Thursday, May 31, 2012

Happily Ever After?


“Do you believe in Happily Ever After?” I asked Naomi. In between laughs, she yelled an emphatic, “No!” Then she added, “Well, I mean, it’s just not that simple.”

Naomi is the sex and relationship columnist for Men’s Health magazine, where I work. She’s also been in a relationship with a great guy for about six years now. So, she’s basically a dating expert—and, by this point, a pretty pragmatic one. Still, part of me wished that she would gush about dreams of Happily Ever After that she developed while watching Disney movies growing up—that she would admit that, deep down, she had once hoped for her own Happily Ever After, then found it.

Hope. That’s really what Happily Ever After is all about, isn’t it? It’s the faith that we were meant to end up happy, united with our one true love. It’s a glittering generality that dominates romance novels and Hollywood films—and sometimes both (Nicholas Sparks, I’m lookin’ at you!).

But I wondered: is it realistic?

I got to thinking about the best first date I ever had. After a few weeks of chatting online, a guy invited me over for drinks on his roof. With amazing views of Manhattan as our backdrop, we sipped wine and watched the sunset. It was simple. It was romantic. It was captivating. As dusk turned into twilight, the conversation flowed with the cocktails, and before I knew it, we fell asleep in each other’s arms while watching a movie.

That experience ran its course, but I can’t help but recall my feelings of energetic optimism and blind infatuation when I arrived home the next day. We’ve all been there, of course—in the throes of a consuming crush, unable to detain our desires and let the proverbial chips fall as they may. But it’s that type of passion that reminds me of why I hope for my own Happily Ever After.

As a child, it’s difficult to comprehend those types of feelings. I never understood enough about trust and commitment—or anything about “until death do us part.” It’s too detailed for a developing mind to fully grasp. But Happily Ever After is not; it’s basic and believable instead of complex and confusing. Again, it’s a glittering generality—and necessarily so.

As an adult, I now see the whole picture. I can imagine the first kiss, the first uttering of “I love you”, the first moving truck, the ring. It’s not a glittering generality, it’s a joyous journey marked by ups and downs, twists and turns. We seem to outgrow the simplicity of the idea of Happily Ever After.

Or do we?

In an extremely unscientific Twitter poll, I asked my followers if they believed in Happily Ever After—and the reasoning for their proclamations. Here are the three responses I received:

That’s right. All of them believe in Happily Ever After, even though one of them blatantly admits to being a sarcastic cynic.

After reading their responses and pondering Happily Ever After some more, I inevitably ended up thinking about passion versus dedication in relationships. To me, it seemed like the Disney movies were imparting the importance of passion in romance through their elaborate and exaggerated storylines, but were somehow de-emphasizing the significance of dedication by simply ending the story with “And they lived Happily Ever After.” All of the grittiness of real relationships is removed from the plot, thus leaving the audience—mostly children, mind you—with half of the picture of what real romance requires.

In another thoroughly unscientific Twitter poll, I asked my followers which option they thought made for a better relationship: an intense connection from the very beginning or a passion that builds over time. Here’s what they said:

As you can see, the responses are overwhelmingly in favor of both an intense passion and one that builds over time—or what I’ll refer to as “the whole picture.” Disney films, on the other hand, only focus on the first half of “the whole picture”—on the intense initial passion that the characters experience. Aladdin’s on a mission to woo Jasmine, Ariel’s got to become human so she can be with Eric; it makes for great cinema, but once the theater lights come on—POOF!—there it goes. The only classic Disney film that comes remotely close to portraying the tension and trust of a real relationship is Beauty and the Beast. And, well, the leading male is a beast.

Regardless of the cast of the caricatures, the fact remains that even though people admit that both initial passion and sustained dedication are required for a real relationship, most people still pray, wish and hope for their own Happily Ever After to come to fruition. It’s that seed of hope that helps us get back on our feet after an unexpected rejection, unrequited love or unsuccessful relationship. And hope is an extremely powerful force. It can help us excel. It can even save us from death. Hope propels us forward regardless of what is rational or what reality dictates.

And so Happily Ever After, despite its incomplete depiction of love and long-term commitment, lives on. I guess Naomi was right. We can’t simply disqualify Happily Ever After—it’s just not that simple.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

This One's for You, Mom

I never understood why my mom preferred the lazy river. On any given water-park trip, you could always find me in the tidal-wave pool, body surfing the waves and loving every second of it. After I would tire out, I had to face the task of tracking my mom down in that lazy loop. I would wait—always in the same strategic spot—for her face to appear. When it did, I would smile and we would float on together.

It’s memories like those that bring me immense joy now, six years after she passed away—floated on without me down the river.

The bond between a mother and her child is innately intimate. One could say it’s a result of nine months of nurturing and connecting. But a mother doesn’t just physically give birth to you, she helps you give birth to yourself; there’s a deeper connection—magic, even—that transcends the womb. And it all begins with a look.

It’s the same look my mom gave me throughout my childhood, and even my teens. It says, “You are beautiful” and “I want to give you the world” simultaneously. It’s a look of absolute commitment and dedication. It’s a look of unconditional love.

On this Mother’s Day, more than ever, I’m reflecting on that unconditional love—and how much I miss those looks and those adventures in the water park. It’s the simple things in life we take for granted. Tell your mom you love and appreciate her—not just on Mother's Day, but every chance you get. Because you never know you’re saying your last goodbye when the words leave your lips.

She always said I had a gift with words. Well, mom—this one is for you; I will always love you and work to make you proud.

[Photo via @Doug88888 on Flickr

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Let Go: Live Like You Mean It

I read a lot of articles. Some are good, some are bad and some are just mediocre. And then there are others that are in a category of their own—they make me stop and reconsider the way I view life and the world.

“Buddhist Intention: Being Kind in Unkind Times” is a prime example of that kind of meaningful article.

I stumbled upon “Being Kind” the other day, and it made me stop and ponder: Have I become jaded? Have I lost my positive perspective?

The mere fact that I was concerned with potentially losing my optimism and compassion answered those questions for me. But it was an important reflection nonetheless.

And then, while on the train this morning listening to my full music library on shuffle, “The Heart of the Matter” by India Arie came on. It’s a beautiful cover of the original song by Don Henley of The Eagles. Typically, I just jam out or listen to my music while I think about everything I need to accomplish that day, but this time was different. I actually paid attention to the lyrics and really connected with them. Especially this verse:

These times are so uncertain,
There's a yearning undefined,
And people filled with rage.
We all need a little tenderness;
How can love survive in such a graceless age?
The trust and self-assurance that can lead to happiness
Are the very things we kill, I guess.
Pride and competition cannot fill these empty arms,
And the work I put between us
Doesn't keep me warm.

Don Henley wrote that song in the mid-to-late 80s, but it still rings true today.

See the common thread here? It’s so easy to be overcome by what we go through—both the serious struggles and the messy mundane. It takes a much stronger and much wiser individual to rise above and live with intention.

What do you mean by that? I mean that it’s simple for us as people to perpetuate hate and tension—and to want to exact revenge. Think of all of the emotional baggage you carry around on a daily basis, perhaps without even realizing it. Isn’t it easy to feel entitled, selfish… bitter? The higher road—and much tougher route—is the one filled with empathy, trust and compassion; the one paved with forgiveness.

Don’t let hate harden you. Let it go; learn to embrace the cyclical nature of life and the innate changes that come your way. If you live with intention, it’s all worth it in the end.

It’s time to forgive others for what they’ve done to us—and to forgive ourselves for the pain we’ve caused others as a result. It’s time to become selfless and pay it forward—to live positively and passionately—and expect nothing in return.

It’s time to start living like you mean it.

[Photo via wherelaureensmiles's flickr feed.]

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Perfect Guy Doesn't Exist

“What makes for a better relationship: Passion or dedication?”

Without a doubt—passion, I thought as I filled out my OkCupid profile. Two years later, I’m still pondering that question.

See, I’ve always felt that when I met the right guy, there’d be that spark, that passion, that feeling that I’d known him all my life.

But that was two years ago.

I’ve gone on literally dozens of dates since I moved to New York City in August of 2009. Some guys just weren’t a good fit for me. Other guys were losers, and I became frustrated. Still others were those rare gems among a pile of rocks and my insecurities got the best of me.

And now I’ve come full circle. It’s been a journey—a long and tiresome (and, at times, emotional), yet highly-rewarding one. At the beginning, I thought I knew myself entirely—that I was ready to cast my net and find the funniest, smartest, hunkiest fish in the proverbial gay “sea.” But I was looking in all the wrong places and asking all the wrong questions and was painfully wrong about myself and where I was in my life.

I was searching for an ideal—the perfect guy with the brains, the brawn and the business acumen that I so valued in myself. But the perfect guy doesn’t exist.

I repeat: The perfect guy does not exist.

I’m glad I know that now.

I’ve passed on serious relationship opportunities in the hopes that if I held out, I would find something better. But it never came. And now I’m right back where I started, though a whole heap wiser.

Maybe dating isn’t so much about it “working out” (what does that mean, anyway?!) as it is learning about ourselves and pushing buttons and having our buttons pushed in return. Because, let’s face it: There are things you don’t know about yourself that you discover through the dating process. “Is it really vital that he was captain of the soccer team in high school?” and “Does he really need to have the body of a Greek God?” and “Is it necessary for him to enjoy sexting as much as I?” I can now proudly say that I know the answers to these—and many other—life-altering questions.

“Passion or dedication?” is a question on an entirely different level, though. It’s altruistic, it’s complex—it says something more about the person who answers it.

And I don’t really think there’s a definite—or right—answer. I think it’s a trick question.

Because the truth is that relationships need passion AND dedication in order to survive; lust (passion) and love (dedication) are both essential for a honest-to-God, stable relationship to develop and endure. I was only looking for the former, and thus I came up empty-handed. (Aw, shucks!)

I’m not saying that I’m disappointed—on the contrary, I’m relieved. I’m also not saying that I’m still looking, because good grief, I am exhausted with dating! But—and this is a big but—at least in the future my fishing net won’t have a hole in it.

Whatever, I’m getting cheese fries.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

It's Not Me, It's You

I’ve always had a strong sense of self. From a very young age, I had an uncanny ability to look within myself to understand my wants and needs and how to satisfy them. Some people find this strange or intimidating—I find it comforting and convenient.

In most aspects of my life—especially in both an educational and professional sense—this has proven advantageous. When you understand exactly what you need to get the job done, you coordinate the necessary resources, and, well, you get stuff done.

“Where do I go to college?” or “How the hell do I get my résumé to stand out?” or “Is this the right career move?”

I just knew what to do and what would make me happy.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the emotional aspects of life—i.e. romantic involvement with another person—this quality becomes troublesome.

Why is this the case? Well, because most people have no damn clue what they want or how to get it. And that’s okay—I hardly expect everyone to instantly know what they want. Being self-aware is a rare quality that few possess—especially at my age.

But I keep running into the same issue: guys who just don’t have their wits about them.

I know there’s nothing wrong with me—I’m young, attractive, successful, intelligent, charming, fun and confident. So, why is it that I keep becoming involved with guys who don’t have their act together? It’s a question I’ve been pondering for several months and I’m not quite sure there’s a clear answer.

Perhaps I’m too forgiving: “Oh, he’s smart, he really should have that job even though he doesn’t.” Or maybe I’m just too kind: “Oh, I’ll help you! Let me introduce you to some people.” Or—even worse—maybe I’m just too naïve: “That’s his way of being a sweetheart.”

No matter what it is, one thing remains clear: it’s NOT me, it’s DEFINITELY you.

Everything I own was paid for by me from my own hard-earned money from gigs that I was awarded because I took risks—all because I know who I am and what I want. It’s no different with guys—I know the type of guy that I would like to end up with. Don’t mistake this for desperation—I’m in no damn rush to force something to happen. It just doesn’t work that way and I know that.

At the end of the day, I’m grateful for all of the guys who have ended up being losers. They’ve reminded me of what I’m looking for—what they’ll never be (for me at least)—a winner.

What does being a winner mean? (Damn Charlie Sheen and his #winning BS—it’s all I can do NOT to hear him saying that while I write this.) A winner is someone who’s stable, compassionate, confident (but not overly so), intelligent and just generally a beautiful person both inside AND out. I’ve seen a glimpse of this in a lot of guys. But it’s always fleeting.

When it’s more than an ephemeral, fake inner beauty, I’ll know it’s right. I’ll know I’ve found a winner—a keeper.

To all the boys out there who are insecure, selfish, self-doubting, vindictive, unfaithful, dishonest, underemployed or manipulative: GET IT TOGETHER. You’re missing out on amazing opportunities in all aspects of your life—especially in the romantic sense. Cuz I’m not dumb enough to stick around while you figure your issues out. That’s why it’s you and not me.

[Photo via Jennifer Grimyser]

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Never Say You Can't

I know it’s been a while since I’ve blogged. I’ve been waiting for the right moment—and then I heard the Bruno Mars song “Never Say U Can’t” and I was inspired to write.

It’s such a beautiful song about living and learning—about triumph, perseverance and support. And I think there’s a lot to learn from it.

We live in tough times. There are a lot of people out there who are struggling to get by—who knows, maybe you’re one of them. The song is an important reminder that no matter how dark and dreary life may seem, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel—things always get better.

If you always believe “Yes, I can,” then there is no stopping you. As soon as we say the words, “I can’t,” we cast a shadow of doubt on ourselves and become defeated—we become victims. The last time I checked, victims don’t win—they don’t get up and fight to survive.

My good friend Nick Maslow told me once, “Stop being a victim and become a victor.” Those words have stuck with me for years—they’ve given me power and strength even in the toughest of situations.

Again, this is about perspective—being a victor is a choice. Sometimes it’s a choice that requires much sacrifice, but it’s still a choice nonetheless.

And you’re never alone. For every person who loves you and cares deeply for you, there are a dozen others who just haven’t said it. Make sure the people for whom you care know it. At the very least, you’ll brighten his or her day—at the most, you could save someone’s life.

Conversely, if you’re enduring a hard time, reach out to someone—anyone. People are a lot more understanding than you may think. Sometimes we all need someone to just say, “It’s all going to be okay.” In the darkest moments there is always hope.

I can’t help but think of the recent string of suicides among gay youth. It’s so sad. It’s a poignant reminder that life is fragile—we can’t take one second for granted. We get so caught up in the day-to-day frustrations that we forget that it could all fall apart in just a second. Bills, groceries, emails, laundry… they are mundane and sometimes stressful. But what would the sweet be without the sour?

Mother Theresa said, "Life is a challenge, meet it." I challenge you to be a victor and not a victim. Laugh at life’s absurdities. Appreciate the highs and lows—we are better people for having endured both.

[Photo via heylauren’s tumblr]

Monday, September 27, 2010

Missed Steps, Not Missteps

I’m an acrophobe—I despise heights and everything associated with them. I can never go near the edge at rooftop parties in Manhattan because I’m afraid that I’ll fall.

But, in addition to my degree in Advertising, I also have a degree in Psychology. So, I understand that this fear is irrational and can talk myself through the process of breathing and taking a few sips of Bacardi to compensate.

Unfortunately, life doesn’t always work that way. Things happen—life happens—and we can’t predict them—or it. Sometimes we let ourselves fall, but most of the time we fall without ever realizing.

This weekend reminded me of that.

While leaving a party with a friend, he tripped and flew down half of a flight of steps and ended up in the hospital. One missed step—a simple mistake that anyone can make—and now he is left with a jaw that’s broken in three places and no front teeth.

I was shocked and shaken, trying to maintain my composure on the phone with the 911 operator while the blood gushed from his mouth at an ungodly rate.

He’s lucky to be alive. Concrete is not forgiving—and his wounds certainly show that fact. But he’s going to be okay nonetheless; he survived his fall.

I want to make several points here:
• Life can change at the drop of a dime; don’t take anything for granted
• Slow down and be grateful to just be alive
• Never skip a chance to tell someone that you love them
Don’t sweat the small stuff—and it’s all small stuff
• We fall when we least expect it, but it’s our friends and family who pick us up and bring us back to homeostasis—to normalcy

We can defend against falling in a physical sense—but not in a metaphorical one. Life is full of lots of tripping, stumbling and falling. Some of the falls are drastic, massive and life-altering while others are small, simple and silly. But no matter the size of the fall, the outcome is what’s most important. We have to learn from our failures—our falls.

I know he did. And I did too. Sometimes we need to be shocked to be reminded of what’s most important—not money or time, but experiences, memories, feelings and the learnings that come with them.

Do you know someone who’s fallen recently? Were you there for them? Perhaps you were the one who fell—were there others who were there for you? These are the types of life experiences that show us who truly cares—who our true friends are. I had lost sight of that fact because I had become complacent… distracted… easily accepting.

The truth is: we will never be able to predict our falls. What we can control is how we get back up—how much stronger we return from our embarrassment, shame, heartbreak and other missed steps (NOT missteps—we must look at these as learning opportunities and nothing more or less).

As Aaliyah said, “If at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try again.” Amen to that, sistah!

Keep falling and getting back up. You’re not alone.

["The Edge And I Are Close Friends" photo via Tayrawr Fortune on Flickr]