A Heart Full of Love

While I was home for the holidays, pretending anything fried and delicious was also calorie-less while lounging on anything that would hold me for long periods of time – my pup, Lucy, was doing the same. A funny thing happens when a city dog from the Upper West Side meets the great wilderness that is a fenced-in back yard: freedom.

Lucy had fun playing with my family’s dog, Suzie, and my uncle’s dogs, Lincoln and Cooper. She ran out the doggy door. And back in. And out. And again and again, over and over. She ate whatever she could find, buried her toys in the dirt outside, rolled in the mud – anything and everything that was Southern and grimy – Lucy was game.

So you can imagine that when bedtime rubbed its sleepy eyes, I had one tired little gal that easily and deeply fell asleep. That is, except for her first night. You see – my apartment in New York is rather quiet. My window faces the buildings behind me and I almost always sleep with a fan to drown out the eerie sound of silence that makes my ears ring. Slumber in the city is very quiet, but in North Carolina – you can hear all sorts of sounds. The tree frogs sing their melodies late at night, the birds wake you up before you’re ready, the dogs have conversations from cul-de-sac to cul-de-sac and angry women shoo them to simmer down.

To Lucy – this was a lot to take in.

I spent a good hour trying to convince her to come out from underneath my childhood bed, luring her with treats and the sweetest (irritated) voice I could muster. But this stubborn tiny white dog was having none of it – she had tucked herself into a corner, ready to hide from anything and everything that was apparently out to get her. As I was attempting to wiggle an arm in to grab her, I hit my elbow on a big plastic box, concealed under a blanket that I used to snuggle with when I was four.

Curiosity always getting the best of me, I pulled out this unfamiliar Tupperware, giving up on my runaway pet. I peeled off the top and inside I found something that within minutes, brought me to tears.

Hundreds and hundreds of love letters.

You see – my ultra-romantic father who is even gushier than me (if you can believe it) – has written a note to my mom nearly every morning in the 27 years they’ve been married. I remember stumbling across them as a child: sometimes in front of the coffee pot, sticking out of the corner of her purse, on the dashboard of her car, taped to the side of her vanity where she sat to do her makeup. They didn’t say much, usually just loving sentiments or funny inside jokes that I don’t want to know the meaning of.

I hadn’t realized that my mom had kept every single last one of them. Or that she stowed them away in a sealed container, underneath my bed where I’m assuming she sometimes pulls them out to read again or continuously add to her already very large stockpile. As I sifted through the notes, careful not to rip them and making sure I didn’t read anything super-personal, I thought about what my dad must have been thinking when he penciled these.

Was he just trying to make sure my mom started her day off with something kind-hearted? Did he want to ensure that she always felt loved? That she always knew how treasured and valuable she is to him? Did he feel so much love toward her that he simply couldn’t hold it in anymore? Was his heart bursting with all that he felt from that day he laid eyes on her from across a crowded, smoky dance floor in the 80s?

These are answers that I’ll probably never know and questions I wouldn’t dare to ask – those letters and the meanings behind them are for my parents. And between them. They’re part of their long-winded, strong and compassionate love affair that has continually shown me what it really means to love unconditionally. Every date I go on, every man I think could possibly be someone to me, I compare the guy – intentionally and not – to my dad. Even if this man won’t write me a note every morning before I hop the train to work or make me a cup of coffee to wake up to – would he express his love in a different way I’d appreciate? Would he remember to tell me how he cares – not just on anniversaries and Hallmark holidays but all the time, every single day?

The verdict is still out – but those letters in that box taught me that what I’m really looking for in a man is one who has one hell of a heart. And a heart that’s full of love. Sure, there are other things – like ambition, loyalty, humor, height – that also rate pretty high on the attraction scale –but someone who isn’t afraid of his feelings and knows how to show them. That’s important, too.

And apparently, important to Lucy, as well. Because as soon as she heard me sniffle as I read those pages, she quickly came to my side to comfort my heart. The one that aches for another one… just like it.

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The Men Who Never Ruined Me

When you’re a New Yorker-wannabe who sports heels in 20-degree snowy weather while attending a college ripe with country-fied hipsters – you develop thick skin pretty quickly. And when those not-so-Southern graces finally land you in city places – that durability only gets tougher.

Or when your job is to criticize and analyze, and thus those around you do the exact same, and your dreamland also happens to be the Land of Hard-Knocks –being resilient is an essential part of survival. It isn’t survival of the fittest, but survival of the wittiest – the ones who can not only take a punch but challenge another one to even try and make them fall.

And while this thick skin has given me opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise and strength that always makes me push forward -the layer of power is actually quite shallow.

They say the first cut cuts the deepest but I’d like to think that every love has the chance to penetrate the most pain. And to be honest – the older I become, the better ability I have to sincerely love someone. Not to mention the better I know myself, so the people I date I’m more compatible with and the relationships, more serious and impactful.

But yet, amidst the qualifications and healthy self-growth, I’ve found myself unable to fully develop that protection against the men who come and often leave my life. No matter how hard I try or how much I hold off on being vulnerable and emotionally open to someone – somehow, if the chemistry and the man are right, they’ll find their way in. Often times, easier than I’d like to admit.

And when that happens – when love gets under my skin – I automatically set myself on guard. I become a protector of my heart like the fragile item it is; a soldier unsure if I’m fighting for the single or the taken team.  Because  this person, who I let creep in, has this ability to crush me, and if I let them dig their way in deeper – I may never recover.

Because doesn’t everyone have the man who ruined them?

The guy who made our skin tingle in ecstasy, caused us to lose our breath when he pulled away in the middle of an exchange, and gave us what we thought was the gut-feeling of just-right, the ever just-so. But then he left. Or things fell apart. Or he met someone else. Or we stopped being what he wanted or realized we never were close to his idea of a dreamgirl, regardless if he was our image of fate.

I’ve met many men who have broken my spirits and damaged my pride. There have been a few that for a matter of time after we parted, I lost my faith in finding love. I’ve cursed a couple names, I’ve taken all the blame and placed it all away, and there is one I don’t go a day without thinking of. They’ve each hurt me in their own respect, some by their doing and some by my own actions.

And I’ve also been guilty of manipulating and leading-on men who merely wanted to see me happy. My intention was never to be deceptive, but it’s difficult to tell someone that they aren’t what you want, that they don’t give you what you need, and that you’d rather try your luck in singleness instead of sticking around with them. Are these the men who we break? I’d like to think not, but that’s easier to say when you’re the one in control not the one receiving harsh, blunt force to your core.

But regardless of which spectrum I shine or burn out at – I don’t believe I’ve ruined someone. And all of the he’s of yesterday are all the men who neverruined me. The ones of today and tomorrow will never make me damaged goods either. It’s simply impossible.

Will I be hurt? Will I find myself buried in sadness and fear of never stumbling across the love of my life? Will I ache and cry, crumble and fall? Will I allow myself to love and be loved, to give and make love? Will it all be less than and more than I can take?

I hope so.

Because the thing about having thick loving skin is to build up the resistance, to be wiser about who we give enough power to leave a scar – we have to experience the bad. Without the pain, there is no persistence. Without the pressure, hope never develops its place. Skin can’t be durable if it is never tested. Hearts can’t be trusted if they never allow themselves to trust. You can’t experience love until you fall madly and severely in lust. You can’t appreciate a man worth your time if you don’t date a guy who wasted not only your time, but you, too.

And we can’t assure ourselves that being emotionally battered is out of the question if we’re never faced with a love that has the power to destruct. Not only our emotions, but what we think, what we believe, and where we stand. Until we come across a man who will change us for the better, he’ll never have the opportunity to damage us for good.

But even when this love rears is beautifully disastrous head; when we realize the strength someone has over us, the tight grip they hold on our hearts without really trying, and the skin they’re making softer by the hour – we should enjoy it. Savor it. Experience it for all that it offers and all the hope it gives us, even if they are left unfulfilled in the end.

Because there are chances worth taking. Mistakes worth making. Promises worth breaking. Life worth chasing. People worth dating. And at the end of it, if we can remember we’re worth all of those things too, that we’re people worth loving, who are worthy of a chance, that we are the women worth breaking a promise for, and we are the ones with a life that’s worth a great chase- then we won’t find ourselves ruined if something goes wrong. Instead, we’ll find ourselves seasoned, experienced, and with a new man who never ruined us to add to the list of the love we’ve had, lost, and found.

And, if we’re lucky, we’ll also have a little thicker skin for the next one who comes our way.

 

Seasons of Security

Some used their thumb, others swaddled a mangled blanket, and a few were content on their own. For my sense of security as a child, I had Mary.

Or as my mother called her, Punk Rocker Mary.

Being the loving pretend-mother I was, I carried my prized doll around everywhere – by her hair. She’d go sledding down our snowy backyard, take dives in our kiddie pool, and she’d dig with me while I looked for buried treasure outside. I refused to go anywhere without her and though I gave her hair that stuck up 90 degrees, she was always up for the ride, and I felt safe dragging her along.

One afternoon, when my family was at one of those highly classy North Carolina flea markets (no judging) – I left Mary in my stroller to get an ice cream cone with my mom, and when we looked back, she’d disappeared. To this day, we’re not sure if she fell out or someone stole her (with her crazy locks, why would anyone want to?), but I was devastated. My mom forced my dad to go buy another Mary to keep me from hysterics, but I wanted nothing to do with the imposter: if I couldn’t have Ms. Punk Rocker, I didn’t want anything.

It’s no surprise people attach meaning to objects – it’s the reason athletes wear the same jersey for weeks or CEOs only sign documents with the same fancy pen – though it may just be another thing to most, once emotion is enveloped, it’s hard to take it away.

While Mary meant everything to me at one time, like we all do, I moved on to the next something that would give me that peace of mind. I found Sammy, a stuffed animal I slept with until I went away to school, a change purse I swore was lucky during middle school, and a pair of jeans that made me feel so incredibly sexy and skinny during college, that I only recently gave in and threw them out a few months ago. Until I actually moved to New York, I held onto the Metro card I used two summers previous during my internship, just in case I never had the opportunity to return.

And that same transitional sense of attachment has been just as adhesive in past relationships.

When a love starts to fizzle or I can feel myself strapping on my walking-away boots, prepared for the right moment to suck it up and strut away – I start to notice that ping in the corners of my heart that question: What if I don’t meet anyone who makes me feel this way again? What if I don’t feel as secure and comfortable and loved? I mean, what if this is it and I screw it up?

Perhaps I should be asking though, why is it that the thought of moving on is more difficult than the act itself? Doesn’t moving on happen naturally but deciding it’s time to leave can be more painful, more intense, more relentless than any breakup? That sometimes, we’d prefer our dolls, or our men, to just be stolen away, so there would be no gray area to navigate.

After receiving a text message from an ex who will be interviewing in New York soon, I thought back to the months we shared when his presence, his companionship, his midnight kisses on my shoulder – meant everything to me. With him and with pretty much any man I’ve shared a part of myself with, was for a fleeting moment, a huge part of my life. They were the person I talked to each day, the person (besides my mom) I called when something incredible happened, or the individual who knew the most about me at that given stage in my life. A relationship by its definition causes two people to coexist, to be together – emotionally, sexually, spiritually, or otherwise – for the time they are meant to be in whatever form, side-by-side.

And then, as all things change, all things transition, and pages turn quicker than I could ever write them – love fades. Intensity becomes extinguished. People move. We grow apart. No common ground can be found. Eyes wonder, along with hands. Stolen moments turn into bittersweet memories. And then we find ourselves, weeks, months, years – decades - down the road, not even having a clue what someone is up to. Not knowing, for the life of us, where they live, who they work for, or if they’re happy. In some cases, maybe we don’t care and can’t be bothered to send an email (or add as a friend on Facebook), but isn’t it funny how our partners-of-yesterday become the strangers-of-today? And those strangers we passed hours ago, could be the lovers we eventually never go a day without seeing?

How our security blanket of love, the stability and commitment that comes with a relationship, continuously crumbles and is rebuilt, time and time again, with revolving faces and places we can never quite predict. And though when we first turn our backs, release the protection, the safe harbor of togetherness, and sail into the single sea (where we’re told there are many fish) – we’re terrified. Yet, give us a few miles, smooth waters, and tidal waves to battle – and we’ll be fine. We won’t even see the shore we left anymore, except for those rare occasions when something triggers a memory, but rather, we’ll only see new horizons.

Isn’t that what moving on is all about?

A friend of mine once told me the people we meet – romantically involved or not – come into our life for a reason, for a season, or forever, and the point of the relationship or friendship is to determine which one this person will be. In some cases, I agree with her but in most, I’m under the belief that everyone, no matter what impression they make, comes into our lives at the right moment, for a purpose, and that lesson, that value they were designed to give to us – will forever be part of who we are.

Perhaps learning to love yourself, letting go of not only past heartbreaks and destructive mentalities, is accepting that maybe, it’s okay to remember the good. To remember that simple security that comes with a person you admired or loved and to trust that if you can feel it once, you can feel it again. That if lucky charms and skinny jeans have taught us anything - it’s that the greatest strength, the purest magic isn’t in an object or a relationship, but the credence we put behind it. That moving on doesn’t mean forgetting, it just means believing in the present and in the future – more than you do the past.

And that security we seek, in its most powerful and protective form, must first and foremost, start with being secure in ourselves. Even when we’re one baby doll, one lover, or one something-less.

Lesson from Mr. Unavailable

Since I moved to the city, I haven’t exactly had the best luck in dating. Hence, part of why I’m writing this blog. I had this unrealistic notion that once I moved to my dream location, my dream guy would show up too.

Maybe a little idealistic of me? Yeah –I’ll admit that (it is after all, what recovery is about). My mother went as far to tell me I’d meet Prince Charming at JFK on March 14, when my plane landed in my new home.

Nice in theory –but the reality couldn’t have been further from the truth. However, the men I have met while I’ve been here the last six months have had a common theme.

They’ve all been completely unavailable.

Either literally –because they’ve had girlfriends or wives, or emotionally -because they just got out of a serious relationship or because they’re just not looking for a special someone at this time.

None of these guys have been particularly rude or nasty –they have all, in fact, been very kind and openly honest. They have poured out their hearts and their souls or spoken of their leading ladies in the highest of terms.

It’s been quite unfortunate that they have told me about their girlfriends or about the one-who-got-away when I first meet them, or over drinks or dinner, when at the time, I’m sure they are available. While that’s sucked –I’ve appreciated the fair warning.

Recently, because I made no rules for this 12-step program, I went on a “date.” It was a very simple meeting in Bryant Park with coffee –that ended up lasting close to four hours. He’s an attractive, successful, and ambitious guy. He’s full of simple humor and his sincerity is evident. He would be a catch in anyone’s terms and of course, he’s a New York native.

The course of our “hanging out” or whatever you would call it, consisted mainly of a discussion of his ex-girlfriend. I don’t know too much about her –but he’s completely in love with her. They had a disagreement which led to the end of their relationship, but in his eyes, she could be The One. She’s someone he could see forever with and he beats himself up over letting her go.

We talked a few hours about what grand gesture he should make to win her heart back –to get this beautiful lady who stole away his life at a banquet nearly a year ago to give him another chance. He talked about her favorite flower, silly-habits that belong just to her, and every woman that walked by who resembled her –his head shot around like he was seeing an angel walk on earth. He asked me for advice, apologized profusely for talking about this when we intentionally had met to see what could be between us, and wore his emotion on his sleeve.

Even just a few weeks ago, this date or hanging out or non-definition-meeting –would have rocked my heart. It would have made me feel bad about how I look and question what I’m worth. I would have gone home choking back tears on the subway and Rite Aid would have had one less box of chocolate on their dollar aisle.

This time, though, I went home hopeful.

And yes, it’s only been a week of my personal therapy, but last night, I was inspired. Hearing him talk about this woman, seeing the sincere pain in his eyes, and the longing still resonating in his face –gave me a glimpse of true love.

It was sad, but it was amazing to know that this kind of love is possible. That a man could love someone so sincerely, so profoundly, that he would fight for her. That he would think over the course of a month exactly what would persuade her to give him the opportunity to prove his love. That while he seems to be a self-confident, secure, and capable adult (who I would think is pretty good at this self-love thing) –was willing to let his heart be stolen away for someone who he considered more than worth the trouble.

I don’t know his ex-girlfriend and I doubt I ever will –but I’m happy for her. Instead of being jealous that someone doesn’t feel this way towards me, I think it’s incredible that they were both lucky enough to love in such a strong way. And, of course, I think it’s very sweet that he’s going to chase after her with a grand gesture (which for the record, will be quite romantic with a few of my suggestions).

I realized that his lack of interest in me had nothing to do with me. It wasn’t that I wasn’t pretty enough or intriguing enough to “woo” him into falling in love with me or creating the start of a possibility –it’s just that his heart is elsewhere. His heart isn’t up for grabs and it isn’t open to…well, opening.

And mine isn’t either. It’s not open. It’s not ready for a new relationship. It’s not ready for love. It’s not ready for establishing the foundation of a new romance or even a fling. It’s not the time and I don’t want it to be. I’m Ms. Unavailable.

I’ve been asking God for the last couple of days to help me to start believe it was possible for me to let go of these negative thoughts towards love, and to believe that a power bigger than mine could help erase all of my old habits.

That date was a sign.

It was a symbol that I can believe in a power higher than myself. I can believe that in time, my heart will open again, and I will be loved in a way that’s sincere and everlasting. But now, it’s time for me to concentrate on the love I have for myself. My heart can only be open to loving me right now. It’s not capable of letting someone else in on the relationship.

Facebook would probably define the relationship I’m developing with myself as “complicated” –but I think it’s just starting to grow.  I’m trying to start to believe things can change.

I believe I can do this. And I believe I’ll be helped.