how much dating felt like some cursed chore I really didn’t want to do.

So don’t date.

Her response was how much of her advice is — to the point, realistic, mature and taken from the wisdom she’s gained from many more experiences than me. I started to counter her argument, stating I tried that in college and decided placing rules on myself wasn’t healthy and that I never lived up to the promises anyway. I’d be 20 days in when I said I’d wait 60 and give in to some guy I worked up into my head to be the guy. He never was and I only became more disappointed in dating, and worse, in myself. She then, with careful words and gentle encouragement, convinced me that because it was my decision — regardless if I changed my mind later or not — giving myself a break from the whole scene, the intolerable exhaustion (especially in this city!) would make me hopeful…and less bitter.

Ouch.

It hurt to see those words in black-and-white and it stung even deeper to feel it in my heart. Mr. Possibility hadn’t turned me totally sour, I had swallowed that pill all on my own — allowing destructive, damning mantras to become my normal, instead of the cheery, optimistic phrases I usually live by and post around my bedroom walls.

And so, I took K’s advice and set a time frame — from March 23 until May 31, I’d be single. Like really, completely, refusing-to-go-on-one date single. I would be by myself and I would do what I needed to do the most: heal and forgive. Myself, Mr. Possibility, New York and love itself.

Today, on June 7, I’m happy to announce that I did it: no dating, no falling in love with strangers, no making random glances into advances on the subway, no anything. I went to and returned from Puerto Rico, welcoming the world of adventure that awaited me there. I found the peace I had been needing from Mr. Possibility by realizing that somethings really don’t change, but I can, even if he can’t. I stayed out later than I usually did and felt comfortable calling it a night a bit earlier than my friends. I showed my beautiful mother the city I love, ending the last evening by running through an open fire hydrant on my street, and savored every tone, every pitch in her laugh, wishing I could capture it for whenever I feel alone in this big place I adore. I started to accept that maybe, I’m never going to be a size two again, but size six looks pretty good on me. I had heart-to-hearts with my friends and dove into the work that fulfills and excites me.

And then, out of nowhere, without any warning at all, I found love. Real, powerful, all-consuming, can’t-live-without-you love.

No, not with the first guy I went out with on June 1 (he was actually rather awful). I don’t intend to find it with the dates I have lined up next week — but instead, I fell in love with myself. With my life here, with the people and the experiences that have made up the sum of all of my parts.

K was right — I needed time to put dating totally out of the picture so I could see that at the center of it all, there is me. There is the hope I’ve always believed in. And most importantly, there is love.