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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The Illusion of Mr. Right

Originally published on YourEngagement101.com.

I’ve always imagined that at the end of my long dating road, with its twists, accidents, forks and bumps, I’d make it up the staggering hill and there, standing atop, would be this shiny, sparkling man. He’d be made of everything I wanted in a partner – kind, loyal, tall, successful, loving – and maybe sport a few special qualities that I’d inevitably fall in love with. The price of playing the dating game is steep and strenuous, but the payoff must be tremendous if you have to work so hard to earn it.

Or at least, a girl can hope.

I’m still owning my single status, but if the countless dates have taught me something – it’s that you can’t predict anything. And you certainly can’t carve out your husband out of vision you’ve dreamed up in your head. Somehow, life just doesn’t work that way. But a lot of women think that it does – and when they’re dealt a different hand than what the prepped for, suddenly they feel lost because they never made the effort to define themselves before they went searching for a man.

But the thing about making up Mr. Right is that every single man you date, including the one you’ll marry, will never be Mr. Right.

Because no one – absolutely no one – will fulfill you in every way that you desire. He will not say all of the right things at all of the right times (and if he did, you’d find him patronizing). He will not always know exactly what you need when you need it without you telling him (or you would long for someone who surprises you). He will not be overly romantic and terribly kind 24/7 (or you would wish he’d make you work for it, just a bit more). He will not make an astronomical amount of money, tower over you when you’re in your tallest heels and still have time to cuddle on the couch for hours at night (or he would would be a character in a Ryan Gosling movie).

The thing about admitting that you’ve found Mr. Right is admitting that your description of him (and yes, your expectations that you’ve had since you were 6 years old)… were wrong.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a long list of things you value in a partner and standards you hold them to – it just means that to be happy, you have to accept that really, the person that will (and should) make you the happiest is yourself. And it’s only when you can accept your flaws and the fact that your dream guy will also have some imperfections, is when you stop believing in this illusion of Mr. Right.

It’s when you realize you never needed a Mr. Right to come and rescue you from the woes of singledom – instead, you learned to savor the time you have alone and go on adventures without having to worry about someone else to consider. It’s when you become proud of the life you built, all on your own, on your own two feet, without having to depend on any man to lay the foundation for you. It’s when you see yourself as this whole being, this entirely grounded and secure person, that’s not looking for another half or for an idealist man to make you complete. You’re complete already, and though you might not need a man to share your journey…

…you want one.

And you don’t want the world’s best guy. You want the best guy – for you. One that has wrongs: he’s always three minutes late, he can’t remember anything to save his life, he isn’t as motivated as you, but he’s happy with his job, he’s more introverted, he might be balding. But he has goods too: he absolutely adores you, he’s awesome in bed, he’s super smart and teaches you things, he’s interested in travel, he always wants to hold your hand. And you would have never known what you want if you didn’t date. If you didn’t learn how to love yourself, no matter what, with or without someone.

If you didn’t have to go through all the trouble and all the lessons, you’d never make it to the top of that mountain. You’d still be sitting at the bottom, waiting for a prince and his horse to carry you to the top. But you didn’t wait. You went ahead and made it yourself. Now, just maybe, you’ll meet the guy who climbed it too – just on the other side.

And perhaps you’ll meet at the top and take in that view together.

14 Things I’m Giving Up in 2014

The past week has been unusually warm in Manhattan. The air feels crisp and inviting, the atmosphere of the streets lively and fresh, and the people – myself included – invigorated for a New Year. I always make resolutions and oddly enough, I do actually keep them. There’s something about January 1 that makes me feel like I get a second chance (or a 26th one…) to improve bad habits or start great ones.

In 2012, I spent a lot of time holding back and not compromising. If my friends wanted to go out, I almost always selfishly insisted on the west side so I’d have an easier commute. If I was asked out on a date by a potentially wonderful man – but he suggested the Lower East Side on a Tuesday – I would have politely declined. But in 2013, I made a vow to say “yes” more – and that’s exactly what I did:

I said “yes” to Mexico in April. I said “yes” to late nights and early mornings. Yes to training for (and completing!) a half-marathon. Yes to kissing a nameless man on the corner of West 4th at 2 a.m. Yes to walking all the way across the park with Lucy in tow to the east side to visit friends. Yes to going all the way to Brooklyn for brunch — and thoroughly enjoying myself. Yes to trips to North Carolina three times, yes to new foods and new drinks, new clothes I normally wouldn’t wear, yes, yes, yes!

But in 2013, I also said “yes” to a lot of negativity.

And even more fear. I said “yes” to those really terrible thoughts that made me feel like everything that could possibly go wrong, did. I said “yes” at the expense of myself, sometimes sacrificing what I really wanted to make someone – anyone – happy. I said “yes” to thinking the absolute worst in every situation, every person, every date that left a bad taste in my mind. I did learn how to take those chances and change my attitude, but in ways that made me stronger.. and weaker, too.

What I want the most out of 2014 is to be happy. And so many things can contribute to happiness: health, friends, career, love, travel, new experiences. I don’t want to limit myself or put pressure on a timeline, but I do want to live better. I want to live with the same kind of passion, that same drive and hopefulness that made me who I am and made me a success in New York. I miss that beat in my step, that faith in my heart, that smart, sharp, kind, enthusiastic spirit that made me feel unstoppable.

And to get that firecracker Tigar back, I need to let go of some very small and very big things that are holding me back or keeping me down. These aren’t quite resolutions – just a little guide to help me along the new journey of 2014. Because really, with some of these out-of-the-way, my resolution to be happy again, might just be a reality.

In no particular order, here are 14 things I’m giving up in 2014:

1- Duck Face
Guilty as charged: if you stalk my Instagram, you’ll see so many duck face examples, it’s quite embarrassing. Sure, it can be cute. If you’re, like, 15, not, ya know, 25.

2- Investing in People Who Don’t Invest in Me
One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn as an adult is that friendships change. We all expect relationships to be difficult, life-changing experiences, but friendships are that way too. Even if you’ve been friends for years or just a short period of time, if someone isn’t making your life better by being in it, then get them out. People who are worth your time, will make time to invest in you.

3- Biting My Tongue
Maybe it’s my recently damped self-confidence or just the anxiety of saying the wrong thing, but in my life and in my career, I’ve had a tendency to not say what I really think. But this year, it’s time to lean in. I can’t move up – or move forward – by being silent.

4- Hitting Snooze
I desperately want to be a morning runner but snuggling in bed with Lucy is so much nicer than a 6:30 a.m. wake up call. But think of all the time I’d have to do things post-work if I got that 3-5 miler finished before my morning coffee!

5- Having Another Drink When I Don’t Want One
Sure, Saturday nights are great for having a bit too much. But a random Wednesday? With a guy I know I will never, ever want to go out with again? Forget saving feelings or following the crowd, my liver demands better. And I’d rather have less of those paralyzing hangovers post-25.

6- Judging People For Their Choices
I try my very best to be understanding and considerate, but it’s human nature to raise an eyebrow when a friend (or even a stranger) does something that isn’t quite the route you’d take in the same situation. You can’t change people, you can only be honest and caring, and thus, changing yourself. We’re each climbing our own hill and we’ll all get to the top in our own way.

7- Forgetting to Dream
I put in the hard work to get to New York and once I landed in my little apartment with my big NBC job and my big, popular blog, I sat down. It’s time to get up. I’m not finished yet – I’m merely getting started.

8- Buying Lunch Every Day
I work in Chelsea Market. For New Yorkers, I need not say more. For everyone else: imagine every delicious, decadent, expensive food you could ever imagine – from lobster to truffle tacos – a few steps away from you every. single. day. I could save so much more money (and travel so much more often) if I could plan ahead better.

9- Keeping Up My Routine
I’m a Virgo, and I love, love, love plans. I’m often the person sending out a group e-mail, trying to get my friends on-board to a new idea. But I go back to the same restaurants. I do basically the same thing every weekend. Not anymore though: I already signed up for Italian lessons and philosophy (yes, philosophy!) lessons. Time to switch it up.

10- Using the Word “Should”
It’s a dangerous word, that one. And it creeps it’s way into every worry I have: I should make more money. I should be thinner. I should have a boyfriend by now. I should live alone at this point in my life. I should save this extra $100. I should be more responsible. The only should I’ll say this year is: I should be me, exactly how I am today.

11- Getting Angry Over Things I Can’t Control
Like a long line at Starbucks. Or train delays. Or friends bailing at the last second. Or a guy with an attitude problem. Or people who don’t agree with me. Or the fact I’ll never be a size two (this girl has hips for miles). If I can find peace in every moment, I can find peace in every outcome.

12- Mentioning the Mr’s + Relying On Tinder
I’ve wasted far too much space (in my heart and on this blog) on the Mr’s I used to love. It’s time to let go of what was so I can find what will be. The archives will always be there. On the other hand, I can’t just rely on a dating app that’s basically “hot or not” to provide me with quality dating material. Bye, bye iTunes Store dating. Hello, just getting out of the apartment and into life.

13- Focusing on What’s Hard Instead of What’s Good
If everything was smooth sailing and easy, then would I appreciate the life I’ve built? If I never had to say good-bye to a friend because they moved on their own or because they were forced? If I never had my heart-broken or my dreams crushed? If I never cried out of frustration or desperation? If I never heard really bad, scary news? Life will always have it’s hard parts, but it’s never without goodness. I just have to breathe enough to feel it.

14- Being Afraid To Do It Alone
My friends won’t always want to volunteer at the soup kitchen with me. Or go to that new pub around the corner. Or sign up for a pizza making class or join a running group. But instead of dwelling in the fear of going alone, I choose to dwell in the possibility that something really amazing can come from taking a leap of faith. After all, that’s what I used to do every single day before I developed my life here.

Surely, I can do it again. Surely, I can do it with even more courage. Surely, I can open my heart to the New Year, and the new me, that’s waiting in 2014.

Something So Very Special

I found myself angry and upset, not sure why I wanted to cry and yet, hoping I didn’t let a single drop out while riding the uptown train on Saturday night to the home that doesn’t feel like one on the Upper West Side. I wasn’t drunk — or I suppose, I’m not drunk, is a better use of words considering I’m writing this at 1: 25 a.m., with every intent of publishing it on Monday.

On my blog, this blog, this very public, yet insanely personal blog that I happen to share with everyone I do and don’t know. This blog that is supposed to be about learning to love myself with or without a man. That’s supposed to be about being totally fine with being totally single, totally fine on my own, not letting men affect me, letting them come and go with their douchebagery-ways, their terribly disappointing manners, their shortcomings that aren’t supposed to matter to me. No matter how many times some man gives me five minutes or two weeks of hope, only to take it away in a second, or by falling off the face of my iPhone.

I was actually supposed to have a date tonight — a second one, which if you’ve read earlier posts you would know are my favorites. Merely because they are often so rare, with so many first dates that bore or well, traumatize you. So when some random guy that happened to be intriguing enough to agree to see again proved to be uncompromising and pretty much only in it for sex, I made plans with K, then met up with J and her guy, and the night went on. I went on – unaffected, perfectly content, not upset that some man couldn’t meet me in the middle, couldn’t get enough energy to make an effort to impress or even see me.

But I was frustrated. I was upset.

Maybe not by this specific man or this specific situation, but that these types of things happen so often that I find myself incredibly exhausted of talking about them. Much less writing about another failed date to share with the world. If I was honest, as I am here on these pages, I’d admit that I don’t want to date. I don’t want to go out on a Saturday night. I don’t want to spend unnecessary money on unnecessary vodka tonics in the hope that my next one will be free. I don’t want to stay out so late and be so tired the next day I can’t go for a run because I held onto the possibility that I’d stumble across someone worth talking to over loud music in a busy, sweaty bar. I don’t really want to do any of it at all.

But I do it anyway.

Because I refuse to give up, because I refuse to become completely bitter or to stop going after what I want. Because I don’t want to listen to everyone who says the best things come when you’re not looking because when are you ever not looking? Because the best dating advice can’t simply be to have fun and let it come, because that feels utterly impossible, month after month, year after year, date after date, date, date.

That can’t be the answer. If there’s any answer at all.

I started writing this blog to not feel just like I feel right now, writing this blog. Hopeless. Annoyed. Angry. Frustrated. Sad. Unworthy. Disappointed. Impatient. I never wanted a lack of a someone to change who I was or to let anyone be so important that they mattered. But maybe that was a pipe dream, something that can’t be ignored because everyone feels that way sometimes, at least anyone who is single post-college in a city.

As I walked myself west while all my friends went east, I did everything I could to hold in the tears. I looked up at the full moon in disgust, cursing it for not bringing the change to my life I so desperately need. I noticed all the tall, thin, gorgeous girls in heels, laughing into the night, so different from me, the not-carefree, unhappy woman struggling down Houston. And as I walked, not making eye contact or slowing down, I saw a store called Something Special.

And I thought of all the fairytales that have undoubtedly made me rather naive. The love stories my mom would tell me, the romance I’ve craved since I knew you could crave such impossible things. I was always promised something special, something fascinating. Something that was unexpected and life-altering. Something intoxicating and breathless. Something so different from the rest.

Something worth all of this waiting.

But when that day comes, or as the cynic in me phrases it, if that day comes, who do I want to be? Do I want to be this desperate, defeated girl? Do I want to be scared and disappointed in every man and frankly, in myself? Do I want this pitiful self-confidence or this pouty attitude around my friends, my family and on this train, angrily typing this blog?

Or do I want to be someone special?

Someone who admitted her failures and yes, handled her emotions as they came, even when they came stupidly and sometimes far too soon. Someone who stood up for herself without letting herself give up in the process? Someone who lived her life instead of waiting on some man to come to build it with? Someone who wanted to cry on a Saturday night it someone who wanted to dance?

If I want something so very special, don’t I need to start believing in and acting like I’m someone special?

Walks Through the East Village

There’s that underground jazz lounge where the first champagne cocktail is free for blue-eyed girls with bright smiles. It’s where that older Polish man with a boa gave me and my friend A a feather to wear in our hair. My friend A, who is now married, living just a handful of blocks and subway stops away from me. It’s where I became hypnotized the first time by live music – watching the pianist dance across the keys, the saxophonist breathe and move deeply and creatively calculated. It’s where I sat in a Forever 21 dress at 19 years old, pretending I was old enough to split a bottle of wine with a man I didn’t really know, but was paying. It’s where I went when I wanted to feel classier and older than what I really was, where I wasn’t the girl from North Carolina who interned at Cosmo, but I was just a woman. A woman who somehow lived in New York fucking City.

There’s that hookah bar on St. Mark’s that never carded me. I wasn’t sure if I liked hookah all of the times I went and took smaller breaths than everyone else, but I knew I liked the sugary-sweet sangria, long before I knew what good alcohol tasted like. That’s the place where there are couches in the corner, cushions on the floor, where you can sit Indian-style or extend your legs long, far across to the other side of the table. That’s where I took my friends when they visited, to show them a new-something they didn’t know about, something terribly urban (though later I realized it’s not). That’s the place where just a few days ago, I brought a guy from Williamsburg to that very corner and though I didn’t know him, my red wine haze told me to kiss him. Right there, on the first date, with hookah saturating my hair and my breath. The breath that was making his glasses and the cold window behind us steam up.

There’s that movie theater on the east side that’s a hop, skip, Metro card and jump from Brooklyn. It’s where I saw that movie with a name and plot I forget, with Mr. Possibility, summers ago. It’s where we bickered between Sprite and Diet Coke and then snuggled through the movie, his hand on my thigh, my head on his shoulder, sitting awkwardly so we could touch, even though it’s uncomfortable and definitely unromantic. There’s the cheap Thai place a few doors down where we went once the credits started rolling, where we sat in that booth in the back, with polyester seats and fluorescent lighting. It’s where we talked about the future like it was our promise, where he leaned over to me while I was tactfully slurping a noodle I could barely hold with chopstick, and kissed my forehead. It’s where he said he wanted to always take care of me. It’s where maybe somewhere, deep down in his butchered heart, he thought he could mean it.

There’s that frat-tastic bar on Third Avenue that I absolutely hated going to. But I went the night after my birthday, with a terrible cold, barely able to speak and I waited for him. His sister and brother-in-law kept me company, bought me hot tea, tried to ease my worry. M showed up when he didn’t. Until two hours later. That’s where the man I thought I could love forever made me doubt if forever existed, for the first time. That’s where my then-highly-intoxicated boyfriend decided to go home alone instead of going home to work something out with me. That’s the street where I slammed that cab door shut and he didn’t look back. Around that corner, that’s where M promised me that he was just my first New York love, not my last. There’s where I walked myself home, bitterly sober and instantly lonely, wondering if I’d ever believe her.

There’s that bookstore where I curled up with a latte and my computer, writing about love and hoping for it. There’s where I sat for a few hours on late Saturday afternoon in the most brutal days of winter, reading through a book I didn’t intend to buy (but did). There’s the travel section where I met M for a day of shopping in the West Village for my birthday, and ended up bringing home an 8-pound puppy on a Sunday night. There’s the magazine section where I looked eagerly for the tiny engagement magazine I had a print piece in when I first moved to the city, where Mr. Possibility stood at the end of the aisle, smiling at me. There’s where he whispered in my ear as we looked at my bylined spread: “I would know you apart from anyone, just by the way you move so beautifully.” There’s where I listened to Adele while avoiding the self-help section, a year later, wondering if I needed a book about getting over someone or if I could just write the book myself.

There’s the park on Avenue A that I found so terrifying, hidden behind small rooftops and appearing out of nowhere in between the graffiti buildings along the east side. There’s where I stumbled in too-tall high heels in the cold with a friend, trying to hail a cab at 3 a.m. after a night of flirting and boozing, smearing lipstick and turning heads I didn’t care to see again. There’s where I wanted to sit down so badly, just to give some relief to my tired legs, but I didn’t, even more afraid of what lurked on the Manhattan streets I was still getting used to. There’s the address where, three years later, I fell in love with a new part of town while dog sitting for a friend who just signed a lease. There’s where the park felt so different and so much more welcoming, a place for coffee and running, a place that wasn’t so haunted, after all.

There’s just one small part of my home. Just one neighborhood in all of the eccentric zip codes of this island. Just a cluster of streets before Houston, where East Village turns into the Lower East Side, where Stuyvesant Town becomes Union Square. There’s just a few memories, a few local, dates and weekends at local pubs and restaurants, bookstores and theaters, I’ve Google mapped and others I don’t need to look up to find. There’s my walks through the East Village for the past few weeks, remembering the adventures, the love, the disappointment, the fever, the dreaming I’ve experienced in the short time I’ve been able to live where the 7-year-old me always knew I would.

And there’s the older me, the quarter-life-crisis-ing me, reminding myself that if so much can happen in just under four years, so many more beautiful, surprising things are surely still to come.