I thought of you today while riding the subway downtown to a date I wasn’t quite sure was actually a date or not. I caught myself not being able to turn my attention away from an older couple — sitting next to each other, reading the paper on a Friday night at 8 like it was the most normal thing in this city. They shared the Times, flipping through thoughtfully, digesting each sentence and with care, turning the page. The husband rubbed his wife’s knee from time to time during my 20-minute commute. She turned her attention to him with a casual smile, probably the same look she’s been giving him for decades. The same look that he loves, the same grin that’s gotten him through the tough times and the good ones. They looked insanely comfortable and so beautifully, easily, sweetly with one another.
It was adorable.
And it made me think of you. You — whoever you are. You who I haven’t met yet, or perhaps I have. Maybe we’ve already dated, broken up and lost contact. Maybe we’ve seen one other naked. But no, I don’t think so. I could have caught a glimpse of you while walking my dog or picking up groceries around the block. Perhaps I didn’t catch your name when we were briefly introduced at a loud bar somewhere in the West Village months ago. Maybe, as the psychic predicted, your name begins with J.
Whatever your name is — however your last sounds with my first — I try not to think of you. I know better than to imagine and create illustrations and hopes of what you look like or how your voice resonates in my head without actually, ever meeting you. I know that believing in things that feel impossible or totally out of reach at this moment can only make me feel worse. Especially if everything I dreamt of, everything I’ve considered true about love and marriage someday just become things I once thought would happen, instead of things that are. How can I think of you – you, with eyes I haven’t locked with, lips I haven’t actually kissed – when you’re just someone I’ve never known? How can I think of you without one hundred percent knowing your existence is something I can depend on?
That you’re someone I can believe in?
But it’s when the world feels a little lonely and my personal universe is a little uncomfortable or uncertain, that I do think of you. It’s when I dream of you, knowing better and rebelling against logic in romantic spite. It’s when I close my eyes on a crowded train or tucked away at night, looking out at the stars I convince myself I can see, even when I know I don’t. City lights are brilliant and alluring but they conceal the sparkly specs I love to see. I think of you and the days I hope will come, the children I hope I’ll bear. The love I can’t wait to make in our bed I want to share. I think of you in a way that’s unfair and extremely biased — without ever being introduced to you, without tracing your face or feeling your grip on my hip, I both love and hate you. I love you because I hope you’ll be mine, and I hate you for hiding. For taking so long. For not being here…
…Right now. On this train. Next to me. Kissing the side of my head and excited to show me a new downtown joint you discovered. Holding my hand that holds your ring, looking at me in the way my father always promised you would. With love, with admiration. With everything…
…after making it through everything to get to you.
And yet, I try not to think of you. And so usually, I don’t. I pick myself up from that moving train and away from that couple I aspire to be like, and head out to that date. And I smile at a perfectly good guy who doesn’t ignite a spark but insists on walking me to the station. I may kiss him for whatever it’s worth, to disguise the disappointment on my face. I may politely respond to him the next day that I see more of a friendship and I’ll head out to continue with my weekend, trying my very best not to think of you. Trying not to look for you in the cute guys who pass by me or the ones who smile in my direction. I’ll stop myself from thinking of the stories I’d like to tell, the ones I’m dying to write and the adventures that seem so far-fetched that planning them would seem crazy. I won’t think of you that day or the following week, maybe even a month.
But then, on an unusually windy April afternoon, as I walk to pick up a latte after another less-than-interesting Saturday night, I’ll see an elderly man shushing the oncoming cars and taxis as his wife shuffles along with a walker. It’ll take two traffic rotations for her to make it across, but he just tells her to take her time. She’ll be wearing red lipstick and he’ll reach over to make sure she can make it up the sidewalk, and I’ll be standing right there, watching it all unfold in literally, slow motion.
Then I’ll smile. And I’ll think of you, whoever you are, wherever you might be. And I’ll pray that you’ll make your way to me soon because I’d rather walk these streets alone than to meet someone who isn’t you.
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.
I tend to take nearly everything my mom says to heart — but one particular tale always sticks out in my mind. I have no idea when she first used it as a learning lesson or how the topic came up, but it goes a little something like this:
Before my mom met my father (in a totally adorable way), she dated a man off-and-on for seven years. (Yes, seven!) He was several years older than her, unfaithful, self-centered and manipulative. He was emotionally abusive, always thought he was right and she was wrong, and though she knew he wasn’t the right guy, she stayed around far longer than she should have. Once she finally ended the relationship on her own terms, she came out of it with bruised confidence, no desire to really jump into another relationship and with one regret that haunts her to this day: not getting her Bachelor’s degree. At 21, when that guy gave her the choice between finishing school or being with him, she picked him. She has an associate’s in business, is a well-known astrologer in our town and is now going back to school to be an esthetician, but she often wonders what life would have been like if she had become a teacher or a psychologist. Now (though I disagree), she thinks it’s too late and too expensive to go back and try again.
And so, since I was a little girl, she’s instilled this notion in me that no man would make you choose between what you love and loving him. She made me promise that I’d finish school before even considering getting married and that I would never let a guy control the dreams I decided to chase. I’ve stumbled across old notebook-paper books bounded by string, where I depicted my future life (in crayon) and it always read, “I’ll go to school, become a journalist and then get married.” Yes, this was me a few decades ago.
I’ve been lucky that I’ve yet to meet a guy who ever asked me to choose between my career and him. Instead, they just left before they could grow attached to me. When Mr. Fire and I ran into each other at a bar in my college town before I graduated and I asked why he left, he said that he knew nothing was keeping me from New York and that he couldn’t compete with that. He continued to say that his current girlfriend lets him be the star and that I would always outshine him. Mr. Idea doesn’t like the idea (pun intended) of relationship writing and thinks all things within a union should be private (probably because of his many hangups behind closed doors), so I knew he would instantly balk at this blog. Mr. Possibility was as supportive as he could be, though I don’t trust the opinion he probably shared with everyone else but me. None of these men asked me to stop going after the career I wanted, they just didn’t get themselves involved, or if they started to become part of it, they made their getaway or pushed me to the point of letting them go.
I get it, I really do. Dating a dating blogger can be a lot of pressure, though most men think they’re worthy of a feature before doing anything that really merits inclusion. I understand that a writer’s life is often public, especially if you’re someone like me, who enjoys honesty to its fullest degree, even if that means being vulnerable and descriptive in ways that don’t always shed the brightest light on everything. And while I see the risks I take in writing this blog or pursuing a career where, ultimately, I hope women read what I write and are inspired to accept and love themselves, I would never stop doing what I love to find love. I’d like to think that the person for me is strong enough to handle an ambitious, tenacious and hard-working woman who knew what she wanted and did all that she could to get there.
I’d like to think that most men aren’t intimidated by successful women these days, but that’s far from the truth. I’d also like to think that women don’t judge other women for following a career instead of following a man, but sadly, that’s not accurate either. When I broke up with Mr. Idea, one of my good friends (who is now married), told me that since I couldn’t make it work with him, I probably wouldn’t find the right guy until at least 28 (gasp!). My grandmother (bless her heart) is proud of all that I’ve accomplished, but still asks about guys and babies every time I see her. When something doesn’t work out with a dude or a date goes sour, all of my paired-up pals always reassure, “Don’t worry, the right guy’s out there, you’ll meet him soon.”
If you read this blog, you know that I want to eventually meet someone to share my life with. I’m candid about the fact that yes, I do want to get married and yes, I do want to have children – but I’m also in no rush at all. I’d rather be single for the next 20 years than to settle for someone just because I feel like I have to get married. I knew I wasn’t alone in these thoughts, but recently, this whole thought process was played out on my news feed.
A friend of mine posted this quote from Lady Gaga, “Some women choose to follow men, and some women choose to follow their dreams. If you’re wondering which way to go, remember that your career will never wake up and tell you that it doesn’t love you anymore.” The post received comments, one which was, “but… if you go home and throw a tantrum to your man about work he’ll stay around… if you go to work and throw a tantrum about your man… bye bye career.” And then later, “I hope you haven’t given up on men yet.”
So because she posted a quote that basically said, “Go after your dreams, be who you want to be, don’t follow around a man, don’t depend on a man for happiness” – she’s suddenly given up on love? Quite the contrary, I think. The thing is – if we chase our careers, if we go after those things, whatever they may be, that bring us joy and make us feel like we’re contributing something, then ultimately, the man will be there too. And he won’t ask you to not write about love, to not go to law school, to not make more money than he does, to not be more successful, to not be the star of the relationship. He’ll only ask you to come as you are and let him do the same.
And if you don’t meet a man like that? Luckily, you’ve surrounded yourself with the things you love, built an existence that’s fulfilling and beautiful, traveled to the places you’ve wanted to see, and above all, been brave enough to never settle for less than what you want – in anything.
Especially though, in terms of yourself.
Because men leave and stay, careers grow and they change, but the one constant through it all will always be you. These things aren’t mutually exclusive of one another, as so many believe, it’s just that they don’t depend on each other to make either work. You can have a career without love, love without a career, or a love and a career, but more than anything, you have to have yourself.
And if you can be satisfied that you chased what you wanted instead of following someone else’s direction, you’ll be able to handle the ups and downs of your career and of your relationships. The Great Chase isn’t about a dude or a degree – it’s about always chasing a better you.
I’ve been dreaming vividly lately about very odd things. My mother says dreams are meant to help us work out things we’re thinking of or things that are causing us trouble, regardless if we’re conscious of our ailments or not.
If she’s right, apparently my mind has been preoccupied with babies and proposals. (Though, as far as I’m concerned, it hasn’t been)
I’ve had dreams about being pregnant, about giving birth, about rescuing children from incapable parents. I’ve envisioned spoon-feeding and watching a cesarean performed on me (yes, I know, gross). A certain dream about being stuck in some unidentified room with what appeared to be an eighth-month belly felt so real that I woke up in a dead panic, waking up Mr. Possibility in the process and frantically grabbing my stomach to make sure it wasn’t so. After the fifth consecutive dream about babies, that time of the month came (whew!) and I started having elaborate dreams about proposals.
Some of the dudes were guys I actually know and still talk to, like Mr. Idea. Others were complete strangers I was apparently in love with. The proposals were ridiculous – some involved flying fish and tomatoes, some were in NYC and some overseas (I think, it looked Greece-like). There was dinner and fireworks, friends and family, crying and Coca-Cola.
I don’t know what I’m eating these days or what crosses my mind without me knowing, but wow, when the crazy dreams stopped a few days ago, I was relieved and as any addict would be, obsessed with trying to figure out what they mean.
After all, doesn’t everything have meaning if you dig deep enough? Any proper journalist would tell you it does.
To uncover my unconscious hidden agendas, I sought the counsel of my friends. After all possibility of actually being pregnant was put to bed, they pretty much all reached the conclusion that I was getting ready to birth a new change. Or something would be proposed to me – not a ring, but something else. (No dearies, I’m gladly nowhere close to even wanting to walk down the aisle. Let me find peace with the term ‘boyfriend’ first).
That makes sense and is about as rational of an explanation that I can find – having a baby or agreeing to spend the rest of my life with someone would definitely be a dramatic shift. My priorities, my health, my finances, my body, my lifestyle – all of it. But then again – when you’re in your 20s, doesn’t everything change…all the time?
The people I’m the closest to today, I didn’t know a few years ago. My speed dial assignments have changed at least a handful of times since when I signed my Verizon contract. I’ll probably have my mail forwarded a dozen times before I leave this city – or if I ever do. My single gal friends have a new leading man every week or so, some are dismayed by this fact, others relish in it. I toss out clothes as often as I buy new ones at H&M, and when a heel breaks, another pair makes it into my closet. I try this beauty product and then this one, and while I’ve tried to pick out a signature scent, I can’t decide on just one. I read and read, day after day, and so my views, my language, my direction is constantly shifting. I make plans, I break them. I think I know who I am and then I question.
Call me crazy, but sure, life changes a lot when you have a baby – but doesn’t it also settle down a bit? I’d like to think that at the point in my life when I’m engaged and eventually starting a family, I’ll have my ducks-in-a-row. I’ll be secure in a job I love, I’ll be confident in the person I’m picking as everlasting partner, and hopefully instead of renting, I’ll be putting my dough toward a home or an apartment I own. Friends will still change but some won’t. I’ll be stronger in my convictions, but maybe my viewpoints will mold too. However, those foundation-building blocks will be set in stone, instead of airing in the New York summer sun. Or at least, I hope so.
So what is it that babies maybe signify instead? A thirst for stability? A hunger to be working toward something tangible instead of all of those things that seem so indefinite? I don’t have a baby, I’ve never been asked to marry someone (expect on Twitter), but I think those changes may rock my world, but they’ll also steady it, too. Right?
I can’t attest for sure, I’m not a psychic or a dream-reader, though I could probably walk a block in either direction and pay $150 for a reading. For now, though, regardless if these dreams mean a change or mean I’ll found solid footing, I hope they continue to subside.
My ovaries can’t handle any more fear.
I’d like to think one of my better qualities is my ability to self-motivate. I’ve been known to give myself mini pep talks –admittedly sometimes out loud –encouraging myself to keep truckin’. And when I get in cheerleading mode, I become super focused, zoned-in, and shockingly quiet. I’d rather the outside world leave me alone to have my own private song-and-dance, without anything like reality interrupting me.
The only issue with being in hyper-concentrated-let-me-be mode is that inevitably, you gotta’ deal with other people. And you have to deal with them when they get in that mode, too. Mr. Possibility has been leading a busy life recently, putting him in the get-s***-done state of mind. Studying for a very difficult test that will help his career when he passes it, he’s been stuck in coffee shops and his apartment, only glancing at his beloved BlackBerry from time-to-time, and keeping himself entertained with the giant highlighter I picked up for him. He’s easily amused, apparently.
Anyway – because he’s under a lot of stress and is worried about a pivotal certification and I can offer no guidance on the subject matter, we haven’t been spending as much time together. And when we have been, tensions have been a tad high. We even officially had our first knock-down-drag-out fight last week. Some of the knick-picks have been his fault and some have been mine, but I’ve had to accept a very important fact that I should have learned from He’s Just Not That Into You.
It’s really not me. It’s him.
And this test, sincerely has nothing to do with me. It’s hard not to internalize the influence of everything else outside of a duo. Our lives don’t circulate around our relationships and the sun doesn’t depend on love to rise, but when the person you spend your freedom with needs to be distant for their own needs, how do you stop feeling like it’s you they want to get away from? How do you stop thinking you’re the cause and if only you could say the right thing, you could take away the worry? When truthfully, the only fix to ease the ailment is letting them mend their own wounds or get through their personal hardship with their own will.
That’s the thing about being focused – when you need to complete something – the only something to shift your mood, is you. I’m the same way, so if I can’t accept Mr. Possibility when he gets in that rut, then I’m being dishonest about who I am, too.
And if I think about it, our arguments have stemmed from not being able to relate and from outside factors that neither of us can really control. So with some tough personal love, I’ve decided that space is the best thing I can give him. With that separation, too, comes the liberty for me to relax, get more sleep, see my friends, get caught up on things I’ve let slide, and enjoy my own company. It also prevents unnecessary disagreements and falling outs that don’t need to fall apart.
Because life, loving yourself, loving someone else, dating, and even sex – they all have to be balanced, as René Descartes would say, to make the machine that is your body, function. And if not everything that goes on in your mind, your body, your existence, has to do with another person, then you can’t expect your significant person to make you the center of their everything. Nor, in my opinion, should you want them to.
Sometimes, someone can care about you greatly, but parts of their lives…just have nothing to do with you. And really, it’s okay for it to be about him, not about me.
I did not get up early today to watch the wedding of Kate and William. I have not been following all of the blogs, scrolling through pictures, or admiring her beautiful heirloom engagement ring. I haven’t been up to date and I haven’t found myself submerged in Royal Wedding bliss and obsession.
But I’ve found all the hype refreshing.
And while we don’t know more than the glamorized surface level perception of their relationship, it is nice to have trending topics and stories about love. This nearly decade-long courtship that started at college, made its way through breakups and makeups, has now ended in what so many are calling a modern-day, real-life, fairytale. The bride, without titles or royal heritage not only finds the man she wants to spend the rest of her life with, but he happens to be an actual prince. The charming is negotiable.
She may not be Cinderella, but she is living and breathing the story so many little girls grew up reading over and over again, praying and hoping and wishing that someday, their prince would come too. Kate didn’t need rescuing and she’s always projected an independent, classy, sophisticated, and ambitious attitude. When they did split however many years ago, she admitted her sadness but wished him well and sought out on her own accord to pursue her own pursuits. And as things always do in one fashion or another, they worked themselves out, and here she is the new stunning Duchess of Cambridge.
As I went to write this blog, I found myself more interested in Kate herself than the wedding. I thought what it must be like to wake up and realize the vows you’re about to take – not only promising loyalty to a man but to a country and its people. She’s slipping on a new pair of shoes, handmade McQueen and lovely, that carries more than just a hefty price tag and heel. She stepped into a role she may have dreamed of being in, but never really conceptualized until she found herself there.
Go ahead and call me a romantic, but she accepted this part and is beautifully playing it all because of love. All because she met someone who forever changed her life.
Getting married to a non-prince may not carry as much weight and pressure as Kate probably felt today, but perhaps that’s why love is partly so scary. And why so many are quick to advise against marriage than for it – the skeptics are quick to deliver divorce ratings if you dare mention you’re interest in nuptials at some point in your life. They are right, it is a wager: when you agree to become exclusive or to ultimately promise to dedicate your life to someone else, you put a lot on the line. Not only your heart but your identity, your day-to-day choices, and your priorities. And if it doesn’t work out, say in the bittersweet story of Princess Diana, you must rebuild your old life back – though, you’ll never be quite the same again. Every lust and rush takes its toll and while I believe we can all find our footing no matter how severe the shatter, making a commitment and being vulnerable carries great risk.
So why do we do it? Why do we all admire the glowing bride and the gushing groom, rising so early to watch people we don’t know share their vows in front of the world? Why do we stand in front of TV monitors at Dunkin Donuts, blocking the line to sip coffee and watch the bride walk? Why do we admire a woman who is living out the fantasy we’ve all seen ourselves in at some point? Why do we tear up at weddings – royal and promoted on Twitter, with its own special section on People.com – or just the typical ceremony? Why do we buy into the buzz, even when we don’t always buy into love and all that stuff, anyway?
Because love is love. And resist it or not, wonder if you’ll lose who you are or find yourself buried in regret at the end of a relationship’s tenure – love is heavy in our hearts and hopeful in our minds. Seeing love displayed with such splendor in magic makes us remember what it felt like to be naïve and optimistic about the love we surely knew we’d find before we knew what it felt like to lose at the game. It makes us get back some of that faith that fairytales can come true, it can happen to us, if we are among the very young at heart.
If we are among those who would rather believe and be deceived time and time again, then to never believe at all. Because someday, maybe our prince will come and maybe he won’t – but I’d rather kiss dozens of frogs than never kiss anyone at all. I’d rather be scared out of my mind of being crushed than to never have a crush or take a leap of faith and trust someone almost as much as I trust myself.
And though I’m not sure I would sincerely want to be a princess and manage the pressure of possibly leadingEngland or any country– I toast to Kate and her prince, who have reminded us all that love doesn’t have to be legitimately royal to be spectacular. Love itself is royalty – something that should be prized and preserved, and with or without money, makes you richer than any jewel or Cartier bridal headset can.