La Donna E L’ombrello

Even though I booked a trip to Paris and to Rome, in all honesty – I was far more excited about visiting Italy than I was to see France. Not only because mostly everyone warned me that Parisians were rude to Americans, but my ever-growing love affair with everything-Italian (it’s food, it’s colors, it’s language, it’s men) made me more enticed with Roma than ole’ Parie.

So you could imagine my surprise when after a flight from Paris to Milan and then Milan to Rome, a train ride from Fiumicino – Leonardo da Vinci airport to our hotel – I tried to hide the fact that I missed Paris.

Our hotel in Paris had been pristine and easily accessible, while our Roman pad was off the beaten path and due to the train traffic, we couldn’t keep our beautiful Italian doors open at night. The metro had been seamless in Paris – much nicer and easier than NYC’s subways – but with only two paths to take in Rome, we navigated mostly everything by foot (which wouldn’t have been a big deal, if we weren’t 6 days into our trip and covered in blisters). The streets of Paris were clean and every turn we took, we saw a new beautiful building, while in Rome, trash was scattered about everywhere and peddlers sold anything they could get their hands on.

But after settling in to our hotel in Rome, I vowed to give it a chance and my mother did the same, we had come all this way to Italy and we had both always wanted to go, and so onward we went. The sweet clerk gave us short-cut directions to pass by shopping and end up at a gorgeous church before eating locally. We happily went on our way, and though we had mostly encountered kind, helpful people in Paris (who wanted to hear all about New York City), the Romans we met were unfortunately (and astonishingly)…

…very rude.

While trying on shoes or clothes, the Roman women would look us up and down before rolling their eyes and saying something we couldn’t translate. When waiting in line to gain admission, a hustler who received a “No grazie” with a smile from me, responded with, “Stupid American.” And after we walked around in circles, trying to find the said short-cut that we shortly forgot, we tried to stop by a restaurant, but were shoved into a windowless (and rather smelly) basement dining room. When we asked if we could sit outside instead, the owner turned his nose to us and walked away.

It had only been a few hours in Rome, and already, with sore feet and weakened spirits, we felt like ordering room service and buying a bottle of vino instead of going about town…

until we stumbled across a hidden, dark bar on the corner or a street we didn’t recognize. Exhausted, I suggested we go in to get some dinner (it was nearly 10 p.m. and we hadn’t eaten since 1 p.m.) and some wine (obviously) before calling a cab.

We were prepared to be greeted with bitterness from the bartender, but instead, we met Davide. (For the rest of our trip, we would reference him as the “Archangel Davide” who rescued Rome for us.)

As we sat down and ordered the special (a panini and a glass of wine for 6 euro), Davide came over to explain the map that we couldn’t read to get back to our place (probably because our hotel wasn’t actually on it!). And then, after we expressed our difficult day (after such ease in Paris), he mapped out our three days for us, giving tips on places to go away from tourists and how to avoid being scammed because we were American.

And then we started talking about New York – a city that he’s always wanted to live in. I told him about my life and this blog, how I was able to gain a solid footing and make friends, what parts of towns I like and don’t, and encouraged him to reach out to me if he needed any help whatsoever.

(By the way, 30-year-old Archangel Davide was one of the most attractive men I’ve ever laid eyes on.)

He went to tend to other customers here and there, but always came back and sat with my mom and I, talking about Rome and New York, and with every sip, I found him just a bit more irresistible.

I really like the paintings you have here, I told him, gesturing to the one above my head.

My friends and I used to have another bar called ‘La Donna E L’ombrello,’ named after a local artist who uses that as his signature, Archangel Davide said, pointing to each of the paintings in the bar.

What does that translate to? I asked, only able to pick up ‘La donna’ (woman) from my Italian classes.

‘The woman with the umbrella’, he places a woman in each of his paintings holding an umbrella, you always have to look to find it, he said.

My mom and I beamed, laughing of the irony of my own nickname as the girl with the umbrella before I released myself from underneath it and re-designed this blog. There was no doubt in either of our minds’ that we were meant to get lost and find this establishment.

Because of Archangel Davide’s advice, the rest of our trip was truly incredible: gorgeous views and gardens, churches that are literally awe-inspiring, incredible food and paths that didn’t confuse us. By our last day, we both had fallen in love with Rome, and promised to return to Italy again to see other parts like Venice, Florence, Pisa, and of course Tuscany – where Archangel Davide has a home.

As we walked home that first night from Davide’s bar, we stumbled across an entrance covered in wisteria – a flower you see all over Rome. The scent was intoxicating and we both stopped to take it in, feeling tipsy and mesmerized by the beauty. I hopped up on a ledge (thank you red wine courage) and picked two pieces that we kept in our hotel room to fill it with fragrance. And as one of my gifts to myself, I bought a print from a local artist of a door frame in Piazza Navona, covered in wisteria. It reminded me of my mother and I’s experience in Italy: the door to the home is closed, but window above it is open.

Sometimes you have to stumble around and have opportunities taken away before you find what you were supposed to find all along. And of course, it’s never quite about the destination or crossing things off your list, instead it’s about the experience, and the adventures, the people, the lessons you meet and learn along the way. Rome wasn’t at all what I expected it to be – but I’m so glad I took the chance and followed my heart (and passport) to explore it.

And by the way, Archangel Davide added me on Facebook. And is hoping to visit New York this year.

 

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Heart Open, Feet On the Ground

I waited anxiously outside of my favorite sushi restaurant, cursing myself for showing up early for yet another date. I knew being fashionably late was sexier than being on time but I hated missing a deadline, even one that was more about sake than sentences.

I tried (and my friends convinced me) to ignore my gut. Everyone said to give it a chance, to keep myself grounded and not to make judgements. After so many men who disappointed or were more interested in what it felt like to be in between my legs instead of in between my heartbeats, I was more than a little hesitant.

He could be different, I reminded myself. He could be something more, something better, I told myself. Every joint and fragment in my knees wanted to run downtown to meet my girls for a drink instead of waiting for this 6’4″ tall drink of water to arrive.

But I stayed.

And I sang my little “love is not dead” mantra until I saw him walking toward me from 20th street. I immediately turned away, acting like he could catch me by surprise, just like he did the night we met a week earlier.

On the 34th street uptown platform. I really do have some luck on public transportation, don’t I?

I was coming home from a night in with my kind friend, A, who offered to help me with my taxes. In exchange, I bought her dinner and brought Lucy so she could have a play date with A’s dog. It was 11:30 p.m. and it had been a very long day, so I was playing with my phone and tired, when I heard someone ask if they could pet my dog.

I turned on bitch face and turned my head, only to realize it was a handsome guy reaching for Lucy. I smiled, instantly wishing I would have at least put a little makeup on. We struck up conversation and had things in common (like talking to strangers on the train and taking philosophy classes), and we got off at the same stop on the Upper West Side. As we were about to part ways, he asked for my number and texted me 10 minutes later.

I was instantly intrigued.

After meeting up for drinks midweek and feeling that spark, we now found ourselves going out on a Friday night, and I found myself scared to death to like someone. But then he showed up in front of me. I smiled…

…and he pulled a single long-stem red rose from behind his back. Swoon.

Okay, maybe I shouldn’t have been so worried about this, I thought to myself silently. We talked and talked, laughed and laughed, danced and sang karaoke, staying out until nearly 4 am. I’m never one to lose track of time, but I did. And I liked it. After so many online dating profiles and dates gone wrong or sour, here was someone I met in real life and I actually liked in real life.

After our second date, we texted constantly, planning our third meet-up together. He watched my favorite movie (Roman Holiday), he remembered things I told him about my family, my friends, my preferences, my interests. We started talking on Gchat and he was excited when I announced I found an amazing new job (more on that later). I was enjoying the smoothness of the conversation and the sweetness he exuded until…

… on a random night while watching Netflix, his texted turned dirty.

I’m not one to shy away from sex talk, but if I see the possibility for a relationship, I try my best not to rush or to ruin the fun by putting too much pressure on it. I don’t want to talk about getting off with someone before I’ve had a chance to figure out their intentions. I felt that little rumble of clarity come back to my gut- the one that was there before date 2- that said he was probably not interested in more. His thoughtful actions might have steered me differently, but this ploy to discuss getting naked was reminding me of my initial reservations.

I quickly veered the conversation, but felt hesitant about another date where he might push things too far, too soon. It’s not that I have rules on when to sleep with someone – it should happen when it feels right – but I didn’t feel that way, just yet.

I mean, it had only been a week and a half, right?

When things didn’t go all the way on date three, our rapid, interesting and fervent conversation turned to silence. No “make a wish!” text message at 11:11, no asking about my day or my night, no discussing date four. The furthest we got in a texting or Gchat was about Snapchat and then one quick: “I had fun last week!” followed quickly by “You have really great boobs.” If the red flags weren’t flying sky high, I’d try to ignore them but they were there, bright and waving at me.

And so, I finally cut through my politeness to kindly ask what the f*** was going on and if his initial interest in me had changed. To which I received a text message that – for lack of exact words – said: “I’m looking to have fun, be intimate and play, but I don’t want to be monogamous or just see you. It’s just not where I am in my life right now. But if you’re up for that, cool!”

Did I mention that he’s 34?

So, here I am, back to the drawing board after a barely two-week-whatever-that-was. Was I disappointed? Yes, a little. Was I invested? No, not really. Does it annoy me? Obviously. But more than anything else, I surprised myself. In a way that I didn’t think I was capable of anymore.

I’ve now been single for about two-and-a-half years and it hasn’t been easy – in fact, it’s been one of the most frustrating parts of my life. I often wonder what I’m doing wrong or if I just pick the wrong guys or if because I want it, the way of the universe just won’t give it to me until I’m uninterested. I’ve been afraid that all the men I’m actually attracted to, aren’t attracted to me, or the guys that I’m drawn to, just never want relationships, they just want to get laid. But what I’ve been most scared of it my ability to feel something. After so many failed non-relationships that ended before they ever started, my guard is up. My faith in men is not very strong.

But I do have hope. And I am able to let myself feel something. It might be with some trepidation each time, but I still do it. So I might be a bit bitter and fairly frightened, but I haven’t given up. I’m still standing up for what I want and refusing to settle for anything less than what I know I deserve.

As my friend J advised me as I talked about this past dating experience: Keep your heart open and your feet on the ground. And I might add – and keep on walking toward whatever is surely waiting for you in the future that you can’t quite see.

Not yet anyway. Not yet.

Falling in Love On Fridays: With Love, From Singapore

This week’s Falling in Love on Fridays post comes from someone I used to work with, J. Bubbly and sassy, this marketing gal made meetings more interesting and after-work drinks funnier. She moved back to her home country, Singapore after a brief stay in the States and continues to have a long-distance relationship with the love of her life that she met while here. Read her sweet story that just might make you go on that date you’re dreading tonight. If you’d like to submit your own Falling in Love on Friday story, click here.

With Love From Singapore

I decided to take the big leap to New York City to pursue a gradaute degree and follow my true passion for media three years ago. Yearning for excitement, I traveled 9343 miles away from my island home of Singapore, leaving behind the familiar smells of tropical palm trees and blue-green jeweled waters speckled with memories of my young 23-year-old self. I looked to the big city that promised so much – vowing that my education and career would be priorities for the next few years. Relationships and love were the last things on my mind especially when I wasn’t sure how long I’d stay in the US for.
For anyone who’s made a drastic move to a new city, it quickly dawns on you on how overwhelming it can be. Even though I spent the first year burying myself in school and venturing into different boroughs on the weekends, discovering what it meant to be a true local in NYC, things got lonely. Coupled with long winters that I wasn’t used to, I decided to give online dating a shot. I heard it worked for some but was still very apprehensive about this unconventional way of meeting people.
I was what you’d call a non-committal online dater. Browsing profiles and briefly replying to messages but rarely agreeing to actual dates. Having not been in a serious relationship for about four years, there was still a big part of me that treasured the freedoms of being single, especially in a place like New York.
Until I met D.
From the onset, D and I didn’t seem like we had much in common and was unlike any others I usually dated. He was quiet, meticulous and low-key. I was sociable, passionate and enjoyed going out. We worked in completely different industries and our shared interests seemed minimal – eating, snow boarding and were of the same religion. After 10 days of texting (yes, 10!), D finally asked me out.
Our first coffee date turned into a dinner in Korea Town because we were both working late. To someone who’s new to online dating, I was pretty sure a dinner date wasn’t exactly a smart idea. What if we had nothing to talk about? What if it became clear that we had no chemistry after five minutes? Oh boy. I was nervous and had a friend on speed dial should I need to make the S.O.S. call.
Thankfully I didn’t have to. The list of things we had in common grew longer as we tucked into fragrant kimchi and bulgogi (not the most romantic of first date meals but we were both famished that day). We had the same sense of sarcastic humor and although he was Vietnamese and I was Chinese, we connected with Asian jokes and history. Interestingly, we both came from a family of five siblings, D was the eldest of three girls and two boys, while I was the third of a set of three boys and two girls. The date seemed to be going well until we bid farewell. I expected an indication that the date was a hit, like a “I had a nice time, we should do it again soon” or perhaps even a hug. Instead, it was abrupt and I walked home feeling more confused than ever. That night, there was still no follow-up text from D and after a call to rant with my best friend about how badly the date ended, I fell asleep thinking,“Oh well, can’t help it if there was no attraction from his end.”
Surpsingly, D got in contact with me and asked me out for a second date… and a third. By the fourth date, it was clear that our relationship was growing and I shared my concerns with D about my permernance in NYC, not wanting to lead him on should I have to move to another city. I expected that any other 28-year-old would run for the hills, but D unassumingly reassured, “I’m in this for the long haul.” That night, we held hands for the first time while taking in the majestic views of Manhattan’s skyline along the Hudson River.
Seven months later, D and I are still going strong. We’ve since then taken snowboarding trips and met each others families. Given my job prospects, I’ve had to make a hard decision to return to Singapore, leaving behind everything I love about NYC. As disappointed as I am to not have spent more years working in the city like what I set out out to do, I gained so much more with my unexpected relationship with D.
His generosity and stability are the perfect complement to my sponateniety for life. What I lack in number skills, he makes up for. What he yearns in elegant writing, I provide. We stay grounded and honest, and go to bed every night saying how grateful we have been to have found each other. We rarely have difficult moments, but when we do, they are almost always because we wish we got to spend a few more precious moments being in the same location.
Even though being away from each other is not ideal, D and I are plowing through – because that’s what you do when you find your other half.
Happy 29th Birthday D! Can’t wait till I next see you.

You Can Do Anything

I wondered if everyone who warned me about the dangers and lasting effects of forcing my wide little feet into heels every day had some merit in their concern as I hobbled back into my Harlem apartment in 2010. It smelled like marijuana and though I bought the cheap air fresheners from the Duane Reade around the block (a pharmacy I had never heard of), the scent was far too overpowering to ignore. The big box my mom sent me from North Carolina sat in my “kitchen”, or rather the furthest left portion of my 400-sq-feet room that amazingly cost $850 a month. I had spent the day going to interview to interview, scouring through every possible magazine masthead I could, emailing to meet up for coffee and praying to the job gods to give me their blessing. I had only lived in New York for two and a half weeks and most of my savings were gone thanks to a security deposit and first months rent. I started my hostessing gig in a week if I didn’t find employment before then. My parents couldn’t help. I was 150% on my own. I was terrified. And I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream. I wanted the city to welcome me with the open arms I always thought it had somewhere buried underneath it’s tough exterior and soiled streets. But instead of falling apart, I repeated my mantra:

You can do it, Lindsay. You’re a Tigar. You can do anything.

Putting the dirty details of my existent and non-existent dating life on the internet was rather a bold decision, I told some girl I met through a new friend I didn’t know well enough yet. The girl was “obsessed” with my blog and I felt a little naked in front of her – considering she knew about my last one night stand the boy who broke my heart in college, and yet, I had no idea what she told me her name was 10 minutes ago. I should be thankful for my job, I reminded myself the next morning while writing a blog about taxes for small business owners. It was a challenging subject matter, and my salary (barely) covered my expenses, but I longed to do what I already did for free: write things that will help women feel less alone. I knew how to get from point A to point B, but the thought of keeping up a popular personal blog, working 9-6, dating, attempting to make friends and applying for a new job seemed daunting. I had done it before when I moved here a year ago, I reminded myself. My drive didn’t seem quite as high but I knew that passion could never really be put out. After all, I repeated:

You can do it, Lindsay. You’re a Tigar. You can do anything.

It was as if the city knocked the air out of me on the ride up Broadway to the Upper West Side. The cabbie had asked if I wanted to take the highway, but I said I preferred to pay a little more and watch New York wind down on that Sunday night. We had been broken up for six months then, but never stopped sleeping together. Even though I acted like I wasn’t seeing him drunkenly or haphazardly, dangling my heart in front of him as he pushed it away. As always. But then the last shoe dropped and something inside me woke up – was this really the love I wanted? Was this the type of relationship I would encourage my friends, my readers, the strangers in the street to have? It wasn’t – and I gave him the choice to make it better. Pick me and work on it, or get out of my life. He wouldn’t decide – per usual – so I made the choice for him. But as I cried silently and the driver ignored my sobs, I felt the fear building up. What if that’s as good as it gets? What if I don’t meet anyone? What if I can’t feel it again? To keep from sobbing from that pit in your heart few people ever touch, I sang my song:

You can do it, Lindsay. You’re a Tigar. You can do anything.

Your knee doesn’t really hurt, you’re just listening to the pain instead of focusing on the finish. Remember philosophy class? What you give your attention to grows – focus on something else to distract yourself. I decided to think about complicated things as I pasted mile 8 on the West Side Highway last Sunday. Only 5.1 more miles to go to complete the NYC Half-Marathon that I didn’t have time to train for with everything. With my dad’s 5th surgery in one year. With the uncertainty surrounding my future. With my dire need to get laid after quite the dry spell. With a trip to Europe so close I can see it, but can’t get excited about just get. Not until my dad is fine. Not until my finances are balanced and my taxes are paid. Not until I finish this race, with my ears freezing and my joints aching with every step. But if I can just keep moving, I know I’ll be home napping before I can think. I know what to tell myself:

You can do it, Lindsay. You’re a Tigar. You can do anything.

Just when you think the sunshine that always defined you was withered away into the clouds that just keep surrounding you, a little ray shines it’s way through. People always warned me that finding my way on my own would be hard. That dating wasn’t easy in this city. That careers are flaky and my industry is shaky at very best. That friendships would require work and diligence, patience and understanding. That loving yourself and believing in the good gets easier and harder as you get older, as you experience more things and question, well, everything. And at times, it all seems impossible. It seems stagnant and unreal. Scary. Like all that you worked so hard for, all that you wanted, all of those magical things that you imagined growing up would never come true. And sometimes, they don’t. Other times, they do. Most of the time, they work out just how they’re supposed to – without you realizing they ever came to be at all.

But of all the struggles and the dilemmas your adult life puts you through, of all of the trouble, and all of the unanswered questions left spiraling in your mind, if you can remember one simple truth that’s true for you, that’s true for me, that’s true for everyone:

You can do anything.

That is, my dear, if you never stopping believing that you can. That you already have. That you always will.

What Would the Wise Woman Do?

I started taking this philosophy course at the start of the year. It was something that I was a little embarrassed to admit because it’s not the type of thing “us New Yorkers” do. Or at least, the response I’ve received so many times when I admit my class enrollment is “OMG, that sign on the subway! You actually did it!” (It looks like this, if you’re curious.)

Based on the advertisement alone, you would think it’s some hoax but the actual lessons I’ve learned through my 10-week schooling have been so influential on my life that I signed up for philosophy 2.

Each class, we discuss topics that relate to life as a group, and then we’re given homework to practice throughout the week. They range from “What would the wise woman do?” (your smarter, less crazy inner self) to “In every situation, find the beauty. If you don’t see it, look again. And if you still don’t see it, look again. And again.” (much easier said than done!).

All of these lessons about patience and listening, kindness and relaxing, selflessness and seeking the wisdom you can gain from every situation have benefited me immensely. When I’m stressed or anxious, upset or unsure, I find myself repeating the smart mantras to get me through the moment or the day or the incident. I’ve become more balanced at work, I spend more time really listening to what my friends have to say and giving more thoughtful, understanding advice. When I feel like the world is crashing down, I can usually apply something from the class and build back up the pieces that started to crumble.

In all areas of my life, I’ve become a better version of myself… except for the one pain point that philosophy class hasn’t been able to soothe:

My dating life.

Now – all of the principles I’ve been taught and repeated in my head for the past 10 weeks definitely make sense in terms of finding love:

Expand your circle of kindness. (Don’t just say no to some dude because he doesn’t fit perfectly into what you want)

Consider every person and every situation as a teacher. What can you learn? (When a date goes terribly and you are eying for the closest exit to get the f*** out of there, breathe, and see what you can gain from this experience.)

What you give your attention to grows. (If you keep focusing on the bad and the disheartening parts of being single or seeking love, you’re going to be continuously slapped in your pretty little face.)

Logically, I see the direct correlation but when I attempt to put it into practice, all of my zen attitudes and my self-encouraging thoughts quickly turn into the catastrophic rolling tide of negativity.

Like on Tuesday.

I met someone in a rather interesting way recently and I was excited about going out with him for the first time on Tuesday. There was some brief texting and some minor flirtation, and though I knew better than to get my hopes up about a date with a stranger, I was actually excited to see how it (and he) turned out. Maybe because the majority of first dates either go very well or very bad, or that I’m just so programmed to expect the worst out of men in New York, but as I was walking to the subway station to meet him, I felt the fear start creeping it’s way into my mind:

What if it’s really awkward? What if I don’t like him? What if how I remember him isn’t quite how he is? What if I’m really, really early? Or late? What if I say the wrong thing? What if I want to leave and I won’t know how to get away from him? What if he doesn’t think I’m pretty?

I felt my anxiety continue to build as I turned the corner and out of nowhere, something inside of me said: Look up. Look around you. Get out of your head and in the moment.”

And so I did.

I saw the toddlers racing out of their doorman building and the golden retriever happily following behind them. I saw young women around my age coming out of the local market with bags of food, talking to someone on the phone in hushed tones. I saw the street car vendor call out to passerbys and I saw little old men shuffling their way to the apartments they’ve probably had for decades.

And then I looked up…

… just as someone accidentally let go of a heart-shaped red balloon and it floated quickly up to the sky from the uptown streets of the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Just as I was walking by. And just as Maroon 5′s “Love Somebody” came on my Pandora app.

First, I though, wow, my friends are right. My life IS a romantic comedy, and then I gave myself a break for being so negative about relationships.

The truth is  – dating is hard. It is frustrating. It in oftentimes, infuriating. And after going on date after date and meeting guy after guy for two and a half years, it’s natural to be a little burnt out. It’s normal to feel nervous before a date and frankly, nervous for how you’ll feel afterwards: more disappointed or hopeful (and honestly, the latter is a little scarier than the first).

And while it’s okay to worry, my energy and my time (and my heart) are better spent living in the now. Enjoying every single second of every minute of every day of every week of every month of every year is the single most important thing I’ve gained from my philosophy training. Time spent analyzing the past and holding onto it keeps you from the joy and the splendor of the now. And wondering what tomorrow will bring or who you will meet or how it will go or how it won’t go or what will happen are all questions that you’ll never have the answers to until… well, they happen. The truth of everything is found while you’re experiencing, not afterwards and not in anticipation of the moment.

So I got on the train. I took the local and I read a book the whole way. I took my time getting to the bar. I casually sat down, arriving before he did. I drank some water and I scanned a menu I already basically had memorized. I saw him arrive and I watched him walk in.

He smiled a genuine, kind grin at me and sat down.

And we talked philosophy – something that both of us had studied and both had our lives and our mindsets changed because of the work. A few drinks, a few kisses and a few days later, I’m excited about our second date this Friday.

But I’m not stressed about it. I’m just letting it happen. Why?

Because that’s exactly what the wise woman would do.