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Dismantling a House

天地無用_(7736032314)This is what dismantling a house looks like.

It is eyes watering at the amount of dust that comes up in clouds around you, sneezing while you’re walking into a demented heaven where all that’s there is stuff. Boxes and boxes of earthly goods are surrounding you, and bags of donations lay out in front of you like tombstones.

The dead live amongst here, the people you used to know.

It’s also the frenzy of the living who are still holding the items, lifting beautiful bowls and crystal, trying on clothing that you remember your mother once wore when it got cold. Going through and trying to claim everything in the tiniest little crevices, from wall hangings to See’s candy gift certificates.

It is pulling an antique yellowed veil from your mother’s closet and not knowing who it belongs to, and knowing probably the only person who can explain it is dead. Then it’s having people insist that you keep it for your own wedding, even though you’re not getting married yet; hopes for the future that you just can’t see at this given moment. You want to get married again, but are not sure if it will actually happen for you. Yet you are being given a veil to wear “just in case.”

It’s swimming through the piles of stuff, and when you say you like something, everyone insists you take it with you. And then you remember you have a tiny guesthouse, and wonder where you’re going to put all of the items you like when there’s barely room for you.

It’s starting a bonfire with the love letters and photos of your ex, laughing and dancing around it with your cousin and sister, bonding over how far you’ve come. It’s also pulling your wedding album, solo in the dark, and finding a container of stickers in your mother’s desk and pasting them all over your ex and his family’s faces (all except for his cousin. You liked her).

It’s the combinations of memories, from both the people who are here and those that are gone. Flimsy paper letters indicating truths about our mortal existences — Turkish immigration papers from my great-grandmother, the death of my great uncle in war, my grandfather longing for my grandmother, a letter from my father after he felt my sister kick in my mother’s stomach for the first time.

Then there are the papers you pull with your name on them, writing in clinical detail what a problem child you were. How you could not communicate, could barely speak, was left screaming and angry until language therapy saved you. Seeing your mother write about how, as a four-year-old child, you went from nothing to her high hopes of you going to some great university one day.

Every school assignment, every attempt at writing and telling stories had been saved, and many of them were thrown in the trash because there is no room to take every little scribble with you. And as others try to hold on to every little piece, you wonder how callous you have become in casting off.

And you think you’ve made progress as you indicate all the crystal bowls and various entertaining platters that are going to be sold off, watching as the stakes are raised again and again. More boxes — of books, kitchen wares, of all the things you thought you’d use again but never did. Tossing off what time has made meaningless; high school yearbooks where you don’t talk to these people anymore and can barely remember them, kitschy things that seemed funny when you were younger, even mementos from friends who you will always love, but ended up breaking your heart in the end.

Hopes for the future, of having the life that your parents did, cast away like shadows in the darkness. Things you wish you could keep but know that there is no space anymore in your current existence. Feeling like you’re falling behind as the people around you, who love you, hold cups of coffee, razzing on your ex because he’s the easiest target at this moment.

Then you realize that you’re suffocating underneath all the items. The weight of the past is being collected in the tangible things, and you desperately want them all to go away. You want to disappear with them, because in that moment you feel like in the things you are one of them, worth very little under the mountain of time passed, left to linger in the graveyard of donations and sellable items worth merely pennies.

And you’re left asking: What kind of life have I lived?

The tears start to flow. My wailing starts softly. It gets louder, and I try to muffle into a pillow. I fail.

My phone text blares. It’s him, my sweet him. He’s so far away from me right now. I tell him I’m having a hard day and that I don’t want to burden him while he’s working; the truth is I’m so used to being independent that I’m terrified to let him in when I’m like this. I prefer to smile and laugh with him, as the happiness he makes me feel is indescribably infinite.

I go back to crying again, thinking of lying in bed with him as he holds me just right, his fingers across my face as he wipes away every tear individually when I would cry about missing my mother, as if counting each of them. And then telling me quietly that he’s not running away.

I still miss her. And I’m crying for her now — two days after Mother’s Day, because I put so much under the surface that I didn’t allow myself to feel at that very moment. As I have been doing during most of this process of dismantling a house.

That’s when everyone surrounds you. To hold you, to touch you and to tell you, “It’s time to stop.”

This is when we stop doing and start talking.

My oldest childhood friend is in my passenger’s seat, telling me that if she gets motion sickness she’s taking the wheel. We’re going to the beach because it makes me happy. I’m behind the wheel because, finally, I have control.

And he calls. He asks me what’s wrong, and I tell him. He tells me to pace myself; box it now, look at it later. He can’t stay on the phone as my friend and I bicker, but he says he’s looking forward to meeting her, and for going to brunch for my dad’s birthday.

I hang up the phone. My friend looks at me. “He called to check in on you,” she said softly. It was strange coming from her, because she is usually so cynical. It was full of wonder and potential.

His words, his voice, the phone call weren’t tangible items, but it was all the perfect gift. It wasn’t an empty glass vase where a dozen delivered roses once resided, a letter trying to convince me of something to win my affections, or a gift that came in tangent with a wedding dress. It wasn’t anything I could hold in my hands.

Rather, it was a metaphorical brick in the foundation; one house was dismantling, another potentially being built. And later, I laid down and whisper the words out loud that I was so afraid to say to him directly.

“This is my family,” I say. “But he is home.”

It’s the tearing down and building up, the yin and yang of my existence. I’m standing on the edge of a knife, so scared that I’m going to fall off, dismantling a house while possibly finding a new home at the edge of my universe.

This is exactly what it looks like.


Why I have given up on online dating… possibly for good

2061329074_05077d0272_bIn the past almost five years I’ve been single, online dating has been the norm. I’ve done them all — swiped left, right and in between, shoved myself into various dating algorithms and marketing ploys. I’ve downloaded a variety of dating apps, ranging from the Hinge to Tinder, or the dating app known as John Oliver puts it, “A barrage of unwanted d**ks.”

But this Sunday, I was done. Seriously done.

I’ve said that phrase quite a few times. I have uninstalled and installed, disabled accounts and bitched plenty of times over coffee with both girl and guy friends. But I never gave up on the potential of finding a lifelong connection online. After all, several of my friends have ended up with partners from OKCupid. I have several friends who have met on Coffee Meets Bagel. One friend even met her guy on JSwipe.

Yet within the past several weeks, I realized that the modern dating atmosphere wasn’t fitting me. My criteria isn’t crazy — I’m looking for a guy who isn’t an a-hole, is semi-stable, fun, has good values, a great personality, can hold an intellectual conversation and preferably smells nice (you’d be shocked how important this is). I’m not looking for a guy to sweep me off my feet; rather, I’m seeking my best friend… who I just so happen to have sex and will live with, and is most likely male.

The longest I’ve ever dated anyone in these past five years is two months. On average, I go about three dates with any one guy. I have my share of horror stories like everyone else. Yet after experiencing the equivalent of dating whiplash, where I went from receiving flowers and making plans for ten zillion future dates to being dumped in a week, I was tired. I couldn’t do it anymore.

Although I have turned off my dating profiles in the past, the constant pressure of, “You need to find someone,” rings in your ears to where you feel forced to turn them back on. But after this past deleting, I decided to take a look at current dating culture, including my place in it. Why did I feel so miserable? Why wasn’t it working for me? And it seemed to boil down to five different categories:

Us In a Nutshell

We are walking, talking collections of various human experiences, from nights up until 1:30 in the morning drunkenly making pancakes to the loving bonds we share with our family members and friends. Each of us has something special that we contribute to the universe, and many great things that we can give to others in our relationships.

Yet online dating is telling us, “Please reduce yourself to a short description with a few emojis, as well as several selfies that show off your body, but not your spirit. Then everyone can play a game of hot or not with you.” How depressing is that? And how can you even think about forming a loving connection with anyone based on that type of mentality?

The online dating world doesn’t give a lot of room for bonding and getting to know another person, and we can be dismissed with the swipe of a finger. It’s not a great place to be. We deserve better.

Let Me Upgrade You

At one point, a guy online asked me if I was into interracial dating. I was alarmed by the question, as race never factors into it. And yet I realized that I am a strange breed, because many of my friends will veto a guy by any variety of things (including race), or hold out for that one that fits their exact type. After falling in love with a guy that was shorter than me. brown-eyed and bald when I prefer tall, light eyes and a luxurious dark head of hair, I’ve learned better.

Online dating makes it worse because both the computer and us don’t think of the person behind the profile. This includes those algorithms sites set up with “personality questions.” Some will show me a 90 percent and he’s boring as hell. Meanwhile, I have met people who were given 65 percent and we had lots of fun.

There is such a thing as too picky, and the online dating world makes us think that there are so many fish in the sea we can get exactly what we want without compromises, which is what dating and relationships are founded on. It’s comparable to ordering a pizza. And speaking of…

Sex or Pizza?

At one point, I had a guy try to get me to come to his house. No coffee, no nothing, just me walking to his door at 10 p.m. My response? “I don’t come hot and fresh to your door in 30 minutes or less, I’m not a pizza.” And yet, that’s what we seem to expect from many of our apps.

Due to the anonymity of online courtship, we treat people as afterthoughts, like what we’re having for dinner tonight. I can’t even begin to count the number of times the opening message I got from a guy was “DTF?” That guy saw me as a place to put his penis, not a person. Otherwise, he would remember that meeting in a public place first is ideal not only for common courtesy, but also for my safety as a woman.

As mentioned before, we are human beings with complex inner worlds. Trying to reduce us into tools for others’ pleasure makes us into commodities, and that’s not right. If you want to hook up from there, I’m not judging — trust me, I have used them for that, too. But with any human encounter, including sex, respect should come with the territory.

The Accountability Dilemma

Usually the best way to find someone is being set up by friends — except in my case, where I hear, “He’s socially awkward/slightly autistic, but he’s really nice!” (Not a joke. Those actually happened.) There is a sense of accountability and shared values with friends. And if he does anything stupid, that friend can promptly yell at him.

Online dating has none of this. There’s a reason why you see so many articles about girls who send horrible text messages from guys to their mothers: because for the first time, these guys are being held accountable. We can feel degraded, or even worse, threatened. And while some sites have moderators to take inappropriate people out, many times we don’t report — or worse, they are the moderators.

When we are strangers on the Internet or with phones in between us, we feel like we can get away with a lot more that we would never do in person. Dating is hard enough without any extra problems.

Fear of FOMO

Several times, I’ve been with a guy where everything seems to be perfect: Solid chemistry and lots of fun. Everything falls into place very, very quickly, as if it was always meant to be there. They were amazing human beings, treating me like a goddess when they were dating me.

Yet all of these times, I have been left because “the one who got away” shows up and they want to try to make it work with them. And almost every time, these guys try to come back into my life after the other one doesn’t take. It never works; the spark is gone and any potential trust has disappeared.

Sometimes we think so much about what else is out there that we don’t see the potential in front of us; it’s called FOMO, or fear of missing out. The online dating world makes it easy jump from person to person, because look at all the people we might be missing if we “settle” for someone. As a result, we are left unsatisfied yet again.

And yet…

My swearing off of online dating may be all for naught, because let’s face it: When was the last time someone picked you up in a bar or approached you at an event? Or you were the subject of mixed signals from a person to the point where you just assumed they weren’t interested? Sometimes the only way to even date is by going online; at least you know where the intentions are.

I can count the number of times on one hand that I’ve actually dated someone from a bar or event. Hell, it’s pretty rare when a guy openly hits on me or buys me a drink. (Unless my friend Justin is around. For some odd reason, if he’s there I’m getting hit on like mad.) We have grown so adjusted to a screen between us that the idea of courting someone in person is downright antiquated, and the idea of potential, face-forward rejection poisons our minds. And it’s not only with guys — I’m horrible at approaching guys for dating.

There is this great desperation for me to give up online dating, to let go of the toxic culture we have built. It seems like any solid relationship that I could have has to be built organically, not digitally. And yet I’m not sure if I can; the indirectness of online dating has been programmed into our generation’s mind to the point where we can barely talk to people on the phone anymore, sending everything via text.

There has to be another way. We all deserve love if we seek it, finding our match and building great connections. That shouldn’t mean dodging various pictures of guys’ junk, feeling disrespected, devalued or threatened. It should mean building the foundations of trust that come with any solid relationship with a person who wants to break through the bonds that hold us back from one another.

When you figure out how to do this, could you tell me how?

Reina’s 10 Rules of Dating Etiquette

take_a_good_look_adams_kovacs_1960Since I became single four years ago, my change in relationship status meant that, if I ever wanted to have sex again or even think about finding love, I would have to dive back into the cesspool that is dating. After seven years of being out of that world, it was like mingling in a river of toxic waste and trying to figure out the lay of the land from all the people with three heads.

At the time, I was 29, and I hadn’t dated since I was 22, let alone in the technology era. Seeking a relationship really was a different language, and everything you did had a message, like how a friend of mine told me there was a hierarchy of dating places: Coffee for friends and casual dalliances into friends-with-benefits territory; drinks for friends, potential hookups and the slightest chance of a relationship; and dinner for potential hookups and half-possible relationships. Or how when you give your number to a guy you’re interested in them dating-wise and if you add them on Facebook you think of them as a friend. (That one I don’t follow. I’d probably add you on Facebook either way.)

Then of course there are the requirements and rules: Don’t have sex on the first date. Don’t reveal too much about yourself. Don’t show too much cleavage, but don’t be a prude. I can’t even begin to list the hundreds of don’ts that I’ve been told. Meanwhile, there was a whole online dating vernacular to acclimatize to beyond that combined with hundreds upon hundreds of unsolicited pictures of human male junk and requests for pictures in return. For example, I had to learn that a guy asking for more body shots in online dating is a secret way that he’s trying to make sure you’re not fat, because that’s men’s greatest fear while online dating. I guess it’s nice to not have to worry about going out with a person and them possibly taking advantage of you. Either that or I guess it doesn’t matter if I would gouge your eyes out, as long as I’m not overweight while doing it.

The truth was there are so many little variables and squabbles that I couldn’t pull them apart. Don’t post that picture, post this picture; don’t say this, do say that. Let them pay for the meal, or pay your own way to show your independence. Pay for your account for quality men, or why would you spend money on such an endeavor? It’s very confusing.

My friend Ron gave me a challenge: Write a list of dating etiquette principles that people should follow. Being single and slightly removed from the dating scene as of late (but not enough so that I don’t remember the hell it is), I welcomed the task. As I started coming up with a list, I realized it really boiled down to ten simple, extremely blunt rules that I’m pretty confident most daters and generally nice human beings can agree on:

  1. Don’t be an asshole.
    This may seem like a simple concept, but even if you just look at the standard comments section of a Facebook post, you would be amazed at how many people have a problem with it. Not being an asshole simply means respect for the fact that everyone in the dating world is looking for their better half, and it’s hard to find someone. It means being straightforward in what you want: If you want a hookup, by all means, say so and don’t lead them on. It means that, if someone tells you they’re not interested, not attacking them. Were you listening in Sunday school to the golden rule? No? Well it’s that whole, “Do unto others as they would do unto you” thing. So don’t be rude. And don’t contact people in the form of a proposition of, “Hey, dtf?” Not only does it mean you’re an asshole, but you’re lazy.
  2. Stop thinking with your junk.
    We live in an age where we are programmed to think with our respective genitalia, from dating to what kind of hamburger we buy. Therefore, when we look at online dating profiles or go to singles mixers, all we see is, “Hot or not?” or, in Tinder terms, “Swipe right or left?” Hate to break it to you, but looks fade or change. Also, you’re not going to have sex with this person 24/7 — you’re going to have to talk to them and reason with them eventually if you want to keep that person around. Sure, we all have physical types, but a relationship has to go deeper than that to work. So don’t think in those terms and talk to someone new. It’s amazing what you’ll find, and personally I find people more attractive if they’re smart, funny, decent and can carry a conversation rather than if they have six-pack abs. And speaking of…
  3. Be open to new possibilities.
    I have two examples of this. One was where a 5’6 guy contacted me on a dating site (please note I am 5’11). Normally I don’t go for shorter guys, but he was so easy to talk to and fun to be around we actually dated for a while after that. The second was a girl I used to work with who went on a date with a guy who liked baseball. She said, “He likes baseball, and I don’t like baseball. So I’m not going to pursue it.” That guy could have been her perfect guy, and she threw him out simply because there was one interest that they didn’t have in common. Meanwhile, I took a chance and explored something that I would have never done before, and even though it didn’t work out, I loved the time we had together. Being open means new opportunities, meeting wonderful people and who knows what else? Possibly meeting the love of your life and not having to worry about this dating thing anymore.
  4. Stop texting, you idiot.
    The text is great for many things, ranging from finding each other in a large, crowded shopping center to getting into a car accident for doing it while driving. However, it can also be one of the greatest hindrances to dating and being able to get to know each other. It’s so bad my friend once had to dump a guy via text because he wouldn’t take calls. If you’re trying to date someone, opt for more connection and not less. Texting and even its cousin, Facebook messenger, is a great starting point for getting to know someone, but it can’t communicate the full picture of a person — what jokes they laugh at, how they respond to different topics and their tones of voice. If you have the time and the ability to call, do it. If you don’t like phone calls, impromptu visits work too. Make the effort. Which leads me into…
  5. Don’t be lazy.
    Oh, the lazies, the procrastinators, the shiftless dreamers who hope a person will sweep them off their feet instead of going to get them. They come in many forms, to the girl who contacts a guy on a dating site to say, “Hey, let me know if you have any questions,” to the guy who is too scared and/or lackadaisical to pursue a girl, and when she finds someone else, he decides that it’s the perfect time to declare his love. If this is the approach they take to dating, it’ll probably be the same in a relationship, so avoid them and be better than that. If you like him/her, ask them out. If you’re interested, don’t play games; just say it. One of my favorite instances of this was at a coffee shop in Eagle Rock after I performed at a comedy open mic. He told me flat out he was interested. I was so impressed that he was straightforward that I immediately grabbed a drink with him.
  6. Focus on the other person.
    You know that electronic leash you have in your pocket that you call a cell phone? Yes, technology is grand, with all the pretty lights and dinging sounds, not to mention the ten zillion dating apps and your queue of 20 guys and/or girls in various states of flirty texting. Guess what? If you intend to connect to anyone in human form, it’s got to go into hibernation. If you’re going on a date, don’t play with your phone and don’t answer calls unless it’s an emergency. Same goes for darting eyes around the room and paying too much attention to distractions. Also, if a person says something to you,listen. Ask questions and find out things. Respond with your own experiences. We live in a constant state of FOMO (fear of missing out) that we actually do miss out on great things, even if that person is sitting in front of us.
  7. Follow basic topic discussion guidelines.
    When I went on my first date post-split, I called a former friend of mine in New York for advice. He got very nervous when I asked him, so he started making a list of all the topics that I shouldn’t talk about: No politics, no religion and no mentions of my ex or any previous relationships. When I gawked and asked him what I should talk about, he said, “Anything else.” Years later, the advice still works, but I would add any personal topics that you don’t feel comfortable sharing, like medical or family issues. In the first few times of meeting, it’s all about whether or not you click, and you can only see that if both people are comfortable with the conversation. Topical, touchy issues and possible deal breakers can be dealt with later.
  8. However, throw the rulebook out the window when it’s time.
    When I was dating a chef several years back, the initial chemistry between us was so hot that everything else seemed like a refrigerator. As a result, the above basic topic discussion guidelines were thrown out the window immediately and nothing was restricted from our conversations. What I love the most about dating is that when you find an amazing person that you really connect with, it can be completely unpredictable and exhilarating. It’s instinct; you just know it and they know it too. Any rules that society throws at us, from not having sex on the first date to taboo topics, are tossed aside. These are not the times to be guarded and listen to everyone else. This is when you carpe diem, seize the day, YOLO — whatever you need to do.
  9. Be you.
    There are two important components in dating: This new person and you. Beautiful, wonderful, fabulous you, who sings as loudly as possible in the car and has a passionate relationship with snobby coffee and red pens, not to mention an unnatural love of drag queens and RuPaul’s Drag Race. (Sorry, that’s me). Many people put on facades and fronts while dating, hiding themselves in the hope that the other person will like them, but that means we are doing a disservice to the other person by not letting them get to know the real us. Perhaps we’re insecure or uncertain, but don’t be. You’re great, I know you are, so don’t hide — and if you aren’t great, don’t tell me because I won’t believe you. This doesn’t end in dating, FYI: We sometimes forget ourselves in favor of the new relationship, and I encourage you not to. The best relationships are when the people around us bring out and love our strongest selves, not put us down. So keep doing you, no matter what happens.
  10. Seriously, don’t be an asshole.
    It’s sad that I have to repeat this, but I do. In the second repetition, it’s more in the, “If this is not working out, don’t be an asshole.” This means if you know a person likes you and you don’t like them back, don’t lead them on to thinking it’s more. This means give someone the courtesy of letting them down if it isn’t working, i.e. not disappearing without another word, or ghosting. If the other person lets you down, it doesn’t mean yelling at them, stalking them or going from asshole to psychopath. Rejection is hard, but it’s a part of the dating process on both sides. That being said, if you need to, I give you permission to wallow in a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and Netflix before you get back up again. Or take a run. Just remember rule 9: Be you, and do right by you always.

And with that, I wish all of you fair daters very happy dating lives and hopefully the right person to be your complement. Personally, I will be overanalyzing guys’ intentions towards me while listening to all your worries about dating as we hang out. Or at least I’ll be lip syncing for my life in the privacy of my car. Whatever works.

Trails of Broken Hearts

hqdefaultOver four years ago, with the emotional maturity of a college student, I ventured back into the dating universe like an explorer heading to the new world. Sure, that broken heart was there from the tumultuous past seven years, but the possibilities felt endless. As my best friend encouraged me to open an OK Cupid profile, I felt an exhilaration and nervousness as I had to go through all my firsts again — first date, first kiss, first time sleeping with someone new in over seven years.

All those firsts went to a guy named Jason, a Samoan with pillowy lips, soft brown eyes and a bald head. As we were talking, I explained to him that I was fresh out my marriage — it hadn’t even been a month since I left. My wants and needs were made explicit: No relationship, no commitment, and if anything expect only a friends-with-benefits type scenario.

So, naturally, he asked me to marry him after two dates.

When I told him no (after all, I had just left my marriage less than a month before), he began crying. “Well, apparently our making love didn’t mean anything to you,” he said, leaving me flabbergasted and crawling through the dark looking for a proper response.

And thus began my trail of breadcrumbs and broken hearts. Some were necessary, as the people were desperately clingy, incredibly toxic and didn’t need to be around in my life. Others were just cases of ghosting and, “I’m just not feeling it.” But I walk on eggshells despite my best intentions, emotions I have cracked because I’ve been searching for true love for quite a while now.

I only began thinking of Jason again last night when I was meandering through my local Trader Joe’s around 8:30, my favorite time to go shop for my wants and needs. After a warm, relaxing bath, I decided to head out, my hair wet, dark circles of makeup the remover hadn’t gotten under my eyes, slipping on my Star Wars t-shirt and a pair of jeans with no underwear because, hey, no one else had to know.

Given my disheveled state, it only made sense that, while wandering through the produce, the front door opened to reveal Ryan. He had that standard outfit of Adidas track pants, little round glasses and white t-shirt that I had previously grown so accustomed to him wearing. My heart started pounding as I rounded the corner, pretending I didn’t see him, agitated by my shopping solitude being broken.

Ryan and I had never dated per say; rather, he was my hook-up guy for over six months, that random 10:45 pm call where I would head to his house in the hot summer months and end up lying in the grass and having sex with him on a blanket under a full moon. It was a mutually-agreed upon situation, and I enjoyed it. My friends jokingly call him “the cookie guy,” as one night I showed up his house around midnight and he was randomly baking chocolate chip cookies. But the sex was hot and it was a nice distraction from the more difficult moments. Best of all for me, there was no attachment and promises that I had to make if he was more involved in my life. It allowed me to keep things separate, divided, private — the way I liked it.

I hadn’t heard from Ryan in over a month. The last time I did, it was a cold January night, and we switched to the guest bedroom instead of the lawn. I remember getting up from the bed, slipping on my clothes and looking down at him. He looked up at me in desperation, as if his eyes and gaping mouth were begging me not to leave. Yet the aggression in me was seething; while we were in the middle of the act, he asked me about things I don’t like talking about, wanted me to do things I didn’t want to do once we were back to our non-sex reality, which forced me to come up with a lie to get him off my case. The anger was palpable on my face, but given our casual relationship, it didn’t feel right to explain myself. And with that, he disappeared.

And now here he was in the Trader Joe’s, seeing this person with my basket overflowing, my hair matted and my ass unprotected under my jeans. It was only in this moment that I finally understood Arnold Schwarzenegger and his calls to, “GET TO THE CHOPPA!!!”

I didn’t bother to track Ryan down by the dairy; rather, I wanted out as soon as I could. My cynical mind scoffed with the thought of: If he wants to see me, he could text me at 10:45 like he always does. Anger, shame, the parts of my life that I did my best to keep separate from each other were gathering under the fluorescent lights and among the employees’ Hawaiian shirts.

I saw him watching me from one of the aisles as I stood at the checkout stand, making the cashier laugh with one of my jokes. Heading out to the parking lot, I noticed his car parked next to mine, not beginning to believe this string of coincidences. And for the first time in a while, I really thought about Ryan; how scared I was before that he was actually falling for me, how he didn’t really know me from a hole in the wall, how I missed his 6’3 lithe, strong body wrapped in mine. How us being sexual together is so natural, but knew that he was leaving me so unsatisfied and unhappy in other ways that maybe it was best we weren’t doing anything at this moment. How I sought romance, love and monogamy, and knew that this was probably not the person who would give me those things.

As I drove home, I was forced to think about my dating sins — from Jason to Ryan, there were plenty of boys who broke my heart, but there were those whose hearts I destroyed along the way. For the first time in four years, I had to admit the truth: No matter how good my intentions were, how I thought I was being altruistic, how my body slept with boys and left them with no emotions attached, I was just as bad as the guys who did it to me and my girlfriends. I hurt men and did things that I hated other people for doing to me. I refused true intimacy, putting up walls to protect my highly sensitive romantic ego from everyone, which over the years has meant everything from pretending certain people who hurt me didn’t exist in the room I was in to running out of a random Trader Joe’s at 8:45 at night.

It took me all this time to feel guilty, to ask what had become of me. I used to be a loving partner; what cynical creature had I morphed into? I generally liked who I have become over the past four years, but not in a dating sense; I was the girl who seemed to have no filter, get angry and irritated over little things and shoot myself in the foot constantly when there was someone giving me romantic attention. It was one of the reasons why I checked out of the dating process in recent months, shutting down my OK Cupid and deleting all my dating apps; there was enough pain and difficulty in my life with pressing commitments to family and work without having to deal with all the games we play and the hurdles we jump.

The truth is that there are no innocents in the dating game, and we have to learn to accept this and come to terms with ourselves and our guilty consciences. When taking two random people from different backgrounds and experiences and combining them to create something, whether a sexual connection or a love match, it’s inevitable. And, in turn, it sometimes means seeing ourselves for our faults as well as our strengths.

Yet somewhere inside of me, I believe love is possible. That it’s difficult, and yet we can find someone right for us. That we can be together and not hurt each other time and time again without healing and forgiveness. I have to believe that we don’t have to play into the games that swiping right and left and the numerous options that the online world gives us, ordering a person like ordering a pizza and having a list 10 guys long. Somewhere in me, I hope we are more than that, and I no longer have to walk the trail, leaving broken hearts behind me.

I’m the Girl You…

I slip on my leggings on as I check out my outfit in the mirror. I love the long sweater I’ve chosen for the cold day, making me feel luscious and womanly. It’s a different body than what I’m used to. I don’t understand it completely due to my weight loss as I pick out the new sizes from my closet, but it’s one that makes me feel good. Yet it all seems to go away when I step out into the world.

Walking down Ventura Boulevard, my eyes notice the men who look my body up and down, making me scratch behind my ears and feel self-conscious. Even on the days where I’m not wearing makeup or dressed to impress, I see them try to flag me down, wave at me, cat-call me. It’s been my life for as long as I can remember. Because I’m the girl you fuck.

These men don’t really see me as they call out to me. Sure, they seem my ample cleavage, my height, my long wavy brown hair. They see my swagger as I walk down the street as the music plays through my headphones and my feet hit the pavement, syncing with that beat drumming in my ears. It’s used in part so I don’t see them, but I do. You can’t help it, really.

They don’t see the person inside this body — her zest for life, her brilliance, her writing and art. They don’t really care to. Rather, they’re glancing at me and somewhere inside their heads they’re taking me to bed in their minds, imagining me in different positions. Because I’m the girl you fuck.

It’s been happening since I was 12 years old and walking home from junior high, my Jansport slung across my back. By then, I was already 5’7 and already looked older. The guys driving by on my childhood streets as I walked home from school were yelling for me to jump on their laps, when in truth I wanted them to ask me out, hold my hand and kiss me like they did in the movies. Talking to me, not acting like buffoons who felt like I was a piece of meat to be fought over and claimed. Even at a young age, the training was that I wasn’t worth the effort of gentlemanly behavior.

My height made people think I was invincible, but I wasn’t; my soul was raw, my heart ripe for rejection. I remember the guys jumping at camp trying to kiss me when I didn’t want them to, the boy in the hallway who felt like he had the right to touch my breasts, and how I got punished for his behavior. Then how I would stare at the shy boys from across the room and how they would never come to me. If I wanted it, they never came.

When my sexual awakening picked up, I was conflicted: I wanted sex, but wanted to be in a relationship and in love with my partner and hear him whisper to me how beautiful I was while he made love to me. My teenage weight gain made it difficult, but I wanted to have it all. Someone who loved me and desired me too.

Circumstances seemed to tell me that I couldn’t have both — when guys publicly dated me, I was treated like a delicate China doll, never touched sexually. Otherwise, I would just be told that he wanted no commitment, just sex, and would never be seen out in public with them. I craved touch, so the hormones won. And I became the girl you fuck.

My therapist asked me at one point how many men I had been with over the course of my life. I laughed, looking up at the ceiling, and said I didn’t know, losing track years ago. Dating, probably hundreds. Sleeping with, in the 40s or 50s. It probably would have been in the hundreds as well had it not been for my seven-year foray into marriage and monogamy.

“Was the sex unsatisfying then?” she asked me about my marriage.

“When it happened, no,” I replied. “When it happened. I usually had to make a five-point rational argument as to why we should have sex, and there were so many regulations he put up as to when we could and couldn’t do it I’m shocked it happened at all.”

During that time of my life, the aspiration was to be the “good wife” — working, cooking, hosting, hungry for sex, doing everything to please my man and make him happy and looking good for the world. Yet it wasn’t enough. He made me feel strange for wanting sex so bad, like there was something wrong with me. That was his M.O., making sure that there was something wrong with me. In his mind, he was fine. I wasn’t.

After I left, I immediately started having sex again. In my mind, I knew if I didn’t I would build it up and become scared of it, and I refused to be scared of my sexuality. It was the thing I craved the most, apparently the only thing I knew how to do, because I was no longer the good wife, and I never knew anything else. I was the girl you fucked, so that’s what I did.

To this day, I have never been in love with a man who I had sex with. It just didn’t register; if he wanted to sleep with me, clearly he wasn’t interested in anything else to do with me. When some guys would fall for me, I’d end up confused — we were just having sex. What was the big deal? Meanwhile, every guy that won my romantic sentiments over the course of my life had been a chaste experiment with flirtation but no fulfillment and no actual relationship at the end of it.

“That’s messed up,” my therapist said when I told her the above statement. I didn’t deny it; I knew it for a fact without her having to say the words. I leaned back across the couch, my hands grabbing a pillow and hugging it towards my chest tightly, my fingers finding the fringes along the edge nervously.

“I don’t understand,” she said. “You’re attractive, kind, have a great personality, smart, extremely generous, a good person. How can you settle for just sex?”

It seemed strange to me, old fashioned. I didn’t settle for sex; I liked it. It felt good, and I never fell into the yapping of people saying to hold out because you needed to make the guy want you. I never felt shame from sex and didn’t want to feel bad about having desire ever again.

Yet there was this overwhelming sense of loneliness that came from the fact that I was never asked out on dates and treated like a lady. I missed cuddling and innocent touch. The creepy guys leering at me on the street, at the bars, at all these different places were haunting me, and it seemed like my “no” didn’t carry much weight with them. There were moments where I felt like my single life, no matter how fun it could be, was a waking nightmare. Because I’m the girl you fuck.

It was this mentality that was making me swipe left and right on a dating app over the past several weeks. I passed by a guy that was cute and had a picture of himself dressed as Waldo from the old “Where’s Waldo” books I used to read as a kid. I was naturally compelled to swipe right, and we got to talking almost immediately.

The hours and messages passed back and forth until we were talking on the phone. He was sweet and charming, sending me pictures of his bookshelf and him and his best friend in Halloween costumes instead of his junk. I eventually asked him why he wasn’t propositioning me.

“Well, I figure we have plenty of time for that later,” he said with a laugh. And so I kept talking to this very nice guy, and met him for a date. He wore a woolen sweater and had a sweet smile and broad shoulders. He paid the tab for our classic cocktails and fried chicken wings as we played video games and continued our conversation.

At one point, I teased him for not doing the yawn with the arm around me, mainly because I was left confused. He wasn’t trying to sexually tempt me or do anything that most guys on dates would do, but would just casually brush his arm or hand against mine. He was just talking to me, laughing at all my jokes. It was fun, and the second date was set before the first ended (although it never actually happened, it was reassuring at the time).

He walked me to my car, and I stood by the front tire, bundled in my black coat and knit woolen hat on that cold night, standing on Ventura Boulevard wondering if anything was going to happen on a physical level, and resigning myself that maybe it was all in my head. The moment came for goodbye, and I thought he was going in for a hug. However, it took me about two second to realize he had gone in for the kiss.

And… wow. It was kissing, not even needing tongues to make it incredibly passionate and sexy. And that moment came where suddenly I left all caution in the wind and flung my arms around his neck as he pulled me in by the waist, his hands not moving up or down, but with just the right amount of assured pressure so I felt present in this moment.

Suddenly I wasn’t the girl you fuck. I was a woman and he was a slow burn, a flame switched on in my head. Somewhere in that kiss, there was something telling me that I didn’t have to be others told me I needed to be, but rather my own woman.

Sure, it didn’t stop the leering men on the streets or at the bars, nor did it give me guarantees about my dating future. But it opened my mind that maybe there was more to me than I thought. I couldn’t change what others thought of me, but I could change how I viewed myself.

My Ghost

I have a ghost. He lives with me.

He’s about 5’8 and wears John Lennon glasses. His nose is beaky and his hairline receding into a widow’s peak, even at 23. But his face is round and smile is good-natured. He wears a blue flannel shirt with a musky smell that is all male, all his. His name is Jason, but we all called him JT. Still do.

I sense him when I’m driving long distances and my mind is confused. In my empty passenger’s seat, my body feels him looking at me, touching my hand with the slightest air and letting me know that everything is going to be okay, even when it isn’t.

But he’s not here anymore. A part of me wonders if I was the one that made sure of that.

When we first met when I was in college, I thought he was cute. He was three years older than me, wore cowboy boots and his silver car was named Bertha. His favorite song was by a one-hit wonder by the name of Lara Fabian, called, “I Will Love Again.” He had an AIM and we would message all the time. He played piano for the kids at the Salvation Army, and was rather gifted. He would buy me drinks at Starbucks and Chinese food at the mall. He would make jokes about Bertha and my car, the Spacey Crowe Mobile, having a baby car together one day.

Nights in the parking lot outside of our college Hillel, he would hold me tight and tell me how wonderful I was. How I deserved someone in my life to hold me the way he would. He was a romantic, although not with me. Never with me.

He knew my intimate secrets, and I knew his. His were darker than mine, depths of depravity and depression that I would never know, blended with talk about electroshock therapy and highs from mixed cocktails of prescription pills to get away from his intense clinical depression. My ghost was a tortured soul.

There was a choice. I made it. I couldn’t be close with someone who I loved who was hurting himself. I told him to get help, but until then, we couldn’t be friends anymore. He never did.

I saw him six weeks before in the old age home in Reseda during a social action event; he loved volunteering. We talked as we normally had, with the veil between us showing its holes. I was beginning to let go of my anger towards his addictions, hoping maybe we would be friends once more. He asked me to come with him and some friends to a coffee shop. I didn’t go. I should have. I would never see him again.

The day came. I was told that night he walked into his parents bedroom and collapsed. His heart had stopped. My denial took over for the next couple days; 23-year-olds don’t just fall down and die, after all. Girls at 19 don’t lose their friends to death.

I decided to confront my friend David that Tuesday, who was the bringer of the news. I pulled him in to a room with filing cabinets and mint green walls, asking him about JT. Was it true?

“Yeah, he’s dead,” David chirped.

My voice reached a fever pitch, screaming and causing the entire room outside to stop in shock as he started bumbling and getting defensive about some random unrelated rumor. My mind started spinning around the mint green walls, my heart crushed. It was my fault, my fault. JT was dead because I abandoned someone I loved.

There are other ghosts mixed in from the days after, now reduced to shadows of memories. His mother rocking back and forth at the gravesite in a pink dress. His snide ex-girlfriend hitting on his brother at the house after the funeral. The boy who would become my ex-boyfriend three months later after saying I was too fat to be with him, as I grabbed his chubby hand at the cemetery and lead him toward the gravesite. My Hillel leader, who had to announce somberly at the event after the funeral that one of our community members had died. But I see JT’s specter more than anyone.

As I moved on in the years, I blamed myself, swearing that I would never abandon someone in need again. Yet I was still seeking him and his guidance in dark times. There were moments where I was left to wonder what he would think of this guy or that guy, hoping it would make his romantic soul wandering the ether happy.

Yet at the same time I didn’t want to love anymore. Letting someone that close to me, and then the subsequent loss, was just too painful. I thought that if I found someone I really cared about, but didn’t love, it would make my life easier. So I did.

For seven years, I was prisoner to that child, who made me think I could capture what my ghost wanted for me — a person to hold me tight — but instead echoed every insecurity that played around in my head. He used the details that were confided in him and turned them into weapons against my sanity, cutting into my very soul. I tended to my wounds alone, forgetting about my ghost to try to mend the scars.

Then came the night in the white hospital halls with the child behind two double doors. It was the most extreme maneuver, but not the first time he threatened what he did. He was not in need; he was waiting behind those doors with his own version of a knife, waiting to slash at me yet again. I felt guilty, but walked away that night, the traveler’s prayer on my lips, praying for my ghost’s protection along with the loved ones that I had lost over the years.

The healing was not easy. The cracks would show, triggers popping up at first constantly to leave my body shaking on the bathroom floor, then less and less severely. I would crack, but be able to stand. Yet sometimes I would lie in bed crying, and a part of me could feel through my tears a hand brushing my hair from my eyes, telling me that it would get better. That I would find my way, that I would find love again.

There are echoes of my ghost since he left this world, of intimate friendships and reaches at flirtations. The green Jeep of a Christian guy with a receding hairline who was interested in me, but whose family cornered him about why he would want to go out with “that Jewish slut.” The bald head of a boy who knew me better than almost anyone as I was curled up on the bathroom floor, drunk and crying over my divorce as he held me tight and his lips made promises of taking care of me that he would never keep. A boyish faced friend with the softest hazel eyes looking at me constantly while driving me back to my car when he should have been watching the road, my eyes staring at the dashboard craving his kiss good night, but not receiving it. The guys’ beds that I had flitted in and out of, not loving them and using them in lieu of investing in someone for an extended period. Finding ways out of true intimacy because in my mind, love meant losing, and I couldn’t afford to lose again.

JT haunts me, the romantic who was close to me but didn’t want me. Who wanted me to find love but didn’t want to be mine. Who I loved for being in my life and being a friend, who I hated for leaving me behind and not seeing that I loved him, wanted him to stay amongst the living, to get better and grow older with the rest of us.

This wasn’t the life I expected, with my older self — divorcee, hidden romantic yet cynical lover, wandering and desperately healing soul — standing over his grave on a bright summer’s day in Simi Valley. The only way he has left to hold me is through a sprinkler going off at the top of the hill, and me looking down at my waist to notice a rainbow surrounding me. We are worlds apart, yet forever tied together.

As I zoomed out of the cemetery, I turned on my iPhone, played “I Will Love Again,” and just kept on driving. I just hope his angel wings can keep up.

The Married Song

There is a song that keeps echoing in my ears from my friends. They are usually from the ones in their early 30s who are brilliant and strong in different ways from each other, but it is the same song. The verses are not the same, but the chorus always is: “I have to get married!”

Usually I let this fade into the background of my life as the world keeps singing its own songs. There are times, however, where I can’t drown it out. Nothing can.

“I have to get married! I have to get married!” The song is like a screeching hawk call from multiple angles, and one that I know all too well. But it’s not a song in my vocal range. Not anymore.

It manifested itself when I was talking to a guy off of OKCupid, a boy whose story is so strange that I said after it was all over, “Well, now I’ve seen everything.” (That’s probably worth its own blog post, or at least a Moth-style story.) But when we were talking on the phone, I asked him what he wanted.

“Marriage,” he said curtly. “I’m 34, I want to get married.”

I swallowed a bit and said, “Okay.” He continued his diatribe about marriage and this pie-in-the-sky thought process that I recognized. It only comes from someone who has never been married before, who doesn’t know about it.

“I’m going to stop you and be completely honest with you,” I said. “I’ve been married before, and there’s more to it than that.”

He paused a bit and then started asking me the questions that people who have very little experience with divorce ask:

-How long were you married? (Four years, but we were actually together for seven, from 22 to 29 years old)

-Why did you get divorced? (Um, how about it’s none of your damn business until you know me better?)

-Couldn’t you save it? (Seriously?)

The married song was reverberating so much in his head that the idea that it might not work out was a foreign concept. For him, marriage was an endgame; once you got there, it was done and you didn’t have to do anything else for it. It was the mentality of my ex-husband, and one of the many reasons why the marriage failed.

After I left, it was torture. When my ex and I got together to discuss the divorce paperwork, he spent most of the time talking to me about all my girl friends who he wanted to date, obviously to find a new wife. He even stalked one of them. It was a desperation not to be alone that had a strong similarity to rabid hunger. He tried hunting for it and failed, eventually caving in and buying McDonald’s to curb his appetite.

I dated quickly, but I made a promise to myself: For the first year after the divorce, I would stay 100 percent single. No relationships, period; I didn’t want to risk the dreaded rebound. I wasn’t even sure at the time I wanted to get married again. Sure, there was a nibble here and a nibble there, but it was more the trial and error of someone who had barely dated before she met her ex-husband and now approached the world like a 22-year-old in a 29-year-old body. I didn’t even know how to go on a dinner date, and had to call a friend and have him tell me how.

Naturally, it made sense that since I made this policy about three months into divorced life I would be confronted with a test. Later I realized that guy I called for advice was someone I wanted to be with, someone that I loved. If my ex had settled for McDonalds, this guy was a fillet mignon. He was that rare delicacy of a truly good man, but it was something I couldn’t stomach just yet. With these new feelings for him came guilt, fear, shame, self-doubt and total insecurity. I knew deep down I wasn’t ready to be with him because I wasn’t ready to be married yet. It became a ticking time bomb, and it exploded in both our faces. But looking back, if it played out any other way it would have been much worse for both of us.

As the first year died down, my life changed from destruction to rebuilding. It was like in the first year after being married I had to learn how to drive. Now I was hitting the open road, and I didn’t know where it would take me. I saw some amazing sights along the side of the highway, and eventually I found a place as a fun single girl, who would flirt with a step of fun, have sex as she pleased and, when a guy would call her girlfriend, joke and say, “Hey, I’m nobody’s girlfriend! I’m my own woman!”

Settling into Los Angeles, the rebuild wasn’t always easy. There were financial difficulties and obstacles that were tricky at best to deal with. If I were married, these things would be difficult to learn from. Kissing my mother’s bald head in the hospital and repairing wounds with my family would have taken on a different flavor that shouldn’t have been there had there been a person by my side. I wouldn’t have known what it took to hustle, to save myself financially and learn how to survive at all costs if there was a knight in shining armor. And in kissing the Kotel in Jerusalem and feeling the Middle Eastern winds whip around my body, this pleasure was something that had to be done as a free woman who owned her own existence.

The events that transpired came with incredible people, some of whom sang desperate married songs but others who sang other beautiful melodies in their own unique voices. They sang songs of artistic exploration, spiritual adventures, self-discovery and ambitious adventures. Some voices were always there but now had the volume turned up. Some were newly found, but all of these songs were stunning.

And as their melodies encircle me, I remember six months before my divorce. I was married and lying in an emergency room in Newport Beach around 7 o’clock at night. I was alone. There was no music, not even from my then-husband, who said he was too tired to come to the hospital to be with me. The only sounds came from the beeping of nearby machines. Married. Yet still alone. Now, unlike the past, there was always a friend to call, a place to be, someone to catch me if there’s a fall. It flows like a symphony.

As some of my friends are left singing the married song, I’m left singing with Mandy Moore’s “Gardenia,” a love song dedicated she wrote to herself after a breakup. As she sings about how she loves gardenias and making love on the floor, I sing in my head about how I love the purple flowers of jacaranda trees lining the streets of Los Angeles and having my face cradled when a boy kisses me softly. It harmonizes as I muse about getting onstage to make people laugh and how I have learned to write all over again. It’s a song that is uniquely my own, and that’s what makes the melody shine.

In order to be with a quality man, I had to learn how to be a quality woman — specifically the woman that I am, who would rather watch Game of Thrones over Grey’s Anatomy, yet still loves When Harry Met Sally and twirling around in white flowing skirts. It was in embracing my unique song that has made me the woman I am, something that I could have never been had I settled in my relationship life or compromised my needs.

Do I want to get married again? Yes, absolutely, if the right guy comes into my world I will. But until then, I’m way too busy having a good life to be preoccupied with the idea of putting on a white dress again. And it makes me happier than anything I have ever known, even being married.

So yes, my friends are singing the married song, and nothing I could tell them from my past can make them stop the siren call. After all, none of us really want to be alone. But as I look at the life I created for myself, I realized something: No matter if I’m married or not, I’ll never be alone again.

The True Happily Ever After

Two days before my birthday, heading to a bonfire on the beach, the words “happily ever after” somehow slipped into my consciousness, as the random universe does. They are used to end every fairy tale when the princess gets her prince and they ride off into the sunset together. It’s where supposedly everything was made right in this messed-up world so life could go on normally… as least as normal as it does when your story is required to end with a happily ever after.

Going by myself to Catalina on my actual birthday, I would watch couples holding hands roaming around the shore of Avalon. Some were obviously happy and in love, leaning in with big smiles and sunglasses. Others were aloof, forcing the trappings of coupledom. I watched one girl jump over her boyfriend like an anxious puppy, until his tense shoulders seemed to give up and he grabbed her hand.

In my past two and a half years of single life, I watched my friends couple up as I vigilantly remained unattached. For some, it was amazing to see them in love with their partners. Their bodies relaxed, smiles grew wider and hearts would just open like bright, big flower buds to everyone around them. But for every case like that, there were those who seemed to disappear. Their bright personalities dimmed in the face of their deepest desires, their minds blinding them and fears amplified in the desperation to keep a person by their side. And this, supposedly, is happily ever after.

We forget that when we get the ubiquitous ending, it doesn’t come with the epilogue. We see joy and reunion. It doesn’t show Cinderella and Prince Charming going to couples’ counseling due to Mr. Charming’s unnatural obsession with women’s shoes. It’s just supposed to be, and the world around you tells you that you should be happy with whatever you got because, hey, at least you’re not alone.

That idea of riding off into the sunset on a prince’s silver horse heading up to his fancy castle is something we have been watching on movie screens and have been tucked into bed at night with. We’ve been conditioned to want it, right down to poofy ball gowns and fairytale weddings. Couple that with the natural fear of being alone and you have a dangerous cocktail for bad decisions.

I don’t think I know a single person who hasn’t been guilty at one point in this (myself included), and that’s because most of the time we don’t do this consciously. We don’t realize we are throwing our friends into the hell fires in the hopes that we will have someone to come home to at the end of the day. The things we love most in our lives and our uniqueness fall to the wayside often so we can be one with another. And then, when we let go of the person who’s been weighing us down, we come back to the world and remember what it’s like to be ourselves, then wonder why we were so willing to let go of it so quickly. The truth is we were all seeking happily ever after, and we’re willing to do anything to have it. Even give up our own identities.

When I analyze that phrase, I realize that lifetime love is something we have attached as a society to it. The words don’t necessarily say it. There’s also nothing in there that says we necessarily will have love always or that things will be perfect 100 percent of the time. It’s just that the happy will outweigh it overall — possibly the healthiest approach. I think that happily ever after should come with an ellipsis, because the way modern society sees the phrase it’s how the story ends, when in truth stories never end. Every tale bleeds into one another to become the tapestry that is our every day lives and then, if we’re really lucky, they’ll become a part of other people’s quilts.

Two and a half years ago, I rebelled against what was supposed to be my happily ever after. There were things in my life much more precious to me to keep and protect, things that would have never happened before. So I ran into a forest of uncertainty, away from the wicked prince who was already beginning to destroy me.

I lost beautiful things along the way: A precious home that fell into dark decay and crawling insects. A community that I was a pillar of but could never reclaim from my past life. A boy who was one of my best friends who I realized I loved desperately, but had to stay away from me and my then-destructive ways. They are all back there in the deep dark forest, tangled in the thorns where I also left the pains of my past and discovered what type of woman I really was when venturing the road by myself. Although there were people along it who would join me and be my friends and loved ones, most of this journey was a solitary one. It had to be.

That evening two nights before my birthday, I was driving down Culver Boulevard through the wetlands on the way to Dockweiler. The sun was glowing as the marine layer was kicking in, bathing my car in a silvery yellow light. My big sunglasses were on over my smiling red lips, my body swathed in a long dress. The windows were down, “The Walker” by Fitz and the Tantrums was playing (my current happy song) and the wind was blowing through my hair. I was riding my noble steed into the sunset by myself. Happily.

This isn’t forever; nothing ever is. We shift and change and our endings come and then we begin again. Soon enough, a boy will come into my life and be not a prince but my wonderful partner. I am looking forward to seeing him, getting to know him, making him laugh and smile and watching him bring out my biggest grin and best heart. But until then, I am living my own happily ever after for me. The end.

Rape Culture, or The Choice of Men

Was it attempted rape? I’ll never know. The last night I was with him was confusing. We were lying in his bed naked in his fancy house in Marina del Rey. I had gone hiking that day and was sore, but had a fun night with him anyway. He had even said, “I love you” to me two hours earlier, an unexpected admission. Now it was 2 a.m., and he was anxious to have sex with me again.

“No,” I said. We already had sex multiple times that night. “I can’t again. I need to sleep.”

And he kept trying to move my body. I kept saying no. And his hands got stronger. I kept saying no louder. Finally, I got fierce, gathered my strength and threw him off of me, my voice tense.

“I swear to G-d if you don’t stop forcing me, I will leave this house right now,” I said angrily.

His body paused and he relented, cuddling me and allowing me to rest. I left the next morning, never to see him again. This was a very different scenario than two years before. At that time I was with a different guy and during the act, I told him to stop what he was doing because it was getting painful, saying no as he held me down and kept going. I tried to force him off but I couldn’t. I bled for two days afterwards.

This is sometimes our reality as women. The fact that I don’t consider myself a rape victim, even though both of these scenarios could potentially be categorized that way, is part of the problem.

Since the Isla Vista shootings, rape and sexual assault have become hot topics. And as we as women have gotten louder, others have become more ignorant, which is usually louder than any truth we can throw because idiocy is easier to digest.

Rape has been a part of women’s lives for centuries. It has been documented time and again in stories of war and takeover. It’s even in the fabric of religion: Judaism runs through the mother not because of a woman’s spiritual plane, but because of necessity. During biblical times Jewish women got raped so frequently that the only way to tell if the child was Jewish was by who the child was born to. Even in times where women weren’t as sexually liberated as we are now, rape has been a part of our stories.

As we became vocal about the attacks with the rise of feminism, so did the defense of it, looking to find something else to blame. The clothes. The college system. The drinking. Our sexual liberation. The “boys will be boys” motto. Anything except for the truth: Rape can’t happen without at least one person taking advantage of another. And despite gray areas, it is very, very real.

It’s anonymous yet at the same time everywhere. As a journalist, I was trained in college never to mention a rape or sexual assault victim by name, yet I was in The Vagina Monologues with a girl who was assaulted on campus and told her story during the show. I can name at least three friends off the top of my head that have been subject to rape, whether by an intimate partner or a casual acquaintance, and I suspect that’s only because they were fearless enough to tell me; not everyone is so brave. And until I wrote the above paragraphs, only my mother knew that I could have possibly been raped. And I only told her two weeks ago.

When I told her my story, she told me one of hers, before she had met my father. She went out with a guy and he wanted to show her the architecture at his apartment. Since she was interested, she said sure. Only to find that this seemed to signal to him sex when she didn’t want to, and she had to also force him off of her.

She probably doesn’t know about the hundreds of stories I had, ranging from that boy in junior high groping my newly-developing breasts by the lockers in the hall to that night at Sinai Temple where a boy said he wanted to talk to me about finding work when he instead cornered me by my car, not allowing me to leave and trying to kiss me. When I kept saying no, he kept saying, “I know you want me.” And then I realized the truth: If I was traumatized by every inappropriate sexual thing a guy did to me, ranging from obnoxious online dating messages all the way down, I wouldn’t be able to stand up and move. I was forced to adapt and get used to it when I shouldn’t have to. And I don’t think my case is singular.

I know the call: “Well, not ALL men do that!” It’s true, not all men do that. And that guy I was dating was not “all men;” he was someone I liked. He took me out and paid my way. Our conversations sparked with chemistry and he told me that I was beautiful. The sex was good and the intimacy was better, and I felt comfortable enough to spend the night multiple times before the incident. He wasn’t even a stereotypical bad guy.

But he was a human being, and like all human beings he was capable of making horrible decisions. And those decisions include how you choose to approach people, particularly women. The difference between an attempted rape and a peaceful night was in the decision not to listen and therefore respect boundaries. It was in his choice.

So, now I pose this to ALL men: You have a choice to hear women. Really hear us and respond in kind without denial, but rather with acknowledgement of our words and giving us respect in return. Or you can keep up the ignorance. Choose wisely.

Beauty or the Bro?

He kept calling me bro.

Hanging with a group of friends that night, he did handshakes with me like I was just the guy at the bar instead of the enveloping hugs that I used to get from him, the ones I love from my friends. This boy with black hair and the smattering of chest hair over his casually buttoned shirt was looking at me with wide eyes from across the table and buying me beer. I was wearing a long black maxi dress with red lipstick across my mouth. I thought I looked pretty. Yet I was a bro.

I had a crush on him for as long as I had known him. I had talked to him at parties and made casual conversation. The pheromones I was giving off must have been vibrant, because two girls came up to us a month ago and asked us how long we had been together. I stammered, because I didn’t want to say we were just friends, because I was trying not to close the door on the chance we could be more. Later when he asked me what my type was, I was very tempted to say, “You. Half-naked, in my bed. That’s my type. Bro.”

As the night ended and he drove me to my car, he grabbed my hand first before the hug and sped away as soon as I shut the door. As I drove home, my dejected face was at the same time accepting. I was used to being cast in this role of bro. My height, unfiltered mouth, devil-may-care attitude and ability to go beyond the superficial has made me an unusual creature in Los Angeles. I love makeup, wearing dresses and being flirty, but I also love drinking beer and showing off my brain. And as a result, I’m often cast as the bro: The chick who’s cool enough to talk about anything and not care, but you would never date because… well, G-d forbid.

Turning down Venice Boulevard on my way home, it reminded me of several weeks before as I watched as a so-called guy friend of mine seemed to hang out with me to try to get his paws on my friends. Girls who were shorter. Thinner. Prettier. Less flighty. Less loud. Less open. And certainly not insufferable know-it-alls like me. Needless to say, his friendship with me as a woman to get a woman didn’t do any favors for my ego, and as soon as I set him up and it didn’t work, he was gone.

Grumpy as I settled into bed that night, I messaged one of my guy friends about it who was online, asking if I had the “bro” look. He said no and then complained about dating too — an ironic statement, since he had been dating one of my friends up until recently. He then asked me to come over and “hang out” sometime, which in his language meant come over and do stuff to him. Angrily, I snapped at him and shut off my electronics for the evening.

I woke up in the morning, the heat of the day already killing me. I passed by the mirror, naked. My brown hair was disheveled and my body seemingly drooping into a strange fat vortex. I have lost plenty of weight in recent years, at my smallest probably since college, but it doesn’t stop the onset of those days where you feel like you can take over the world with your size. I frowned and jumped in the shower, soaping up my body and feeling less for the wear. Wrapping my fluffy purple towel, I looked in the mirror and asked myself why such a gorgeous boy would want a slob like this girl. It wasn’t like boys were actually asking me out (although my friends argue that’s an overall thing). But I was cool, so guys wanted to still hang out with me. Just as a bro. Or because they wanted something from me, like sex or to date my friends.

It made me question everything about my life as it currently stood, from relationships to career and my family. Am I simply too ugly for someone to love me? Where is my life going? Should I change something, maybe go back to school or find a new path? Did I really want to stay in Los Angeles, where I could never compete with the insane amount of superficiality and shallowness that travels this town faster than coke addict hearing a rumor of snorting in the bathroom?

I thought about that bro boy as I went on my Facebook and watched a TED talk with a makeup artist. Her voice seemed to soothe me as she mused on beauty and how none of us as women think that we are. That is, except if we were ill or dying and really just couldn’t afford to care about things like that anymore.

Illness. My mother came straight to the surface of my mind. My mother, who now has no hair and doesn’t wear makeup anymore. I remember watching her prepare herself at her vanity while I was growing up, brushing on her gray eye shadow and combing those fine wisps of silver hair. At one point, I was sitting at her kitchen table and she somehow found a gray hair in my brown mane. She wistfully grinned. “You’re graying like me. I started getting gray hairs around your age,” she cooed. “And in the same places too. Except your hair’s wavy. Like Nony’s.”

When I think of my Nony, my grandmother, I think of her as an incredibly beautiful woman. She wasn’t traditionally pretty by any means, and if you ever asked her, she always wanted to be a blonde and skinnier than a size 14. But her joy was infectious, her smile bringing brightness into every room she ever occupied. It took over her entire face and crinkled her eyes, making them twinkle and her very skin glow. Just like mine does whenever I grin from ear to ear. Nony was not a standard beauty, but to her husband and everyone around her, she was breathtaking.

That boy I was crushing on may see a bro, but under all these layers, I now see my beauty. It’s different from physical perfection; it’s recognition, understanding and a sense of peace. If he couldn’t see me as beautiful, he also couldn’t see all the people I love who I think are beautiful too, and that’s really his loss and not mine. Somewhere under all this muck that is dating and the insanity therein is someone who wouldn’t see me as the “bro,” but see the light within that draws people in. It took me years to love this light, and sometimes I stumble when I’m feeling hurt and rejected. But then I remember to put on a giant Nony smile, and tell myself that for every one boy who doesn’t want me romantically, I get ten times more joy from the world around me. In turn, I start feeling blessed again and continue marching on to my own drum.

Too bad he can’t see all that beauty behind the bro.