How I Met Dr. Heart

At the start of the year — yes only a few weeks ago — I made a big commitment to myself (pardon my French, mom) to cut through the bullshit of dating.

I simply had enough of the game playing. The silly rules that everyone follows, yet everyone hates. Guys who are just in it for sex (pun intended). Ones who have deep-rooted issues they can’t overcome, ones who judge my intelligence because of my little white dog. Dudes who lie and those looking for merely a caretaker or a piece on the side instead of a partner. Men with no drive, those with an ego too big to fit in the restaurant, never mind the tiny table where we sat.

No, I wasn’t trying to rush through the fun dating process or the perks of being a single girl, but I found myself not only irritated at the whole concept, but incredibly frustrated, too. And for 2013, sure I was challenging myself to say yes more, but I was also learning how to detect the pending demise of a relationship before it even became anything that resembled a courtship.

So, when I received a generic message from a handsome guy online a few days after the New  Year, I snapped back a sassy response, not expecting to hear from him again . When he replied almost instantly, addressing my “You must send this same message to dozens of women, does it ever work out for you? ” snarky remark with a handful of questions about my interests and basic NYC stats (the job, the location, the place you come from) — I took a second glance at his profile.

I responded for a while before feeling like it was too much work and put down my phone. The next day though, this guy returned to ask me for a drink. A little surprised by his diligence, I replied with a simple “Where?” and when he gave me a blanked, not specific-response of “In the city somewhere”, I became real annoyed. Surely, I knew we’d meet in the city we both lived in for a date — I mean, c’mon.

I wrote him off as someone who didn’t put in much effort or care too much about impressing me, and left him hanging without a word. I even went as far to actually tell him as much (yes, really) the following day when he asked me if I was interested. 

But of course, because I’m me and can never be as much of a badass as I actually think I am, my guilt for being rude to this probably-kind stranger, got the best of me. I wrote to him a mini-apology, explaining my turn-offs and agreed to meet him for that drink…

…which ended up being a six-hour first date. And an eight-hour date the next day. Then three more dates that week. And now he’s sitting next to me studying for an exam he’ll take on Friday, as I write this blog about him.

About the exciting new person in my life: Dr. Heart.

Heart because he’ll one day be a cardiothoracic surgeon, and because it’s his heart that makes me so attracted to him (not his messaging skills, obviously). It’s one that reminds me of my own and one that’s quickly stolen my attention.

But I almost didn’t go out with him.

I’m thankful that I did and he’s glad to know that I’m actually rather sweet in person, instead of the blunt gal I portrayed in cyber space. While I was trying to avoid another heartache or a guy who just wasn’t worth my time, I also judged someone who truly is quite wonderful based merely on how they interact on a dating website flooded with many crazies and a few goodies.

If we keep searching for the perfect how-I-met-your-father story — we miss out on a different kind of tale. It’s one that’s not tall and possibly flawed in the right places, but just as perfect as an imperfect guy. It’s one that involves dog park dates, a man who isn’t ashamed to hold my hand and does what he says he’ll do when he says he’ll do it. It’s one about a guy who likes to call you instead of texting you and sees through all of your charm to find your spirit. It’s one about a girl who, despite her past and the odds against her, somehow, in just a week or so, let herself open her heart up to someone whose whole career is about fixing that precious organ.

Only in my life that probably reads a bit like a movie at times, would I, the Love Addict, meet someone like Dr. Heart. Maybe he’s just what I was looking and hoping for. Maybe the voice telling me to go out that Friday night was meant to lead me to him. Or perhaps it was the new moon or it’s just the beginning of something that could be really amazing, and as I always do, I’m putting the carriage before the horse.

But it feels right. And actually, really, really great. Even if I had to learn a valuable lesson about snap judgments and listening to that intuition to say yes. Because yes, there are still some pretty remarkable guys left out there — if you’re willing to look past that one little thing that might not be ideal to see all the things that are.

A Heart Full of Love

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.

We Were Just Beginning

In the home I grew up in, the love flows just as steadily as the wine. My dad still looks across the living room at my mom (who is pulling up the corner of her cheeks while talking about her fantasy face lift) and says, “Honey, you’re beautiful. You don’t need that.” In this house that’s a few right turns off of the main road that leads into town, my dog thinks I’m a better person than I really am. In this place, where my room is almost empty, minus some books and bedding, is frozen back in time when I loved playing tennis and hung up pictures of the city I wanted to call home.

And those photos are now sights I could see anytime I wanted. They are only a train ride away and some are views I see each and everyday. I made it to New York and I survived it – or as my friend E says, it let me stay. There is no secret to “making it” in Manhattan, it kicks out those who don’t belong pretty quickly.

But when I’m back in North Carolina, when my pace slows down, when I sit around talking astrology and dreams with my mom, when my dad brings me a heating pad and pillow to curl up with because my stomach hurts, when I walk out of the kitchen and return to find all of my dishes put away, I’m reminded of the place that grew me. The people who loved me enough to let me chase that brilliant ambition that is now my reality. The sense of longing that I used to feel while lying in this bed, looking out at the fog sweeping the mountaintops is gone – and in its place, I feel peace.

I feel this sweet surrender inside of my heart that for the first time, maybe ever, I’m just content. The journals I filled with wishes and hopes, are now subway stops and memories. The stories I used to store in a shoebox are now archived on WordPress and countless other publications I still can’t believe I’ve been lucky enough to write for. Those magazine clippings of inspirational quotes and couples snuggling on the couch are now my own sayings and my own snapshots of the men I’ve loved.

Really, there was nothing this Christmas that I wanted or needed other than to hop a flight back to where the wildflowers grow, the sound of silence echoes pleasantly from hill-to-hill, and sweet tea is within driving distance. And thanks to this blog and all of the wonderful people I’ve met in New York, being a single gal for the holidays feels more natural to me than bringing home a love that wasn’t meant to last.

Sitting around with a group of my friends tonight at the annual Christmas potluck while I’m in town, I thought about where we were: single and striving, learning and loving, letting go and being brave enough to hold on, chasing dreams and their origins, starting all over again and putting together pieces, realizing we’re finally adults and wondering what that really means. Looking at their faces and hearing their stories that while we may have different zip codes, sound scarily similar, munching on sausage balls I pretended had zero calories, I thought about how we all worry about what the future holds.

There is so much more life ahead of us than what we’ve experienced. There is room to reach so many more goals. Chances to love someone more than we’ve ever loved before. Opportunities to see the world and to reveal a world inside ourselves we never knew. Experiences that will test and try us as much as they teach and taunt us. Mortgages and babies who will call us “Mom”, Christmases that will one day mean more to us than seeing our old friends and feeling fancy cooking our family the Eggs Florentine we discovered in the city. Lifelong friendships that only become stronger with age and men who think we’re radiant despite our age.

It’s hard, I think, as a 20-something to see an existence outside of the current one. We’re busy coming and going, figuring out what we want and how to get it, dating and mating, relating and playing, attempting to save money and determining how much we need to put into our 401ks when really, 45 seems old, never mind 65 when we actually see the account. Everything seems so far away, so not-something-I-need-to-think-about right now, something that I’ll address later when I’m ready, later when I’m older, when I’m settled, when I have it all together. We can’t see our children’s faces or truly believe deep into our bones that yes, one day, one man, will be different and it all won’t be so complicated. We can’t see that house or the playground behind it, the successful career that we worked so hard to achieve at its very peak, we can’t see the impressions we leave on others or imagine our beautiful, youthful friends with wrinkles around their eyes.

But before we know it – or so I’m told anyway – one day, we’ll wake up and our realities will be different. The ways we find peace will be new. Our intentions humble, our pace slower, the things that make us happy, simpler. We’ll look back on these days, where we roamed wild and free, dabbling in this while dabbling in that, fretting over being a size 6, crying over a guy who we won’t remember in the long run, drinking more champagne and coffee than what’s healthy while soaking up sun, and wonder why we took it for granted. We’ll look back and remember all of those Christmases – from being children to having our own, and be amazed at how much things change, how much we change, how much the world continues to change before we’ve caught up to it.

And we’ll wonder how we didn’t see that then, sitting around that table with our friends, talking about how old we feel at the ripe age of mid-twenties, that really, we were just beginning.

The Great Chase

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.

It Won’t Be Perfect

It’s unusually warm in New York this season – the only indication that winter’s near are the white holiday lights and the fact that they glow at 5 p.m. I’m enjoying being able to sport my belted light-weighted jacket for more than a week (which is usually how long Fall lasts in the city), but sometimes, I think the weather is simply reflected more inside than out this year.

After a day of shopping for last-minute gifts and some gotta-have-it-can’t-stand-it buys, I caught the uptown train toward my apartment. Instead of reading this month’s book club book, reading my NBC news app on my iPhone or listening to music, I found myself semi-content people watching. But when the sight of the couple across the cart canoodling and the little girl singing “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” adorably to her grandma became all but a bit too much, I turned my attention to a place I hate to go. I started to drown myself in thoughts, though consciously know they are just that: thoughts, not truths, about what my relationship was with Mr. P.

These memories or once-beautifully constructed notions of that man are weakness of my spirit and mentality. They don’t go with the Kate Spade bag I splurged on as a Christmas gift to myself, the faux-fur Vera Wang muff that makes me think I’m classy or the expensive sheets I purchased only because I wanted to lay on something that he hadn’t shared with me. They don’t match my relentless, sometimes irritating (even to me) optimism or the dating advice I give to both those I love and those I’ve never met. They aren’t part of the made up 12-step program that is really a never-ending adventure of learning to love yourself, over and over again, after each and every man who comes and eventually, as they all do but one, leaves. They aren’t healthy for my self-esteem or my waist line, nor do I want them to have a place in any part of my New York story. They don’t correlate with my hopes for the future or the strength I’ve always tried to find in the bad, instead of focusing on all the things I’m afraid to really feel.

Like loneliness. Or feeling terribly alone, even surrounded by my friends. Or longing for someone that really, was never fully mine. Or disappointment, both in Mr. P and in myself. Actually, especially in myself. For believing, even against what everyone thought or said, whatever red flags were waving or what emotional obstacle I was ignoring, that he was something different. That he could be my someone different, that if we had been through so much together, then we’d make it through in the end. Or the pit in the bottom of my throat every time someone asks me about why we broke up (thank you public blog) and I say “it just wasn’t working out, we were in different places” because I know the truth.

The truth that just because I fell in love with him, for him, the idea of him or maybe a great mix of both, it doesn’t mean he had to fall in love with me, too. And he didn’t, so I left to find someone who could.

I get asked a lot how I do it. How everything just seems to work out or how I don’t give up on my dreams or how I have the courage to take chances when so much is often at stake. How I picked up and moved to a place where I knew next-to-no-one and a few years later, have somehow created a life for myself. There was really never any other choice than coming to New York, so I don’t consider myself brave for doing something that just felt natural. I’m hopeful because bitterness doesn’t look good on anyone and I’d rather be sad than to not feel anything at all. I say these things, I mean these things, but underneath the careful illustration of a beautiful life, lives the weakness, the sadness, the fears, the silly obsessions and even sillier fits of frustration that we all have. And that I definitely have, no matter how much I try to conceal with clever word play or under mineral makeup, Jackie-O sunglasses on the train and waterproof Lancome mascara.

Because those parts, those rusted edges, those Adele songs that I’ve practically worn out in the past three months make me ashamed. They make me feel like I’m wasting time and spinning wheels, when I’ve never hesitated or moved slow with any other part of my life. My friends remind me that it only hurts because it meant something, that I will move on and there will be others, that crying is part of healing and it’s just as natural as breathing when recovering from a breakup. I try to go on dates and I fight the urge to call him or text him when something simple reminds me of him or of us, and the days continue on. Some are as brilliant as the cascading street lights I can see outside of my apartment, and others, like today, bring me to tears on the subway that I avoid by staring intently down at my tattered boots.

And it’s nights like this one, where I lay across my bed, typing away because it makes me feel better, drinking red wine because it makes me feel even better, watching the shadows dance outside as I let the tears splash as they should, that I remind myself that it’s not supposed to be perfect. That I’m not supposed to be perfect. That while I might portray myself as the heroine of a sappy romantic comedy cast on Fifth Avenue, I’m really just human. And with that, comes all of the good that I’m so thankful for, and all of the bad that one day, probably, I’ll be thankful for, too. That falling in love with the wrong person is a rite of passage into the great love I hope is in my cards, and that while I may be afraid to try again, I know somewhere deep down, that I will.

That I will love with all that I have, even if it currently feels like it’ll be a little less than what I loved with before. That I will be brave enough to pack away all of those dreams I had for Mr. P and I away in a place that will be pleasant to visit when I’ve moved on and let go. That I will find peace in the ending and beauty in the fact that I stood up for love by leaving because I knew there was no sense in stopping believing. That I will let someone else into the places that barely anyone ever sees, into those parts that I’m ashamed of, of those parts that make me feel weak. That I will be some man’s partner, and for once, he’ll be mine too.

That it won’t be perfect, but because I never gave up on me, because I felt my way through the ways I needed to mend, because I allowed myself to be vulnerable, because I was courageous enough to say that love is possible, it will be. Even if before any of that can happen or before it can matter, it’s going to have to hurt for a while.

And I’m going to have to let it, no matter how imperfect it may feel.