When Your Mother Offers to Buy You a Crop Top, Don’t Bite.

Clearly my new haircut and 90s childhood inspired my Mother the stylist

Clearly my new haircut and 90s childhood inspired my Mother the stylist

“You should wear that,” my mother said as she pointed to a model standing center floor in a 5th Avenue Department Store.

We had decided to spend a Sunday afternoon shopping for spring clothes together. I had one of idea of the type of wardrobe I wanted to cultivate this year. She clearly had another.

“THAT” was a crop top.

A crop top.

My mother, the woman who was constantly telling me that skirt was too short for a woman with legs the size of mine was advocating that I wear a shirt that barely covered my nipples.

“That’s not a shirt,” I told her. “That’s a collar.”

“I saw Kevin today,” she continued, ignoring my refusal to show off my upper abs as she pulled a shirt “my size” off the rack. “He’s gorgeous, of course, and almost done with Law School now. He doesn’t want to move in with that girl, which means it’s not serious. You should call him. Worse case, he’ll have some friends.”

It was a this point I tip-toed away to look at maxi-dresses. I’ll do backless, but I won’t do shrunken. I might be a child of the 90s (we thought crop tops were so cool), but I’ve grown up a bit. I was also not in the mood to discuss Kevin — if this was still the age of arranged marriages, our parents would have has us hitched a decade ago. Frankly, I don’t think this would have worked out badly for either of us.

When it was time to cash in on the fitting room, I noticed hidden in among the many silky floral printed blouses and high-waisted skirts of my choosing were more belly-baring numbers my mother deemed appropriate for the new season.

Was my mother recommending I start rocking this look on Saturday night!??!$

Was my mother recommending I start rocking this look on Saturday night!??!

“What are you trying to tell me, mom?” I said, handing her back the arm-full of short shirts.

“Well, you know some things to wear when you go out. Maybe it’s time to change things up a bit. Maybe a little less top-shelf and a little more sorority girl? Maybe it’s a less intimidating look. I mean, you go to the gym, don’t you?”

I secretly hoped she was flasking it.

“Take these out and try again.”

She came back with a stunning striped Equipment blouse that fell neatly below my hips.

“Just testing you!” she cried. “I wanted to make sure you hadn’t turned desperate on me.”

I wasn’t sure if I all the way believed she was punking me, but when the only thing I went home with was the blouse she found on the replay, I was willing to forget the whole crop-top incident ever happened.

This Equipment blouse made me willing to forget the whole crop-top incident ever happened.

This Equipment blouse made me willing to forget the whole crop-top incident ever happened.

 

 

 

Je comprends mieux que je parle, or How I Always Get Free Breakfast I’m in France

My high school French teacher friended me on Facebook. In case the gray hair and lack of tax refunds wasn’t enough validation that I am officially an adult, this settled it. Like any good educator, her first order of reconnecting was to inquire into the current proficiency of my second language.

When preparing for a day exploring Paris, all you need is a good lipstick.

When preparing for a day exploring Paris, all you need is a good lipstick.

“These days my French is only good enough to get me through the morning ‘Le Monde’ which came with the free breakfast I earned for being si charmant the day before,” was my response… but it’s not how you think…

By the fall I drove from Paris to Madrid, I’d been studying French for 10 years and had been many a time lost in Marseilles and on back streets in Paris. While I was far from fluent, I had a cache of useful phrases that usually won over important people like concierges, bell hops, and bakers.

The sun drenched entrance to Le Saint-James in Brodeaux

The sun drenched entrance to Le Saint-James in Brodeaux

Our rental car rolled into the drive way of Le Saint-James, a Relais and Chateau “gourmand” hotel nestled above the city of Bordeaux, on a mini vineyard. It was a one night stop for the food — the restaurant was hailed as one of the best in France. The bell man/valet/Mr. Fix-it was a broad-shouldered, dark-haired man who was a real-life incarnation of Gaston from Beauty and the Beast, complete with the red polo shirt. I giggled when I saw him. He instantly became sour when he realized we were American.

I realized that if I didn’t want him to smash all the porcelain mugs I’d just scored in Limoges, I was going to have to act fast.

Limoges is known for its outstanding porcelain. I picked up a lot of it.

Limoges is known for its outstanding porcelain. I picked up a lot of it.

I threw out a few quick directions and asked a few location questions in French. He paused.

“Parlez-vous Francais?” He asked with surprise.

“Un peu. Je comprends mieux que je parle.” (a little bit. I understand better than I speak.)

He smiled and repeated what I just said. “That is excellent! Your French is excellent!” he said back, in French, before happily carrying my bags to our room and offering to park the car for us.

As he walked me to our room, he chattered away at me. Talking about what to see in Bordeaux if I had any time and then carefully instructing me on how to work all the high-tech functions in my new age white-from-floor-to-ceiling room. The bed was on the floor and every light and blind and tap was operated from one remote control.

Le Saint-James was the ultimate blend in space-age and old-world design. I just couldn't work the blinds.

Le Saint-James was the ultimate blend in space-age and old-world design. I just couldn’t work the blinds.

I didn’t see him again until the morning, when I was on a hunt for some advice on breakfast. Le Saint-James is the kind of boutique hotel that can get away with charging 40 Euro per person for a basket of breakfast breads. Our indulgence had been dinner the night before — a luxurious multi-course tasting menu of nouveau French cuisine. A. MAZ. ING. For breakfast, all we wanted was a roll and coffee… and not to spend another fortune on a meal.

I saw Gaston sitting at a counter outside the restaurant. He was reading the paper and I paused to scan the headlines and pictures over his shoulder. There was a snapshot of a local rugby game. I asked if he played and told him my father had played for South Africa. It was a replay of a chat I had a few years ago in a college level French conversation class.

“Is there a bakery in town I can pick up some a roll for later? Maybe a cafe?”

He quickly turned to the fancy coffee machine next to him and rolled out a petite cafe — the French version of espresso and ran down the hall. He came back with two of those 40Euro bread baskets and dumped them into a paper bag for me.

“Shhhh,” he said with a wink. “There are always ones for the garbage, any how.”

He handed me a copy of the paper as he loaded our valises into the car and bid me bon voyage.

My je comprends mieux que je parle and canned convo about rugby had made me a friend for life.  I promised him I’d be back. He hoped it would be soon.

 

A wee (oui?) bit of French goes a long way if you want free breakfast.

A wee (oui?) bit of French goes a long way if you want free breakfast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is no Them, Only Us

The first thing I do when I walk into his apartment is take off my watch. Usually, I lay it on a coffee table, next to my phone, which is on silent. Sometimes, I put it in that mystery pocket in my purse so I don’t forget it like I did that one Saturday. I like my watch. It’s a classic silver and gold Raymond Weil that was a 21st birthday present. I take it off as a courtesy – I’m letting him know I’m not in a hurry to leave (and I wouldn’t want the clasp to get stuck on his belt buckle, if things go that way.) What happens next is still to be determined, but whatever it is, it starts with a refusal to acknowledge time.

Between now and when I put my watch back on, there are not minutes or hours.

There’s just us.

Time melts away when two people decide to melt together. Thanks, for this Dali.

Time melts away when two people decide to melt together. Thanks, for this Dali.

The world stops for two people in love, or lust, depending on how you want to look at it. A romantic concept, no? Did you know I was that much of an idealist? Clearly, you weren’t there when I cried during that scene in that movie…

“You’ve been going non-stop,” a boyfriend said to me as I plunked down on his couch. “Tonight, you’re here. I want you to pretend you’re on vacation. We’re going to do whatever makes you feel like we’re somewhere else.”

It was probably the last romantic gesture he made before becoming an ex-boyfriend, and it was probably one of the most meaningful. Part of what we look for in a significant other is someone who will share life’s challenges with us, but also someone who will help us escape from them. When the going gets tough, he helps soften the blow. It’s not simply  that we need someone to vent to. It’s that we need someone to distract us, to remind us everything is really very good, or that it’s about to be very good.

Tomorrow, I need to take my watch to Torneau for a new battery. The date has fallen behind by two weeks and the second hand only moves in increments of 7 seconds now. If I wait any longer it’ll stop all together. If I were a student on assignment, I’d probably try to make a metaphor here — say something like, maybe my watch is trying to tell me something about this new guy. I only just got the battery replaced, after all. Be thankful I’m not a student on assignment.

The Worst Break-Up Ever

90sbffThe worst break-up I ever survived was not with a boyfriend. It was with my best friend.

When I got my college freshman room assignment, the first thing I did was shoot an IM to my teammate, Suki. We were only slightly better than acquaintances, but we lived in the same area, trained at the same fencing club, and were both going to be spending our next 4 years at Columbia together. Great news! We were assigned single rooms a floor apart. We spent our summer preparing for college life by becoming bosom buddies. By the time orientation week started, we were thick as thieves, bonafide best friends.

As the year unfolded, our bond as friends grew stronger. There were few things we did apart. This was our first big mistake. We were always invited to things as a set, and when only one of us were invited to things, we’d usually bring the other. While we were each on different academic courses and had a handful of friends that didn’t overlap, for the most part we were peas in a pod, attached at the hip — one person to the majority of the outside world.

Nothing could possibly come between us. But 19 year old girls can let anything come between them, and in our case, it was 2… make that 3 boys.

What exactly happened over the course of a year and half is less important than the fact it culminated in me calling her a slut, she locking me out of our shared dorm room and both of us flushing our friendship down the toilet. She had picked boys over our friendship while putting other relationships at risk. I take loyalty very seriously. There was no option for recovery.

We had timed our break-up well — a week before reading week, 2 weeks before finals, and a month before we called it quits for summer recess. We lived together, but she had an upperclassman friend who would let her crash at his place on week nights. I’d go home on the weekends. Without coordinating it face to face, we had worked out how to avoid each other.  There was a mural on the wall behind our beds — something we had started working on one sleepless night when we didn’t feel like studying but never really finished — I took a sponge to it.

I sat in a kind of quiet depression through that summer. I was fragile and jaded. I had confided in her in a way I had never confided in someone before — she knew all my secrets. How could I trust anyone — friend or lover — again? I lashed out at friends that tried to push us back together. Perhaps a few other relationships fell by the wayside. The collateral damage was almost too large to measure.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that 9 out of 10 boyfriends become ex-boyfriends. But best friends, those are supposed to last a lifetime… so when best friendships come crashing down, we’re left feeling abandoned, betrayed, and wounded in a way no significant other can ever effect us.

Of course, a decade later you get the benefit of saying “things happen for the best.” And for us, the end of our friendship was probably the best thing that ever happened to us both. She found true love outside our complicated polygon. We found our unique identities. I moved on, and while I’m more cautious about who I let into my life, years later, I learned to trust again.

 

Playing by the Rules

The French, apparently, go from kiss to couple faster than a La Mans race car.

The French, apparently, go from kiss to couple faster than a La Mans race car.

“You Americans and your rules of dating!” He said teasingly, before kissing me.

Our conversation of cultural comparisons had revealed that the French don’t date and they don’t play games.  They go from zero to first kiss to bonafide couple in 60 seconds flat. Perhaps this is not surprising for a nation home to La Mans and “la langue de l’amour.”

“As far as rules go when it comes to love, I only have one…” I replied.

I’ll come back to that later.

A few days earlier, I dropped into my favorite department store to cash-in on (or drop cash on?) its annual spring make-up event. Double points. Free gift tote with samples. What do you mean I don’t need another red lipstick? Of course I do! Natasha, the facial-care brand representative who had introduced me to the benefits of toner and weekly exfoliation, was more keen to catch-up on life than sell me eye cream. I was happy for the free make-up application and girl chat.

Under the influence of pink ginger ale, I divulged that I had stumbled out of a relationship and immediately into a new fling with a foreign suitor. Her eyes opened wide and she put down her lipstick pencil.

“Just remember, you have a lot of things going for you. Above all you have the advantage of youth — after you turn 30, men will lose interest.”

Pause.

Context: Natasha is hot and exotic. She has a boyfriend who treats her like a queen. She refuses to get married. She is in her 50s and looks 25. Seriously. She is the best advertisement for $500 face cream in the world.

Resume.

The only games I'm interested in playing are ones like Monopoly

The only games I’m interested in playing are ones like Monopoly

“There are lots of rules out there to playing the game, but there are only a few that matter. Here they are:

1. Make him wait a month before you sleep with him. That’s just long enough to become friends so the sex is better. Any longer and he’ll go looking for it elsewhere.

2. Never let a man walk all over you. Be confident in who you are. A man should enhance your life. Not make it.

and 3. Don’t settle for anyone that doesn’t spoil you rotten. You’re wonderful. You’re a princess and deserve to be treated that way. A man that doesn’t pay at dinner will cheat you in other ways. And watch out for French men. They’re fantastic in bed, but they usually have a mistress. I work for the French. I’ve seen it all.”

Natasha’s words of wisdom blew my mind. And not because she had basically told me my prime only lasted two years. No, mostly because other than #1, her rules sounded less like rules and rather mottoes to date by.

We all acknowledge that dating is a game — this is an unfortunate reality that bothers the hell out of me. The only games I like are Monopoly and Scrabble (which I’m terrible at, but play with competitive enthusiasm/optimism). But I think we misuse the word ‘rules’ when we talk about dating. I prefer to think of these things — things like deciding when a couple takes certain steps — as guidelines, suggestions, a roadmap in finding what will make us happiest in the long run. It’s easy to find someone to go to bed with. Less easy to find someone that will make our whole lives better.

My one rule in dating is simple: Follow my instincts. Not just when it feels right, but also when it feels wrong.

Before I sign off, Natasha gave me one more morsel of wisdom and it’s the insight I might just love the most:

“A good relationship is like a good pair of shoes. A good pair of shoes don’t need breaking in. They fit you right and feel comfortable from the first step. That’s what you’re looking for. You don’t need life blisters.”

A good relationship shouldn't remind you of this Marilyn Minter painting... #artnerd

A good relationship shouldn’t remind you of this Marilyn Minter painting… #artnerd

The Best Valentines I’ve Ever Had…

This is cute. Order it on etsy from scrapbits

This is cute. Order it on etsy from scrapbits

“If you feel comfortable to go on a date on Valentine’s Day, we could go out then.”

I had planned on avoiding Valentine’s Day this year. Those plans involved signing the lease on my new Range Rover Evoque and going for a kind of joy ride. Heading north a ways. Away from the red mylar heart-shaped balloons and pink doillies bombarding you at every store from Duane Reade to Saks. Perhaps I’d go  somewhere I could test my new car’s off-roading capabilities, or take it somewhere where I could get lost on my snowshoes (but not really lost, cuz it’s winter and that would end badly.)

My stomach churned a little bit at his text message. A Valentine’s Day first date with the most stunning and potentially most interesting man you’d ever met? This was bound to go as badly as my snowshoeing without a map plan.

This puppy was my best Valentine's Present

This puppy was my best Valentine’s Present

I am famously neutral about Valentine’s Day. I have a knack for ending relationships ahead of the holiday, and so I can’t remember if I have had a legit Valentine. My mother often comes to my rescue, buying me necklaces, or chocolate, or shapewear to help me turn future first dates into second dates. I’ve also fulfilled the day’s requirements by going bar-hoping with plantonic male friends.

This year, my right hand in the office, my Gallery Coordinator and I agreed to be each other’s Valentine. I’m taking a comp day on Valentine’s Day, so I cheated and gave her a box of truffles on Wednesday.

The best Valentine’s present I ever got was Kasey, my Cairn Terrier. She was a grey-black puppy who I nicknamed my Blue Valentine. She liked to chase feet and sit on my lap while I sat at my desk, writing on my laptop.

When this man asks you out on Valentine's Day, you say yes.

When this man asks you out on Valentine’s Day, you say yes.

“Do you think he’ll bring you flowers?” my girlfriend Sammy asked when I told her I’d accepted the invitation from the European PhD who bore an uncanny resemblance to Rupert Penry Jones.

While I’d welcome the gesture, I confessed, part of me hopes he won’t. They’d totally steal the thunder from my new car — I’m a sucker for flowers.

It’s Not about the End. It’s about the What’s Next

exactly.

exactly.

“You’re going to cry again,” my mother said.

She, like everyone else I’ve seen in the last week, doesn’t believe that I really mean it when I say I’m okay.

No, I’m not okay. I’m great.

They keep waiting for the waterworks to start again, the way they did last Thursday when every inquiry into what was wrong started a lip quiver. Like all good things, a relationship that seemed to be going in a good direction ended. Perhaps, more abruptly than we would have liked, but sometimes, when it isn’t love, you just have to rip the bandaid off and get it over with.

Break-ups suck, even the good ones. Each has its own recovery path and time. Sometimes, there’s the shock of the loss to overcome. Every one is has its mourning period where you remember the good times and come to terms with the fact there won’t be any more. Then there comes the anger – at the ex, at the “system.” Next, you press the restart button and begin your make-over as you prepare yourself for the road ahead.

Sometimes you need a scotch to help things along. Scotch always tastes good after a break-up.

Being emotional after a breakup gets you pity drinks from friends. Being rational gets you nothing but a "thata girl!"

Being emotional after a breakup gets you pity drinks from friends. Being rational gets you nothing but a “thata girl!”

Sometimes I wish I was more emotional and less rational. Being emotional gets you out of work early and earns you pity drinks from friends. Rational gets you to the restart period faster — 3 days later and I’m already several ab workouts, a manicure, and a date with my stylist in. I don’t think I’m going to cry again.

This break-up came with an unusual stroke of clarity. I’ve decided that the hurt or pain following the end of relationship is the less daunting challenge to overcome – harder to conquer is the fear of the “what’s next.”

For every end of a significant relationship, a significant question lingers.

After the one that got away: Will I ever love someone that much again? So far, No.

After the one I left behind: Will someone ever love me as much as he did? So far, No.

After this last one: Will I ever be as comfortable being myself as I was with him? So far, TBD.

The path to finding love ever lasting is an uphill marathon

The path to finding love ever lasting is an uphill marathon

The feeling that something’s missing, or that something you had can’t be replicated with someone new — that’s what gets ya down and keeps you there for a while. Makes you swear off falling again. Or lowers your bar for the next person. Or adds another layer of bricks and mortar to the wall around your heart.

Endings are supposed to be new beginnings, but the truth is, new beginnings are hard. First dates are fun and easy. But getting to 4th, 5th and 6th dates — when you start the uphill slog towards trust and a committed relationship — that’s the most testing part of the cross-country marathon that is finding everlasting love.

For now, I’m on the bench for a while. It’s time to treat the wounds and seek the trainer. The  course ahead is a long and tricky one. I need to be ready before I get back in the race.