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Patterns from Past Loves

Pre-Will, I had a history of poor decision-making skills when it came to suitors.

Like the chick-lit character you love to hate, I was always drawn to the guys who didn’t want girlfriends. These guys weren’t shy or subtle in expressing this disinterest in relationships, but I was unable to hear or absorb it. Besides, I was the exception. I was going to make the unloving love.

Men (or anyone, for that matter) don’t regularly dissuade others from idolizing them, so I was rarely turned away. I mistook this acceptance for emotional closeness and convinced myself that I was loved.

I put up with all manner of poor behavior largely because I was scared that I couldn’t do any better. We all have dating war stories, I know. Saying I was cheated on, called fat, ignored, and belittled shouldn’t really inspire pity, however, as I accepted such treatment without question.

Case Study: Grad School Boyfriend [name redacted].

How it started: I wore flip-flops to a local bar in the town where I went to college. Grad School Boyfriend approached to tell me that he hated flip-flops. I immediately began a campaign to garner his attention and secure his affections.

How it ended: At a close friend’s wedding where I was too busy bridesmaiding to absorb what was going on. I made him leave to avoid causing a scene and we ended up hashing out our feelings (or lack thereof) in the car much later that night. Yes, I was dumped at a wedding. Nothing short of a housecoat and a herd of cats tops that on the “you will probably die alone”-scale.

When I first saw him clearly: When he made fun of my sister’s shoes. We ran into Grad School Boyfriend at the mall several months post-breakup. Kerry was wearing leg warmers and flip-flops as was the trend that winter. In fact, I think she’d just gotten the leg warmers for Christmas (and Kerry, if you are reading this, I’m sorry! You know that guy was a jerk!). My own flip-flops were fair game, but I’m the only one allowed to mock my sister.

Why the double standard? Shouldn’t the guy I love treat me in a way I’d expect people to treat my sister? While the no-teasing-my-sister rule holds fast, I am, in a sense, glad that the leg warmer incident happened. Something clicked.

I’d love to say that I immediately put this knowledge into action and held out until Will came into my life, but then my memoirs would be devoid of delicious heartbreak and drama. Awareness was, apparently, only part of the key to breaking patterns. Will came along years later – after I’d gathered enough experience to really appreciate him.


The Care and Keeping of Love Letters

Last week, Will made me lunch. Brown bag and everything. He’d even written a note on the napkin. Despite having used the napkin to wipe up a small spill, I flattened it back out and placed it in a drawer for safekeeping. I keep all the notes Will gives me.

I’ve always been a “keeper”. Prior to meeting Will – yes, there were boys prior to Will, don’t worry, he knows – I kept all the little notes and tokens that relationships generate. I’d revisit them to read warm words when I when I needed a boost. The notes were tangible proof of love past.

Presently, as things move to Very Serious with Will, I find I have no need for these past reminders. During a recent cleaning spree, several notes were recycled. A digital clean-up followed, and several flirty emails were deleted. Will never indicated that I had to get rid of these things; the decision was all mine. I just didn’t want them anymore – they’d lost their sparkle.

While I now have no desire to keep these past treasures, I began to wonder if one needs to get rid of reminders of relationships past. I once read once of a woman who burned all her past love letters in the fireplace the night before her wedding. That could be romantic or dramatic, depending on your spin.

Either way, is it odd to keep past love letters if you are currently in a committed relationship? Is it a trust issue (i.e., if you trust me, you know these are just fun, frothy reminders of my youth and in no way impact “us”)? Does this rule – if it exists – apply to jewelry?

Do you keep tokens from boyfriends and girlfriends of yore? Would it bother you if your significant other did?

Do share.

I Am: This Girl’s Sister

My sister is my role model.

Yep, she’s the little one in the picture. I’m the big one. As the big one, you’d think I’d be the one setting the standards, but I constantly have to challenge myself to be as friendly as Kerry.

Two years ago, Kerry and I welcomed 2009 at a party at the Drake Hotel. Fancy, I know. We were dressed up, coiffed, and ready to dance. Our pre-paid tickets covered the open bar, but tips were still being accepted by the hardworking bartenders staffing the event. I had a wallet full of dollar bills and made sure the bartenders saw me drop one in the designated jar each time I got a drink so they’d know I was a baller.

Kerry seemed surprisingly bad at this show of baller-tude. Her dollars always landed in the jar while the bartender was turned away.

“You’re doing it wrong!” I exclaimed, “you have to do it when they are looking so they know you tipped!”

Kerry told me that she prefered to tip “in private” as there was no need, on her part, for recognition from the bartender. She knew she tipped – no one else needed to. I was humbled by my sister’s quiet kindness.


We weren’t the only people ringing in the New Year at the Drake, and many ladies + open bars = much time spent in or waiting for bathrooms. It was in these crowded situations that Kerry glowed. She complimented other girls in line. She smiled at everyone we saw. She was, for a moment, everyone’s friend.

Most memorable was the way she interacted with the Drake housekeeping staff who were working non-stop to keep things clean and orderly. While everyone else – myself included – barely looked at these ladies, Kerry started up conversations asking them about their night. They all lit up with her attention; sunflowers to her sunshine.

We’ve had two New Year’s Eves since that night, but Kerry’s kindness that night lives in the front of my mind and is frequently called upon as a template for my own behavior. Now that she lives around the corner, I can spend time with her whenever I want. Perhaps some of her friendliness will rub off.

** For those of you wondering what the heck Kerry has on her feet, it looks like several pairs of ski socks layered over one another. I’m thinking the snowstorm caught my parents by surprise (we lived in Virginia at the time) and my sister didn’t have boots that fit.

I Am: This Guy’s Girlfriend

Currently, my favorite place on earth is the beige, microsuede couch in my living room. That’s where Will and I curl up to eat dinner, watch movies, or sit to enjoy beer and each other. On the rare occasions when we’re able to coax both cats to join us, I’m positive there’s no greater happiness to be had.

By this point, you’ve heard a lot about Mr. Will. You know that we met online (and, as such, I’m a big fan of online dating). I still can’t believe how lucky I am.

For those of you fit to die at hearing a girl define herself as being “someone else’s girlfriend,” let me assure you that this is no barefoot-in-the-kitchen relationship. Well, I’m barefoot as much as possible, but he’s the one in the kitchen. I prioritize Will and he prioritizes me. It’s a relationship of equals (though he’s a better cook).

Will is incredibly supportive – if I came home today and told him I wanted to quit my job and be a dolphin trainer, he’d pack our bags and look for new homes near Sea World. I love spending time with him. I love who I am when I’m around him. With him beside me, I could be the best damn dolphin trainer Central Florida ever saw.

Will makes me feel like the prettiest, wittiest girl who ever lived. I get told how good I look every morning before I go to work. He’s this blog’s biggest fan.

In our relationship, I’m the big talker. My stories never go from start to finish without a few tangents along the way but Will drinks it all up and stores it away. When I mention something, like my hatred of mangoes, Will remembers that I originally informed him of that on our first date. Why I was talking about mangoes on our first date is beyond me, but I love that he was listening and remembers.

Oh, and I like mangoes now, so you can put your pitchforks away. “Mangoes are Tasty” was one of Will’s first lessons for me.

I love Will. I love being Will’s Girlfriend – it’s one of the greatest facets of who I am.

Who I Am: How My Relationships Define Me

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the ways we define ourselves – what we say when we introduce ourselves to others, how we talk about ourselves. All to often, I think our occupation is our primary identifier. As I’ve said, there are other things I’d rather know about you.

I think I’m best defined by my relationships with the people I love.

It’s these relationships that help me prioritize – my time, my energy, my resources.

See, I’m a list-maker. I’m constantly creating lists, editing lists, crossing things off lists, creating new lists. I even think in lists. This seeming rigidity actually helps me relax. Once things are on a list, I know they are going to get done.

I’ve long maintained that everyone has time for what is important. We’re all busy. We all have demanding jobs or young children or something else eating up our days. In the haze of competing responsibilities, we have to choose what to do with the twenty-four hours we are given each day.

I choose to spend as many hours as possible with the people I love. It’s that simple.

If a task or errand can wait until tomorrow, I’m headed home to spend time with my boyfriend. Invitations for events during the week aren’t accepted until I know which day my sister is coming over to watch The Bachelorette. Wednesday at lunchtime, I have a standing date with my father.

This is not to say that I refuse to attend events if I’m not allowed to bring a friend or that I have no interest in meeting new people. Quite the opposite. I just want to be sure, each day, that the people I love know how important they are to me.

For the rest of the week, I’m going to focus on the three most-important relationships in my life.

(F)Risky Business

I’m not a big risk taker. Physical risk, that is. While I may sign myself up for some seemingly-psychotic feat of athleticism (did you know I’ve climbed up to the top of both the Hancock and the Sears Towers?  Yeah, the stairs.*), I’m no daredevil. I have a pretty keen appreciation for my spine and do what I can to protect it. Plus, I’m a pansy with blood.

Prior to my current living situation, I lived on my own for two years. If something was housed on a high shelf, I was the only one around who could get it down. Nine months ago, Will moved into my condo. Since then, he’s the appointed tall-shelf-reacher.

Not that his presence stops me from leaping up on the occasional chair.

Being with Will makes me a touch more open to the occasional (mild) risk. Whenever I’m faced with even a remote potential for peril, Will is at my side guiding me back to safety. Knowing that someone is concerned every time I chop vegetables with a sharp knife or use my hands to guide carrot peelings into the garbage disposal only heightens the thrill. While I’m not looking to purposely maim myself, Will’s concern fills me with warm fuzzies.

*To answer the most frequent questions I get about climbing the 103 floors to the top of the Sears Tower: 30 minutes. It sucked.

What I Hope Happens on The Bachelorette Tonight

Now that my sister lives right around the corner, we have a little ritual. One day a week, we meet at one another’s place to eat dinner, drink beer, and watch The Bachelorette. For the uninitiated, The Bachelorette is a dating show wherein the contestants go on over-the-top dates and amazing trips to see if the current ABC-selected Bachelor or Bachelorette is their one true love. It’s heavily orchestrated. It’s unrealistic. It’s fantastic.

Our current Bachelorette is Ashley. Oh, were you hoping it would be Emily? Yeah, Ashley was worried about that. In fact, there is little that escapes Ashley’s self-doubt and perpetual worry. She’s gorgeous, tiny, has amazing abs, and is being paid a quarter of a million dollars to live in an amazing house in LA/travel through southeast Asia while being pursued by some pretty-decent looking men. I know that true happiness is much deeper than that, but it seems Ashley would be getting a healthy dose of that external validation she so craves.

So, Bentley. No story of Ashley’s lack of self-confidence would be complete without a mention of our favorite villan, Bentley.

I know. I don't get it.

Those of you who are caught up on your episodes know that Ashley is mad-crazy pining for Bentley, a guy who, in a bit of dramatic irony, has stated  that he’d rather be “like, swimming in pee” than thinking of a future with our fair Bachelorette. Ashley, of course, does not know this and continues to think that Bentley is the best thing ever. Two weeks ago, Bentley left the show to go take his douche circus on the road, but it tonight’s episode, he’s back.

Now, pause. You’re expecting me to say I want Ashley to tell Bentley to take a hike. Well yes, I do. But not for any “Rah, rah! You go girl!” kind of reasons. Sure, it would be nice to see Ashley get it together and stand up for herself, but, personally, I want Bentley off the show because he’s freaking boring. He chose to play the pompous jerk. Clever, Bentley. I’d rather spend time with that weirdo who wore a mask for three weeks.

Better than a pee-swimmer.

That said, my official advice for our lovelorn Bachelorette:

  1. No further mentions of “letting the guys down” by either A) not being Emily, B) not being attentive enough because you are too caught up on Bentley, or C) any other reason you concoct. The guys just got a free trip to Thailand. Even if they are “in it for the wrong reasons,” they are “in it for the wrong reasons” in Thailand.
  2. Bentley. Ok, Ashley, don’t freak out, but you are kind of letting me down with your continued pursuit of that idiot. Seriously. I mean, hello, J.P.
  3. On a serious note (despite the un-serious premise of looking for love on a reality TV show), if you don’t think you’re pretty enough, it will never matter how pretty other people think you are. It may be time for some self-help books.




On Fathers and Fievel

In a recent post, my blog-friend Kristen asked about the first movie we remembered seeing in a theatre. I have it on good authority that the first movie I saw in a theatre was Follow That Bird, though I have no real memories of so doing. 

I do, however, have a pretty solid memory of seeing An American Tail.


In 1986, the year said movie came out, I attended Jr. Kindergarten in Burke, Virginia. As an all-day program, we were required to take naps. I, however, was never very good at nap-taking. Little-Helena had more important things to do than sleep, and, as such, was constantly getting in trouble for making noise during nap-time and distracting other children from slumber. The following year, in Kindergarten, I won the right to read quietly during this time. In 1986, however, I was still required to lay silently for what felt like hours.

One day, while I was not-napping, I heard footsteps coming in my direction. Quickly, I pulled my green blanket up to my chin and squeezed my eyes shut in feint of sleep. While I likely wasn’t subtle, I was hoping my teacher – who I assumed was coming to tell me I was in trouble yet again – would be fooled.

The footsteps stopped, and I heard my name being whispered. The voice, though, was not that of my teacher.

It was my Dad! He’d gotten off work early and come to spring me from nap-prison. Better yet, we were headed to the movie theatre to see An American Tail. This was, clearly, the greatest day of my life.

I remember the plot of the movie quite well, but I’m pretty sure that comes from many subsequent viewings on VHS. The main song, Somewhere Out There, was quite popular on the radio for sometime thereafter. I was so taken with Fievel and his harrowing journey to American shores, that I soon acquired a mouse-shaped backpack. When worn, it looked like I was giving a larger-than-life Fievel a piggy-back ride. I wore that thing with pride for years.

While memories of the actual theatre-viewing have faded, my recollection of the joy I felt when I opened my eyes to see my Dad standing above my cot, come to whisk me away to the theatre, is one of the brightest of my childhood. We left Virginia shortly after I turned nine, and in subsequent years, memories of my time there has faded.

Fievel, however, is still a childhood hero.

Doing Something Right

The other day, I had a mild meltdown. It was one of those moments where I felt like nothing I do is “right.” I’m very good at this kind of thinking, and it generally doesn’t take much to get me to parade around listing my faults. It can quickly spiral out of control and often ends in a brief amount of tears.

I’m not thin enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not successful enough… the list goes from the standard to the insane.

(We’ve all been there, right? …Right?)

After listening until I’d calmed down, the ever-patient Will had me list my priorities – not my priorities for the upcoming week or month, but my overall priorities for life. They are as follows:

  1. My relationships with the people in my life (parents, sister, boyfriend).
  2. My relationships with my kitties (yes, for real. I want to be a good cat-mama).
  3. Having the resources (time, money) to pursue the things I love; namely reading good books, eating good food, and taking good vacations. How I define “good” is subject to change.

It appears that I’m not so much of a failure after all.

(Warning: I’m about to get cheesier than a nacho cheese Dorito.)

Let’s take item #1, subset c – relationship with my boyfriend. As I may have mentioned in previous posts, I’m dating the greatest guy on earth. Sorry, ladies. Will is … perfect. He’s unbelievably kind and thoughtful. I won’t get all Jerry Maguire on you and say he completes me, but living without him would be like living without air. Unthinkable.

Yet somehow, I’ve got him thinking he’s the lucky one in our relationship. I’m clearly doing something right.

The metrics I was using to measure myself (pounds, dollars) have no real relevance vis-à-vis my priorities. I currently have solid, loving relationships with both parents, my sister, and my boyfriend (also, both kitties are relatively fond of me). While some relationships fall into place, most take some amount of work, and I rarely give myself credit for that.

If all I do from this point forward is maintain the relationships I currently have, I’m doing quite well.

(Yes, Even More) Thoughts on Online Dating

As I mentioned previously, I met Will via OKCupid. Since then, I’ve been a big advocate of using online resources to “get out there” (so to speak).

Let’s be frank, though. I’m not your mother. I don’t care about the grandbabies. I just want you to be happy. If you think meeting new people and perhaps starting a new relationship would make you happy, let’s go! If not, that’s fine. See you tomorrow (No worries! I still love you!).

As mentioned previously, I made online dating into a “job” of sorts and devoted time each day to being on the site. I mentioned that this may be a little nerdy. Well, I did something else that may be a little nerdy as well – I had other friends review my profile.

Friend 1: The Witty Wordsmith

My dear, lovely friend Theresa was ever supportive of my online quests. Beyond my love of her diction, Theresa knew me. Anyone can craft a magical (false) profile that will draw the mens like bees to a picnic but that’s not what I was after. I wanted me – polished. I wanted to use the words in my profile to craft the best (honest) picture of who I was and what I was about. Frankly, I have never experienced writer’s block like the kind I had while trying to describe myself to strangers/date-able men. This part – getting started – can be the most daunting. Like all daunting tasks, however, having friends around makes it easier. Pick a close friend (perhaps the one with the stellar vocabulary) and do it to it.

Friend 2: The Man-Friend

Mike, a friend and fellow craft beer aficionado, also took a look at my profile. Besides pointing out a grammatical error (arg!), he commented on the photos I had posted. It’s interesting to get other people’s take on how you look – I know I can be very self-critical. I had recently gotten bangs and decided that I couldn’t post pictures of pre-bangs Helena as that would be way too confusing. Mike convinced me that guys (or at least the guys I was trying to lure) are not that easily thrown off course. Plus, he gave my profile a kind of man-stamp-of-approval.

In addition to their suggestions on how to tweak my profile, having Mike and Theresa’s help was incredibly encouraging. Sometimes, dating (online or “in real life”) needs a dose of encouragement.