Below is a piece I submitted for an essay contest… which I can safely assume I did not win, so rather that sulk in the corner, I thought I would share it with you instead. Typically, I don’t discuss the most intimate details of my life and relationships because, well, they don’t really matter– unless, of course, I can help someone by sharing something difficult that I’ve gone through and lived to tell about. After reading this article from How About We (via Glamour) regarding FOBU (not to be confused with FUBU), it would appear that this is something I’m not alone in.
I had been lying on my father’s couch for a little over two weeks. I’d easily lost ten pounds as my leggings had begun to sag where the seams once clung to each other holding on for dear life and I probably hadn’t showered in five or so days. My dog, once a permanent fixture on my lap, no longer even wanted to sit near me and there was a thin layer of dust starting to collect on my makeup bag. As an added bonus, you could have probably taken your car in for a quick lube job during your lunch break on the grease that had amassed on my scalp. I was what one might call a sight for sore eyes, but fortunately only one person was being subjected to my less than stellar appearance. My poor dad had no idea what to do for me other than feed me one mimosa after the next and force ravioli down my throat nightly from the local Italian restaurant, Angelina’s. He would sit and listen patiently to me as I wailed and moaned and complained and cried and, God bless him, tried his best to be as sympathetic and sensitive as any heterosexual man could possibly be. And while one might think that a girl would need her mother for the type of gut wrenching trauma I was going through, I can not think of a better person than my dear father who could have and would have gotten me through the most miserable month of my life without inciting World War III.
Rewind 18 months prior to the disintegration of my personal upkeep, and that’s when the train began to run right off of the tracks. After having had my heart ripped out, shattered, and basically broken beyond all repair not once but twice the year before, I’d fallen for someone who was completely and utterly not my type. I had decided to give this fellow, who was out of my normal dating pattern, a shot in the hopes that I had merely been going for the wrong guys, AKA sociopaths, for the last twenty or so odd years. To be honest, I wasn’t particularly intrigued at first and had literally laughed in a girlfriend’s face for even suggesting the idea of dating him, but as time went on, a friendship grew and it became quite clear that this gentleman was smitten with me and would do just about anything in his power to capture my heart. I found the attention and devotion to be a nice change from what I was used to and because he was different; read: short, nerdy, and a bit awkward, I felt that I was taking a “safe bet.” A guy like this could and would never hurt me. So, I put my cards on the table and bet the house.
While there were some immediate red flags, like the first time I introduced him to my two beautiful best friends at Cecconi’s in Beverly Hills for dinner and they discretely pulled me to the side to ask if this was really what I wanted. At the time I thought they were just being superficial, but as time wore on, my friends started spending less and less time with me and it wasn’t because they didn’t like my new beau’s geek glasses. They sniffed him out early on and instead of picking up on this, I patted myself on the back for being “above” judgment on appearance alone.
Alienating your only friends in a brand new city– Oh, did I forget to mention I had packed up and moved across the country?—can make you feel quite isolated, but rather than putting strain on our fledgling relationship and pushing us apart, it had the opposite effect; bringing us even closer together in the, “us against the world” type of way. I believed that this person was now my best friend and, besides my family and my dog, was all I needed. And somewhere in the midst of all this turmoil, he asked me to marry him and I, of course, said, “Yes.”
It was easy to mask our differences while we were living in Los Angeles because there were enough distractions to plaster the inevitable cracks that were our fundamental differences. I could still shop at the same places, eat at the west coast outposts of my favorite restaurants, get a job working in fashion, take a Pilates class, and encounter people with similar interests. Then a career opportunity arose in Northern California for him and we agreed to embark on a new journey together. Once we moved from the bustling city to the quiet suburbs of Silicon Valley, those little faults became cataclysmic.
I had ignored the fact that he was a foot shorter than me, that everyone who met us assumed we were just friends, that we hadn’t had sex in over three months, that he didn’t even want to consider having children, and that he had a cat, but it all became painfully clear one sunny Saturday afternoon when we were trying to figure out what to do with the rest of our weekend. While I would have been happy brunching at a sidewalk café and people watching, he would have been perfectly content tinkering with his toy helicopter in the backyard. That’s when it started to click for me. My idea of a vacation was something swanky like sunning myself poolside at The Four Seasons and his was hiking in the Redwood Forest—probably even camping out there. I couldn’t get a job there because I don’t speak in HTML code, no one understood me, nor did they appreciate my sarcasm or love of designer footwear, and I was under stimulated to the point of depression.
I flew back east to go wedding dress shopping with one of my best friends and after finding the most perfect Vera Wang wedding dress at Mark Ingram, we decided to go celebrate a successful shopping trip with a glass of prosecco, or three. While sipping on our bubbly, I timidly admitted to my friend that as thrilled as I was to have found my wedding dress incarnate, I had some doubts about my impending nuptials. She smiled at me knowingly, laid her soft, perfectly manicured, diamond clad hand on mine and told me that what I was feeling was totally normal. She assumed my concerns were the concerns of most normal human beings about to get married and were known as “cold feet.” However, my anxiety ran much, much deeper than just “cold feet.” I was reaching hypothermia and possible amputation, but instead of elaborating, just returned her sweet smile and fought back my tears. Another round of prosecco?
At this point in my story you are probably smacking your forehead, sighing, and wondering why I stayed. Looking back, I’m doing the same thing, so I get it. Here’s the thing: to me, a promise is a promise. I swore to this person, who I did love at the time, that I was going to spend the rest of my life with him. Even though we had not officially said those vows, I had committed to our relationship and I was sticking to my word. I was taking on the role of a “hero.” I felt a need to be loyal. I felt guilty for being the one who wanted to call off the wedding. I didn’t want to let my friends, my family, his family, or society down by not step-tapping down that aisle with a bouquet of calla lilies. Besides, I already owned a wedding dress.
I felt so much pressure to live up to social norms and Hallmark Movie plots that I ignored my inner voice, which was screaming, “NOOOO!!!” Not to mention having that ever present and very pesky voice in the back of my head whispering, better yet, screaming, “Thirty… thirty… thirty…”
The irony here is that had I just asked everyone who I thought I was feeling the pressure from if they thought I was doing the right thing, they would have told me it was okay not to go through with it. It’s funny what comes out after you’ve broken things off with someone. My loved ones had sensed something was amiss, but in fear of pushing me away, had decided to keep quiet. They knew I wasn’t happy, but I didn’t know I was unhappy until I was in too deep.
So how did it all eventually come crashing down? After a not so festive New Year’s Eve back in New York with friends, my ex returned home to California while I decided to hang behind and spend time visiting with my mom and grandmother. After a week apart, I reluctantly boarded a plane back to SFO. I remember sitting on that airplane watching a Piers Morgan interview with Lenny Kravitz and thinking to myself, “Dang, I guess if I get married I’m never going to get a chance to go out with Lenny,” which is, of course, absolutely absurd. However, this was the first time I’d admitted to myself let alone anyone else, that I wasn’t ready or willing to get married. For a few weeks after I returned home, we tried our best to make it work, but I think we both knew it was over and that our relationship would never be the same. I suffered through my worst birthday and Valentine’s Day to date and after a very tearful conversation one morning over cinnamon rolls and coffee, we agreed it was not going to work and that’s when I made the phone call to my dad. Like a true knight in shining armor, he was there an hour later to retrieve me and I didn’t return to our home again until I eventually moved out the rest of my belongings for good.
And that brings us right back to where we began, with me on my father’s couch, tear stained and stinky eating a plate of ravioli. It took a lot of crying, phone calls, champagne, questioning, and support from both friends and family, but I got through what at the time felt like the end of the world. During those long weeks, I felt as though I had reached my lowest point and I could not see the light at the end of the tunnel. As a matter of fact, I think I stopped believing there even was light at the end of the tunnel. When so immersed in a situation, it is often very difficult to see out of it in order to gain real perspective and that was right where I was, drowning in my own sorrow. There were times I just felt like flinging myself out into the street, but that would have required me to leave the house. So I just continued decaying on the couch.
Rebuilding my life sure as heck wasn’t easy and it definitely was not cheap moving myself back across the country again, but when people ask me if I have any regrets, I can honestly tell them that I do not. I’m not sure whether heartbreaks get easier as we grow older or if I am just getting really good at them, but I can tell you that I am so thankful for the heartache I’ve experienced. Unpleasant at the time, sure, but each one has given me knowledge, strength, and even hope. I could pinpoint the exact moment in each relationship when I knew it was headed for disaster, but I wouldn’t change a thing or take any of those train wrecks or tears back. Are there things I wish I had done differently? Of course. Hindsight is 20/20 as they say. Rather than beating myself up for the mistakes I made, I decided to take them for what they were: lessons. Instead of feeling bitter, pessimistic, or jaded, I feel more confident and calm about future relationships. I feel more solid and certain about what I want for myself and for my life. And I am very clear about what I will and will not tolerate.
You see, having experienced what it feels like to be with the wrong person for all of eternity, taught me that it’s more important to wait for the right person than to listen to what the world has to say about it. It was like shock treatment for my heart. By listening to my head and being a hero, I wasn’t listening to my heart, my soul, myself. So many times, we are essentially bullied by our culture, our society, and our peers into marriage and babies and lifestyle choices that we may not even want for ourselves.
You are not a loser for not being married or having children by a certain age. You’d be a loser for marrying the wrong guy and being miserable. Trust me, as frustrating as it is to try and re-sell a wedding dress, it would be a lot more frustrating to file for a divorce. Would I like to be married some day? Absolutely, but I promise you I won’t take just the next guy who extends an offer. I’ve learned to quiet the voices and to shake off the pressures of what is considered “socially acceptable.” I don’t go on dates out of desperation and I’m not scared of dying alone with nineteen cats. I’m happy to sit home on “date night” and spend time doing something that I enjoy, like pumicing my feet. I feel deeply confident that everything has and will play out exactly as planned. None of us require any more than we deserve and we all just need to have faith, patience, and perseverance.
So as my thirtieth birthday looms, I don’t feel as scared as I once might have. Sure, I haven’t produced a cure for cancer or plotted out the course for world peace, and I’m certainly not the poster child for “having my act together”, but I didn’t sell myself short or settle when I very easily could have. And for that, I’m proud. Had I gone through with my nuptials, I may have never become the person I’m growing into now. I very well could have stunted my own growth and that would have been something worth regretting. I feel like my journey is just beginning and all of my past experiences were simply warm up exercises to get me ready for the real game and the rest of what’s to come in my lifetime.
What you can take away from my story of temporary devastation is that as bad as a situation may seem while you’re smack dab in the middle of it, you will get through it and you most certainly aren’t alone. I do believe there are plenty of women who have felt these very same pressures, fears and disappointments. If you were the first, last, and only woman to have her heart broken, there sure would be a lot fewer love songs on the radio. Just ask Taylor Swift. So before you start beating yourself up, remember that sometimes it’s actually easier to say, “I do” than it is to say, “I don’t.”
Oh and, Lenny, if you’re available, call me.