7 Ways My Views On Love Changed When My Dad Got Cancer

My first half-marathon in October 2013

My first half-marathon in October 2013

“Cancer” is one of those words that always sounds scary, but never feels real until someone you love is personally diagnosed. My dad slipped that word into conversation while my family sat at a Mexican restaurant in my hometown, eating guacamole and sipping on margaritas.

Even though I thought something was up — my parents had been oddly quiet for several weeks — the confirmation was still hard to swallow.

For the last two years, my dad has had six surgeries, and we just found out earlier this week he has to have another. His appendix burst, revealing colon cancer.

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Why I’m Not Changing My Name When I Get Married

Up until a few years ago, in every relationship I’ve had — both long-term and after a surprisingly good first date — I’ve considered what my name would sound like if I married whoever I was seeing. Some of my boyfriends had uninteresting surnames, others humorous, many quite plain. While I won’t oust them here, I never felt like my first would match their last.

Now, I understand a few things here: A. I’m single, and B. changing your last name has little to do with how it sounds. But as an independent, hard-working, successful and devoted 26-year-old, I’ve worked really hard to build a name for myself.

And though it might not seem like such a big deal to forgo ‘Tigar’ in favor of some last name I don’t even know yet, when I meet this mysterious future husband … it feels like one to me.

So, I’m not changing my last name for marriage.

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Ask the Addict: Why Going to a Wedding Alone is Awesome

This post is part of the Ask the Addict advice column. Learn more about submitting your (anonymous!) question here

QUESTION:

My older cousin is getting married and invited me with a plus one. The thing is, I’m single so there’s no significant other to bring. I was thinking of bringing a girlfriend along but after thinking a while, I really feel like going without a date… would that be weird though? Is it fun to go alone to a wedding?

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I Thought of You Today

I thought of you today while riding the subway downtown to a date I wasn’t quite sure was actually a date or not. I caught myself not being able to turn my attention away from an older couple — sitting next to each other, reading the paper on a Friday night at 8 like it was the most normal thing in this city. They shared the Times, flipping through thoughtfully, digesting each sentence and with care, turning the page. The husband rubbed his wife’s knee from time to time during my 20-minute commute. She turned her attention to him with a casual smile, probably the same look she’s been giving him for decades. The same look that he loves, the same grin that’s gotten him through the tough times and the good ones. They looked insanely comfortable and so beautifully, easily, sweetly with one another.

It was adorable.

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And it made me think of you. You — whoever you are. You who I haven’t met yet, or perhaps I have. Maybe we’ve already dated, broken up and lost contact. Maybe we’ve seen one other naked. But no, I don’t think so. I could have caught a glimpse of you while walking my dog or picking up groceries around the block. Perhaps I didn’t catch your name when we were briefly introduced at a loud bar somewhere in the West Village months ago. Maybe, as the psychic predicted, your name begins with J.

Or not.

Whatever your name is — I try not to think of you. I know better than to imagine and create illustrations and hopes of what you look like or how your voice resonates in my head without actually, ever meeting you. I know that believing in things that feel impossible or totally out of reach at this moment can only make me feel worse. Especially if everything I dreamt of, everything I’ve considered true about love and marriage someday just become things I once thought would happen, instead of things that are. How can I think of you – you, with eyes I haven’t locked with, lips I haven’t actually kissed – when you’re just someone I’ve never known? How can I think of you without one hundred percent knowing your existence is something I can depend on?

That you’re someone I can believe in?

But it’s when the world feels a little lonely and my personal universe is a little uncomfortable or uncertain, that I do think of you. It’s when I dream of you, knowing better and rebelling against logic in romantic spite. It’s when I close my eyes on a crowded train or tucked away at night, looking out at the stars I convince myself I can see, even when I know I don’t. City lights are brilliant and alluring but they conceal the sparkly specs I love to see. I think of you and the days I hope will come, the children I hope I’ll bear. The love I can’t wait to make in our bed I want to share. I think of you in a way that’s unfair and extremely biased — without ever being introduced to you, without tracing your face or feeling your grip on my hip, I both love and hate you. I love you because I hope you’ll be mine, and I hate you for hiding. For taking so long. For not being here…

…Right now. On this train. Next to me. Kissing the side of my head and excited to show me a new downtown joint you discovered. Holding my hand that holds your ring, looking at me in the way my father always promised you would. With love, with admiration. With everything…

…after making it through everything to get to you.

And yet, I try not to think of you. And so usually, I don’t. I pick myself up from that moving train and away from that couple I aspire to be like, and head out to that date. And I smile at a perfectly good guy who doesn’t ignite a spark but insists on walking me to the station. I may kiss him for whatever it’s worth, to disguise the disappointment on my face. I may politely respond to him the next day that I see more of a friendship and I’ll head out to continue with my weekend, trying my very best not to think of you. Trying not to look for you in the cute guys who pass by me or the ones who smile in my direction. I’ll stop myself from thinking of the stories I’d like to tell, the ones I’m dying to write and the adventures that seem so far-fetched that planning them would seem crazy. I won’t think of you that day or the following week, maybe even a month.

But then, on an unusually windy April afternoon, as I walk to pick up a latte after another less-than-interesting Saturday night, I’ll see an elderly man shushing the oncoming cars and taxis as his wife shuffles along with a walker. It’ll take two traffic rotations for her to make it across, but he just tells her to take her time. She’ll be wearing red lipstick and he’ll reach over to make sure she can make it up the sidewalk, and I’ll be standing right there, watching it all unfold in literally, slow motion.

Then I’ll smile. And I’ll think of you, whoever you are, wherever you might be. And I’ll pray that you’ll make your way to me soon because I’d rather walk these streets alone than to meet someone who isn’t you.

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A Heart Full of Love

While I was home for the holidays, pretending anything fried and delicious was also calorie-less while lounging on anything that would hold me for long periods of time – my pup, Lucy, was doing the same. A funny thing happens when a city dog from the Upper West Side meets the great wilderness that is a fenced-in back yard: freedom.

Lucy had fun playing with my family’s dog, Suzie, and my uncle’s dogs, Lincoln and Cooper. She ran out the doggy door. And back in. And out. And again and again, over and over. She ate whatever she could find, buried her toys in the dirt outside, rolled in the mud – anything and everything that was Southern and grimy – Lucy was game.

So you can imagine that when bedtime rubbed its sleepy eyes, I had one tired little gal that easily and deeply fell asleep. That is, except for her first night. You see – my apartment in New York is rather quiet. My window faces the buildings behind me and I almost always sleep with a fan to drown out the eerie sound of silence that makes my ears ring. Slumber in the city is very quiet, but in North Carolina – you can hear all sorts of sounds. The tree frogs sing their melodies late at night, the birds wake you up before you’re ready, the dogs have conversations from cul-de-sac to cul-de-sac and angry women shoo them to simmer down.

To Lucy – this was a lot to take in.

I spent a good hour trying to convince her to come out from underneath my childhood bed, luring her with treats and the sweetest (irritated) voice I could muster. But this stubborn tiny white dog was having none of it – she had tucked herself into a corner, ready to hide from anything and everything that was apparently out to get her. As I was attempting to wiggle an arm in to grab her, I hit my elbow on a big plastic box, concealed under a blanket that I used to snuggle with when I was four.

Curiosity always getting the best of me, I pulled out this unfamiliar Tupperware, giving up on my runaway pet. I peeled off the top and inside I found something that within minutes, brought me to tears.

Hundreds and hundreds of love letters.

You see – my ultra-romantic father who is even gushier than me (if you can believe it) – has written a note to my mom nearly every morning in the 27 years they’ve been married. I remember stumbling across them as a child: sometimes in front of the coffee pot, sticking out of the corner of her purse, on the dashboard of her car, taped to the side of her vanity where she sat to do her makeup. They didn’t say much, usually just loving sentiments or funny inside jokes that I don’t want to know the meaning of.

I hadn’t realized that my mom had kept every single last one of them. Or that she stowed them away in a sealed container, underneath my bed where I’m assuming she sometimes pulls them out to read again or continuously add to her already very large stockpile. As I sifted through the notes, careful not to rip them and making sure I didn’t read anything super-personal, I thought about what my dad must have been thinking when he penciled these.

Was he just trying to make sure my mom started her day off with something kind-hearted? Did he want to ensure that she always felt loved? That she always knew how treasured and valuable she is to him? Did he feel so much love toward her that he simply couldn’t hold it in anymore? Was his heart bursting with all that he felt from that day he laid eyes on her from across a crowded, smoky dance floor in the 80s?

These are answers that I’ll probably never know and questions I wouldn’t dare to ask – those letters and the meanings behind them are for my parents. And between them. They’re part of their long-winded, strong and compassionate love affair that has continually shown me what it really means to love unconditionally. Every date I go on, every man I think could possibly be someone to me, I compare the guy – intentionally and not – to my dad. Even if this man won’t write me a note every morning before I hop the train to work or make me a cup of coffee to wake up to – would he express his love in a different way I’d appreciate? Would he remember to tell me how he cares – not just on anniversaries and Hallmark holidays but all the time, every single day?

The verdict is still out – but those letters in that box taught me that what I’m really looking for in a man is one who has one hell of a heart. And a heart that’s full of love. Sure, there are other things – like ambition, loyalty, humor, height – that also rate pretty high on the attraction scale –but someone who isn’t afraid of his feelings and knows how to show them. That’s important, too.

And apparently, important to Lucy, as well. Because as soon as she heard me sniffle as I read those pages, she quickly came to my side to comfort my heart. The one that aches for another one… just like it.