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.

 

 

 

 

About these ads

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.

 

Heart Open, Feet On the Ground

I waited anxiously outside of my favorite sushi restaurant, cursing myself for showing up early for yet another date. I knew being fashionably late was sexier than being on time but I hated missing a deadline, even one that was more about sake than sentences.

I tried (and my friends convinced me) to ignore my gut. Everyone said to give it a chance, to keep myself grounded and not to make judgements. After so many men who disappointed or were more interested in what it felt like to be in between my legs instead of in between my heartbeats, I was more than a little hesitant.

He could be different, I reminded myself. He could be something more, something better, I told myself. Every joint and fragment in my knees wanted to run downtown to meet my girls for a drink instead of waiting for this 6’4″ tall drink of water to arrive.

But I stayed.

And I sang my little “love is not dead” mantra until I saw him walking toward me from 20th street. I immediately turned away, acting like he could catch me by surprise, just like he did the night we met a week earlier.

On the 34th street uptown platform. I really do have some luck on public transportation, don’t I?

I was coming home from a night in with my kind friend, A, who offered to help me with my taxes. In exchange, I bought her dinner and brought Lucy so she could have a play date with A’s dog. It was 11:30 p.m. and it had been a very long day, so I was playing with my phone and tired, when I heard someone ask if they could pet my dog.

I turned on bitch face and turned my head, only to realize it was a handsome guy reaching for Lucy. I smiled, instantly wishing I would have at least put a little makeup on. We struck up conversation and had things in common (like talking to strangers on the train and taking philosophy classes), and we got off at the same stop on the Upper West Side. As we were about to part ways, he asked for my number and texted me 10 minutes later.

I was instantly intrigued.

After meeting up for drinks midweek and feeling that spark, we now found ourselves going out on a Friday night, and I found myself scared to death to like someone. But then he showed up in front of me. I smiled…

…and he pulled a single long-stem red rose from behind his back. Swoon.

Okay, maybe I shouldn’t have been so worried about this, I thought to myself silently. We talked and talked, laughed and laughed, danced and sang karaoke, staying out until nearly 4 am. I’m never one to lose track of time, but I did. And I liked it. After so many online dating profiles and dates gone wrong or sour, here was someone I met in real life and I actually liked in real life.

After our second date, we texted constantly, planning our third meet-up together. He watched my favorite movie (Roman Holiday), he remembered things I told him about my family, my friends, my preferences, my interests. We started talking on Gchat and he was excited when I announced I found an amazing new job (more on that later). I was enjoying the smoothness of the conversation and the sweetness he exuded until…

… on a random night while watching Netflix, his texted turned dirty.

I’m not one to shy away from sex talk, but if I see the possibility for a relationship, I try my best not to rush or to ruin the fun by putting too much pressure on it. I don’t want to talk about getting off with someone before I’ve had a chance to figure out their intentions. I felt that little rumble of clarity come back to my gut- the one that was there before date 2- that said he was probably not interested in more. His thoughtful actions might have steered me differently, but this ploy to discuss getting naked was reminding me of my initial reservations.

I quickly veered the conversation, but felt hesitant about another date where he might push things too far, too soon. It’s not that I have rules on when to sleep with someone – it should happen when it feels right – but I didn’t feel that way, just yet.

I mean, it had only been a week and a half, right?

When things didn’t go all the way on date three, our rapid, interesting and fervent conversation turned to silence. No “make a wish!” text message at 11:11, no asking about my day or my night, no discussing date four. The furthest we got in a texting or Gchat was about Snapchat and then one quick: “I had fun last week!” followed quickly by “You have really great boobs.” If the red flags weren’t flying sky high, I’d try to ignore them but they were there, bright and waving at me.

And so, I finally cut through my politeness to kindly ask what the f*** was going on and if his initial interest in me had changed. To which I received a text message that – for lack of exact words – said: “I’m looking to have fun, be intimate and play, but I don’t want to be monogamous or just see you. It’s just not where I am in my life right now. But if you’re up for that, cool!”

Did I mention that he’s 34?

So, here I am, back to the drawing board after a barely two-week-whatever-that-was. Was I disappointed? Yes, a little. Was I invested? No, not really. Does it annoy me? Obviously. But more than anything else, I surprised myself. In a way that I didn’t think I was capable of anymore.

I’ve now been single for about two-and-a-half years and it hasn’t been easy – in fact, it’s been one of the most frustrating parts of my life. I often wonder what I’m doing wrong or if I just pick the wrong guys or if because I want it, the way of the universe just won’t give it to me until I’m uninterested. I’ve been afraid that all the men I’m actually attracted to, aren’t attracted to me, or the guys that I’m drawn to, just never want relationships, they just want to get laid. But what I’ve been most scared of it my ability to feel something. After so many failed non-relationships that ended before they ever started, my guard is up. My faith in men is not very strong.

But I do have hope. And I am able to let myself feel something. It might be with some trepidation each time, but I still do it. So I might be a bit bitter and fairly frightened, but I haven’t given up. I’m still standing up for what I want and refusing to settle for anything less than what I know I deserve.

As my friend J advised me as I talked about this past dating experience: Keep your heart open and your feet on the ground. And I might add – and keep on walking toward whatever is surely waiting for you in the future that you can’t quite see.

Not yet anyway. Not yet.

You Can Fall Apart

A few weeks ago an article went viral on how to cry in New York.

Like anything that makes fun or sheds light on the city, I opened it, knowing I’d relate to whatever it said. I laughed at the tips – wear sunglasses and have a good song to really get you in the sobbing mood – and I liked the link my friend shared on Facebook.

And then on Friday, after a particularly stressful day, I found myself overwhelmed with my ever growing to-do list and as I talked to my mom (our nightly ritual on the two block walk to the train at night) – and I felt them.

The tears start to well.

I pressed into the receiver, complaining about the stress of doing taxes and how freelancing makes everything complicated and expensive. I expressed my anxiousness over the half-marathon I was running on Sunday (that I ended up rocking!). I talked about how guilty I felt about being jealous of my friends and their sweet boyfriends that surprise them with dinner reservations and a night out dancing – just because. I basically screamed into my iPhone that it wasn’t fair that for the past two and a half (and counting) years, I haven’t felt a lick of any emotion toward any man. My list went on – far too melodramatic to continue here – and as I kept going, I couldn’t hold back the sadness anymore.

I stopped in front of a party supply store and turned away from the people passing me on the street to hide my embarrassing, splashing drops, and my mom tried her best to comfort me with euphemisms and words of encouragement.

I got off the phone, finding it too difficult to talk, and stood there, collecting myself in the cold weather, praying no one I knew walked past me. I had cried in New York – like I have many times before – but I didn’t have sunglasses this time. Or a song to listen to. Or even tissues.

I avoided eye contact and kept my head down on the train home, willing myself to just make it to the UWS before collapsing on my bed, Lucy greeting me with her worried face and diligently licking away the salty mess. And though the article was right about ways to go about crying in New York, I’ve always found it hard to fall apart.

Certainly in public and often times, not even alone.

Somehow, letting it all come pouring out feels like opening the flood gates to something I don’t want to reveal or even see for myself. Why open the doors when denial feels so warm and protective? If I let the stress build and then I admit that it’s heavy, I fear I won’t be able to pick it up again, paralyzed by the thoughts themselves.

Falling into negativity doesn’t wash away the despair, it just heightens it.

And so, I mostly keep it together. I sing little mantras in my head for when I’m nervous. I remind myself that most everything is temporary and the best thing about life is that it always changes. I hold my head high and I try to count the things I’m thankful for instead of rhyming the things that make me bitter. I believe in the great tapestry of the universe and that I will never be dealt a hand so bad that I can’t handle it. I try to place my faith in the goodness, the boldness, the kindness of the world – and of this city – and thus, by merely having hope, I have strength in my heart.

But sometimes, like on Friday, the best possible thing I could do for myself was to let it go. To allow the thoughts to race through my mind, dangerously close to the edge of reason. To watch myself spiral wickedly out of control, witnessing my emotions like an outsider, seeing the adult tantrum take form, and eventually, end.

Because the thing about falling apart is that once you do it, you feel lighter. Those damning feelings don’t read as threatening anymore. Anger, jealousy, fear – whatever was building within you – go from boiling to simmering to frozen. Sure, there may be messy tissues and mascara-stained pillow cases, but once you’re finished, once you really release it, you’re you again.

And the world can see it.

Everyone around sees the weight that lifted. Your eyes are clearer, your head is not as cloudy, you’re smile is more generous. And perhaps, you attract something – or someone – just by releasing the tension you were clinging to for far longer than you needed to.

So you can fall apart. You can let it all hang out. You can lose control and have a meltdown. You can curse the world and fear your future. You can watch everything crumble and break, and you can bend yourself to the negativity. You can cry your eyes out like you have so many times before.

But then, you have to get up.

And though you may fall apart again and again and again – what’s more important is how many times you pick up the pieces and put yourself back together. The mark of a person is not how many times they have suffered or failed or been disappointed, but how many times they have said, “Okay, I’m done. Now what?”

So go ahead. Cry. Let it out. Let it go. And then figure out what comes next. Because trust me, there will always be something more – something better – to come.

Has It Always Been Love?

My back felt wet against the grass, the mud oozing onto my mother’s dress. It wasn’t made for my 8-year-old self, but it was ideal for my wild imagination. It was one of those fall nights that still felt warm, where the fireflies still danced across the backyard, where you could smell a fire burning somewhere beyond the mountain range, but you didn’t need to feel it to keep your breath from showing in the air. The sun was setting and my stomach was growling, ready for something fried and something green, the common supper staple of North Carolina, a state I called home, but not a state where I would live one day.

I looked up at the rich, deep blue Southern sky, counting the stars – one, two, three, three hundred, infinity – and trying to find the Little and Big Dipper because my grandmother once told me it was good luck if you could find them both fast. I always made the same wish when I did: I want to be in loveIt was on that green field with a farm to my left and a trailer park to my right, that I did all of my pretending. In that tree with that swing, my name is carved along with every boy I loved until the eighth grade when we moved. Underneath the back porch that was full of cobwebs and potential rattle snakes, I painted hearts with red paint, believing that if I kept drawing what I wanted, I’d see him some spiraling down our gravel driveway, ready to take me away. To where, I never knew but that’s how the fairytales ended.

Sure, I sometimes was a princess in my never-ever land, but most of the time I was much more than that: I was Lois Lane and Superman was coming to my rescue while I got the story to press on time. I was the female-version of Indiana Jones, running circles around my childhood home, pretending a giant bolder was chasing me. I was Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, all sass and red lipstick, oblivious to the plot line, and desperately in love with Richard Gere. I was Princess Buttercup and I just knew my Wesley would roll down that giant sledding hill in front of my house yelling, “As you wish.”

I didn’t need to know what it felt like to be in love as a kid – I was already in love with love.

I wrapped the long phone chord around me until my legs were stuck together and wobbled to the washing machine to close the pantry door. I needed privacy to listen to my very first crush talk about his very first guitar and how he was playing in his first band and that it was going to be epic. So epic. I didn’t pay attention to most of what he said, but I loved the way he said it. Especially when I imagined those curly black locks that seemed to shape into a floating bowl around his head. He was different than what I was used to and he hung out with a crowd that wasn’t my kind, but I was smitten.

We met on a school field trip to Camp Greenville and when we sat down at this chapel at the top – appropriately called Pretty Place – he rested his hand on mine and smiled. It would take me a month to talk to him, six months of obsessing and doodling his name on my notebooks, and a year until we finally were more than friends. And on some very cold January night while a friend slept over and we played Dream Phone, he asked if I’d be his girlfriend. After carefully putting him on mute, I screamed so loud that our motion light came on outside in the driveway. And now, two-whole-months later, we were holding hands outside of class and going to dances together. We had nicknames and he gave me a Valentine’s Day card that my mom put in my baby book for safe keeping. He kissed me before he caught the bus and I went to meet my parents, and though I always wanted more time alone, we were allowed to walk the mall downtown together for an hour on Saturdays.

It was love. He was love. I didn’t need to fall in love, I just knew.

I could hear him screaming my name from far, far below. His head was bopping in and out of water so clear you could see the catfish at the bottom, waiting for their chance to feed at something or for a fisherman to take a chance to feed them. I knew I couldn’t actually see his grin from way up here on top of this bank, covered in Georgia clay mud – the reddest you’ll see this side of the Mississippi – but I could feel it looking up at me. My high school sweetheart’s love was so effortless and sweet – he treated me like I was as delicate as the honeysuckle bushes, something to be savored because it only lasted so long. From the time I slipped my number in his pocket outside of biology class, inviting him to my dad’s annual smokeout to when he kissed me harder than anyone had in our clammy basement on a futon that smelled like mildew, I knew he’d be mine. I knew he’d be someone so very special in my life that I didn’t bat an eyelash before telling him so.

And now, he was telling me to grab that rope and swing into the lake where my family was all waiting for me. I wasn’t afraid of heights – but I was terrified of this fall. The ground had turned my feet orange and my hands were caked in it from the climb up. What if I didn’t let go when I was supposed to? What if I let go too quickly? What if I wasn’t strong enough to run and jumpYou can do it baby, I love you! Come here right now! 

I jumped.

But I didn’t fall – I splashed right next to him and he helped me onto the boat, rubbing his skinny little arms around me to keep me from shivering, even though it was the dead of July. I loved him – and I didn’t need to fall to feel it, I just needed to leap.

I stepped out of the fancy car that he called for me, leading to a destination that was meant to be a surprise. But I had studied New York for the past 15 years, so that wasn’t quite possible. We were at Lincoln Center, right at sunset, and he was wearing a tailor-made suit while I was trying to rock a dress that was on sale at TJ Maxx. My feet felt unsteady, both in these heels and in this city. It was becoming everything and nothing like I had imagined, consistently mesmerizing and demoralizing me, every other block – but I kept at it anyway. Especially since he – this blonde-haired, blue-eyed, 6’4″ man – was there to support me if I couldn’t make it. I had grown accustomed to him in the way I felt comfort seeing stars, something so rare in a place with energy from every other direction but up. He was something to wish upon – someone still in the making, someone I could play make-believe about in my mind, imagining the time when he decided to step out of his frog disguise.

Maybe tonight was when he’d do it: why are we here? I inquired as he led me up the steps to the fountain in the middle that was bursting with water, sparkling with little white lights. When we made it, he twirled me around as we locked eyes and he dipped me, just so my hair caught a runaway droplet, and kissed me. You said in one of your blogs that you wanted to be kissed here as the sun was setting.

Had I? I wondered as he led me to destination two of our ultra-romantic date – dinner and then a staycation at the penthouse of The Empire Hotel. I didn’t remember crafting such words, but how could I possibly remember everything that I’d ever written? I watched the taxis that night wearing a robe that costed more than my rent from the window while he slept, questioning what it feels like to be in love. And how to know when you’re falling, without actually… well, falling.

Two-and-a-half years later, I’m still figuring out the answer.

Because though I’ve known love and I’ve craved it… I don’t know if I’ve ever been in love with anything other than, well love.

This Valentine’s Day, write a self-love letter to yourself and it’ll be published (anonymous or not) on Confessions of a Love Addict! And you enter yourself to win a prize pack of beauty products and a Home Goods gift card! Learn more here. Submit here.