Don’t Forget How to Dream

“Wouldn’t it be something if this time next year, we were sitting here with your boyfriend?” My sweet Southern mother said while sipping on Perrier in Central Park on Memorial Day. It’s our tradition — and my Mother’s Day gift — to fly her up for the long holiday for some always-needed girl time.

“It would be nice, but if not, we’ll find something better to do. I’m not waiting around for a man, especially when there is never a guarantee of one coming or even sticking around once he’s here,” I said, stuffing pastrami and cheddar cheese bites into my mouth. “I don’t need to have a boyfriend next year or the year after or whatever. I’m just fine, just single.”

Lucy tilted her head at me like she does when I’m singing loudly in the morning and my mom copied her expression as she replied, “Well yeah, of course you’ll be fine. And happy, I’m sure. But you’re dating because you want to meet someone, not just to kill time, am I right?” Annoyed at her ridiculous ability to be right about everything, I snapped back at her with a long monologue about how I finally found peace with being single and I didn’t want to talk about what might be or what could be or what will be or what I want or what I hope for.

“…if I think about and imagine a relationship, it’ll never live up to my expectations and most dates… well, all dates currently, are just disappointing. And I don’t want to be disappointed anymore, so I have decided to not think about it,” I finished, feeling like I conquered a non-existent argument. My mom took off her sunglasses and rested her hand on my knee and asked:

“When did you stop being such a dreamer, Linds? Did you forget how to dream?”

Though she left a week ago, I find myself asking that same question over and over again, trying to decode just when I stopped entertaining fantasies in my head — and why exactly I deemed them unhealthy. She knows me very well — probably better than anyone else — so it’s not a surprise that she can spend five days in my New York life and instantly decode the weak spots that I try to gloss over. We spent the holiday walking about town, getting caught in the rain, dancing at Irish pubs, singing karaoke and having deep conversations about soul searching and dealing with change as we caught trains throughout this big ‘ol town. And somehow, without trying at all, my mom can see through every facade and great illusion I try to weave, and see exactly what’s wrong.

And well, articulate it in ways I haven’t been able to until now. In the last almost two years, I’ve focused so much on living that I’ve stopped dreaming.

Oddly enough, that was kind of the point of this blog from the get-go: I wanted to learn how to love myself with or without a man, and ultimately, figure out how to live in today instead of worrying so much about tomorrow. But somewhere along this passage to single-and-lovin’-it, I lost track of the lady who loved to dream. She may not be too far away — if you look at my current bedroom walls, you’ll see a map circled with places I want to go, photographs bought at pop-up street fairs of couples happily in love, clip-outs of homes and apartments that are so expensive I lose track of the zeroes, and quotes that continually lift me up when I feel myself slipping away.

But when it comes to talking about the love I haven’t felt yet or the man I haven’t met or the post-Mr. Possibility relationship I’ve yet to have, I’ve been trying so hard to be so strong about it all, that I haven’t let myself believe — even for a second — that maybe, love is actually on the way. Actually someday soon, even.

Instead, I’ve been protecting my heart and well, my mind from failure. From getting my hopes up so high that they have no place to go but crashing down. From getting excited about a third date because in this city, it usually means nothing. From thinking — and beautifully, wishfully dreaming about the life I hope to have ten years from now.

Or even one year from now.

Today, as I cleaned out my bookshelf, I stumbled across a postcard from an old friend that read: “Take time to dream.” Unable to wrap my head around the coincidence, I sat down on the floor, in the middle of the pile of books and papers and just cried.

It wasn’t out of desperation or longing. It wasn’t even out of sadness. I cried for the younger, the less street smart, the less experienced me that used to doodle about things she wanted. The me that cut pictures out of magazines because one day I’d work for one and one day I’d have everything that I read about on those pages.

And maybe that’s why I’m a little scared to dream now. I do have most of what I ever wanted: an incredible job that’s challenging and entertaining. A safe, comfortable place to live in the city that’s always held my heart. A group of dynamic and funny friends that keep me sane, regardless if they’re a subway stop or a plane ride away. A sweet puppy who never lets me end my day upset or feeilng unloved. A healthy body that looks great in red.

So the thing left to dream about is… love.

Or about the ways my career will change and grow over the next few years. Or about the NYC addresses that I’ll write on envelopes but haven’t walked past yet. Or the people who will change my life that I haven’t met. Or the races I’ll run or the stamps I’ll have on my passport.

Or maybe — if I really dare myself to dream — perhaps, I’ll live with a tall, handsome, successful and kind husband in a great Upper West Side apartment, be a best-selling novelist who is able to travel and able to remind herself that it’s only with imagining that anything can ever happen.

I’ve always dreamed about many impossible things, and many of those so-called silly ideas have come true. So why should I forget how to dream now? How can I forget to dream when my dreams have always been the start of everything that’s ever meant anything to me?

Another Friday Night

One more stretch, you can do it, I encouraged myself early last Saturday morning, listening to the off-beat of my feet in Central Park. As I often do when my body can’t keep up with my racing thoughts, I become my own mental cheerleader and professional negotiator.  If I make it to that lamp post, I can have the large iced coffee instead of the medium at Dunkin Donuts. If I make it to the east side of the park, something amazing will happen.

If I make it. Something. Will. Happen, I told myself.

With a race in a week and not enough running logs in the last few weeks, I challenged myself to push more, even if all I wanted to do was curl up in my corner of the Upper West Side, far away from the city below. Far away from those unfortunate feelings I unfortunately still battle.

Last Friday night was a rough night. And even the splendor of a pretty park run that next morning didn’t get the negativity out of my sight. With my friends unavailable and spending weekends with their boyfriends, I was left to my own company to attend an engagement and birthday party. Though I was exhausted from the busy week at work, I put on a lace top and heels, ready to flirt and celebrate. But a handful of vodka tonics later (and one pickle back), I found myself staring down the bar, sad and defeated by the NYC dating scene I write so frequently about.

It’s not like it was the first night I wasn’t paid any attention by a man or the first time I wasn’t bought a drink. It wasn’t the first time I had a massive zit right next to my nose, while I watched tall, slender girls with dewy complexions march into the bar, turning heads and stealing attention. It wasn’t the first time I worried about how I looked (Pretty? Thin? Sexy?) or how I came across (Too nice? Too closed off?).

And though I know it’s silly and even though I’ve written about self-love so many times I can recite my own words, I felt invisible. Not good enough. Ugly. Unwanted. Like all I wanted to do was run home.

And so I did. I tried my best to hide the tears on the train and then again on my walk to Dunkin, to claim my iced prize for making the extra mile. While sucking up the tears, I listened to my mom tell me it’ll all work out. But it just doesn’t have the same effect when it hasn’t worked out… like, at all.

It’s funny advice that people who have found love always tell you: it’ll all work out! It’ll just come together! It’ll be so easy and so fast and it’ll feel right. You’ll just know. It’ll happen when you least expect it. It’ll happen when you aren’t trying.

It’ll happen when you find love in yourself first.

It’ll all work out… After you get through all the work of dating and flirting and bar hopping and profile shopping and having good (and bad) sex and getting your heart broken a few times and getting your hopes up and learning to get your hopes down and having an amazing first date and never hearing from someone again that you thought you liked.. and this and this and this…

And that. And on and on. And on. 

Logically and intellectually, I understand the advice. I accept it even. But emotionally, nothing could be more discouraging than promising things will work out and come together in some magical beautiful way, when currently, it’s anything but. Maybe somewhere deep down I know they’re right, but after playing the game and making the rounds for years… they’re suddenly just words to me.

Ones that aren’t facts or proven truths. Ones that show up when dates or love go sour. Ones that become an old adage I don’t look forward to hearing. Ones that make me feel less accomplished or less worthy or less something for having difficulty believing them time and time again.

But it’s when Friday night has pissed me off and I’ve pissed myself off the next morning by still caring that I do think of those words. Even if no one says them. Even if I don’t tell anyone I was upset. Even if I don’t actually trust them like I did three years ago. I just remember… It hasn’t worked out. Not yet. But maybe. Just maybe, it will.

After all… There’s always another Friday night.

Perfectly Good Men

Sitting across from a tall sports-fanatic in Hell’s Kitchen a handful of Saturdays ago, I considered my escape route.

The establishment – an Irish-y bar with many beers on tap – was dark enough. It wasn’t a bad pick for a first date and we had simple, meaningless chats over artesian beers and a fried appetizer platter. He came from a great family (check), had a job (check), was moderately entertaining and endearing (check, check) and yes, attractive (check). Our conversation was easy and flowing, without awkward pauses or strange questions or topics that shouldn’t be discussed on a first date (like your ex-girlfriend, take note, Mr. Unavailable).

He was a perfectly good man, but I didn’t feel a thing.

I offered to pay my portion when the check arrived but he insisted, like a gentleman, and I tried to squint enough to picture him as a boyfriend. But it was a fruitless try – to me, he was just another guy. In a very long string of guys I’ve dated lately. On paper – or on their online dating profiles – there is nothing wrong with them, and honestly, we should be pretty compatible. And yet, I find myself twirling my hair, attempting to ignore my phone, making small talk and getting through drinks or coffee by going into journalist mode: asking questions just to hear answers and seem interested, not to actually get to know someone.

That night, I met up with my friend K for a late-night dinner and then with Mr. Wingman for a night out in Flat Iron. I found myself drinking strong cocktails and talking to seemingly strong men and instantly dismissing them as romantic opportunities. Maybe my mind was somewhere else or perhaps my standards are finally reaching an all-time high, but when it comes to dating the past few months, I’ve not only been a little lazy, I’ve just lost my desire to get-up and put lipstick on.

Yet somehow, I’m pretty happy about it.

Though my social calendar has taken some hits lately since my lovely lady friends have all paired up with equally lovely men, and I’ve been spending more time alone (or with the white pup), I’ve found myself retreating back to those first days of the blog. Back to the days when I was still discovering peculiarities of the city and figuring out where my feet were meant to be planted. When I didn’t have many friends and was eager to try new things, meet new people and explore what this beautifully spastic island had to offer me. Back to when dating was just for free food or the possibility of friendship, not of a nightcap. Back to saving money to move, except now it’s to travel overseas with a passport that badly needs exercise.

Back to when I was figuring out how to be single – how to be happy – how to be… me.

Admittedly, this shift was scary at first. I was terrified of losing my best friends or of never going out for a night on the town again. I worried that with moving in together also came marriage and then that baby carriage. I didn’t want everyone rushing toward the family finish line while I took my time sipping lattes and writing these blogs analyzing, for the hundredth time, my (lack of) love life. Then what would become of me? Would I become one of those ladies in waiting, waiting for something I’m not even sure I want… right now? But then after a couple of dates with perfectly good men, I realized that maybe, just maybe, I’m not ready for a relationship.

Or that I don’t want one just yet.

The thing is – it takes a great man to snag a great woman. And my settled down gals paid their dues without ever settling – they’ve been out there on those dance floors and those grimy bars, writing dating profiles and nursing heartaches to get to where they are now. They aren’t living with perfectly good men – they’re building a future with ones that are better than that. My time hasn’t come yet and I’m sure, if the universe is correct like it always is, it will in its own sweet way.

Apparently someday when I’m least expecting it.

I’ve come a long way since that faithful day sulking in a tub over flying solo. Three years, 460 posts, one great love, one bittersweet heartbreak and a dozens of frogs, a dream job and endless experiences later – I’d say I achieved what I set out to do:

I fell in love with who I am – with or without a man. And I’d rather be sans-dude than settle down with just a perfectly good one.

I Love it When it Rains in New York

It was raining when I moved to New York, exactly three years ago today.

I sat at the Charlotte Airport, resting my elbow on my overstuffed carry-on bag and my purse while nervously applying chapstick in small, mindless circles. My mind was everywhere. I had planned this day perfectly and now that it was here, everything that could go wrong, had. It was foggy and misty outside and in Manhattan, my destination and hopefully, my permanent location. My flight was now delayed almost two hours, and I spent every passing minute desperately obsessing over my decision to leave my family and take the biggest, greatest and most important leap of faith I had ever made. I didn’t have much in savings or any job offers or even job interviews. I didn’t have enough rent money for much more than a month or so and I currently only had a futon to my name. On loan of course, from a girl who technically speaking, I had never met before.

I grew anxious as we prepared for takeoff, silently saying a prayer that everything would work itself out. And that all those dreams I had invested in for so long would turn out to be more than just lofty, unrealistic ideas about a life that I’d never actually have.

Once I caught that cab from LGA and headed toward Brooklyn to meet the kind lady who was giving me my first break in the form of a comforter and shelves to put my minimal things on, it was still  ugly outside. I had never ventured too far away from midtown at this point in my New York journey and the thought of going to Park Slope — a place I had never read or heard about except for random Craigslist postings — was terrifying. I knew that I wouldn’t always have this friend around and I’d need to vend for myself — little did I know that the scariest thing about the zip code was the tantrums of the toddlers in their very expensive strollers.

I watched the droplets roll down the taxi’s window and I tried my best to soak up the moment instead of glancing at my phone and taking note of landmarks, trying to figure out where I was. Where I was headed.

What the hell I was doing.

I had similar thoughts six months later, walking home from the grocery store in Harlem to my studio a few days after starting the blog. The rain was just heavy enough to need your hood and not dangerous enough to warrant an umbrella, and yet I managed to go the entire day dodging them. It had been one of those difficult 9-6’s — too much work and too little time, so many questions and nothing on the subject matter of small business I cared to answer. I had made another decision and took another chance — overcoming my own love addiction — and I figured it was probably a terrible idea. I ached for love just as crazily as I wanted to work for a different publication or website. I had found footing here but it didn’t fit me quite right. I was showered with luck but somehow the fortune that was supposed to be in my favor, was off. I hadn’t found the love. I hadn’t found the job – so what had I actually achieved here other than much higher bills and boxed noodles?

“Oh my god, you really want dumplings and noodles aaaagain?” I implored Mr. Possibility. It was the third time we had gone to his place by his job in Rockefeller Center that month and in the middle of February, raining, freezing, and I had no desire to leave the comfort of my apartment to take a train 10 stops downtown. Let’s go, Tigar! I have a surprise for you,” he pushed and eventually, I threw up my hair into a sock bun, wrapped myself up in a white coat and snuggled with Mr. P until we reached 50th. But when we rose from the toasty heat of the underground cart, it had started to downpour.

And we didn’t have umbrellas.

He swiftly wrapped me in his arm and we ran, hand-in-hand from 7th avenue to 5th, to eat $5 shrimp dumplings and attempt to eat thin, stringy japanese food with chopsticks. Admittedly, neither of us were very good at eating properly, but with matted hair from the rain and his fancy loafers nearly ruined, we savored the dry space with florescent lighting. I’m all wet — are you happy now? I teased and though we had just officially made things official, he reached over, planted a big wet one on me and said, Ha! I love you! I’m always happy when I’m with you.

I wasn’t happy anymore, that was the sad truth.

And as I sat there in Williamsburg in late July, counting how many pairs of Hunter boots passed our window, watching him chew his mac ‘n cheese and go on about something I was no longer listening to, I summoned up the courage to tell him that something needed to change. He held me as I cried that night, promising to be better, pleading for another chance and I told him that chances were what I took and that I’d give it to him, but he had to really, really try. With my blessing that goodbye wasn’t coming just yet, I felt his body relax and drift to sleep, but I laid awake, listening to the rain hit his pane and trying so hard to convince myself it was louder than the pain I was feeling. And that somehow, the rain would drown out the fear in the pit of my stomach.

So. Many. Butterflies.

That’s what I told my mom when she asked me how my final interview went at iVillage. It was a hot August day and it had been raining off-and-on, causing my hair to frizz in ways I knew were not professional, but very-me anyway. I’m never quite fully put together in the way I look, but almost always in the way I express myself. And still, my tummy couldn’t have been more upset, excited or anxious detailing the highlights of my meeting with the company I so badly wanted to work for. I was standing in the phone booth near 14th street, protecting myself from the unpredictable summer showers and using my hand to cover my face because my grin was just that big. I couldn’t explain it — even to my mother who I could tell everything to — but somehow, the rain must have seeped through that glass of the booth and right into my bones, telling me that something amazing was about to happen. I was getting ready to run straight into the next best thing that ever happened.

What’s nextWhat could possibly be next? I wondered a few nights ago, walking home with my red raincoat pulled tightly around me, Lucy pacing at my side, intensely interested in everything we passed.

I could see the storm coming from the North, gray clouds were taking over the Upper West Side and I patted myself on the back for finally remembering to check the weather every morning. I checked to see if I brought an umbrella (I had) and considered how many towels I had in the closet — was there one to dry off the pup? Three years later — and the rain is still following me. But now I know how to prepare for it.

How to embrace it.

How to actually love it. Maybe that’s why a black umbrella is the shelter for all of these posts, surrounded by silly little red hearts, floating their way down the page. Maybe it’s why I moved to New York — to face the pressure, to face myself. To be overcome with challenge. To be pleasantly surprised with sudden down-pouring, infectious, love. To walk and make it through every weather this city can offer me.

Because honestly, I kind of love it when it rains in New York.

The glistening of the buildings. The sound of the droplets on the roof or the window. The sparkle on the street. The sound of kids splashing in the puddles and the sight of couples canoodling to stay dry. The best part of rain in the city is what’s so great about New York itself: after the storm passes — whatever it may be — everything that was bad or grimy or unsure from before is washed away.

And what’s left is up to you create. You just have to decide if you can put up with a little rain to get there.

The Way I Heal

Months after I officially ended everything with Mr. Possibility, I still found myself responding to emails and text messages, analyzing the intention between the lines, and keeping myself awake long enough to wait for him to arrive at my door. Allowing him to stay in my life – and yes, in my bed – felt easier than ceasing contact.

But even as I held him at an arm’s distance, my heart was already much closer, so letting him hang around and inviting him into my life wasn’t a healthy tactic. Procrastination though, tasted better than swallowing the bittersweet prescription I knew was coming. After many failed attempts to make him want me how I wanted him to desire me, after biting my pillow so he wouldn’t hear me cry at night, after convincing myself that being around him would awaken something that never lived inside of him to begin with, after lying to my friends about where I was and avoiding my mother’s phone calls – I finally got the message loud and clear.

From him, on Gchat.

It was straightforward and blunt, without a hint of consideration or kindness, and worse, void of love. Or at least the kind of love I want and deserve. When I couldn’t make meaning out of emptiness, I signed off and deleted the evidence of the relationship. I finally totally severed communication and packed away anything that took me back to better days so I could finally face the day I was living. And though the art of getting over someone is something I’ve yet to master or totally understand, I set my mind to letting go and moving on, no matter how badly I wanted to reach for the phone, type an email or share a bed with a man I once was in love with.

While I can talk about most anything on this blog, sometimes revealing a bit too much — forgetting that the Internet is truly an irreversible medium — writing about Mr. Possibility and what really followed our dramatic demise has been incredibly difficult for me. The final post of a year of writing – where I valiantly headed out on my own, telling him to go where the sun didn’t shine and standing up for myself, was a true story. I felt empowered in that moment: ready to conquer heartache and eager to be alone.

But if I’m honest, as I always have been in this space – I wanted the chase.

I watched and helped him attempt to win back his previous ex (who is now one of my closest friends and the best dose of reality on the topic of Mr. P), and I listened to him mull over the past he regretted. I heard all of his past love stories and I wrote the one I thought we had, post after post, day after day, praying that I would be the girl who changed the unavailable man. And even in my grand departure, even in that yellow chariot that sounds entirely more fabulous than it really is, a part of my heart was still holding onto the hope that he’d come running. That in my silence, he would find that same ache I’ve had since practically the day I met him — that lingering longing to capture the attention of something that’s unattainable.

But he didn’t come to my rescue.

He didn’t shower me with hand-written letters to why I should give him another chance. There was no romantic gesture, no fight for my love. There wasn’t even much of an apology for the ways he had been cruel when we were together. He happily accepted my offers for companionship and was careful to remind me how amazing I am – but that he still wasn’t in the market for a relationship. A year-and-a-half later I’m in a totally new part of my life, and he’s still almost exactly where he was when I met him: uncertain for the future and unwilling to compromise for anyone else, but sexually inclined to see what this city has to offer.

I didn’t want to admit that I went back to him, thus causing myself more  disappointment than if I had ceased contact in September. I had been down this road before and I knew where it led, but I ventured on the path anyway, fooling myself into thinking the destination would be different.

And when it wasn’t – I was ashamed to confess that still, even after all this time, my heart still hurt. It felt weak and silly to be someone who writes about such topics for a living and can’t take her own advice. To be someone who is mainly open and candid about everything, but unable to reveal that underneath the clever themes and rhythmic sentences, there’s a woman who sings along to Adele and runs to Kelly Clarkson, who wears big sunglasses to cover the tears, concealer to hide the dark circles, and still has to block Mr. Possibility on every social media channel so I don’t draw conclusions from things I can’t confirm. Behind the blogger who dishes on everything, is a woman who had a hard time letting go of a relationship that was one-sided from day one.

But in every bad situation, there’s a turning point. In every dark room, there’s a light. In every corner, there’s a chance to change. And for me, it came two weeks after I stopped responding to anything from Mr. P – even his drunken phone calls and messages – and gave myself a break.

Because while we all experience pain, we process it differently. Because while we all want to not be bothered when the other person doesn’t seem to be upset, you can’t release the pain if you don’t let yourself feel it – or in my case, write it. Because while love is never quite equal, everyone we’ve loved – be it for three years or thirty – affects us in someway, positive or negative. Because while our friends buy us a drink at the start of the end, we buy them drinks at the end of the end, thanking them for their patience with our stupidity and our ability to obsess, even months after the fact. Because while we want to be brave and strong, resilient and uncompromising, there is nothing that dies slower or more painful than a dream – especially one that involves someone you really cared about. Because while the wrong person can seem like the right, the person who matters the most isn’t the one who got away or the one who stays, it’s the person you are after you walk away.

There is no race to finish the moving on process or a correct way to go about it. There is no way to skip the anger and the tears, the late-night words you want to take back or the bed that feels cold at first, but grows warmer. You don’t get better at breakups the more you have them, and you don’t have any better luck or built-up tolerance to letting go because you happen to write about your personal life.

This time isn’t about Mr. Possibility, or how he misses me or how he doesn’t. It’s not about the fact he didn’t turn out as I had hoped or that I didn’t kick him out of my life sooner than later. It’s not about who moves on first or last. It’s not about the relationship that was or the relationship that I wanted. It’s not about how I feel right now, how I felt six months ago or two weeks ago. It’s not about how I’ll feel tomorrow. It’s not about the fact that it hurt – or that at times, it still hurts.

It’s about the fact that I’m letting myself feel it. And by feeling it, but forgiving myself for my tardiness and my endless optimism in love, I become a better me than I was before. While it may make me feel incredibly silly, naive and immature to have a broken heart that lusts after the past – it’s really not about how I feel, it’s about how I heal. Or rather, that I am.

The Girl Who Changed It All

Once upon a time in a far-away land called Manhattan, there lived a man.

He was a favorite at his firm, the comedian of his group of friends and the best uncle he could be to his nephews. He was attractive in the most all-American of ways, chiseled and fit, and blue-eyed with hair that curled at the ends. He had no trouble courting and finding women to share his bed, and several tried to claim his attention too. But that — that was the one thing he couldn’t do. As wide as his mind would open as he traveled the world and as big as his checks grew over the years to the charities he admired, the one part of his life that wouldn’t grow was his heart. It had grown weary after a bitter breakup right after college, and as he approached the big 3-0, he was happy and satisfied with all he had made for himself, but love just wasn’t in the cards. Sure, he thought about it occasionally — when he had one too many whiskeys with his colleagues or when he suffered through an unimpressive date with another tall, thin-someone from somewhere, who didn’t do much more than turn him on with her looks. He remembered the days when he wanted a family, and sometimes finds himself jealous of his siblings who seemed to of mastered the home life without much consideration for their career.

He was smarter, he thought. He had focused on the right things and didn’t let something as silly, as transitional, as fleeting as an attractive broad shake his priorities. He made the right choice  — if it had been a decision at all, that is — and without a doubt, he’d be running the company before the next decade was over. And that soft-something to come home to? It’d be a nice blanket of cash to rest easy on, and to give those around him all the monetary needs to be happy. He’d be a great uncle. He’d be a game-changer in his industry. He’d have an amazing apartment in midtown. He would always have incredible sex. But love? He could do without it.

Or at least he thought.

She was always the odd one of her group of friends. A little distracted by her dreams instead of living in the here-and-now. She didn’t realize her beauty or depend on it to get her where she wanted to go, as many women do. Loveliness drenched through her body, all the way to the soul — she always captivated those who knew her by the depth of which she cared. She was successful in her own right, but in a way that wasn’t typically considered remarkable. She didn’t fret though – she had come a long way and if she made any difference in the world, she hoped it was by helping someone else. She loved to draw and missed the girly-girl gene, often sporting casual attire that suited her lifestyle, but wasn’t what most would call trendy. Independent to the bone, she went backpacking through Europe, spent a year in Australia just because she could, and skipped the Ivy League college to study art via the streets of Venice. But she was brilliant. She soaked up the energy of those around her and men often fought to win the upper hand. She never let them – while she believed in love and knew one day she’d wed, she was in no rush and felt like it should just work itself out. It would be easy. She knew what she was worth and that she would know when she met someone who knew it too.

For him, she was the girl who changed it all.

They met in an ordinarily, extra-ordinary way — by chance. The chemistry was unmistakable, those passing by would have sworn the couple had known each other for years. They felt it, too. Instantly. She was careful not to give too much away and he hungered after the chase because he finally felt alive. That spark that had blown out so many moons ago, started to ignite and he couldn’t deny it. If there was to be love, if he was to love, if there was such a thing called fate after all, it had to be with her. Because she arrived, he could arrive at a different decision. His entire life changed course – now things like family, romance and nights-spent-in cooking and making love throughout the early hours of the morning were far more enticing than working longer or going in on the weekends. Her art had never been better – she felt inspired and warm, almost in a constant state of awe that she had found him. He counted his blessings every night she fell asleep in his arms, naked and entranced that he really could be one of those guys who found the girl who made him a better man. A girl who changed everything.

This is a storyline you’ve heard before. It’s one you’ve watched, one you’ve read in books with pages you couldn’t stop turning. It’s the story you’ve believed with all your heart from the first time you heard it. It’s the same story you tell yourself when you’re unsatisfied with your relationship but really want it to work out. So you wait. Because you can be the girl who changes the man. You can be the sparkling, captivating, irresistible woman who changes a darkened man into a lighting bolt. Who can change the one who refuses love into the one who seeks it. The gal who can not only mend a broken heart that’s been down for years, but you can give it a new life. You can make it better than it was before. We all want to be the one who changes a toxic bachelor into a hopeful romantic, simply because we are so wonderful.

Because if we can do that – if we can be that girl we’ve watched and read about then we must really be something. We must be glittering with golden specs, eliminating the black-and-white and bursting with color. If we can be that intoxicating, if we can break the mold and break in the man, then we’re really that remarkable.

I’ve wanted to be that girl.

I’ve believed I could love someone so much that they would change their heart and love me just as much in return. I knew if I could do anything, it was being kind and understanding. It was being so alluring, so entrancing, that no matter what – a man would come out of his shell, out of his own standards and see that he had to believe in love, because he believed in me. If I could get a man – a man I loved – to see me like that, then maybe I really was something special. I was determined to be the one who could make everything  sensible for someone else until I realized I was already the girl who changed it all…for me.

I have been brave enough to try things that truly terrified me – from moving to New York to falling madly in love. I have been strong enough to change my mind, even when I didn’t know where my new direction would take me. I have changed my style, my opinion, my home and my attitude time-and-time again, without worrying if it was right or wrong. I have healed my own heart so that love can find it again. I have opened my eyes to see the truth, instead of getting lost in make-believe. I have become something special, without any validation or any approval from any man, or anyone.

I have been the best me that I could be, without ever needing a man to change me or to prove to me that I’m great. So while my life may one day become even more of a romantic comedy than my friends say it is — if I do happen to meet someone who decides to give love another go, just because of me – then I’m happy I could help. But I don’t need a man who needs me to change it all for him to make me happy with the path I’ve picked and the me I’ve become.

I’ve already become the girl who changed it all, by changing myself.

Mr. Smith & the Little Notebook

In the heart of the Flat Iron District, right across from the building itself is a lovely place called Eataly.

It’s carved right out of the streets of Venice, with bright colors and even richer smells peppered about the establishment that entices passerbys, tourists and New Yorkers to take a stroll. There are cappuccinos and gelato, fresh cheeses and a wide selection of wine, along with truffle oil priced at $20 for an ounce or so. It’s fancy and expensive, filled with items I’d never buy for my kitchen, but treats I easily indulge in while I’m in the area.

But this night, my interest was piqued somewhere else. I didn’t give into the temptation of the double-chocolate cannolis and I kindly nodded against the samples of freshly baked bread with pesto dipping sauce. I looked away from the aisles filled with cooking knick-knacks that I could imagine myself using while wearing a silky black dress and expensive heels to match my expensive taste. But in that fantasy, I’m also dark-haired, exotic and tanned — not an Irish descendant with brown hair, blue eyes and cheeks that freckle in the sun.

In reality, I was waiting here to meet someone with similar hair and eyes but a foot taller. I nervously waited his arrival, still rather unsettled on my impression, and eager to see why he picked this location for our third date. I wondered if I haphazardly mentioned my obsession with all-things Italian or if it showed in my hips that devilishly trick me into picking pasta over salad nine times out of ten. When his name lit up in my phone, I figured out that, yet again, we were in different places at the same time. On our first date – a Sunday brunch that didn’t end until 10:30 in the evening – we went to separate locations of the same restaurant (I to the original, he to the one most convenient to me — woops). And here we were again, standing at different entrances, probably curious as to why the other is late. Perhaps we were both right on time, but with opposing opinions of where to stand. Isn’t that the case with most encounters that end up mattering?

I found him on the other side and we walked until he picked the beer garden on top of Eataly – something I meant to do this summer, but failed to accomplish. In the winter, it sparkles with white lights, and proved to be surprisingly toasty via heat lamps. As we bantered our way through the menu, ordered a bottle of red wine based merely because it was on special, I listened intently. His stories are feathered at the edges — full of variations in his tone, subtle grins here-and-there and blushing with character. But as much as he moved his hands at dinner or carelessly made light of himself, I could tell he had his ear on me.

Maybe I was biased after he promised his memory was better than mine while walking by the Plaza our first date. Or the fact he actually remembered my preference for orange juice on our second date when we stopped by McDonald’s after my first improv show in the city. Nevertheless, watching his lips as I tried to pay attention to his thoughts as much as I battled my desire to kiss him – I knew that he was taking me in. And more so, he was paying attention.

And this knowledge made me nervous.

I am always the one making observations, it is after all, part of the job of a writer to note other people. The only way I’m able to pen what I do is because I’m continuously anxious to discover the story behind strangers or the loves I know best. But to have my stomach know better than my heart that this new guy was absorbing everything I said (and did) – was rather fascinating. Maybe I’m a little jaded from the revolving door of dudes who don’t live up to expectations, yet thrive on being disappointments – but I was surprised to find a man who actually listened.

And more astonishing, asked more questions than I did. Now, that’s a definite first.

As the check came and went, along with my level-head due to the velvet red wine I happily consumed, I looked across our cozy rod-iron table and thought: what in the world can come out of that mouth next?

I have a present for you, he said, sipping the last bit left in his glass. From Staples. I quizzed him in silence, wrapping my finger around the side of my water, trying to break eye contact, but finding it impossible. Out of his jacket pocket he pulled a notebook no bigger than my hand. You said you like to people watch, right? But you never have a notebook on you. Let’s people watch. Write down anything that comes to mind.

Speechless, I looked down at the notebook – black, with a pink side. Here’s a pen, he continued. Unable to stop smiling – with teeth, not a calculated grin – I met his eyes, only to find him pulling out another notebook. And this is for me to do the same. Or when I notice things about you.

And there, in one of my favorite places in this big city, we started writing: what we saw at the tables near us, the views we witnessed outside the cascading wall of windows, the questions that sat  in the eyes of the soul sitting across from us. We wrote for five minutes (per his instructions), and then we bar hopped. Every once in a while, he’d bring out that notebook and he’d write something, and though he let me read a bit of it at the end of the night, I’m sorry to report my tipsy self was too buzzed to remember much.

Friday is our 7th date (though he says our 8th because the first was blissfully long), and I’ve been trying to think of a name for him since the day he gave me the notebook. He suggested up more than a few ideas, none of which were suitable to him, though he’d probably beg to differ. I thought about Mr. Something – because something is different about him, Mr. Sincerity – since that’s the best word I can use to describe him thus far, Mr. Grin – because that’s what he does the most, but none of them worked in the way my super-critical writing mind thinks, until last night.

When, out of the blue, for no merited reason at all, he sent me a quote that happens to be one of my all-time favorite quotes from my favorite author. He knew of my preferred author, but not of those words. But really that’s one of the things I like the most about him – his words. They are crafted with care, said at the right moment and sometimes strikingly similar to things that have mattered to me that he doesn’t know the reason why, yet. Perhaps he tries or maybe it comes naturally – but like me, he’s a wordsmith. One that doesn’t depend on trickery but on strings tied directly to the heart.

Especially since he knew after two dates that more than I need bandaids and lipstick, receipts from weeks ago and pennies I found on the street, I need a notebook with me, wherever I go. You know, when I notice things about strangers. Or about Mr. Smith.

PS: I was amazed with how many Valentine’s were sent last year from all over the world. Your touching words, your kind sentiments and the way you expressed all the things you hope for, as well as all the things that make you so beautiful – were incredible. I hope you will take a moment to write a Valentine about all the things you love about yourself, all the things in the future you can’t wait to experience and what  self-love means to you. I’ll publish your words – along with a link to your blog, if you blog – on Valentine’s Day. Or if you’d rather be anonymous, that’s fine too.

Go here to submit your Valentine. You deserve it. Tell me how sweet it is to be loved by you.