The New Jewels in the Jewelry Box: Considering a Gem of an Ex

It was the patriot cluster of red, white, and blue that caught my eye as I walked past my office’s mail/copy room. The lone envelope in my mailbox was stocked with enough forever stamps to take it to the moon and back. When I saw the return address, I smiled warmly as I thought this was just like him. He never wanted to let me down or disappoint me. He would do whatever he had to to make sure the USPS wouldn’t fail me.

Inside the envelop, wrapped thoughtfully in a paper towel was my missing earring. A giant peridot-like stud that he had given me for Christmas and that I had left at his house weeks earlier, before we decided to part ways. The post of the earring had been bent in transit so it lay flat against the crystal  (or perhaps he had bent it before he sent it? Another precaution so it wouldn’t poke through the envelope and get lost en route? That was also just like him.) I started to try to unbend it… it wouldn’t budge. Just then, my boss walked into my office.

kate-spade-new-york-blue-faceted-small-square-stud-earrings-product-1-19644834-0-774214613-normal
They’re kind of the perfect earrings

“I have a jeweler who can fix that for you.”

“I have a pair of pliers.”

“You’d better heat it up then. Wouldn’t want to break it.”

That would have been ironic. I dropped the earring into a cup of boiling water and sat at my desk. I played our time together through my head as I let the metal warm.
Had he been different, had those earrings been different, I might not have asked for it back. Given how long we had been seeing each other when he gave them to me, they were the gift I least expected. Not only were they jewelry (remember the ex boyfriend who refused to buy me earrings?) they were the exact pair I had been stalking at the Kate Spade store near my work. It seemed that at only two months in, he had already figured me out.

And maybe he had since day one. Our first date had been 5-star, after all. He had worn a suit and tie. I had worn my favorite Milly skirt and red patent heels.  A refreshing change from the oh so many swipe-started first dates where I almost didn’t care if I had shown up in sweat pants.

The relationship that came before him had been defined by a lack of communication. Ours had been defined by intimacy — we had been open about our relationships past and our fears entering this one, about our personal short comings, and about the road blocks we had faced that  had in turn made us strong. We lusted after each other for the superficial things, but admired each other for the things that mattered. We weren’t afraid to take the risks that come with opening up.  He was the first guy I’d dated who ever showed any genuine interest in all the parts that made up my life — from the gallery to my family to my sport to my blog.

I took the earring out of the cup and bent the post back into place.  I’d been carrying around its mate in my purse and immediately, I popped the reunited pair into my ears. When he and I broke up exactly two weeks earlier I didn’t cry. When we broke up, I don’t know that I felt the feelings that make you want to cry. I don’t know that I felt anything but relief — I wasn’t making him happy, and let me tell you, being unable to make someone happy can be exhausting.

Later that night as I went to put the earrings into my jewelry box, I cried. Running through it all — from start to last text message — I realized just how final our good-bye had been and I was sorry for that. But at least I had this new favorite pair of earrings, and to always wear with them, a cache of warm memories and lessons about life, love, and Legos.

 


Author’s note:

In something of an ironic twist, about two weeks later I lost the earring again, at an art fair. This time, it is clearly for good. Lesson learned: somethings are just not meant to be.

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The Right to Ask for Mr. Right

He looked at me with distaste, and slammed his beer down on the bar top. He began to chastise me:

“Don’t go looking to marry another Ivy-Leaguer. That’s douche-y. You want to be one of those couples in the Sunday Times? Don’t do that. The fancy diplomas, the championship ring — those are your things. Find someone who has his things. Find yourself a real MAN. I mean, a MAAAAN. Someone who thinks you’re fabulous, not ya know, fab-u-looooous, ’cause that’ll open a whole ‘nother door of problems for you.”

Jimmy swished his hand in a stereotyping display, and if I wasn’t offended I might have laughed.

I had been judged unfairly, by someone who knew me better than most.

I was being scolded for holding out for someone who could keep up. To him, that read as I was looking for a man with all the checks in the column — multiple top-tier degrees, a power job, an All-American past and cross-fit future, a golden retriever, and a perfect hairline. This wasn’t the case. He clustered me in with “the 800 other 20-something women I know in New York who are over educated, under paid, and who just can’t find a guy who can keep up.”

“I have a right, you know, to ask for Mr. Right, whoever that may be.”

Luckily, just then, the drunk male Red Sox fan standing next to us started a fight with a drunk female Yankees fan, and a bouncer intervened. His chastising of me was forced to a halt.

When I first finished my MA and ended years of traveling round the world as an aspiring athlete, people were quick to warn me that I’d have a problem finding a guy who was good enough — who was smart enough, who was successful enough, who was worldly enough, etc. It seemed important to the people who met me that I be worried about finding a Mr. Right. I wasn’t and people couldn’t understand that. Sure, I wanted competent companionship… but after I found a job with health insurance.

The job came, my career was finally on the move and people stopped being interested in my dating life… or at least, it wasn’t the first thing they asked about. People stopped prescribing a rich husband and started asking how much was too much to pay for an artwork. I become more than a single girl with an advanced degree in something people didn’t understand. It was a relief.

And then I had lunch with the Professor…

“It must be hard for you,” he said, after confessing that he’d googled me and found my blog.

“What must be hard for me?”

“Dating. I imagine the pool you have to choose from is very limited.”

“What do you mean?”

“Someone with your education — there aren’t many men that can keep up, I bet.”

I suppose, I should have been flattered, but I wasn’t.  He was exactly 20 years older than me, I was unclear about why we were having lunch together (the encounter walked a fine line between networking and well, not networking), and he didn’t know me.

“An ivy league degree doesn’t guarantee intelligence, or intellect, or sensitivity,” I replied. “What makes my dating pool small is not that fewer men have graduate degrees than women. It’s that I have passions and ambitions. If all I wanted to do was settle and have 5 kids, I’d be married by now. But I want more than that. I am more than the sum of my degrees and I expect my partner to be as well.”

He could sense the irritation in my voice. We proceeded to talk philosophically about happiness and relationships, about being a Marine during the sexual revolution and the pitfalls of being a dating blogger.

Learning to Lead

I was a freshman fencing in my very first college meet against Harvard when one of the seniors captains came up to me to say she thought I had “what it took.”

“We’re starting a campaign early to make you Captain for next year,” she said. “Don’t worry. I’ll get you ready.”

I was a relative unknown coming onto my college team. A recruit with national standing and some Junior World Cup experience under my belt, sure. But I wasn’t like a few of my fellow first years, who had been fencing since they were 8, had made several Junior World Championships, and were making podium placements on the senior circuit. Our team’s Wall of Fame included national champions and Olympians galore (one of my classmates would go on to win a silver medal in Beijing.) So to be singled out as the next leader of this historic pack was more than an honor.

(It was terrifying.)

For most of my life, I’ve been pushed into leadership positions. Like in the 8th grade when we had to set-up and run our own businesses, I was unanimously voted CEO. I assumed things like this happened to me because I was always the one most likely to do most of the work or I was the one cheering the loudest. I guess that translated into being the one that cared the most, which was true. I care about the things I do, a lot.

Fast forward to this past fall…

When my boss suggested I apply to participate in a 10 month leadership development course, I was both flattered and skeptical. It felt a lot like when Captain Kim came up to me that day at Harvard — someone I had truck-loads of respect for thought I was worth investing in, worth mentoring into a leader of something special.

At the same time, I was doubtful a course about leadership was for me.  I lead a lot of things, can’t I just learn more from you, Boss? I need to know more about fundraising. How do I ask people for money for stuff? When she told me that my organization would pay if I were accepted, I figured it was an opportunity not to be missed, and filled out my application.

My current reading list.
My current reading list. “The Art of Asking” should be on yours

Going into the course, I saw leadership as a set of qualities you either had or didn’t, qualities that could be nurtured, but not learned. When someone was put into a leadership role, myself included, I figured it was because he/she demonstrated a few more of those qualities, and perhaps was a higher performer than the others in a given set of individuals. In that view, Leaders embody a character-type and are Leaders because they can deliver results. I didn’t necessarily see leadership as a set of skills that could be taught or mastered.

So far, this course has taught me otherwise.

Over the years, I had created awards for leadership and been the recipient of awards for leadership. And yet, acknowledging my many shortcomings, I know I have a lot to learn. Starting with finding answers to a set of simple questions: What really is Leadership? And what is GOOD leadership?

The course started with an inward look. What made me get up in the morning? What was my mission in life? My vision? Was I living my mission and my vision — in my personal life, in my professional life? I was bombarded with questions about who I was, where I had been, where was I going. As a goal oriented person who was good at staying the course, I’m not sure I wholly appreciated this line of introspection and contemplation. I was kinda living my dream. What gives!?! What did this have to do with being a Chief Curator or an Executive Director? Why are you trying to shake my foundation.

Sometimes you need a little shaking to test the strength of your foundation.

But the fog began to lift. To lead well, you need to BE your goal. To BE your goal, you need to know what it is and why you’ve set it. People won’t sign-up to follow you if you’re not genuinely invested in where you’re going.

I learned that Leadership is fundamentally grounded in relationships — with individuals as well as with groups/teams. We all need some help in learning how to manage relationships. Managing relationships is definitely a skill, a steamer-trunk-sized set of skills.

The course, which still has 2 sessions to go, proved revealing on many levels. It forced me to turn an eye to the relationships in my life. I came to value particular friendships even more, and reassign different position to others. I considered how to better negotiate certain workplace partnerships… and continue to consider how to make these more productive, more balanced, more collaborative.

It’s all a work in progress. Leadership is a process — a journey. Thankfully, there are many turns to explore in the road still ahead.

Have Love Will Travel

I brought back a ton of jars like this, filled with honey... one was for My Honey
I brought back a ton of jars like this, filled with honey… one was for My Honey

“Ma’am,” the airport security officer said, with a thick eastern European accent. “Honey must go in checked baggage.”

I groaned. As a well-seasoned traveler I knew better, but in order to avoid over-weight baggage fees, I convinced myself the small earthenware pots would act as camouflage. Those pots were loaded with honey, one of the things Bulgaria is most known for producing. Damn these new x-ray machines — I couldn’t hide the fact that each of the half dozen clay jars actually contained twice the legal limit of fluid for carry-on bags.

I returned to the ticketing counter. Checked my carry-on. Paid 75 Euros and nearly punched Mr. TSA when, once through security, I realized I was allowed to buy and carry-on a life-time supply of honey from the terminal gift shop, if I so chose.

#SecurityFail

One of those folk craft jars of honey was being carried home for “My Honey” — the tall, blue-eyed, Ivy League Senior Project Manager who sneaked into my life a few months earlier. As per his requests, I had also secured a magnet from Paris for his collection and also from France, a “very little something lacy ” (wink, wink, nudge, nudge.)

image

Frank Hampshire (a nickname he earned at my friend’s birthday party) and I had only become “official” a few days before my departure for a two-week sojourn in France and Bulgaria. I didn’t expect there’d be much in the way of communication for the next 14 days — is there internet near the Black Sea? But when I finally touched down on European soil, I found an email  waiting for me. He wanted to make sure I’d had a good flight and wanted to offer some google-inspired dining suggestions for when I finally made my connection to Sofia, Bulgaria.

I admit, I was quietly pleased with myself for landing such a good guy who seemed to like me so much. That started a daily email exchange, our rapport acting as a kind of diary of my travels as he recounted all the things he wished he could tell me in person. It was like we were traveling together. Of course, until he asked why was it that on his one good hair day in 30+ years, I was 3,000 miles away?

It’s easy to travel the world when you know someone is missing you at home.

I was bemused — the two weeks and 3,000 miles apart had codified our relationship. A year earlier, two weeks abroad brought about the end of a relationship, and I couldn’t help reflecting on how a break from life as usual had produced such different outcomes.

It was taking in views like this from Durnstein, Austria, that made me realized I needed someone different.
It was taking in views like this from Durnstein, Austria, that made me realized I needed someone different.

I flashed back to a cold windy October night and a street corner in Manhattan’s theater district. A passionate kiss and a promise we’d work things out before we headed separate ways. I had suffered delayed trains and Times Square crowds to break up with The Admiral (my Ex with a capital E), but when he took my hand at dinner and told me he didn’t want to lose me, I chickened out. We agreed my vacation would be a geographically-imposed break from our relationship, and we’d talk things over when I got back. We agreed that if we decided not to stay together, we’d stay friends… we’d leave the door open. We just needed time to think and lighten up. I left the States convinced we’d stay a couple — we loved each other, after all, and we owed it to ourselves to try to make it work.

As I wandered through Austria’s wine region, meandering along the Danube, pausing in hillside medieval towns to lunch on farm-fresh goats cheese and Apricot brandy, it all became clear. I imagined retracing the same romantic trip in the future with a different travel companion. He had a face and a name, and neither belonged to The Admiral.

I touched down in New York the morning Hurricane Sandy swept through the region. It would be another week before the Admiral and I finally spoke, in the cocktail lounge where we went on our first date, and agreed to shelf the romance.

And now, here I am two years later, a few days away from another two weeks in Europe. Frank Hampshire faded away into the history books, and the Admiral and I are “just friends.” I’m in the early stages of a new relationship and I’m not sure how 14 days off-line will affect the course of things. One way or another, my time abroad will help us decide our next step, if there’s to be one. Maybe, we’ll miss each other and hurry to make things more serious. Or, and this is more likely, one of us will move on. But, of course, this is what vacations are for — taking the requisite break from reality to help us decide what’s really real… in life and in love.

lovers locks paris 2013

 

 

 

Considering Birthdays Past

The advantage to sharing a birthday with a loved one is that no one ever forgets it.

My father and I share a birthday. It’s also Canada day. My mother — a smart woman — has been milking this for years. What more does my father need, she says, when he has such a wonderful daughter!

This year, he turns 75. This is not insignificant. We’re having dinner at our favorite local restaurant and he’s getting some things from LL Bean and Nike. (I swear — if my mother and I didn’t give him clothes and shoes at every gift-giving holiday, the man would walk around wearing a sheet and flat-tire rubber sandals. We love him any way.)

Meanwhile, I’m hitting the big 2-9 — an unremarkable number save for the fact it marks the final year in another decade. I don’t plan to go through the same “29 Crisis” that some of my other single friends have — they upgraded apartments to ones they can’t afford, chopped off and died their hair, and got trainers. Every day, they post fitness selfies and “I’m an empowered single lady” quote on their social media feeds.

But perhaps, it’s too early to call for me. If on July 2nd, I post a photo of myself at the gym, in a sports bra flashing a “look how tight my ass is” pose, captioned with some motivational mumbo jumbo, you have permission to put me in a straight jacket (or at least, hand me a shirt.)

I digress…

A friend enjoys the magic at my 7th birthday party. 20+ years later, we're still celebrating birthdays together.
A friend enjoys the magic at my 7th birthday party. 20+ years later, we’re still celebrating birthdays together.

As the child in the family, the celebration of my new year typically eclipsed my father’s. My birthday fetes were famous — at my 10 year high school reunion, girls I hadn’t seen since graduation day came up to me to say “I’ll never forget all your parties! You need to have another one, for old time’s sake.”

“I’m pretty sure that magician is dead,” I said.

For the first 14 years of my life, I took birthdays pretty seriously. Magicians, hot dog carts, excursions to the stables for horse-back riding, buses hired to the chauffeur us to the Jekyll & Hyde Club, virtual reality adventures, swing-dance lessons, fabulously fanciful cakes — there were distinct advantages to being an only child of older parents. Each year, I came up with a theme that felt au courant, researched the possible venue or vendor, and designed my own invitation. We always ended up at my God Mother’s pool and no one wanted to go home.

And then the parties stopped. I started fencing and National Championships always fell on the first week of July. Often I was competing on July 1 and all of a sudden, my father and I were in different cities on our birthday. This was strange.

I turned 21 in Atlanta. My Mother had been trying to get me to drink since I was a teenager — her theory was it was better to learn how to have a nice cocktail or glass of wine in a refined social setting rather than binge drink like a sorority girl. I was 16 when she sneaked me into a wine tasting in Napa. Ironically, when I ordered my first legal drink, a grey goose cosmopolitan (it was the heyday of the S&TC reruns on TBS, after all), she was painfully uneasy. I wasn’t allowed to finish it. A refill was out of the question.

When we finally got to celebrate at the Intrepid, we made the most of it.
When we finally got to celebrate at the Intrepid, we made the most of it.

My 24th birthday was the first one in about a decade when my father and I didn’t have to phone each other to say “happy day!” I had just come back from Texas where I had contracted a terrible case of Swine Flu. I was Tennessee’s first confirmed case and had to spend several hours on an IV drip.

That year was also my dad’s 70th, and my mother and I had big plans to make our celebrations about him. We intended to go to the Intrepid (he likes planes) and then have dinner at a South African wine bar in Hell’s Kitchen (Dad’s a Springbok.) Instead, we spent July 1 in the ER. Dad had gone in for what should have been a routine test a few days earlier, but  ended up with a massive, deadly infection.  Back to back trips to the hospital for us both was enough — we skipped this birthday. The Intrepid plans would wait for next year.

25, 26, and 27 each had their celebrations. One involved boats and friends. One was unremarkable. One came with terrible tan lines and an amorous bouquet.

I intended to celebrate 28 in this dress with lots of baked goods and Tanqueray... that is not how this went down
I intended to celebrate 28 in this dress with lots of baked goods and Tanqueray… that is not how this went down

And then we come to #28… I bought a strapless mini dress — a style totally outside my normal wardrobe choices — and made plans to hit the town when I got back from Columbus, Ohio… Not. So. Fast.

I took a week off work to accompany Mom to Nationals — she’s the fencer now — and visit family in Canada. At the last minute, I made the less than wise decision to compete in a sub-elite division.

The competition was on my birthday and my primary goal was to finish early enough to get to happy hour. As I made my way up the elimination bracket, I could feel my age and old war wounds. At a 13-13 tie to go into the final, my knee gave out. The medical team diagnosed 2 torn ligaments and a sprained ankle on the strip and I was forced to withdraw.

A sprained ankle and damaged ligaments, but at least I was smiling. I wouldn't be later. Happy 28!
A sprained ankle and damaged ligaments, but at least I was smiling. I wouldn’t be later. Happy 28!

For the next hour I lay at the medical tent, friends and teammates gathered — I was serenaded with a happy birthday while some referee friends tried to assemble my belongings for me. I was loaded into the car and my mother picked up two bottles of sake for me to drink (to numb the excruciating pain) as we drove 6 hours to Ann Arbor — our pit stop en route to rural Canada. My bellhop played football for Michigan and as I slurred my woeful story, we bonded over torn ACLs. He offered to carry me to my room. In retrospect, I was a fool to decline, but I was pretty sure I hadn’t showered yet.

Birthdays are a funny thing. When we’re young, we count the days till our next one. As we get older, we recoil at the thought of another and mostly want them to go unnoticed. And yet, we can’t help feeling slighted if they pass un-celebrated. We usually remember each one — where we were and who we were with — and use the day as an excuse to reaffirm or rewrite our New Year’s resolutions.

These days, my father and I have a simple rule when it comes to our birthdays — however we chose to celebrate them, no one is allowed to end up in the ER.

Some Truths About Online Dating

Every guy with an online dating profile thinks he's this guy.
Every guy with an online dating profile thinks he’s this guy.

The men with the best profiles are 5’8 or shorter.

It’s not okay to give that guy you lived with in college or the guy you kinda had a crush on in high school 4 stars or to “like” him. Just pretend you never saw him. You’re not doing yourself any favours. If you want to see him, send him an email.

Every guy is a laid back kind of guy who likes to cook and travel and wants a true partner in crime.

If he says he’s 5’9, he’s really 5’7. If he says he’s 6’2, he’s really 6’4.

The last time anyone read “The Great Gatsby” was when they were 14. It is also everyone’s favorite book. Listing it as a favorite is a waste of characters.

Every guy has been either Indiana Jones or Maverick at least once for (and possibly every) Halloween.

Your match percentage is entirely based on sex-play preferences and religious views. You are as likely to be incompatible socially with someone who is a 90% match as someone who is a 90% enemy.

Online dating and bar pick-ups -- equal probability of meeting a serial killer.
Online dating and bar pick-ups — equal probability of meeting a serial killer.

No one is really comfortable with being on a dating site. A ridiculous truth because no one should be comfortable meeting drunk strangers at a bar. Your odds of meeting a serial killer or an organ harvester at either venue is entirely equal.

It’s a bad idea to lead with a selfie.

Speaking of profile photos… The ideal photo selection includes: one full body, one smiling, one of you doing an activity you really enjoy. Limit yourself. No one needs to see your instagram feed.

Brevity is the source of wit. Long-winded folks that feel the need to list every book they’ve ever read, or every movie they really, really love have more than a few reasons why they’re single.

There are some great people out there and online. If online dating hasn’t worked out yet, that’s okay. It may not. But if you’re not having fun while you’re doing it, then you’ve only got you to blame.