At 2 a.m. on a Saturday night last summer, The Canadian walked into my life. He waited for the creepy guy hovering over me to head to the bar, and then he slipped right in as he said, “You’re the prettiest girl here, why are you talking to him?”
A month after I started my blog in 2010, I took the bus from JFK into the city. As I got on the bus in my Jessica Simpson slingbacks (ridiculous, I know), the driver took zero pity on me and took off. I went crashing with my bag and my floppy hat right into the aisle. I looked up and locked eyes with a blue-eyed hunk who simply asked, “You alright?” before helping me to my feet.
I didn’t know it then, but that was the day I met my very first New York love, Scott.
That 5-year-old girl who didn’t know better than to believe in imaginary friends and far away places, where being anything at all was not questionable, but expected. That girl with that braided hair and those wide, eager eyes who saw beauty in old, ragged dress-up clothes and in the mud of the front yard that could be turned into cakes and pies, doughnuts and cookies for a tea party with a very wise queen. That girl who wanted to be everything she could think of: a trapeze artist, a sculptor, the President of the United States, a teacher, a preacher, a princess, Lois Lane, a warrior jet fighter, a this and a that. That girl who never told herself she wasn’t pretty enough or smart enough, that wishing and hoping could make things come true, that by simply being herself, she would grow up to be not just something, but a someone. A big, big someone.
Don’t let that girl down. Chase your dreams, no matter how far-fetched they might seem or how much you’ve forgotten how to run.
That 10-year-old girl who insisted on getting certified as a babysitter so she could have her very own babysitters club (with all of her best friends). That girl who didn’t think twice before jumping from patio furniture to table, from one side of the kitchen counter to the other, performing an elaborate dance routine to the Spice Girls for her parents, the cat and the dog. That girl who wore the same bracelet she made for weeks beyond end, not caring if it was in style or matched her clothes or was part of the popular kid’s approval list. That girl who stood up to the mean guy on the bus who commented – inappropriately – on the body she hadn’t grown into mentally, who wouldn’t stand for someone talking down to her, especially for something her mother called “breasts.” That girl who was awkward and probably obnoxious, sporting crooked teeth and the first signs of acne – but more than anything, she was herself.
Don’t let that girl down. Be brave enough to be who you are, wherever you are, whatever you do, whoever you’re around or puts you down.
When you write a weekly column about relationships in your college paper – that no one takes seriously – but gets great traffic, you suck up the snide remarks from other staffers. When friends and people remind you time-and-time again that when you move to New York, you might not work for a magazine. You might not get a job in editing at all. You might end up being an intern forevermore and never make any money and eat Ramen until you can’t possibly stomach another noodle – you smile and take it all with a grain of salt (or put it on said Ramen). When you receive hate mail on the very last day of your very last class of your college career, where someone says they hope you fall on your “pretty little face” in New York because “being pretty” doesn’t mean you can be an editor – you vow to frame that letter when get that corner office. When the chancellor of your university says that you just don’t really have what it takes to lead a staff and that you would fit in better at a glossy than writing about “serious topics,” you congratulate the new editor-in-chief, graduate early, move to New York, and land a job… writing about “serious topics.”
Because even if people find you ridiculous or don’t believe you can’t do what you keep sayin’ you’re going to do — ya gotta do you.
When you start a blog way back in 2010 because your day job – an editorial assistant at a business magazine – just wasn’t quite what you wanted, you spend hours (and hours) after work building your social presence, writing content and scheduling posts. When you meet someone two weeks into designing a blog about being single, about learning to love yourself first before loving a man, you put off the relationship talk for as long as you possibly can and stick to your rules, no matter how self-imposed they are. When your blog generates traffic from all around the world and you’re basking in the afterglow of being featured on the homepage of WordPress, you remind yourself that fans are fickle and the Internet, like some men, loses interest quickly, so be thankful. When your boss at that business magazine isn’t a fan of you posting the blog on LinkedIn and pulls you aside about it, you kindly decline the request to remove it because it’s part of who you are.
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!
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.
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.