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.
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?
One Friday in the Fall of 1994 I was flitting around my bedroom preparing for a school dance. Yes, we had dances in the gym of our Junior High – a scenario straight out of a stereotype. In addition to all the awkwardness that the tween years bring, I was new to the area and completely unsure of myself. That evening’s anxiety was only increased by my inability to find my favorite pair of jeans. Without them, I was toying with the idea of skipping the whole event.
Mom offered to help me search. I assured her the jeans were not in my dresser, MOM!, but – you know what happens next – she walked over to the dresser, opened the second drawer, and there they were. Right on top.
I burst into tears.
“I don’t have a best friend!” I wailed, a sobbing non-sequitur.
“Helena, I’ll be your best friend,” my mother assured me. And she has been.
My father taught me to ride a bike. Granted, the whole no-training-wheels push started with a lie. We were months away from leaving Virginia and I was told that no kids in Texas had training-wheels on their bikes. Like every previous bit of wisdom my father bestowed upon me, I accepted it without question and headed to the parking lot at our nearby forest preserve to learn to bike like a big kid.
Dad taught me many key life skills: how to swim, how to drive, how to properly use silverware, that candy was dandy but liquor was quicker, how to properly swaddle a babydoll. He devoted entire summers to improving my math skills, reluctant though I was to participate in such enrichment. He proofread school papers. He never complained when we offered all our friends on the Track team rides home after practice. He was, and is, a model of patience and kindness.
Beyond all the obvious bringing-me-into-the-world and feeding-and-clothing-me business, the most lasting impression my parents have had on me is the strong relationship they have with one another. They are totally and completely in love. It’s inspiring to witness.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When meeting new people, it seems the default question of “What do you do?” comes up shortly after names are exchanged. Our jobs become our definitions. However, only a lucky few who are truly passionate about what they do for a living welcome such a definition.
“What we do” is not always “who we are.” With the noted exception of those fortunate few who love their jobs, asking what someone does provokes, at best, a neutral, pre-packaged response.
There are other things I’d rather hear about.
1. What you are reading. As an avid reader (be my friend on GoodReads!), I love to hear about, talk about, obsess about books. I read thrillers, novels, personal essays. I dabble in poetry collections. I fill my home with books and pass good ones along to whoever I think would enjoy them. Tell me about the last great book you read. Tell me about the recent article you read in the newspaper, a magazine, or online that changed your thinking about foreign policy, menswear, or drapery pleats. Reading makes you interesting, and everyone loves to hear from interesting people.
2. Where you’re headed. I’m always planning my next trip – be it real or imaginary. I like to ask people where they’d go if they could jump on a plane right this minute and go anywhere, all expenses paid. My own answer to this question changes frequently. I want to go to Quebec, Istanbul, Mumbai, St. Petersburg. I want to see much of South America and Africa. I want to ski wherever I can. I’d love to hear about upcoming vacations, past vacations, or fantasy vacations. Distance doesn’t matter.
3. What you’re eating. My boyfriend is quite the chef. Prior to him, I had no real appreciation for the culinary world. Now, I have a cabinet full of spices and cookware. I’m slowly learning to love food – preparing it, eating it, and talking about it. Going to a great restaurant? Have a wonderful meal the other week? Love cooking at home? Peeved about Top Chef? Please share!
4. What you do. If your job is your passion, I’d love to hear about it – even if I have no real understanding of what it is. Listening to people talk about their passions is fascinating. The other night, I joyfully eavesdropped on my sister as she discussed chemistry with a mutual friend. I’ve never heard two people so pumped about Tungsten. Your passion may not be your job, but, for most of us, your job is not all that you do. Tell me about your hobbies. Tell me about your weekend plans.
People’s jobs can be fascinating. People’s jobs can be boring. Unless they are enthusiastic about it, I’d rather talk about something else.
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.
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.
That said, my official advice for our lovelorn Bachelorette:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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:
- My relationships with the people in my life (parents, sister, boyfriend).
- My relationships with my kitties (yes, for real. I want to be a good cat-mama).
- 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.