In Search of Me

I have a strategy for making strangers become instant, hold-nothing-back, bear-all best friends: have unlimited drinks of any kind outside in beautiful weather. Such strategy yielded great results in the form of fabulous conversations with a group of volunteers and staff at New York Cares’ happy hour.

As it inevitably does, my blog became a topic of discussion. And with all of us buzzing on Wednesday evening, watching the sun set over the Hudson, everyone was forthcoming and open. Someone – my memory doesn’t serve me well enough to decide who exactly – brought up the mantra that advises “Love will find you when you’re not looking.”

One woman, drink in hand, sunglasses on her forehead, and a sweet smile argued: “But when are we not looking? Do we ever not look? I mean, seriously. I can say I’m not looking all I want, but I’m always looking. I see a guy and I wonder, ‘is that him?’ or I do certain jobs, like checking people in, just in case it’ll be a chance to meet someone.”

If she would have asked me a year ago if it was possible to actually not look for a relationship, I would have firmly said “Absolutely not!” At that point, I felt just as she did – constantly on the watch for anyone who could become a someone, anything that could turn into something. Each guy that glanced my way, sat near me on the train, bought me a drink, bumped into me on the street had the potential to be a possibility, to become Mr. Possibility.

But when I made the commitment to myself to write this blog, to overcome the title of “love addiction” I gave myself, something inside me changed. Honestly, it changed from blog post #1, many, many days ago. I had reached a point where I wasn’t so much fed up with men, but I was fed up with myself. And I was exhausted of the person I became when I didn’t get what I wanted with a dude or how I felt about myself if I was single or if one of those somethings or someones suddenly wasn’t interested.

I knew I had to stop looking for love and I had to start looking for myself.

Somewhere in my endless pursuit of Mr. Right, in all of my dating dilemmas, sexual encounters, breakups, makeups, and hookups – I lost who I was. I was so damned-and-determined to have someone be in love with me, to fulfill those parts of me that were insecure and seemingly empty, that I damned myself into a needy, emotional version of who I really am. I wanted the ball back in my court and more than anything, I wanted to love the person I am, be proud of what I offer, and sincerely let everything else fall into place.

And so I really, truly, sincerely, stopped looking for love. I lowered my love antenna, I shut down any online dating profile I had, I removed guys from Gchat and from Facebook, I deleted phone numbers, and I stopped reaching out to males. If they contacted me, sure. If they wanted to ask me out, okay. If they felt the need to pursue anything more, I obliged. But instead of focusing on the Great Male Search, I searched for the pieces of myself I had been neglecting. I called off the search team for The One, and went in search of me.

I hate to type this because it confirms all those people who told me that love would come into my life when I didn’t want it or expect it – but it did. Soon after I started the blog, I met Mr. Possibility, and while there’s no telling if he’s the last possibility I’ll entertain, he’s pretty entertaining for now. And when I met him – I didn’t want to date him. I was so focused on this journey, on becoming the best me that I could be, that developing a relationship with him wasn’t a priority. It took time and lots of patience on both of our parts to grow into what we are now. So I didn’t look for him and I found him.

But more importantly, I found me. I found a strength inside of myself that takes a chance on falling in love, but knows that if it all shatters, I’ll be fine. I found peace knowing that one of the most beautiful things about love is that it can happen at any moment, anywhere, at any stage, without notice – and it can happen over and over again, no matter how impossible that may seem. I found the bravery to believe in myself above all things, above all men, above all romantic ideals that filled my head with insecurities and nonsense.

I found that with or without someone, I can still be me. And that me is worthy of the many wondrous things that make a beautiful life ripe with possibility.

Daily Gratitude: I’m thankful for my wonderful new friends and for M, who run through fountains with me in the middle of the night. 

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Baby, I Need Space

I’ve never actually lived with someone, though I’ve written on the topic several times. For whatever reason, the two times in my adult life I’ve had a gap in between leases, I’ve been lucky enough to be dating men who offer their apartments. Both times, I went into the situation attempting to view it as a mini-vacation with someone I care about…minus still having to work 9-6.

And yet, though each relationship is vastly different and the arrival of the “homeless” period arrived in varying points of the dating duration, at the end of both of my staycations with Mr. Idea and Mr. Possibility, I’ve found myself arriving at the same conclusion:

Baby, I need space.

Don’t get me wrong – Mr. Possibility is truly wonderful. I won’t go into the history (if you’d like, you’re welcome to research yourself, is not impossible to find) but in the last few months we’ve made significant progress. We’ve developed into a functioning couple that has yet to have a knock-out, drag-down fight, and we’re respectful of one another’s needs. There is intensity and fire, but I’d also consider him one of my closest friends – which to me, is more important than butterflies and channeling Prince Charminglike similarities.

But he does things to get on my nerves. In fact, he does several.

He’s not the tidiest person I’ve known, though most men are not (with the exception of his roommate who keeps a remarkably clean abode). He has his own set of mood swings and preferences of how he choses to carry his day-to-day life, and how he likes his apartment to be organized. His idea of grocery shopping is getting what’s on sale, even it is two-for-one ketchup, regardless if he needs ketchup or not. He doesn’t rinse the sink after he shaves and when he needs to work, he spreads his things as wide as the living room will allow him, and if I dare touch a paper, I swear I may lose a finger.

These are not bad things and they do not change the way I feel about him because I’m no different.

I have a tendency to shed, leaving him with strands of reminders of me on his shirts, his briefcase, and his coat. I will use the same cup all day long, refilling it with orange juice, then pouring the last little bit out, and repeating. I want to sleep in on the weekends until at least ten and he is programmed to wake at eight, no matter what day it is. I packed ten pairs of shoes for a three-week stay, and they’re strung about his room unorganized, even though I’ve made several attempts to keep them straight. In an effort to be helpful, I shrunk some of his shirts when I did the wash, and when I decided to bake cookies, I forgot to check the cleanliness of the oven and set off not one, but two smoke detectors.

It’s not just the quirks either though – it’s sleeping under the same roof, eating the same dinners, having actual discussions about domestic tasks and purchases, and not only watching TV on a Friday night together, but going out together the next Friday. It’s constantly being connected to the hip and feeling like you’ve lost some part of yourself, even if you’ve gained the coveted key to your guy’s place. And that kind of closeness, though intimate and ultimately what marriage may very well look like, can bring a girl to her knees – or to a bar in Union Square, frantically telling her friends how badly she needs space.

Usually requesting space brings anxiety and fear into the relationship, almost as a signal that it is nearing the end or facing rocky waters. Such is not the case with Mr. Possibility because emotional room isn’t what’s on the table. Rather, it’s just literal space.

Keys that belong to me. A closet to fill with my belongings, freeing them from a suitcase and one mini-drawer. A bed to collapse on that I paid for, that I can choose to make or leave messy because it’s mine and I don’t have to share unless I extend an invitation. An area to sit and write endlessly, without being interrupted, without the sound of a television blaring in the background, or debates about going out or staying in.

A space to be alone.

In the past, I never could wrap my head around my friends claiming “space” was a good thing – but now I see their point. A couple can spend too much time together. You can be around one another far too much. Shared interests, friends, and pursuits help bring you together, but if you overdo them, it can be what tears you apart. Without demanding and sticking to an individual regimen that gives you what you need outside of the relationship, even a duo that barely argues will feel smothered and bothered. And from there it only leads downhill – heated arguments over silly things, miscommunication under stress, less sex and play, and at the very worse, breaking up just to find an hour to exhale in privacy.

So maybe I’ll give space a break. Sometimes it is the remedy that doesn’t separate you, but ultimately bring you closer. But not too close for comfort.

A Sweet Longing

The last week or so, I’ve been feeling a little homesick.

While this may break my mother’s heart (I apologize in advance, Mama), I don’t miss home all that often. I’ve come to find that home is where you make it and who you make it with, so really, right now, my home is inNew York, in the company of my friends, and in the lights of the city.

But nothing really replaces your mom. Or your dad. Or the smellNorth Carolinaeludes with the arrival of summer. Or the quiet that comes from an old country road where the only noise prohibited is the sweet melody of song birds in the morning. And no matter how many years I’m away from NC or how many friends I make or how many roots I try to plant  in the pavement, holidays are tough away from the place you always spent them.

They say the mark of a successful parent is when they raise their child to be a mature, functioning, self-sufficient, and happy adult who can handle life without them. I’d say my parents have achieved this feat and I would think that all great parents want their children to turn into capable adults who create an existence that brings them joy, prosperity, and love, of course – but part of growing up is moving on.

If you’re the product of a very happy home with a supportive, loving family, and a community that encouraged success and bigger things than what sweet littleCarolinacan offer – the process of moving on means letting go of where you were to establish where you are. And it isn’t easy. I love my background but I’m confident my future has just as much possibility, if not more. But making that possibility feel just right is a process in itself.

I do consider myself an adult and I am completely independent of my parents for all of my financial needs and wants. I don’t depend on them for anything more than a daily phone call and to be there should I want to spend an outrageous amount of money flying south for a weekend. But there are times, like when I miss them that I feel like I’m less of an adult.

Maybe it is a misconception on my part to think that longing to see your family makes you more of a child and less of a grown-up, but when you travel away from home, as children should – when do you stop missing where you come from? Or not really where, but who?

I think part of the appeal of a relationship or the desire to one day get married comes from the hunger for a home. Especially if you came from a healthy and happy home – why would you not want to design the same foundation? And maybe we think by finding that sense of security or making plans for the future, we’ll stop missing what we had to leave behind to get to where we wanted to be. Maybe we think that sadness that surprises us from time-to-time will stop coming around. Maybe we think by finding love, the love of our childhood home won’t be something we wish we could capture and carry around with us, should a day ever be nothing but doom-and-gloom.

I’m not there yet, so I can’t argue effectively, but I know that nothing compares to my mother’s embrace or the smell of her perfume that lingers on you after. Or my father’s infectious laugher that burns his face and fills in the lines of his wrinkled cheeks. You can’t capture the same smells of bacon and eggs in the morning paired with instant-coffee, or the sound of the washing machine constantly running while my dog scratches at my bedroom door.

And not being able to see your parents on Easter or Mother’s Day or Father’s Day – because it isn’t sensible to fork over $300 in such a short period of time, just sucks. Or knowing the baby cousins you left will only see you once or twice a year, meaning you won’t watch them grow, is sad. Or that you only get to hug your family for a week at a time, maybe twice or three times a year, hurts.

There really is no place like home, no matter how sweet your new one is.

All Hyped Up on Love

Though I may only be a 20-something, I’ve been through quite some pop culture and trends.

I grew up on everything from TGIF, Sister Sister, The Adventures of Mary Kate & Ashley, Full House, The Secret World of Alex Mac, Figure it Out, Clarissa Explains it All, and Rugrats to All That, Hey Arnold!, Saved by the Bell, and Boy Meets World. By some strike of fate or stupidity, my mother eventually allowed me to watch MTV and Friends (where I appropriately flooded her with questions), and some ex boyfriends introduced me to shows like Alf, long after they were off the air.

I convinced myself I could sing just like Mandy Moore – breathy and incredibly too dramatic and all. Outside, with that same recorder I used to interview people with, I’d belt out a Mariah Carey with the neighborhood kids, who at one point, all got together and formed a band, The Butterflies. I always wanted to ride places in my dad’s truck because it had one of those new CD players and if I was careful not to scratch them, I could listen to The Beatles, the Beach Boys, The Temptations, Elton John, Eric Clapton, and Jim Croce while we were driving around town. He’d always serenade me with “My Girl” and hearing it still makes me smile today, though I’m positive I prefer his voice over the original. With my belly button visible, I danced in front of the mirror to Britney Spears, I cried over a Backstreet Boys song when Mr. Curls didn’t show up to my seventh grade birthday party, and I lost my virginity to “I’ll Make Love to You” by Boys II Men.

Being an early bloomer who sprouted out of training bras and into the real ones the summer between fifth and sixth grade, I was amazed with my new curves and unsure of what to do with them. I did, however, notice the looks older boys gave me. So did my mother. I can’t count how many times she left me at home because I refused to change into something more age appropriate, and then I’d call her on her cell phone that was the size of my forearm, and beg her to come back and get me in my jeans and unflattering t-shirt. I wore the platform shoes like The Spice Girls, I braided my hair with a colored strand, I wore glitter on my eyes, and though I thought Abercrombie was cool, even at a young age, I realized how ridiculously overpriced it was. I also didn’t enjoy being choked to death by cologne ten steps before the store front.

I lived, breathed, and loved all of these hypes.

They came, they served a purpose, and they left. I was onto the next band, the next technology, the next style that would fade faster than I could begin to afford it. It took until junior year in college for me to stop caring so much about hypes or what’s hot and to focus more on what I wanted instead of what was new.

This week, to keep my spirits up and to lower my peeking stress level, I’ve been listening to 80′s music. I wasn’t alive in the early 80′s, but some of my youngest memories involve my mom dancing in hot shorts to Michael Jackson or Fine Young Cannibal’s “She Drives Me Crazy” while cleaning. Because my office is in the process of moving, we’re all packing up and my “You Make My Dreams Come True” Pandora station proved to be exactly what we needed. As the songs were playing, I’d notice how certain songs remind me of men I’ve loved or guys who have introduced me to a band I didn’t know. Some of the other women in the office would start singing and then proclaim who they were dating when that particular song came on. Somehow, the best of the 80′s translates into the best and the worse of men of the 80′s for those who lived through it – or discovered the music later on.

Listening to the stories while pouring what I owned into a large Staples cardboard box, I wondered if love is one continuous hype.

We’re sucked in early with fairytales and if we’re lucky, by watching our parents verbalize their admiration for one another. I didn’t really go through the “boys had cooties” phase, I was more concerned with my kindergarten boyfriend, but all of my friends were repulsed by the opposite sex (funny thing is, they’re all married now, and I’m happily not). Once that period comes to a close, we transition into middle school where holding hands and doodling our names with hearts and “forever-ever-and-ever-and-always” seems like the only important thing in the world. High school introduces us to sex, college we have a lot of sex, and in our 20′s we discover what great, incredible sex is, and wonder what we were thinking (or who we were doing) the years previous.

For most, it is one date after another, one relationship after another, one bed and then another, one romance and then ten more. The personalities change, along with the clothes and the mannerisms, but the men essentially are all the same, each time – we get ourselves all hyped up on love. And when it’s good, when it has promise, we’ll go as far to think we’ll never feel it again. That this feeling, whatever it is, is impossible with another man. We’ll get so dead-set on this hype that we’ll become depressed thinking he is the end-all-be-all and we’re doomed if this doesn’t work out…or worse yet, if we screw it up.

If that was the case, Buffy the Vampire Slayer would still be making shows. So would Dawson’s Creek. We’d all still be listening to LFO, eating Dunkaroos, and wearing those god-awful acid-wash jeans (keep in mind Williamsburg is excused from this analogy). We’d all carry mobile phones that don’t fit in our bags and our dial-up internet would greet us with “You’ve Got Mail!”

Things change, so do people. We fall in love and we fall out. We think he’s The One and then we want him to be the one who never comes back. We are addicted to our pair of skinny jeans until our bodies grow some curve, some place, and they don’t fit anymore. We buy into something until it becomes a commodity and we got for a cheaper alternative. Much of life is a hype – but the one thing that remains consistent is me. I’ve been through all the hypes, all the love, all the coming and the going, and I’m still who I am. I’ve adapted and learned, grown up and become a woman, and while I don’t forget the trends I trended through, I realize I’m always going to trend through something.

And if a particular style doesn’t look right on me or a musician doesn’t get me moving, or a man doesn’t hit the spots I need him to hit – I rest easy knowing the next hype is closer than I think.

The Blackberry on the Bedstand

Like a penny and piece of paper that’s not wasted – a relationship has two sides to it. If it takes two to tango, there is always the guy’s side to what went awry, the lady’s opinion – and then there’s the truth.

While we may never know the real reasons behind why our past loves burnt out or why the connections faded between our current man and his last girl, it isn’t so much a question of what happened after, but what went on, during.

And it’s easy – once all is said and done – and we’ve moved on to brighter and better futures that may have us single or taken, to speculate the past and give it a definite reason. It may be simpler to determine that the girl who laid with a man we’re seeing wasn’t anything like us or wasn’t right for him – hence why she’s not in the picture, and we are. But like it gets the best out of felines, curiosity also has a way of sneaking its way into our minds, too.

I mean, who was the last girl? Is there a way to meet her or know her, without actually doing it? Would we like her if we did? Why do we care who she was or why it ended? Does their past really affect our future? Is this inquisitiveness healthy?

When I went to meet Mr. Possibility after his long stint overseas, he stood waiting patiently on the LIRR platform above me. When he smiled at me, a flash of intensity struck thru my heart in an instant. I knew I missed him but I also wondered what in the world I was walking up to. When we embraced, it was one of those moments out of a trite romance novel, where you rush to one another and the man kisses your forehead, your cheeks, your nose – and all at once, you remember what it felt like before he left.

Following a welcome home party of sorts and an intense conversation, I found myself, again, entangled with him, falling asleep to the sound of our joint breath. When I woke up the next morning, still intertwined with this severely jet-lagged gentleman who was peacefully knocked out, I noticed his Blackberry on my bedstand.

In all of the time he stayed over before, he always placed the contents of his pockets, including his phone and nifty pen he never forgets, right next to where we slept. When I needed to know the time or use a light to navigate the mess that is my apartment, I’d often use his dated 3G to do so.

But this time, as I blinked my eyes open and thought to reach out and determine how much damage those last shots had done, I found myself unable to move. Suddenly, his Blackberry seemed dangerous.

I have never been a gal to go through anyone’s phone – especially a man I’m seeing. I’m private (believe it or not) with my own cell and selective about who I save in my address book, so I’ve respected the same preference with others. I also tend to believe if you go looking for trouble, you will find it. Even if it’s in a picture or a text from three years ago that alludes to something you’d rather not know or something that even matters.

And while it never dawned on me, even that morning, to flip over his phone and parade through it, I also couldn’t bring myself to touch it.

I realized, not for the first time really, but in a profound way – I’m not the first to lay here. I’m not the first to touch that phone or be stored in it. I’m not the first woman he took a picture of, sitting across from him at a café in the Village. I’m not the first texting conversation he’s had for a straight eight-hour period. That Blackberry isn’t just a Blackberry on my bedstand – it’s all of the beds he’s laid in with women I don’t know.

As I’m staring, attempting to muster enough courage to look at the time, he reached across me, kissed the curve of my neck, grabbed the phone and said he couldn’t believe we’ve slept so late. He haphazardly placed the phone back and pulled me closer into him, wondering if I slept well. And with the phone light illuminating my room, I started to wonder about the girls before. Maybe when they say happily ever after, they are referring to the end of dating or the end of previous relationships – but do they ever really go away? Is there truly an after, when you know the before?

If all of the he’s and the she’s we meet make us who we are, then those we date are made up of the same influences. They just come in different forms and with varying faces. But when it comes to love – while I may show and tell, I don’t like to share. What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours – even if what’s mine, used to be yours.

Mr. Possibility’s Blackberry may keep every woman he’s known – maybe even the ones he could be exploring – but if I consider them part of the equation, there may be no way to add up parts that lead to love. If we remain stuck in what was, there is no opportunity to create a could be that can be.

However – in the spirit of feminism (or maybe just the matter of female language), it’s best not to condemn the women who once held a man’s heart. Without knowing them, without their angle of their relationship, there is no way to determine the pieces of the puzzle that eventually didn’t fit together for them. In most cases we will never know and it will never matter – but if he loved them and he loves you, there is a good chance you are quite similar. Or that you’re vastly different. Either way, it doesn’t make or break the relationship; it just gives a different perspective to the past. Because maybe, if for whatever backhanded twist of the universe, we did come face-to-face or word-for-word with the woman he was once with, we may find ourselves not only liking the gal, but considering her a friend. After all, if we all have some sort of a type, so do the dudes, even if he doesn’t categorize it that way in his Blackberry.

A phone, for all intents and purposes, keeps our lives together. It makes everything and anything easily accessible, especially with the technology available to those who can afford expensive policies. But what a phone doesn’t hold or isn’t able to access is the life of the person when they are without it. When buttons aren’t dialing, when texts aren’t being sent, when calls aren’t being made.

When the Blackberry is on the bedstand, the man is in the bed. Without his phone, without reaching out to the world outside of the frame that contains you and him. And within the space, within the perimeters that make up a bedroom, lives a relationship (where it be exclusive or not).

And while within reach is every woman he’s loved or the ones he could be with one day, for a moment, a year, or a lifetime – the only one that matters is you. Because eventually, within a few minutes, the light goes out on the berry. The room dims as it was. And it is there, in the dark or in the rays that make up the morning, that you figure out if you’ll be just another number stored away for safe keeping and bittersweet memories. Or the one who remains on speed dial.

Regardless, just like it’s near impossible to not have a cell phone, it is just as improbable for a man to not have a past. The question is – can you accept it? Embrace it? Or will you stare blankly, afraid to know what’s stored in the memory, the database, and the heart of someone who is just within reach.