You Never Know

I’ve now been seeing Mr. Unexpected for a while now, and though it hasn’t been long in the scheme of things, it is the most time I’ve spent with someone (who could be a someone special) in almost three years.

And even though I’ve written hundreds of blogs about dating, and even though I’ve given advice to basically everyone I know, and even though I’ve been down this uncertain road before…

…it still feels like the first time I’ve ever had, well, a crush on someone.

They say a lot of things get easier as you age and hopefully, through experiences, you earn wisdom. They also say that the point of going on dates and meeting new people is to figure out what you want, what you’re willing to accept and what type of relationship you desire. And I’ll agree with all of those things – but there are certain truths that I believe never change. Often, they are the ones that we analyze or the ones we question. They are those knots in the pit of your stomach that you always call butterflies and that you secretly teeter between hating and appreciating. They are those feelings that bubble up inside of you – and you look at them – spiraling around in your pretty little head and you (not so eloquently) think:

Why is this so fucking scary?

Before three years of endless, terrible dates (and the poor decision of sleeping with an ex for half of that time), I probably wouldn’t have thrown in a curse word, but my Southern upbringing and manners lose this time ’round.

The matter is: when you’re really starting to like someone, when you’re really seeing all of the good stuff come out, when you really watch them surprise you and you watch them dismiss what you always perceived as crazy – and they view as honest and great – it all feels a little unreal. Too good, too soon. Too much, too easy to be real. Too all of these things to make any sense, and then if you’re like me, you find yourself back at the computer screen you stared at a heaping handful of years ago, looking at your blinking cursor and remembering.

Remembering all of the blogs you have already written about being vulnerable. Reading your own archives of advice on how to let yourself trust. Reading your own words about not believing in the worst, but preparing yourself for it. Soaking up the tips you penned a while back about relaxing during this honeymoon stage, savoring the beginning of getting to know someone and the start of sleepovers at his place and my place. Indulging in bed together, getting to know another body that you’ve suddenly grown very fond of. I read my sentences about listening to the words men say instead of what I want to hear, I read about taking things slow, but standing up for what you want and being brave enough to ask for it, when you feel ready.

And even though I’ve written everything that I’m now re-reading to remind myself… I’m still anxious. I’m still afraid that it’ll all fall apart before it actually gets started. I’m scared that it won’t last or that it’s not as big as I think it is. And yet, I’m excited and well, thrilled to have met someone that I genuinely feel comfortable with and honest-to-goodness can see turning into something.

But there is always that voice in the back of my mind, the one that’s always been there, saying:

You never know. It could go amazingly or it could crash-and-burn and I’ll be writing the post-mortem of a romantic beginning that ended before it got past the first chapter. You never know.

But maybe this is where those growing pains in my early 20s have paid off: I know that I’ll never know.

And better yet, I accept it. I expect it. I know that unexpected things happen along the way. Because just as uncertain and unpredictable as being single and finding love is, the same could be said about apartment hunting. Or career opportunities. Or the health of your family. Or your ability push yourself to be a better person. And a softer one. You never really know what’s going to happen. You can save money and spend it all with two European trips, a big move and an (incredibly annoying) broker’s fee. You can write what you think is the best article you’ve ever conspired, and then when it’s published, the words don’t even look like your own. You can spend your time analyzing and harping over every little thing he did or didn’t say, wondering what the meaning is between the texting, the emails, the dates, the sheets, the everything…

…or you can just experience it.

And hope for the best. Dream of what you really, really want to happen. Go about your life, just as you have, just as you will – and keep that little prayer tucked away that a Mr. Unexpected will find his way into it. Because just like you never know if it will go sour – and you’ll be having a date with your best friends and Mr. Pinot and Cupcake – you also never know if it could all go right.

And no amount of dating and failing, protecting your heart, reading advice articles, texting your friends or thinking the worst possible thoughts will change the outcome. You never know what will happen…

…and that’s the best part about it.

Because no matter if it’s Mr. Unexpected or someone else, there is always possibility out there, always a chance, always a something to surprise you. And the one thing that you can know – is that whatever happens (or doesn’t), whatever comes your way (or leaves), whatever experience you face (or hate) – you can make it through. You can be happy.

And you never know, you might just have someone pretty great on your side somewhere along the way.

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Those Great Expectations

On the second-half of our very long (and very great) date, Mr. Unexpected and I met in Greenwich Village at one of my favorite hole-in-the-wall places, Bamboleo. It’s a place that M and I discovered when we were funemployed, single and in dyer need for margaritas, tacos and guac.

It isn’t a place I typically suggest with a guy I just met – it holds a lot of special memories with my friends – but I figured we wanted something in the West Village, something easy and something inexpensive, so it fit the bill and he fit my hopes so far. As we ordered and sat in the window, his hand making it’s way to my knee every once in a while, he confessed that he had Goolged me in the five hours we spent apart.

And what did you discover, apart from pages-beyond-pages of content about what I think about dating? I said, reminding myself to breathe. It’s not like I kept the blog a secret, I had told him what I do for a living – but to know that the guy you like can browse your chronicles, and thus literally know every ridiculous, crazy, obsessive thought you’ve basically ever had… well, it’s a little scary.

No, actually – it’s extremely terrifying.

He laughed and said he read a few things, but didn’t want to dive in too deep to the pages, that he’d rather just go out with me instead. I told him I appreciated his resistance and that conversations are better than paragraphs on this URL, but in response, he said he just had a question:

Do you think writing about dating and love all the time gives you unrealistic expectations?

I’m sure my face must have registered a ‘deer in headlights’ kind of shock – even though the inquiry, in all seriousness, was valid. If you’re going to be seeing someone more often, wouldn’t you want to know what they expect in a partner? And if that someone happens to be a girl who has made a career out of relationship writing, might you be a little, intrigued on her thoughts? And maybe a little scared? Possibly extremely terrified?

Yep. Touche, Mr. Unexpected, touche.

That’s a fair question, I said, exhaling and finishing my margarita. I’m not sure what I said verbatim, but it was along the lines of: Being single for a while has taught me that the most important part of a relationship isn’t the grand gestures or the big romantic moments, but the day-to-day support, contact, communication that keeps you connected. I’d rather have someone to come home to every day to watch TV and order takeout than someone who buys me roses and recites sonnets. I’m looking for a match who is on my level emotionally, physically and mentally, and someone who will also be a good friend. I want to like the person, not just the idea of that person as my boyfriend.

After our date – and the ones that followed – I couldn’t get that question out of my head. Here I’ve been doing this whole meet-and-greet with guy after guy, and no one has ever called me out so directly. Excuse the cliché reference to Carrie Bradshaw (if you all compare us, I might as well live up to it, eh?): I couldn’t help but wonder…

…do I have unrealistic expectations of love?

In the moment, my response was the clearest thing that came to my head – and an honest assessment of what I’m hoping to find in a mate. I’d pick laughing and flirting with beers and burgers at a sports bar, over some guy reading me a poem in a tuxedo at a $200-a-plate downtown restaurant, any day. I want to like who a person is, not just what they can offer me. I want to waste time instead of buying time in dating. I want the honest-to-goodness reality of a person, not the rose-colored mentality that is deluding and unattainable. I used to crave the attention of a man who was magically enamored with me, and now I most long for someone who I feel comfortable, sexy and relaxed with.

Life is complicated, and hopefully the relationship we all eventually find will bring peace to the chaos.

But there are things – in fact, many things – that I frankly, won’t settle for. I want to have a wild, intense, seductive sex life – I’ve never been the girl who uses a headache as an excuse for anything. I value someone’s morals and I appreciate someone who keeps me on my toes – and is also tall enough to make me stand on them. I don’t typically need daily reminders of affection, but my dad has taught me that the right man never minds holding your hand. I try my very best to truly listen to a man’s words, instead of adding an adjective here-and-there to make them more appealing. I pay attention to the details and to the questions he asks, and the answers he gives. After far too many failed could-be courtships, I’ve learned – often the hard way – that men will tell you exactly what page they’re on, if you are brave enough to stomach it. And that you have to keep your anxiety at bay so you can figure out if those butterflies are worth the risk to fly.

Sometimes they’re not. In rare times, they are.

The trick of figuring it all out is managing those great expectations – but also being very clear from the get-go about what they are and what you want and need from someone. These are the ‘rules’ and your standards, your guidelines for what you seek in a mate. And just like blueprints or outlines – for the right person or the right situation, adjustments can be made. Minds can be changed. Things can be tweaked here-and-there.

But for the most part, what you seek is neither unrealistic or realistic – it’s just specific to you. Or to me. And Mr. Unexpected’s expectations are explicit to him.

Like how he’s not reading this blog – or anything that’s written about him – until he’s ready. Until later down the road. Instead of reading what I think, he’s talking to me. Instead of reading in between these lines, he’s asking me questions. Instead of letting a blog define his expectations or who I am, he’s getting to know me.

And that’s an expectation that I didn’t know I cared about, but I do: get to know me, then read what I write, next. The archives are part of me, sure – but I’ve come a long way from that love-addicted, obsessive, insecure gal I was at 22 when I started this blog. My taste in men, the value I have in myself and the strength I have to be both brave and vulnerable at the same time – that’s only happened after lots of practice, and even more risk.

While his question caught me off guard – less than 24 hours into meeting him – it was refreshing to speak from the heart. And to know that even when I’m 100 percent honest with someone, they might actually still call – or ahem, text – you for another date.

And if you’re really lucky, for another 10 or 15 so…

 

31 Things Every Girl Thinks On a First Date

Originally published on eHarmony’s blog

You clicked, you matched, you’re finally going out. You might put on a good game, but here’s what you’re really thinking on a first date.

Tall? Check. Employed? Check. Has (most of his) hair? Check. Doesn’t live with mama? Check. He crossed off the major must-haves for a boyfriend-to-be, and the digital conversation is going well – but the biggest question remains: will all of the witty chit-chat translate in person?

First dates can bomb and they can pleasantly surprise you – but you’ll never know if you don’t go out on a limb and accept that offer for drinks after work. And if you do, you’re probably thinking the things below (it’s okay, we are too!):

8 a.m.: Mmmm. Can I sleep for just 15 more minutes? I won’t have time to shave my legs if I do. But will he even notice?

8:05 a.m.: Okay, fine, I’ll get up. He better appreciate I shaved my legs.

10:30 a.m.: He hasn’t texted to confirm. Do I follow-up? Does he need to confirm? If he doesn’t text me by 3 p.m., I’ll text him.

1 p.m.: I.Will.Not.Look.At.My.Phone.Until.3 p.m.

1:45 p.m.: Please, please, please text me, Mr. What’s Your Name Again?

1:46 p.m.: He still hasn’t texted. Can I make other plans with the girls?

2:30 p.m.: Whew. We’re still on.

5 p.m.: Only an hour to go until work is over. Gotta keep myself busy. Am I really nervous to meet him?

6:15 p.m.: I’m 15 minutes early. Is it better to be early, on-time or fashionably late? I’m not sure that’s a thing anymore. But he better not be late, that’s for sure. Such a turn-off.

6:20 p.m.: I’m going to order a glass of wine and look busy. I hope he offers to pay for it.

6:25 p.m.: Oh my. That guy walking in better not be him. He told me he was 6’0” and he is barely 5’7” at that. And I’m wearing heels!

6:26 p.m.: Oh he’s getting close. Please, please, please, please, please don’t be him.

6:27 p.m.: Not him. Thank you, thank you!

6:45 p.m.: Okay, he’s actually not so bad. He’s basically tall. He’s a little nervous.

6:50 p.m.: It’s kind of cute that he’s nervous. Hmm. I kind of like how this is going.

7:15 p.m.: Dinner? He just suggested we go to dinner now – does that mean he likes me? What time is my first meeting tomorrow? Can I stay out late?

7:20 p.m.: Aw. He says he’s having a nice time. I acted nonchalant and cool, but nice about it. I think I’m #winning this one.

7:30 p.m.: What’s the cheapest thing on the menu that’s not a salad? I know everyone says not to order a salad because it makes you look like one of those girls. It’s kind of annoying – what if I want a salad, hmm?

7:31 p.m.: OMG. They have a burger with truffle oil, brie and bacon. Sold.

7:40 p.m.: He just asked about my last relationship. Red flag. Is he rebounding? He didn’t mention that online.

7:55 p.m.: Oh okay, he’s just super talkative and asking questions. All forgiven. I guess.

8:05 p.m. Mmm okay. His table manners aren’t awesome, but I can work with that. He is really sweet in other ways. And I do actually want to kiss him, which is an improvement from the other dozen dates I’ve been on recently.

8:30 p.m.: He mentioned going on another date. I think I can be into this.

9 p.m.: Check’s here. I’m totally fine paying for my half – but I do hope he offers to cover it. It’s something old-fashioned, sure. But I still appreciate the gesture.

9:02 p.m.: Smooth Mastercard move there, buddy. Didn’t even give me a chance to try. Well done.

9:15 p.m. He’s walking me home. He doesn’t need to – it’s literally less than 10 minutes away and it’s still rather light outside – but I like that he’s insisting.

9:20 p.m.: One block from my place. Do I kiss him? Shouldn’t we toss those rules out the window anyway? Who says you have to follow any rules? Am I right?

9:25 p.m. He’s saying the niceties and mentioning a concert next weekend. Cute.

9:40 p.m.: Best. Kisser. Ever.

9:50 p.m.: Tempted to update my Facebook status with a cryptic message about how awesome that was, but I’ll refrain and text my three BFFs instead. Totally fine with being that girl right now.

10:30 p.m.: I hope he doesn’t turn into one of those great guys that suddenly disappears after the first date and you never ever EVER hear from him again. Whatever happens to those guys, anyway?

11 p.m.: So glad I shaved my legs.

11:33 p.m.: Aw. He texted. I’ll wait until the morning to respond.

All At Once or Not At All

I watched the girls chatter and talk, laugh and make sweeping hand gestures in a crowded, sweaty room in midtown east just a block or two from Grand Central. Most of them I didn’t know, a few I recognized but couldn’t place a name and some, I had watched grow from eager intern to unemployed maniac to confident, happy editor.

It was a beautiful thing to see – this program that was just a little idea of mine a few years ago – in its third year, matching the job seekers with the job keepers, and hopefully, creating friendships, too. I’ve been in all of their shoes before: moving to New York without an apartment or any income, working the 9-6 as an editorial assistant, barely making enough money to pay rent, eat and actually leave my apartment for a happy hour from time-to-time. I’ve felt all of those scary, invigorating and desperate feelings – wondering when my chance would come, when I could write home to North Carolina that I wasn’t a failure, that I wasn’t out-of-mind, that I was surviving. That I was really living that life I had imagined for so many years, that it wasn’t just a pipe dream or a silly fantasy, but my reality.

Nearly four years, three job titles and one very big blog later (wow!), I wish I could say that everything is easier. That I have it all figured out and my ducks are in their perfect little rows, and I’m relishing in the success I’ve made for myself. And in some ways and on some days, everything is smooth sailing. But if going through all of the stages of being an early to a mid-20’s something has taught me anything, the biggest lesson is…

…life happens all at once or not at all.

When you first make that huge leap to an unknown place with an unknown destination and unplanned outcome – you’re terrified. But you’re so full of drive and bubbling with so much energy, that you forget that you’re broke. You stalk job sites and you have as many networking hours and coffee dates as you possibly can – and then some Friday, on some random afternoon, when you’re wasting time on the internet, you get that phone call for your first job. You forget to negotiate the salary (you learn how to later on), but you don’t mind. And then the next weeks are filled with paperwork and learning curves and figuring out what to wear and getting to know the personalities of your team – people you’ll see more than you see anyone else in your life.

And then when you switch jobs two years later, you do it again. Three years after that, you’ll go through all the same steps with a new gig. It will happen so quickly, so intensely, after so many months of playing the waiting game, after so many dreaded edit tests and long, nerve-wracking interviews – it’ll just happen. And, dare I say it, rather easily. Because that’s how life happens. All at once.

Or not at all.

When you’re looking for that first apartment, when you don’t know the city and you don’t really understand the difference between neighborhoods and you don’t know how to tell if it’s safe or if it had bed bugs or if you can actually afford it (since you don’t have a job yet) – you wander aimlessly, hoping you’ll just know when you find it. You’ll settle on a place that’ll do, that’s not ideal, that’s most importantly, very cheap. You’ll make friends with the building, you’ll grow use to the rancid smells coming from downstairs and down the street. You’ll figure out how to drown out noise and the unreliable rhythm of the closest train to your place. And then just as you’ve started to feel settled, it’ll be time to move again.

So you will. And your budget will be different because your job will be new. You’ll find an upgraded place suddenly and move swiftly. You might even adopt a dog because you get so comfortable. And then three years later – with a new raise, you’ll crave a new place. There will be complications and gap months and broker’s fees and you’ll watch your money crumble away… but that’s how life happens. All at once.

Or just, not at all.

When you first start dating, it will feel like a rather clever experience. Entertaining mostly, and then so frustrating, you swear each time you’ll never do it again. But something makes you keep trying, keep putting your cards out on the table, waiting for the right hand, carefully eying the players for their poker face. You sign up and you delete, you give up and you repeat. You fall backwards and then forwards, believing, and then trying your best to hide the disbelief when someone turns out just so very… very…. wrong. You venture out alone on trips and adventures, you invest in yourself and in your future, figuring if someone is meant to be in your life, they will enter it.

It’ll take months that turn into years until you finally, somehow, do in fact, meet someone. Unexpectedly. And those bad dates will seem far away, those experiences that were so disheartening, feel enlightening. Those things that were once so hard – texting and setting up dates and talking plans – are just easy. Simple. Uncomplicated. Because that’s how life happens. All at once, instantly.

Or, not at all.

To those of you who just graduated – or have been removed from school for a while but are embarking on a big change, don’t let go of your faith. Savor those periods of flourishing and mystery, where nothing seems certain, where everything is in the air. Because while it doesn’t feel like it at the time, those are the days when the magic is unfolding. That’s when it’s all happening.

And even if you can’t enjoy it now – don’t worry. You’ll go through the same cycle every few years, with every new place, new job, new guy – and it’ll feel just the same. Except that you’ll just be watching i from a new point of view, the kind of view where you can look into a room and see different stages of your life illustrated in strangers. And you’ll hope that for their sake, they let life take it’s tides.

That they’ll have the courage to let it happen. All at once. And then not at all. All at once… it’ll just all unfold.

 

 

 

 

And Then Mr. Unexpected Came Along…

The weeks after I returned from Europe were one big blur: getting over jet lag, starting a new job that starts an hour earlier than my last one, and getting my finances, insurance and 401k set up and settled.

Needless to say, I wasn’t focused on dating and quite honestly, didn’t have much time or energy for it. (Especially since all the running blogs were telling me I needed to start my marathon training… yesterday.) It was after a long, sweaty run in Central Park on a Wednesday, while I was picking up odds and ends at the grocery store that the dating app, Hinge yelled at me for not logging in for a while.

You could be missing great matches! It said.

Mmmk, Hinge. Whatever you say.

I’m not really a big fan of Hinge and at that point, I had never been on a date from it, mainly because while the concept is smart (10 matches a day, must have at least a third-degree Facebook connection), the technology is lacking. Most of the time when I opened it, it crashed before I could even decide if I thought a guy was cute or not.

So why I decided to open it that day, I still don’t know, but I did. And I’m glad I gave it a whirl, because there waiting in the inbox was a message sent while I was in Rome from…

…Mr. Unexpected.

It was hard to tell exactly what he looked like – he isn’t a big fan of having his picture taken. But from the few selections, I could tell I was into this tall, dark, Greek daytrader – who apparently liked sports, dogs and fishing. He went to college in North Carolina, so at the very least, I reassured myself, he would understand and maybe share my Bojangles obsession (and extreme longing for it). His message was smart and short, enough to get my attention but not so intense it turned me away. I responded with my phone number (not in my character, but I had to get off that faulty app before it completely failed).

Mr. Unexpected asked me out for the next day – a Friday, after work. He hinted to dinner but kept it cool with drinks first – ya know, just to make sure we could tolerate one another for an entire meal.

Turns out we could. And that’s when everything started to become rather unexpected:

I usually don’t get tipsy on a first date – but by the time we headed to Bowery Kitchen, I lost all track of time and wits and … I had already downed three cocktails. He ordered us a bottle of red at dinner and suddenly, the me with a big appetite, had zero interest in the lobster roll or the skirt steak… instead I wanted to be that girl who kissed a guy on a first date in a restaurant. (Sorry -I’m not sorry- other patrons!)

When we left, we got caught in the rain and huddled underneath an umbrella, his 6’3-self attempting to hold it over his head and my head without both of us getting soaked (it didn’t really work, but was cute, nonetheless). We found a covered building and made out for a bit, laughing at the irony of the “romantic kissing scene,” and generally just savoring the unexpected moment.

And then I became Ms. Unexpected myself:

We could go to a place near my apartment, I said. I have to walk Lucy anyway.

We grabbed a cab uptown from Soho and had another glass of wine before heading back to my place- I won’t give details (quite yet) but while a deed wasn’t done, it was evident that Hinge quite accurately predicted a vibrant chemistry. So much in fact, that after a restless sleep, two giant iced coffees and a stroll in the dog park, I went to brunch and flying trapeze with M, took a shower, took a power nap, and headed downtown again to meet him, less than 24 hours later for dinner and drinks.

And so far, a month later, he’s still proving that the unexpected can be so much easier, so much sexier, so much more relaxed than when you follow the rules.

Because I’ve been having a lot of fun breaking them.

I don’t ever take home someone on the first date, and I usually never agree to dinner so early in. I rarely do back-to-back dates, or as I’ve called our first/second date: the marathon date. (If only actually running the marathon would be the easy!) I usually try to be nonchalant and uninterested, playing a game that I’m not good at until the bitter end, but instead, we send each other slightly inappropriate memes, pictures of our dogs, talk sports (ahem, thanks E for explaining hockey to me) and just let it flow.

As for Mr. Unexpected, he continuously sparks my curiosity with his candor, his charisma, the way he challenges me – in many ways – and what he picks for dates – a Yankees Game (my first one), a family-owned Spanish restaurant he frequents, potato chips and beer in bed, watching YouTube and perhaps a comedy show in the week the come.

From how it started to where it’s going – the most exciting part and yet, the thing that makes me at ease, is how I never saw it coming. And for once, I put aside the things that make dating feel like such a chore, and I just let someone surprise me. I just went with it and let the ride take it’s course.

Ya know what? Six or seven (or something?) dates later, Mr. Unexpected is still keeping me on my toes. And as he said, “I can’t be ‘unexpected’ forever, I have to turn into something, right?

He does. And I bet I won’t expect whatever that will be.