He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not: Considering a Romantic’s Romantic Past

All it takes is a rose to answer the question: does he like me? It's more complicated than that...
All it takes is a rose to answer the question: does he like me? It’s more complicated than that…

Oh! How many flowers have lost their rosy petals in an attempt to answer a simple question: am I the apple of his eye?

He loves me.

(petal down)

He loves me not.

(another petal down)

You can learn a lot of things from the flowers, Alice taught us when she fell down the rabbit hole. So surely if the falling petals tell you so, he must love you.

Not so fast…

I used to cheat. My flowers always told me exactly what I wanted them to. Somehow, whether I’d count the decapitated stem or count the petals ahead so I could “accidentally” pull off two petals at once, I’d always land on “he loves me.”

Of course, he rarely did. But when you’re young and your eyes are blinded by infatuation, you’re always optimistic.

Staying an optimist when you’re older: Or, enter “It’s complicated”

As I was deadheading my rosebushes this afternoon, I flashbacked to playground crushes and flowers as  Magic 8 Balls shedding light onto my romantic fate. It occurred to me that whenever I respond with an “it’s complicated” to an  inquiry into my relationship status, I was employing the grown-up equivalent of cheating at the “he loves me/he loves me not” game.

Let me explain: saying “it’s complicated” is giving yourself a sense of hope that eventually it’ll all work out. “It’s complicated” is the optimist’s definition of an enigmatic, most likely dead-end relationship.

This realization occurred to me when “the one that got away” magically resurfaced after years of silence. For the first time since he was in my life, I was finally able to evaluate what we were without a biased heart.

For a long time, I defined our relationship to outsiders and even our friends as “complicated.” When I say complicated, what I really mean is that we were close friends, I liked him and wanted more from our relationship. We never talked about our fate or our feelings, in fact we avoided talking about those things even though everyone around us tried to instigate a happily ever after. For months, nay, years I believed we were teeter-tottering on the edge of “something.”

In my mind I had attached an “it’s complicated” status to us because it kept the possibility of an Us open. We weren’t complicated. We wanted different things. And while I waited for him to get on the same page (because, of course that was going to happen), I missed out on a few good, uncomplicated men.

Here is a basic truth: Relationships can be complicated, but feelings are not.

I’ll probably never really stop being an optimist when it comes to love — I’ll never stop cheating at the “he loves me/he loves me not” game. But hanging around in an “it’s complicated?” I think I’ve finally learned to keep it simple.

Yup, that's me.
Yup, that’s me.

Yes, We can Play that Game, Too: Considering “Sex on Campus” and the “Plight” of the 20-Something Female

It’s all on us, isn’t it? The “us” being women under 35 and “it” being the fate of romantic relationships, and therefore, the modern family.

I'm so over it.
I’m so over it.

If you’re been keeping track of the New York Time’s Sunday Style section and the Atlantic Monthly of late, you’ve probably noticed a slew of pieces examining the current state of the dating world. The choices and mindsets of single women seem to garner the most attention. The verdict, it would appear, is that we’re the ones directing the dynamics of contemporary relationships based on how we decide to answer a handful of questions:

Do we engage in casual, no strings attached sex?

Do we purely practice monogamy?

Do we wed early?

Do we focus on careers first, family later?

Do we try to “have it all?”

Frankly, I’ve had enough… Leave me alone. The kids are alright, I tell you.

In this past Sunday’s NYTimes, in a piece entitled “She Can Play That Game Too,” writer Kate Taylor reported on the sex lives of college-aged woman enrolled in UPenn. Taylor seemed to give a fairly straight forward account of the mindset of the Ivy Leaguers who applied cost-benefit analysis to their romantic encounters and generally considered college a stepping-stone and vital life-directing period of resume-building. Surviving those 4 years with honors under their belts didn’t exclude also earning notches on their bedposts, but made seeking serious romantic relationships a low priority on the totem pole.

I flashed back to my own Ivy League college days.

My future was mine to mold... or make a total mess of
My future was mine to mold… or make a total mess of

I was an economics major — you bet I applied cost-benefit analysis to dating (and well, to everything else… and everything, including men, got rated in terms of its “utility.”) But more significantly, like the women Taylor interviewed, I realized the stakes were high. I had a very unique opportunity. I was a Division 1 college athlete and in 4 years, I would have a degree from one of the most lauded universities in the world. The molding clay that was future had been handed to me on a silver platter and I had all the power in the universe to turn it into a masterpiece.

I could also make a total muck of it.

And let me tell you, making a muck of it was far easier.

I’ll always remember that night during my final week as an undergraduate when one of my best male friends took my hand and said to me: “I’m so proud of you and happy for you for everything you’ve accomplished. But our relationship could have been very different if you’d been around more.”

Your first question is probably: Do I have any regrets?

My answer: Absolutely not.

I’m 19. I’ve Never Had a Job. Oh, But I’m Supposed to Know What I want in a Husband?

What irked me the most about this article was the seeming pressure it put on women to make-up their minds in their early 20s, or hell, even late teens about how their life was going to unfold.

And Susan Patton wonders why young women are cautious about getting married and pregnant young
And Susan Patton wonders why young women are cautious about getting married and pregnant young

Susan Patton, who was widely quoted as the “anti-feminist” in the article was disappointed when she asked a class of Princeton undergraduate females if they wanted kids and a family and met hesitation.

Susan Patton is absurd.

Today’s young women are the witnesses of an increasing divorce rate and pre-nups, and the beneficiaries of new job sectors. This is not the generation of my mother, who was married at 18, went through college a wife and left her country and family to follow her husband’s career.

Are you surprised a teenager or 20-something would proceed with caution when it comes to committed relationships?

What I learned in college, burning the midnight oil on papers, clocking my hours at practice, writing for the college newspaper, and making friends more important than lovers, was who I was and what was genuinely important to me.

At 21, no boyfriend was going to figure that out for me.

I wish I could say I went to Columbia to find a rich husband — of course if I did, my 6 years on campus would have been a complete and utter failure. But I went there to find me, Kathleen.

So, mission accomplished.

How do you like them apples, Susan Patton?

Have We Met Before?

The year I was 21 was the year of that reality show named “The Pick-Up Artist.”

You might remember it. It was that Vh1 reality show with the audacious failed-rock-star-type Pick-Up Guru who attempted to teach groups of men with no game whatsoever how to get any woman into bed. I only watched one episode. In it, Mystery (an appropriate name, since his marketability as a dating guru is a mystery to anyone who saw him) taught the young Jedis how to make a move on a girl who was on the move. That is, he showed these gameless men how to pick-up a woman who was walking down the street.

Gameless? Mystery's here to help......
Gameless? Mystery’s here to help……

(Now, for anyone that’s lived in a city, you know there are neighborhoods where any man can be successful at this without even saying a word. Thank you, Red Lights… obviously, the Pick-Up Artist found his disciples on farms…)

If Mystery was anything like Robert Downey Jr., who played in the late 80s flick of the same title, I might have ignored his fur-clad top hat and cut him some slack. I mean, did men take this guy’s advice seriously? I was doubtful… Until the following Friday night…

I was plowing through the lower west side, with a  few of my girls a few steps behind, all of us en route to a concert, when a short, chubby, blonde guy walked passed me, looked back and then cut in front of me.

“You look familiar. Have we met before?”

My jaw-dropped. Clearly he’d seen the same episode.

“No.” I pushed him out of the way and kept walking.

“I think that guy thought you were a prostitute,” my friend Maddie said when she and the other caught up.

Maddie always had a way of making me feel better…

You look familiar. Have we met before? <– that combo of phrases was the key to the approach.

It implied a kind of safety (you know me, so you know I’m not a serial killer.)

It’s an understated compliment (you’re memorable.)

It might also imply fate (I knew you before I met you.)

In theory, it’s a good approach.

I’ve rarely fallen for it. The answer is almost always “no,” unless you’re at an alumni event, and then it’s only vaguely likely (You studied in the architecture library!? Me too!… Oh, right… orientation week…)

Every once in a while, it’s worth taking the bait (like that time in the elevator with the Coulda-Been-A-Gucci-Model…)

Unless you’re wearing hoop earrings, stiletto heels, and are walking through that neighborhood where it’s easy for men with no game to pick up women on the move…

That was the last time I tried to harness my inner Pretty Woman....
That was the last time I tried to harness my inner Pretty Woman….

Enter: The Bravo Generation. A scene to Consider for for New Grads

“I stand behind my vision. It represents me as an artist.”

I looked at the aluminium foil-clad box she just “installed” opposite the isolated robbed-from-the-web,  float-framed photograph then back at her and then back at the “installation.” I’m all for minimalism, but if this represented her vision as an artist, her pending MFA was going to have a short life span on the art market.

I felt like Michael Kors and this artist was about to throw someone under the bus to stand behind her artistic vision.
I felt like Michael Kors and this artist was about to throw someone under the bus to stand behind her artistic vision.

Frankly, her fate as an artist didn’t concern me. The feedback from me and our curator that this (shoddily-thrown-together-sorry-excuse-for-a-commissioned) artwork was entirely different from her accepted proposal, and therefore, entirely unprofessional fell on deaf ears.

I wanted to shake her — don’t you get it? We’re trying to help your career!

That’s what I hoped my eyes said to her when she added:

“I don’t think this is at all different from my proposal.”

Feeling a bit like Michael Kors on Project Runway, facing a designer blind to her own inexperience, I simultaneously admired her self-confidence and abhorred her arrogance. I vowed this was the last time I’d work with an MFA student. Emerging artist? No, thanks. Give me an established artist, I said to myself.

Ironic, considering that not so long ago, I was a soon-to-be recent grad school graduate waiting for my first break into the real world…

Maybe, I’m being harsh. But my experience with the Bravo-Reality-show-educated artist hasn’t been an anomaly when dealing with recent (as in, since 2011) graduates…

Enter the Bravo Generation, where an individual’s vision reigns supreme and constructive criticism from seasoned vets is really not constructive, it’s a complete lack of understanding.

Coming Soon? What? Your web-based business? Or adulthood?
Coming Soon? What? Your web-based business? Or adulthood?

I wasn’t entirely sure that recent things I read, including an A.O. Scott film review, were being entirely fair when they call the early to mid 20-somethings complacent, or stunned in their growth to adulthood. What I’ve noticed is an attitude — a kind of supped-up sense of entitlement (I have a right to be who I want to be and wait, as long as it takes, for the exact job that will put me on the path to be who I want to be) — and the false senses that an internship = experience and that starting a website and calling yourself a “founder” legitimizes you.

Sure, it’s the age of Entrepreneurship, but “coming soon” can only go on for so long.

So graduates, here are 3 things to keep in mind as you head out into the real world:

1. Know what you don’t know: Internships are only introductions — they don’t make you experts. Learn to acknowledge the difference between exposure and experience — Earning a 2-year MA in museum studies is not the same thing as working in a museum for 2 years. Courses for a grade are not the same things as projects for your boss.

2. Be prepared to earn your stripes. No one owes you anything and you’re not proven until you’ve been tested.

3. There’s always someone better than you out there. Let that keep you motivated, but also keep you humble.

Acting Your Age

keep-calm-i-am-almost-30Today, I woke up a year younger. Somewhere between 27 and 27.5, I decided I was 28. I don’t know how it happened, or why it happened, but for the last few months I’ve been referring to myself as “almost 30,” with a slight lean towards 28 when asked to be more specific. I was filling out a form for work when I suddenly remembered, I’ve got a few months to go.

Where this age-identity crisis stems from is hard to pinpoint exactly. It might be because I have some friends in their late 30s who have embraced the identity of “almost 40” and it skewed my own sense of age.

Or maybe it’s because I thought 28 made me sound more legit as a professional. I’m working with a curator, who despite being brilliant,  lovely, and one of the most receptive and collaboration-minded people I’ve ever worked with, has a penchant for condescension when it comes to me and my age. I can’t say I’ve ever been as aware of being in my 20s as I am when I’m on a studio visit with her — her intention is not to be demeaning every time she references my relative youth in front of the artists, but all of a sudden I feel a need to assert that I’m not fresh out of college.

This is what I learned to type on -- a typewriter. Ya, that's right. I remember life BEFORE computers.
This is what I learned to type on — a typewriter. Ya, that’s right. I remember life BEFORE computers.

I’ve even gone so far as to let my gray hair show. Hey, I learned to type on a typewriter, for Chrisssake.

Then again, I’ve always been suffering from an age identity crisis.

Cue flashback:

“You should be dating someone who is at least 21.”

So declared my South African god father at my 17th birthday dinner.

The entire table, including my parents, nodded adamantly in agreement. It’s true what they say: You don’t argue with the God Father.

I had just graduated from high school and had barely had a chance to get my head around the fact that, in a few months, I’d be living in New York City and fully immersed in that phase of life called College. I was a kid, and I knew it. But the general consensus at the time, and one that perpetuates among my friends and family to this very day, is that I’m older than my age.

I don’t really know what that means, but I do know that it took a long time for me to be able to relate to people “my own age” — I always preferred the company of people with a decade or 3 on me. Their stories are always better.

I’ve been characterized many a time as an “old-soul” — a characterization that is frequently undermined by the fact that I still, on most occasions, look like a 16 year old… despite my gray hair.

“Where are you going to college next year?” asked a teenage girl in the locker room at fencing practice.

“I’m done with college. And grad school…”

“Oh! How old are you?”

“27.”

“Oh Shit! You’re old!”

“Yes, and that’s why my body is held together with kt tape. But at least when I go home tonight I can have a cocktail. You have to stick to soda pop.”

And so, it seems, there is no end to this age identity crisis.

In my "old age" i might be held together by a lot of tape, but at least I can have a drink after practice
In my “old age” i might be held together by a lot of tape, but at least I can have a drink after practice

The Seam-Splitters

I've nicknamed my thighs the seam splitters....
I’ve nicknamed my thighs the seam splitters….

I’ve nick-named my thighs “the seam-splitters.”

Arguably, it’s not a very flattering nickname, and I’m sure you’re wondering why a young woman would want to give such a self-effacing and school-playground-teasing nickname to a part of her body. Or, perhaps you’re saying to me, “common, your thighs aren’t thaaaat big.”

No, really. They are. Just ask my wounded pants…

Right now there are 3 pairs of jeans draped over a wicker armchair in my bedroom, each a victim of the seam-splitters. One pair just returned from a tailor who painstaking reconstructed the upper legs with patches, as if the jean were an ancient, priceless Athenian terra cotta vase. The other two are awaiting the same treatment, though they are more likely destined for the trash.

None of these victims have seen more than a year of action, and yet, despite their youth, there they lay, the stitching along the inner thighs torn asunder, split and worn away — jeans in their prime, fatally maimed in the name of fashion.

I know the distressed/patched/custom look is always chic, but still....
I know the distressed/patched/custom look is always chic, but still….

It’s a fate I prepare myself for every time I go shopping: the jeans I buy will split along the inner thighs.  I’ve come to think of jeans as if they are pantyhose: not quite single use, but I shouldn’t get too attached —  it’s only a matter of time before “tricks of the trade,”  like applied clear nail polish or hairspray fail and the devastating run wins, rendering them unwearable.

I’ve learned to spot all the signs that a tear is pending, that the next wear will probably be my last. If I do find a winning pair, they get set aside as “special occasion” jeans. Sometimes, I just buy two right up front.

In high school, I wrote an essay for my AP English class entitled: I Run on Diesel. I was, of course, referring to the Italian denim brand that finally offered me a cut of jeans that seemed to accommodate what my father so kindly referred to as my “thunder thighs.” If there’s nothing else to take away from this look back on my teen years, its that my battle to find well-fitting, properly-enforced leg-wear has been lifelong…

What is a relatively new phenomenon is acceptance. This is just how I’m built. We all have those body areas that give us grief and make us self conscious. For most of my life, that area was my thighs.  For years, I attacked fitness routines and diets promising trimmer legs. It was a mean twist of irony when, as I got fitter, my legs packed on muscle, so instead of shrinking, they got bigger. When I was a competitive athlete, my thunder thighs were an asset. Now that I’m retired, my main goal at the gym is to keep my thighs in seam-splitting shape.

Jeans, be warned.

I’ve learned to ❤ my thunder thighs, aka “The Seam Splitters”