Of Moose Rugs and Romance

Earlier today, I sent my boyfriend a link to a moose rug on Ikea. I said that we didn’t need to get it for our soon-to-be new place, but that he should definitely be aware that it existed, because dude, moose rug . And then I emailed him five minutes later and said I actually desperately wanted it. His response? “Well then, we probably need to own it :-)”

This, to me, is romance. Not the acquiescence to every little thing, but the willingness to buy into your partner’s enthusiasm, wacky as it may be, and say “Why not?” Because in truth, romance isn’t what it used to be – or maybe, it just isn’t what everyone thinks it is. It’d be pretty difficult to manage day to day life with knights on white horses trying to rescue you every couple of minutes, and citar-playing minstrels showing up every hour to sing you the ballad your true love wrote. Frankly, that would be exhausting, and more than a little bit ludicrous. The romance of fairytales and bedtime stories doesn’t quite fit in to real life. And that’s okay. 

From what I’ve seen of successful relationships, romance lies in the little things. It’s thoughtfulness. It’s consideration. Not just sweeping gestures of grand love. It is often said that love is not a noun, it is a verb – and that’s what romance is, too. Actions that demonstrate feelings, not just eloquent proclamations or public displays. 

So go out there and be romantic, whatever that means to you. Pick up that favorite Starbucks drink for someone you care about. Get flowers for no reason. Offer to do the dishes. Remind someone they’re wonderful. 

Romance isn’t dead, it’s just thriving within the ordinary, making it extraordinary. 

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The Anatomy of a Quarter-Life Crisis

end-blogIn the past several years, the idea of a quarter-life crisis has really risen in the American consciousness. Twenty-somethings freaking out because they haven’t reached certain benchmark points in their lives, or they aren’t sure what they want, or they aren’t where they thought they’d be by “x” age. And, because we live in a society that tells you that you should know EXACTLY what you want and be EXACTLY where the norm demands, we’re trained to panic when we feel uncertainty, rather than embrace it. In truth, those benchmarks and life goals are completely relative. One person might be ready for marriage and children at age 25, one person might not even want a long-term relationship until they’re well into their thirties. And both of those paths are right. It’s fantastic to have your dream job before you hit thirty, but it’s also completely okay to not know what you want or where your passions lie. Finding the right career is the adult version of picking a major – everyone tells you how important it is to pick right the first time, but in fact, it’s utterly irrelevant. Because guess what? You can change your mind. And you can be wrong.

I think that social media is at least in part to blame for the rise of the quarter-life crisis. It’s one thing to hear that so-and-so is doing well, it’s another to see their perfect spouse and expensive vacations played out in real time. And it can be hard not to compare the life you have to the life someone else has – it’s so easy to get caught up that you might not even realize you don’t want what they want. You might be jealous of someone’s perfect marriage (as told on Facebook) and forget that you actually don’t want to go anywhere near marriage for five years. You might be dying over someone’s amazing promotion and forget that you would absolutely hate doing what they do. We tend to treat social media like it’s real, but it’s just another marketing tool – a way to put forward the version of yourself that you decide. No one’s life is perfect, it’s just that most people would like others to think it is. And at the end of the day, what precisely does lusting after the quasi-fictional life of others achieve? It’s not as though there’s a finite amount of success and happiness in the world. One person’s joy does not take away from your own. One person’s success does not mean you’re failing. We just don’t market the tricky bits in our lives nearly as much as we market the good.

The most important thing to remember in the midst of a quarter-life crisis is that you have time on your side. Time to figure it out, decide what you want, make the changes you want. And frankly, if you hit a mid-life crisis, the same thing applies: You still have time. Maybe not as much as you did when you were 22, but time nonetheless. It’s just a matter of using it productively, instead of freezing and letting it pass you by while you drown in an ocean of your own fear and doubt.

If you can conceive of a change you want to see in your life, or a direction you want to go, then you are capable of taking steps toward that, small or large.

So, start with step one. And remember, don’t panic. Everything is going to be amazing.

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“I Just Think …”

Have you ever caught yourself beginning a statement, particularly when asked your opinion about something in school or business, with “Well, I just think” or “I don’t know, I mean” or “It’s just”. Odds are, even if you don’t realize it, you use this type of language a lot – especially, statistically speaking, if you’re a woman. To quote the movie Finding Neverland, “What a horrible word. Just.”

Sometimes, we use those misnomers because we really have no idea what we’re talking about. They’re stalling mechanisms until we can figure out what the hell we’re trying to say. But other times, we’re actually subconsciously belittling our own opinions. Saying “I just think” is sort of like saying “Little old me? I suppose I have a thought. It’s probably not any good, but here it is.” If you’re actually uncertain about what you’re trying to say or what you really think, then using those words is understandable.

But what about when you know what you mean? What about when you know what you think, but you’re afraid you’re wrong. Or you’re afraid to be the one person in class who actually cares about the discussion. Or the person in the meeting who has an opinion that could be unpopular, or could be considered out of line for your position? What if someone asks what you think about something, and you’re afraid to look like you care too strongly?

That’s when “just” becomes the enemy.

Your thoughts and opinions are valid – personally and professionally. Don’t do yourself the disservice of using invalidating language. You deserve respect for sharing what’s on your mind, as long as it’s done in a respectful way. Your voice matters, even if sometimes you think it doesn’t. The truth is that you can be heard very easily. But to be listened to when it counts? That takes a voice that speaks with confidence and conviction.

After all, you’re not “just you”. You are you.

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Help Will Always Be Given at Hogwarts to Those Who Ask for It

Many times in my life, I’ve heard the phrase “God will never give you more than you can handle.” I used to firmly believe that – that no matter what I was going through, it wasn’t more than I could handle. But I’m a grown up now, in a world full of grown up problems that aren’t as easily solved as little high school dramas that seemed like mountains but are, in retrospect, nothing but mole hills.

I don’t believe that phrase anymore, but I do believe that when life throws a curveball, it also throws us the bat we’ll need to hit it, and the right people on the bases to make a run for home. In other words, you might be faced with something that is more than you can handle, but somewhere in your life, you’ll also find the tools and people that will help you face it. Being a religious person, I sort of think of it as “I’ve got this problem, but God will provide me with the help I need to deal with it, if I just keep an eye out and an open mind.” Because the truth is, help can come from the most unlikely places. And sometimes the only reason we think it isn’t there is because we haven’t opened our eyes to see it.

So, like all things in life, this can be likened to Harry Potter. Remember that time when Harry was stuck with a basilisk and Voldemort deep in the bowels of Hogwarts? Yeah, things weren’t exactly looking too peachy for him. In fact, our favorite bespectacled hero probably would’ve been completely screwed if not for the fact that Fawkes showed up with the sorting hat, and Godric’s sword appeared like a rabbit. Because, as Dumbledore reminds us, help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it. Honestly, the help and tools we need won’t always be waiting around for us clear as day. Fawkes isn’t always just going to show up and drop what we need right into our hands (although sometimes that will be the case). We may get what we need without even realizing it, or we may have to actively seek it out.

In other words, we need to know ourselves well enough to recognize when we need to go on the hunt for our own sword of Gryffindor. And if we have the awareness to look for it, I firmly believe it can be found. Because help is waiting, even in the midst of our biggest challenges.

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House of Cards and the Business of Business

I’ll freely admit to being a House of Cards addict. I’m one of the flock, simultaneously fascinated and horrified by the Underwoods and their compatriots episode after episode (oh, has it been 6 hours? Oops). The writing is beautiful, the plots viciously delicious, and the wardrobes fantastic. Thanks to Claire, I almost wish I had a job that required pencil skirts and blouses … almost.

But aside from making me wish I could afford a good tailor, I think House of Cards has a thing or two to teach us, too. Because really, it’s all about business. The business of politics, in this case, but business nonetheless. So, here is what I’ve learned from Frank Underwood and co.:

1. Know your goals, and be patient about reaching them.
I’m only 24, so it isn’t exactly like I have my entire life’s purpose figured out. But I know where I want to go next, and sometimes the next step is all you need – just enough to keep moving forward. Knowing what you want is more powerful than you think, and having the guts to go after it is even better. Just don’t expect the world to fall at your feet because you uttered the words. Like Frank, we all have to pay our dues, and sometimes there will be bumps in the road. It’s whether you treat them like misfortunes or new opportunities that makes the difference.

2. Maintain Control
We’ve all been in situations at work that have made us want to scream and cry and stamp our feet. The key is: Don’t. Frank was pretty heavily screwed over more than once, but he didn’t let it ruffle his feathers, at least not outwardly. Respect is earned in the professional world, not freely given, and the best way to earn respect is to behave as though you deserve it. Maintaining control and an even keel is crucial, even if you don’t “feel” like it. And, frankly, it just makes the workplace a more pleasant place.

3. Watch Yourself
Odds are, you aren’t involved in any catastrophic scandal. Probably. But watching yourself and your actions is always a good idea. Feeling the urge to shoot off that snarky email? Don’t do it. Feeling the need to gossip to one coworker about another? Ah ah ah. Keep your hands clean, as they say, and you’ll never have a reason to hide them. Just think of all the stress Frank adds to his life with everything he needs to keep covered up – and that’s with the added help of henchmen.

4. Dress for Success
Because Frank’s suits are fantastic, and Claire’s dresses are impeccable. You know what they say – dress for the job you want. 

5. Every so often, look directly at someone and provide clever, pithy narration for the situation in which you’re currently entangled.

…. No? Don’t do that? It’s weird? Oh, okay. That explains a lot of looks people have been giving me lately.

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Yes, But You’re Still Single (or) Be Careful, It’s a Trap

Listen to the admiral.

Listen to the admiral.

For the past week, my subconscious has been doing something delightful. Every night, consistently, it delivers to me a dream of one of my ex-boyfriends and his current girlfriend (either real or imagined) mocking me in some way, shape or form.

In this context, the previous use of the word “delightful” actually means “remarkably shitty”. Thanks a heap, subconscious. So obviously the subtext of this whole situation is worth delving into, and what it comes down to for me is the idea that’s been deeply rooted in all of us, especially women: the greatest thing you can accomplish is a relationship.

At this point, I can say with a fair amount of certainty that every man I’ve been with for any vaguely prolonged period of time is now in a substantial relationship with someone else. I, as it happens, am not. I’ve written a novel, am currently enjoying a wildly successful career, I’m traveling to Europe in the fall, and I’m surrounded by wonderful friends. But, I’m still single. I am presently failing at the one thing that I, as a woman in our society, should value above all others. And while I know that a relationship isn’t nearly as important in terms of my happiness as I’m meant to believe, it’s also hard to shake something that we have been told to strive for since we were little. The definition of a happy ending is a marriage, the definition of a sad ending is someone alone. And it’s bullshit, yes, but it’s still hard to get past – especially when your brain, like mine, is serving up custom-made reminders.

Relationships are wonderful. They’re also hard work, messy, and full of complications and annoyances that aren’t worth the hassle unless you meet someone you’re willing to work through it all with. And I can feel myself swimming upstream a lot against the idea that if I’m not in a relationship, it means I should be looking for one. It means I’m not “complete” or can’t reach true happiness, when in reality relationships can add to happiness, yes, but relying on them as the only means is unhealthy and dangerous.

It’s easy to fall into the “yes, but you’re still single” way of thinking. But be careful, it’s a trap! (points to anyone who got that reference). It’s the mindset that tells you that everything you’ve accomplished is wonderful, but you haven’t completely succeeded yet. If you let it run wild, it’s a mindset that can devalue friendships and downplay that value of all of the incredible people in your life. Because I believe that you do need relationships to be happy and fulfilled – they just don’t necessarily have to be romantic.

So I hope my brain will shut up tonight, or at least let me dream about publishing and traveling and making memories with my best friends. Because I’m still single, but I’m also happy. And the two are not mutually exclusive.

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You Are Not a Beautiful and Unique Snowflake. Except When You Are.

We all know that line from Fight Club – “You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everyone else.” If you didn’t know it, now you do. 

The concept of that phrase is both true and false, depending on how you look at it. 99% of the time, it’s true. You’re one of the masses, one of billions of people on earth living, dying, loving, hurting. Which, I think, is kind of great. We’re all the same because we’re all human. We’re all mortal and we all get screwed over and hurt, but we also all find moments of laughter and joy. I’ve blogged before about the idea that your pain isn’t what makes you different from everyone else, it’s what makes you exactly the same. In some ways, none of us are special, because we all feel the same things. I just don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing. 

But here’s the thing about snowflakes – they all look exactly the same to the common eye. When snow falls, I don’t stop and look at every single flake and marvel at what a damn miracle it is. There are billions of them, who has the time? But every so often I’ll stop and one will catch on my scarf or my glove, and I’ll look at it and take notice, just for a second, of the fact that it is beautiful and unique. Every snowflake is different, and that fact doesn’t change just because I don’t take the time to look at each one.

It’s the same way with people. We don’t have time to stop and get to know every single person who crosses our path. We lump them together in our minds based on how they look and act and dress. Most of the world is just one giant, faceless mass to us. But then there are the people who populate our lives. The snowflakes we’ve noticed, so to speak, and the ones that have noticed us. To them, we are infinitely special. They see our beauty, and we see theirs, and we find comfort in the fact that to over 99% of the world, we are nothing – not special, not unique – but in our tiny corner of the globe, to the ones we love, we have infinite value and importance. 

The trick, I think, is just to balance those two lines of thought. On the one hand, we need to get over ourselves. The world does not care what happens to us, the world only cares about what it can get from us, and it will discard us when it’s done. We are not that important, and we shouldn’t expect to be treated like we are. It’s not as though this is some tragic, news-worthy fact. It’s just life. 

But on the other hand, to the people we love, we matter more than anything. We are important, and one word or phone call from us can make or break the day. They’re the ones who have stopped to notice us, and we’ve stopped to notice them. And they are what keeps us grounded, the ones who we love and who love us. Because sometimes you’ll stop and take notice of someone who does not notice you, and it will hurt. And sometimes you’ll overestimate how beautiful and unique you seem to someone, and it will be a punch in the gut. But at the end of the day, who needs ‘em? It’s okay that not every single person you’ll ever meet thinks you’re God’s gift to mankind. Frankly, it would be a little overwhelming if they did. 

Maintaining the balance can be hard, but I also think it’s one of the keys to a happier life. Knowing when to shrug things off and remind yourself that the world doesn’t revolve around you, and also remembering that you do have value, and you are loved. 

You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake to a majority of the world, and neither am I. But that does no mean you are worth any less to the ones who love you, nor should your self-worth decrease. 

We might just be the same decaying organic matter as everyone else, but in some ways, we are still snowflakes. 

 

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