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.

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.

He Loves You

You will wear blue on your first date – that dress from Calvin Klein that you got on sale at TJ Maxx, that your best friend made you buy because it makes your eyes pop. It will take every last single ounce of energy you have to actually leave the comfort of Netflix and takeout to join a stranger - yet another stranger for drinks at a place far too many subway stops away. You’ll wear flats and change into heels. You’ll put on that lipstick that promises to stay on past infinite drinks and hours (but really never does). You will answer the same questions with the same answers, you will smile on cue and you’ll never miss a line. Until you do. Until something feels different. Until something – or someone – puts you off your game. Throws you off an edge. Challenges you to put yourself – and that tricky little heart – out there more. One date will turn into another, which will turn into texts and phone calls and more dates, and more words and more touching and more feeling. More, more, more! It will all start to feel like more than before, than what you thought you were still capable to experience with an open heart and lofty imagination. You will become a lighter version of yourself, wondering when the other shoe will drop, when the dark demons in his closet will make their grand appearance, when the texting will cease to continue, when all of the everything will crumble. As it has. As it does. As it… hasn’t, so far? You will keep holding your breath until…

…he loves you.

You will change your Facebook status and he won’t mind. It might not mean much to him but the switch is enough to help you rest a little easier, knowing that cyberspace received the memo that he is taken. That you are, too. You will feel strangely uncomfortable bound to something committed and monogamous, a term that hasn’t entered your vocabulary in such a long time, you may have to look up the definition to remember it. You will have sleepovers and he will meet your friends. You’ll add him on Gchat. He’ll change your name to “Blue Eyes” in his phone, because that’s what he calls you. You’ll challenge yourself to go a couple of days without mentioning his name to your friends – mainly because you hear the annoyance in their replies – not because you have ran out of things to share. You will notice things of his left behind at your apartment, things that are so ordinary they should be insignificant but as his watch lays next to your perfume, his toothbrush next to yours, they feel so much more powerful – so oddly romantic – that you have to stop yourself from looking at them. You will go away for the first time and he will introduce you to his parents. You’ll let him walk your dog all by himself. You’ll talk about next year like it’s guaranteed, and you’ll pretend you don’t think about the bigger things that every relationship columnist (including myself) will tell you to never speak of until the time comes. Your heart will finally experience all of those things it was always promised but never believed would happen. You will feel those tingly, giddy, ridiculous things that you never wanted to be that girl who smiled like that over some guy. But you are. Because that guy – that man you’re falling for…

…he loves you.

You will wonder if you moved in together too quickly or if the beautiful rush of the beginning could cause an ugly crash at the end. You will compare yourself to every relationship, every right thing or wrong thing that you’ve perceived in your mind to determine love, until you really can’t take the pressure anymore. You will study his face in the way you did when you first met – when you used to count his freckles and admire his long eyelashes – and instead, you’ll try to find that glimpse of attraction that used to make you weak in the knees. You’ll wonder how those original images of perfection faded into something so everyday, something so routine that you can’t (honestly) remember the last time you made love. Or had really hot, dirty sex. You will do your best to stomach the envy you harbor over those girls who still get to feel those butterflies, that precious new-beginning anxiety that is so terrible in the moment, and so seemingly beautiful when you look back at it, now. Now. Years into your relationship. Years into love. Years into answering questions about who will do the dishes and who will pick up the rice and who will buy the dog food this week. Years into building a life with the man that you think - that you truly, really know – is The One. So why isn’t it magical all the damn time? Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be if…

…he loves you?

You’ll reach a happy place. It won’t come all at once, like life often does, but instead it’ll gradually manifest into something so powerful that you don’t need to label it to enjoy it. You will let go of those notions that you held so dear and you’ll trade them for the reality. The reality of watching reality TV and splitting a six pack with pizza on a Saturday night in your pajamas because there are no needs for the frills anymore. But you won’t forget about those frills, either. They are there in the back of your mind, in the corners of your memories, in those stolen moments that you still have from time-to-time when you take a weekend away. In those brief seconds where you see him from across the bar and his glance doesn’t catch you first, but you catch that feeling you had when you first met. You’ll find yourself amazed at how much you really do love him, how much he really does get you going. How much the deeper love is harder and less exciting than the superficial one. But it’s better. It’s so much better. It’s the love that’ll last, you tell yourself. It’s the love that makes you a better person, a better woman, a better lover. It’s the love that’ll make him get down on bended knee and ask you that question you haven’t been asked before. The question he’ll pop because…

…he loves you.

You will close your eyes and when you open them, you’ll be standing on the front porch – or the front ledge – of the home or apartment you bought. You’ll look behind you and see the children conquering their destruction, the laundry piling up in the living room, the boobs sagging a bit more every day. You’ll scroll through your old Facebook photos and you’ll see yourself laughing with your friends at a warehouse party in Brooklyn. Back when you had time to host a monthly Supper Club, back when your income was split between a little savings, a lot of wine and even more traveling. You’ll see the man you married, the hunk of a guy that your mom admired and your dad approved of, and you’ll see his hair graying. Or falling out. You’ll watch him manage a budget and manage a screaming baby – and he’ll never seem sexier to you (even if neither of you have the energy these days to get it on). You’ll wonder if you should have another baby. If you can afford one. If your body can take it. You will collapse into bed at the end of yet another exhausting day, sure that you’ll maybe steal four hours of sleep – if you’re lucky – and you’ll feel his body press up against you. And he’ll remind you. Just in case you forgot. Just in case you need to hear it. Just in case you’re feeling out of touch and out of your mind… that…

…he loves you.

You will not meet this man – not today, not tomorrow. You won’t meet him next month or next year. You won’t meet him in a sweet, unusual way or online. You won’t meet him because you try really hard or because you put yourself out there every single Friday and Saturday night, hoping for the best, working the room with your hips. You won’t meet him because you pray for him or because you want to or because you absolutely can’t imagine spending another year 100 percent single, 1,000 percent alone. You won’t meet him because it’s the right time or because you drop those 10 pounds or because you’re ready. You won’t meet him at all if you don’t accept that yes…

…he loves you.

Because you are worthy of love. That you are worthy of waiting for the right person. That you are worthy of the best of it all – the thrill of the start, the luxury of the longevity. That you are worth more than those guys you’re dating, the jerks you’re putting up with. That you are worth more than what’s in your past and who has crushed you. That you are worthy of someone truly special, someone truly a match for you, someone who truly loves you for those things that make you, you. That before there will ever be a man who loves you through the good, the bad, the wrinkled, the messy, the sloppy, the tension, the arguments, the lackluster, the magical – you have to know you are worthy of him.

And even if he hasn’t said it, even if you haven’t met him, even if you’re still working on believing he exists (we all are). Know that there is a man. There is that man for all of us. And he will love you.

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.