The Fixer Upper Syndrome

When I moved into my apartment, I was damned-and-determined to do everything on my own. For high school graduation, I was given a tool kit and it made it through college and the New York move, so I used all of its knick-knacks to hang up my decor. I hung a shelf with a balance, stood on my tippy-toes to get my curtains to hang correctly and carried a microwave in a box five blocks instead of taking a cab. Sure, I could have asked for help and it may have been easier – but I get satisfaction by doing it myself.

I think I may get the trait from my mother – she’s the type of woman who would rather struggle with something heavy and mow the lawn herself instead of swallowing her pride to ask my dad for help. He lets her go about things her own way and eventually when something is just a bit too much, she’ll reluctantly admit she needs him. I was raised to believe that nothing stands in the way of my success or my happiness and that anything worth doing is better done knowing you earned it yourself. There are no shortcuts for the rise to the top or for finding peace – you have to work hard, sweat hard, and learn how to accept failure to find your way.

It’s with that mentality that I approach most everything in my life.

I’ll ask my friends for advice until the keys on my laptop start sticking or I’m blue in the face, but when it comes to actually working it out – no advice they can give will make a difference until I make up my mind. I don’t blame anyone for my shortcomings except for myself, and any problems I have are my responsibility to fix, not anyone else’s. I’ve never expected a man to come into my life, erase all of my baggage, be my savior, lover, therapist, and burly protector. A man’s role is to be my partner, not the person who takes care of me – I’m more than capable of doing that alone.

But it’s not a two-way street with me. I seem to attract men who resemble art projects I had in elementary school. Their pieces are strung about everywhere, their edges are sharp and subtle all at once, and the trail of relationship destruction they leave stretches as far as I can see. They have troubled minds and wounded egos, they are going through some sort of midlife crisis where all hell has broke loose, no matter what age they are. They have issues and hangups, tend to get hangovers easily, yet drink easier. They are emotional and sometimes heartless, cold and selfish. They seem sad and lost, angry and resentful – all qualities that most intelligent women would run far, far away from as fast as their Manolo’s would take them.

Not me though.

I’ve diagnosed myself with Fixer Upper Syndrome. And I’m not sure if they’ve found a cure for it yet.  Maybe my real calling isn’t writing, but real estate – finding men when they’re value is rather low and then flipping them into bold, attractive and put-together studs who go at a higher price point. Probably not though – I’ve yet to change a man, no matter how much I’ve believed I could. No matter how much patience I have, no matter how great I am in bed, how understanding and kind, no matter how long I stick around to see if the finishing touches will stick instead of chip.

In the process of dating these defeated warriors though, I end up not doing anything productive. I become a happy, safe harbor for them to wallow in their sorrows deeper, knowing they have a pretty face with a reassuring smile to wake up to. But what about me? What do I get in return? Every man has surely added something and taught me a lesson I needed to learn to be a better person – but most of them have taken way more than they’ve given.

And yet I’ve stayed loyal and constant, an unwavering force that regardless of how much they reckon, I reckon it’s not too much. My enough-is-enough point is pushed way further than any of my friends. While they’re advising me to run for the hills and protect myself from the hurt that’s looming, I’m planted firmly in the ground, convicted in the belief that one day, this tortured soul will transform into my soulmate.

But do they ever? Have they ever? Has any woman stood by her man and he ultimately became the man she dreamed of? Or do we all want to be the special one who could withstand the ups and downs, no matter how much we had to swallow our own heart to survive the storm? What’s the sweet spot between being in a dysfunctional relationship that could be functional and choosing yourself because you frankly can’t give a damn anymore? Or would they have to change so much that they wouldn’t even be themselves, and you would have to sacrifice so much of what you want, that you wouldn’t be happy?

When you’re so incredibly self-sufficient and you yearn to date someone who is the same, why do you always attract and subsequently fall for the exact opposite? Do a go-getter and fixer-upper ever make it? Or do they become stranded in the middle, neither living up to their potential? Can you cause someone more trouble by staying with them than you could if you left them to their own devices, to build that backbone and that thick skin that you already have?

Maybe it’s true that while a lot of things make a happy relationship, like support and forgiveness, patience and kindness, hungry conversation and tenacious passion – sometimes, love simply isn’t enough. It’s easy to love someone when they strike a chord with you or match your heartstrings, but if they don’t love themselves, if they aren’t a whole person – there isn’t enough love to fix them. They’ve gotta fix themselves first.

Perhaps the only way to cure Fixer Upper Syndrome is to fix yourself by accepting that men aren’t supposed to be projects, they’re supposed to feel like the prize that surprises you instead of relying on you.

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Damn Girl, You’re Lookin’ Good

Back in college, when I was wrestling with the idea of having sex outside of a relationship, a friend of mine asked me something so ordinary that it caught me off guard:

Do you find yourself sexy when you’re all alone?

It’s was an interesting concept, I thought at the time. I looked down at myself wearing a homecoming t-shirt from the year before with baggy sweatpants, my hair pulled up in a clip I’d never be caught dead wearing in New York. My makeup was smudged from the day’s wear and I had just downed at least two pieces of pizza (I won’t admit to anything higher than that). But had I needed to be sexy today?

What had I done anyway? I had gone to class wearing jeans and cute top with heels. I had met friends for lunch, had no intentions of seeing a man that evening or of taking off my clothes in any strip-pole-approved manner. It was just another day – one that ended in my dorm room, next to my friend with green eyes and flawless olive-color skin. She had back muscles – something I’m still figuring out how to develop even with my best gym efforts. I bet she always felt sexy, regardless if a guy was worshiping her or not, I thought as I looked at her. This surely wasn’t a fair question for me to answer – the me who is consistently pale and pimpley.

“I mean, I feel sexy when I dress myself up for a night out or where that little black dress I love,” I replied casually. She rolled her eyes at me in return: “No, silly – I mean when there is no intention of being with anyone or of having sex or of doing anything. Do you ever have a night in with yourself where you just feel sexy on your own?” she asked. I raised an eyebrow in return, silently questioning her. “Oh Linds, I don’t mean like that, I just mean the feeling of being sexy,” she said with exaggeration.

At that point – I hadn’t.

I only put on anything remotely sexy when I thought I would have a reason to take it off. I only splurged on lingerie when there was a special occasion or when I felt the need to up the ante with my partner at the time. I never lathered myself in lotion and expensive perfume just for the hell of it, or laid around in silk bathrobes or lace bras and panties. I didn’t walk around naked, only in my heels and look at myself in the mirror and think, “Damn girl! Look at you!”

I admitted that I don’t feel sexy alone and she made a suggestion: “When I want to feel sexy on my own, I order in a pizza and then I change into my sexiest lingerie and eat it alone on the couch with dim lighting and sensual music.” While that sounded nice, it wasn’t the way I wanted to romance myself.

And to really knock myself off my own feet, I’d have to figure out what was romantic to me. Over the course of the next few weeks when my roommate wasn’t home, I’d try different things. I’d walk around naked with stilettos. I’d eat a big bowl of pasta while wearing silk (and pray not to drip on it). I’d throw something over my lamp to make it sultry and I’d curl up my hair so it flowed around my face. I laid on my bed seductively, attempting to find a position that made me feel like a supermodel. I tried all sorts of things until none of them worked, I lost interest and forgot the conversation.

Maybe my friend had found her inner-sexy at 19, but it took me a little more time. It wasn’t until I moved, when I came home after a day of worked, followed by dinner with a dear friend and poured myself a glass of wine that it clicked. I was standing in a black skirt from work, a black lace push-up bra, my only pair of designer shoes still on, my hair naturally wavy with Merlot resting in my hand and I caught a glimpse of myself. My other hand was turning on the computer, my lips were pieced and my eyes were unusually blue for being indoors and I felt beautiful.

I finally felt sexy.

And it wasn’t that I was doing anything particularly sexy – there were no candles, no soothing music, no anything spectacular. But that was the beauty of it. That was what made it sexy. I realized that without trying, without making a big deal of it, without testing out positions or deciding if silk or stockings gave me more pin-up qualities that I was sexy. I was sexy all on my own, without doing anything at all.

So I don’t really try to romance myself anymore. I wear the right bra with the right shirt, sometimes it is lace and sometimes its not. I buy skirts that fit me, some that hug my hips more than others. I lay however I wish on my bed and I don’t think twice. And I continue to find these moments where I catch a passing reflection of myself on the street or in the privacy of my apartment that I see my inner sex goddess and that Southern drawl comes out all on its own with and it thinks: “Damn girl, you’re lookin’ good!”

Playing House

I haven’t been outside today.

I woke up late with Mr. Possibility, made french toast while he made bacon, we watched re-runs of The Sopranos while lying around, aimlessly chatting and working on our own projects. From time-to-time we’d look over at each other and smile, at other times we were content just sitting in the same room. I showered and immersed myself into a freelancing article that’s due tomorrow and he wrapped himself up in the language studies that are occupying his mind.

There was nothing special about this day – now I’m still working on that damn article while writing this blog, munching on leftovers and drinking a glass of Merlot that’s hitting all the right spots. M recently got me hooked on Criminal Minds, so it is serving as a beautiful distraction, the only sound in the room except for the dishwasher running.

I’m not wearing anything fancy nor am I sporting my usual face of makeup, I’m natural with my hair wavy and unbrushed, I’m completely alone in an apartment that’s not mine – and I’m happy in the silence. I’m not sure if I believe in moving in together before becoming engaged, but I do know that playing house can sometimes be a good indicator of how you work with someone on a day-to-day basis.

The daily interactions used to not matter so much to me. I was in college or right out of it and thought that romance and butterflies, sexual tension and candlelit dinners were more important than anything else. I wanted to always have a racing heart, a sweaty palm and the feeling that I couldn’t live without someone. I wanted it to be intense and over-the-top, the kind of irresponsible and uncontrollable love that makes you die a little inside when you think about it.

Sure, I have sparks with Mr. Possibility. There’s definitely passion. But it’s not remarkable chemistry that makes us click – it’s the way we operate as a team. And while we’re not living together, nor will be we be anytime soon, the fact that we can function easily without much tension is a testament to how playing house could translate into making a home.

I’m not at that stage in my life – I couldn’t imagine having days like today over and over again. There are still countries I want to visit, experiences I want to have, people I want to meet, dreams to follow, and mistakes I want to make before I settle into happily-ever-after-home-sweet-home. I want to become a better version of me before I become anyone’s partner for the long run.

But sometimes, on a lazy Sunday with a pretty big week ahead, it’s refreshing to sit around in your guy’s t-shirt, relaxing and writing just as you love to do, enjoying the company of yourself and looking forward to the person you love to come home. I don’t want to be settled down, but it’s nice to have your heart settled in a moment.

You Shall Not Pass

I’m not someone who avoids change. I wouldn’t say I embrace it fully, but the thought of my life changing isn’t one that’s terrifying. Instead, it’s exciting. I accept and anticipate the fact that a year from now, my life may look entirely different. I may want different things, I may be still with Mr. P, with someone else, or single. I may be at a completely new company, freelancing full-time, living overseas, or in an opposite industry. I could be ten pounds lighter or heavier, I could be fluent in another language, I could be in love, I could be nursing a heartbreak, I could be…anything.

Our youth is good for encouraging spontaneity and the pursuit of change. Before I’m sanctioned into a marriage, busy with children, or at a point where money is more for saving and planning than for passing this month’s rent check and blowing dollars on brunch. Before my life as a Mrs or mommy begins, I get the chance to really take chances. To take the detour instead of the hard way, to date someone just for the hell of it, not with the intention of forever-and-ever-and-always. To leave New York if I wish or to stay. It’s a beautiful thing really – knowing that in any moment, with one phone call, with one glance, with one chance, with one experience,  with one connection, with one single something, life as I know it – could be transformed. I could look back at this moment, wearing Mr. P’s tshirt, eating leftover spaghetti while listening to a mix between his attempt at learning German via Rosetta Stone and some John Legend, and it all may seem like a distant memory, a universe that I’m not longer apart of, but a vision I’ll never forget.

My mother (and my friend K) always spew off the cliche promise, “This too shall pass” when I’m worrying that the now that’s not working seems unbearable. When I’m frustrated or feeling like there will never be anything better than this awful experience I’m part of, this seemingly hopeless existence I’m existing in – I remember that time passes, people change, and life will look different before I know it. The world will turn and so will my attitude, in a passing, fleeting moment that I won’t remember in a few years.

But while things will change and so will I – the me that I am at my core, won’t pass. Just as some graffiti artist said in surprisingly legible handwriting…

Life changes and we’re allowed to make mistakes that make us into better people. We’re allowed to stay put longer than we should, move this way or that, love this person and then stop, be who we want to be and then be someone new. But that heart that feels so fragile, that soul that continues to thirst for more, and that mind that won’t stop spinning both in the good times and the bad – those all stay the same. Sure, they’ll get tougher and stronger, learn how to endure and decide when enough is enough (or when a little more is better) – but they don’t pass us by.

Maybe that’s the trick of it all. If time tells us that it’s coming with or without permission or notice and we’re just all an object of the universe, meant to be manipulated and stand trial in front of the heavens – then our only responsibility is to keep ourselves in tact. To let life change, let people come and go, let everything around us crumble and fall, be built again, love and lose – but to not pass ourselves by.

 

The Things That Never Happen

Long before teens and tweens become obsessed with vampires – I was deathly afraid of them. Having broken the rules and watched an episode of Tales from the Crypt with my friend who was allowed to watch it, I became terrified. There were nocturnal creatures who preyed on my neck and if they took a bite, I’d be doomed to be a scary blood-sucker like them?

I’m sorry Edward Cullen, but that’s just not sexy to me.

Not being able to hide my fright in the middle of the night, my parents soon realized I had been spooked by something and grounded me for going against their recommendations for proper viewing. But my own fear was punishment enough – I hung garlic on my bedpost, tucked the sheets around my neck (as if cotton would protect me from fangs?), and begged for a clap-on-clap-off light until my parents obliged so I could clothes my eyes and not have to open them again, just in case there was something scary standing above me.

After a week of sleepless nights and crying fits, I asked my mom for the 100th time how she knew that Dracula wasn’t coming to get me in my ballerina-inspired pink bedroom off a gravel road in a two-story countryhouse in North Carolina. Frustrated with me but not showing it, she said, “The things you worry about the most never happen.”

My troubles have changed as I’ve grown: would I make the tennis team, would I pass the SAT, would I have a high school sweetheart, would I pick the right college, would I be heartbroken if Mr. Whatever broke up with me, would I ever find love again, would I be able to graduate early, would I fail in New York, would I become a good editor, would I survive in the notoriously difficult NYC dating field, would I…?

While I’m not a negative person, it’s become a common reaction when I’m worrying to think of the worse case scenario. When I’m upset about my career or wonder if I’m on the right path, I automatically picture myself having to pack my bags and return to my home state, defeated and unsuccessful, hanging my head low while avoiding all of my old friends and sinking into a rocky depression. When I’m worried about love, I picture a messy breakup with Mr. P that involves screaming and hurt feelings, the end of a friendship and the foundation of trust and fidelity shattered into pieces that won’t fit back together. When I stress about how I look, I imagine myself gaining five pounds with each bite of cheesecake, my clothes not fitting and feeling like an ugly ducking that’ll never bloom into a sophisticated city swan that gracefully cascades down the streets of Manhattan.

But when I start seeing with a tunnel-vision of devastation instead of one with realistic consequences, I remind myself that the things I worry about the most never happen. Sure, I could take a few wrong turns on the way to the dream job and the dream may change. I could be silly to give Mr. P another chance and it could all blow up in my pretty little face, as so many have warned me. I could decide to let myself go, curse the gym and gain 50 pounds.

All of these things could happen and maybe they will, but it won’t be in the absolutely awful way I imagine them happening. None of these things would be the death of me – I would be hurt, I’d be a little lost, I’d have to take a step back and reevaluate, but I’d be okay. I would stand up again, I’d figure out a new path, I’d find a new love (or be happy on my own), and I’d build up my confidence again.

I may not have been able to survive if vampires were real and they attacked me when I was a kid, but as an adult, I can handle just about anything that life throws me.  And I can spend my time worrying about these things that’ll never happen to me, or I can live my life. I can dwell in fear or I can be the brave person I know I am. I can waste time conjuring up all of the ways things can go wrong, or I can be thankful for all the ways it is already right.

Daily Gratitude: Today, I’m thankful for my lovely friends who always put everything perspective. 

One Night Stand-less

I’ve never had a one night stand.

While not all of my sexual encounters have been in the context of a relationship, I’ve known each of the guys far longer than the evening and at least trusted them somewhat. Yes, I’ve embraced a few friends-with-benefits-strings-loosely-attached relationships and I’ve stayed over at a guy’s place the same night I met him. But those sleepovers were PG-13 at best – I always kept my boundaries and my walls strong and tall, protecting all parts of myself – body and soul – from harm.

For a while I was overly concerned with what I would say to my future husband when he asked about my sexual resume or inquired about a number that remains private, unlike most things on this blog. I wanted to be proud of what I told him and I wanted him to view me as someone who thought before she leaped into the beds of strangers or spread her legs for Manhattan. I wanted to feel honorable and somewhat pure, though I passed up the virginity card nearly ten years ago.

But then that stopped mattering to me so much. Instead, I became more interested in what I felt like. If I wanted to makeout with the tall drink of water in the corner of an Irish pub, then I’d do it. If I wanted to have sex with someone I met on the first night, I’d do it. This is my body, these are my morals and my choices, and if I can stand confidently behind them, then what did it matter what my husband thought? He wasn’t around for those evenings because it wasn’t time for me to meet him, so that part of my past didn’t include him. As long as I was sexually safe and emotionally smart, then I could be what I wanted to be and well, do who I wanted to do.

And by the time I finally reached a point where I thought that maybe, just maybe, I could have that steamy one night stand I fantasized about, I met and started dating Mr. Possibility, and a few months later we implemented exclusivity, deleting the option of a fling from my New York itinerary.

Now don’t get me wrong – I’m very happy with Mr. P and I’m not lacking anything I think I’d find in a one night stand, but it is something I’ve always wondered about. As a 20-something, it almost feels like a rite of passage before we reach 30, where suddenly worries about fertility and wedding rings become priority over the “Oh my god, I’m three days late, but he didn’t finish inside of me, does that mean I could be pregnant??? Should I buy a pregnancy test?” text messages we send our friends now.

I have more than enough time before I turn the big 3-0, but I wonder if I have it in me to actually execute the infamous one night stand. Almost all of my friends have done it, some more than others, some just because they wanted to try it, and some because they really dig it. A few of my friends are rather empowered by it – claiming their sexuality as their own and sleeping with whoever they damn well please, and best of all, demanding an orgasm out of it. These women are so sexually liberated that it makes me blush and envy the way they view sex. I mean, they can actually sleep with someone without trusting the guy, without knowing his last name, where that scar on the left of his knee came from,  if he has brothers or sisters, if he likes chocolate ice cream instead of vanilla, or if he has any intentions of a relationship or is this just sex?

Maybe that’s what has always held me back – the idea of just sex.

My girlfriends who dig the one night stands like them because they’re not messy like relationships. They don’t come with rules and commitment. They don’t require compromise or a phone call the next day or a birthday present. They don’t grow, they begin and end with spontaneity. They don’t need care and concern to function, they don’t need reassurance or someone calling you beautiful. They just take two willing participants who at that moment, in that apartment or that bathroom or during that vacation – who want to just have sex.

But in my mind, which is probably far too relationship-oriented for this discussion to begin with – one night stands aren’t like that. When I envision my unrealistic notion of what a one night stand entails, I picture sultry kisses that can’t be stopped, conversation that is steady and fervent, and warmth radiating from my lips all the way down my body. I see a chiseled chest and my bare stomach, sweat rolling down places that are only sexy when you’re naked, and I feel the irresistibleness  of a man’s weight on top of me. I see white linen sheets with the light of a candle competing with the summer air and the undeniable smell of raw sex on me as this man calls a cab to my apartment the morning after. I hear myself saying “Stop, don’t tell me your name. It’ll ruin it,” as I blow him a kiss and give him a playful wink out the window as he watches me leave, wondering what could have been, but both of satisfied with the anonymity of it all.

I know the more realistic snapshot is a drunken couple stumbling out of Joshua Tree in Murray Hill, draped over one another as the guy with greased hair attempts to wave a ride while the girl giggles because she can’t think of anything else to do. I know they involve stumbling into things on the way to the two-bedroom shared with three roommates with jack-hammer sex that’s barely decipherable in your memories, and ultimately end with texting your friends to ask if you should get the morning after pill, even though you’re on the pill. They must involved a long hot shower, or at least I think it would for me.

I suppose I haven’t had a one night stand and denied every opportunity to change that because I want them to mean something. I want it to go down in my book as an encounter I needed to have to fulfill my appetite, not as a last minute decision I made because Mr. Tequila thought it was a good idea. But if I want a one night stand to mean something, doesn’t that go against what a one night stand is?

Isn’t a one night stand just a stand-in before you find the guy who lasts longer than a night?

Daily Gratitude: Today, I’m thankful for rain. It’s been a while, dude. 

Practice Makes Patience

For 12 years once a week, I took piano lessons. I actually wanted to take voice lessons, convinced I could be as talented as the Go Go’s (the first cassette my mom gave me from her stash), but once my teacher, Mrs. A, heard me sing – she persuaded my mother into piano. After some practice and an understanding of notes and measures, I could switch back to training my voice for be the next Whitney Houston.

Eh, never did return to voice and now that I can hear myself without blinded childlike certainty, I think piano was a much better fit.

I caught on pretty quickly and after a year, had my very first recital. I never did fall in love with piano, but I loved being able to perform and I grew quite attached to Mrs. A – she served as one of the most precious mentors in my life as a kid. She was tough with a stroke of kind and I admired her endlessly. She encouraged me to try harder, to go for a piece that was out of my comfort level, and complimented my courage.

But one thing that Mrs. A never liked was my practice skills. My mom wasn’t a fan either, considering she was paying for piano lessons. When I would refuse to practice for the alloted 30 minutes a day, claiming I had something to do, a bike to ride, a swing to sway on, a friend to visit across the street, she’d drag my 7-year-old self back into the house and sit me down at the piano she and my father graciously bought. If I didn’t practice, she’s stop paying for lessons and I just couldn’t have that – I wanted to be that singer. Or at the very least, I wanted to have another recital and hang out with Mrs. A some more.

Practice never came easy to me. I’d rather just go for an hour a week and play through the chords while Mrs. A instructed me. Sure, I knew that the more I practiced, the better I’d get, but I figured I’d get better eventually anyway. For a while I was convinced Mrs. A didn’t notice when I hadn’t spent any time in front of the piano. If I just played with confidence, even when the key was flat or I missed an entire measure or my beat was off, if I pounded the keys hard enough, if I held my head up high enough and made my back perfectly straight, she’d think I was brilliant. She’d think I had slaved over the black-and-white noise makers for hours upon hours.

I soon discovered playing loudly doesn’t mean playing well, it just means you’re pushing way too hard to make up for a lack of confidence. And Mrs. A could see right through it.

While I stopped taking piano lessons when I landed my first internship, choosing writing over music (though I can still read music and I’m thankful for that), I haven’t ceased to overdo my insecurities with an unfaltering ego. Or rather, when I’m upset or unsure about something, I try to push it so far out of my mind or dwell on it so deeply that it either goes away or it haunts me. I can knot up my stomach with a single thought, I can be my own cruel critic, and if given the opportunity, I can devise the worse possible outcome if I let my mind get the best of me.

And when I feel like something, someone, or the essence of who I am is slipping away, I grab onto it for dear life. I pull the pieces together next to my heart, just like I did with those scattered notes on the piano. I hadn’t seen those measures before because I failed to practice and though I’ve felt lost before, I’ve never practiced learning to find my way, so everything feels new when it falls apart. And just as I did in front of Mrs. A, I still feel vulnerable and fear disapproval, no matter what kind of happy face I may put on.

Unlike piano, there isn’t a set course of rules for life or for love. Things are sometimes out of key and things fall flat when you’d like them to be sharp. Sometimes you push yourself before the measure and while I’d like there to be a metronome to steady my rather-chaotic pace, the only beat I can really listen to is the one that’s in my heart.

That beat, my heartbeat, isn’t something I can fake. It’s not something I can ignore or push aside or beat with a silly ego. And keeping it in check, listening to it, and believing in its rhythm is something that must be practiced each and every single day. Practice doesn’t make perfect because perfection is quite honestly a beautiful allusion – but with practice, comes patience. And with patience, some understanding, and mastering the art of feeling it out instead of forcing it, sometimes, life makes one hell of a lovely melody.

Daily Gratitude: I’m thankful for my roommate’s keyboard that she let me play today. How I’ve missed it!