The Things a Man Can’t Give Me

After spending an unjustified amount of time on Tumblr one Sunday afternoon, I happened to stumble upon an adorable photo. Of course, I have a certain affinity to this creature (or really any miniature animal), so I quickly updated my Facebook proclaiming I’d like to be the owner of a baby tiger.

Expecting to receive a few comments from my friends who kindly entertain my ridiculousness, I hopped in the shower, determined to get my day started instead of wasting it away in front of a 15″ laptop screen. Twenty minutes and one Beyonce sing-along under the water later, I did what every Gen Y does: tapped my phone back to life because being without it for such a “long” time made me feel disconnected.

On the screen was a new text from the man I was seeing at the time and though we were not serious, I really dug him. He was one of those who always had something interesting to say and never failed to surprise me. This message would prove the latter: Check your email.

Unsure of why he would send something to my email instead of just calling or telling me, I opened up Gmail to find no message from him. Confused, I sent a question mark in response (so explanatory, I know), and he responded with: You wanted a baby tiger, didn’t you? Becoming more perplexed with these cryptic messages and the fact he was stalking my Facebook mid-day, I glanced back at my accountant and noticed an email not from him, but from the WWF. He couldn’t give me an actual baby tiger, but he could adopt one from Africa in my name. And so, he did – just like that. The certificate was sitting proudly a click away and the snuggly and stuffed version came a few weeks later.

So apparently men can give you the nearly extinct animal you mindlessly requested in a status update. And they can leave notes in jean pockets, taped behind a closed door you rarely open, and on your mirror so you never forget how beautiful you are. They can buy you that necklace or that ring you intently gleamed at in the back of Vogue. They can purposefully leave the apartment for the unimportant fact that they’re out of orange juice and you always drink a tall glass each morning.

And when they’re not supplying your tummy or your jewelry box – men can give us many splendored things. When you can feel a man really loves you, it’s powerful. After all, we’ve met the ones who never care at all. Hell – we’ve slept with them. Possibly dated them for six months, just in case something changes. It’s after that disaster we learn to notice when a guy comes along who is all hands-and-feet on deck. We start to think they give us feelings we always say we’ve never felt before, until we do, again. They indulge us in reassurance and constant confidence boosts. They don’t make us wait and they don’t make things harder or faster than what we prefer – unless we ask for it, of course. They support us as equally as we encourage them, and when like grows into love and love into content – they weather the changes because they’d rather stick around than find something simplified elsewhere.

It’s true – men can give us so many things.

But I’m starting to realize there are more things men can’t give me. Partly because they aren’t capable of it, but mostly because I wouldn’t want them to. There are certain parts of my life that I don’t invite a man into and there are pleasures I derive when I’m alone that don’t always match the fulfillment a man returns. There are outings and doings that keep me positive and feeling alive that I’d much rather do without the presence of anyone. There is a cache and a sense of independence that comes from paying everything on my own, shopping at my own accord and saving up for that pair of shoes that even if someone offered, I’d never let them purchase on my behalf. There is a power in knowing nearly every single item in my apartment came from money I made by having a resume I worked hard (and mostly for no pay) to build. There is a satisfaction I get from marching the streets, making eye contact with a stranger or two, and continuing to walk when they get the hint I’ll slow my pace for them – but I don’t.

And without a man, without the consistent reminder that someone in this world at the very least finds you tolerable – you learn how to keep yourself going. You learn the difference between being a constructive critic and being way harder on yourself than anyone else would be. You notice changes in your mood and you become aware of what makes you happy, what tickles your tastebuds, and what disgusts you. You have ways to shed joy and hope into your life that no other person – even the most attractive and engaging ones – could ever replace. You depend on yourself without considering there is a safety net or a body to break your fall. You decide the best answer to your questions aren’t “call mom” or “call Mr. of Right Now” but really are not even an answer at all, they are also a question: Well, what do you want to do?

Those things, no matter how insignificantly silly (like my need of wine in the bathtub while listening to Rhapsody in Blue and reading for the 100th time, Jane Eyre) or superbly worthy (like my need to not have anyone advise me on where my money is going unless I’m paying them – with my money – to instruct me) – are still possible to find when you’re dating a man. Even when you’re madly in love with him.

But you have to fight for them. Because while the dudes can be rather charming and sweet, and give us endearing reminders that we’re loveable, they become one hell of a distraction. Perhaps a beautiful one, but a distraction all the same. I mean, baby tigers may not be a match the baby diamond earrings we scrambled just enough money to buy for ourselves, but which one will mean more to us if the relationship ends? And which is a girl’s best friend (RIP, Liz)?

One of the many troubles of being single is longing for those things we know a man can give us. Those things we’ve found before and have now become afraid are forever lost. But when love takes a chance on you again, you may just find yourself missing those things purposefully just for you, and you only. You may have to keep yourself grounded as you are effortlessly swept away.

Because instead of turning our attention away from me and steering it toward a he the has the potential to become a we- we’ve gotta learn how to have the me, have the he, and have the we, without losing all three.

The Men Who Never Ruined Me

When you’re a New Yorker-wannabe who sports heels in 20-degree snowy weather while attending a college ripe with country-fied hipsters – you develop thick skin pretty quickly. And when those not-so-Southern graces finally land you in city places – that durability only gets tougher.

Or when your job is to criticize and analyze, and thus those around you do the exact same, and your dreamland also happens to be the Land of Hard-Knocks –being resilient is an essential part of survival. It isn’t survival of the fittest, but survival of the wittiest – the ones who can not only take a punch but challenge another one to even try and make them fall.

And while this thick skin has given me opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise and strength that always makes me push forward -the layer of power is actually quite shallow.

They say the first cut cuts the deepest but I’d like to think that every love has the chance to penetrate the most pain. And to be honest – the older I become, the better ability I have to sincerely love someone. Not to mention the better I know myself, so the people I date I’m more compatible with and the relationships, more serious and impactful.

But yet, amidst the qualifications and healthy self-growth, I’ve found myself unable to fully develop that protection against the men who come and often leave my life. No matter how hard I try or how much I hold off on being vulnerable and emotionally open to someone – somehow, if the chemistry and the man are right, they’ll find their way in. Often times, easier than I’d like to admit.

And when that happens – when love gets under my skin – I automatically set myself on guard. I become a protector of my heart like the fragile item it is; a soldier unsure if I’m fighting for the single or the taken team.  Because  this person, who I let creep in, has this ability to crush me, and if I let them dig their way in deeper – I may never recover.

Because doesn’t everyone have the man who ruined them?

The guy who made our skin tingle in ecstasy, caused us to lose our breath when he pulled away in the middle of an exchange, and gave us what we thought was the gut-feeling of just-right, the ever just-so. But then he left. Or things fell apart. Or he met someone else. Or we stopped being what he wanted or realized we never were close to his idea of a dreamgirl, regardless if he was our image of fate.

I’ve met many men who have broken my spirits and damaged my pride. There have been a few that for a matter of time after we parted, I lost my faith in finding love. I’ve cursed a couple names, I’ve taken all the blame and placed it all away, and there is one I don’t go a day without thinking of. They’ve each hurt me in their own respect, some by their doing and some by my own actions.

And I’ve also been guilty of manipulating and leading-on men who merely wanted to see me happy. My intention was never to be deceptive, but it’s difficult to tell someone that they aren’t what you want, that they don’t give you what you need, and that you’d rather try your luck in singleness instead of sticking around with them. Are these the men who we break? I’d like to think not, but that’s easier to say when you’re the one in control not the one receiving harsh, blunt force to your core.

But regardless of which spectrum I shine or burn out at – I don’t believe I’ve ruined someone. And all of the he’s of yesterday are all the men who neverruined me. The ones of today and tomorrow will never make me damaged goods either. It’s simply impossible.

Will I be hurt? Will I find myself buried in sadness and fear of never stumbling across the love of my life? Will I ache and cry, crumble and fall? Will I allow myself to love and be loved, to give and make love? Will it all be less than and more than I can take?

I hope so.

Because the thing about having thick loving skin is to build up the resistance, to be wiser about who we give enough power to leave a scar – we have to experience the bad. Without the pain, there is no persistence. Without the pressure, hope never develops its place. Skin can’t be durable if it is never tested. Hearts can’t be trusted if they never allow themselves to trust. You can’t experience love until you fall madly and severely in lust. You can’t appreciate a man worth your time if you don’t date a guy who wasted not only your time, but you, too.

And we can’t assure ourselves that being emotionally battered is out of the question if we’re never faced with a love that has the power to destruct. Not only our emotions, but what we think, what we believe, and where we stand. Until we come across a man who will change us for the better, he’ll never have the opportunity to damage us for good.

But even when this love rears is beautifully disastrous head; when we realize the strength someone has over us, the tight grip they hold on our hearts without really trying, and the skin they’re making softer by the hour – we should enjoy it. Savor it. Experience it for all that it offers and all the hope it gives us, even if they are left unfulfilled in the end.

Because there are chances worth taking. Mistakes worth making. Promises worth breaking. Life worth chasing. People worth dating. And at the end of it, if we can remember we’re worth all of those things too, that we’re people worth loving, who are worthy of a chance, that we are the women worth breaking a promise for, and we are the ones with a life that’s worth a great chase- then we won’t find ourselves ruined if something goes wrong. Instead, we’ll find ourselves seasoned, experienced, and with a new man who never ruined us to add to the list of the love we’ve had, lost, and found.

And, if we’re lucky, we’ll also have a little thicker skin for the next one who comes our way.


The Love Club

There are certain parts of New York – say the West Village, Soho, and even Williamsburg – that give the feel of a small town in a big city. The buildings are shorter, the streets are less crowded and frantic, and the people, seemingly calmer and happier. It’s reasonable to spend all day lounging in a cafe drinking coffee, that somehow, they don’t charge for refills – and still stay in business. There are more couples and families, and yet the singles still roam wild and free. You see less and less corporate and more and more locally owned and there’s this greater sense of community that can’t be found in Meatpacking, Chelsea, or even the Upper West/East sides.

To me, the characters of the villages seem like the ones who have found themselves established and secure, comfortable and at home in a place that entertains transplants, commuters, and tourists day-end-and-day-out. These residents of micro communities, usually dressed in black and boots, hair partially dried and unnamed bag in tow – have done what any NYC-wannabe aims to do: they’ve become New Yorkers. They’ve created little worlds inside of a huge ones, homes within the perimeter of industrial, and codes of conduct that don’t apply past West 4th or north of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Quite like the boroughs and the districts that divide and designate the many lands of Manhattan – something happens when two become one, when casual becomes serious, and when fear of commitment subsides to the need to just be. For whatever reason, in an unexplained manner to outsiders, being in a relationship does more than eliminate your single status, it creates an alternative universe of chemistry-specific coupleness.

Being in a relationship, in a lot of ways, is like being in a whole new world (mind the trite Aladdin reference here) – and if you’re lucky (or is it unlucky?), being in love turns your schedule and your life upside down in the most blissful of ways.

Yesterday, I spent a great deal of time navigating downtown, a hundred streets away from my apartment, observing the energy and the interactions of inhabitants. And what I discovered, beyond any reasonable doubt, is couples of every shape, form, age, race, or mood – blend into one another. Perhaps I mainly saw those who had been together for years or were just madly in love, but somehow, those I walked by, seemed as if they were happily lost away, out of the city, out of the village, and deeply engrossed in each other – in their own personal sphere.

They walked in sync, step-for-step. They discussed topics of no particular interest in an interesting fashion. They sipped coffee and laughed, held hands, and peered into each other’s eyes. They sat cuddled on the bench, in the corner booth, by the exit of the train. They sat side-by-side, across from one another, and shared sentiments I’d never be able to decipher. Glances were hidden but clear, touches were stolen but remembered, and thoughts were shared, but secret.

In the way that becoming a New Yorker means settling into a community, finding your way among thousands upon thousands of people, and being comfortable enough to really not give damn about how you look while fetching the morning paper- is the appeal of a relationship due to having a partner who gets you? Who you can be a little freak with, dispense those characteristics or mannerisms that others may not understand, and at the end of the day, be accepted just as you are?

Is being in a love a way to establish yourself? A way to prove to the strangers you pass, the fathers who continously ask for grandchildren, and all of those silly married friends who found love many moons ago – that yes, I’m not defected, I’m not unlovable. There is someone who wants me, someone who I can be myself around, and see life through not only my eyes, but their perspective too?

Is being a couple like being in a super-secret, difficult to be admitted into, only for the privileged, membership program? Is love like a club for two?

If so – for a long time, I was doing all that I could to be sent my acceptance letter to the School (or city) of Love.

Had I pranced around the streets, chasing the pigeons as I usually do, say, six months ago – as happy as the energy of the streets made me, I would have still felt sad. Passing double doses when I was a single serving, seemed to always rub me the wrong way. The simple reminder that others had found love, had found someone who wanted them, had this immeasurable power to instantly make me feel awful. To give me the impression and the sense that I wasn’t worth the love, that I wasn’t part of this unknown world I had rarely passed, that this highly desired title of taken, just wasn’t meant for me.

By judging myself against the women I wanted to be – those who were dazzling in the loveliness of love – I just didn’t measure up. My standards must had been too low or high, my scores on the girlfriend test had failed below average, and the uniform I was to wear as someone’s lady, just didn’t hug me in all the right places.

I had, in fact, been rejected from the very place I wanted to be. Access had been denied.

But now, with a little focus on self-love and a lot of patience with myself, I’ve arrived at the conclusion that love isn’t a microcosm or alternative universe left to be traveled. It isn’t just found on McDougall, Prince, or Park Slope. It isn’t an all-exclusive resort that few can afford and some can enjoy the lavish luxury of. It isn’t meant for those who are the best or for those who give and take love with the most ease.

Like the neighborhoods of New York – that many of us cycle through during our time on this island – being in love isn’t limited to our address or even our final destination – but it is found in each and every step. In whatever place we happen to find ourselves at. Because even when we do stumble upon a man who actually wants to be exclusive, a person who is worth rearranging our calendar for, or perhaps just someone who knows the best way to make us laugh – we still remain part of the world. The West Village is still part of New York, and being an an individual is still part of being a couple. No matter how much we escape from the bigger picture to focus on the smaller.

If there is a club of love – we should all rest assured that we’re all accepted. We’ve all passed the tests with flying colors and we’ve all failed miserably. And after all is said and done, after we move away from the relationship or away from the brownstone, we’re still part of the world. Part of the universe that forever, without question, will always let us back into the love club, time and time again.

Mr. Creepo and the Boyfriend Card

My first and favorite romance, New York City, has been quite the tease lately.

Monday, the day that reminds us our lovely weekend is over, the sky opened up and revealed an easy, sunny and lustful day where my red sweater dress was entirely too much. And then, as we transcended from one extreme to the other, Tuesday through Wednesday were unbearably cold. We finished the week with temperatures that enticed Spring’s arrival.

So on Friday, in an effort to encourage my lover in his warm embrace, I dressed for the occasion in a tight, light blue dress, thin leggings, and my old forgotten friend, The Open-Toe Stiletto. Perhaps my outfit was a tad inappropriate for mid-February, but I’ve never been one to adhere to regulations, where they be imposed by the Fashion Week goddesses or not. However, my attempt to tempt the heavens to keep the weather airy and breezy…backfired.

My favorite morning café, where the coffee is self-serve and in actual pots instead of economy-sized drippers, is merely a block away from the magazine – but those 40 or so steps can seem like a lifetime, when you spent a night almost completely absent of sleep. Not in the mood to discuss anything with anyone, I avoided eye contact on my narrow-focused path to fuel up for the day – but one man, with his bald head and short-stature, sought to match my pace.

Listening to the click of my heels, anticipating the pick-me-up I was getting ready to pick up, I barely noticed this at least 45-year-old whisper loud enough over my shoulder, “Excuse me?” Automatically turning on city-slicker mode, I quickened my pace, confused by this businessman walking way too close for a stranger. Especially one who was obviously way older than me.

I’ve just gotta say, you’ve got it together. From your heels to your hair, everything is spot on. Right on. I’ve never seen someone so beautiful, so together at 9 a.m. Great job,” this man complimented. Still exhausted, but gracious enough to give him a smile and a simple “thank you,” I continued toward my destination. But Mr. Creepo wasn’t finished yet.

He pulled his way closer to me as I nearly stumbled into the brick building to my right and a flash of fear wondered, “Nothing can happen in broad daylight in Chelsea, right? I mean, it’s a Friday morning, not 3 a.m.”  As if he thought I was somehow intrigued by him, he bargained with a wink, “If I promise you to do everything right, and I mean everything, will you just give me your number?

Caught off guard and slightly afraid, I straightened my posture, jerked my head around with a glare only possible from extreme-tiredness and blurted the first defensive semantic that came to mind: “I’m sorry, I can’t. I have a boyfriend.”

When the door slammed behind me and I made a distinct effort not to watch the man continue past the cafe, I caught my breath, flattened my hair from the wind, and there, in the entrance, scrunched up my forehead, utterly confused. Not necessarily by Mr. Creepo, but by myself.

Why is it that when I’m uninterested in someone or feeling insecure or unsafe, I automatically throw out the boyfriend card? The you-best-leave-me-alone or my big, bad man will come and show you what he’s made of and what I mean to him? How is it that being taken, having someone to watch over us – where it be the truth or a little white lie – makes us feel like whoever it is that’s bothering us, will back down?

Is commitment protection? Or is it just easier to say you love someone else instead of get-the-hell-away-from-me?

After nearly spilling my coffee all over my clingy dress (alright, well perhaps a few drops dribbled down) – I burst into the office, ready to share my story with my editor and J. By this time, I had a shot of energy from the Columbian blend and was being far too outrageous than what pre-10 a.m. allows.

“I am appalled by Manhattan men! Seriously, who is this creepo who thinks it is okay to just march up to me, interrupt my morning, and tell me he’ll do ‘everything right?’ He doesn’t even know me or what would be right by my standards. And he complimented everything from my heels to my hair – gross! He may not be old enough to be my father, but he could be some twice-removed uncle. Easily,” I discussed in disgust with J, who plainly nodded along, while adding in his own tidbits of experience with the street gawkers.

Tossing my hair and sighing heavily into my fat-free crème cheese and half-bagel, my co-worker H, the witty sales associate who’s timing is always on-point, matter-of-factly said, “Linds – let’s be real. If he was wildly attractive, young, and said all of those things, you would have smiled and probably given him your card.”

Sassy in my own respect, I replied, “Not if he was going all Biz Markie on me telling me he’s got what I need.” She laughed, agreed, but threw in one final chip: “Even so, you wouldn’t have told him you were in a relationship and if he would have asked to buy you that coffee you’re drinking – you would have allowed him.

Ah, the gal’s got a point.

I tend to find myself a pretty confident and incorrigibly honest with most everyone and everything in my life. I have my moments of blatant insecurity, but for the most part, I’m pretty straight-forward and as a Virgo, a tad critical – in the most loving of ways. But when it comes to being hit on and purposefully sought after by someone I’m not interested in – I almost always play the card of taken, instead of being direct and letting a guy off the hook by showing him he had no chance at hooking me.

Bluntly put – I hate rejecting guys.

I’m not a fan of hurting anyone’s feelings, even the hearts of those who’ve mangled mine, and also – I don’t want to be argued with or attempted to be persuaded, when I can tell in five seconds my interest is lost. Or it never really arrived in the first place. Especially when it comes to men, who for whatever reason, think it’s appropriate to go after women 20 years their junior. This girl, Mr. Creepo, is not a gold digger and will build a mountain on her own instead of hiking up a trail of deceit.

Though I realize my double-standard, as H so cleverly pointed out, I also know what is crossing the line for me or popping my personal space bubble. And regardless if Mr. Creepo had been a foot taller with a full head of hair and subtracted a dozen candles off his last birthday cake – anyone who tells me they’ll do everything right isn’t Mr. Right in my book. I’d like to think I’ll end up with a guy who is far from perfect – and perhaps even far from perfect for me – but rather, a human being who doesn’t declare his sexual righteousness within the first ten seconds of seeing me.

Next time, instead of using an imaginary boyfriend as a defense, I’ll try to take the higher road of honesty and say, “Sorry, buddy. You aren’t strong, dark, handsome, and available in a 20 oz cup for $1.75. And really, that’s the only thing that’s right by me, right now.”



The Prize of Simplicity

After an awful day, when my whipped crème melted too quickly off the fully-fat, fully-half-and-half, hot chocolate I treated myself to. After Nemo and his mom were separated in the deep blue sea. After I had sex for the first time. After I received the phone call offering me my very first job. After I was romanced in some simple, non-monumental way by the city. After I couldn’t, for the life of me, find the single piece of paper I needed with an insignificant note and couldn’t live without.

I cried.

I’ve always been a crier and I’ve never had an issue making my heart visible for the entire world (and web) to see. I cry when I’m thankful, when I’m happy, when I’m nervous, when I’m upset, when I’m depressed, when I’m furious, when I’m peaceful, and probably sometimes when I’m just bored.

And when I’ve cried for the first time with a man I’m seeing or interested in, it is always one of those incredibly sweet and meaningful moments where I allow myself to be vulnerable. I’m not sure why this indicates a new level of seriousness in relationships, considering just by the nature of who I am, he’d eventually see me cry at some point. Maybe just by walking through the park when the breeze hits me the right way, to be completely honest.

Nevertheless, I’ve often measured the validity of a relationship based on how emotional I am toward or around the dude in question. If I couldn’t stand the thought of losing him, if imagining him never calling me again gave me anxiety, if I cried while we made love or if things he wrote to me brought tears to my eyes – then I knew he was special. I knew he was different. I knew we, whatever we were or never came to be, was destined in some way.

However -if I didn’t cry, if we didn’t have dramatics and break-ups and make-ups, if the sex wasn’t so passionate I wanted to get lost in it – then I didn’t see the value in the relationship. I mean, if it wasn’t difficult, didn’t that mean it was lacking?

A relationship isn’t supposed to be easy, right? It’s supposed to be one of those things you work hard at, you earn, you fight for, and then when you win this person, you realize the ups and the downs were worth it.

The older I get, things like lust and connection are not becoming less important – I have concluded I will always need to have a man who has fire – but they are not my utmost priority in a partner. It isn’t that I don’t want to be a beautiful mess around someone, but after so many messy relationships and endings, I’d rather be with someone who isn’t all that complicated. Sure, I’ll always have my own intricacies and obviously, be a crier, but when I long for love, I realize I’m yearning for simplicity.

Perhaps hot and cold, yes’s and no’s, in a relationship and out of it, running away to be chased after, and pushing each other to the limits makes for an interesting course of events – but just because something is dramatic, it doesn’t mean it’s passionate.

It’s not a lie that a relationship, no matter how easily you get along, will require work and dedication to make it last the long haul, but if it is more confusing than it is comfortable, then what’s the point? I’d rather be single than spend hours trying to decipher the meaning between text message lines and always wonder if the man I love will leave, as he has dozens of times before.

When I eventually decide to hand in my single gal title for a girlfriend one, I will be at a point where I’m confident in myself and not looking to validate myself through a relationship or by the amount of tears I’ve poured over someone.  It will be when I stop equating happiness by how much pain I can endure.

It will be when I stop seeing a relationship and love as a project, but rather as a prize.