The 23-Year-Old

You know a date wasn’t great when you turn down an invitation for dinner because you’re thoroughly exhausted from the conversation.

I had high hopes for The Italian. Since I’m taking Italian language classes and going to Rome in April, I was excited when I came across a Milan transplant with gorgeous eyes and a sexy accent. But an hour into our date, as he talked so much that he still wasn’t finished with the first glass of vino rosso Italiano yet, I couldn’t stomach the thought of another two hours to get through dinner.

Luckily my friend G and E were up for a far less sophisticated evening at a Southern-style college bar called Brother Jimmy’s. It isn’t exactly the classiest crowd but the drinks are cheap and the food reminds me of my life below the Mason Dixon. As we drank our $5-you name it concoctions far faster than the Italian, we noticed a young group of tall, handsome guys attracting the attention of every girl in the establishment.

Look how they are surrounded so quickly! Are we so starved for attractive men that we flock to whatever semi-decent one we see? I asked, half-appalled and half-formulating a blog post in my tipsy head. The three of us, all different ages (and all incredibly single) discussed the situation while laughing and ignoring everyone else.

A half-an-hour later, after the bartender joined in our humor and gave us free bottom-shelf rum shots, one of the guys found his way to me.

Need a drink? He asked as he bumped into me, quite purposefully. I looked at my completely full glass and smiled, Thanks, but I think I’m alright for now. He grinned back and said, I saw you watching us, what conclusion are you drawing?

The three of us explained our theory and he played along, calling his one extremely tall friend (6’6″!) a “chick magnet” and how he was more just along for the ride. He was goofy and casual, but still acted unsure of himself. Maybe it was the alcohol – or maybe it was the fact he was 23. Though a two-year age difference doesn’t seem like quite that big of a deal, so much changes in your twenties, it can feel like a lifetime ago that you were that early-20-something. I noticed how boyish he was and yet, how he tried to build his confidence around me. It was charming.  Against my better judgment, I found myself enjoying his hand on my knee, his slightly inappropriate jokes, his seemingly soft lips.

Well shit, I think he’s cute, I thought as he bought another round and waved off his friends goodbye to spend more time with me.

Another hour passed and the night went on, my friends bid me farewell and I stayed behind. As the bar cleared out, we danced to old music and attempted to speak Italian to one another, and he wrote me a poem that didn’t rhyme but was sweet. He asked for my number and out to dinner the next night – but he was 23 and my expectations weren’t high for his level of seriousness but there was a click.  A spark.

A something.

And then there was kissing. Lots and lots of kissing. The kind of kissing you do in high school before you have gone past second base. When magic swells on your tongue and every touch is heightened – 10 years ago by anxiety and anticipation, and now, by liquor and pipe dreams. By the time I finally went up to my apartment – alone, for the record – it was 4 am and I sighed for the hangover I knew I would have the next day. A 25 year old head is much different than the 23 year old one, but apparently no wiser…

It wasn’t even noon before he cancelled dinner, and by 2  p.m. he gently told me I was a sweet girl, but he didn’t want to waste my time. And even though I knew the outcome was likely, I was disappointed. Connection feels so rare after so many years of dating, that when it comes, it’s hard not to hold onto it with all that you have.

But even though The 23 Year Old’s presence in my life lasted all of a few hours, he brought out something in me:

My soft side.

My voice was calmer, my shoulders relaxed. I wasn’t thinking about my never-ending to-do list or my worries over everything I want and all that I don’t have yet. I was flirty without being overbearing, and I let myself just enjoy the moment, as fleeting and unimportant as it was. I listened more than I spoke and I let him ask me to dance instead of inviting him myself. I put down my guard and I didn’t check the time, allowing myself to giggle and twirl into the early hours of the morning. I didn’t run over a mental checklist to see if he matched all of the qualities I want in a partner, I was just myself and let him be himself.

And it was nice.

It was really nice to simply let go of all the dating drama. It was nice to feel soft and vulnerable, open and hopeful again. Though there won’t be an actual date with this bachelor, sometimes you need a young-something to remind you to not be so jaded. To not think the worst of people. To go with the flow. To say “yes” to another drink, even if you say “no” to a sleepover. To smile without wondering if it means anything and let it mean whatever it does in that moment.

To remind you to have hope in love and in men, but mostly in your ability to love. Even if all you love is the splendid fun of a chance encounter of the Brother Jimmy’s kind.

A Choice Just For Me

I recently attended my first talk show as an audience member. Going to live or pre-filmed shows has always seemed like the New York tourist experience to me – something you do when you’re staying at the Mariott and you rise at an unreasonable 3 a.m. hour to wait in the cold (or hummidity or rain) just to catch a glimpse of Regis & Kelly. I’m also not the biggest fan of television in general – I don’t have cable and I only use Hulu for a handful of sitcoms.

But when your company offers you the chance to leave the office for four hours, take away an armful of freebies, and have the chance to meet (or view from afar) a celebrity – I thought, why not? Due to privacy restrictions, I can’t reveal which show I attended, but it was geared toward cooking and the host was quite the villain in the kitchen.

Before being seated and organized in the rows based on the color of our clothes, audience members completed forms asking basic information. With my blue blouse I prayed would pop on camera and my pencil skirt, I attempted to fill out the yellow sheets across my hosed-legs. (For the record, without a clipboard, this is a task in itself.)

As I’m going through the questionnaire, I happily check “single,” give my email address, let them know how often I view the show (never, woops!), and how many people are in my household – one of their inquiries caught my interest.

In your home, who decides ‘what’s for dinner’?

Now, I realize when a brand and a show is built by developing the quality of life inside the home, this is an appropriate question to ask. It’ll let those who finance and develop new products determine if me, the ever-clapping, cheerful audience member, not only cooks for her family, but has one stiletto forcefully over her (and whoever she resides with) wallet.

As I confessed I was the one who decides what I place in my stomach each and every night, it occurred to me how many simple, unimportant decisions I make every day as a single woman. These choices do not initially shape my immediate future and in the grand scheme of my life, I’ll probably forget tens of thousands of the day-to-day decisions I arrive at. From what time I set my alarm and if I actually listen to its obnoxious tune, to what I buy at the corner market and how I manage my money- I shape my life, and everything in it, primarily considering myself and my future.

And one day, whenever I enter into a relationship – and most likely, marriage at some point – all of these simple actions, these considerations that don’t actually seem like concerns at the time – will stop being so me-focused, and more we-geared. Though at times I may desire a relationship, the thought of losing such an innocent independence and having to interject another person’s tastes and desires into each step I take – sounds exhausting.

When we’re in a relationship, when we fall in love, when we seek to find a suitable suitor – must we leave our independence on the table to cook up a couple?

I’ve been in a slew of wonderful and incredibly confusing relationships – some of which I left and others that ended much earlier than I hoped they would – but through them all, there’s been a trending complaint of each man: You just don’t need me enough. You don’t need me, you’ll go on to do these things you want and you’ll forget about me.

I think one guy even warned me I’d become cold, bitter, and heartless when I moved to New York. I think sometimes natives would prefer me to take on those qualities – but I doubt my Southern graces will ever allow hopefulness to completely leave my core fundamentals.

Nevertheless – when it comes to my hesitation to give away my single standards, is it because I’m afraid to give my heart away or to lose the independence I often take for granted? Is it because sometimes my jealousy and my lust outweigh my drive and the courage it takes to say when enough, is enough? Or is it because I see and know so many women who stop needing themselves, stop making an effort to have alone time, or to focus on their own self-growth, the second a man enters into their life? Without a doubt, I’ve made a dude the center of my universe before – but it isn’t a mistake I’d like to make again.

I’m not sure if a relationship can be defined as successful – if so, how would we measure it? By the number of children it produces? How long it lasts? How you come out of the hard times and celebrate those moments you know you’ll never find again? I can’t say what I think makes a relationship worth the trouble or worth the potential pain at the breaking point – but I do know that a relationship is one institution – where it be fireworks set a blaze or not – that needs compromise. And more so – it needs more than one person deciding how the course is run. Or how dinner is made. Or how much effort, understanding, compassion, and passion is needed to make the relations continue to be relatable.

A lot of times, the moment a relationship ends or fails or doesn’t last – it’s because one of the pair, lost themselves along the way. They stopped developing and entertaining those things, those beautifully unique interests and qualities that while they may attract the other person, they don’t belong to them.  Those independent and true-to-self notions belong to you. To me. To every single woman who after watching Runaway Bride decided she needed to know what kind of eggs she likes, without the advice of her man’s tastebuds.

The choices I make today are choices just for me. My daily schedule, my intake and my outake, the trains I board and the ones I depart, the runs I make a mile longer just because, and the extra hours I put into work because I can – are all decisions I’m allowed to be selfish about. All determinations I’m entitled to make. And for now, I chose to be single. I choose to never let any man – or person – dictate my everything, anymore. Even if he thinks that makes me undateable because I don’t seem to need him. Maybe he’s right, but I’d rather have a partner who values my love for him, my desire for his presence in my life, then my inability to function without him.

And one who appreciates that what’s for dinner isn’t nearly as important as what’s cooking not only in our kitchen, but in the food from our individual souls that we both bring to the table.