What Feels Right to You

Today, I rose unusually early for a Saturday to join my friend K and support my friend, Mr. Hitch at a dating conference in NYC. The idea behind the 8-hour multi-talks day was to teach women how to find their dream bachelor and to correct how they are going about it the wrong way.

Maybe it’s because I’m fresh out of a relationship or perhaps it’s due to the last year of writing this blog, but something about the sessions rubbed me the wrong way.

Now, don’t get me wrong — I found everything I heard very interesting and I admired all of the stories from the dating experts. In fact, they really did remind me of myself: they woke up one day, realized how they were obsessing about love and went out to fix it by first fixing themselves. It makes total sense to me and though we may have all went about improving our lives and learning to love ourselves first and foremost, I truly believe that to find love, you first have to define yourself by love. And that often means coming to terms with that negatively bitter sourpuss attitude that most of us have toward dating once we’ve been in the race for a while. It also means realizing that while you’re not perfect, you do deserve more than just scraps a man throws at you, even if because he’s simply a man (and that seems so hard to find!), you think you have to put together those pieces to create a prince. The more we do that, the more we keep creating frogs.

While sitting at the conference, taking notes in case I wanted to write something for work, I looked around the room. There were women of all ages, shapes and sizes, life stages, races and styles. There was hardly any whispering, all were listening contently and many were scribbling down things to remember, even though they didn’t have an assignment like I did. Many asked thoughtful questions and inhaled the answer as if it was the solution to all their problems. Everyone who came lived in some portion of New York, was single and paid $50 to learn how not to be anymore.

And really, it made me kind of sad.

I couldn’t help but wonder — where is the male version of this seminar? Do guys do all that they can to meet the right girl? Do they come up with strategies and gameplans to be in the best position of the bar, to go to lectures because there is a higher caliber of women in such places? Do men obsess about the hidden meaning between cryptic text messages? Are they told to purposefully wear red because it attracts the opposite sex’s attention? Do experts tell them to make sure they are groomed and polished, put together and showing just enough to be just enough sexy, but not too much? Are they encouraged to take a year to really find themselves, to go out and be alone and learn to be single so they will be more confident and comfortable? Are they told to have nice, light conversation and to reach for the check, but don’t actually pay it on the second date because the gal will notice?

The advice really isn’t bad advice, in fact, it’s pretty accurate. Wearing red will make you stand out in a pool of New Yorkers who have an oddly natural affinity to black. Being casual instead of super serious and confrontational will win you more dates. Going out at 7 p.m. instead of 1 a.m. will open up a whole new group of men that maybe aren’t just out for someone to share a cab back to their place with at the end of the night. Attending concerts and visiting museums will host more men who are more concerned with things other than football and pounding Bud Lights. A simple smile across the room while maintaining eye contact will lure dudes in your general direction.

These are all very smart and strategic words of wisdom — but as I listened and considered what I was learning, a part of me wanted to stand up and say: Get out of this conference room and go out there and just start talking to people! Go and figure out what makes you happy, go find your joy. Put yourself out of your own comfort zone and try things that you have been afraid to do. Go on a date with someone just for the sake of going on a date, not to find the most idealistic mate. Have great hygiene just because you should, not because someone else will care. Wear something that makes you feel sexy and confident, regardless of what color it is or how tightly it hugs your curves. Talk about what you want to talk about because it interests you and don’t be bothered if some guy you just met disagrees with you.

Sometimes, I think we just think about it all too much. And Lord knows I’m a walking hypocrite as I type this, because the whole web and my circle of friends knows I’ve written a year’s worth of blogs analyzing everything from sex positions to deeply profound and personal questions of love. Sure, I’ve thought it to death — and you know what?

I’m exhausted of it.

Now that Mr. P has proven impossible and I’m out on my own, rediscovering the city I love so much while working incredibly hard to be successful at a career I love, I don’t find myself looking for love or longing for a partner. Instead, I find myself just trying to live. Just trying to experience all that I can and be the best me that I can possibly be. Instead of searching for possibilities in the form of tall, dark and handsome, I’m exploring all the possibilities inside of me that I’ve put off because I’ve been far too concerned with finding love.

One speaker said that if we put as much energy into looking for a mate as we put in our careers, we’d all find love. That if we get laid off, we send out our resumes everywhere, we actively search and we ultimately find a position. Sure, that’s true — having a job means being able to survive, so we all are diligent in our applications. Call me old-fashioned and a little too convinced that fate has a plan for everything, but it shouldn’t be like that.

It’s not about going to all the right places or saying the right things or looking the right way. It’s not about having a calculated angle that’ll make you more enticing. It’s really just about living your life, loving the life you lead, and being open to love. If your heart is open and your mind is too, you’ll give off a confidence that’s not only attractive, but genuine. You will find yourself being pulled to people who are satisfied with their lives and their choices too, because what you put into the universe, you get back. What you think about yourself, others will think about you.

And if you approach dating by being loving and liberated, then you’ll soon find yourself loving the liberty that a true match, the right person gives you: the freedom to be yourself, whatever color you wear, whenever you decide to go out and whatever you decide to feel. You can’t create love because you’re doing all the right things to find someone. You can only find love if you’re doing all the things that feel right to you.

But if I did have one piece of advice that I really agreed with — it’s taking a year to really figure yourself out. I can’t explain how much it’s taught me about love and relationships, but most importantly, about myself.

Where the Good Goes

When breakups would happen in the past – I asked what every girl does (and now sings, thanks to Tegan and Sara): where does the good go?

When you’re curled up in the fetal position, grasping to return yourself to reality and for a creme that will actually get rid of that awful puffiness around your eyes – it’s hard to see anything but bad from the relationship that just ended. You wonder why you wasted your time giving away pieces of your heart, why you spent so many days of your life with someone who you will most likely not spend another day with. You fight the urge to call, you block all of the connections you have with him, and you hide away those pictures as if not seeing him will make those memories just go away. You think of all the laughter, the silly plans you made without RSVPing, and the way you felt when things were right. When things were perfect. When you thought that no matter how old you were or how long you had been with the guy, that there was a chance you would spend the rest of your life together.

As much as we all fight the happy ending, somewhere inside each of us lives the desire to share this journey with someone else. To have a partner that actually stays instead of leaves consistently, with or without a notice, depending on how much of a jerk he is. And each time we put ourselves out there, each time we take that risk that we’re all told we’ve gotta’ take to find an illusive Mr. Right, each time we feel like we’ve found it and we discover it’s wrong, it becomes more difficult to be vulnerable. It gets harder to enjoy those fantastic moments where we’re basking in the sun of a new love because we’re trying so hard to prepare ourselves for his disappearance. We’ve nearly came up with the monologue we’ll preach to our friends over hard tequila shots about this a**hole who left us high and dry, just like the rest of ’em, before we even let ourselves really like the guy.

But that’s the problem with good. Good makes us happy and free, optimistic and hopeful, but we’re programmed to believe that good goes away, so why hold onto it? Why give it any credit when it could turn to bad before the third date? Why pay attention to butterflies and great sex if those butterflies fly away faster than the dude who leaves in the middle of the night? After a while, does the good just completely go away?

No, that good goes to the next guy.

Maybe because I’ve analyzed my past relationships until my fingertips were blue in the blog or maybe because I’m growing up, but I’ve decided that all the good of yesterday is helping me today. The good with Mr. Possibility is different than the good with any other guy – we have our range of inside jokes memories that just the two of us share, pictures together, toothbrushes at each other’s places, and the perks of a full-fledged relationship. Should we break up, there would be things I’d miss, there would be good that would be gone, there would be tears to cry and martinis to drink. But all that good from Mr. Idea, Mr. Fire, Mr. Disappear, Mr. Fling, all of them – has helped me make more good with Mr. P.

Because if you remember, if you look closely enough, if you’re brave enough to look back on love instead of running from it because it hurts to think about it, you’ll see that lessons can be learned from the good, just like they can be learned from the bad. Over time, you figure out what makes you happy and what guys, in general, like about you. You determine what settles in your heart and what’s unsettling to your body. You begin to understand yourself and you master the art of asking for what you need when you need it.

You begin to cherish the good because while you know it could not be there tomorrow, it’s there today. And what’s a better way to spend a day than to make it a good one?

Daily Gratitude: I’m thankful for air conditioning. NYC feels like 107 degrees today, no exaggeration.

Love Me That Much

Today, sitting on the boardwalk at Long Beach with Mr. Possibility eating the unhealthiest lunch you could imagine (Italian ice, nachos and hot dogs with a side of Red Bull and Vitamin Water), I was so distracted by an elderly couple a few benches down, I hardly heard a word Mr. P said.

The couple, probably in their late 80s, wearing matching yellow polos and khaki pants ate chocolate ice cream cones while they watched the kiddos (yeah, us 20-somethings) frolic on the beach below. It appeared the woman wasn’t completely there, as a nurse aid sat feet from them, observing sorta-intently. But the couple talked, the woman laughed. The man looked at her with love in his wrinkled eyes. She smiled up at him. And ice cream dripped from her chin to nearly her knees, staining her Land’s End-inspired attire.

He didn’t notice at first and neither did the nurse (who was now engaged in an intense conversation on her cell phone in Spanish), but then he saw the destruction. He grabbed his own napkin and opened it to reveal the clean part inside and started rubbing her face before he realized he just didn’t have enough. He looked over at the concession stand and then at the nurse helplessly, probably thinking he couldn’t leave her alone but needed to get something to clean up the mess.

Maybe it’s my Southern manners or my tender heart that leads me to tears during Animal Shelter commercial with Sarah Mclahlan singing, but I instinctively stood up in the middle of Mr. Possibility going on about something (as he usually does) and ran to get a handful of cheap quality paper towels. By the time I reached them, the nurse had came to the rescue but without proper tools. She looked relieved when I showed up with my gift and thanked me profusely. I grinned at the couple and they returned the gesture to me.

“It’s good ice cream, isn’t it sweetie?” The man asked his wife. She nodded sweetly and looked up at me, maybe trying to find words, maybe  unsure of what was going on. I wished them a good day at the beach and the man labeled me a “kind young woman” as I walked away to rejoin Mr. Possibility and his miniature pile of nachos.

Though we enjoyed the rest of the day by the shore and now both have sunburns to show for it (apparently an Irish background doesn’t serve anyone well in the blistering sun), as we caught the LIRR back to Penn, I couldn’t get the image of those woman’s eyes out of my head. They were light blue and freckled with specs of green, just like mine. There were lines and ages spots lining her lashes like liner, but she still breathed an air of youth and naivety. She was beautiful in a way someone can only be beautiful once they’ve loved a lot, lost a lot and have found a peace within themselves and their lives. It’s not a beauty I’ll ever claim, but maybe some 20-something will see that same luster in me one day.

Looking over at Mr. Possibility as he reads his second book of the summer, holding his bookmark (a picture of us) in his hand, I thought about age. Could I love someone through decades of trials? Through career and baby bumps, mortgages and struggles, carpooling and soccer games, ballet lessons and retirement funds? When they start to lose their hair or when it turns nearly all gray instead of wisdom-inducing highlights? When their belly competes with Santa’s, when sex isn’t as passionate or frequent, when illnesses strike, when miscarriages happen, when kids grow and then leave, when houses rot and things and people fall apart?

And will someone love me that much?

To sit by me on a bench as chocolate ice cream dribbles down me and still want to take care of me? To protect me and stand by me, no matter how many wrinkles I sport or when the time comes that my boobs rest near my knees? To see me through menopause and the battle to keep myself in one piece, as I’ve read in dozens of magazine is something that’s difficult with a house full of kids and a husband who needs more attention. To support my career and support me if it doesn’t go exactly as planned – or if it does, to not be intimidated by my success? To hold my hand when I feel unsteady and one day, when I need it to even walk? Will someone see through the age and still be able to picture the same face they fell for when I was 20 or 30-something, full of vitality and courage, unbothered by the world and uninterested in its damnations?

I don’t know the story behind that couple. I don’t know if their romance was fiery and complicated, or if they were high school sweethearts or letter writers from some war. I don’t know if they have children or if those children have children. I don’t know where they’re from or why they decided to sit on Long Beach on a Friday afternoon, right before the clouds encompassed the never-ending blue sky.

But I do know that regardless of where my life takes me, how many magazines I write for, how many loves I have, or how many days I spend at the beach, listening to the sound of the ocean and feeling the sand crinkle between my toes, one day many, many moons from now, I hope to be standing by the side of a man who would rather eat ice cream with me and think about all the love we have and the memories we’ve created – like the time I showered myself in a chocolatey mess – than be anywhere else in the world.

Daily Gratitude: I’m thankful for those Louie Armstrong moments that just keep coming. 

Let Laughter Live

When downtown Manhattan is wishing you well on your day trip to Governor’s Island, tousling the flaps of your faux-flapper dress in the wind on a sunny Sunday afternoon – it’s hard to have any worries. Especially when your addiction to Group-buying sites landed you a $35 deal including a three-course lunch, unlimited drinks, and the guarantee of a good time when you’re in the company of M, R, and K.

I write this post later than I anticipated -just under a hour and some change left to go until tomorrow – because today wasn’t about blogging. It wasn’t about love, dating, sex, relationships, men, or any of that jazz. Rather, it was about actual jazz at Governor Island’s biannual Jazz Fest Lawn Party where three of my friends and I dressed up in era-like costumes while mastering the unforgotten art of waiting in extremely long lines for the cause of getting boozy.

Blame the champagne cocktails, sangria, or chocolate ice cream cones – but we were all a little giggly. Our conversations evolved from historical discussions and debates to inappropriate candor on the train uptown at the end of the afternoon, with dirty glances from older women only making our laughter more contagious. When M and I rested at my apartment, asking the gods of the “Ask Me” cards (silly deck that gives you unassuming answers) and watching reruns of Sex & the City on low volume so we could add our own commentary – I thought about writing my blog, but then decided against it. M reminded me: “You’ve got until midnight! Won’t take you long!” And so, after cleaning my apartment and making the 100th poor food choice of the weekend with a giant cherry vanilla milkshake from Tom’s Restaurant and a handful of M’s cheesefries with blue cheese dressing (Yes, we’re very healthy these days) – I sat down to post something for June 26, 2011.

I had considered a few topics of interest that were suggested to me: “Write about how some think we’ll date a few more guys before getting married or how a few of us think the next one is it,” or “Write one completely about me and how wonderful I am since your last post made me seem like a bitch!!” or “Write about the changes with Mr. Possibility,” or “Write about how adorable men look in those suspenders and when they actually do The Charleston with their girlfriends – where do we find them?? Why are they taken or gay??”

All of those ideas are relevant and probably posts I could write and a couple I may actually flush out one day – but as I sat down to my computer, going through emails and preparing for the week ahead of me while putting Monday out of my mind for a few more hours – I couldn’t stop smiling.

I’m just so happy, damnit.

Things aren’t perfect but things are pretty great. I’m blessed to have a supporting, hilarious, free-spirited, adventure-trying, beautiful group of girlfriends (especially R who contrary to other blogs isn’t as crazy as she may seem), a job that makes me want to go to work in the morning, a byline that people remember and an impact to make, a boyfriend who often catches me off guard with his sincerity and kindness, and of course, a city that I will always be madly in love with.

Maybe blogging is easier or you get more traffic when you write about all the things that are wrong in your life. Maybe the best copy is bore out of grief, sorrow, longing, or disappointment. Maybe the writers who go down in history or have their books reprinted for lifetimes that exceed their own, are the ones who experienced the worse of the world and forced themselves to describe it. Maybe there will always be a hell of a lot of bad.

But, if you take a moment to take it easy, and let laughter live in your life, then you’ll discover the good is always there, too. With every opportunity we’re given that we don’t win, each love we leap to find and we end up falling, each friend we leave behind that we lose touch with, each passing day that we regret wasting – there is a second chance, an adventurous lover, a new best friend, and a new sunrise just a few moments away.

And so in my new quest to let laughter live more fully in my life as I continue this journey – I’ll end each post with something I’m thankful for. If I can find the reasons to laugh and cherish my life, maybe when the bad starts to shadow the sun, I’ll have the strength to brighten my own skies…with gratitude.

Today, I’m thankful for the friendships I’ve found in unexpected places and for the women who remind me each day to…laugh at life, at love, and most importantly, at myself. The me who wears 3-inch heels to a lawn party because it went with my outfit better than flats.

An Intimate Intimacy

I used to wait for the moment when dating someone where our belly buttons touched.

This, obviously meant we were A- Laying down, B- Had our tummies exposed, and C- Close enough to let them meet one another. To me, this symbolized a certain level of intimacy – especially since when your stomachs are rubbing up against one another, you’re not exactly sucking in and positioning yourself seductively. (You know, sheet draped about your body, exposing just enough skin to entice, as the sun colors your body at the right angle and you don’t move, pretending you’re asleep, until he comes in and devours you? We’ve all done it, I promise.)

The belly button moment came several, several months ago with Mr. Possibility. I wouldn’t say belly-button-touching was something we necessarily had a problem with – that part of our courtship was rather seemless. There were obviously other issues (which if you access archives, you can find) and it took a while for him to admit and for me to admit to the bounds of exclusivity. As I’ve said, having a boyfriend and calling it that didn’t sit well with me until I finally accepted it. And ultimately, announced it to the many lovely readers (and haters) of this blog (and me).

But as our relationship has progressed and I’ve continued to grow up – I’ve come to discover that intimacy has nothing to do with belly buttons. Or sex, really. It doesn’t have to do with the act of physically being naked and maybe this is a stretch, but I don’t think it has too much to do with being vulnerable. Intimacy – true intimacy – is based on being remarkably comfortable, having the framework of trust that’s tested and true, and has more to do with you than it has to do with them.

It is impossible to be intimate with someone (as in coming as you are, makeup and push-up free) without being secure in yourself. The majority of us have been wrapped up in the smell of sex and attraction the next morning, plotting the best track to the bathroom, without waking up the guy, so we could freshen up before he wanted round two (insert Bridesmaids opening scene here). I’ve admittedly felt that way far into dating, and even into a relationship. It wasn’t until I found peace in my looks and in the flaws that make those looks beautiful that I stopped caring if Mr. Possibility -or any guy who may come after him – sees me as less than perfect. I’m not perfect, but neither are they.

But being Clinique-free doesn’t define intimacy either – that’s just the part we most associate with reaching intimate levels. The real test of intimacy is a test we give ourselves, often encouraged by our friends who grow weary of our complaints, insecurities, and late-night texting sprees induced by Mr. Vodka and his old pal, tonic.

Being intimate with your partner means being stable enough to know when to stand up for yourself. When to say, “No, this is not enough for me. I need this from you because I know you and I care about you.” If you can’t ask for what you need with the person you’re the closest too, who sees your acne before it comes to the surface, who hears your irrational emotional outbursts, waits for them to pass and then holds you until you fall asleep – then you’re not really intimate with that person, you’re just keeping them around. If you can’t express your desires other than the ones that are sexual, then you haven’t reached a level of intimacy, you’ve only just orgasmed. And let’s be real – it’s easier to do that alone than it is to do with a man, until you train him.

It’s not simple to reach intimacy, I’d go as far to say some couples who race to the altar, haven’t found their intimate level yet. A big part of it is respecting your partner, but the most important element is respecting yourself. And if you know what it is that makes you tick, what you need out of a relationship, and what part of your body and your heart needs to correlate to the other person, then you know how to ask for it. You know how to express yourself in a way that will not only make falling in love easy, but make the tougher stage – staying in love – easier. And it’ll make the sexual part of intimacy…that much more…intimate.