The Bravery to Be Me

I attempt to be eloquent as a writer and a lady as a person – but certain experiences are appropriate for being inappropriate. Such is the moment when you look at yourself in the mirror, accept your flaws and conclude that what the world thinks and how they judge you causes you to only think one thing: “They can all go f*** themselves.

Pardon my language or don’t – doesn’t matter. I usually don’t use such a word (I somehow still taste soap in my mouth when I do) but stepping out of the shower yesterday, I was flooded with the beautiful self-assurance that I’ve often craved.

As I touched on yesterday, when you “live” with someone, you can’t really hide much. To be at home, you must be at home – and leave those doubts and worries at the door. I can’t (and refuse) to go to bed with makeup on to cover my acne that has followed me into my 20s. I can’t stop going to the gym or running around the park because I’ll look sweaty and red when I return. I can’t not do those me-touch-up things that aren’t exactly attractive or sexy: shaving my legs and keeping a self-pedicure schedule. I can’t not exfoliate or have a wet head of hair when I go to bed.

And when you’re alone, when you have no one to watch you or to answer to, your behavior is different. You accept yourself more – you pick and nudge at your problem areas but don’t obsess. You walk around naked. You drink out of the carton if you don’t feel like washing a dish (or at least I have, once or twice). You eat things you normally wouldn’t admit to eating. You leave a pile of dirty laundry about your floor and a dozen pairs of shoes lying haphazardly in your apartment from weeks of coming home and kicking off the kicks. You stand on one foot, in lingerie and a green masque, drinking red wine, listening to Florence+ the Machine, and plucking your eyebrows without giving a second thought to anything – especially how you look.

Some of these things I wouldn’t necessarily do around anyone – man or girlfriend. But being in the company of someone else each night and every morning, when you’re the least done-up or covered-up, charges you with challenge to accept your imperfections without making excuses for them.

As I finished up in the shower and spent an excessive amount of time in Mr. Possibility’s bathroom, desperately craving some pampering time, I realized not just how comfortable I was becoming with him, but how comfortable I am with me. And really, the latter makes me happier than I could ever be about the progress of a relationship with a man.

It has taken me a lot of time to come to terms with myself – to really see myself for who and what I am, without making excuses, without comparing myself to other women. I still have off days, I still feel incredibly short when standing next to a statuesque blonde, and I still pray for clear skin each night. But overall – I like who I am. I find myself to be beautiful. I’m not the best and I’m not the worst, but I have something to offer that’s more powerful than perky breasts, long slender legs, and hair that fall just right.

And that’s the bravery to be me. In front of anyone – even the guy I hope finds me the most attractive or the women I’m jealous of. With or without my “face on,” with or without looking airbrushed and radiant, with or without those five pounds that nag my hips – I’ve found a peace within myself, within my looks, within my heart that gives me beauty from within.

So take me as I am, find me lovely or loathe me. I am who I am and I take me as I am, as I go. And if you aren’t a fan or see my flaws as a deal-breaker, I won’t use any more profanities than what I have already in this post, but I will use the phrase that will forever remind me of this blog and this period of growth in my life: frankly, my dears, I do give a damn…about me, but not about what you think.

It’s the Little Things

My apartment smells like cardboard and glass cleaner. I’ve been sneezing for the last twenty minutes and if I squint my eyes and look intently, I think I can see my floor. I can’t tell if my throw-away pile or my climbing mound of packed boxes is higher, and I really never noticed how white my walls were until right about now, sitting and wondering if this room was always this big, or if it somehow grew in the last few hours.

I’m moving to a different part of New York and I couldn’t be less prepared. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve moved in my life and unlike other things, it never gets easier. In fact, I’d like to think it gets harder because I continuously accumulate more and more stuff. But like an evening following a stressful day and cooking in a tiny kitchen – I prefer to pack alone.

So, with a discovered airplane bottle of Grey Goose in the back of my fridge and orange juice, a green masque from the dead sea (thanks Mr. P), and the Best of the 80’s with some Sean Kingston and Adele mixed in (no judging of my musical eclecticness) – I started pulling apart and piecing together the contents of my tiny studio.

Admittedly, I’ve only given my apartment a thorough and heavy-duty cleaning once or twice in the entire time I’ve lived here. As my life become increasingly fuller and I found myself distracted from my address, I let things sit around and I forgot my in-the-moment organizing habits. I collect antique cigar boxes for decoration and occasionally for storage, and such a collection usually leads to random discoveries as well as many searches that leave me empty-handed. In a rush and without a conscious thought, I’ve tucked away things for safe-keeping and then kept myself away from them for months.

But maybe that’s the fun with boxes anyways, you open them and never know quite what you’ll find. Luckily for me, the surprise has never been a cockroach in an empty wooden container, but some findings I found yesterday were almost as scary.

Or at least, when I first saw them, I thought they’d be.

Unknowingly, we all attach emotion and sentiments to objects. It is why we started having “ex-boxes” in high school, to keep us from lingering over a lost love. Or the reason why as children, we grow attached to a blanket, a teddy bear, or a doll and carry it around to give us the comfort a sippie cup or bottle simply can’t. It’s why the engagement ring is something so many lust after – the symbolic meaning that you’re taken, that someone wants to love you forever, that someone gave you such an expensive, beautiful, or historical thing that tells the world you’re to-be-wed.

But as time passes, our attachment to things changes. Or maybe, it just lessens.

As I was going through my jewelry, safely placing in padded pouches the ones that meant the most to me, I came across a necklace Mr. Faithful gave me, nearly a decade ago. Still in good condition and still the same mini spec of a diamond it was then, it glistened in the light of my lamp and I just smiled. When we first broke up, I couldn’t look at it,  but by the time college was over, I found myself wearing it without even thinking of him. When I packed up my pajamas, I came across a pair I threw on the night my mother and I had to rush my father to the hospital when he was ill. After a night from hell, spent worrying and pacing, and attempting to get some sleep on uncomfortable waiting room chairs, I almost threw away the cotton pants out of disdain. Once my dad recovered and returned to the same adoring man I always knew, the pants stopped being so difficult to wear, and eventually, I grew quite fond of them and even took them with me to New York.

I stumbled across all sorts of things, frames that have seen a cascade of photos, from boyfriends and friends to family and pets, year after year as new friends, men, or experiences changed. Outfits I bought for a specific purpose, ones I bought with the intent to be ripped off of me, sweaters I bought for the first day of school that somehow still fit, and jeans that will no longer fit, no matter how much weight I lose or miles I run.

I came across dresses I wore frequently when I very first moved, but now can’t bear the thought of wearing in public, much less in Manhattan. Books that I read while riding the subway to my internship or laying in the Great Lawn in Central Park or the quad at my college. Notebooks from interviews I can barely remember conducting and quotes from sources I can’t picture in my head anymore. Shoes with a half-way broken heel I meant to get fixed and a skirt I loved that ripped at the seam and I swore I would learn to sew for the simple fact I badly needed to wear the skirt again (that’s still on the bucket list of skills to master). Notes from Mr. Idea I saved because they meant something to me, the pennies I found in my window seal of this apartment, and to-do lists I never finished.

All of these things, in significant or insignificant ways, meant something to me at one point. Some words in books I read or places I went while wearing specific shoes, or people I met while sporting a tight number – changed my life. But it wasn’t the book or the shoes or the dress that made an impact, those are just reminders of the experience. And while those memories stay with us, the emotion we attach to objects that really didn’t matter too much to begin with, fade away. We pack them up in boxes to donate or to sell. We decide to give some things a second chance and we forget how good we looked in shorts and tights. We stop seeing items as things that hold meaning and see them for what they are: just things.

And like us, they will go on to someone else. Someone who picks it up at the library or bookstore when we donate books, or someone at a consignment shop who sees potential in an old scarf we couldn’t see. Not just stuff, either, transforms in the hands for a new person – my apartment will gain a different inhabitant in a few weeks. They will make this space their own, they will bring their own meaningful things, and set up shop differently than I did, and in a manner diverse from the dozen or more people who have called this place their home before me. In a brownstone that’s nearly 100 years old, there is no telling how many residents have made a home in the very place I’m sitting as I type this blog, in 2011 at an antique desk, someone else has sat, too.

But things don’t need emotion, really. Nor do apartments. They just need people to use them, to fill them up with life, to give them a purpose, and then to let them go. Onto to the next person or the next use or maybe put an end to their functionality. Even then, trash often turns into Earth that molds into something new decades later – but I digress.

The point is, the cycle continues. People come and go, and so do things – but won’t people always continue to collect things? Collect memories attached to those things? And then let them go as easily as they came? Of course. It is the little things that matter, but keep in mind, the little things will always change.

All Hyped Up on Love

Though I may only be a 20-something, I’ve been through quite some pop culture and trends.

I grew up on everything from TGIF, Sister Sister, The Adventures of Mary Kate & Ashley, Full House, The Secret World of Alex Mac, Figure it Out, Clarissa Explains it All, and Rugrats to All That, Hey Arnold!, Saved by the Bell, and Boy Meets World. By some strike of fate or stupidity, my mother eventually allowed me to watch MTV and Friends (where I appropriately flooded her with questions), and some ex boyfriends introduced me to shows like Alf, long after they were off the air.

I convinced myself I could sing just like Mandy Moore – breathy and incredibly too dramatic and all. Outside, with that same recorder I used to interview people with, I’d belt out a Mariah Carey with the neighborhood kids, who at one point, all got together and formed a band, The Butterflies. I always wanted to ride places in my dad’s truck because it had one of those new CD players and if I was careful not to scratch them, I could listen to The Beatles, the Beach Boys, The Temptations, Elton John, Eric Clapton, and Jim Croce while we were driving around town. He’d always serenade me with “My Girl” and hearing it still makes me smile today, though I’m positive I prefer his voice over the original. With my belly button visible, I danced in front of the mirror to Britney Spears, I cried over a Backstreet Boys song when Mr. Curls didn’t show up to my seventh grade birthday party, and I lost my virginity to “I’ll Make Love to You” by Boys II Men.

Being an early bloomer who sprouted out of training bras and into the real ones the summer between fifth and sixth grade, I was amazed with my new curves and unsure of what to do with them. I did, however, notice the looks older boys gave me. So did my mother. I can’t count how many times she left me at home because I refused to change into something more age appropriate, and then I’d call her on her cell phone that was the size of my forearm, and beg her to come back and get me in my jeans and unflattering t-shirt. I wore the platform shoes like The Spice Girls, I braided my hair with a colored strand, I wore glitter on my eyes, and though I thought Abercrombie was cool, even at a young age, I realized how ridiculously overpriced it was. I also didn’t enjoy being choked to death by cologne ten steps before the store front.

I lived, breathed, and loved all of these hypes.

They came, they served a purpose, and they left. I was onto the next band, the next technology, the next style that would fade faster than I could begin to afford it. It took until junior year in college for me to stop caring so much about hypes or what’s hot and to focus more on what I wanted instead of what was new.

This week, to keep my spirits up and to lower my peeking stress level, I’ve been listening to 80’s music. I wasn’t alive in the early 80’s, but some of my youngest memories involve my mom dancing in hot shorts to Michael Jackson or Fine Young Cannibal’s “She Drives Me Crazy” while cleaning. Because my office is in the process of moving, we’re all packing up and my “You Make My Dreams Come True” Pandora station proved to be exactly what we needed. As the songs were playing, I’d notice how certain songs remind me of men I’ve loved or guys who have introduced me to a band I didn’t know. Some of the other women in the office would start singing and then proclaim who they were dating when that particular song came on. Somehow, the best of the 80’s translates into the best and the worse of men of the 80’s for those who lived through it – or discovered the music later on.

Listening to the stories while pouring what I owned into a large Staples cardboard box, I wondered if love is one continuous hype.

We’re sucked in early with fairytales and if we’re lucky, by watching our parents verbalize their admiration for one another. I didn’t really go through the “boys had cooties” phase, I was more concerned with my kindergarten boyfriend, but all of my friends were repulsed by the opposite sex (funny thing is, they’re all married now, and I’m happily not). Once that period comes to a close, we transition into middle school where holding hands and doodling our names with hearts and “forever-ever-and-ever-and-always” seems like the only important thing in the world. High school introduces us to sex, college we have a lot of sex, and in our 20’s we discover what great, incredible sex is, and wonder what we were thinking (or who we were doing) the years previous.

For most, it is one date after another, one relationship after another, one bed and then another, one romance and then ten more. The personalities change, along with the clothes and the mannerisms, but the men essentially are all the same, each time – we get ourselves all hyped up on love. And when it’s good, when it has promise, we’ll go as far to think we’ll never feel it again. That this feeling, whatever it is, is impossible with another man. We’ll get so dead-set on this hype that we’ll become depressed thinking he is the end-all-be-all and we’re doomed if this doesn’t work out…or worse yet, if we screw it up.

If that was the case, Buffy the Vampire Slayer would still be making shows. So would Dawson’s Creek. We’d all still be listening to LFO, eating Dunkaroos, and wearing those god-awful acid-wash jeans (keep in mind Williamsburg is excused from this analogy). We’d all carry mobile phones that don’t fit in our bags and our dial-up internet would greet us with “You’ve Got Mail!”

Things change, so do people. We fall in love and we fall out. We think he’s The One and then we want him to be the one who never comes back. We are addicted to our pair of skinny jeans until our bodies grow some curve, some place, and they don’t fit anymore. We buy into something until it becomes a commodity and we got for a cheaper alternative. Much of life is a hype – but the one thing that remains consistent is me. I’ve been through all the hypes, all the love, all the coming and the going, and I’m still who I am. I’ve adapted and learned, grown up and become a woman, and while I don’t forget the trends I trended through, I realize I’m always going to trend through something.

And if a particular style doesn’t look right on me or a musician doesn’t get me moving, or a man doesn’t hit the spots I need him to hit – I rest easy knowing the next hype is closer than I think.

Thank You, Mr. Wrong

As it usually is on Monday mornings, yesterday the downtown train to Chelsea was packed. I’m one to stand near the door and let others grab a seat, a gracious tactic that usually results in a quicker exit and entrance. This quarter past eight in the morning decision landed me squished between an elderly man reading The Times and a pair of matching tourists, complete with fanny packs and “I love NY” shirts and all.

Nearing my stop, my cart started to disperse and as I turned to catch a spot closest to the parting doors, I caught a whiff of an old familiar smell. Unable to keep myself from turning away, I subtly followed the scent to find the trail. A few mini steps clockwise, I came face-to-face with a 15-year-old with shouting headphones, who was not amused by how uncomfortably close I was to his sideways-cap.

Embarrassed, I grinned at him (he didn’t return one to me) and left the subway quickly as I couldn’t keep my head from buzzing with memories Axe Deodorant Spray. Scent is, after all, the strongest sense tied to memory, and for me, that scent will never represent anything or anyone but Mr. Faithful. My very first boyfriend, my puppy love, the man whose heart I shattered, and the dude who I lost my virginity to.

And that same fragrance takes me back to all of those things – laying with belly buttons touching as I wondered if sex would get better; if he was the man I would marry, if I would be the one who ended up with her high school sweetheart; if this was what real love felt like; if I would ever meet anyone I felt as strongly about. If it got better than this.

But if I could have reassured  my 15-year-old self about how much I had to look forward to and how much love I was actually capable of giving and receiving, I would have never worried. I would have enjoyed those moments of innocence, toes dipping into the warm lake at twilight, gleaming into the eyes of a guy, who three years later, would be far removed from my life.

Because in those hot summer nights and the cold winter evenings we spent together as two kids, feeling what we thought was love for the first time –we were each other’s right person. If you would have asked me a few months into our relationship – maybe up to the first year, even – I would have told you I’d go the rest of my life smelling that Axe spray every morning and be perfectly content.

Or when Mr. Fire introduced me to gnocchi – something that always reminds me of him when I see it at the grocery store – in his tiny kitchen in our tiny college town. Dancing  (and sliding) in our socks to Dave Matthews, laughing, sipping wine we were too young to buy, and our hearts racing in anticipation of the love we hadn’t made yet. With those wild eyes that always seemed to get me – he rubbed his nose against mine, scooped me into his arms, spun me around, and dipped me toward the ground, playfully asking: “Do you trust me?” In that instant – I would have proclaimed to the whole world I would trust him with my everything, would have given him anything, and would have said whatever I needed to say to stay in his grasp forever.

In thinking about this ever-elusive Mr. Right character – I’ve thought about all the guys who didn’t fit the bill. All of the ones I loved or the dudes he didn’t fall for me as fiercely as I intended them too, and all of the suckers in between.

Because while Mr. Curls, Mr. Faithful, Mr. Fling, Mr. Idea, Mr. Disappear, Mr. Unavailable, and Mr. Rebound all have names specific to my experience with them – their ultimate titles are all the same: Mr. Wrong. Even if at one time, they had the opportunity be Mr. Right or were Mr. Right Now when they stood by my side.

I’m not convinced there is only one right companion for every person, but I do think it’s important to remember the guys who weren’t right. The Mr. Wrongs, after all, will never be completely gone – because if they were, then what would have we gained from their love – or lack of? Would we be able to understand what works for us and what doesn’t? What it takes for someone to be what we need and what will never measure up to fulfill us?

How can we know when it’s right if we don’t know what it feels like when it’s not?

The Mr. Wrongs ended up not to be the men I decided to lead with, but they all served their purpose. I’ve learned the lessons I’ve decided they’ve taught me and with all of them, I’ve released the “what could have been” thoughts that always attach themselves when love goes astray. I’m not interested in rekindling any flame that’s burnt out, bur rather excited about what’s next.

Because if history truly does repeat itself, then I’m lucky. I’m blessed to be strong enough to overcome heartache, to choose what I need over what I want, and to be loved by a few incredible men. And though at the time, I didn’t always realize what was waiting for me is better than what I’ve felt before – I know it now. And without dating, loving, losing, and leaving the Mr. Wrongs, I would never have the confidence that a Mr. Right – or maybe a few Mr. Rights – await for me in the days, the months, and the years to come.

It is sometimes those unanswered prayers that are answered against what we thought we longed for, those memories that were once bittersweet but are not just fond, and those men who were right at one time – that teach us more than the one who ends up being right, right now. They may have broken our hearts or steered us in the wrong direction or we could have stepped all over them on the way to our own happiness and personal gains – but without them, we wouldn’t be one step closer to finding the love that doesn’t bite the dust.

So, thank you Mr. Wrongs – for a lot of things, but mainly, for being wrong.

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.