A Heart Full of Love

While I was home for the holidays, pretending anything fried and delicious was also calorie-less while lounging on anything that would hold me for long periods of time – my pup, Lucy, was doing the same. A funny thing happens when a city dog from the Upper West Side meets the great wilderness that is a fenced-in back yard: freedom.

Lucy had fun playing with my family’s dog, Suzie, and my uncle’s dogs, Lincoln and Cooper. She ran out the doggy door. And back in. And out. And again and again, over and over. She ate whatever she could find, buried her toys in the dirt outside, rolled in the mud – anything and everything that was Southern and grimy – Lucy was game.

So you can imagine that when bedtime rubbed its sleepy eyes, I had one tired little gal that easily and deeply fell asleep. That is, except for her first night. You see – my apartment in New York is rather quiet. My window faces the buildings behind me and I almost always sleep with a fan to drown out the eerie sound of silence that makes my ears ring. Slumber in the city is very quiet, but in North Carolina – you can hear all sorts of sounds. The tree frogs sing their melodies late at night, the birds wake you up before you’re ready, the dogs have conversations from cul-de-sac to cul-de-sac and angry women shoo them to simmer down.

To Lucy – this was a lot to take in.

I spent a good hour trying to convince her to come out from underneath my childhood bed, luring her with treats and the sweetest (irritated) voice I could muster. But this stubborn tiny white dog was having none of it – she had tucked herself into a corner, ready to hide from anything and everything that was apparently out to get her. As I was attempting to wiggle an arm in to grab her, I hit my elbow on a big plastic box, concealed under a blanket that I used to snuggle with when I was four.

Curiosity always getting the best of me, I pulled out this unfamiliar Tupperware, giving up on my runaway pet. I peeled off the top and inside I found something that within minutes, brought me to tears.

Hundreds and hundreds of love letters.

You see – my ultra-romantic father who is even gushier than me (if you can believe it) – has written a note to my mom nearly every morning in the 27 years they’ve been married. I remember stumbling across them as a child: sometimes in front of the coffee pot, sticking out of the corner of her purse, on the dashboard of her car, taped to the side of her vanity where she sat to do her makeup. They didn’t say much, usually just loving sentiments or funny inside jokes that I don’t want to know the meaning of.

I hadn’t realized that my mom had kept every single last one of them. Or that she stowed them away in a sealed container, underneath my bed where I’m assuming she sometimes pulls them out to read again or continuously add to her already very large stockpile. As I sifted through the notes, careful not to rip them and making sure I didn’t read anything super-personal, I thought about what my dad must have been thinking when he penciled these.

Was he just trying to make sure my mom started her day off with something kind-hearted? Did he want to ensure that she always felt loved? That she always knew how treasured and valuable she is to him? Did he feel so much love toward her that he simply couldn’t hold it in anymore? Was his heart bursting with all that he felt from that day he laid eyes on her from across a crowded, smoky dance floor in the 80s?

These are answers that I’ll probably never know and questions I wouldn’t dare to ask – those letters and the meanings behind them are for my parents. And between them. They’re part of their long-winded, strong and compassionate love affair that has continually shown me what it really means to love unconditionally. Every date I go on, every man I think could possibly be someone to me, I compare the guy – intentionally and not – to my dad. Even if this man won’t write me a note every morning before I hop the train to work or make me a cup of coffee to wake up to – would he express his love in a different way I’d appreciate? Would he remember to tell me how he cares – not just on anniversaries and Hallmark holidays but all the time, every single day?

The verdict is still out – but those letters in that box taught me that what I’m really looking for in a man is one who has one hell of a heart. And a heart that’s full of love. Sure, there are other things – like ambition, loyalty, humor, height – that also rate pretty high on the attraction scale –but someone who isn’t afraid of his feelings and knows how to show them. That’s important, too.

And apparently, important to Lucy, as well. Because as soon as she heard me sniffle as I read those pages, she quickly came to my side to comfort my heart. The one that aches for another one… just like it.

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Five Down, Many To Go

Terrified that having a puppy (as lovely as she is) would ruin my social life as I know it — I’ve been quite the busy dater this past month. I can’t blame Lucy entirely for my new-found interest in getting back into the scene — it’s also the chilly weather that reminds me of cuddling under covers with no clothes except socks, the smell of pumpkin spice that remind me of home, and just how handsome men look with rosy cheeks and scruff that’s a little too out grown.

And also, the fact that I’ve been single for over a year now…

Given, I spent some time (okay, maybe a lot of time) hung up over Mr. Possibility. And even, yes, sleeping with him far longer than I should have. But now that my past is both figuratively and literally miles and months behind me, I have the urge to meet someone. Doesn’t have to be my forever-and-ever guy, but just a guy….would be nice. It’d be comforting and exciting — and hopefully, it’d spread some of my natural optimism into my romantic relationships, instead of the negativity that consumes them recently.

So, with a few clicks of my mouse on three online dating profiles (yes, three!), enticing friends to set me up with the eligible bachelors in their lives and throwing some flirting glances across practically each room I graced, I somehow managed to have five first dates in the past four weeks. For me — who walks a dog three times a day, works 40+ hours and runs three miles at least five days a week — dating can sometimes be difficult to budget into my time. But, with as much hope I could muster without making my eyes blush, I jumped head (not heart) first into the scary Manhattan pool of singleness.

The first date, the guy upped his height by six inches, which isn’t really fudging on your online dating profile, it’s just flat-out lying. And while I know how tall a dude is shouldn’t affect my taste too much — it really does. Maybe it’s my own personal hangup or my need to feel small and protected around someone I’m dating, but it’s not something I’ve been able to compromise. I prefer 5’10” and above, but if I met the man I’d been waiting for and he was 5’9″ — I betcha I could get over it. This particular guy arrived before me and was already sitting down, so I didn’t know his 6’0″ claim wasn’t true until after the drinks had been drank and the bites had been nibbled, and we stood up to leave that I realized his very white lie. I wasn’t wearing heels and at 5’4″, he wasn’t even a head above me. The conversation hadn’t been intriguing enough to entice me for another date and his shortness in character and in height made it easy to respond with, “Let’s be friends!” when he texted the next day. Of course, no response.

The second guy was interesting enough — but mainly because he reminded me of my gay husband, J. He was flamboyant, incredibly social and made some joke about how he psyched his parents out at Christmas one year by saying he may bring a guy home (Red, red flag!). He talked more than I did, insisted on walking me home and didn’t attempt to kiss me goodnight (which I didn’t expect, either) — and still texted the next day. I did the same routine as I did with the first guy and this one quickly stopped contact, too.

The third date was the best of them all — over sushi and some wine, I chatted it up with a friend of a friend. The rapport was fast and clever, the shared glances were subtle and enticing, and I understood why my friend thought we’d get along. However, as I’m prone to picking up on what could be deal-breakers way sooner than I have in past courtships, I noticed that the majority of the conversation wasn’t targeted at me, but about him. He was the classic one-upper (which would be his Mr. title if he actually made it into this blog for more than a paragraph), and by the time the check came and left, I was ready to not compete in the conversation anymore.

The fourth date was my first Match.com date, and I was excited to see how powerful their magical matching brew really is. I showed up earlier and caught up on reading, while waiting for him to arrive. I could tell from the first smile that he was shyer than most men I date. He was looking forward to going to Comic Con, came from a good family and lived on the Upper East Side. (Which frankly when you’re on the West Side, is nearly too much distance to handle.) I was attracted to him and his politeness was overwhelming, but I didn’t feel that thing. I know sparks don’t always fly in the very beginning and they sometimes take time to flicker, but I think you know if the flame can be ignited, even just a little bit, from the start. He walked me to the bus stop and kindly hugged me goodbye. We haven’t spoken since, and I haven’t noticed.

The fifth date was on Saturday, and is still a little too depressing for me to share in vivid detail. What I will say is that I now know that some preferences are set in stone. Like, I don’t care for someone who checks the score of the game — and talks about it — more than once at a dinner table. On the first date. Or someone who gambles or plays pokers… a lot. Or who doesn’t have respect for animals. Or is sexist about the toilet seat. But mostly, if they think voting for Mitt Romney is a vote for women. Nope, not interested. But proud of myself for walking out of a date for the very first time. I have a feeling it surely won’t be the last.

Needless to say, I haven’t really found someone I’m interested in, even after making a whole new commitment to putting myself out there. I always try to find the lesson in everything — the silver lining that will make it all make sense, that will make it all seem part of a grand scheme, or some predetermined fate that I can’t even begin to visualize yet. But really the only thing I’ve become convinced of the past month is…

…dating can suck. It can honestly, really, really suck.

It’s constant disappointment. It’s something being off even if you’re not quite sure what that something is. It’s trying to avoid the wolf underneath the sheep, and to find the sheep that’s hidden by your mesmerization with the wolf. It’s hoping for a someone you’re not entitled to meet just because you’re you. It’s a lot of scheduling and work, compromising and wondering when it’s all going to fall into place. Frankly, it’s so exhausting, I’m tired of writing about it — but…

…I still want to do it.

Even if five not-so-great dates turn into hundreds of bad dates. Even if I have to endure Republicans and receding hairlines, guys who are in denial about their height, ones who aren’t out of the closet yet. Even if I have to meet all of the very, very wrong guys that aren’t a great fit for me — I’d rather do it. I’d rather suffer through and keep going. Keep dating.

Because you can’t find the right one if you don’t know how to spot a bad one. And you can’t get what you want if you refuse to go after it. Or to let it go after you. You can’t have your heart feel those many wondrous things it longs to feel if you don’t open it wide enough to let someone touch it.  To capture it.

And even though it would be so lovely, you can’t skip the sucky first dates if you ever intend to find a guy who you can’t wait to go on a second date with. Or a third. Or five. Or many, many more…

Liberated By Lucy

On my 24th birthday last week, I was feeling antsy.

In fact– all the weeks leading up to my birthday I had felt anxious and unsure, wondering what my last year of the early twenties would bring me and what I should do next. I found myself lusting after expensive things and fancy travels, men in pressed suits and visions of apartments that are rent controlled with views of the park. I was wishing and hoping for a huge change that would rock my world in the most exquisite of ways, that would shift my negatives to positives and my fears into flights.

But maybe those things were less realistic and more idealistic, I thought as I walked from the subway to Union Square to meet my friend M. I’ve been lucky to experience so much so quickly. I’m happy in a job that brings me happiness each day,  and while the floors are old and the walls dusty, my name is on the lease of an apartment that feels like home. My friends are as thoughtful as they are entertaining, bringing me the best support and experiences I could ask for. And yet, though the weather was the perfect blend of summer days and fall mornings, I felt like something was missing. Like something had to transform for me, just as the seasons were doing. Like I needed to take a plunge and try something I hadn’t before. Something I’d always been scared of doing.

Many friends said I needed a man  — and while I won’t disagree that I’d love a love affair of sorts, it wasn’t romance I ached for as much as I longed to… nest. To really let my roots run as deep as the subway passages and make my stay in NYC more permanent than the zip code I write on the back of cards.

I considered redecorating but that felt silly when I know I won’t be at this apartment forever — and paint and drapery is both as expensive as it is unnecessary. I dreamed about recreating my wardrobe and putting the old out to find another life to indulge in the new I simply don’t need. I thought about starting another blog until I felt guilty about not updating this one as much as I would like. (Sorry, y’all.)

It’s true, even walking from store to store and giggling with M about the things that only best friends can find funny, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to do something. To own something, to try something, to go or to stay or to run or to sit still. Or to what? I couldn’t put my finger on what it was that was making me so uneasy, when really, everything in my life (give or take) was rather, well, easy.

And then I saw Lucy.

Or, rather a seven pound, six-month-old Maltese and Pomeranian mix at a pet store in the West Village. Not just any pet store though — it’s the one I always go to when I’ve had a stressful day or something is causing my heart to ache apart. It’s the one that’s near my friend K’s apartment and the one I’ve stumbled into far too many times after a boozy brunch to ooh-and-aww at the puppies that I wished weren’t trapped in tiny cages. But this time was different. This time — Lucy was there. Though I’ve never had this feeling about a man, when I saw her… I just knew. I knew when she climbed into my lap effortlessly and snuggled herself asleep that I’d be taking her home.

And I did…

I always knew that having a dog would be part of my life in New York. I had considered it further down the road — when I was in a shining, healthy, functional relationship. Or when I was newly married in a newly-remodeled apartment with my new husband who I adored. Maybe the puppy would be the precursor to babies — you know, practice? But as this city has taught me time-and-time again, nothing quite goes as planned. And the best thing you can do is just to roll with what feels right. Admittedly, I’m not the best puppy mom that ever was — I’m neurotic and incredibly worrisome, plus a little freaked out by mostly everything she does or doesn’t do. I don’t have the most patience but I’m learning. I’m getting to know this lovely little dog who in a week, has already brought so much joy — so much love – to my life.

She’s getting to know me too, and my schedule and this “gigantic” apartment that’s near the biggest, most exciting park in the whole wide world — or at least, almost as thrilling as the trash outside. I’m running more than ever, now that my alarm is set earlier, forcing me to get up to relieve a bladder that’s not mine. My room has never been as tidy or organized as it is now, for fear that something as small as a piece of a paper could be dangerous to something furry and adorable. I keep to a routine and I watch my money, knowing that anything could spring up and I need to be prepared to care for something that depends on me fully. Plus, you know, she’s enrolled in puppy obedience school already, hence why she’s passed out in my lap as I write this blog on Sunday evening.

Maybe what I needed — what I felt was missing — was unconditional love. Was something to come home to. Sure, that could be in the form of a boyfriend, and I know (somewhere deep in this only slightly-bitter heart) that I’ll find someone special enough to share this life with one day. But for now, Lucy is the perfect companion. And like her middle name after the lady of New York herself, Lucy Liberty is teaching me to liberate myself from all of those silly two-year, five-year or ten-year plans I had for myself. To liberate myself from worrying about what’s next or if I’m doing everything right. Because really, there’s no way to ever know. And nothing ever turns out just as you thought it would.

Instead though, something sweeter does.