Seriously, Wake Up

Following the very last class I took in college, I stopped by our university’s post office to check my PO box and forward my mail. I was excited and hopeful for the future, feeling relieved I would never have to attend another lecture unless I wanted to. When I turned the dial, I was surprised to find an envelope marked from Raleigh, NC with my name neatly typed on the front. Full name, mind you.

As I walked behind the building to my apartment on the main strip in town, I stopped dead in my heels and my mouth dropped: I had received my very first hate mail.

More or less, the anonymous writer wished me ill-will in New York City. They said they hoped I fell on my face, that living in the city for two months during an internship was no indication I could survive full-time. They misquoted me and promised me that fairytales don’t come true, that my Prince wouldn’t be waiting at Grand Central or Times Square or Bryant Park to greet me when I landed on Northern soil. They were rude and blunt, standing their ground as a coward who wouldn’t reveal their name and though they started the letter with “this is not from someone who is jealous of you – there is nothing to be jealous of” -each and every one of my friends could feel the envy seep into their hands as they read it and laughed with me in the days that would follow.

They signed their Letter of Unlove with: “Seriously, wake up.” I think there were some Gossip Girl-like “xoxo”s thrown in for good measure, and in all, it didn’t amount to anything more than a few sentences strung together without proper punctuation or a real purpose.

At the time, I was a little stunned. Part of me was hurt. The biggest part of me was curious and annoyed whoever had such beef with me wasn’t willing to say what they wanted to my face. I read their words with a grain of salt, never being one to let anyone’s opinions stand in the way of what I intend to do, no matter how unmanageable a task may seem to everyone else.

And I mean, I couldn’t exactly disagree with them because they weren’t telling me anything I didn’t know.

I never expected New York to be peaches-and-ice-cream, sunflowers-and-roses. I didn’t think I’d prance in and climb the media ladder without faltering here-and-there. But I’ve been successful. I’ve landed on my feet with a great group of friends, a job I enjoy, an apartment I adore, and a happiness that’s unparalleled. I didn’t think I’d meet my husband the second I moved (though in my love addict stage back then, I wanted to)- but I’ve been blessed to love a few good men and discover a possibility worth taking a chance on. I never wanted to work in magazines because I was “pretty” as the author claimed, but because my byline could has the opportunity to make tides – even if women’s issues in dating, love, relationships, and such doesn’t seem like that big of deal to many. (But don’t we spend the majority of our time obsessing about those things? Just sayin’)

Before I left to return to NYC today, I went through some old things on a bookshelf my father made and inside a book I read before I took flight when I moved, I found the letter in its original envelope. A dozen life lessons, heart breaks, changes, and tearful nights later, it had a different impact on me than it did on that cold December afternoon.

In fact, it probably had the intended effect the writer wanted. I read the typed lines, smiled and realized, I was awake. Anything that I once took for granted or anything I thought would be easy and wasn’t, most of the unrealistic notions I had about love and men, and all of the things in between – they’re all different now. I’m not cured, but I’ve matured. I didn’t need a letter to wake something up inside of me but it’s nice to know someone cared (or didn’t care) enough to go to the trouble to say such cruel things. If anything, I now see it is a testament to my own impact, my own power, and the essence I exude into the world by dancing across keys. I’m not the best writer, but unlike this author, I’m actually one who is brave enough to state my name. Even when more often than not, it isn’t always the easiest thing to do.

Without showing Mr. Possibility, I tucked the letter into my purse and decided just what to do with it. One day, when I find that private office, when I’m doing just what I want to do, when I’m happily married with a non-happily-ever-after mentality, when I live downtown and finally find comfort and cushion in my finances – I’ll frame this letter. I’ll hang it in my office where younger editors and interns can see.

So that they too, like every other dreamer in this city who also happens to have the conviction and courage to chase those desires with heightened ambition, will wake up. Because like me, they may find the life they created isn’t merely a dream, but a dreamlike reality based on your own hard work.

Seriously.

Overlooking Overdoing It

I have a tendency to over do things. I over think, I over-analyze, I over-obsess, I live my life in an overly manner. I push myself above and beyond, I demand more of myself than I do of anyone else, and I tend to believe I’d rather over-do something than to give little effort.

But the problem with challenging myself and placing pressure on my success, my love life, my appearance, and anything else is that no matter how hard you work, how must trust you develop, or how many miles you run – sometimes, it just isn’t enough. Because unlike my severely independent and control-freak self will tell you, there are so many factors in life that you have no control over.

You can control your efforts, but you can’t control the results. It’s a simple truth but one that’s really difficult to accept. As women, especially the type-A personality that I am, I don’t accept what I perceive as failure well.

By being a person who does things in terms of more and better and faster and stronger – constantly searching to improve myself and my life, when I hit a stumbling block or a bump in the road, I let it go overboard. I start devising the worst case scenario in my head, I go over each word I said, each step I took, each email I sent, each kiss I shared, each everything that could have affected the outcome…and I criticize myself. Instead of encouraging myself to move forward and visualize the opportunities on the horizon, I only see what could have been.

I imagine what the success of the failure would have looked like and fail to see any successes to come.

But if I continue this pattern, I’ll have a long list of all the wrongs and no account of the rights. I won’t see all the progress I’ve made because I’ve been wise enough to find a new chance instead of focusing on the one that was missed. I won’t see the person I’ve grown into because I’ve faced disappointment but not let it get the best of me. I won’t realize when something is remarkable because I’ve seen when something was falling to pieces. I won’t be thankful for what I have if I never watch what I love walk away. I won’t consume the taste of sweetness if I never have to swallow my sour pride.

So what’s the trick to stay onboard instead of going over? What’s a gal to do when the easiest reaction is to overanalyze, over think, and over-exert her emotions to compensate for the pit of pity she can’t shake?

You stop looking to the outside and you go inside.

You reevaluate your priorities. You reestablish what you want and what you need by figuring out the difference between the two. You reenergize your spirit by treating yourself to positive thinking and indulgent compliments paired with sensible criticism.

Because while you’re looking in, you’ll find that all the overtime you put in, all the overtures you made, all the times you felt overlooked, and all the plans you had that may had been over your head, will work themselves out. And while all this worry and frustration won’t be over forever, you’ll find yourself less focused on being more and find peace in being present.

That is, in an overly excited way, of course.

Nothing to Do With You

One of my favorite places inNew Yorkis a sushi place in the Flatiron district. I used to live in that neck of the city when I interned and they sweetly never carded me when I was underage, making me a regular. Also because if you spend $20, you get unlimited wine – that’ll hook a gal anytime.

I continuously return to this joint, even though I’m well over age and can afford more than a Jackson for dinner because it holds such great memories for me, and each time I return, I make some more. Case in point, Friday evening with a group of my lovely ladies, catching up after weeks of not being able to sync our busy schedules. As we go through our lives, telling the best stories from the time we missed, we somehow stumble our way to talking about relationships.

Tends to be inevitable, I suppose. At the table, two of us are in relationships, the other three are single. And while we disagreed on some things, one trend we all found to be true was best summed up by my friend, K:

“I don’t care how intelligent she is; even the most-together of girls completely loses her mind when she’s in a relationship.”

I don’t think we lose all balanced thinking – but there is something about dating someone or being exclusive with a man that does something to our ability to rationalize. We place meaning and emotion into every word, movement is an indication of how our significant other feels. What’s more important than what he does is what he doesn’t do. Say he usually places his hand on the small of your back and then one afternoon, he doesn’t – suddenly, we’re concerned he isn’t into us or he’s pulling away or keeping something from us. When in reality, he is most likely preoccupied by things that have nothing to do with you.

Come to find out a man’s world does not, in fact, revolve around their girlfriend. And if it does, he probably shouldn’t be dating her and make a valiant effort to go find a life for himself.  Similarly, does our every mood depend on the men we date or boyfriends? Let’s hope not. There are (and should be) many things in our life that matter that don’t involve our partners – we should have things that are independent of a dude.

Even though we feel this way, it is incredibly difficult not to assign meaning behind actions we see as signs of disinterest or growing away from us. I could outline all of the ways I’ve been guilty of reading into things far too much, but in an email my friend R (from yesterday’s post) sent me describes it perfectly:

A Sunday Monologue

By R

Me: Working all day on Mother’s Day. Twelve hour shift that ended up lasting thirteen. Had already been planning on inviting myself over to his house to stay the night. In need of action and company.

Him: Working a twelve hour shift in the kitchen (yes, he’s a chef and I LOVE it). Good mood in the morning. By mid-dinner shift, he won’t look at me, won’t touch me, and won’t even smile at me.

Me: Feeling a little upset about it, then feeling even MORE upset that I AM upset about it because that means that I’m letting him get to me.

Him: Closes up early, impervious to a couple jokes I tried to make earlier to cheer him up. Puts on his jacket and starts to leave without saying good bye.

Me: “Hey, Mr. Sex Buddy.”
Him: Turns around. “Yeah.”
Me: “You headed out for the night?”
Him: “Yeah.” Gives me a hug.
Me: “You okay?”
Him: “It’s a long story. Just call me and I’ll tell you about it later.”
Me: “Okay. Good night.”
Him: Leaves without a second glance.

Me: Feeling mildly crushed that I won’t get to hang out with him that night. Then, feeling very angry at myself for feeling upset. Start telling myself that I’m being ridiculous and I need to suck it up and that silly, stupid stuff like THAT is why I don’t date. No dating. Dating, bad. Sadly…sex, very good, therefore I must put up with dating and gushy feelings. Blech.

Girl talk with friends. They tell me to call him and still ask to come over. I say no. They continue to encourage the calling. I start freaking out over what I’m supposed to say when I call him, because what if I invite myself over and he says no? How do I gracefully escape from that rejection. He was in a reallllly bad mood. He probably won’t want me coming over. But I want to go SO bad. Does that make me clingy? Do I call? What do I say? How do I phrase what I want to say?

My blood pressure continues to rise.

Finally make it out of work and I’m so nervous that my heart it literally racing and my hands are shaking. I continue to hate/chastise myself for acting this way and I keep telling myself to stop caring so much and just go home and forget the whole night, but it doesn’t work.

I call him. He answers. He still sounds upset. Says he going to ride his motorcycle for a while and he’ll call me in 20 minutes. I try to find an opening to see if he wants me to come over, but I can’t find one so I don’t ask. We hang up.

I start driving home and try to call you. You don’t answer so I call S. I hyperventilate on the phone to her, she tells me to calm down and that he’ll call and I’m not being clingy like I say and that I need to come have a margarita with her. I continue to screech about how much I hate dating and what it makes me. S tells me to shut up.

I turn around to go meet her. I’m still babbling about how stupid it is that I feel this way and that’s its too early and that I don’t want a relationship and “this is why I DON’T. LIKE. TO. DATE.” I call myself ridiculous and stupid and really, truly hate feeling the way I’m feeling because I know I feel that way because I’ve let him in. I feel that way because I like him, and I’m scared to.

I feel clingy for wanting to be with him, I feel stupid for letting my feelings be dependent on his feelings (I’m fine until he’s upset, then I end up upset). It’s reminiscent of how dependent I became on Mr. Coward and I need to stop and I hate, hate, hate this feeling.

I calm down slightly when I get to the restaurant to meet S. She gives me a hug. I immediately order a margarita. He calls. Exactly 20 minutes.

Me: “Hey.”
Him: “Hey!”
Me: “Feeling better?”
Him: “Definitely. I feel a lot better.”
Me: “Good, I’m glad. I’m sorry you were upset.”
Him: “Yeah, we’ll the managers did _______, and the other chef I was working with today was acting like ________, and he yelled at me for ________, and I just wanted to get out of there.”
Me: “Well, I’m glad you did. You want some company?”
Him: Stunned silence for a second. “Yeah! I would love some! Are you still at work?”
Me: *Clears throat* “Um, yeah.”
Him: “Great, I’ll see you soon then.”

I feel so relieved, too relieved to even be angry at myself for feeling so relieved that he called. I talk to S for a few minutes, finish my margarita, leave a four dollar tip on a six dollar tab and go to his place.

It Is Scary to Care

My friend R recently started a no-strings attached, friends-with-benefits type of relationship with an old pal from high school. Having been through a hell of year and in dire need of a few (or many) orgasms, she agreed to release some tension with a person she’s always sorta had a thing for, but more importantly, someone she’s comfortable with.

Though R is in North Carolina and I’m in New York, we’ve maintained a close friendship – often sharing every intimate detail of our personal lives with one another, no barrier too gruesome or risqué to cross. And since both of us are rather open, our conversations tend to be a tad dramatic and almost always wildly entertaining. Since she’s been with the Sex Buddy, I’ve received phone calls and text messages, asking for advice and describing her romps.

But this morning, the chat I received was less about hanky-panky, and more about something far more intense than any hard-on or sexual dilemma: feelings. She claimed she almost hyperventilated before they spent the night together because she realized she was starting to like him, as opposed to just liking his down under action.

Maybe When Harry Met Sally’s assumption that men and women can never truly be friends is accurate or maybe it’s another indication that sex messes up even the most nonchalant courtships, or maybe it’s a truth that dates way past either of the aforementioned: it is scary to care.

There’s always that turning point in a could-be relationship where ends stop being loosely tied and emotions connect on a level that neither can prepare for. There is a period where you can place your heart on hold and enjoy the moment, until those moments increase, along with tension and the need to let your heart off the hook, and onto your sleeve. And that’s when brevity turns into the hope of longevity; and defining what you have or what you’re working toward starts to take over those crazy-girl parts of your brain, and thus, you find yourself hyperventilating while texting your friend.

Because when feelings develop, fears and questions come along with them: what if he doesn’t feel the same way? What if I get my heart broken? What if this is all too-good-to-be-true? How does he view me? What if he cares more and I end up breaking his heart? Is he seeing other people? Do I care if he’s seeing other people? Does he care if I am? What are we????

I don’t want to count how many times I’ve entertained these thoughts with different men at different points in our pseudo-relationships. I’ve laid in the arms of guys as they play on their Blackberrys, wondering if they were texting the girl they’d share the same bed with the following night. I’ve put off “The Talk” in hopes eventually the dude would beg me to be his forever and ever, and I’d never have to have a proper conversation defining what we were doing and what we were. I’ve held everything I felt, especially what I didn’t want to feel, inside for so long that without a notice, in the middle of a sunny, beautiful July afternoon, I inappropriately exploded a fury of frustration over Cobb salads and sangria.

And that’s the worse part about being scared to care – if you don’t let yourself do it, you’ll end up scaring the person you care about away. Or worse yet, scaring yourself so badly that you never end up caring in the capacity you’re capable of or that you deserve.

There is no denying that falling in love and willingly giving parts of yourself to another person is terrifying. I have a theory that to truly be in love with someone, you have to be not only brave, but be a tad crazy, too. No rational, independent person would place their trust, their heart, and perhaps their life and future in the hands of someone who has no tangible obligation to stick through the thick-and-the-thin with you. Being vulnerable isn’t a pleasant feeling, but if you can get through the initial pang that your heart could be ripped out of your chest – you’ll find something equally scary but comforting too. Or at least it tends to be comforting for me, anyway.

When you do put yourself out there, when you do allow feelings to grow, become stronger and more connected; when you give away pieces of your soul and place work into a relationship when it faces conflict, and when you take a chance on love – you don’t know if it will work out. You can’t predict and you can’t place your bests in a space where safety is guaranteed – but you can place a wager on yourself.

And if history does repeat itself, the fact of the matter is that even if you’re scared to care – you’ve been scared to care before. Even if you deeply in love and you notice how perfectly you match with someone else – you’ve felt that way before. And even if whatever you hoped for doesn’t come to be – you’ve been let down before, too.

So you overcome the fear. You fall in love. You revel in the magic. And if you have to, you overcome the heartbreak. Because no matter how scary it is to care, it is even scarier to never care again because you’re afraid of doing something…you’ve already done.

Happily For Now

For the volunteer group I’m part of, we recently had the group of young, budding writers create their own fairytales. As expected, the boys’ stories were ripe with fights between worlds and superheroes rescuing the day, while the girls wrote about princesses, friendships, celebrities, and falling in love.

As I’m going around to the kids, supervising and encouraging them to keep going when they get stuck, a sweet little girl in pigtails and polka-dots looked up at me and said, “Lindsay, I’m done! Look!” She had almost filled a full page in her composition notebook and because we usually encourage them to write a few pages, I told her I wanted to read it when it was finished. She replied by saying, “But, I ended it with ‘And they lived happily ever after.’ There isn’t anything else! That’s the end!

Out of reflex and without hesitation, I bent down to her level and asked: “But what happens after they get married?” She blushed and answered: “They are happy! They have babies! That’s it!” Not willing to let another one be fooled by the delusions of forever-and-ever marital bliss, I sweetly challenged the 10 year old: “But don’t you think it is more like a beginning, not an ending? They just got married! Think of all the things they have left to do now.”

She looked at me funny and then smiled, “Well, I guess they have a party after they get married and then they have children and then those have children.” Hoping I made a little progress, I told her she should write at least five more sentences before it was time to read to the class. Looking like something was brewing upstairs, she nodded excitedly and continued to scribble. I walked around to the different tables, reading over stories, and answering questions, as all the volunteers and I attempted to keep control of 15 children who had far more energy than we do on a Friday afternoon. As I was supervising, the girl would come up and show me her progress, sentence-by-sentence. Each time I’d push her to write a little more and off she would go to squeeze in some more lines. When it was finally time to share their fairytales, she volunteered to go third and her story sounded like every other Disney-designed plot line, except for her last sentence:

“…and they all lived happily ever after, for now.”

Clapping for her and sharing unspoken sentiments, the other female volunteers and I exchanged knowing looks – this gal had it right: in today’s time, forever seems a tad suffocating and far-fetched. Doesn’t it?

But forever-and-ever-and-always as a child isn’t that scary; it is more comforting. After all, the stories we hear and the make believe we play all end when the prince drops to one knee, lovingly begs us to spend the rest of our life with him, and we say “I do.” We conclude happily ever after when we make a vow to another person, tying us to them in what we think (and hope) will be an everlasting partnership. But if we think about it – the wedding is just the start of the next segment of our lives, a chapter (or maybe the rest of the story) we’ll share with someone else. It isn’t a conclusion, it is an introductory sentence.

So why aren’t there fairytales about marriage?

About the reality of promising our loyalty and life to another person forever more? It is indeed a vast commitment that carries more weight than we understand until (or if) we get there. Why don’t we teach our children and our teenagers about what it really means to be an active, giving, and loving participant in a relationship? What it means to be a partner and what we should expect out of man? I have yet needed to be rescued from my “awful single existence” by a man in a tight-white getup, giddy-upping his way toward me – but I’ve dated some pretty incredible men. They aren’t always dreamy and they don’t come with a fortune or titles, but it has been the reality of who they are that’s turned me on the most.

I’m no expert in relationships – if I was, would I be writing this blog? – but I’ve learned a valuable lesson in the last few years that’s made me want to be less of a princess-in-waiting and more of a lady in transition: stop thinking in terms of forever and take people, especially men, as they are. Not all women but quite a few, never lose the rose-colored glasses we were handed as little girls playing house and wearing plastic sparkly crowns.

But the truth is, no man will be perfect and unless you’re Kate Middleton, he won’t be a prince either. Even when we wear the lace wedding gown and sport a diamond on our left hand, there is no promise that they will be standing next to us all of our dying days. We aren’t princesses and guys don’t hold a magical solution or power to free us from our unhappiness or our lonely nights. They are added additions that if we’re lucky, will develop our character and add a few interesting plots in our own story. They don’t make us and they aren’t the only part of our existence, and our lives don’t end if we decide to marry a special one.

They come and go, and one will come and stay, maybe forever, maybe for several years, and maybe just for a night. Regardless, the advice to take is from little Miss Polka Dot: enjoy what you have and be happy that he makes you happily ever after…

…for now.