On not settling

Note: I wrote this three years ago, but after rereading I wouldn’t edit much, though I think I probably value simple companionship a bit more these days. (Originally published on Medium.)

When I was in college, I attended a Take Back the Night Rally where an adult survivor of child sexual abuse spoke about writing a list of everything she wanted in a partner, down to his height and eye color, and then finding that person. It was a story about healing from trauma and the recognition that she was deserving of the things she desired, so I hate that it sticks with me most as an example of a successful visualization exercise. But a few years later, I sat down and wrote my own list of what I was looking for, and a month later I found him. Over the next few years, he gradually turned out to be a different person, but I had proof that such an exercise could be successful, and that the exact person I was looking for might even be out there somewhere.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve tried to replicate the success of the list I made when I was 23. It should be easier, because I’m older now, and therefore clearer on what I want. But I find that when I sit down to put pen to paper, I’m nearly always blocked by having a specific person in mind. Do I really want this list of attributes in a future partner, or do I want them simply because the person I want has them? Does it mean anything that the last three guys I’ve had serious feelings for have had green eyes? Do I really have better chemistry with guys who are around my height, versus the four-inch-taller guys I dated in college? Do I need to be with someone who loves to travel as much as I do, or is that a holdover from a man whose adventurous spirit I admired years ago? Which of these traits are must-haves, and which are simply an attempt to hoodwink the universe into delivering the person I can’t get out of my head to my apartment door?

I need to get clearer on what I want so I can be sure to find that exact person. I will make compromises elsewhere in my life but on this I am unyielding. I want to get married, but only if I meet the right person. I can see other lives for myself, and none of the potential outcomes makes me sad. I will travel, I will adopt a daughter, I will have a career where I can work from anywhere. I will learn to code, I will finally play “Panama” on my guitar, I will continue to develop the dynamic and complex female friendships I’ve built over the past couple of years. I will get a design degree and become fluent in Japanese. Or I will meet him and we will do some of the above together.

People write articles advising women that we are asking for too much, that we must lower our standards, or apply different standards, lest we end up alone. The thing about these pieces is that they seem to assume that being alone is somehow worse than waking up every day next to someone who doesn’t excite and challenge you, who doesn’t share your values or your vision for the future, who doesn’t make you want to be the best version of yourself. I get bored easily. Every day I seek out ways to grow and change, to broaden my perspective on the world, to better understand the future, to become more interesting and complex, to be a better version of the person I was yesterday, and I need to be with someone who does the same. I want to marry someone I can build something with, bounce ideas off of, talk to for hours and still not want to sleep for fear of missing out on something going on inside of his head. I love to be alone more than almost anything else and I want to find the one person I could be with all the time and feel equally at peace. I want someone whose brain moves faster than mine and in a million different directions so that I have to get smarter just to fucking keep up. I want someone who plans for the future — not just his own future but for what the world will look like 5, 10, 20 years out. Someone who ravenously devours information, who quietly analyzes everything he takes in but in a way where I can see the wheels turning in his eyes.

And if I don’t meet this person, my backup plan is that I will become her. My backup plan is that I will spend my life with ME, and I will only let in a person who can compete with that scenario. I won’t settle for someone who doesn’t make me feel ferociously alive just because he checks all the boxes. I will not force things with someone I’m lukewarm about and risk not being available to meet the guy I’d commit arson for. I don’t believe in slow burns, I don’t believe in settling, and I don’t believe in dating — or marrying —someone for the sake of not being alone. Insert Jeanette Winterson quote.

I don’t know what kind of year this is

I don’t know what kind of year this is.

On February 1, I lost my job after four months of knowing I’d made a mistake in taking it.

I crushed my job search and ended up with three offers. I chose one, then turned a surprise equity check from my previous job into a trip to Copenhagen.

Last week my 95-year-old grandpa fell, sustaining a serious injury. He’s in good spirits; he’s lived through worse. I don’t know how worried to be.

I needed to pick the right job this time, and I did. I love the people on my team, and I’m working on something cool and innovative.  I cherish the small acts of kindness I receive at work because I’m used to being undervalued.

I ran 10 miles yesterday, and for the first time it wasn’t hard. But the sunscreen I wore on my run caused my skin to break out, alongside the eczema I have for the first time since I was a child. I’m self-conscious upon meeting new people, which is all you do at a new job.

I can afford the $50 face wash I waited in line to buy as I wrote this, and the stupidly expensive phone it was written on. The woman at Sephora was nice to me, sensing I was struggling. I didn’t cry at the register.

In January, I dealt with my impending job loss by learning how to be present, so I am now free of anxiety for the first time in my life. I now know how to access a deep sense of peace when I need it. Most of the time, anyway.

Nine days ago, the person I was sure I would spend the rest of my life with left me.

I have wonderful friends. I have a mom who will cry on the phone with me through my heartbreak. I have a brother who will buy me ice cream and try to say the right thing, and a father who has always been my biggest cheerleader even if I can’t talk to him about this particular type of devastation. I love my apartment.

I can’t stand to be in the apartment I love.

I’m surrounded by people to the extent I need to be.

I am all alone.

My dance card is full.

I have never felt less like dancing. Music, any music, makes me sick.

I turn 35 next month, which wasn’t an issue until my birthday plans got canceled along with my relationship.

Since you’ve been gone I can do whatever I want.

All I want are the plans we made.

I want to meet someone else immediately. I want to be alone forever. I want to die. I want to feel alive again.

I don’t know what kind of year this is.

How to look vaguely normal when you have the driest winter skin on the planet

To cope with dry winter skin, stare pensively into the mountains. Or, check out the list below.

As I’ve mentioned, I have what my mom calls “lousy Irish skin like [my] father’s.” During warmer months, this works out OK, but I live in the Northeast, where we have this thing called winter (the occasional warm spell notwithstanding). No matter what I do, my winter skin is bright red, extremely dry, and susceptible to becoming more of the prior two descriptors at the slightest provocation. Sound familiar? Below, a few pieces of advice  on how to look vaguely normal (the best I can hope for) in even the harshest weather: Continue reading “How to look vaguely normal when you have the driest winter skin on the planet”

5 ways to fake a vacation (when you can’t take one)

Sometimes, as Rose tells Sue Ellen in Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, “I really need to get away.” Unfortunately, that need doesn’t always coincide with periods of my life in which I can actually skip town — or the country. Work, volunteering, and social obligations may keep me tied to NYC, or my bank account may not be in the ideal condition for an impromptu jaunt around Eastern Europe.

What I love most about traveling is the feeling of being taken out of my daily routine. The good news is that even when I can’t get away, this feeling is something I can replicate — often without even leaving my neighborhood. Below, a few ideas for how you can do the same: Continue reading “5 ways to fake a vacation (when you can’t take one)”

The limit approaches zero

One of the few concepts I (barely) remember from the calculus class I took junior year of high school, while recovering from what felt at the time like a terrible breakup (you sweet summer child), was that the limit approaches — but never reaches — zero. Until a few minutes ago, when my friend Google led me to the Wikipedia page for Asymptote, I had no recollection as to the circumstances under which said limit approaches zero. (Dated calc; married algebra.)

A Facebook friend, recently engaged, made the observation this week that you always look happier with your next partner than you ever have before. Her point was that the human heart is resilient; it can weather all manner of abuse and rejection and, after (according to Sex and the City) half of the time the relationship lasted has passed, it can move on to someone who’s a better fit — or at least a welcome distraction. (Yes, I’m referencing SATC in 2017. As a measure of how outdated that citation is, one of the search results that came up was an Angelfire page.)

No relationship is perfect. Even the partner you look so much happier with will sometimes let you down. But finding the right relationship is an iterative process, with each relationship moving you closer to perfection. I’ll admit that my own path toward the person I’m with now — who’s an engineer and liable to be irritated with my fundamental misunderstanding of math stuff — has not been a perfect asymptote. I’ve gotten closer to zero in some relationships, and farther from the axis in others. But I’ll always remember my maternal grandmother, comforting me after a college breakup by telling me that every relationship was an opportunity to learn more about what I did and did not want, until I would eventually know for certain what I wanted and find that person.

I have no idea how she knew this. My grandparents got married when my grandmother was 19 and stayed married until her death in her early 80s. None of the experiences I had before age 19 come close to approaching anything I could learn from — not because those experiences had nothing to teach me, but because I was incapable of learning. But maybe that was the point. My grandmother was of a different generation. When she was 20, she spent eight months wondering if her new husband, who was (unbeknownst to her) subsisting on rutabagas in a Nazi POW camp after his plane was shot down over Austria, would be coming home. People who must contemplate even the possibility of such a world approach everything differently. My grandmother’s 20 was not my 20.

At any rate, her advice struck a chord with 20-year-old me, and it stays with nearly 35-year-old me. I’ve made many mistakes in relationships — both in the selection process (if someone’s nickname is Crazy [X], abort) and in how I’ve handled disagreements and disappointments — but for every failed relationship, I can name something I’ve learned. And ultimately, each time I fall in love, I truly do believe it’s the happiest I’ve ever looked. And been.

Day 3: Listened to 2 Dope Queens

One of my goals for this year’s year of New project is to have fewer “new sandwich days” — days where my new thing is either literally eating a new sandwich or something that is roughly the equivalent thereof, such as listening to a new podcast. Well, it only took me until Day 3 to hit on a new sandwich idea. January 3 was my first day back at work post-holidays, and I’m pretty embarrassed that it took me this long to listen to 2 Dope Queens. Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson are smart and hilarious and so are their friends, so if you’re not already listening to it, you should be.

3 Annoying Ways I’ve Changed Since My Late Twenties

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The New Year is a standard if cliched time for reflection, and I found myself thinking yesterday about how much I’ve changed over the past few years. Some of the changes I’ve made have been unquestionably positive — I get more sleep, I drink considerably less, and I’m more discerning about who’s allowed in my life — and some are both generally positive and really annoying. Here are three from the latter list: Continue reading “3 Annoying Ways I’ve Changed Since My Late Twenties”