La Donna E L’ombrello

Even though I booked a trip to Paris and to Rome, in all honesty – I was far more excited about visiting Italy than I was to see France. Not only because mostly everyone warned me that Parisians were rude to Americans, but my ever-growing love affair with everything-Italian (it’s food, it’s colors, it’s language, it’s men) made me more enticed with Roma than ole’ Parie.

So you could imagine my surprise when after a flight from Paris to Milan and then Milan to Rome, a train ride from Fiumicino – Leonardo da Vinci airport to our hotel – I tried to hide the fact that I missed Paris.

Our hotel in Paris had been pristine and easily accessible, while our Roman pad was off the beaten path and due to the train traffic, we couldn’t keep our beautiful Italian doors open at night. The metro had been seamless in Paris – much nicer and easier than NYC’s subways – but with only two paths to take in Rome, we navigated mostly everything by foot (which wouldn’t have been a big deal, if we weren’t 6 days into our trip and covered in blisters). The streets of Paris were clean and every turn we took, we saw a new beautiful building, while in Rome, trash was scattered about everywhere and peddlers sold anything they could get their hands on.

But after settling in to our hotel in Rome, I vowed to give it a chance and my mother did the same, we had come all this way to Italy and we had both always wanted to go, and so onward we went. The sweet clerk gave us short-cut directions to pass by shopping and end up at a gorgeous church before eating locally. We happily went on our way, and though we had mostly encountered kind, helpful people in Paris (who wanted to hear all about New York City), the Romans we met were unfortunately (and astonishingly)…

…very rude.

While trying on shoes or clothes, the Roman women would look us up and down before rolling their eyes and saying something we couldn’t translate. When waiting in line to gain admission, a hustler who received a “No grazie” with a smile from me, responded with, “Stupid American.” And after we walked around in circles, trying to find the said short-cut that we shortly forgot, we tried to stop by a restaurant, but were shoved into a windowless (and rather smelly) basement dining room. When we asked if we could sit outside instead, the owner turned his nose to us and walked away.

It had only been a few hours in Rome, and already, with sore feet and weakened spirits, we felt like ordering room service and buying a bottle of vino instead of going about town…

until we stumbled across a hidden, dark bar on the corner or a street we didn’t recognize. Exhausted, I suggested we go in to get some dinner (it was nearly 10 p.m. and we hadn’t eaten since 1 p.m.) and some wine (obviously) before calling a cab.

We were prepared to be greeted with bitterness from the bartender, but instead, we met Davide. (For the rest of our trip, we would reference him as the “Archangel Davide” who rescued Rome for us.)

As we sat down and ordered the special (a panini and a glass of wine for 6 euro), Davide came over to explain the map that we couldn’t read to get back to our place (probably because our hotel wasn’t actually on it!). And then, after we expressed our difficult day (after such ease in Paris), he mapped out our three days for us, giving tips on places to go away from tourists and how to avoid being scammed because we were American.

And then we started talking about New York – a city that he’s always wanted to live in. I told him about my life and this blog, how I was able to gain a solid footing and make friends, what parts of towns I like and don’t, and encouraged him to reach out to me if he needed any help whatsoever.

(By the way, 30-year-old Archangel Davide was one of the most attractive men I’ve ever laid eyes on.)

He went to tend to other customers here and there, but always came back and sat with my mom and I, talking about Rome and New York, and with every sip, I found him just a bit more irresistible.

I really like the paintings you have here, I told him, gesturing to the one above my head.

My friends and I used to have another bar called ‘La Donna E L’ombrello,’ named after a local artist who uses that as his signature, Archangel Davide said, pointing to each of the paintings in the bar.

What does that translate to? I asked, only able to pick up ‘La donna’ (woman) from my Italian classes.

‘The woman with the umbrella’, he places a woman in each of his paintings holding an umbrella, you always have to look to find it, he said.

My mom and I beamed, laughing of the irony of my own nickname as the girl with the umbrella before I released myself from underneath it and re-designed this blog. There was no doubt in either of our minds’ that we were meant to get lost and find this establishment.

Because of Archangel Davide’s advice, the rest of our trip was truly incredible: gorgeous views and gardens, churches that are literally awe-inspiring, incredible food and paths that didn’t confuse us. By our last day, we both had fallen in love with Rome, and promised to return to Italy again to see other parts like Venice, Florence, Pisa, and of course Tuscany – where Archangel Davide has a home.

As we walked home that first night from Davide’s bar, we stumbled across an entrance covered in wisteria – a flower you see all over Rome. The scent was intoxicating and we both stopped to take it in, feeling tipsy and mesmerized by the beauty. I hopped up on a ledge (thank you red wine courage) and picked two pieces that we kept in our hotel room to fill it with fragrance. And as one of my gifts to myself, I bought a print from a local artist of a door frame in Piazza Navona, covered in wisteria. It reminded me of my mother and I’s experience in Italy: the door to the home is closed, but window above it is open.

Sometimes you have to stumble around and have opportunities taken away before you find what you were supposed to find all along. And of course, it’s never quite about the destination or crossing things off your list, instead it’s about the experience, and the adventures, the people, the lessons you meet and learn along the way. Rome wasn’t at all what I expected it to be – but I’m so glad I took the chance and followed my heart (and passport) to explore it.

And by the way, Archangel Davide added me on Facebook. And is hoping to visit New York this year.

 

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Falling in Love On Fridays: With Love, From Singapore

This week’s Falling in Love on Fridays post comes from someone I used to work with, J. Bubbly and sassy, this marketing gal made meetings more interesting and after-work drinks funnier. She moved back to her home country, Singapore after a brief stay in the States and continues to have a long-distance relationship with the love of her life that she met while here. Read her sweet story that just might make you go on that date you’re dreading tonight. If you’d like to submit your own Falling in Love on Friday story, click here.

With Love From Singapore

I decided to take the big leap to New York City to pursue a gradaute degree and follow my true passion for media three years ago. Yearning for excitement, I traveled 9343 miles away from my island home of Singapore, leaving behind the familiar smells of tropical palm trees and blue-green jeweled waters speckled with memories of my young 23-year-old self. I looked to the big city that promised so much – vowing that my education and career would be priorities for the next few years. Relationships and love were the last things on my mind especially when I wasn’t sure how long I’d stay in the US for.
For anyone who’s made a drastic move to a new city, it quickly dawns on you on how overwhelming it can be. Even though I spent the first year burying myself in school and venturing into different boroughs on the weekends, discovering what it meant to be a true local in NYC, things got lonely. Coupled with long winters that I wasn’t used to, I decided to give online dating a shot. I heard it worked for some but was still very apprehensive about this unconventional way of meeting people.
I was what you’d call a non-committal online dater. Browsing profiles and briefly replying to messages but rarely agreeing to actual dates. Having not been in a serious relationship for about four years, there was still a big part of me that treasured the freedoms of being single, especially in a place like New York.
Until I met D.
From the onset, D and I didn’t seem like we had much in common and was unlike any others I usually dated. He was quiet, meticulous and low-key. I was sociable, passionate and enjoyed going out. We worked in completely different industries and our shared interests seemed minimal – eating, snow boarding and were of the same religion. After 10 days of texting (yes, 10!), D finally asked me out.
Our first coffee date turned into a dinner in Korea Town because we were both working late. To someone who’s new to online dating, I was pretty sure a dinner date wasn’t exactly a smart idea. What if we had nothing to talk about? What if it became clear that we had no chemistry after five minutes? Oh boy. I was nervous and had a friend on speed dial should I need to make the S.O.S. call.
Thankfully I didn’t have to. The list of things we had in common grew longer as we tucked into fragrant kimchi and bulgogi (not the most romantic of first date meals but we were both famished that day). We had the same sense of sarcastic humor and although he was Vietnamese and I was Chinese, we connected with Asian jokes and history. Interestingly, we both came from a family of five siblings, D was the eldest of three girls and two boys, while I was the third of a set of three boys and two girls. The date seemed to be going well until we bid farewell. I expected an indication that the date was a hit, like a “I had a nice time, we should do it again soon” or perhaps even a hug. Instead, it was abrupt and I walked home feeling more confused than ever. That night, there was still no follow-up text from D and after a call to rant with my best friend about how badly the date ended, I fell asleep thinking,“Oh well, can’t help it if there was no attraction from his end.”
Surpsingly, D got in contact with me and asked me out for a second date… and a third. By the fourth date, it was clear that our relationship was growing and I shared my concerns with D about my permernance in NYC, not wanting to lead him on should I have to move to another city. I expected that any other 28-year-old would run for the hills, but D unassumingly reassured, “I’m in this for the long haul.” That night, we held hands for the first time while taking in the majestic views of Manhattan’s skyline along the Hudson River.
Seven months later, D and I are still going strong. We’ve since then taken snowboarding trips and met each others families. Given my job prospects, I’ve had to make a hard decision to return to Singapore, leaving behind everything I love about NYC. As disappointed as I am to not have spent more years working in the city like what I set out out to do, I gained so much more with my unexpected relationship with D.
His generosity and stability are the perfect complement to my sponateniety for life. What I lack in number skills, he makes up for. What he yearns in elegant writing, I provide. We stay grounded and honest, and go to bed every night saying how grateful we have been to have found each other. We rarely have difficult moments, but when we do, they are almost always because we wish we got to spend a few more precious moments being in the same location.
Even though being away from each other is not ideal, D and I are plowing through – because that’s what you do when you find your other half.
Happy 29th Birthday D! Can’t wait till I next see you.

Once Upon a Tinder

I was adamantly against Tinder when it first came out.

I couldn’t understand as my friends explained about swiping left and right, choosing guys to go on dates with based purely on a glorified, modern version of hot-or-not. I needed to know things before letting a guy buy me a drink. I couldn’t blindly accept an offer without knowing at least the very basics….

… Could I?

I can. I did. I have. I do.

A quick glance at my matches list today reveals I’ve swiped right on enough men to give me 312 potential daters. Of all those guys somewhere in New York (or NJ or CT), the vast majority are sitting idly in my inbox with absolutely no conversation, a third of them are silent after the niceties wore off and others asked such inappropriate questions they quickly escalated to being blocked (or screenshotted) within seconds.

Even so, it’s fun. So you play.

Tinder is an easy, no-fuss app for finding dates, and you would think the process of getting off our iPhones and getting on a bar stool would be easier… but it’s not.

Back-and-fourth painfully boring questions (that would already be answered if anyone bothered to fill out their profile or Tinder created a form), makes you quickly lose interest. Or excuse my crudeness – you get guys who ask if you will sit on their face.

Nope.

At the start of the year, I deleted the app and prevailed to meet more men the old-fashioned way. Surely if my parents and their parents and several of the couples I know today met through friends or at a bar or in a class- I could do that too. I’m social! I told myself. I’m friendly! I can do this!

Then polar vortex happened. Like five times. And then I made a last-minute trip to NC. And I got into the NYC Half-Marathon and had to start training. And then… well I stopped making an effort to go out. Blame it on the weather or my age (and the hangovers that just keep getting worse!), or just on the fact that dating is tough, but it’s March 13 and I’ve gone on whopping 4 dates this entire year.

None if which were worthy of a blog post.

And so, I did what I think many women do: I re-downloaded Tinder. I watched as the matches rolled in, building my confidence and making me blush that I am hot! I am dateable! I am worthy! I’ll find love!

But the thing about a meaningless app is that it produces meaningless pseudo-relationships and dates. Because the simple act of just judging someone’s appearance and a two-sentence description (if that long even) doesn’t equal any sort of actual connection. Though it does make you feel wanted, the sad truth is that most Tindering is done while waiting in line at Starbucks. Or on the toilet. Or passing time in between meetings or at lunch.

And while I haven’t actually gone on a date with any of these new guys since welcoming the flame back to my iPhone’s home screen, I feel like I’ve put myself out there more. I feel like I’ve been dating. I feel like I’m being more proactive about my love life. Like Pinterest, even though I haven’t actually done anything differently – the simple act of swiping makes me feel like I’ve pranced around all of New York and met all of it’s bachelors.

But I haven’t. At all.

There are a few guys I’d probably go out with, and yet I couldn’t tell you their names without checking Tinder right now. I couldn’t tell you anything I talked about with them or why I was intrigued enough to say “yes” instead of  “no” – because they had dimples? Their profile said they were 6 foot? Because I liked their photo with a Tiger? Or from the Color Run?

I don’t know and I bet the same guys wouldn’t know a thing about me either. They especially wouldn’t know that while I’m messaging them or selecting them, I don’t look like that made-up girl in my photos – instead, I’m plucking the chinny-chin hairs off my face with my hair in a messy bun, eating popcorn and wearing oversized sweat clothes I’ve had for almost six years.

Attractive, eh?

I get the appeal of Tinder and I understand why it’s still growing and popular – but I wish there was a way to make online (or app) dating more serious. Maybe if Hinge could get it’s messaging issue together, it’d be an option, but even more than that – I want a way to make dating online more like dating offline.

How do you make something so superficial have substance? How to look past your own mental check-boxes while trolling profiles to give someone a chance? How do you know if you’d actually talk to them in a bar before deciding to go out with them? How do I best spend the very little time I have to date the smartest and most effective way?

I don’t know the answers – but my guess is that Tinder probably won’t derive the results that I desire. And so, like I have done several times before, I’m deleting it.

But for good this time. And with a clever twist: I took the time to scour through all 312 matches (yes, really) and I sent a message to the ones that I could possibly be interested in with my e-mail. If they’re interested in something beyond dirty questions and pointless banter, they’ll get in touch.

Or they won’t.

Either way, I give up my once-upon-a-Tinder fairytale dreams. I give up deluding myself that I’m actually dating, when I’m not. And I’m not making myself feel bad because I’m focusing on other things or choosing my friends or new adventures over finding a so-called prince to shape my Manhattan life. I might want a happily ever after, but it’s not going to be found inside of an app. And maybe not inside of a bar or a running group or an Italian class or a philosophy course or any of the above.

Maybe it’ll be somewhere else entirely.

But for now, I’m trading the glass slippers for running shoes to run my second half-marathon on Sunday. I’m letting go of a silly app and I’ll celebrate crossing the finish line with margaritas and my dearest of fairy godmothers – eh, I mean friends – and should an attractive someone be there, so be it.

And if not… I will be in Europe in 21 days. Just saying.

When You Suddenly Feel Lonely…

This weekend was one of those perfect ones in New York: full of celebrating, wine and laughter. I bounced between birthday dinners and themed parties, had long walks with Lucy and long talks with my closest friends. After two full days on-the-go, I was excited about a relaxing Sunday to check off my to-do list for the week.

I started with a light brunch with my friend A, catching up about her European travels and then grocery shopped for my new diet, weaving in between the crowded aisles at the (cheap and totally worth the hassle) Fairway on the Upper West Side. I even held true to my unspoken New Year’s resolution to make more eye-contact and small talk with attractive men, casually asking for help reaching the salad dressing and where to find the frozen chicken. Neither conversations resulted in anything, but did boost my ego for .05 seconds. After trekking on the train and cuddling with Lucy, I looked out the window by my bed at the blue, wet city below and I…

…suddenly felt very lonely. 

Instead of giving into the random sadness, I took a deep breath and analyzed the situation: I’ve had a full weekend of fun and excitement and even relaxation, I have nothing to be upset about, so why do I feel this way? I took another deep breath (they truly help with everything) and counted just a few things I’m thankful for (this apartment, this puppy, my family, my amazing friends, this banging booty that helped me pull off a Beyonce costume on Saturday night) and got myself up out of bed with determination: I was going to distract myself and not let myself fall into a funk like I did in 2013. Not this year, not this time.

So I meal-prepped for the entire week. Then I swept and mopped all of the floors. I gave Lucy a new chew bone. I made myself some hot tea. I emptied out my inbox. I wrote down ideas for blog posts. I hung a fun sign on our front door that encourages happiness. I responded to some messages on OkCupid. I took out the trash. I tidied my room and made my bed. (And I would have gone running if it wasn’t raining and very cold.)

And at the end of all that, I came out to the lemon-y smelling living room with my chamomile tea while Lucy slept on the dog-hair-covered futon, and I still felt a little sad. I took yet another deep breath and admitted what was bothering me: I wanted was someone to cook dinner with, watch something on TV, snuggle in bed, maybe have some lazy sex, perhaps split some wine and fall asleep. I’ve gone on many dates, but I haven’t had that level of comfortability in quite some time — nearly two and a half years, to be exact. I do long for that, I do want that, I won’t settle for less than that, but on rainy Sunday nights, it’s easy to feel cold and alone.

What helps (for me) is remembering that I’m always exactly where I’m supposed to be, that I’m always the person I’m supposed to be at this point in my life. I remember that I’m so very lucky and most of the time, so happy with the life I have. I remember to write down my dreams and to remind those I love just how much they mean to me. I try to do a good deed (even if it’s just letting Lucy run in the rain). I try to remember that most everything is temporary, and that this feeling will pass and another one — splendid or terrible — will come. I change something small or I make sure my living area feels homey with a candle or some tea. I take a long bath or close my eyes and think of things that make me smile without hesitation.

So as I write this blog on Sunday night, texting my friends for their advice, I do feel a bit lonely. Somewhat sad. But I’m riding the wave of lonely – and so can you. Here are how my dearest do it:

“I try to do something nice for someone else… write a surprise card, send an encouraging text message, or just call someone I haven’t talked to in awhile. I go for a long run. I write it all down for me — not to share. I mindlessly surf Pinterest. I succumb to the glory that is retail therapy. And sometimes, I watch a documentary about people who have it worse than I do.” -M

“I do a lot of self-care. I clean everything – up and out. I throw away a lot of things. I do yoga, take long deep breaths, and  long walks where I just pay attention to every detail. I guess my big thing I do (thanks therapy) is trying to identify the source of the problem, and then I try and cut myself some slack and decide how and what I’m going to work on. It’s all about the process.” – A

“I have a music playlist or have a mental pep talk with myself in a quiet (but public) spot… like in a park, on the river, outside on my stoop. Or I go to this bar where I’m a regular, it’s my happy place. But… going to a bar is not the most constructive…” -E

“I exercise. I read uplifting material. I remind myself that this is just one day and that everything works out in the great divine order. I also go to bed. I look at nature. I think about how big God really is and how much we are loved and taken care of. Also count my blessings for all of the good in my life. Just takes practice.” -Mama Tigar

“I try to do something productive, something that gets at the cause of that loneliness, which is really just fear that I’ll never have a full life unless I meet someone. Putting extra money into my IRA or finally comparing my health insurance options isn’t exactly a feel-good experience, but it reminds me that I’m a capable adult who is going to be fine no matter what. Not to mention, my white knight’s arrival is a lot less urgent if I have medical coverage and enough money to pay for my own retirement.” -K

“I pray and I read the Bible.” -N

“I think about how lucky I am for the things and people in my life.” -J

“I kinda just let it ride out until the mood or the thought passes, like what the little girl says in The Tree Grows in Brooklyn: ‘Let the hurt waves pass through.” Also, I take a hot shower, ride out the thoughts and listen to some happy pop music.” -K

“I get my nails or hair done, buy a new dress or something pretty to make me feel good. I also change something as simple as the curtains or the pillows or do something that I’ve been meaning to do. You never want to over-analyze. If I feel down, I do something that brings a little joy. I think the key is getting your mind off of it.” -M

“I have a photo album on my phone that I call my ‘Be Happy’ file. They’re pictures of quotes. Quotes I found on Pinterest or see on Instagram or statues I like on Facebook.  Quotes about uncertainty and fear and bravery and being vulnerable or other things I’m lacking or I’m afraid of or that inspire me.” -R

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! Learn more here. Submit here

I’ll Be in Paris in 86 Days

In the middle of a rather slow workday a few months ago, I suddenly got this insane inclination that I absolutely could not itch:

need to go to Europe in 2014.

One of my only regrets from college is not taking the advantage to study abroad. I was in one hell of a hurry to get that sparkling journalism degree, complete every internship I could and take the first one-way flight I could to New York. And though it all did work out, I used every last penny (earned and found) on moving to this brilliant city and building my life here. Nearly four years later, I still love the zip code I call home but I’ve managed to save enough money to see what else is out there.

And so, after a very obsessive crunching of numbers and a few weeks of watching the prices rise and fall on flights, I booked it. I had every intention of going to Paris and Rome by myself, exploring the ancient streets, sipping wine and gorging myself with stinky, incredible cheeses but my mom had another idea:

She wanted to join me.

While it feels like a big deal for me to travel across the Atlantic for the very first time, it’s even more exciting for my 50-something mother whose always wanted to see this big ole’ world.

But before I can catch that red eye out of JFK and wake up in Paris (ahh!!) there are a few things I want to improve:

Back to the Veggies
I was so excited that I finished my first half-marathon in October that I completely stopped training and started to eat whatever I wanted to celebrate… for like three months. Whoops. My friend M and I are doing the Women’s Health Six-Week Weight Loss Plan together starting today, along with a 4M in February and a 15K in March. And my friend N (and Mrs Healthy Ever After blogger) is helping me to make smarter choices with eating. If I’m going to overdo the carbs in Paris and Rome (and rightfully so), I want to slim a bit before I arrive.

Ciao Bella, Finally!
Way back at the start of 2011 (yes, 2011!), I wrote a blog about wanting to learn Italian. I have no real reason for my love of the language but it’s engrained in me. I love going to Little Italy – as cheesy and overpriced as it is – and just hearing families bicker and chat. I walk through Eataly every time I drop Lucy off at her groomer’s that’s close by, imagining I can afford a $75 bottle of imported truffle oil. So, I’m taking the plunge: I signed up for Italian lessons that start January 30. I’m nervous but so very excited. (And if you’re wondering, mom is buying French tapes to listen to so we know how to at least order wine in Paris… vine rouge, right?)

Save Just a Bit More
I’m actually rather good at saving money, it’s something I learned from my dad who made me put 10% of my babysitting money in a personal savings account since I was 10 (much to my annoyance). But there are ways that I’m incredibly frivolous: buying lunch, taking cabs when I don’t actually need them but my feet hurt (or it’s negative 10 degree outside, thank you very much, New York), my grande skinny vanilla cappuccino every morning at $4.84 a pop (but they taste.so.good)… I’d rather spend money experiencing Europe than maintaining bad spending habits.

Cuddling Lucy
I’m going to be away from my baby pup (who is almost two!) for 10 whole days. It’s the longest we will be apart since I adopted her from that West Village pet store and I’m might freak out. Just a little bit.

I’m not sure what Paris and Rome have in store for me – but I’m proud of myself for following my instincts. If your heart says grab a bag and go get a baguette and sit in front of the Eiffel Tower… you listen. 

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! Learn more here. Submit here

The Good Stuff

I was splashing, spinning in spiraling circles, watching the waves appear and feeling the pulse of the water around me. The mud underneath my feet crawled in between my toes, and sunk slightly the longer I kept myself planted, looking out into the blue skies of Carolina. The summer sun beat down on my freckled cheeks and I ignored my mother’s calling to come in for a ham and cheese sandwich and another round of sunscreen.

I ignored her, smug with my 13-year-old confidence, sure I knew everything, sure I didn’t need another layer to protect me from this August day. Instead, I’d spend my time here in this lake, dreaming about all the good stuff.

About that faithful day when I would ditch my cutoff jeans and messy braids for a more sophisticated lifestyle. About the time when I would pack my bags just as soon as I grabbed that degree, and head to that city I loved so much. The good stuff would be when I landed somewhere on that island, whose pictures decorated every room I’ve ever had, that island where dreams, magazines and handsome boys are made of. Where that good stuff is — those things and people and experiences and adventures I could picture in my head while laying underneath the endless web of stars or in that Georgia clay mud, wondering when I’d ever get there. When my words would be available for the world to read, when I’d write more than teen advice columns for the local paper, when I’d make a name for myself in that glistening, beautiful and unforgiving city. That’s where all the good stuff was, if I could just make it happen.

The good stuff was out there waiting and I was stuck in its anticipation, too young to have it, too bold to forget it.

I had similar thoughts this past week, as I found myself in the same place, looking at the same view, feeling miles away and like nothing had changed all at the same time. Except now, I trade ham and cheese for a rum and a coke, and I carefully reapply sunscreen, wanting less-leather like skin as I age, instead of working on my temporary tan. I didn’t flail around or spend every second submerged until I was pruny. Instead, I sprawled out on a float we’ve had for ten years, planted my sunglasses and let myself float.

And though I’m nearly 12 years older, and I do in fact have an address in the city where the good stuff is — I found myself staring up at the blue and white, daydreaming about the better stuff. The great stuff I haven’t had yet.

Like a man who needs no prodding or reminder to be captivated by me. Or one that is more of a possibility, and less emotionally unavailable. Or at least one that I can stand past a handful of dates. I thought about the good stuff out there, somewhere — like an apartment all on my own with the pup, where I can come and go as I please, do as I feel and never have to keep up a cleaning schedule or figure out who owes me what for electricity. The good stuff where I don’t have to look at the prices on the menu before I look at ingredients, or when I can invest in a wardrobe that is more about quality than quantity. The good stuff where my bylines appear in publications I highly admire, the good stuff when I figure out what exactly I want to do with my life and which way I want to go. The good stuff where travel is less of something to work toward and more something I do because the mood strikes and the money magically appears. The good stuff where I put on a white dress and feel that sense of peace, and yes, thrill, that there actually is someone out there worth waiting for. And dating to find. The good stuff where that smiling, cooing baby on the train is mine.

I have found such good stuff in my life, things that I wouldn’t trade, but more often than not, I find myself continuously forgetting how good it really is.

Until I look away from the sky and into what’s happening – my parents, married 28 years and dancing without any music at all on the boat, with chipped paint. And a motor that doesn’t always work. Or running through a country trail with my 50-something mother who is trying her best to keep up with me and we run straight through a pack of young, beautiful deer that stare right at us before leaping away. Or while fishing with my father, who wants nothing more than to spend time with me, a rainbow stretches the length of the lake, reminding me to never give up on that precious little thing called hope. Or watching my dog overcome her fear of water and jump into the lake, freeing herself from her city roots and embracing parts of nature she’s never seen. Or when I see a dear friend I haven’t actually spoken to in years strikes up conversation and we pick up right where we left off. Or sitting in my childhood bedroom of the lake house, remembering the first kisses, the first encounters, the first sips of terribly sweet wine coolers, I first discovered in this place.

There might always be better things ahead of us than before us. There might be moments and days to come that we can never prepare for, never wish hard enough for to create. There might be stuff that seems so incredible we can’t wait to see it or feel it or touch it or make it real. But if you’re always looking for what’s better, if you’re always searching for what’s next or what will be or could be or should be, you’ll lose what you’re supposed to be enjoying.

You’ll miss out on all the good stuff.

Because the good stuff happens every second of every day in surprising and ordinary ways. And you can only really savor it if you stop looking ahead, and start looking around you. Start realizing when all the good stuff you’re looking for is already pretty great. And more importantly, already happening.

It’s Not So Bad

My last day in Puerto Rico, I woke up to find sand in my sheets and a little tequila hangover — both souvenirs from the night before. Along the beach closest to my resort, there were three tiny huts that passed as bars and after realizing they were where the locals go, I vowed to eat dinner at one for a true Puerto Rican experience.

As I was sitting alone with my Mofongo, reading Condenast Traveler, sipping a Mojito and listening to the ocean, the table across from me — two girls and a guy — waved me over to join them. (Here’s a snippet of the man, trying on my shoes!)

That gesture is what I loved most about PR and about traveling alone: everyone is so welcoming and accommodating, and they can’t stand to see you by yourself, so they don’t let you. I didn’t know if I’d get used to flying solo for four nights and five days, and luckily I didn’t have to- every place I went, the beach, the pool, the local shops, the resort grounds, the bus, I made friends. Everyone called me courageous and a little crazy because they couldn’t believe I would choose to vacation with only my company, so they kept me company to ease their (and my) mind.

I found a North Carolina themed bar on top of the Intercontential with two gals from D.C. I met by the tiki bar while chatting up Pedro, the bartender with a crooked, crazy smile. I heard about the woes of professional soccer – or really, the lack of financial opportunity – from my 20-year-old massage therapist who’s currently going through a “rough patch” with his girlfriend. I helped the guy who made the best iced coffee I’ve ever had plan his proposal to his lady of six years (it’s on May 20th!). And then there was the friendly older man who sat next to me on the bus and asked if I’d tell New York “Hola” for him, since I only live about 20 blocks from where he grew up. I met three sets of Honeymooners, from Texas to Brooklyn. An older, drunken man playing the guitar on the cobble-stoned streets of Old San Juan asked if I’d be his wife, and when I politely declined, he offered his equally intoxicated friend instead.

I sat on the beach at nighttime, covered in sand and feeling the warm water tickle my toes, talking to a Puerto Rican cardiologist with deep green eyes about literally healing a heart. I walked with three families and a couple through the tropical rain forest, and a little girl with blonde curls fell asleep on my shoulder on the way back. I listened to a woman with age spots and wild white hair read her favorite poem in Spanish, and then do her best to translate that it advised when you let go of something or someone, you should do it with love, not hate. Then there was the man who made pottery at the resort and let me spin the wheel, and another woman with piercing blue eyes who told me the locally-made bracelet I selected would bring me luck. And the couple I shared the breathtaking moment when walking by the colorful, historic buildings downtown, a rainbow appeared across the Puerto Rican sky.

I thought about these characters, trying to figure out the lessons I was supposed to learn from these chance encounters, while watching the clear sea splash to the shore that last morning. While I had met and experienced so many adventures in my short time on this island, I was worried I wouldn’t find the inspiration I came looking for. Traveling to this unfamiliar place, I hoped I would find something inside of me that made me believe again – maybe in myself, maybe in the universe as a whole, or maybe just in love. I didn’t come to Puerto Rico to find myself or to rediscover the person I once was, but to let myself be still, be on my own, and let whatever was to happen, happen. That, and get a tan – which quickly became a difficult task with my Irish roots and the fact that I can barely stand still, much less lay still for hours to bake in the sun. But at ten in the morning, sipping coffee to wake me up (and rid of that tequila) I was determined to at least come back with a sunburn, so people would believe I actually went on vacation.

However, as it often does, the tropical rain came without warning, and at full torrential force. I watched as the tourists threw towels and hats over their heads and ran to shelter under the palm trees or the security of their lofty hotel balconies. The Puerto Ricans, though, ran in the opposite direction – toward the ocean, letting the rain be a playful turn in the afternoon, not the end of it. I hunched under my umbrella with my soaked towel draped across me half-way looking out at the scattered scene, while partly trying to keep dry. Though I was trying – very hard – to find my Zen before leaving PR and to discover peace in this place, I couldn’t help my annoyance at the weather. The sun was now entirely hidden, and I worried that I’d be forced to spend my last day here, cooped up in the hotel, ordering room service and watching movies in Spanish with English subtitles.

Just as I was about to follow suit and race back to the room, a Puerto Rican man with a Corona-belly walked past me to join his family in the water, and said:

“It’s not so bad!”

I’m sure he was just encouraging the embarrassingly pale lady he noticed hiding, but those four little words were exactly what I needed to hear. Did I really care if the magazine and cover-up in my beach bag became saturated? Did I have makeup on? Did it really matter if the rain-and-wind mix made me a tad chilly for ten minutes?

Or really, did I have anything in New York to escape from? Is a tender heart that’s been a bit bruised or the stress of a full and robust life anything to really complain about? Or are those things, these unexpected — and sometimes difficult – parts of existing that really make life worth living? Aren’t the times when you’re aching or you’re afraid of the unknown that really, your soul is just awakening? That you’re discovering what you’re made of? What you can do without the help of anyone else, without speaking the same language of strangers, old lovers or friends who know you best?

Why was I hiding under that umbrella, convincing myself that the day I had planned was now ruined? Why did I let myself live under a similar shelter in New York – staying away from anything that could really hurt or put me out of my comfort zone, keeping anything that could make me vulnerable far out of reach? Isn’t it time to just…live? Time to let the weather take whatever course it’s meant to take?

So I dropped my bag, towel and sunglasses and ran to join the locals in the angry waves. The rain stung at first, but then the water felt even warmer than before, and the spirit of those in the sea was joyful because they know a little rain never stops anything for long. It always passes. You just have to be brave enough to let it fall. Brave enough to let it hit your skin and wash away all that you thought you wanted so you can find something you didn’t know you needed. Like a swim in the tropical rain on a tropical island, all by yourself.

And you know what? He was right. It wasn’t so bad after all. It was actually, beautiful.