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.

 

 

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You Never Know

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

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

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

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

Why is this so fucking scary?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…or you can just experience it.

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

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

…and that’s the best part about it.

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

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

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.

 

 

 

 

And Then Mr. Unexpected Came Along…

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

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

You could be missing great matches! It said.

Mmmk, Hinge. Whatever you say.

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

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

…Mr. Unexpected.

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

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

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

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

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

And then I became Ms. Unexpected myself:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Stop Looking

When you’re dating, people in (and frankly, out of) relationships have a lot of advice to give on how to turn that single status upside down.

Some folks will tell you to give up, let it go and watch the magic unfold. Others will say that when you least expect it, a man will just appear in your life. Others will claim the key is playing hard to get and never act interested (even when you really, really are). They will tell you not to worry and to put yourself out there more (because all those dates you go on apparently aren’t enough). They will reassure you that you’re wonderful and men are silly not to latch onto your hip and claim you as their very own (because that’s healthy). So many ways to look at being single – and so many words of um, wisdom that feel anything but helpful, and mostly, infuriating.

But of all of the things people tell you – the worst piece of advice to stomach are these six little words:

“It happens when you stop looking.”

But wait? How can you date without looking?

Isn’t the point of playing the field and sorting through all of the jerks and the could-be great guys… is that you’re looking? If you’re saying “yes” to drinks with Mr. Maybe-I-Could-Feel-Something-Big, it’s likely you’re not just doing it to pass time. Surely, you don’t endure the truly terrible experiences without the glimmer of possibility that one could turn into one of those really amazing first dates. If you are signing up for Tinder and Hinge and OkCupid and Match, going on Grouper dates and letting people set you up with strangers – aren’t you looking? If you’re not looking, then you’re not dating, right? Aren’t they one in the same? So how can the love of your life (or of the next few months or years) waltz into your life if you’re not going on dates, or well, looking out for his grand entrance?

I never understood the difference until recently, while out to brunch with my friend C. In between sips of mimosa and listening to jazz in the West Village, I said: “I have so much going on in my life that’s bringing me joy and getting me excited: a new job, possibly a new apartment, a trip to London, summer trips and marathon training. It’s not that I wouldn’t be open to a relationship, it’s just that I have so much more to focus on. Meeting someone would be great and fun, but it’s not the priority. It’d just be a really nice addition, not a necessity.”

And that’s when it hit me: there’s a difference between looking and being open.

When you’re looking, everything feels rushed and pressured, like you’re attempting to meet an imaginary deadline to meet someone before your time runs out. When you’re looking, a guy that really seemed like he would work out and somehow, he didn’t – would be disappointing and possibly, devastating. When you’re looking, you put more weight on every word he says, every texts he sends, every thing he does or doesn’t do. When you’re looking, drinks with friends are never just a catch-up with the girls, instead, it’s an eye-prowl of the establishment, checking for any available men. When you’re looking, you fill your calendar with maybe’s and you stop committing to plans – just in case someone great comes along. When you’re looking, you’re anything but relaxed.

And that’s what people mean when they give you the advice to stop looking. If you’re constantly seeking, you won’t find what you want because you’re so focused on the chase that you never notice your prey. And you never give any spark time to grow. Or to bloom. The shade of your hand keeps it hidden because the pressure is just too heavy.

The difference between looking and being open doesn’t feel that contrasting. In fact, I hadn’t even realized it until I looked at my life and noticed my own big changes. If we’re being honest, I haven’t been looking for love in quite some time.

Instead, I’ve just been open.

I’ve filled my days and nights and weekends with the things I actually want to do, regardless if a man is involved or not: brunch and flying trapeze, picnics in the park, long runs at dusk, dog play dates, trips abroad and trips just an hour away, trying new cocktails with old friends, and going to old staples with new friends. I’ve been focused on experiences and adventures instead of romance and happily-ever-after. I’ve said “yes” to dates that I thought could really go well, and when they didn’t, I’ve let them go with such ease that I forget just how many I’ve gone on. I’ve spent time and money saving for what I want, and I haven’t considered anyone else in the process, instead, I’ve just enjoyed the dreams of what my life could be, the places I could go, the things I could see.

With all things that could happen, I’m open. I’m curious. I’m excited.

And if some man does come along, it won’t be because I looked for him. Or sought him out in desperate attempts or with elaborate, calculated plans. Or because I put on that one dress that hugs in all the right places. Or because I said the right thing or replied in the same way, or went out with the sole purpose of finding him.

It’ll be because of what happens when apparently, I’m not looking, not expecting it and not trying so hard and not giving up, and letting go.

Or ya know, just when I’m myself. And open to whatever is next.