The 20-Something Syndrome

There’s something special about being a 20-something.

It’s after the uncomfortable teenage years, but we still have enough awkwardness to keep us humble. Well, at least at the start of our twenties anyways, until we discover a certain power we have because we’re young and yet to be jaded. By the time we reach the mid-way point between the second and third decade, we’ve been burnt, hurt, used, tossed, and treasured, and we’ve done to the same to countless men, jobs, friends, apartments, and shoes. But more than the year before and less than the one that will follow, we’ve managed to capture and ignite the spark we have to offer the world and the men in it – and though we may still settle for less than first rate at times, at least we’re aware we’re settling. Unlike before when we may have not been able to spot a red flag a mile or an inch away. I haven’t reached the late 20’s, so I can’t speak for that crowd – but if my friends are any indicators (or Mr. Possibility), it seems something happens around 27 or 28, where the need to lockdown a relationship or make some really impressive steps in our career becomes priority. Either, in my opinion, seem like a lot of pressure when desired at the drop of a dime.

But really, isn’t being a 20-something about pressure? Isn’t the 20-something syndrome an ordeal (or a blessing?) we all have to pass through to make it to the 30’s? (Which, I’m told by my mother and every 30 and beyond, will be the best time of my life.)

The pressure of being a 20-something is not just from external factors but often enforced by ourselves. If this 10-year span is when I’ll look my very best, be in the best shape, feel my best, and put my best face forward – shouldn’t I be going out constantly? If this is the period where I’ll have the most opportunity to travel, where I won’t have to consider anyone as a higher priority than myself, where the decisions I make won’t weigh as heavily as future choices, and where I’ll have the most energy and brightest perspective on life – shouldn’t I go after whatever I want with diligence?

But isn’t that the issue? When you’re a 20-something, the options seem limitless, but the resources are often not – at least for me, currently. However, I have ways around monetary setbacks, primarily because I’m female. Right now in this late hour as I write this blog after a few glasses of wine and an evening spent with Mr. Hubby, I could grab a pair of heels and a swipe of my signature lipstick and be at a bar in midtown in thirty minutes or less. I could lure in an eligible bachelor or two, have my drinks paid for all night long, and head back uptown in a cab paid for with cash given to me by a stranger I met an hour earlier. Tomorrow morning, I could go anywhere on this island I want to – Times Square, the Empire State, Wall Street, and Magnolia’s (let’s be honest, it’s sadly a landmark now) are not destinations for me, they are just part of my home.

If I wanted to – or if I was brave enough – I could save enough money to live abroad for a year, working low-paying jobs, backpacking, and experiencing the world I’ve never witnessed. I could consume alcohol in vast amounts, I could go by the golden rule that if he’s foreign, he doesn’t count as part of my “number”, and instead of focusing on editing and writing, I could take a completely different turn in my career. Or not focus on work at all and throw my luck to the fates, hoping I’ll land up where I’m meant to be, even if it is far away from what I pictured or hoped for.

I have no real obligations – my lease is actually up in May and it is undetermined what commitment I’ll make after that. And really in New York, signing your name has merit, but finding a subleaser is quite simple. I’m not married. I don’t live with a boyfriend. I have no children. I don’t own a pet, unless you count Giorgio the fish – who I’m sure would be happy with anyone who fed him and cleaned his bowl once a week. I have barely any bills to pay (damn you Best Buy and Student Loans). Nothing is keeping me in New York other than the magazine job that’s important to me and the fact that I love this city with most of my heart.

And yet, when I think of being in my twenties, when I feel the pressure from the 20-something syndrome, I never feel like I’m doing enough. If I go out three times a week and stay in on a Saturday because I’m tired and the commute home at 3 a.m. nearly kills any opportunity for a 10 a.m. run – I feel guilty. If my friends beg me for one more glass of wine or one more song or one more hour when I’m exhausted, if I don’t give in – I feel like I’ll regret it or I’ll miss something. When I see my peers who, instead of joining the workforce or going to grad school, like many of us who graduated in the downward pivot of the economy, decided to live in another country without any concrete plan – I’m envious. When I skip a night at the gym to cook dinner and consume large quantities of ice cream with Mr. Possibility, the next morning – I feel fatter, though I didn’t gain a pound. When I succeed at work, only to take two steps backwards the next day – I feel like I’ll never get to where I want to be as a writer. And then again, sometimes I have no idea what the endpoint or goal is – or if there even is one.

So what’s the cure for the 20-something syndrome? How do I forgive myself for indulging or giving myself a much needed evening in for me-myself-and-I? How do I celebrate what I’m doing right instead of turning every little miss into all the reasons I’m going about my life the wrong way? How do I prepare for this seemingly inevitable end-of-decade turn when my priorities will become more important? How do I get through my twenties happily, successfully, and healthily – feeling like I’ve done all that I could with all that I had?

I’d like to have a real answer, but I don’t. I only have a guess – and it’s maybe simplified too much. But to overcome the 20-something syndrome, I think the trick is stop trying. Or deciding it isn’t something to get over or to get through or to survive. It is, like every other period and person we’ll experience, temporary and yet, absolutely necessary. Children grow into teens, and teens into twenties, and twenties into thirties, and so on, and so it goes – there is no end in sight until it is, the end.

Time may seem to pass as quickly as it does slowly. I may be dumbfounded seeing the start of April this upcoming week. I may be shocked to know I’m closer to my next birthday than I am to my last. I may not always feel like I’m doing what’s best or what’s good or what will take me the furthest or make me the happiest.

But I’m living. I’m learning. I’m loving. I’m 20-something.

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A Few Good Men

I once went out for pasta with a guy I will call Mr. Boy.

He, like most of the men I’ve dated, was tall, dark-haired, and had one of those smiles that’ll make you look twice. To be completely honest…that’s about all I remember about him. I can’t recall how we met or how long we hung out. I have no idea what he’s up to now, what he did after we split, or where he’s living. This isn’t because he didn’t make an impression on me, but rather because of the poor taste he left in my mouth.

As we were chatting, sharing stories, and getting to know each other on our second date, Mr. Boy brought up a topic that was sensitive to him. It wasn’t anything too personal or too traumatic (as far as I could tell from knowing him a few weeks), but right there, in the middle of our dinner, he started crying. And he didn’t just get a little misty-eyed, but actually, literally, sobbed and shook. Stunned, I didn’t know how to respond other than turning on my mothering methods by patting his back and shielding him from the stares of other patrons. I may have even “Shh”ed him and encouraged him to finish his ravioli because it’d make him feel better. He eventually calmed down, yet continued to pout as he soaked up the leftover sauce with pieces of bread he tore up into tiny pieces.

When the check came, he did not offer to pay for it or reach for it, even though he had invited me to be his company for the evening. In between sniffles, he asked, “So, just split it down the middle then, yeah?” I gave him a little grin and complied, though he must have been oblivious to not notice my disdain. As we were both signing on the dotted line, he suggested under his breath, “The service wasn’t great, so don’t feel like you need to give 20 percent or anything.” At the time, I bit my tongue to protect my class, but today, I would have replied with, “Well, the company wasn’t all that great, so I don’t feel like I need to stay any longer.” Eh, coulda, shoulda, woulda.

After he walked me home and I gave him the cheek treatment instead of a good-night kiss (or a night-cap, as he was hoping for), I closed the door, leaned up against it, and slid down to hug my knees. I didn’t, in fact cry, but I heaved a sigh he could probably feel as he headed back to his place. Probably to wrap himself up in a big blanket and fall completely to pieces while eating ice cream and listening to a Celine Dion on repeat, I thought at the time. Out of nothing but utter frustration, I glared up at the universe and directly asked a question, fully expecting to receive an answer:

Where are the men? I’m so sick of dating boys.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not one of those women who thinks her man must be a cowboy, a jock, or lead the free world to victory. I believe a man should display his emotions, isn’t always responsible for picking up the tab, and shouldn’t always be tough, rough, and direct as dudes are often portrayed or raised to be. However, no matter how many street smarts New York gives me, I will always be Southern sweet and hold myself (and others) to the goodness of manners. And frankly, crying on a date and being rude is unacceptable. Though I sympathized for him and the subject that broke him down, I also thought it was something he shouldn’t have brought up if he felt so strongly about it, and maybe more so – he shouldn’t expect me to console him. Or fix him or act like his mother.

I’m not sure what I would call this preferred method of conduct, but David Good (who you might know from The Bachelorette & The Bachelor Pad) – would call this The Man Code. Recently, Good and I shared a glass of Merlot and Maker’s Mark so he could explain to me the rules, according to dudes.

Good’s a Midwest guy who was raised to be a man. If he was outside sporting only a t-shirt in the weather New York’s been entertaining lately, he would have never shivered. If a lady needed an arm to steady her step, he’d graciously offer it. And when it comes to insecurities, though he has them – he’d never ask a woman to cure them or boost his confidence. While he believes vulnerability is an important element to developing feelings (he goes as far to say brutal honesty is the key to healthy love) – it is also something that’s reserved for a relationship.

When tears and the introduction of personal fears becomes intertwined in dating, and even at the pick-up stages at a bar, Good thinks men are playing on the fact women are caregivers to attract them. Because they know a girl will automatically say, “Oh, sweetie, what’s wrong? Are you okay? What can I get for you?” they use it to their advantage to make a gal feel comfortable. And to think, well, he’s actually in sync with his emotions – when in reality, Good thinks the guy just knows what card to play.

I”ve met a lot of boys who wanted me to tidy up their messes and let them lay in my lap of comfort. And when it comes to playing Ms. Fix-It with practically each man I’ve been serious with, I’m guilty as charged. I once witnessed Mr. Idea cry for 45 minutes over a cat that hadn’t even passed away, but was just more lethargic than lately. Regardless, for me, as independent and self-sufficient as I am, when Mr. Boy acted nothing like the man I picture myself being with, I couldn’t have escaped from his faster. So if he was using that little trick on me, he should have not played with a grown-up lady who wants to meet a partner, not take care of a child. For the record, I never called him back or responded to emails or text messages. He sent me flowers to let me know how “understanding” he was to my busy schedule, and I gave them away to my friends. It wasn’t really the crying that did me in – we all have moments of weakness – but the pity he sought from me, when we weren’t in a place where that was appropriate. I do, however, hope he found a chick who will dab the olive oil and tears as they drip down his face. It seems to be his preferred choice of luring a gal, anyways.

Good says guys should have “testicular fortitude” which is interesting way of putting: men should have balls. Or as I’d like to say it, men should come to the table as I do. We’re all human, we’re all full of flaws, we all have things we hate about ourselves, and personal qualities we adore. We all have a past, we’ve all felt the burn of loves that were, and we’ve all had the often wayward hope of all that’s to come. But, if we’re constantly looking for someone to complete us, someone to take all of negativity we project or have off of our shoulders, and bear it themselves – then we’ll never learn how to stand on our own. Or how to be a dynamic duo, instead of an overly dependent couple.

Because we’re not looking for a mate who will tuck us in at night, comb our hair, and tell us right from wrong. We aren’t looking for parents, we’re looking for our match. Someone who will step up to the plate with us, someone who will challenge us to turn our mind to face new lights, someone who will encourage us to let it all out, no matter what it is, but then move on and learn from it. I don’t want to be taken care of or depend on a man for my sanity, my finances, or my future – I can handle that just fine on my own. I would rather be with a guy who’s as in-tuned with himself as I am, and thus, instead of being half-people searching for each other to piece one single person together, we have two people to bring to a relationship. And as any sale at Barney’s will tell you – half-off is not nearly as incredible as two for one.

So while I’ve put up with a long list of boys in my dating history -I’m not giving up on the belief there are a few good men out there. In fact, I’ll demand nothing less than one. After all, I’d rather treat myself to dinner for one, the rest of my life, then to suffer through pasta with a pansy, even once more.

P.S. Confessions of a Love Addict is celebrating Valentine’s Day a little differently this year. We’ll make it more about the single ladies and less about flowers that’ll die in a day. To get involved, click here.

The Wingman Who Wants to Want

Regardless if we claim (or admit) to be interested by the company of a predetermined Mr. Wonderful- somewhere, deep down, in even the most cynical, sarcastic, and bitter of hearts -lives a tiny inkling of desire for true love to prove it exists. That after the darkest of nights, there is always the hope for a dawn that (or who) will lighten up our hearts and free us from the rips and tears that haunted us since the last man who dwelt there. Even in our most independent, most sassy, and most vibrant pair of single shoes – it is against all tricks and trials of nature to not become somewhat intrigued when we notice a simple glance or curling lip from a new face in the distance.

Perhaps on the way to self-love, we learn that the appetite for passion, for partnership, isn’t really one that can be fulfilled by being single.

For a while, I became convinced that if I was going to fall in love with myself, I needed to stop being in love with the idea of love. That I needed to quench any thirst, any hope, any inclination of possibility, and focus entirely on myself. This meant dreams of happily ever after, notions of romance I eagerly wanted to experience, and seemingly meaningful moments with handsome strangers needed to fall to the wayside, and in return, I had to propel myself to the forefront.

But as life often does, a chance encounter, a meeting with someone who could spark something new in you, makes you think of the whole process in a different way. For me, this person wasn’t in a romantic sense or really even a career pursuit, but rather – just someone who has a similar story to mine.

Meet The Professional Wingman, or as I will call him, Mr. Hitch.

A few years ago, Mr. Hitch discovered his girlfriend was cheating on him. This revelation and break-up made him decide to take  a step back and start focusing his attention on becoming a better person – not for a woman, or for anyone else, but for himself. To hold himself accountable and to actually stick to his guns, he created a blog that chronicled his life and what he was learning. After a short amount of time, he started receiving comments and traffic, and before long, people were asking him for advice about relationships, love, and how to make their overall quality of life and self better. And so, he came up with the idea to help others by being a dating coach, or a wingman, who helps them attract the type of people they want to meet. From there, it’s been history and he recently moved to New York to expand his clientele.

I was introduced to Mr. Hitch from one of my freelance columnist positions, and after the interview, I knew I had to meet him in person. I mean, minus being a “wingwoman” (not so sure I’d be good at that) -I started this blog for the same reason: to really fall in love with myself and not base that admiration on any outside person. And so, once I proclaimed I was the female version of him, he gladly agreed to meet up for a drink. I invited one of my great gal friends, C, to come along too.

We started out the evening at a sportsbar chatting and within an hour, he deemed me someone who probably wasn’t in need of his wingman services. That really, I was a woman who knew what she was doing – so well, in fact, he casually joked about me becoming a member of his soon-to-be team. At least I think he was joking.

Nevertheless, as we discussed our backgrounds, horrendous (and amazing) dating stories, and our desire to make a difference in the lives of singles everywhere – I realized something profound in what he was doing. Just because he was determined to grow his own confidence and stop obsessing about relationships, he didn’t lose sight of the beauty of love. In fact, his job is now to encourage others to be more secure in the dating scene so they ultimately will encounter someone who is not just what they want, but what they deserve. Like me, he has an absolutely “no settling” policy, and I dig it.

Not being obsessed with love doesn’t mean I have to not have any desires for a partner. The thirst for love is natural, is human, is healthy.  It is only when it becomes the number one priority of our lives and when we condemn ourselves because we don’t have that tall drink of water, that it becomes an issue.

Really, it is a difference between wanting and needing, as Mr. Hitch taught me.

Being the true romantic I am at heart, I had to ask him if his winging ended up winning him a lady. And as the happy ending goes, of course it did. She, like him, aids others in the never-ending search for love – but instead of joining dudes and chicks at bars, she helps them weave through the online dating jungle. Both experts at the game, they somehow found their match (pun intended) and when he spoke of her, his face lit up with an admiration that no one could ever deny. As a follow-up question towards the end of the evening on the way to the train, I asked him, “What’s something that you love about her, that’s out of the ordinary?” With a quick grin and his cool, classy swagger, he replied, “She doesn’t really need me, but she wants me. If I were to leave or something was to happen, she’d be fine. But she chooses to stay with me and depend on me, just a little.” Another guy who values independence – let’s just say the North is miles ahead of the South on priding women for more than their ovaries and their signature meatloaf.

Maybe being single, even vibrantly satisfied flying solo, will never rid of the anticipation of a love to come, but having that confidence will attract the right kind of partner. The one who is worth giving up some part of our freedom that we so enjoy. When instead of thinking we must have a man to call our own, save the dates in the mail, and someone to tuck our cold toes under at night, we realize that those are things we want, but not necessairly need, is where we find our peace.

And though at times, I may feel like I shouldn’t still want those things or want to be held or want to walk hand-in-hand in the park or sit side-by-side at Dunkin’ Donuts on a blistering Saturday morning – I know that it’s okay to have those desires. It doesn’t make me weak or dependent on someone else, but rather, admitting I do still have romantic dreams gives me strength to own how they affect me. To realize that though I don’t have to insist, to myself, to him, or to others that I must be in a relationship to be happy, I can say proudly, that one day, there will be a man who brings me tremendous joy. I won’t need him to need me, but I’ll want him to want me, and love him to love me.

And he, like Mr. Hitch, will know that I don’t really need him, but I do want him in my life. That I do choose him to be lucky enough to stand by my side. What’s more…he’ll want me to feel that way, and he’ll love it.

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The Writing on the Wall

Somewhere in this big, beautiful city, is a man. I have no idea what he looks like, what he does, where he’s from, where he lives now, or what his name is. But, as my mother, fate, and storybooks say: when I meet him, there will be this moment when I just know.

In a place where I pass strangers so often that if I walked by them more than once, I’d never know – it can be difficult (or rather impossible) to believe there is this one person who I’m destined to spend my life with. As far as I know, I could have walked by him every morning for the last eight months or been in the same train with him, just different cars. He could be two floors above my office or not even living in NYC right now (although my gut says he is).

Even though I love my life exactly how it is currently and I really don’t feel that intense urge to have a boyfriend as I used to – of course, one day, I hope to feel that magical intensity with the man I’ll call my husband. And there are days when I feel that fear in the pit of my stomach and the deepest corners of my heart that screams: “What if he’s not out there?

This idea of everlasting love and until-death-do-we-part and happily-ever-after is heavy. It weighs down on you with pressure and anxiety and gut-wretching worry that if I don’t find that, if I don’t find him, if I don’t get married and don’t have kids – what will become of my life? Will I still be able to find happiness? Could I (and would I want to) be able to feel this peaceful feeling as a single gal, forever? (Take a deep breath).

Ladies Night is every Thursday at a bar that I frequent and all the girls get $2 margaritas and drafts, along with half-priced appetizers. This place offers frickles (fried pickles) and that’s more than enough of a reason to go back more than once for me. With a bladder about as big as a dime, I’m always the girl who has to get up and go to the bathroom several times in a short period (and yes, I’m fine going alone).

On my second trip to the bathroom, I noticed rather large writing to my left. At first, I just read “I love Adam Forever” and didn’t think anything of it. But as I stood up, I saw in a smaller writing: “He’s NOT the One, but he’s out there. Believe. I’m trying to.”

For the rest of the night, I thought about how powerful that single phrase is. And how much it represents what I feel the majority of the time. I see a guy or go on a date and I know the chemistry isn’t there and I have to remind myself, “Its okay, Linds. This isn’t the guy, but he’s out there. Keep your hope up! Love yourself!” And finding that special peace, that serenity as a single girl is not easy. You dress yourself up, put on your favorite heels, maybe buy some new earrings, and shave away everything  – just to realize he’s just another Mr, not the Mr you thought he could be.

And god, it’s so frustrating.

Even though I feel like I’m at a happy place and pace with this journey, it is so normal to get disappointed. Part of what keeps me going is this blog (thank all of you!), my friends, and this idea that I have a bigger purpose with my writing and in doing this. In some cosmic way, I have this notion that I’m destined to be single. At least for right now and probably, not forever. I look at it like this: I literally will spend the majority of my life married (most likely), and although keeping the faith high is a constant battle, single is what I need right now.

Learning to depend on myself and more importantly, to believe in something bigger than me, and taking off all of this pressure and worries – allows me the ability to really figure out who I am. To see the writing on the wall, to face myself in the mirror, and to stand tall, even when I want to burst into tears on a second date because it’s so awful. To go out on Ladies Night and be focused on my girls, instead of the slew of men so into a hockey game that they refuse to turn around, even once.

So even though the man I will marry (and yes, I believe he exists) is somewhere on this planet, living, breathing, doing his own single (or not) thing, and even though I may have walked past him, shook his hand, or caught a glimpse of him – I know I’m not ready to fall for him. Not yet, not today.

And for those moments when I feel like I can’t accept being single or I’m lonely or feel ugly and not-sexy, when I can’t find that self-love, when I can’t see how much I truly have going for me – I’ve got this space, my amazing pals– and strangers, who write on bathroom walls, to remind me that no matter what, I’m never, ever alone.