The Freedoms We Don’t Choose

We all value our freedoms in different ways and at different degrees. Some of us are so liberated we have a difficult time committing to anything or anyone, while a few only like freedom when they need a little space (but even then, they want to know someone or something is close by, just in case they feel lonely).

Freedom is funny in that way – we want the freedom to choose our freedoms, not have them decided for us. If we don’t want to be free of something, then we want the option not to be, but if we do, then we want that choice, too.

Say for instance, we’re dating someone we really like. He fits the bill, he stimulates us intellectually and otherwise, he is giving when we need him to be, but demands that we take, too. He’s tall and handsome, chiseled and yet has that boyish demeanor…we’re smitten. But then we’re an independent, self-sufficient, confident female. We don’t really depend on him to fulfill us in each way we need to be compensated. We don’t need him to open really tight jars, just need him to be at an arm’s reach in case we absolutely can’t budge it. We don’t need him to help us move – we can hire movers, after all – but it’s nice to know he’s there…

…until he’s not.

And then, all of those freedoms we craved, all of the space that our independent-self thought she needed, suddenly doesn’t seem so important. Now what we want more than anything is to reverse the breakup, reverse the fight, reverse the need to be liberated, and have him, right here, right now. But the freedom of choice is gone because someone else decided to exercise theirs.

Or what about a job? They’re hard to come by these days and seem like precious little entities once you find one you actually like. Or at least one you like a little bit, at least. And so, you work hard and you dedicate your time, your energy, your creativity to making your company and your own career better and more competitive. You suck up the things you don’t like and you make a promise to yourself (and to the job gods) that you’ll find a way to make any work, work…

…until it doesn’t.

Until a company downsizes or collapses in a dismal economy. Until job performance suffers because as 20-somethings, we’re given the same advice for our career that we’re given in the similarly dismal dating world: keep your options and eyes wide open – unless you have the dream job (or man) of course. But in keeping freedom in mind, do we ever really commit to anything?

Or anything other than wanting to be free? Or at least have the opportunity to choose those freedoms for ourselves, instead of having someone else pick for us? We want the ball of freedom in our courts, not in the court of the universe, but more often than not, our speed, our agility, or our ability to slam dunk has little to do with us, and a lot to do with fate.

Because maybe that guy seemed wonderful and perhaps that job kept a roof over our head and happy hour drinks in our tummy, but it wasn’t what was meant for us. Maybe we end up staying with guys or at jobs longer than we should for fear that nothing else will along or that every human’s greatest fear will come true, and we’ll be left alone, homeless, broke, and unloved.

But those things don’t happen as often as we’d like to believe. And when they do, the universe just takes the ball back and encourages you to shoot again. To aim higher. To run faster. To feel the sweet wind blowing through your hair. To enjoy your freedoms, even when you didn’t decide to have them for yourself.

Because sometimes, these liberties are the ones that open up the most doors and ultimately, make us the freest of all.

Daily Gratitude: Today, I’m thankful to be free.

Picnic for One

On the tiny border of North Carolina and Georgia, there’s a small town called Hayesville. If you’ve driven through it, I hope you didn’t blink – because you may have missed it, if you did. It has one flashing traffic light, a courthouse nestled in the middle, a few grocery stores and barbque pits, and inhabitants that gossip as quickly as they speed.

But it does have one very beautiful redeeming quality – Lake Chatuge. A man-made manifestation, this wavy glory is where I learned to swim, ski, sail, knee and wake board. It’s banks taught me how to kiss boys on hot, sticky summer nights. In fact, it’s the place where I spent most of my summers and all of my Independence Days. It’s where my family is right now, cruising under the sun, glancing behind the boat, remembering when I used to make them go faster and faster so I could try a 360 on a pressing water-bump.

When I think of the 4th of July at my lake home, I always see endless lines of foods from our potlucks with neighbors in the community, and I remember my sunburns so vividly on my shoulders and cheeks that I swear my skin still resonates warmth. I can feel my hair wet and tangled, void of shampoo or product for days because A – it didn’t matter, and B- I was too young to care about such frivolous things. I can see the fireflies in Mason jars, hear the tree frogs humming and the sound of illegal firecrackers illuminating the sky from some cottage in the deepest, darkest part of the woods.

And of course, I remember the constant urge to be free.

I didn’t want a curfew and I wanted boobs. I didn’t want to drive the golf cart around our gated community, I wanted to have a real car with a real license. I didn’t want wine coolers, I wanted to have a glass of real wine with my mom. I didn’t want to hold hands by the lake, I wanted a boyfriend who I could make out with like I saw in movies. I didn’t want to be instructed on what to do, what to wear, or who to see. I wanted to shave my legs and go places all by myself, with my own money, on my own time.

I thought time passed slowly then, and I wish I thought the same now. I’m still wondering where May and June went, and I find it hard to believe I’ve been as “free” as I always wanted to be for quite some time now. And though there are moments when I wish I could tuck my Tigar tail and hop a flight home, run into my parent’s arms and have them fix everything – freedom is just as sweet as I always thought it’d be.

I don’t go to lake houses anymore, but I frequent rooftop parties and throw my own Bubble-Q’s (champagne and BBQ, duh!). I don’t have to be home at any particular time, though I inflict a midnight bedtime on myself most nights. I have boobs and I like them, but sometimes wish they’d stop getting in the way of every physical activity I enjoy. I have a driver’s license I only use to buy alcohol with, and I do drink Merlot out of nice glasses, for free, most of the time. I do make out with my boyfriend, plus some – but we hold hands, too. No one dictates what I wear or what I do, though my friends’ input is appreciated for both of those things always. I don’t shave my legs as often as I probably should, but I’m allowed. And all that food – well, now I put together what I can, and instead of big picnics with family and neighbors, I quite enjoy picnics for one.

Where I gather cheese and grapes, pretzels crisps, orange juice, and maybe a sliver of dark chocolate and sit, alone in my apartment. With no one around, no one to hold a conversation with, no cell phone nearby or computer in site, I just enjoy the company of myself, the serenity of my little picnic for me. And I pretend I’m a sophisticated adult, sitting in her breakfast nook wearing Dior like it’s normal, drenched in pearls, with my Loubies tossed off under an antique table. In the background, I hear the sound of my husband’s voice talking to our children and outside, I hear laughter and taxis singing the chorus of the city in a harmony that only an outsider, like me, can appreciate. My face is freckled with the imprint of a sun that didn’t burn and the fridge I can see out of the corner of my eye is tattooed with fingerpaintings from the two year old, photos from my wedding day, and the title page of my very first book.

Next to me lay dozens of magazines I worked for or freelanced with for a period of time, and as I think about how I’ll spend my day, I’ll remember back when I sat in my Upper West Side apartment in my 20s, young in my career and in my spirit, dreaming of the day I’d be independent of the worries of my future and what it would become and who I would grow into. When I sat with feet stained with dust from old floors and my roommate’s music blasting in the background, writing a blog I’d one day look back at and grin.

Because those maybe were the days when I was the most liberated, I just didn’t know it yet.

Daily Gratitude: Today, I’m thankful for picnics for one, and I’m sure, that I’m returning home from the countryside.

Much Ado About Nothing-Ness

As you read this, I’m somewhere in the country where it’s very quiet and neither my cell phone or my Wifi works.

Yep, y’all – I’ve apparently gone back to my roots, yet they seem to be stuck in the North instead of in the South where I thought I left them. Mr. Possibility and I have gone away for the long holiday weekend and as I sit here on Thursday, scheduling out blogs and attempting to pack for the mountainside where I’ll apparently be sipping something cold and fruity, my stomach is churning.

I always wanted to “go away” with a boyfriend. It had such a cache to it – just the two of us, somewhere not too far away, but far enough out of the city to escape the noise and New Yorky-smells. And yet, with a suitcase void of heels and cocktail dresses, fancy jewelry, or rouge of any sort, I’ve accepted that while I’m good at many things, relaxing isn’t one of them. This trip is supposed to be casual and cool, no expectations, no plans, no deadlines, no blog, no distractions, just nature and the sound of sweet stillness to put us to sleep early with full bellies and hearts at ease. It’s not about rushing or attending trendy events together or testing how far I can walk in six-inch heels on Manhattan sidewalks. Though that’s not as taxing as silence, if you ask me.

And I haven’t left yet, so maybe I’ll feel differently this time tomorrow when I’m being serenaded by crickets underneath a shiny blanket of stars – but right now, I’m a little worried. What will I do with all that….nothing-ness?

My mother, all of my friends, Mr. Possibility, and my boss all tell me I have to learn to relax. It’s a trait that I’ve never been able to master, though I admittedly haven’t really given it my best effort, either. I like having a million things to do, I like taking on time-consuming and demanding tasks (say, writing a blog every single day for a year, even when the country steals you away and you crank out four in one day), being really involved in things I’m passionate about, and never tiring of excelling in every avenue of my life. I love a full calendar, I love feeling busy, I love being able to fall right to sleep because I worked all day long. Because I used my brain, I used my body, I used my energy to put enthusiasm into all that I did. I’m the girl who goes-goes-goes and when it’s time to just stop, to breathe a little, to have a mini-vacation with her possibility, it’s a challenge.

I’m not sure why exactly I’m this way. Maybe in ten years, I’ll lose some of the ambition or that adrenaline that’s fueled me from a small town in Western North Carolina to one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. Maybe children will slow me down or maybe I’ll decide to be one of those women whose responsibilities include brunching, serving as volunteer chair on a charity, and being the ideal Pilates student. Who knows. But my semi-tired bones aren’t interested in relaxing – they want to keep pushing.

Because when I relax, when I sleep in until the middle of the afternoon, when I take a night off from networking, mingling, and gym-ing – I feel lazy. I feel like I’m missing opportunities, I’m missing events, I’m missing the lifestyle that I moved to create, that I pay so much in rent to be a part of. Why waste it by spending time doing nothing? I feel guilty getting manicures or pedicures, buying facials or massages because the time I spent laying still, I could spend making waves or improving my life. I could write articles or pitch stories, volunteer more, meet more people, have more sex – and here I am, just being stationary?

Sigh.

But, perhaps I should give relaxing a shot. Even if I can’t pack anything glamorous or studded. Even if most of what’s in my designer red suitcase is cotton. Even if I’m not high maintenance and actually enjoy fishing and walking barefooted in the grass, yet would prefer to wear a cute dress while doing it. Even if Mr. Possibility probably has no idea what he’s getting himself into by taking me to the woods for a weekend…

…he just thought he was dating a true Southerner. Turns out, this girl is a little more New York than she (or anyone else) thought.

Daily Gratitude: Today, I’m thankful for my energy, my spirit, and the drive that always takes me a little bit too far. 

Pleasure is Relative

Recently given the opportunity to pitch a unique sex story for a national women’s magazine (fingers crossed, y’all) – I’ve been asking my real, Facebook, Twitter, blog, and Tumblr friends to share their raciest moments. I also put a general query out to the universe via the ever-dependable HARO and I’ve been contacted by sexperts, swingers, porn stars, and those who wish to remain anonymous.

Blushing as these messages flooded my inbox, I could feel my friends giggling as they described what they’ve considered risqué in their sexual lives – yet I thought were boring. But then some of the ideas I received were so shocking, so out-there, so absolutely ridiculous by my own standards that my mouth literally dropped when I made it to the end of the pitch. As I weeded through everything to try and find something that fit the bill the magazine was looking for, I found myself constantly asking those who entertain me via Gchat daily if this was normal.

After some interesting conversations where I learned more about my friends than I thought I’d ever know, I reached the conclusion that sex is even more personal than I originally considered it. And probably more importantly, I decided that pleasure is relative.

What I considered to be commonplace practice in the bedroom was actually quite special-occasion like for other people. And what I thought was far-fetched and outright terrifying, I actually have friends who are into that specific act. What makes people happy, what gets their senses tingling, and what makes them slither in ecstasy ranges so much, I’m surprised Cosmopolitan has been able to come up with so many different tricks guaranteed to stimulate a man or to get us off easier than usual.

I’ve never been judgmental about sex – I think it’s one of those things that belongs solely to the person. Writing about the topic is difficult, as I don’t believe what I share with someone behind closed doors has a space on this blog or in my clips  – or at least with my byline tied to it anyway. Because like it or not, sex holds a stigma that’s difficult to fight. If you’re willing to talk about yourself in the most intimate of ways, then that nakedness will follow you and your career forever. And for me and my path- I don’t want to be thought of as the girl who likes to do xyz in the bedroom – even if I actually prefer XXX (I’ll let you be the judge of that) – because it’s not about discussing the techniques and the jobs of bumping uglies, it’s about empowering people to not feel bad about what brings them pleasure.

And not being afraid to ask for it in the bedroom.  Pleasure may be relative, but whatever resonates with you, you should have – as long as it doesn’t break laws, harm minors, or take away someone else’s power against their will, that is. So many get used to the status-quo they’re receiving that they never think to push their limits or try something that will actually bring them that burst of …well, intoxicating wonderfulness, that is so enjoyable. After all, if you’ve ever had a true orgasm and you meet someone who isn’t sure if they have experienced one – you know they haven’t. Once you’ve popped the bubble between finishing and orgasming, you’ll never settle for less than the big one again.

It took me a cold, unloving relationship that was nearly absent of any affection and rarely featured sex of any kind for me to realize that pleasure, that sex, that exploring that side of myself was a non-negotiable. I had to admit to myself that, yes, I’m a woman and I’m a sexual creature, and I like to have sex – great sex. And it’s okay to demand that in a partner and to not agree to a relationship with someone where chemistry doesn’t match or communication is stale. Women have a right to not be stuck on their backs in missionary, serving their male counterpart’s needs – we have pleasure points that should be given attention and applied pressure. And if you’re not with someone who doesn’t realize your body is a place to be worshiped as much as he also respects you, then both your libido and your heart will suffer.

Pleasure is different for everyone – but I know what it means to me. And I know how to reach it, how to ask for it, and how to know when it’s not there. I don’t know if there’s such a thing as sexual healing, but you can heal yourself sexually by shifting your mindset from wanting to have great sex to demanding great sex. You’re worth it. Trust me. And once you’ve had it, you’ll never go back.

Daily Gratitude: I’m thankful that I’m a woman who knows herself and her body. And she loves it.

In Search of Me

I have a strategy for making strangers become instant, hold-nothing-back, bear-all best friends: have unlimited drinks of any kind outside in beautiful weather. Such strategy yielded great results in the form of fabulous conversations with a group of volunteers and staff at New York Cares’ happy hour.

As it inevitably does, my blog became a topic of discussion. And with all of us buzzing on Wednesday evening, watching the sun set over the Hudson, everyone was forthcoming and open. Someone – my memory doesn’t serve me well enough to decide who exactly – brought up the mantra that advises “Love will find you when you’re not looking.”

One woman, drink in hand, sunglasses on her forehead, and a sweet smile argued: “But when are we not looking? Do we ever not look? I mean, seriously. I can say I’m not looking all I want, but I’m always looking. I see a guy and I wonder, ‘is that him?’ or I do certain jobs, like checking people in, just in case it’ll be a chance to meet someone.”

If she would have asked me a year ago if it was possible to actually not look for a relationship, I would have firmly said “Absolutely not!” At that point, I felt just as she did – constantly on the watch for anyone who could become a someone, anything that could turn into something. Each guy that glanced my way, sat near me on the train, bought me a drink, bumped into me on the street had the potential to be a possibility, to become Mr. Possibility.

But when I made the commitment to myself to write this blog, to overcome the title of “love addiction” I gave myself, something inside me changed. Honestly, it changed from blog post #1, many, many days ago. I had reached a point where I wasn’t so much fed up with men, but I was fed up with myself. And I was exhausted of the person I became when I didn’t get what I wanted with a dude or how I felt about myself if I was single or if one of those somethings or someones suddenly wasn’t interested.

I knew I had to stop looking for love and I had to start looking for myself.

Somewhere in my endless pursuit of Mr. Right, in all of my dating dilemmas, sexual encounters, breakups, makeups, and hookups – I lost who I was. I was so damned-and-determined to have someone be in love with me, to fulfill those parts of me that were insecure and seemingly empty, that I damned myself into a needy, emotional version of who I really am. I wanted the ball back in my court and more than anything, I wanted to love the person I am, be proud of what I offer, and sincerely let everything else fall into place.

And so I really, truly, sincerely, stopped looking for love. I lowered my love antenna, I shut down any online dating profile I had, I removed guys from Gchat and from Facebook, I deleted phone numbers, and I stopped reaching out to males. If they contacted me, sure. If they wanted to ask me out, okay. If they felt the need to pursue anything more, I obliged. But instead of focusing on the Great Male Search, I searched for the pieces of myself I had been neglecting. I called off the search team for The One, and went in search of me.

I hate to type this because it confirms all those people who told me that love would come into my life when I didn’t want it or expect it – but it did. Soon after I started the blog, I met Mr. Possibility, and while there’s no telling if he’s the last possibility I’ll entertain, he’s pretty entertaining for now. And when I met him – I didn’t want to date him. I was so focused on this journey, on becoming the best me that I could be, that developing a relationship with him wasn’t a priority. It took time and lots of patience on both of our parts to grow into what we are now. So I didn’t look for him and I found him.

But more importantly, I found me. I found a strength inside of myself that takes a chance on falling in love, but knows that if it all shatters, I’ll be fine. I found peace knowing that one of the most beautiful things about love is that it can happen at any moment, anywhere, at any stage, without notice – and it can happen over and over again, no matter how impossible that may seem. I found the bravery to believe in myself above all things, above all men, above all romantic ideals that filled my head with insecurities and nonsense.

I found that with or without someone, I can still be me. And that me is worthy of the many wondrous things that make a beautiful life ripe with possibility.

Daily Gratitude: I’m thankful for my wonderful new friends and for M, who run through fountains with me in the middle of the night.