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

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.

Why I don’t Drink Manhattans Anymore

I was in the middle of my whiskey phase. Mad Men had nothing to do with it.
I was in the middle of my whiskey phase. Mad Men had nothing to do with it.

It was late on a November Saturday night in 2012 when I sauntered into my favorite cocktail lounge with an unusually high spring in my step. I nodded with a chirpy hello to the bouncer whose scarred eyebrow and barrel-sized biceps hinted at the fact his day job was cage-fighting coach. I slipped into my favorite corner seat at the bar and leaned across to give the bartender, Kay, my best girl friend’s boyfriend, a warm hello.

He looked at me puzzled. She had called him earlier to warn him I might be coming from a rough night — I’d need taking care of, she suggested. The chipper red-haired girl in the tangerine top didn’t look like she needed taking care of.

“Something strong?” Kay asked.

“Yes, please! I’ll have a Manhattan.”

Seconds later, he slid a martini glass under my nose, a rich copper-hued drink sloshed but didn’t jump over the edges. I was in the of what can only be labeled a Whiskey-phase. Mad Men had nothing to do with it. The Manhattan had replaced the Tanqueray10 martini as my go-to night out indulgence and a Jameson on the rocks was my new dive bar safe bet. All it took was one sip and I knew this was the best Manhattan I’d ever had, was ever going to have. Liquid gold. When he slide a small carafe with the “leftovers” from the shaker (the equivalent of a second drink), I figured I was satisfyingly set for the night.

I was alone on a Saturday night, drinking a whiskey drink and content. Sitting next to me was another loner, and apparently, another regular. Kay introduced the robust and somewhat rotund young man to me as Joe, and since I was already onto the carafe, I was in a mood to chat… and over share.

I was newly single. So I let the Tony Soparno look alike buy me a 3rd and 4th drink... mistake.
I was newly single. So I let the Tony Soparno look alike buy me a 3rd and 4th drink… mistake.

Joe was a well-manner Jerseyite who could easily have passed for an extra on The Sopranos — perhaps even a younger Tony Soprano, in the right over sized golf shirt. We talked about the Yankees and our favorite restaurants. Even though his waistline was evident of a life spent mostly eating out and watching sports rather than playing them, Joe was a top-shelf kind of guy, which roughly translates into my kind of person.

“Are you always such good company?” Joe asked, as I neared the end of my drink and in theory, the end of my night.

“I broke up with my boyfriend an hour and a half ago.”

In my head, that answered the question. Isn’t every girl extra charming and cheery after she breaks up with the guy who sent her flowers on her birthday and talked about spending the rest of his life with her?

“Shouldn’t you be crying with your girlfriends, or something? You’re in an awfully good mood.”

I shrugged and took the final slug of my drink (technically, my second, though I had convinced myself otherwise.)

“It’s a relief, to be honest. That it’s all over. I wanted to throw up the whole day before it happened. Now, I couldn’t be in a better mood.”

Wait. The irony is coming.

“You’re not leaving yet are you?” Joe chripped as I began to fumble for my wallet — a perfunctory motion as I knew tonight’s $15 beverage was likely on the house. “You’re newly single. Let me buy you another.”

I looked at my watch — I’d already missed my train and my rule is to never let strangers buy me drinks. But, really, what harm would another drink do? I was newly single, after all. Joe fancied himself a cocktail connoisseur and ordered me what I vaguely recall him calling a Manhattan Perfect. I could be totally wrong, but it seemed to fit because drinks 3 and 4 (Kay and his damn carafe!) were perfectly toxic.

Tee Burberry trench coat fell victim to one Manhattan too many, but recovered in time for a trip to Prague.
The Burberry trench coat fell victim to one Manhattan too many, but recovered in time for a trip to Prague.

I wobbled out an hour later, convinced I was totally sober and even a little proud for being able to hold down so much whiskey. But as I stood on the subway platform, I realized I was in for it. When I vomited all over my Burberry trench coat and silk jersey tangerine Theory top, I knew I had just been taught a lesson. There is such thing as too much whiskey.

And I had just become that girl who throws up on the last train out of Grand Central.

I vomited two more times — once on the sidewalk at my home station and once again in the trashcan next to my bed — before finally falling asleep. In the morning, the only reminder of the previous night’s break-up and excess was my tangerine top, soaking in the sink, a few bits of undigested orechette and broccoli floating beside it. I might have been sloppy, but at least I clean up after myself.

The purging of my stomach contents so soon after finishing my last sip might have saved me from a hangover, but it also killed my taste for whiskey. And that favorite tangerine top, while the stains are long gone, will always be that shirt I threw up on the night I broke up with the Admiral. At work on Monday, I was greeted with an email from Joe asking to take me out for dinner somewhere I could never afford on an non-profit employee’s salary. Apparently, I had given him my business card. I had been back on the market for less than 24 hours and already I had a suitor. I politely declined.

Last night, I poured a heavy draw of McMallan 12, figuring it was a perfect companion drink on a cold winter’s night dedicated to writing a curatorial essay. With a new boyfriend at my side and the past year behind me, I figured I could handle my first whiskey in over a year. One sip and the room began to spin and my stomach began to turn. Apparently, at least for this girl, it’s easier to recover from a relationship gone wrong than from a bad night of drinking.

This kitty is never drinking Whiskey again.... Tanqueray is still on the table, however.
This kitty is never drinking Whiskey again…. Tanqueray is still on the table, however.

My Meet Cute? What Do You Think This is? A Romantic Comedy?

If it wasn’t for Cam and a re-run of “Modern Family,” I would probably have no idea what a “meet-cute” actually is.

In romantic comedies and Disney movies, the protagonists tend to meet in the most adorable of ways
In romantic comedies and Disney movies, the protagonists tend to meet in the most adorable of ways

Cameron Tucker: You know, if this were a romantic comedy, this would be our meet cute. We’d spend the rest of the afternoon drinking wine, eating food, flying a kite… you know, montage-y stuff.

Mitchell: Am I in this movie of yours?

Cam: Yeah. You’re the gay best friend.

Cue laugh track and google search.

From our friends at wikipedia: “A meet-cute is a term sometimes used to describe a situation in film, television, etc. in which a future romantic couple meets for the first time in a way that is considered adorable, entertaining, or amusing.”

Considering how many friends I have who attempted to make a go of it as screen writers, and considering how many romantic comedies I consumed growing up a teenage girl, the fact I have to urban dictionary and wikipedia “meet-cute” feels like a major personal failure.

Then again, this might also be because the romantic comedy that is my life is a narrative based on the “meet-expected” and the “meet-lame.” Thank you, online dating for taking the serendipity out of new love.

My parents have a meet-cute. It involved an elevator and an oddball question that is quintessentially my mother:

“You have a very Dutch nose. Are you Dutch?”

I always imagine my parents’ meeting happened in black and white. This is largely because they met in 1961 and I associate the story with the opening scenes of The Apartment for no real reason other than the elevators.

Meanwhile, the closest thing I have to a meet-cute in my romantic past involves a college reunion. A male friend of a girl friend sauntered up to our table to join us. I turned to her and whispered: “Every girl’s crazy bout a sharp dressed man.”

Like Cam fantasized, we spent the rest of the night drinking wine, eating food and flying a kite. When we walked off campus holding hands to the song I had designated as my wedding song, we decided our meeting was fated.

But life isn’t a romantic comedy. In real life, the wind dies down and kites fall out of the sky, making one think there’s sometimes something to be said for the meet lame and the meet expected.

Sometimes the kite stays up forever. Other times, the wind dies down...
Sometimes the kite stays up forever. Other times, the wind dies down…

Learning to Wear Eyeliner and Life’s Other Little Road Markers

There are some nights I'm pretty sure I've gone out looking like this...
There are some nights I’m pretty sure I’ve gone out looking like this…

I am notoriously dangerous with eye-liner. Don’t hand me anything in liquid form because I’m likely to end up with a comma shaped black blob that transverses an entire side of my face. Despite an otherwise steady hand, pencils have been known to temporarily blind me.  I’ll confess, thanks to a single brush and some guidance from the professionals at Laura Mercier, I’ve come a long way over the last two years. But that doesn’t mean there haven’t been nights were I everybody calls me “Left-Eye.”

“No, I didn’t get socked by an artist at a studio visit. I just had a fight with my eye-liner… it won.”

I started wearing makeup in the 8th grade. Like most adolescent females, hormones were kicking in and wreaking havoc with my complexion. Boys no longer had cooties. We had graduated out of training bras (this is where I’m clearly dating myself, because I’m pretty sure Pink makes padded bras for 10 year-olds nowadays).  We were finding our identities and expressing them in outlandish nail polish shades while learning the subtle benefits of foundation and mascara.

This a caboodle, the girl's equivalent of a tacklebox
This a caboodle, the girl’s equivalent of a tacklebox

It was the 90s, and the caboodle was the girl’s equivalent of a tackle box — a feminine-toned, and often glittered, plastic case with little trays that folded out and mirrors that popped up. We filled it with all the tools of our trade: foundation, loose powder, eyeliner in every shade under the rainbow, eye shadow tones that complimented or clashed with our eye color, Tinkerbell brand blush, and lip glosses that tasted like cotton candy. We’d tote the box to sleep overs. A mini version lived in our lockers.

A few make-up consultations later and armed with lessons gleamed from manuals by Bobbie Brown and Kevyn Aucoin, I reconsidered my approach to “putting on my face.”  I gave the caboodle the boot.

Here’s where I begin to make a leap into life’s more significant realizations…

There comes a point when you stop experimenting and settle on a signature style.
There comes a point when you stop experimenting and settle on a signature style. I’m a black eye line and bold lipstick kind of gal

If in our teen years, we’re finding ourselves, in part through colorful experimentation, then eventually, there comes a time when we stop experimenting. Like learning to edit down word counts for papers and grants, we learn what we really need to make an impression. We find our perfect shade, our go-to routine and that’s who we are.