You Can Do Anything

I wondered if everyone who warned me about the dangers and lasting effects of forcing my wide little feet into heels every day had some merit in their concern as I hobbled back into my Harlem apartment in 2010. It smelled like marijuana and though I bought the cheap air fresheners from the Duane Reade around the block (a pharmacy I had never heard of), the scent was far too overpowering to ignore. The big box my mom sent me from North Carolina sat in my “kitchen”, or rather the furthest left portion of my 400-sq-feet room that amazingly cost $850 a month. I had spent the day going to interview to interview, scouring through every possible magazine masthead I could, emailing to meet up for coffee and praying to the job gods to give me their blessing. I had only lived in New York for two and a half weeks and most of my savings were gone thanks to a security deposit and first months rent. I started my hostessing gig in a week if I didn’t find employment before then. My parents couldn’t help. I was 150% on my own. I was terrified. And I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream. I wanted the city to welcome me with the open arms I always thought it had somewhere buried underneath it’s tough exterior and soiled streets. But instead of falling apart, I repeated my mantra:

You can do it, Lindsay. You’re a Tigar. You can do anything.

Putting the dirty details of my existent and non-existent dating life on the internet was rather a bold decision, I told some girl I met through a new friend I didn’t know well enough yet. The girl was “obsessed” with my blog and I felt a little naked in front of her – considering she knew about my last one night stand the boy who broke my heart in college, and yet, I had no idea what she told me her name was 10 minutes ago. I should be thankful for my job, I reminded myself the next morning while writing a blog about taxes for small business owners. It was a challenging subject matter, and my salary (barely) covered my expenses, but I longed to do what I already did for free: write things that will help women feel less alone. I knew how to get from point A to point B, but the thought of keeping up a popular personal blog, working 9-6, dating, attempting to make friends and applying for a new job seemed daunting. I had done it before when I moved here a year ago, I reminded myself. My drive didn’t seem quite as high but I knew that passion could never really be put out. After all, I repeated:

You can do it, Lindsay. You’re a Tigar. You can do anything.

It was as if the city knocked the air out of me on the ride up Broadway to the Upper West Side. The cabbie had asked if I wanted to take the highway, but I said I preferred to pay a little more and watch New York wind down on that Sunday night. We had been broken up for six months then, but never stopped sleeping together. Even though I acted like I wasn’t seeing him drunkenly or haphazardly, dangling my heart in front of him as he pushed it away. As always. But then the last shoe dropped and something inside me woke up – was this really the love I wanted? Was this the type of relationship I would encourage my friends, my readers, the strangers in the street to have? It wasn’t – and I gave him the choice to make it better. Pick me and work on it, or get out of my life. He wouldn’t decide – per usual – so I made the choice for him. But as I cried silently and the driver ignored my sobs, I felt the fear building up. What if that’s as good as it gets? What if I don’t meet anyone? What if I can’t feel it again? To keep from sobbing from that pit in your heart few people ever touch, I sang my song:

You can do it, Lindsay. You’re a Tigar. You can do anything.

Your knee doesn’t really hurt, you’re just listening to the pain instead of focusing on the finish. Remember philosophy class? What you give your attention to grows – focus on something else to distract yourself. I decided to think about complicated things as I pasted mile 8 on the West Side Highway last Sunday. Only 5.1 more miles to go to complete the NYC Half-Marathon that I didn’t have time to train for with everything. With my dad’s 5th surgery in one year. With the uncertainty surrounding my future. With my dire need to get laid after quite the dry spell. With a trip to Europe so close I can see it, but can’t get excited about just get. Not until my dad is fine. Not until my finances are balanced and my taxes are paid. Not until I finish this race, with my ears freezing and my joints aching with every step. But if I can just keep moving, I know I’ll be home napping before I can think. I know what to tell myself:

You can do it, Lindsay. You’re a Tigar. You can do anything.

Just when you think the sunshine that always defined you was withered away into the clouds that just keep surrounding you, a little ray shines it’s way through. People always warned me that finding my way on my own would be hard. That dating wasn’t easy in this city. That careers are flaky and my industry is shaky at very best. That friendships would require work and diligence, patience and understanding. That loving yourself and believing in the good gets easier and harder as you get older, as you experience more things and question, well, everything. And at times, it all seems impossible. It seems stagnant and unreal. Scary. Like all that you worked so hard for, all that you wanted, all of those magical things that you imagined growing up would never come true. And sometimes, they don’t. Other times, they do. Most of the time, they work out just how they’re supposed to – without you realizing they ever came to be at all.

But of all the struggles and the dilemmas your adult life puts you through, of all of the trouble, and all of the unanswered questions left spiraling in your mind, if you can remember one simple truth that’s true for you, that’s true for me, that’s true for everyone:

You can do anything.

That is, my dear, if you never stopping believing that you can. That you already have. That you always will.

What Would the Wise Woman Do?

I started taking this philosophy course at the start of the year. It was something that I was a little embarrassed to admit because it’s not the type of thing “us New Yorkers” do. Or at least, the response I’ve received so many times when I admit my class enrollment is “OMG, that sign on the subway! You actually did it!” (It looks like this, if you’re curious.)

Based on the advertisement alone, you would think it’s some hoax but the actual lessons I’ve learned through my 10-week schooling have been so influential on my life that I signed up for philosophy 2.

Each class, we discuss topics that relate to life as a group, and then we’re given homework to practice throughout the week. They range from “What would the wise woman do?” (your smarter, less crazy inner self) to “In every situation, find the beauty. If you don’t see it, look again. And if you still don’t see it, look again. And again.” (much easier said than done!).

All of these lessons about patience and listening, kindness and relaxing, selflessness and seeking the wisdom you can gain from every situation have benefited me immensely. When I’m stressed or anxious, upset or unsure, I find myself repeating the smart mantras to get me through the moment or the day or the incident. I’ve become more balanced at work, I spend more time really listening to what my friends have to say and giving more thoughtful, understanding advice. When I feel like the world is crashing down, I can usually apply something from the class and build back up the pieces that started to crumble.

In all areas of my life, I’ve become a better version of myself… except for the one pain point that philosophy class hasn’t been able to soothe:

My dating life.

Now – all of the principles I’ve been taught and repeated in my head for the past 10 weeks definitely make sense in terms of finding love:

Expand your circle of kindness. (Don’t just say no to some dude because he doesn’t fit perfectly into what you want)

Consider every person and every situation as a teacher. What can you learn? (When a date goes terribly and you are eying for the closest exit to get the f*** out of there, breathe, and see what you can gain from this experience.)

What you give your attention to grows. (If you keep focusing on the bad and the disheartening parts of being single or seeking love, you’re going to be continuously slapped in your pretty little face.)

Logically, I see the direct correlation but when I attempt to put it into practice, all of my zen attitudes and my self-encouraging thoughts quickly turn into the catastrophic rolling tide of negativity.

Like on Tuesday.

I met someone in a rather interesting way recently and I was excited about going out with him for the first time on Tuesday. There was some brief texting and some minor flirtation, and though I knew better than to get my hopes up about a date with a stranger, I was actually excited to see how it (and he) turned out. Maybe because the majority of first dates either go very well or very bad, or that I’m just so programmed to expect the worst out of men in New York, but as I was walking to the subway station to meet him, I felt the fear start creeping it’s way into my mind:

What if it’s really awkward? What if I don’t like him? What if how I remember him isn’t quite how he is? What if I’m really, really early? Or late? What if I say the wrong thing? What if I want to leave and I won’t know how to get away from him? What if he doesn’t think I’m pretty?

I felt my anxiety continue to build as I turned the corner and out of nowhere, something inside of me said: Look up. Look around you. Get out of your head and in the moment.”

And so I did.

I saw the toddlers racing out of their doorman building and the golden retriever happily following behind them. I saw young women around my age coming out of the local market with bags of food, talking to someone on the phone in hushed tones. I saw the street car vendor call out to passerbys and I saw little old men shuffling their way to the apartments they’ve probably had for decades.

And then I looked up…

… just as someone accidentally let go of a heart-shaped red balloon and it floated quickly up to the sky from the uptown streets of the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Just as I was walking by. And just as Maroon 5’s “Love Somebody” came on my Pandora app.

First, I though, wow, my friends are right. My life IS a romantic comedy, and then I gave myself a break for being so negative about relationships.

The truth is  – dating is hard. It is frustrating. It in oftentimes, infuriating. And after going on date after date and meeting guy after guy for two and a half years, it’s natural to be a little burnt out. It’s normal to feel nervous before a date and frankly, nervous for how you’ll feel afterwards: more disappointed or hopeful (and honestly, the latter is a little scarier than the first).

And while it’s okay to worry, my energy and my time (and my heart) are better spent living in the now. Enjoying every single second of every minute of every day of every week of every month of every year is the single most important thing I’ve gained from my philosophy training. Time spent analyzing the past and holding onto it keeps you from the joy and the splendor of the now. And wondering what tomorrow will bring or who you will meet or how it will go or how it won’t go or what will happen are all questions that you’ll never have the answers to until… well, they happen. The truth of everything is found while you’re experiencing, not afterwards and not in anticipation of the moment.

So I got on the train. I took the local and I read a book the whole way. I took my time getting to the bar. I casually sat down, arriving before he did. I drank some water and I scanned a menu I already basically had memorized. I saw him arrive and I watched him walk in.

He smiled a genuine, kind grin at me and sat down.

And we talked philosophy – something that both of us had studied and both had our lives and our mindsets changed because of the work. A few drinks, a few kisses and a few days later, I’m excited about our second date this Friday.

But I’m not stressed about it. I’m just letting it happen. Why?

Because that’s exactly what the wise woman would do.

You Can Fall Apart

A few weeks ago an article went viral on how to cry in New York.

Like anything that makes fun or sheds light on the city, I opened it, knowing I’d relate to whatever it said. I laughed at the tips – wear sunglasses and have a good song to really get you in the sobbing mood – and I liked the link my friend shared on Facebook.

And then on Friday, after a particularly stressful day, I found myself overwhelmed with my ever growing to-do list and as I talked to my mom (our nightly ritual on the two block walk to the train at night) – and I felt them.

The tears start to well.

I pressed into the receiver, complaining about the stress of doing taxes and how freelancing makes everything complicated and expensive. I expressed my anxiousness over the half-marathon I was running on Sunday (that I ended up rocking!). I talked about how guilty I felt about being jealous of my friends and their sweet boyfriends that surprise them with dinner reservations and a night out dancing – just because. I basically screamed into my iPhone that it wasn’t fair that for the past two and a half (and counting) years, I haven’t felt a lick of any emotion toward any man. My list went on – far too melodramatic to continue here – and as I kept going, I couldn’t hold back the sadness anymore.

I stopped in front of a party supply store and turned away from the people passing me on the street to hide my embarrassing, splashing drops, and my mom tried her best to comfort me with euphemisms and words of encouragement.

I got off the phone, finding it too difficult to talk, and stood there, collecting myself in the cold weather, praying no one I knew walked past me. I had cried in New York – like I have many times before – but I didn’t have sunglasses this time. Or a song to listen to. Or even tissues.

I avoided eye contact and kept my head down on the train home, willing myself to just make it to the UWS before collapsing on my bed, Lucy greeting me with her worried face and diligently licking away the salty mess. And though the article was right about ways to go about crying in New York, I’ve always found it hard to fall apart.

Certainly in public and often times, not even alone.

Somehow, letting it all come pouring out feels like opening the flood gates to something I don’t want to reveal or even see for myself. Why open the doors when denial feels so warm and protective? If I let the stress build and then I admit that it’s heavy, I fear I won’t be able to pick it up again, paralyzed by the thoughts themselves.

Falling into negativity doesn’t wash away the despair, it just heightens it.

And so, I mostly keep it together. I sing little mantras in my head for when I’m nervous. I remind myself that most everything is temporary and the best thing about life is that it always changes. I hold my head high and I try to count the things I’m thankful for instead of rhyming the things that make me bitter. I believe in the great tapestry of the universe and that I will never be dealt a hand so bad that I can’t handle it. I try to place my faith in the goodness, the boldness, the kindness of the world – and of this city – and thus, by merely having hope, I have strength in my heart.

But sometimes, like on Friday, the best possible thing I could do for myself was to let it go. To allow the thoughts to race through my mind, dangerously close to the edge of reason. To watch myself spiral wickedly out of control, witnessing my emotions like an outsider, seeing the adult tantrum take form, and eventually, end.

Because the thing about falling apart is that once you do it, you feel lighter. Those damning feelings don’t read as threatening anymore. Anger, jealousy, fear – whatever was building within you – go from boiling to simmering to frozen. Sure, there may be messy tissues and mascara-stained pillow cases, but once you’re finished, once you really release it, you’re you again.

And the world can see it.

Everyone around sees the weight that lifted. Your eyes are clearer, your head is not as cloudy, you’re smile is more generous. And perhaps, you attract something – or someone – just by releasing the tension you were clinging to for far longer than you needed to.

So you can fall apart. You can let it all hang out. You can lose control and have a meltdown. You can curse the world and fear your future. You can watch everything crumble and break, and you can bend yourself to the negativity. You can cry your eyes out like you have so many times before.

But then, you have to get up.

And though you may fall apart again and again and again – what’s more important is how many times you pick up the pieces and put yourself back together. The mark of a person is not how many times they have suffered or failed or been disappointed, but how many times they have said, “Okay, I’m done. Now what?”

So go ahead. Cry. Let it out. Let it go. And then figure out what comes next. Because trust me, there will always be something more – something better – to come.

Once Upon a Tinder

I was adamantly against Tinder when it first came out.

I couldn’t understand as my friends explained about swiping left and right, choosing guys to go on dates with based purely on a glorified, modern version of hot-or-not. I needed to know things before letting a guy buy me a drink. I couldn’t blindly accept an offer without knowing at least the very basics….

… Could I?

I can. I did. I have. I do.

A quick glance at my matches list today reveals I’ve swiped right on enough men to give me 312 potential daters. Of all those guys somewhere in New York (or NJ or CT), the vast majority are sitting idly in my inbox with absolutely no conversation, a third of them are silent after the niceties wore off and others asked such inappropriate questions they quickly escalated to being blocked (or screenshotted) within seconds.

Even so, it’s fun. So you play.

Tinder is an easy, no-fuss app for finding dates, and you would think the process of getting off our iPhones and getting on a bar stool would be easier… but it’s not.

Back-and-fourth painfully boring questions (that would already be answered if anyone bothered to fill out their profile or Tinder created a form), makes you quickly lose interest. Or excuse my crudeness – you get guys who ask if you will sit on their face.

Nope.

At the start of the year, I deleted the app and prevailed to meet more men the old-fashioned way. Surely if my parents and their parents and several of the couples I know today met through friends or at a bar or in a class- I could do that too. I’m social! I told myself. I’m friendly! I can do this!

Then polar vortex happened. Like five times. And then I made a last-minute trip to NC. And I got into the NYC Half-Marathon and had to start training. And then… well I stopped making an effort to go out. Blame it on the weather or my age (and the hangovers that just keep getting worse!), or just on the fact that dating is tough, but it’s March 13 and I’ve gone on whopping 4 dates this entire year.

None if which were worthy of a blog post.

And so, I did what I think many women do: I re-downloaded Tinder. I watched as the matches rolled in, building my confidence and making me blush that I am hot! I am dateable! I am worthy! I’ll find love!

But the thing about a meaningless app is that it produces meaningless pseudo-relationships and dates. Because the simple act of just judging someone’s appearance and a two-sentence description (if that long even) doesn’t equal any sort of actual connection. Though it does make you feel wanted, the sad truth is that most Tindering is done while waiting in line at Starbucks. Or on the toilet. Or passing time in between meetings or at lunch.

And while I haven’t actually gone on a date with any of these new guys since welcoming the flame back to my iPhone’s home screen, I feel like I’ve put myself out there more. I feel like I’ve been dating. I feel like I’m being more proactive about my love life. Like Pinterest, even though I haven’t actually done anything differently – the simple act of swiping makes me feel like I’ve pranced around all of New York and met all of it’s bachelors.

But I haven’t. At all.

There are a few guys I’d probably go out with, and yet I couldn’t tell you their names without checking Tinder right now. I couldn’t tell you anything I talked about with them or why I was intrigued enough to say “yes” instead of  “no” – because they had dimples? Their profile said they were 6 foot? Because I liked their photo with a Tiger? Or from the Color Run?

I don’t know and I bet the same guys wouldn’t know a thing about me either. They especially wouldn’t know that while I’m messaging them or selecting them, I don’t look like that made-up girl in my photos – instead, I’m plucking the chinny-chin hairs off my face with my hair in a messy bun, eating popcorn and wearing oversized sweat clothes I’ve had for almost six years.

Attractive, eh?

I get the appeal of Tinder and I understand why it’s still growing and popular – but I wish there was a way to make online (or app) dating more serious. Maybe if Hinge could get it’s messaging issue together, it’d be an option, but even more than that – I want a way to make dating online more like dating offline.

How do you make something so superficial have substance? How to look past your own mental check-boxes while trolling profiles to give someone a chance? How do you know if you’d actually talk to them in a bar before deciding to go out with them? How do I best spend the very little time I have to date the smartest and most effective way?

I don’t know the answers – but my guess is that Tinder probably won’t derive the results that I desire. And so, like I have done several times before, I’m deleting it.

But for good this time. And with a clever twist: I took the time to scour through all 312 matches (yes, really) and I sent a message to the ones that I could possibly be interested in with my e-mail. If they’re interested in something beyond dirty questions and pointless banter, they’ll get in touch.

Or they won’t.

Either way, I give up my once-upon-a-Tinder fairytale dreams. I give up deluding myself that I’m actually dating, when I’m not. And I’m not making myself feel bad because I’m focusing on other things or choosing my friends or new adventures over finding a so-called prince to shape my Manhattan life. I might want a happily ever after, but it’s not going to be found inside of an app. And maybe not inside of a bar or a running group or an Italian class or a philosophy course or any of the above.

Maybe it’ll be somewhere else entirely.

But for now, I’m trading the glass slippers for running shoes to run my second half-marathon on Sunday. I’m letting go of a silly app and I’ll celebrate crossing the finish line with margaritas and my dearest of fairy godmothers – eh, I mean friends – and should an attractive someone be there, so be it.

And if not… I will be in Europe in 21 days. Just saying.

Why I’m Not Ready to Get Married

Originally published on YourEngagement101.com

When I was a little girl, I would wrap a white sheet around me, put on my plastic princess heels and steal wildflowers out of my mother’s garden to play bride.

Because I grew up an only child, my parents were forced to indulge my imagination: my dad serving as my grinning groom, my mom stuck as the minister. I would make my kind, patient father write and deliver vows and then I’d perform them as if it there was a studio audience that consisted of more than my wide collection of stuffed animals.

Getting married wasn’t the only thing I played make believe with though: I was also Indiana Jones, a secret spy solving a murder mystery, a woman finding her man cheating, a homeless person begging for pennies, a teacher and Lois Lane – just to name a few.

But of course, all of my adventures in pretendland always ended with a happy embrace, finding love, meeting that perfect man, having a family.

Happily ever after.

Twenty years later, a lot of things in my life feel unreal because they’ve turned out so much better than I could have dreamed up myself. I live in New York City, I’m a writer, blogger and an editor, I have the luxury to travel and explore, I’m blessed with friends all over the country, I’m healthy enough to run a half-marathon, and though I haven’t met the man I’ll marry, I’ve been lucky to fall in love a few times with some pretty great guys.

Part of me can’t wait to start that relationship – or to at least be reassured that this mythical creature actually does exist out there, somewhere, dating all the wrong women while I date all the wrong men. Part of me is afraid that I picked the absolute worst city to capture the right guys attention.

And another part of me – probably the biggest part of me – is nowhere near ready for marriage. Even if the average bride in the United States is 25 – it’s hard to imagine being wed at this point in my life.

I’ll admit it though – I scour through my Facebook friends walls, reading their engagement stories, liking all of the photos in their wedding albums. I smile at little baby bumps that grow into bouncing toddlers. I get excited thinking about when some of my best friends will get engaged and how I’ll be a bridesmaid and watch them take those sacred vows, joining together with boyfriends that I’ve started to call my friends, too.

There is no doubt that I’m a sucker for love.

It’s my driving force behind everything, and above all other things, it’s the one truth I’ll always believe in: love is powerful and it exists in so many different forms.

But it’s also something that I have faith will always be there and is never anything to rush into. As much as there is happiness and hope surrounding marriage, I think a lot of women also feel fear (I know I do): what if he doesn’t exist? What if this kind-of-okay boyfriend is really the best I’ll ever find? What if I wait too long to get married and can’t have kids? What if I really am too picky? With so much doubt and questioning, it’s easier to throw in the towel and settle down with someone who is good enough…

…but maybe not quite great.

Before I’m committed to someone, I want to commit to myself. I want to go through lots of difficult things as an individual that will make me brighter, stronger and happier. I want to be a whole person before I meet another whole person – I’m not looking to be completed by anyone else. Before I say “I do” – I want to say, “I do” to adventure and travel and experiences that don’t involve a man. Before I get into a relationship or put on an actual gown (and not a sheet), I want to know that no matter what, I’d be totally fine on my own.

Because there’s a difference between wanting a man and needing one. And I’ll know when I’m ready to get married, ready to walk down that aisle, ready to maybe change my last name when I want a partner, I don’t need one. Most fear, after all, comes from desperation, and most of our regrets are from when we were afraid.

So I’m single. I’m 25. I’m not desperate. I’m in no rush. I’m not ready to get married. And that’s better than good enough. It’s great.

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.

Has It Always Been Love?

My back felt wet against the grass, the mud oozing onto my mother’s dress. It wasn’t made for my 8-year-old self, but it was ideal for my wild imagination. It was one of those fall nights that still felt warm, where the fireflies still danced across the backyard, where you could smell a fire burning somewhere beyond the mountain range, but you didn’t need to feel it to keep your breath from showing in the air. The sun was setting and my stomach was growling, ready for something fried and something green, the common supper staple of North Carolina, a state I called home, but not a state where I would live one day.

I looked up at the rich, deep blue Southern sky, counting the stars – one, two, three, three hundred, infinity – and trying to find the Little and Big Dipper because my grandmother once told me it was good luck if you could find them both fast. I always made the same wish when I did: I want to be in loveIt was on that green field with a farm to my left and a trailer park to my right, that I did all of my pretending. In that tree with that swing, my name is carved along with every boy I loved until the eighth grade when we moved. Underneath the back porch that was full of cobwebs and potential rattle snakes, I painted hearts with red paint, believing that if I kept drawing what I wanted, I’d see him some spiraling down our gravel driveway, ready to take me away. To where, I never knew but that’s how the fairytales ended.

Sure, I sometimes was a princess in my never-ever land, but most of the time I was much more than that: I was Lois Lane and Superman was coming to my rescue while I got the story to press on time. I was the female-version of Indiana Jones, running circles around my childhood home, pretending a giant bolder was chasing me. I was Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, all sass and red lipstick, oblivious to the plot line, and desperately in love with Richard Gere. I was Princess Buttercup and I just knew my Wesley would roll down that giant sledding hill in front of my house yelling, “As you wish.”

I didn’t need to know what it felt like to be in love as a kid – I was already in love with love.

I wrapped the long phone chord around me until my legs were stuck together and wobbled to the washing machine to close the pantry door. I needed privacy to listen to my very first crush talk about his very first guitar and how he was playing in his first band and that it was going to be epic. So epic. I didn’t pay attention to most of what he said, but I loved the way he said it. Especially when I imagined those curly black locks that seemed to shape into a floating bowl around his head. He was different than what I was used to and he hung out with a crowd that wasn’t my kind, but I was smitten.

We met on a school field trip to Camp Greenville and when we sat down at this chapel at the top – appropriately called Pretty Place – he rested his hand on mine and smiled. It would take me a month to talk to him, six months of obsessing and doodling his name on my notebooks, and a year until we finally were more than friends. And on some very cold January night while a friend slept over and we played Dream Phone, he asked if I’d be his girlfriend. After carefully putting him on mute, I screamed so loud that our motion light came on outside in the driveway. And now, two-whole-months later, we were holding hands outside of class and going to dances together. We had nicknames and he gave me a Valentine’s Day card that my mom put in my baby book for safe keeping. He kissed me before he caught the bus and I went to meet my parents, and though I always wanted more time alone, we were allowed to walk the mall downtown together for an hour on Saturdays.

It was love. He was love. I didn’t need to fall in love, I just knew.

I could hear him screaming my name from far, far below. His head was bopping in and out of water so clear you could see the catfish at the bottom, waiting for their chance to feed at something or for a fisherman to take a chance to feed them. I knew I couldn’t actually see his grin from way up here on top of this bank, covered in Georgia clay mud – the reddest you’ll see this side of the Mississippi – but I could feel it looking up at me. My high school sweetheart’s love was so effortless and sweet – he treated me like I was as delicate as the honeysuckle bushes, something to be savored because it only lasted so long. From the time I slipped my number in his pocket outside of biology class, inviting him to my dad’s annual smokeout to when he kissed me harder than anyone had in our clammy basement on a futon that smelled like mildew, I knew he’d be mine. I knew he’d be someone so very special in my life that I didn’t bat an eyelash before telling him so.

And now, he was telling me to grab that rope and swing into the lake where my family was all waiting for me. I wasn’t afraid of heights – but I was terrified of this fall. The ground had turned my feet orange and my hands were caked in it from the climb up. What if I didn’t let go when I was supposed to? What if I let go too quickly? What if I wasn’t strong enough to run and jumpYou can do it baby, I love you! Come here right now! 

I jumped.

But I didn’t fall – I splashed right next to him and he helped me onto the boat, rubbing his skinny little arms around me to keep me from shivering, even though it was the dead of July. I loved him – and I didn’t need to fall to feel it, I just needed to leap.

I stepped out of the fancy car that he called for me, leading to a destination that was meant to be a surprise. But I had studied New York for the past 15 years, so that wasn’t quite possible. We were at Lincoln Center, right at sunset, and he was wearing a tailor-made suit while I was trying to rock a dress that was on sale at TJ Maxx. My feet felt unsteady, both in these heels and in this city. It was becoming everything and nothing like I had imagined, consistently mesmerizing and demoralizing me, every other block – but I kept at it anyway. Especially since he – this blonde-haired, blue-eyed, 6’4″ man – was there to support me if I couldn’t make it. I had grown accustomed to him in the way I felt comfort seeing stars, something so rare in a place with energy from every other direction but up. He was something to wish upon – someone still in the making, someone I could play make-believe about in my mind, imagining the time when he decided to step out of his frog disguise.

Maybe tonight was when he’d do it: why are we here? I inquired as he led me up the steps to the fountain in the middle that was bursting with water, sparkling with little white lights. When we made it, he twirled me around as we locked eyes and he dipped me, just so my hair caught a runaway droplet, and kissed me. You said in one of your blogs that you wanted to be kissed here as the sun was setting.

Had I? I wondered as he led me to destination two of our ultra-romantic date – dinner and then a staycation at the penthouse of The Empire Hotel. I didn’t remember crafting such words, but how could I possibly remember everything that I’d ever written? I watched the taxis that night wearing a robe that costed more than my rent from the window while he slept, questioning what it feels like to be in love. And how to know when you’re falling, without actually… well, falling.

Two-and-a-half years later, I’m still figuring out the answer.

Because though I’ve known love and I’ve craved it… I don’t know if I’ve ever been in love with anything other than, well love.

This Valentine’s Day, write a self-love letter to yourself and it’ll be published (anonymous or not) on Confessions of a Love Addict! And you enter yourself to win a prize pack of beauty products and a Home Goods gift card! Learn more here. Submit here.