The Fixer Upper Syndrome

When I moved into my apartment, I was damned-and-determined to do everything on my own. For high school graduation, I was given a tool kit and it made it through college and the New York move, so I used all of its knick-knacks to hang up my decor. I hung a shelf with a balance, stood on my tippy-toes to get my curtains to hang correctly and carried a microwave in a box five blocks instead of taking a cab. Sure, I could have asked for help and it may have been easier – but I get satisfaction by doing it myself.

I think I may get the trait from my mother – she’s the type of woman who would rather struggle with something heavy and mow the lawn herself instead of swallowing her pride to ask my dad for help. He lets her go about things her own way and eventually when something is just a bit too much, she’ll reluctantly admit she needs him. I was raised to believe that nothing stands in the way of my success or my happiness and that anything worth doing is better done knowing you earned it yourself. There are no shortcuts for the rise to the top or for finding peace – you have to work hard, sweat hard, and learn how to accept failure to find your way.

It’s with that mentality that I approach most everything in my life.

I’ll ask my friends for advice until the keys on my laptop start sticking or I’m blue in the face, but when it comes to actually working it out – no advice they can give will make a difference until I make up my mind. I don’t blame anyone for my shortcomings except for myself, and any problems I have are my responsibility to fix, not anyone else’s. I’ve never expected a man to come into my life, erase all of my baggage, be my savior, lover, therapist, and burly protector. A man’s role is to be my partner, not the person who takes care of me – I’m more than capable of doing that alone.

But it’s not a two-way street with me. I seem to attract men who resemble art projects I had in elementary school. Their pieces are strung about everywhere, their edges are sharp and subtle all at once, and the trail of relationship destruction they leave stretches as far as I can see. They have troubled minds and wounded egos, they are going through some sort of midlife crisis where all hell has broke loose, no matter what age they are. They have issues and hangups, tend to get hangovers easily, yet drink easier. They are emotional and sometimes heartless, cold and selfish. They seem sad and lost, angry and resentful – all qualities that most intelligent women would run far, far away from as fast as their Manolo’s would take them.

Not me though.

I’ve diagnosed myself with Fixer Upper Syndrome. And I’m not sure if they’ve found a cure for it yet.  Maybe my real calling isn’t writing, but real estate – finding men when they’re value is rather low and then flipping them into bold, attractive and put-together studs who go at a higher price point. Probably not though – I’ve yet to change a man, no matter how much I’ve believed I could. No matter how much patience I have, no matter how great I am in bed, how understanding and kind, no matter how long I stick around to see if the finishing touches will stick instead of chip.

In the process of dating these defeated warriors though, I end up not doing anything productive. I become a happy, safe harbor for them to wallow in their sorrows deeper, knowing they have a pretty face with a reassuring smile to wake up to. But what about me? What do I get in return? Every man has surely added something and taught me a lesson I needed to learn to be a better person – but most of them have taken way more than they’ve given.

And yet I’ve stayed loyal and constant, an unwavering force that regardless of how much they reckon, I reckon it’s not too much. My enough-is-enough point is pushed way further than any of my friends. While they’re advising me to run for the hills and protect myself from the hurt that’s looming, I’m planted firmly in the ground, convicted in the belief that one day, this tortured soul will transform into my soulmate.

But do they ever? Have they ever? Has any woman stood by her man and he ultimately became the man she dreamed of? Or do we all want to be the special one who could withstand the ups and downs, no matter how much we had to swallow our own heart to survive the storm? What’s the sweet spot between being in a dysfunctional relationship that could be functional and choosing yourself because you frankly can’t give a damn anymore? Or would they have to change so much that they wouldn’t even be themselves, and you would have to sacrifice so much of what you want, that you wouldn’t be happy?

When you’re so incredibly self-sufficient and you yearn to date someone who is the same, why do you always attract and subsequently fall for the exact opposite? Do a go-getter and fixer-upper ever make it? Or do they become stranded in the middle, neither living up to their potential? Can you cause someone more trouble by staying with them than you could if you left them to their own devices, to build that backbone and that thick skin that you already have?

Maybe it’s true that while a lot of things make a happy relationship, like support and forgiveness, patience and kindness, hungry conversation and tenacious passion – sometimes, love simply isn’t enough. It’s easy to love someone when they strike a chord with you or match your heartstrings, but if they don’t love themselves, if they aren’t a whole person – there isn’t enough love to fix them. They’ve gotta fix themselves first.

Perhaps the only way to cure Fixer Upper Syndrome is to fix yourself by accepting that men aren’t supposed to be projects, they’re supposed to feel like the prize that surprises you instead of relying on you.

Damn Girl, You’re Lookin’ Good

Back in college, when I was wrestling with the idea of having sex outside of a relationship, a friend of mine asked me something so ordinary that it caught me off guard:

Do you find yourself sexy when you’re all alone?

It’s was an interesting concept, I thought at the time. I looked down at myself wearing a homecoming t-shirt from the year before with baggy sweatpants, my hair pulled up in a clip I’d never be caught dead wearing in New York. My makeup was smudged from the day’s wear and I had just downed at least two pieces of pizza (I won’t admit to anything higher than that). But had I needed to be sexy today?

What had I done anyway? I had gone to class wearing jeans and cute top with heels. I had met friends for lunch, had no intentions of seeing a man that evening or of taking off my clothes in any strip-pole-approved manner. It was just another day – one that ended in my dorm room, next to my friend with green eyes and flawless olive-color skin. She had back muscles – something I’m still figuring out how to develop even with my best gym efforts. I bet she always felt sexy, regardless if a guy was worshiping her or not, I thought as I looked at her. This surely wasn’t a fair question for me to answer – the me who is consistently pale and pimpley.

“I mean, I feel sexy when I dress myself up for a night out or where that little black dress I love,” I replied casually. She rolled her eyes at me in return: “No, silly – I mean when there is no intention of being with anyone or of having sex or of doing anything. Do you ever have a night in with yourself where you just feel sexy on your own?” she asked. I raised an eyebrow in return, silently questioning her. “Oh Linds, I don’t mean like that, I just mean the feeling of being sexy,” she said with exaggeration.

At that point – I hadn’t.

I only put on anything remotely sexy when I thought I would have a reason to take it off. I only splurged on lingerie when there was a special occasion or when I felt the need to up the ante with my partner at the time. I never lathered myself in lotion and expensive perfume just for the hell of it, or laid around in silk bathrobes or lace bras and panties. I didn’t walk around naked, only in my heels and look at myself in the mirror and think, “Damn girl! Look at you!”

I admitted that I don’t feel sexy alone and she made a suggestion: “When I want to feel sexy on my own, I order in a pizza and then I change into my sexiest lingerie and eat it alone on the couch with dim lighting and sensual music.” While that sounded nice, it wasn’t the way I wanted to romance myself.

And to really knock myself off my own feet, I’d have to figure out what was romantic to me. Over the course of the next few weeks when my roommate wasn’t home, I’d try different things. I’d walk around naked with stilettos. I’d eat a big bowl of pasta while wearing silk (and pray not to drip on it). I’d throw something over my lamp to make it sultry and I’d curl up my hair so it flowed around my face. I laid on my bed seductively, attempting to find a position that made me feel like a supermodel. I tried all sorts of things until none of them worked, I lost interest and forgot the conversation.

Maybe my friend had found her inner-sexy at 19, but it took me a little more time. It wasn’t until I moved, when I came home after a day of worked, followed by dinner with a dear friend and poured myself a glass of wine that it clicked. I was standing in a black skirt from work, a black lace push-up bra, my only pair of designer shoes still on, my hair naturally wavy with Merlot resting in my hand and I caught a glimpse of myself. My other hand was turning on the computer, my lips were pieced and my eyes were unusually blue for being indoors and I felt beautiful.

I finally felt sexy.

And it wasn’t that I was doing anything particularly sexy – there were no candles, no soothing music, no anything spectacular. But that was the beauty of it. That was what made it sexy. I realized that without trying, without making a big deal of it, without testing out positions or deciding if silk or stockings gave me more pin-up qualities that I was sexy. I was sexy all on my own, without doing anything at all.

So I don’t really try to romance myself anymore. I wear the right bra with the right shirt, sometimes it is lace and sometimes its not. I buy skirts that fit me, some that hug my hips more than others. I lay however I wish on my bed and I don’t think twice. And I continue to find these moments where I catch a passing reflection of myself on the street or in the privacy of my apartment that I see my inner sex goddess and that Southern drawl comes out all on its own with and it thinks: “Damn girl, you’re lookin’ good!”

Playing House

I haven’t been outside today.

I woke up late with Mr. Possibility, made french toast while he made bacon, we watched re-runs of The Sopranos while lying around, aimlessly chatting and working on our own projects. From time-to-time we’d look over at each other and smile, at other times we were content just sitting in the same room. I showered and immersed myself into a freelancing article that’s due tomorrow and he wrapped himself up in the language studies that are occupying his mind.

There was nothing special about this day – now I’m still working on that damn article while writing this blog, munching on leftovers and drinking a glass of Merlot that’s hitting all the right spots. M recently got me hooked on Criminal Minds, so it is serving as a beautiful distraction, the only sound in the room except for the dishwasher running.

I’m not wearing anything fancy nor am I sporting my usual face of makeup, I’m natural with my hair wavy and unbrushed, I’m completely alone in an apartment that’s not mine – and I’m happy in the silence. I’m not sure if I believe in moving in together before becoming engaged, but I do know that playing house can sometimes be a good indicator of how you work with someone on a day-to-day basis.

The daily interactions used to not matter so much to me. I was in college or right out of it and thought that romance and butterflies, sexual tension and candlelit dinners were more important than anything else. I wanted to always have a racing heart, a sweaty palm and the feeling that I couldn’t live without someone. I wanted it to be intense and over-the-top, the kind of irresponsible and uncontrollable love that makes you die a little inside when you think about it.

Sure, I have sparks with Mr. Possibility. There’s definitely passion. But it’s not remarkable chemistry that makes us click – it’s the way we operate as a team. And while we’re not living together, nor will be we be anytime soon, the fact that we can function easily without much tension is a testament to how playing house could translate into making a home.

I’m not at that stage in my life – I couldn’t imagine having days like today over and over again. There are still countries I want to visit, experiences I want to have, people I want to meet, dreams to follow, and mistakes I want to make before I settle into happily-ever-after-home-sweet-home. I want to become a better version of me before I become anyone’s partner for the long run.

But sometimes, on a lazy Sunday with a pretty big week ahead, it’s refreshing to sit around in your guy’s t-shirt, relaxing and writing just as you love to do, enjoying the company of yourself and looking forward to the person you love to come home. I don’t want to be settled down, but it’s nice to have your heart settled in a moment.

You Shall Not Pass

I’m not someone who avoids change. I wouldn’t say I embrace it fully, but the thought of my life changing isn’t one that’s terrifying. Instead, it’s exciting. I accept and anticipate the fact that a year from now, my life may look entirely different. I may want different things, I may be still with Mr. P, with someone else, or single. I may be at a completely new company, freelancing full-time, living overseas, or in an opposite industry. I could be ten pounds lighter or heavier, I could be fluent in another language, I could be in love, I could be nursing a heartbreak, I could be…anything.

Our youth is good for encouraging spontaneity and the pursuit of change. Before I’m sanctioned into a marriage, busy with children, or at a point where money is more for saving and planning than for passing this month’s rent check and blowing dollars on brunch. Before my life as a Mrs or mommy begins, I get the chance to really take chances. To take the detour instead of the hard way, to date someone just for the hell of it, not with the intention of forever-and-ever-and-always. To leave New York if I wish or to stay. It’s a beautiful thing really – knowing that in any moment, with one phone call, with one glance, with one chance, with one experience,  with one connection, with one single something, life as I know it – could be transformed. I could look back at this moment, wearing Mr. P’s tshirt, eating leftover spaghetti while listening to a mix between his attempt at learning German via Rosetta Stone and some John Legend, and it all may seem like a distant memory, a universe that I’m not longer apart of, but a vision I’ll never forget.

My mother (and my friend K) always spew off the cliche promise, “This too shall pass” when I’m worrying that the now that’s not working seems unbearable. When I’m frustrated or feeling like there will never be anything better than this awful experience I’m part of, this seemingly hopeless existence I’m existing in – I remember that time passes, people change, and life will look different before I know it. The world will turn and so will my attitude, in a passing, fleeting moment that I won’t remember in a few years.

But while things will change and so will I – the me that I am at my core, won’t pass. Just as some graffiti artist said in surprisingly legible handwriting…

Life changes and we’re allowed to make mistakes that make us into better people. We’re allowed to stay put longer than we should, move this way or that, love this person and then stop, be who we want to be and then be someone new. But that heart that feels so fragile, that soul that continues to thirst for more, and that mind that won’t stop spinning both in the good times and the bad – those all stay the same. Sure, they’ll get tougher and stronger, learn how to endure and decide when enough is enough (or when a little more is better) – but they don’t pass us by.

Maybe that’s the trick of it all. If time tells us that it’s coming with or without permission or notice and we’re just all an object of the universe, meant to be manipulated and stand trial in front of the heavens – then our only responsibility is to keep ourselves in tact. To let life change, let people come and go, let everything around us crumble and fall, be built again, love and lose – but to not pass ourselves by.


The Things That Never Happen

Long before teens and tweens become obsessed with vampires – I was deathly afraid of them. Having broken the rules and watched an episode of Tales from the Crypt with my friend who was allowed to watch it, I became terrified. There were nocturnal creatures who preyed on my neck and if they took a bite, I’d be doomed to be a scary blood-sucker like them?

I’m sorry Edward Cullen, but that’s just not sexy to me.

Not being able to hide my fright in the middle of the night, my parents soon realized I had been spooked by something and grounded me for going against their recommendations for proper viewing. But my own fear was punishment enough – I hung garlic on my bedpost, tucked the sheets around my neck (as if cotton would protect me from fangs?), and begged for a clap-on-clap-off light until my parents obliged so I could clothes my eyes and not have to open them again, just in case there was something scary standing above me.

After a week of sleepless nights and crying fits, I asked my mom for the 100th time how she knew that Dracula wasn’t coming to get me in my ballerina-inspired pink bedroom off a gravel road in a two-story countryhouse in North Carolina. Frustrated with me but not showing it, she said, “The things you worry about the most never happen.”

My troubles have changed as I’ve grown: would I make the tennis team, would I pass the SAT, would I have a high school sweetheart, would I pick the right college, would I be heartbroken if Mr. Whatever broke up with me, would I ever find love again, would I be able to graduate early, would I fail in New York, would I become a good editor, would I survive in the notoriously difficult NYC dating field, would I…?

While I’m not a negative person, it’s become a common reaction when I’m worrying to think of the worse case scenario. When I’m upset about my career or wonder if I’m on the right path, I automatically picture myself having to pack my bags and return to my home state, defeated and unsuccessful, hanging my head low while avoiding all of my old friends and sinking into a rocky depression. When I’m worried about love, I picture a messy breakup with Mr. P that involves screaming and hurt feelings, the end of a friendship and the foundation of trust and fidelity shattered into pieces that won’t fit back together. When I stress about how I look, I imagine myself gaining five pounds with each bite of cheesecake, my clothes not fitting and feeling like an ugly ducking that’ll never bloom into a sophisticated city swan that gracefully cascades down the streets of Manhattan.

But when I start seeing with a tunnel-vision of devastation instead of one with realistic consequences, I remind myself that the things I worry about the most never happen. Sure, I could take a few wrong turns on the way to the dream job and the dream may change. I could be silly to give Mr. P another chance and it could all blow up in my pretty little face, as so many have warned me. I could decide to let myself go, curse the gym and gain 50 pounds.

All of these things could happen and maybe they will, but it won’t be in the absolutely awful way I imagine them happening. None of these things would be the death of me – I would be hurt, I’d be a little lost, I’d have to take a step back and reevaluate, but I’d be okay. I would stand up again, I’d figure out a new path, I’d find a new love (or be happy on my own), and I’d build up my confidence again.

I may not have been able to survive if vampires were real and they attacked me when I was a kid, but as an adult, I can handle just about anything that life throws me.  And I can spend my time worrying about these things that’ll never happen to me, or I can live my life. I can dwell in fear or I can be the brave person I know I am. I can waste time conjuring up all of the ways things can go wrong, or I can be thankful for all the ways it is already right.

Daily Gratitude: Today, I’m thankful for my lovely friends who always put everything perspective.