Ya Gotta Do You

When you write a weekly column about relationships in your college paper – that no one takes seriously – but gets great traffic, you suck up the snide remarks from other staffers. When friends and people remind you time-and-time again that when you move to New York, you might not work for a magazine. You might not get a job in editing at all. You might end up being an intern forevermore and never make any money and eat Ramen until you can’t possibly stomach another noodle – you smile and take it all with a grain of salt (or put it on said Ramen).  When you receive hate mail on the very last day of your very last class of your college career, where someone says they hope you fall on your “pretty little face” in New York because “being pretty” doesn’t mean you can be an editor – you vow to frame that letter when get that corner office. When the chancellor of your university says that you just don’t really have what it takes to lead a staff and that you would fit in better at a glossy than writing about “serious topics,” you congratulate the new editor-in-chief, graduate early, move to New York, and land a job… writing about “serious topics.”

Because even if people find you ridiculous or don’t believe you can’t do what you keep sayin’ you’re going to do — ya gotta do you.

When you start a blog way back in 2010 because your day job –  an editorial assistant at a business magazine – just wasn’t quite what you wanted, you spend hours (and hours) after work building your social presence, writing content and scheduling posts. When you meet someone two weeks into designing a blog about being single, about learning to love yourself first before loving a man, you put off the relationship talk for as long as you possibly can and stick to your rules, no matter how self-imposed they are. When your blog generates traffic from all around the world and you’re basking in the afterglow of being featured on the homepage of WordPress, you remind yourself that fans are fickle and the Internet, like some men, loses interest quickly, so be thankful. When your boss at that business magazine isn’t a fan of you posting the blog on LinkedIn and pulls you aside about it, you kindly decline the request to remove it because it’s part of who you are.

Because even when you’re the only person making yourself write about something you believe in – without getting paid anything at all – ya gotta do you.

When you’re in a relationship but something just isn’t right, something doesn’t feel like it’s progressing or it’s satisfying or it’s what you really want, you have to think about what you need instead of fearing what you might not find. When someone says the right things but doesn’t follow-through with actions, when someone gives you just enough to hold on but not enough to move forward, you have to make the decision to not give up on love, but to believe that yes, of course, definitely, the best is still yet to come. When a possibility becomes entirely impossible, when what you thought could be something powerful is really just disappointing and disenchanting, you have to let go to let love in – no matter how long it takes for it to come around again.

Because even if you think you’re too picky or you expect too much out of someone, you know you’d rather be single than to settle and at the end of the day – or the end of a relationship - ya gotta do you.

When the opportunity arrives to turn something you’ve fostered and you’ve nurtured and you’ve shared for nearly four years into a physical, actual book that people can buy in real bookstores (or on real Kindles and Nooks), you might have to catch your breath before you respond to the email. When you spend time carefully reading over your own writing, weeding through chapter outlines and sample pitches, trying to figure out the best way to market yourself as a brand – when all you ever were before was a 20-something single girl writing about her life – you figure out just how much determination you have and how badly you long to see that byline at Barnes & Noble. When you really get along with a book agent that believes in your work and in your message almost as much as you do, when his ideas and his presentation are exactly what you envisioned for yourself, you might get butterflies just thinking about what this little blog could turn into one day. When you sign with your very first agent for your very first book and he sends it to a publishing house and you anxiously await the outcome, you might need more than just a cocktail to settle your nerves.

Because even though people told you writing about love was silly, that a blog about your personal life may be a little too much, that waiting for the right guy might take a little time and a lot faith, that dreams of becoming an author are far-fetched and unrealistic in the digital age… ya just gotta forget what everyone says. You have to trust in that love you found for yourself, that you built, that you believed in has gotten you exactly where you are today.

And that you did all of it – slowly, but surely – by listening to your gut. By following your heart. By remembering that no matter what, ya gotta do you.

 

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How to Breathe

During the summer in New York, right around 8 p.m., as we’re heading off to indulge in sangria and sunsets, there is an orange shadow that cascades across the streets, beaming off the buildings, and leaving everything it touches with a crisp, bronzed haze. It is one of my favorite moments in the city all-year-round, and regardless of where I am or who I’m with, just seeing the amber reflection is enough to distract my attention and make me take a big breath.

I was thankful for a moment of clarity before meeting Mr. Unexpected for a celebratory sushi and sake date on Friday night, after a very long, very exasperating week. I had a hard time sleeping every night last week, my nerves never calming down from the many changes of the past few months circling in my head and enticing my heart to race. And though I always get a little anticipant to see Mr. Unexpected, once we start talking, he has a certain way of calming me down, too. Sitting across from him, with the citrus sun still radiating above us, I took another big breath of pure stress release.

In fact, I’ve been reminding myself to breathe a lot lately.

To say this year has been ripe with change, expenses and new experiences would be a vast understatement. If anyone would have told me all of the things that would happen in 2014, I would have never believed them.

Just to recap:

  • My dad had unexpected heart surgery at the start of the year.
  • I had my last day at iVillage – after three years – on a Thursday in April.
  • The next day, I left for a 10-day trip to Paris and Rome with my mom.
  • Two days after I got back, I started my exciting, challenging and entertaining job at WEtv.com.
  • Then I got in – via raffle – to the NYC marathon.
  • Two weeks later I met who I thought would be my roommate for an October 1 move date.
  • Then I realized my lease ended on September 1. (You know, when I’ll be in London visiting J for a week.)
  • Which means I would have to move by August 15.
  • Two weeks later, I met Mr. Unexpected.
  • 20+ dates later, we are an actual thing.
  • The roommate, who I thought would be moving with me, couldn’t anymore.
  • I decided that I couldn’t possibly train for the marathon, go on a big trip, do well in my new job and find an apartment and train for the marathon. So I backed out.
  • So with a month to go to find an apartment, I somehow found two roommates.
  • And a subletter for my current apartment – for just a month.
  • I signed a lease yesterday. To move to the East Village!

Whew.

The funny thing is that I have wanted so many of these things for such a long time: a new job with more responsibility, management and strategy, a man that surprises me with how easy it is to date him, a lease that keeps me downtown and more in the city, and the financial ability to travel more than I have before. I have been ready for these transformations and these interruptions into my daily routine and life – I suppose I just never thought that it would all happen at one time.

Or within the first six months of 2014.

I wasn’t ready for all of this last year and I guess I didn’t consider if I was ready now, but it’s all happening, so I might as well enjoy it, right? I asked Mr. Unexpected that night.

Are we ever ready for these things? He responded, smiling at me from across the rickety table, drinking his sake much faster than me.

And while I agree – most of the best things and hardest things and most influential things that occur in our lives, we rarely see coming – I also think you have to go through a lot of hardship and endure a lot of complacency before you’re brave enough to make a move. (Literally!)

I might have thought I could go from one side of the city to another (and up my rent quite a bit) last year, but I would have buckled under the stress (and the weight of those security deposit and broker’s fee checks). I might have thought that I would be able to savor and enjoy international travel, but that excursion couldn’t have come at a better time: in between two jobs, without having to think about checking email or wondering what was going on in the office. I might have thought that I had patched up my relationship with my father after his cancer scare last year, but there’s something about the possibility of your dad’s heart almost actually breaking to snap you into gratitude mode. And of course, I might have thought I was ready to invest in a something with a someone, but it takes more than a few failed dates to realize your worth – and what you want in a partner.

So am I ready for these things? A new job, a new apartment, a new man, my third new country to visit in about a month? I considered, falling asleep next to him, staring out my Upper West Side window, the one I’ve looked out of countless times, wishing my life would just change already. I felt Lucy by my feet, curling herself into a ball – and like I always do, I placed my hand on my heart to settle it, but it was calm already. For the first time in weeks. I took in that big breath again and I settled my mind, concluding that I don’t know if I’m ready for anything.

But what I do know that the only thing I have to know is how to breathe. And to trust. I have to remember that if struggles have taught me anything, it’s that I always have myself to depend on in the end, no matter what. And that fact is enough to make me – with all of the stress and the anxiety and the uncertainness of everything roaming my thoughts – relaxed enough to let go.

And with the biggest breath of all, let it happen.

 

 

You Never Know

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

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

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

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

Why is this so fucking scary?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…or you can just experience it.

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

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

…and that’s the best part about it.

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

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

Those Great Expectations

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

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

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

No, actually – it’s extremely terrifying.

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

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

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

Yep. Touche, Mr. Unexpected, touche.

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

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

…do I have unrealistic expectations of love?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

And Then Mr. Unexpected Came Along…

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

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

You could be missing great matches! It said.

Mmmk, Hinge. Whatever you say.

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

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

…Mr. Unexpected.

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

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

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

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

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

And then I became Ms. Unexpected myself:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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