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.

 

 

About these ads

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…

 

All At Once or Not At All

I watched the girls chatter and talk, laugh and make sweeping hand gestures in a crowded, sweaty room in midtown east just a block or two from Grand Central. Most of them I didn’t know, a few I recognized but couldn’t place a name and some, I had watched grow from eager intern to unemployed maniac to confident, happy editor.

It was a beautiful thing to see – this program that was just a little idea of mine a few years ago – in its third year, matching the job seekers with the job keepers, and hopefully, creating friendships, too. I’ve been in all of their shoes before: moving to New York without an apartment or any income, working the 9-6 as an editorial assistant, barely making enough money to pay rent, eat and actually leave my apartment for a happy hour from time-to-time. I’ve felt all of those scary, invigorating and desperate feelings – wondering when my chance would come, when I could write home to North Carolina that I wasn’t a failure, that I wasn’t out-of-mind, that I was surviving. That I was really living that life I had imagined for so many years, that it wasn’t just a pipe dream or a silly fantasy, but my reality.

Nearly four years, three job titles and one very big blog later (wow!), I wish I could say that everything is easier. That I have it all figured out and my ducks are in their perfect little rows, and I’m relishing in the success I’ve made for myself. And in some ways and on some days, everything is smooth sailing. But if going through all of the stages of being an early to a mid-20’s something has taught me anything, the biggest lesson is…

…life happens all at once or not at all.

When you first make that huge leap to an unknown place with an unknown destination and unplanned outcome – you’re terrified. But you’re so full of drive and bubbling with so much energy, that you forget that you’re broke. You stalk job sites and you have as many networking hours and coffee dates as you possibly can – and then some Friday, on some random afternoon, when you’re wasting time on the internet, you get that phone call for your first job. You forget to negotiate the salary (you learn how to later on), but you don’t mind. And then the next weeks are filled with paperwork and learning curves and figuring out what to wear and getting to know the personalities of your team – people you’ll see more than you see anyone else in your life.

And then when you switch jobs two years later, you do it again. Three years after that, you’ll go through all the same steps with a new gig. It will happen so quickly, so intensely, after so many months of playing the waiting game, after so many dreaded edit tests and long, nerve-wracking interviews – it’ll just happen. And, dare I say it, rather easily. Because that’s how life happens. All at once.

Or not at all.

When you’re looking for that first apartment, when you don’t know the city and you don’t really understand the difference between neighborhoods and you don’t know how to tell if it’s safe or if it had bed bugs or if you can actually afford it (since you don’t have a job yet) – you wander aimlessly, hoping you’ll just know when you find it. You’ll settle on a place that’ll do, that’s not ideal, that’s most importantly, very cheap. You’ll make friends with the building, you’ll grow use to the rancid smells coming from downstairs and down the street. You’ll figure out how to drown out noise and the unreliable rhythm of the closest train to your place. And then just as you’ve started to feel settled, it’ll be time to move again.

So you will. And your budget will be different because your job will be new. You’ll find an upgraded place suddenly and move swiftly. You might even adopt a dog because you get so comfortable. And then three years later – with a new raise, you’ll crave a new place. There will be complications and gap months and broker’s fees and you’ll watch your money crumble away… but that’s how life happens. All at once.

Or just, not at all.

When you first start dating, it will feel like a rather clever experience. Entertaining mostly, and then so frustrating, you swear each time you’ll never do it again. But something makes you keep trying, keep putting your cards out on the table, waiting for the right hand, carefully eying the players for their poker face. You sign up and you delete, you give up and you repeat. You fall backwards and then forwards, believing, and then trying your best to hide the disbelief when someone turns out just so very… very…. wrong. You venture out alone on trips and adventures, you invest in yourself and in your future, figuring if someone is meant to be in your life, they will enter it.

It’ll take months that turn into years until you finally, somehow, do in fact, meet someone. Unexpectedly. And those bad dates will seem far away, those experiences that were so disheartening, feel enlightening. Those things that were once so hard – texting and setting up dates and talking plans – are just easy. Simple. Uncomplicated. Because that’s how life happens. All at once, instantly.

Or, not at all.

To those of you who just graduated – or have been removed from school for a while but are embarking on a big change, don’t let go of your faith. Savor those periods of flourishing and mystery, where nothing seems certain, where everything is in the air. Because while it doesn’t feel like it at the time, those are the days when the magic is unfolding. That’s when it’s all happening.

And even if you can’t enjoy it now – don’t worry. You’ll go through the same cycle every few years, with every new place, new job, new guy – and it’ll feel just the same. Except that you’ll just be watching i from a new point of view, the kind of view where you can look into a room and see different stages of your life illustrated in strangers. And you’ll hope that for their sake, they let life take it’s tides.

That they’ll have the courage to let it happen. All at once. And then not at all. All at once… it’ll just all unfold.

 

 

 

 

5 Things I’ve Learned Being Single for 3 Years

After a productive Sunday of running, cleaning, dog walking and meal prepping – what I really wanted was a glass of wine. What I really needed was to write.

So as most responsible adults do, I did both.

After the hostess said she’s hold a table for 10 minutes for us, Lucy and I raced down to Toast, one of my favorite Upper West Side hangouts. I ordered some Pinot just as the sun was setting and the half-moon was making it’s debut in the June sky. And though I had deadlines to meet, articles and galleries to edit, plans to make and blogs to write – I took a moment and just looked up.

unnamed-3

unnamed-2

unnamed-1

And for the first time, in a very long time, I felt so comfortable, so happy, so secure in my own skin, I impressed myself. Here I was, 25-years-old and having dinner by myself on a Sunday evening, outside in the city that I love, with a pup that catches the attention of every single person that walks by. A few years ago, I wouldn’t have had the confidence or the independence to sit alone and enjoy a meal.

Much less, sit pretty for more than two hours.

In fact, in the years – almost three now! – that I’ve been single, I’ve learned just about everything that I wanted to learn when I first started this blog. And while 2013 pushed me to the extreme in every are of my life, 2014 has proven the true power of hope. And of faith. And of believing in the unknown, just like I’ve always had the courage to do.

Writing about being single doesn’t give me an advantage as much as it puts me at a disadvantage in dating – everything I think, feel and have experienced in my love life is splashed across the internet, well-read by many and quoted by some. But while I hesitate to share my last name too soon into getting to know someone, I’m never embarrassed by the path it took to get here, and the things I’ve learned about being single along the way.

To name a few…

1-    (I Hate to Admit This) But It’s Fun to Be Single (Sometimes)

Not always and not mostly, but sometimes having zero obligation to someone else is not only convenient – it’s liberating. There are days when I don’t wake up until 11 a.m., don’t talk to anyone (but Lucy) and don’t think twice about being selfish with my plans. And if I happen to meet someone that I click with – it’s surprising and it’s interesting. At least for a few dates, anyway. And if it’s not, I know I have many beautiful parts of my life – friends, travel, a rewarding job, an exciting place to live – to enjoy instead.

2-    Friends Are So Much More Important Than Men

Yes of course, once you get married, things change. But while we’re all dating, mating, attempting to relate to one another and figuring it all out as we go, the friendships you cherish are the ones you invest in. While everyone is on their own path and going through different things, having women that you connect with on a daily basis not only makes you feel less crazy, but reminds you of all the reasons you’re wonderful, too. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned while being single – that I’m determined to carry on once I meet someone – is not letting a man monopolize my time. You can’t become so consumed with one person that you forget about the special ladies who helped you become the person you are.

3-    For Heaven’s Sake, Don’t Settle

Seriously though, don’t. It’s so incredibly tempting when a man is just about right. Or just about turns you on. Or is just about what you’re looking for. Or just about makes you laugh. Here’s the thing: the man you ultimately end up with won’t be everything you’re looking for. But when you meet him and get to know him, you won’t list all the reasons he’s wrong. You might see that he’s not quite as tall or quite as romantic or quite as successful as you would have hoped, but you’re able to see past it. If you have to convince yourself to date someone, you shouldn’t be dating him.

4-    You Really Can Do Anything

Not that you can’t once you’re in a relationship, but there’s something about doing everything by yourself that’s so satisfying. Like paying for and carrying groceries and laundry, budgeting, watching Game of Thrones, booking vacations (and going on them), and everything else – when you’re single, you figure out just how much you can do, without help from anyone. I will surely look forward to the day when I can score a great one bedroom that I split with another person (whom I also share a bed with), but for now, I’m really happy with where I am. And really enjoying the great arms I have from the heavy lifting.

5-    Men Are People, Too

Some are dogs. Some will lead you on. Some will never let go. Some will break your heart and some will inspire you. But more than they are lovers or could-be husbands or boyfriends, or that person that buys you flowers and likes how you look naked, they are people. People with stories. With strengths. With weakness. With a history and a hope for the future. With different motivating factors and different nationalities. They are very simply, just people. And when you’re looking for one of those people to date, they should not just be some idea in your head – they should be someone that you value and respect– as a person. Not as a man or a lover or a partner. But as a person.

And hopefully, they’ll think the same of you – because more than you’re a single woman or a girl who works in digital media or a girl with a dog in New York City or a girl with a blog or anything else- you’re a person. A person who is living – and thriving – independently.

Finally. Happily.

 

 

It’s Hard to Stay Single

I watched the smoke fade into the streetlamp, delicately – seductively – making it’s way from the lips of a stranger, only to disappear into the night. It was colder than I expected and I was weaker than I imagined, downing uncountable glasses of wine at this fine establishment in Paris.

Le Parigot? Le Pearle? Le something.

I couldn’t remember the name and they didn’t have it posted anywhere I could see from my window seat, covered up almost completely in my pashmina from Chinatown, waiting for the silence to be filled up with conversation. My mom examined her hands idly, while skirting eye-contact with me and drinking red wine (my favorite, her least).

I gave her a brave smile and tried to ignore the embarrassment swelling from the pit of my stomach so big that I felt suffocated. The bar was too small. The bartenders were looking at our table. I didn’t have anything to focus on but those cigarette-smoking French women standing outside, laughing about something I would never know about.

It’s okay to cry, honey, my mom whispered, reaching out to hold my fisted hand. It’s healthy, even.

In Paris, mom? In a lovely bar in an amazing city when I’m on an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime trip with my mother? I responded, bitterly. It’s okay to cry now? When I have so much to be thankful for and I should be so happy?

Well, aren’t you happy?  She asked cautiously – I’m sure she was waiting for me to explode.

The question was simple: happiness? And though I had asked myself the same thing many, many times before, I’m not sure I ever considered the answer as thoroughly as I did then, miles and miles away from my city, far, far away from the life I built. I felt foreign here, distanced from the stresses and the worries that I harbor in New York. I didn’t think about money or career, I didn’t focus on running or staying healthy, I didn’t care about who I was dating or if I was putting myself out there.

In Paris – and yes, in Rome, too – I was just existing.

I was savoring. I was in awe of everything I saw and nearly everyone I met. The food tasted richer, the wine was better, the views were incomparable. Every single second of every single day, I focused on what was happening right then – not what was next, not what it meant, not what it would be – but just what it was.

So why was I crying? I wondered, overwhelmed by a mix of exhaustion, alcohol and intrigue. How could I not be happy in this very moment?

I am happy, I started, slowly. I’m probably happier now than I’ve been in years. But no matter how far away I go or what I’m doing, it’s still there. It still finds a way to creep into my thoughts.

What does? she asked as she motioned for another half-bottle of wine. Mothers really do know best: when their 25-year-old daughters are sort of having a breakdown in a café, ask for more wine.

My fear of being alone, I said firmly.

We both let the words settle there in the very tiny space between us, listening to the other patrons speak in a language we didn’t know, listening to the sound of a bike bell speed down the road, listening to the heaviness of the words and how they sounded when spoken out loud.

But aren’t you more afraid of settling? she smiled at me.

It was that all-knowing grin – the one she only has when she knows she has said something right. When she has broken the barrier of my overindulging emotions and given me a realistic perspective that I (let’s face it: desperately) needed. The wine arrived and as she poured, she continued:

I’m proud of you for that Linds. It isn’t easy to stay single, just like it isn’t easy to find someone worth the work of a relationship. But even though you’ve been lonely and you’ve had some pretty bad dating experiences, and it’s been hard, you have still stuck up for yourself and held out for what you want. And in that, you’ve stood up for love.

I wasn’t crying anymore and I didn’t feel the need to for the remainder of the trip. In fact, the fear that follows me most everywhere started to feel less important, less ambient. It was one of the kindest things that someone has ever said to me – and something that surprised me with its truth:

It is hard to stay single.

It doesn’t seem like it when you’re dating and trying to locate at least one man who actually wants the same thing that you do. It doesn’t seem like it when you’re swiping left and right, replying to messages and trying not to analyze hidden meanings behind mostly meaningless text messages. It doesn’t seem like it when you haven’t had sex in months (and months), and it doesn’t seem like it when you’d give anything – everything! – just to have someone to come home to who loves you unconditionally (and isn’t a fury white pup). The frustration and the fatigue of being single can feel harder than being in a relationship – but in reality…

…being single is a choice. And staying single is difficult to do. Settling, however – that’s easy.

There are more than enough men who would be my boyfriend if I wanted one that badly – but I don’t want just any guy. I’m not looking for someone to pass time with. I’m not in the market for something so casual that it’s forgettable. I’m not in such a rush to be in love that I rush past my standards and forget about what being in love really means and truly requires.

So even if the fear of being alone feels heavy on certain days – and yes, even in Paris – I know that holding out is better than settling into something that ultimately, won’t be worth it.

And if I forget it from time-to-time – as I know I will – there is my mother who will never forget to remind me (just as I’m reminding all of you). As she said when we hugged good-bye, with tears in both of our eyes, after 10 non-stop days together traveling through Europe:

Don’t you settle. He’s a comin’. He’s on his way. I promise.

It might take him a while – but ya know what? I can wait.