The Girl Who Came Before

A few months ago at a wine bar in Chelsea, I nervously fiddled with my phone, texting some friends who thought I was crazy, and rightfully so. I mean, I was meeting the ex-girlfriend of a guy I had dated, a woman who I had heard time-and-time again “I was just like.” I had read her blog, followed her Twitter and knew her name – but I didn’t know her. I only knew second-hand information, the words of someone who had been hurt and disappointed, but yet was a someone I cared deeply for.

So why was I here, sipping wine with a lovely, tall brunette who was chatting away and reminding me more and more of myself by the minute? Well, maybe Mr. Something-or-Another was right. Could it be true that there was another me out there and we both happened to deliberately move to New York to be editors? To live in tiny apartments, happily (well, most of the time) meet and date Manhattan men, go sailing on the weekends, chase pigeons, and share a certain dislike for pickles? (Though I can eat them fried – but I’m Southern, so I’m allowed.)

The similarities were startling at first, but as time passed and a friendship developed, it stopped being so strange. Emails turned into Gchat, texting into being Facebook friends, drinks into events and figuring out the things we have in common that the Mr. never discovered.

Before meeting her –we’ll call her K – I had an idea in my head of what she would be like. I, too, had her up on a pedestal of this unattainable, heart-breaking dreamgirl. But what I have learned from her was the exact lesson she hoped I would when she reached out to me the first time: that she wasn’t that maneater at all. She was like me – another lady in New York who dated a guy and it didn’t work out. There are two sides of every dating story and then there’s the truth, but there’s also truth in the fact that if people really have a type, there’s a good chance you may like the girls a guy used to be with. Hell – you may even be similar to them, so why build them up to be something more than what they are?

Now, K is a magazine mentor, but more importantly, a friend. I like to think of her as my dose of reality and a voice of reason when I worry about my career, about boys or really, about anything. She has a strong grasp on the city, often serving as my go-to for recommendations when I’m planning a night out. In a lot of ways – she’s where I see myself in a few years and chatting with her, as the Mr. always predicted I would, gives me some hope for the New York life I’ve yet to live.

Today, as we were talking, we stumbled across the topic of my blog and she said something that stuck with me: “It’s funny, reading your blog. I think you’ll be interested, reading it again in a few years. You’re going to have all the same realizations over and over again in different situations.”

A little over two years older than me, K has experienced everything and more that I’ve written about on these pages. And some topics I haven’t posted, but we’ve discussed (I may get to chatting about more risqué topics eventually). And while going through a 12-step program to cure a love addiction I diagnosed myself with seemed like a great idea nine months ago, K and some other friends and characters have taught me that maybe, I misdiagnosed myself.

Could it be that I’m just normal? That K, too at my age in the situations I faced, perhaps acted the same way? Felt with the same intensity? Or any of my other friends who happen to be 20-something women who want to find love as much as they run away from it? Anyone who has ever been disappointed by a man or has fallen in love with the wrong one, as K said, “over and over again”?

It isn’t love addiction – it’s being a woman who experiences normal feelings, thinks thoughts similar to the gal next to her and has characteristics like the girl who came before her.

We may not all have a twin – physically anyway – but if you look, or if you happen to meet a reader who figured out your blog’s riddle – you may realize a comforting notion that if you’re going through it right now…you’re not the first. You probably won’t be the last, either. Addicted to love or just growing up learning lessons you’ll learn again – rest assured there’s someone close by who’s right there with you. And someone who has done it before and someone who will do it again.

Penthouse With a View & 6’3″

New York doesn’t care for Spring much. One day you’re in raincoat, wondering why it’s 50 degrees in May and then you’re smoldering inside a small, non air-conditioned room, wishing for a gust of chilly wind. Even if my new accessory is sweat, I couldn’t be happier to greet the sun this weekend with big blue eyes, one teeny-tiny bikini and two girlfriends.

At a park in Williamsburg filled with hipsters and puppies, we laid on tattered beach towels, sipping on $4 beers in styrofoam cups, we chatted about the types of men in Manhattan. One of the gals is a new friend, B, and she asked M and I about where to go to meet fun eligible bachelors and though we were far away from sailors (they tend to stay in Times Square), we gave her some simple truths about this tiny island and it’s male inhabitants.

In Chelsea, don’t expect to find a straight man and if you do, he is probably there with his girlfriend or he’s joining the gay bars tempting his curiosity and probably not interested in how killer your legs look in sky-tall heels. Or if he is, it’s most likely out of jealousy than thinking you look sexy. In the Upper West Side, you’ll find men so endearing, so kind and good-natured, so funny and exuberantly happy, you’ll find yourself magnetized to them, wondering where they’ve fond such a profound joy. And as you’re searching, walking closer to try and steal their attention, you’ll meet your competition: their wife and children. Children dressed in Ralph Lauren with lovely eyes that match their mother’s.

And then, if you venture to the Lower East Side or Union Square, you won’t find a guy older than 21, though his ID may indicate otherwise. The Upper East Side offers wildly attractive men from old money who wear stunning clothes and more than likely are unavailable…or the type of guys you’d rather take as a lover than a partner. Murray Hill isn’t a place you want to go unless you never filled your frat guy appetite in college or if you would like to date someone from Ohio or the South. If you way downtown during the day or right after work for a happy hour, you’ll find banker upon banker upon banker, but go past 9 p.m. and you’ll feel lost in desolate, empty streets. Williamsburg features men who don’t shower, Park Slope has dudes with strollers and Jersey City…well, just say no. The West Village offers a bit of everything above and you’ll need to be a dedicated resident (like my friend K) to have the stunning ability to tell the difference between gay and straight, married and single, available and unavailable.

I’ve met guys all over the city, on buses, online dating, at the bar, in the park, through a friend, through a networking contact, over pasta, at the gym, and the list goes on and on. I’m amazed when folks say it is difficult to meet men in New York – I’ve always found that part easy. It’s finding one that you actually want to hang around with and one that enjoys your company is the tough thing to do. With so many fellas to date and so few we’d like to see past the second kiss, how’s a girl supposed to make it work?

M, B and I discussed that one way to navigate the single gal’s world is to first, figure out what you want. Seemingly simple enough, we each went through our types: B goes for metro dudes who take longer to get ready than she does; M doesn’t have a specific qualification, but can sometimes get lost in finding something enchanting about the person and confuse it with liking them; as for me, I tend to go for the tall (6’0″ and above), the life-of-the-party, dimple-stained and blue-eyed man. (Enter Mr. Possibility)

I’ll agree that deciding what fits your fancy before getting into a relationship is important…but I don’t really recommend knowing precisely what you desire before you agree to a date. The thing is, you’ll never figure out what you want and more importantly, what you don’t want – until you go out with it. Or sleep with it. Or have your heart crushed, smashed and crumbled by it.

Through the many neighborhoods of Manhattan, the apartments and male dorms in college, the summer romances during summer vacations, and all of the bus rides in between – I’ve grown to figure out what I really don’t want and what I won’t settle for. I’ll make some modifications here-and-there, compromise on certain things and give up on some specifics I was once gung-ho about – but the nitty-gritty charms that make up a person, well those, I can’t let go. I would have never know what turns me off if I never gave it the chance the turn me on. I would never know what I love if I didn’t lose my faith in something that wouldn’t commit to me. Through it all -I’ve discovered that what I don’t want is maybe more important than what I do. Regardless of where the man’s from, where he lives or if he’s my type – if he just isn’t what I want…then he simply won’t do.

And even a penthouse with a view owned by a chiseled-6’3″ smart, foreign and funny dude won’t change my mind.

Freedom From Myself

I’ve spent months upon months blogging about love. I’ve spent an unforgivable amount of time thinking about relationships in general. My own obsession with all things romantic, rose-colored and happily-ever-after approved is the reason I started this blog. I wanted to stop basing so much of my own happiness on if I was loved by a man or not. I wanted to stop fretting over getting married, on if there was something wrong with me that made men leave me or be continuously unavailable. I wanted to be able to have sex without having to think if that decision made me less of a lady.

Basically, I wanted to free myself…from myself.

I saw this whole world outside of my own mentality and boundaries. A city that begged me to play, to explore, to dream, and to do. To take my life in my hands without worrying if I had another hand to hold. Did I really need the balance of someone else to keep my sturdy, or could it be possible that I can be just fine, with just me?

What I’ve found through daily memoirs and a growing base of loving followers is that I’m not alone. I’m not the only young woman who has waited anxiously by the phone or had more guys break up with her than she ended things with. I’ve discovered I’m not as ridiculous as I once imagined and that sometimes, people get so caught up in your life, without knowing you, that they draw inaccurate conclusions. You can’t blame them though – writing and blogging is meant to drive opinions. I’ve learned that if you publish your intimate, personal details, those you were intimate and personal with will be affected, and they probably will contact you because of it. And the one your with, well it is possible he is subjected to just as much ridicule as you are.

But the beauty of this blog is that while I’m on Step 8, in a lot of ways I think I’ve made it further than I thought I would. Maybe I can give credit to New York or to having a big girl job that demands my attention. It could be that time really is the magical cure that solves all issues of the heart and mind or perhaps it’s just that like all things full of life, change is natural and healthy. Over the last nine months (yes, can you believe it?!), I’ve freed myself from some very limiting thoughts. Much to my surprise and maybe to the delight of others, I’ve now developed new perspectives and opinions I didn’t have less than a year go.

Just to name a few:

I’m Too Young for “I Do”

Since I started this blog, my best friend L took a trip to the courthouse and is now officially a Mrs. I’ve watched my Facebook friends post engagement and wedding photos, publish statuses about their “hubbies” and their babys-to-be. It used to be that such albums and sentiments would drive me crazy. I used to have this gut-wrenching fear that if I didn’t get married by 25, then all hope was lost. That’s how old my mother was and by Southern standards, that’s actually pretty old. But it isn’t like that in New York. In fact, if someone is married under 27, it’s quite odd. And children before 30? Forget it. Divorce statistics are higher down South and multiple marriages more frequent. I’d rather follow the lead of the North and wait until I really know myself, until I am established and happy in my career and by myself, before I promise my life to anyone. I mean, if I spend the rest of my day-to-days with the same person until I die…what’s the rush?

I’m Not Afraid of the Birds and the Bees

I haven’t slept around ever. I used to think that to have mind-blowing, earth-shattering, give-The-Rabbit-a-run-for-his-money orgasms, I needed to be madly in love. Though I haven’t experienced a one-night stand or sex with a complete stranger – I’m no longer against it. I have several friends in the city who are liberated with their sexuality and as they chronicle their escapades, I find a seed of jealously start to grow. I used to think it was really important to keep my number low so that one day, when I met whoever it was that I was going to marry, he wouldn’t think bad of me for exploring other options. But the thing is, my sexual history (as long as I’m healthy) is not the business of my husband. And the only standards I need to live up to are my own. This doesn’t mean I want to start galavanting about Manhattan, shagging with a different man every night, it just means I don’t think women should be judged by who they decide to sleep with. Or how many they decide to sleep with. Having high standards doesn’t always mean saying “No” – it can mean knowing when to say “Yes” to the right person…and not making excuses if you mix up right and wrong from time to time. After all, do men ever need to make excuses when they’re bachelors?

I love me.

Well, most of the time anyway. The point of this journey was never to meet a Mr. Possibility or to find the answer to all of my problems. It wasn’t supposed to change the person I am or my little quirks. I just wanted to learn to love myself -and who knew it would take over 200 posts (and counting) to start to get there? And who knew to love yourself, you’d need to free yourself, too?

The Big Idea

A big part of a journalist’s job is to come up with big ideas. I’m still developing this skill – but I have found a knack for making a story out of anything – hence why I can be spontaneously combustible with a blog post after one thing sparks my creativity. But when your career is dependent on looking at one topic in a bazillion different ways until one sticks, you often find yourself making stories out of…nothing.

Especially when those stories happen to be love stories.

Maybe it’s being a woman, but I don’t really think so. I refuse to blame my quirks and obsessions on my genitalia, nor should anyone use their sex as an excuse for anything. Regardless, I have a lot of ideas about how a relationship should be. How it should feel. How it should develop. How I should grow because of it. How the man will be. How he will treat me. How our life together will be day-to-day.

And all of those ideas…well, they are ideas. They are not facts based off of experience – though I’ve had many, I’ve yet to meet a man who is everything I expected without a few surprises. They are not things I use to qualify men – if that was the case, I would have never discarded my single status at any point, period. They are not things I know I would like or things I know I wouldn’t – they are based on other ideas I’ve learned from outside factors and things I think I should know, feel, do, or stand by.

But these ideas, for whatever reason, are important. And they continuously shape with each angle, each direction, and each added source my inquisitive, daring nature insists upon. If I look at any idea – any man – in the right way, with one eye squinted and one thought focused on the headline of the love story, I can make a romance out of basically nothing. I may even be able to convince myself that all those things I wanted, all those things I thought would make me happy, all those things I didn’t think I could live without – are not things I wanted, not things that make me smile, and not things I can’t live without. I can dig so deep, brainstorm so wildly, that in the process of developing ideas, I end up losing the big idea.

You know, the idea that above all other things, all other notions, that the most important idea to buy into…is yourself. Even more importantly, to stop making yourself an idea and into a person. A person that doesn’t give up on the idea that love, in its truest and best form, doesn’t need a whole bunch of dreaming of what could change about a man she’s seeing, and just takes the man as he is. After all, falling in love with an idea never got anyone anywhere…especially if that idea never turned into anything more.

A Little Piece of My Heart

Barely a month after I got my license at 16, I hydroplaned on a rainy Wednesday morning, lost control of my shiny red 1996 Chevy Cavalier (with a spoiler!), and flipped into a ditch. When I realized in a split second I wouldn’t be able to get my car back on track, I removed my hands from the wheel, covered my face, and prayed: “Dear Lord, Please don’t let me die.”

The next thing I remember, I’m sitting on the ceiling of my car in the passenger seat, purse on my shoulder, and feeling the urge to get out as fast as I could. All of the windows were smashed in, except for the driver’s side windshield and side window. I crawled out, taking a jagged piece of glass in my wrist on the way, stood before my car, the rain pouring, and put my hands on top of my head. I saw blood leaking down my arm, thought it was my head bleeding and furiously started searching for the wound. I couldn’t find one, and as I watched my tires still spinning, heard Michelle Branch still playing, I wondered if the new tank of gas I just put in would cause my car to explode. I then thought I may want to run away. My high school was less than a mile away, I could just go to class.

Unable to cry, dial my phone, or have a conscious, collected thought, I felt alone on the country road and unsure of what to do. It was then that a woman approached me. I don’t know her name – I’m not convinced she actually exists – but she came up behind me, put her hands on my shoulders and asked me if I was okay. I told her what happened and she started making phone calls to 911, and helped me dial my parents, thinking they’d rather hear my voice than a stranger’s concerning the circumstance.

She then covered my head in her jacket, walked me to her parked car where it was warm, and started asking me questions. She inquired about the career I was interested in pursuing, the university I would be attending, what sports I played, what my plans were for Thanksgiving since it was the next day, and made me apply pressure to my wrist. It seemed like I talked to her for hours, listening to soothing music, and hearing her chat about her life, though I couldn’t tell you anything she said. Soon, my best friend happened to drive by (it was the road to school, after all), and I ran to meet her and we cried together – remembering all of the times we whipped around curvy road without hesitation. The ambulance showed up, the firefighters, and the police. My parents greeted me with watering eyes and smiles bigger than the State because I had survived, though my car would never be driven again.

By the time I calmed down enough to understand the kindness the woman showed me, I turned back to find her car and she was gone. No one remembers her there and my phone had “911” dialed from it when I looked in my history. But I can see her face. I can hear her voice. I remember the smell of her car and the sound of raindrops hitting the pavement below as someone directed traffic outside the window. My mother calls her my guardian angel, but I’m not exactly sure what she is or was.

The only thing I’m certain of is that whoever she is, she changed my life.

I took a tiny piece of my car with me that day. I still have it. It reminds me that our time here is limited. It could change, it could end, it could be over without notice. And it keeps me motivated to volunteer consistently. Since that day, November 23 to be exact, I created a community service club at my high school called SOUL: Serving Other Under Love, that’s still active today. I joined my campus’ community service center, serving as a peer counselor and as part of the leadership and service residential living community. When I moved to New York, I joined New York Cares within a few months, and now lead the Young Authors Club in Chelsea. I also participated in charity events through my sorority, Alpha Omicron Pi, and I run 5Ks and participate in other events when I can.

It wasn’t that she volunteered her time that morning to help a scared teenager, but that she gave a little piece of her heart. And really, I think that’s what volunteering is all about. It’s being generous enough with yourself to give a bit of yourself to someone who needs it. To someone who, regardless if they know it or not, craves compassion. I was lucky enough to survive crashing my car into a ditch and if I’m able to walk, to speak, to live my life fully – I should be living it to help someone else.

Perhaps she wasn’t a real person and maybe she really is sent from the heavens. I don’t know and it doesn’t quite matter because I still think of her often, especially on nights like tonight, when the group of volunteers, parents, and children celebrated a successful year of writing with story sharing and pot lucking. The smiles on the children’s faces, the pride the volunteers felt, and the love that circulated the room – that’s why I will forever aim to be a humanitarian, and one day if I can afford it, a philanthropist. Because no matter how insignificant the contribution,it  is a contribution in itself, even if it just shelter from the rain and smooth jazz tunes at 8 a.m., it’s enough to shape the life of a stranger…forever. And, for the better.