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.

The Crack in the Door

When Mr. Possibility left to go overseas the first time, he wanted to stay with me his last night in New York. At that point there had been no discussions of what we were, no title, no commitment, no anything – we were friends enjoying each other’s company and making no plans for anything more.

But I was falling for him.

It was the time when everything about him seemed refreshing, when our conversations were long and our nights were easily and sweetly passed sharing the tiny twin bed I used to have. It was when I had no expectations but still had hope of all of the things that could be. It was before I memorized every dimple, every line, each stare and every rhyme — it was before there was an “us”, before there was anything to be counted on. Or anything for him to be accountable for. It was before he explored other possibilities and before I realized his impossibilities vastly surpassed his opportunities.

The night before, we hopped from bar to bar, then ended up getting ice cream, even in near-freezing weather. I noticed the blush in his cheeks, the stubble on his chin and the easy laughter that made it so damn difficult to not admire him. He talked about his travels overseas and I listened intently, hanging onto his promises of flying me over to visit in a country that I barely knew anything about. Little did I know his invitation was already extended to another, but that would be a lesson I’d learn after hours on Skype and a bouquet of tulips sent to my home in North Carolina (with a few buds intended for my mother’s 50th birthday, mind you). Bastard.

Even though I wasn’t his girlfriend at the time, he asked to stay the night, promising to keep me warm and hold me as tightly as we fell asleep. I obliged, unable to dismiss his affections and terrified that this loving feeling growing inside of me would disappear just as he plane took flight. And so, I welcomed him into my miniature studio, on the right side of my tiny bed and into the smallest part of my heart, that eventually would spread to consume most of the organ that truly defines who I am.

When the clock struck 5 a.m. and the 6’2-200-pound handsome lug lifted himself off of me suddenly, I blinked my eyes to see my kitchen lamp on and that same lug pulling on socks and trousers. Too tired to greet him with much more than a sigh, I smiled in his general direction and closed my eyes again, hoping to meet sleep easily and ignore the sad good-bye that I knew was inevitable. In what seemed like hours, moments later he greeted my eyelids with dozens of soft kisses and cupped my face with hands big enough to swallow my cheeks as he whispered, “I’ll see you soon, Tigar. I’ll miss you so much. Come visit me.” I responded with a sweet nudge and let him walk away.

Less than a thought later, I opened my eyes only to notice a light shining into my room. In his hurry, Mr. Possibility had left my door cracked, allowing the hallway to look inside my apartment, along with all who passed my door. Groggily, I stumbled to secure the lock and curled back into bed, cursing the winter weather and an investment bank for taking a man I was falling for, far, far away.

When the New York sun found its way into the sky and made me greet a day I didn’t wish to meet, I peered out the bay window by my bed, wishing that warm body was still near me and dreaming up all the ways I could possibly see him overseas. What book is best about the Middle East? What would I wear? Would this mean we were something more? Would I become his girlfriend? Was I ready for that? I curled up into the quilt that came with the apartment, and after deciding I should wash it, I exhaled into it, missing his smell and missing the way his body moved in his sleep. Still buried in a blanket that wasn’t mine to begin with, I shifted my attention to my far-from-grand entrance and remembered the door he left open.

Perhaps it wasn’t intentionally symbolic, or intentional by any means — but in my memory of that moment, I took it as such. I believed it to mean there was a crack in the door, or at least a window ajar. There was an opportunity for something more that I couldn’t foresee. Maybe he was in a rush but maybe it meant so much more – it meant there was a chance for us. A chance for love.

I held onto to that crack in the door for as long as I could, and then a little longer than that. I held onto promises that were broken before they were made, beds that were ruined before they could be tucked in and dreams that died a slow, bitter death – as such unrealistic things often do. I believed in that crack in the door with more faith than I believed in Mr. Possibility – if I could always see how things could change, how the light could really be at the end of a twisted, dark tunnel, than I could make it work. Even after I had left the relationship in the past, I lingered on thoughts of what it could have been, what it should have been, what I wanted it to be — without seeing how the crack was swiftly disappearing into a void. Because I made up illusions that captivated me, I was determined to make them the beautiful reality I had imagined.

The last time I saw him – after giving into an invitation to visit his nieces, a chord he knew would strike me to my core — I watched him climb the stairs to catch his train, knowing it’d be a long time (if ever) I’d see him again. Startled by the idea that I wouldn’t see those dimples or hear his daily anecdotes, or be considered one of his friends or the one who got away,  I snapped out of my stubbornness and followed after him, damning the train that was arriving. As fast as my heels would take me, I reached the platform, only to see him disappear into the cart.

And just as I reached the doors, they closed. I knocked on the window, but he was already tuned into his Blackberry, not facing toward me, but far away, in a place I could never reach — even after a year of loving him with all that I had, despite who he was, and especially who he wasn’t. The train pulled away and the passenger inside watched me lust after him longingly, but Mr. Possibility never noticed.

I never told him, either. What’s there to say when the crack in the door…is sealed shut?

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.

Let My Heart Design

There are moments in every 20-something’s life where you the world you’ve created doesn’t seem at all like you thought it would. There are these days where you feel out-of-place in your own skin, where your thoughts don’t seem to be your own and where doubts are far more common than reassuring sentiments. There are these ideas that pop into your head that you can’t shake and these desires that strike your soul that seem so positively unsettling, it’s inspiring.

One of those thoughts hit me the morning after I returned to New York after Christmas.

I opened my eyes, irritated that I woke up nearly two hours before I should have, and after twenty minutes of tossing and turning, I gave into my internal alarm clock and sat up in bed. There in the uncanny silence that this city only offers before the coffee is brewed or the street vendors set up shop, I really looked around my room — for probably the first time since I moved to this apartment in May.

I saw the pale-green walls that I didn’t paint. The mismatched frames that dusted my IKEA bookshelf and the dirty laundry piled in the corner. The lack of a bed frame. The desk that I never use, but has rings from beer glasses I actually filled with orange juice, not booze. My closet that’s practically begging to be cleaned out, sprouting shoes from the right, growing scarves from the left. The suitcase that won’t fit in said-closet, so it’s wedged under the window, with a wooden box covering it.

What does this space say about me? I wondered. Does it say a successful editor lives here? Someone who is full of optimism and lives a full life? I questioned, pulling the covers to my chin and turning off the fan I use to fall asleep with. No, it doesn’t. This space says nothing about me other than I have stuff.

But those weren’t the thoughts that struck me — it was this one: You’ll enter your mid-twenties this year, what have you actually done with your life? Does this room show that you’re still figuring that out?

This isn’t the first time I’ve analyzed my personal aspirations or intentions. Actually, I’d say I’m in a constant state of personal wonder as an explorer of my own self, constantly prying into the places I let no one else go, trying to make sense of the person I am and the woman I hope to be. But this very, very Virgo-ness comes with its downfalls — some would say that I can’t get no satisfaction, others would say my hopes for something more are selfish. I’d say it’s a little bit of both — sometimes I only want what I can’t have, but most of the time, I figure out ways to make the things that are the most important to me less like dreams and more like reality.

But I haven’t really traveled. My “studying abroad” experience was interning in New York — a destination that in comparison to North Carolina, is quite foreign. All of my savings, all of my efforts went into making the big move, so thousands of dollars to visit Spain or Greece fell low on the travel priorities. But now I’m here, so why not see the world outside of the island of Manhattan? I gave up on a second language in college, but I constantly find myself tuning into conversations in dialects I can’t understand, endlessly entertained by the jokes I don’t catch or the romance I can only see through body language, not speech. So why not learn? I’ve been running for years — off and on, mind you — but I’ve never ran more than a 5K. So why not try more? And though I have an entire Pinterest board of apartment decor I love, I never invest in anything other than brunches and lunches, clothes and books, wine and cheap accessories I find in the Village. So why not push some money toward making my place, look like me?

But what is me? I considered, standing up to put on my robe and flipping on a hand-me-down lamp. Who am I, now that I have the big girl job, the big girl location and the big girl life? Am I big girl now? What does she look like?

And so, I entertained my overly-structured, thoughtful-self and wrote down the things I knew about myself. My strengths, like being brave when I’m afraid, and afraid when I fear losing something that’s special. My ability to balance the best while handling the worst. My unyielding, everlasting, overly positive perception of love — between lovers, between friends, between families, between strangers. My courage to share with the world the things that most people never address privately. How I can see the good in the gullible soul, the great in the gray hair.

And I listed my weaknesses.

Like being far harder on myself than even the most dedicated hater of this blog. Or for putting the needs of unavailable men before the basic needs that keep me humming a little happy tune just for me. Or the way I can be oversensitive about things that are merely opinion, and saddened by the coolness of facts I wish weren’t so. How I snap at those who care when they see me clearer than I see myself. When I’m boastful in times when I should be humble, how I can be quick to judge and slow to forgive. Or worse, when I’m forgiving of those who don’t deserve it and resentful of those who do.

Or how, like in this moment, I’m overly critical of everything in my life, including the place I lay my head.

But I have my heart, I thought. It’s a bright shining center in the middle of a me that’s oftentimes, very messy. It’s the most brilliant part of me, that those I love see all the time, and strangers comment about on the street. It’s the part of me that feels warmed by the wide-eyed faces of babies on the train, and the me that waits until a kitten finds its way back into an apartment before I stop watching it. It’s what makes me give up my seat for those who need it, pause on the busy streets to let someone else pass and always offer to help, no matter how busy I am. It’s what makes me a dedicated friend and a loving partner. It’s what allows me to be walked all over and bruised, but still get up and do it all over again. It’s what allows me to choose the happiness of others over the satisfaction I’d maybe prefer.

So no, maybe I’m not where I thought I’d be. Or maybe I’ve come a lot further than I believed I ever would. Perhaps my passport is blank, along with the pale-green walls that I really don’t care for. Maybe I’m approaching the middle point of my second decade on this planet and I haven’t scratched the surface of what I hope to do in this lifetime.

But I have time to see places I want to see. Time to find the parts of me I’ve yet to discover. Time to paint my room before the Spring arrives. Time to learn how to say “love” in every language I find intriguing. Time to put that word to use with men who are worthy of all it entails.

And time to let my heart design my space, my intentions and my life. After all, without it, nothing I see around me (or inside of me) would be possible.

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.

Why Do You Love You?

Last Valentine’s Day, my two gay husbands (yes, two of them) sent me flowers (one with bacon, one growing in soil that I later killed). Another friend brought me a cupcake. And though I didn’t admit it then, Mr. Possibility had two dozen yellow tulips (my favorite) delivered to my work. He also came home from Dubai a day earlier so we could get dumplings in midtown, followed by chocolate mousse cake in bed.

This year though, I happily anticipate some buds from my father who is so adorably thoughtful I can’t even wrap my mind around it, much less my words. I’m keeping a pact with my friend M, where we agreed to send each other flowers on V-Day (which then turned to giving each other a bouquet in person once we looked up how oh-my-gosh expensive it is to send things that’ll die in a week on February 14). A few days before I’ll run a 5K and I think I’ll spend the actual day relaxing with the best girls in the world, drinking Merlot and eating cupcakes because our love for each other, wine and baked goods will never go out of style, with or without men on the side.

And hopefully, I’ll publish another addition of Valentine’s from you…to you.

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.