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.

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An Ageless Bond

Standing in the fitting room of a trendy boutique in the West Village today, staring at myself in the mirror in an overpriced $105 cotton blue dress with embellishments, I had an ache in my heart for no one other than my mother.

Considering I’ve been out of grade school for quite some time now, and the whole “back-to-school” shopping trip ceased when I hit college, every Fall, my 20-something self misses spending a few hours at the mall with my mom. She used to set a budget and then let me go at it – jeans, sweaters, leggings, bras, shoes, school supplies, and anything else I needed was up to me to pick out. She’d go around holding up things that she thought would be “cute” and the older I became, the more I went against her suggestions and went with my own.

Maybe some have mothers who want them to wear turtlenecks and long skirts that cover every possible inch of their body, but my mom was never like that. She’s actually one of the best critics – she’ll be honest about how I look and she’s queen of selecting pieces that flatter my body. She never told me to hide my curves, but to dress for them. She should know how to do that after all – she’s the one who gave them to me. While we may disagree on certain picks, I trust her the most on fit, and I value her sweet sentiments over anyone else’s.

Our Girl’s Days Out weren’t limited to pre-September though, it was always our thing to do monthly. Sometimes we’d just go bouncing around to thrift stores, try a new restaurant downtown, and once I became an adult, I started dressing her instead. Since she’s been walking or biking a few miles daily for as long as I can remember, my mom is in great shape and for a 50-something (sorry mom!), I’d say she’s pretty smokin’.

But she doesn’t always think so. And she has to be reminded that wearing tight clothes isn’t out of the question in your middle-age, that being sexy doesn’t disappear because wrinkles appear, and that she deserves new clothes too. After spending a vast majority of her life treating me to special things and taking me on shopping trips, she often forgot herself – but now it’s her time.

She started esthetician school today and I couldn’t be more proud. I waited anxiously by my cell phone for her to get out of class, wondering how her day was and if she liked her classmates. She was nervous about the transition from working to taking a chance on something she’s always been interested in. Accounting is far from waxing and beauty treatments, but with her gentle touch and fiesty entrepreneurial-spirit, I’m confident that with a degree, she’ll be unstoppable.

While I was happy for her bright, new beginning, I was sad that I wasn’t there to share it with her. To treat her to a new outfit to wear to class that flatters her style and the softness she exudes without trying. To split a bottle of wine and chat about what she liked and didn’t, and dream up what kind of salon she would open up. To just see her beaming and brave, being the woman I’ve always known was inside of her, but she was afraid to face.

It’s funny how tables turn and how eventually, we end up parenting out parents a bit. Or maybe they just become our friends because they’ve been befriending us our entire lives. And just like they have to with us or we have to with a childhood friend that can’t come along for our ride, we have to learn how to let them go. How to support their new endeavors that don’t involves us or our day-to-day lives that don’t include one another, or the goals they’re reaching that we can’t quite see. How to stand on our own and let them stand as well.

How to pick out our own clothes with our own money for the brand new job we sought and found, while they start a brand new chapter of their lives by returning to school. How mothers continue to learn just as much as daughters, and how closing your eyes and sending a hug from the big city to the sweet countryside may seem impossible, somewhere, you just know she can feel it, too.

My Never-Ending Story

I like my men tall, charming, and successful. I’m not picky about industry, though the majority of the dudes I’ve been involved with have been in the business sector. I’ve dated American and foreign, and a month younger than me to ten years my senior. I’ve fallen for a man in a minute, while some have had to grow on me. They have all been different in the matters that matter, but they have one distinctive common quality:

They’re all storytellers.

Some of them took this trait to the extreme – telling little white lies instead of entertaining tidbits, but most just had the art of captivating me with their tales. With inviting body language, energetic hand gestures, and wildly vivid eyes that change as the story continues – I’ve always had a knack for picking men who have factual (or at least I hope) anecdotes and want to tell me about them. The attraction I have to a storyteller may be due to my career or the fact that I try to listen more than I speak, but I think it could even be more juvenile than that. As simplistic as it may seem – I just like stories.

As a child, I became so fascinated with storybooks  and reading that I eventually started writing my own. They were bound with string and detailed the adventures of my childhood pets, Wilma and Indiana (after Indiana Jones, of course). Or about day-to-day errands, vacations, or what I learned in school. Though my life has changed since I was seven years old, I haven’t stopped cataloging what I experience or how I feel – it is the reason I have dozens of diaries and the reason this blog exists. So maybe a storyteller attracts another storyteller – even if the way they express their affairs differs.

Nevertheless, while the loves of my life have been talented in giving the whole story and always in a little-over-the-top way, I have always had trouble with one part of storytelling.

The ending.

Every writer, every speaker, every anything that delivers a message must have some sort of conclusion in mind. We all enjoy the beginning, the obstacles, the intrigue, and the passion that goes in the rising plot – but the question is always, what happened? Or how does it all come together? Does the guy get the girl? Does the girl find that man she thought she wouldn’t find? Does the lady land the job she wants? Does the man find something to bring him happiness that’s not his career? Did he cheat again? Did she forgive him? Does she die of some unknown disease? Does he get out of the tangled web of destruction? Do they live happily ever after?

No story is complete without an ending – or is it? Is there really such a thing as an ending at all?

In the next few months, my life will be changing, as I’ve observed it does in continuous three-month cycles. The start of May I will move into a new apartment – though because it is a New York market, I’ll have no idea where exactly I’ll be until a week before. Mr. Possibility will return yet again from a stint overseas and the plot we’re writing in our interesting story will continue to thicken as time and talks progress. I will travel extensively this summer with projected international trips and a homecoming to the South to attend my first of five weddings this year. And then there will eventually be an end to this blog. I’ve set a goal for a year of writing daily – which would make my last post on September 19.

Maybe with all of these transitions happening -leaving an apartment I loved, the final return of a man I adore, going on those trips I always lusted after, and knowing there will be a day without Confessions of a Love Addict – I’ve been thinking about endings. They say all good things come to a close – but I’d like to think that actually things really do last forever. And not in the sense that with each ending comes a beginning, but that anything that was ever important or significant doesn’t just leave you because it’s presence isn’t as prominent.

All of my storytellers are not acting across from me at the dinner table or sharing my bed as they once did – but I remember their stories. I remember their faces and they way they could make me laugh in all the right places. I remember what it felt like to fall in love with each of them and how it felt to fall out. And those apartments I’ve had over the years – from King Street in North Carolina to Manhattan Avenue in NYC – I remember the addresses. The keys have changed, the people who visited me have too, but there are certain things that never do.

And those are the stories.

Maybe that’s why I find myself as a modern-day historian – as all journalists are – documenting the world and my world as I see it and experience it. Remembering what was is the reason I’m where I am today, and why I’ll make it where I’m going tomorrow. The characters and the analogies adapt to our settings and the verbs that keep us going, but our stories remain. Chronicled in the back of our hearts where we keep the most intimate details, on the URLs of WordPress, or packed in cardboard boxes in our childhood homes – whatever we’ve experienced isn’t just deleted from our histories. It doesn’t end because those stories make us us. They give us the background for our foundations and the flashbacks we constantly entertain and learn from.

So why did I worry about happy endings with each of my storytellers? Why did I think I would have an ending at all? My story, much like the stories of every woman, every man who has ever been, isn’t based on the final sentence on the final page of the countless novels that make up my journey. It’s not about the moment when everything is concluded and decided, or when my future husband and I tell our story of how we met or got married or had children. Or when I achieved the corner office or the byline that I sought after. Or how the pieces finally came together and that was that.

Because my story is ever evolving, ever-changing, and never-ending. And it certainly isn’t concerned with such an ending, when it is only just beginning.

Undoing the Undo

Sometimes I wish I could take a week off from my computer. If I estimated how many hours I spend looking at a screen, from my job that’s primarily at a desk to this blog, which takes up some time to write, publish, and promote – I’d be embarrassed of the total.

But the truth is – a computer helped raise me. I can’t remember a time without one.

I come from a generation that’s always known what it was like to be connected to this digital creation and the World Wide Web. In elementary school, we took turns buying a bag of cotton balls so we could clean off our headphones for computer class, where we learned about home row keys and data entry. By the time I was in middle school, I had my own email account (latigar@aol.com, of course) and my parents let me chat in chat rooms before chat rooms needed a warrior like Chris Hansen to get the predators out.

In high school, I started really becoming a journalist with internships and mastering the Office Suite and how to effectively search on AskJeeves.com. I started to become interested in design and because I knew I wanted to work at a magazine, I started figuring out ways to contact editors – I even found interns in groups on MySpace. Time couldn’t change as quickly as the technology and college was full of Adobe and Facebook, Flash, and Google Analytics.

I’m well versed in the language of the web and when a computer challenges me, I fight back until I find an answer. Maybe because I’m so comfortable dancing across the keys or trying something new, but I’m brave to push my limits and explore the tech world, both socially and systematically. I’m not afraid of making mistakes because I know that there is always a saving grace, should I do something to throw the entire program or network off balance.

Undo.

It was a joke at the college newspaper I rose in the ranks of, that when in doubt, just hit undo. This miracle button could correct anything and it gave us the courage to test the waters of new, exciting pages, and scarily complicated CMS features. I felt a sense of freedom knowing I could do basically whatever I wanted to attempt and I’d be okay if something went awry. I wouldn’t be held responsible because I could just delete the action.

Ever since I discovered this free pass, I’ve found myself thinking “Edit, Undo” in my day-to-day when something goes wrong. Like when I’m walking the two blocks from my favorite coffee shop to my job and I spill a nice trail of Splenda-and-skim-infused Java down my blue blouse, five minutes into my work day. Or out of complete frustration and the onset of my monthly visitor, I snap at a friend who is only trying to make me feel better. Or when I say words I can’t take back, do things I can’t change, or leave people who will never return.

But the thing is – there isn’t an undo in life.

We make choices and we’re forced to stand by them. We make our bed and we lay in it. We meet people and we have the ability to decide (Heavens willing) how long they’re with us and how close they grow. We try things and they often don’t work out in the way we want. We take risks and we have trials, and there is no way to step back on that ledge once we’ve left it.

Though the backend of a computer and the Internet is vastly complicated – making those who understand it highly competitive and disgustingly wealthy – there is nothing more complex than the webs we weave. Life is a funny and beautiful thing, yes – but it is also better spent trusting in the decisions you make instead of wondering if there is a way to get out of them.

I haven’t decided if I enjoy black-and-white or shades of gray better, but I will say that it’s time to stop thinking by the ways of the technological world. Sure, it is the way marketing is going. It’s changing my industry daily. It’s going to continue to expand and there will be a boom that wakes us all up, I’m sure. But if we spent as much time in front of this computer, reading and writing these blogs, Tweeting to the world, and posting on Facebook – actually just living our lives – maybe we’d undo the undo.

We’d stop to think in terms of escape or safe merit. We’d understand that the decisions we claim are ours, even if they take us far from where we started with a hell of a long way to go. We’d click with other people and be more synced to ourselves instead of connecting our social media channels and tapping our mice. We’d see that while an easy-out is beneficial for our Apple or our Windows, it’d be better if we didn’t want to undo the life we lead.

Because while coffee stains are nearly impossible to remove, friends may hold grudges, and love may be lost – without those moments, without those incidents that can be significant or small– we wouldn’t learn. We wouldn’t come into our own. We wouldn’t learn to think before leaping, pause before speaking, or consider before leaving. We’d rely on an undo button to make our lives perfect instead of relishing in the imperfections that make life so worthwhile to begin with. Someone would make more money than Zuckerberg if they created something to give us the option to go back and correct the bad that didn’t seem to lead to good.

Maybe so – but as much as a computer-lover as I am, I’d never buy such a thing. I’d rather click publish in my own life than undo. Because, why would I want to undo…me?

Seven Minutes of Play & Plato

Everything I do is marked by momentum. Not always with precision – but most definitely with speed. I walk fast, I eat quickly, I write this blog in a half hour, I live by snap decisions, I make up my mind instantly, I change it just as easily, I fall in love without holding back, and I almost always kiss on the first date.

So when I was offered a chance to try speed dating, it seemed like a natural progression for a gal who’s always been on the go. With strict instructions from my single female co-workers to take detailed notes in case they wanted to take this type of dating for a spin – I headed to a little pub in midtown east right after work.

Truth be told – while this was my first experience going on seven severely short dates in one evening, the name of this game wasn’t just about going quickly, but having fun. After all, it was professionally titled ImprovDating – which really, if you ask me, is what it is all about anyways. Isn’t dating one large improvisation we happen to act out for years until we find someone who lets us play the most difficult character of all…ourselves?

The evening began with pretzels and brainteasers, followed by warm up exercises to get us all a little more comfortable with the strangers we would soon be chatting with. As the three wildly energetic organizers prepared us for the rotating dates, one of them, who I’ll call Mr. Plato, quoted the philosopher from which he received his name:

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”

Before I started playing ring-around-the-singles with the rest of the fourteen 20 and 30-somethings in the group, I scribbled down those wise words for safe keeping. The rest of the evening, I charged myself with the mission of listening, being open and non-judgmental, and most of all – just enjoying the experience.

For far too long, with far too many men, I’ve been far too concerned with perfection. With finding a man who not only has his ducks-in-a-row and isn’t a quack, but also crosses off all of those things on my not-so-imaginary checklist. As I’ve mentioned before, I used to approach dates with the same preparation and strategic planning as I would an interview. I came with the goal of determining if I was a match with the man in question and I left with a definitive answer of interest or disinterest. I didn’t look back, I didn’t doubt my decision to let a dude go, and I most certainly never gave him the opportunity, if I found him not fitting my fancy, to even have a minute of fun instead of an hour of interrogation.

Now, however, because of this journey – I’ve learned to just let it go. Of course, I’m not settling for less than what I want or compromising my non-negotiables for the sake of not being part of the singles crowd, but I’ve stopped looking at dating as end-all-be-all and more like the-here-and-the-now. Mr. Plato also advised not to look for your future husband or wife in the faces we all carefully searched before the games began, but just consider if you’d like to chat with them for longer than seven minutes.

That under ten-minute span may not seem very long, but you’d be surprised how little you learn about a person and yet, how many laughs you can share when limited by time. Though I can’t remember all of their names, their professions, where they’re from, or any specifics – I do recall enjoying the improv challenges we were faced with. Though one guy had the unfortunate task of having to mirror my movements and another had to witness my poor artistic abilities, and another was asked to describe, in detail, what he would do with himself if he was a woman for a day – the whole two hours the group spent together, we spent it in high spirits. At the end of my rotating dates, I can’t say I was too interested in going out with anyone (my heart and hope is currently with Mr. Possibility, to be frank), I did find myself embracing the opposite of what had attracted me to the event in the first place.

Instead of speeding through a date to figure out the verdict to text your friends or call your mom with details, why not slow down, and discover the art of playing? Of looking at a person as a person, as someone to share an incredible moment with, even if it doesn’t mount into a lifetime of those moments.

There really is no need to determine a mate’s potential in the very first date, and perhaps that’s why speed dating is speeding up in cities around the world. Sometimes, all it takes to trigger a little play and a little healthy laughter is giving yourself the permission to play, as Plato suggested. To let go of what you think you want or even wanting anything at all. To look into the eyes of someone else for the sake of making eye contact, not for deciding if you see your future staring back at you. To not worry about what someone does because that’s not who they are; to not get too intense too soon because that’ll kill any sort of passion; and to not ask someone to put all their cards on the table right away because you most likely won’t do the same (and neither of you should).

While I’m not going to condone playing with the hearts of others for satisfaction, I will encourage a little more play and little less conversation. And if you haven’t already – check out a speed dating event in a place near you, it’s worth the time, the experience, and the seven minutes of play. And maybe, of Plato.