why i don’t want to be “the one that got away” {part 2}

{If you missed Part One, you can read it here!}

When we left off in our story, I had finally gotten over my crush on M and felt like we had a real friendship. In fact, he was one of my best friends. But then one night he came over and said exactly what I had wished for the previous year…

It felt like something out of a movie, or like a big joke. I kept waiting for him to laugh and say he was just messing with me, but I had never seen him more serious. He said that he really liked me, as more than just a friend. That he wanted to give us a shot. And I thought about how much I had hoped for this—that he would wake up and realize that, despite all evidence to the contrary and despite turning down countless opportunities to date me, he had actually been in love with me the whole time. If I had written this in a story for my Creative Writing workshop, my classmates would have lampooned the plot for being wholly unbelievable and contrived. Yet, here he was, earnestness in his eyes as he gently took my hand. I told him yes, of course, let’s give us a shot. There was a knot in my stomach, but I pushed it away.

M and I only dated for a couple weeks. I had thought my feelings for him would be like a faucet that I could turn on again, but in reality they were the embers of a fire that had gone out. I simply didn’t think of him that way anymore. My wish had come true—I was completely over him. What had I written in my journal? Someday, M is going to look back and regret that he treated me like this, and by then I’ll have moved on. It will be too late. That is exactly what had happened. I got exactly what I wished for.

And it was awful.

M seemed to take things well at first, and I thought we could still be friends. But when I started dating someone else, he became mopey and awkward. Our friendship withered away. I only saw him occasionally, at group hang-outs and parties, and I never knew what to say to him. Our other friends grew annoyed, complaining that he talked incessantly about how to win me back. In truth, he didn’t even know me anymore. I wasn’t a real person to him; I was a prize atop a pedestal. I was “the one that got away.” I have a memory of one party towards the end of senior year, when I spent a while talking to him, listing out all of my bad habits, trying to convince him of all the reasons why he didn’t want to date me. That seems like it should be a symbol for something.

I haven’t talked to M in a long time. I hope he is doing well. I hope he has fallen madly in love and is exceedingly happy.

I think about M whenever the topic of revenge comes up. I think revenge is a deeply human emotion. It seems only natural to be hurting and to want someone else to hurt too. To feel unappreciated, and to want someone else to appreciate you too late. To feel unseen, and to want someone else to feel regret for what they missed. I believe that revenge is tied to vulnerability. We open ourselves up to someone and it goes badly—we feel too deeply and messily and hungrily—and we want to regain our sense of control. We want someone else to be vulnerable instead. I think that is at the root of revenge. It certainly was for me. I wouldn’t have called it “revenge” but in essence that’s what it was: I wanted to punish M for breaking my heart. I wanted him to always regret not loving me back, not opening up to me when I was vulnerable with him. At the time, it felt like I would always be hurting. It felt like I would never be enough for someone else. Looking back, that all seems so silly now. He was just doing his best, same as I was. We are all bumbling through life without an answer key. We are all just doing the best we can.

If I had a time machine, I would go back to freshman year of college and tell myself not to waste wishes on regret. I would tell myself not to yearn to be anybody’s “one who got away.” I would tell myself that I would end up with an amazing man who never plays any games, who loves and appreciates me and tells me so every day, and that is the ultimate prize. That it doesn’t cheapen my happiness to wish the same for everyone else, including everyone who has hurt me or broken my heart. Because I have hurt people, too. No one gets out of this life with their heart unscarred.

I read somewhere once that loving someone wholeheartedly—even when your heart gets broken—just means that you have built the capacity to love wholeheartedly again. I don’t want to be “the one that got away.” I want to be the small love who was preparation for the big love that lasts, the big love that was meant to be.

My mom always says, “The best revenge is to live a happy life.” I agree. Instead of plotting ways to “get back” at someone else, put that energy into making your own life as vibrant and joyful and beautiful as it can be. Build up your own happiness, rather than wanting to tear down someone else’s happiness. Yes, the best revenge is to live a happy life… and, I would add, to genuinely wish the best for the person who hurt you.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Open your journal or a new document on your computer and use the following questions as jumping-off points for some heart-writing:

  • Write about a time someone broke your heart. How did you heal? What did you learn from that experience, painful as it might have been?
  • Write about a time you broke someone else’s heart. What did you learn from that experience?
  • Have you ever gotten exactly what you wished for?
  • Write about a time you wanted revenge or experienced regret.

why i don’t want to be “the one that got away” {part 1}

My freshman year of college, I had a huge crush on a boy who lived in my dorm. Let’s call him M. He was friendly and witty, with a crinkle-eyed smile, and talked about world issues and politics like no one I had met before. These were the days before wireless Internet and smartphones, back when you could only watch TV on actual televisions, and not everyone had TVs in their dorm rooms. The girls across the hall from me had a TV, and their room became the “hang-out spot” on our wing, and M would often come upstairs from the boys’ floor to watch sports games in the afternoons. Our dorm rooms were shoeboxes, and we kept our doors open for the illusion of more space. I’d be working on a homework assignment at my desk and I could hear his shouts and groans and cheers from across the hall. We started talking. We became friends; to my surprise, he became one of my best friends. And I quickly developed a crush on him. This was no secret to anyone in our friendship group.

Looking back, I smile at how naïve I was. I went away to college without my first kiss. Everything I knew about romance and relationships had been culled from YA books, rom coms, and the Disney channel. I whole-heartedly believed that when two people liked each other, they would start dating. Simple and easy as that. One night, when we were all piled in the room across the hall watching a movie, I was sitting next to M and he held my hand. I went to bed that night with shooting stars in my belly, certain that this meant we were now dating.

But it meant no such thing. The next day, when M sauntered into the room across the hall to watch a baseball game, his perfunctory greeting made it clear he was going to act like nothing had happened. I felt silly and embarrassed. Maybe it didn’t mean anything. This was college, after all. People probably went around holding hands all the time. I told myself to get over it; he obviously just thought of me as a friend.

Time marched on. We had long conversations about random things. We laughed about inside jokes. Every time I would feel sure that this was it, we were friends and nothing more, and I was okay with that—something would happen that would make my heart flutter anew with hope. Finally, I couldn’t take it any longer. I marched down to his dorm room, knocked on the door, and unequivocally stated that I liked him as more than just a friend. I remember how he stared at me, his expression unreadable. “I have to think about things,” he told me. “I’ll get back to you.” Like I had invited him to a birthday party and he had to check his calendar.

But he never did get back to me. We didn’t talk about it again. The turning point came after the Handholding Incident 2.0, when he kissed me after a party and then acted like nothing had happened when I saw him the next day. I decided that I couldn’t keep doing this to myself, ballooning with hope and then breaking my own heart over and over again.

I’m done, I wrote in my diary. I’m over him, once and for all. And I compiled a list of all the reasons why we would never work.

“I’m done,” I told my friends. I remember this moment vividly—a Sunday evening in my dorm room, the streetlights blinking on outside my window, the door closed for once so no one walking by would hear our conversation. “I’m going to find a guy who actually wants to be with me and doesn’t play these stupid games. And someday, M is going to look back and regret that he treated me like this, and by then I’ll have moved on. It will be too late.” My friends braided my hair and handed me cookies they’d snuck out from the dining hall and assured me that one day he would grow up and realize how dumb he had been to let me go.

In that moment, I desperately wanted to be “the one that got away.” I wanted him to yearn for me the way I was yearning for him; to hurt the way my heart was hurting. Looking back now, it almost feels like I cast a spell that day. If my life were a novel, our narrator would step in right now and warn, Be careful what you wish for…

The rest of freshman year carried on. I forced my feelings to ebb away, and gradually they listened. I dated a few other guys. By the time we moved out of the dorms, I genuinely felt nothing more than friendship for M. It only stung a little to hear him talk about the beautiful girl he had a crush on in one of his classes; I even helped him pick out a gift to give her on the last day of class. Whenever those voices in the back of my head would pop up, sneering that he didn’t like me because I wasn’t pretty enough, cool enough, smart enough, I would look back at my diary entry and say the words like a promise: One day, he’ll look back and regret it. I’ll be “the one who got away”…

Summer waned and we returned to school for our sophomore year, excited to be living in off-campus apartments with balconies and kitchens. {By this time, I had developed an entirely new huge crush on another guy who would alternately woo and shatter my hopeful heart, but that’s a whole ’nother story.} I was so happy that I had finally let go of my pointless feelings for M, because it felt like we were legit friends now. He was the guy friend who insisted on walking me the couple blocks from his apartment to mine late at night; who came over and made me soup that time I got a really bad case of the flu; who gave me a guy’s honest opinion when I was trying to pick out an outfit for a date. He laughed at my silly stories and listened to my ideas. Now that I no longer cared about trying to make him fall in love with me, I was just myself around him. It was freeing to hang out without over-analyzing every little thing he said and did, searching for clues about his “real feelings” for me.

Then, one night, he came over and said exactly the words I had wanted to hear from him the year before…

 

This story will be continued on Friday. See you then!

what james taylor means to me

I.

I am eleven years old, dancing around the kitchen with my mom, listening to my parents’ old CDs. It is a Sunday afternoon and I am helping her make banana bread from scratch. My mom is a terrific baker, and I have inherited a love of baking from her. We have turned our giant three-CD stereo onto “shuffle” mode. There is one singer that I especially like. His voice is smooth and filled with emotion, and his lyrics sound like poetry, and the acoustic guitar makes me feel peaceful. “Who is that?” I ask my mom, as the man sings a lullaby about a sweet baby.

“That’s James Taylor,” she says.

“I like his music,” I declare. Up to this point, my musical tastes have existed on a decidedly separate plane from my parents’ music. My CD collection includes Mandy Moore, The Spice Girls, and N’SYNC. Now, I add James Taylor to the list.

The smell of banana bread baking in the oven mingles with the sound of James’ crooning. I come to associate his songs with the warm feelings of childhood and family and comfort. In a word: home.

II.

I am fifteen years old, on the bus to an away game with my basketball team. I always get supremely nervous before games, worried that I’m going to screw up, make a mistake, get yelled at by my coach. The entire day at school, I have been dreading this afternoon’s game. To calm myself down, I pull my portable CD player out of my backpack, slip on the headphones, and press PLAY.

James Taylor’s rich voice fills my ears, reminding me that I’ve got a friend, no matter what happens.

I don’t know anyone else at my school who likes James Taylor’s music. He feels like my own special secret. When I feel lost or self-conscious or alone, his music reminds me that this period of my life won’t last forever. Listening to his music reminds me of the wider, richer world out there beyond the confines of high school—and certainly beyond high school basketball games.

My favorite part of away basketball games is listening to his CD on the bus ride there and back home again.

{source}

III.

I am sixteen years old. James Taylor releases a new album at the same time I am going through a tough time with some friends at school. New music from him feels like a gift from the universe. Even better, many of his songs are about autumn—my favorite season. The magic of autumn is amplified by the beauty of his voice. I listen to “September Grass” and “October Road” on repeat. I imagine one day meeting a boy who loves and appreciates James Taylor as much as I do—who, in turn, recognizes my beauty and uniqueness the way none of the boys at school seem to.

Dad surprises me with tickets to see James Taylor in concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl. I am the youngest one there by at least a decade, maybe two. But I don’t care. I feel like James is singing directly to me. He plays for more than two hours and his voice sounds even better and richer than it does on the CDs I’ve memorized by heart.

It has been one of the hardest and saddest seasons of my life up to this point, but sitting at that concert next to my dad, feeling the breeze on my face and watching my favorite musician light up the night with his beautiful music, I feel hope burgeoning inside me. I am going to be okay. I am going to move on and find new friends. Life is going to expand and keep getting better. I feel sure of it.

IV.

I am a freshman in college, and life has expanded greatly. My world has gotten wider and fuller and more exciting. I have made many new friends and every day, I am soaking up new knowledge and new experiences.

Still, sometimes I feel lonely or stressed or homesick. So much newness can be overwhelming. Whenever that happens, I click over to my James Taylor iTunes playlist. His music makes me feel like I can close my eyes and be transported back to the kitchen with my mom, baking banana bread, dancing around with my silly dog Gar—like I can be my child-self again, even for just the span of a song.

 

V.

I am in graduate school now, living halfway across the country from everything I have known. Here in Indiana, the autumn is more beautiful than any I have experienced. The reds and oranges and yellows explode from the trees, and the sky is crisp and blue. My favorite season should feel more magical than ever.

But it doesn’t. I am lonelier than I have ever been. Most people in my program are married or coupled-up, and I am the youngest one. I feel so single and so naive. As hard as I try to make friends, the close bonds I forged easily in college seem elusive here. I try throwing a party, but it is only mildly successful. The weekends stretch out interminably; the highlight is going shopping at the grocery store.

I get a lot of writing and reading done. The leaves begin to fall from the trees. The weather turns grayer and colder.

I turn on the heater in my little apartment. I bake banana bread. I play James Taylor’s music and feel a teeny bit more at home, a teeny bit less alone. His songs are my touchstone.

VI.

I am twenty-six years old, living back in California. Northern California this time, the Bay Area. I am living with my grandparents and I make friends and I am not lonely. But I am still searching for a partner to share my life with. I listen to James Taylor’s songs—“Something in the Way She Moves” and “Your Smiling Face“—and I feel hopeful that I will find the person I am meant to be with. I think back to high school, when I felt like the only person my age who liked James Taylor. Now, I’ve met quite a few people from my generation who enjoy his music—Taylor Swift {who, I’ve learned, was named for James Taylor} even has a line about his records in one of her songs!

I join an online dating website. On a blustery February evening, I meet up with “Oaktown A’s Fan” at an ice cream shop. He is even more handsome in person than in his profile picture. He has kind eyes and listens to me intently, asks questions and makes me laugh. Quite suddenly, and easily, and wonderfully, we fall in love. Before long, I know that he is the one I want to spend my life with.

Allyn is a very agreeable and open person. When it comes to food or movies or music, he likes pretty much anything.

Almost anything.

“James Taylor?” he says. “I’m not a fan.”

I think at first that he’s joking—teasing me, pulling my leg. But he is completely serious. James Taylor’s music… annoys him.

“I don’t know, something about his voice gets on my nerves,” Allyn explains when I ask, in wide-mouthed astonishment, how he possibly can dislike my favorite musician of all time. “His music puts me to sleep.”

I guess nobody—not even my perfect guy—is perfect. 😉

When Allyn lets me listen to James Taylor on our road trips, I know he truly loves me.

 

VII.

Céline, one of my best friends, dies in a car accident. I never really understood “Fire and Rain” until now.

Even two and a half years later, I still can’t believe I’m not going to see her again.

VIII.

Dad flies into Oakland and we take BART together into San Francisco. James Taylor is playing a concert at AT&T Park and we bought tickets for our birthday presents to each other. I can’t think of a better way to ring in my third decade on this planet.

We spend the day wandering around the city: exploring the market at the Ferry Building, taking the trolley down to Fisherman’s Wharf for lunch, finding a hole-in-the-wall Irish pub for drinks. As the sun begins to set, we walk down to the concert. My whole being is filled with anticipation.

The stadium is packed, yet somehow his music makes it feel intimate. He tells stories between the songs and plays video footage of his adorable dog. He plays many of his old classics, and some of his new songs, including my favorite off his latest album: “Montana.” Tears come to my eyes when he plays “Fire and Rain.” He saves my favorite, “You’ve Got a Friend,” for the encore.

After the concert, walking back to our hotel, Dad and I are still reveling in the joy and grace of James Taylor’s music. I think about the last time I saw James Taylor play, when I was sixteen. How much has changed since then. And also how much has remained the same.

“The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.” — James Taylor, “Secret O’Life

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and “free-write” about the following questions:

  • Who is a musician that has impacted your life? How so?
  • Turn on one of your favorite albums. Write about various memories each song brings up.
  • What is the last concert you went to? Write about the experience.
  • What musicians or songs have been a comfort to you during hard times?

on vulnerability + saying “i love you” {part 2}

{If you missed Part 1 of this story, you can read it here!}

 

Happy Friday, friends! I’m back to share the rest of the story I started on Tuesday. If you remember, I was on a trip to Mendocino with Allyn and his family, after we had just started dating a couple months before. I knew I loved him, but I didn’t want to be the first to say it. I was hoping that he would tell me he loved me, and that this trip would be the catalyst for him to say it. We were resting during the middle of a hike, sitting side-by-side on a log in the sunshine, when our conversation took a turn I did not expect…

“Do you want to stay together?” he asked. “Long-distance, while I’m gone in New Orleans this summer?”

I’M IN LOVE WITH YOU, YO-YO HEAD! I wanted to scream at him, using one of my grandma’s favorite expressions. ARE YOU CRAZY? OF COURSE I WANT TO STAY TOGETHER!

But I didn’t say that. When I feel hurt, my first response is never to lash out. Instead, I hide and retreat. My thoughts swirled in a panic. Does he not want to stay together? Does he want to date other people? But I thought this was serious. I thought we were on the same page. I thought we loved each other.

I think about that conversation sometimes, looking back from the vantage point of our happily interwoven lives. I feel confident that even if we had completely bungled up that conversation and misunderstood each other, we would have found our way back to understanding at some point. I don’t think we would have broken up or “taken a break” while he was in New Orleans. Because neither of us actually wanted that. The only reason Allyn was bringing it up {I would later learn} was that he wanted to make sure that I didn’t feel pressured to stay with him while he was gone. He was all-too-aware that we had only been together for a couple months, and that he would be away for the whole summer, and he didn’t want me to grow resentful or feel trapped in a relationship with him. Perhaps, in some ways, I was a bit of an enigma to him, too. Perhaps we all are enigmas to each other in some ways, especially when we are first getting to know each other.

Right now I’m listening to the audiobook of Brene Brown’s Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution, and I’m so inspired by what she says about vulnerability.

I define vulnerability as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. With that definition in mind, let’s think about love. Waking up every day and loving someone who may or may not love us back, whose safety we can’t ensure, who may stay in our lives or may leave without a moment’s notice, who may be loyal to the day they die or betray us tomorrow—that’s vulnerability.

When I fell in love with Allyn, I was letting myself be vulnerable. But I wasn’t fully embracing that vulnerability—not yet. I was in love with him, but I was still afraid to say it. I wanted him to say it first, because that would have made the confession feel “safer” to me.

During the trip to Mendocino {spoiler alert} we did not say “I love you” for the first time. But that conversation we had, sitting on the log under the dappled sunlight, was a really important moment in our relationship. If life was a video game, during that conversation we would have “leveled up” our vulnerability power—and, in turn, our connection power, and our honesty power, and our trust power too.

It took courage for Allyn to bring up the question of our impending long-distance relationship. And, in my own act of courage, I did not retreat or hide from his question. I did not try to “play it cool” or act like I would be fine either way, breaking up or staying together. I did not hold my cards close to my chest, so he wouldn’t see how much I cared about him. I did not try to mitigate the risk I took in loving him.

Instead, I took a deep breath, and I was honest. I let him know how I felt, even though it was scary to put myself out there. I told him that of course I wanted to stay together, and I didn’t want to date anyone else but him, and my feelings for him were serious. Like, really serious.

His response? That he felt the same way. I could hear relief in his tone.

We had this habit then, in our pre “I love you” days, of adding a lot of modifiers to our statements of affection. I don’t remember our exact conversation. But I’m sure Allyn said something like, “I really really really like you.” To which I would have responded, “I really really really like you, too.” {Meaning, of course: “I love you.”}

I remember feeling this enormous welling of relief in my heart as together we talked about when I might come to New Orleans to visit him—both of us knowing that we were All In, that this wasn’t just a decision made from convenience; no, we were both consciously and full-heartedly deciding to stay together, even though it would be hard and even though we would miss each other. In many ways, that long-distance summer would end up making us an even stronger and more sure-footed couple than we had been before Allyn left for NOLA.

The week after we returned from Mendocino, I learned that none of the stories I was telling myself about why Allyn had seemed a bit “off” or distant during the trip were true. In fact, his behavior had nothing to do with me at all. We didn’t have Internet or good cell reception at the vacation house in Mendocino, and he was feeling stressed out about work for his grad school courses; he had expected that we would at least have half-decent Internet so he could be in contact with his teams. So, if anything, it was actually a good sign about our relationship that he felt comfortable enough with me to just be himself during the trip!

{us in new orleans, summer 2014}

It wasn’t long after we returned from Mendocino that I found myself next to Allyn one quiet morning in his room, feeling a surge of gratitude for him and for our relationship, and knowing I was going to miss him so much when he was gone that summer.

“I really really really like you,” I said. But no—that wasn’t enough. That didn’t come close to capturing how I felt about him in that moment.

“Actually, no,” I corrected myself. “I don’t like you. I LOVE you.”

Just like that, those three words were out there in the space between us. I had finally been brave enough to express in words what had been building up inside me for months.

“I love you, too, Dallas,” Allyn said. Simple and sure.

We kissed. I felt filled up with light. I said those three words again for good measure, wondering what exactly I had been so afraid of. It turns out, telling someone you love that you love them is one of the most spectacular feelings on the planet. And having them say it to you back? Now that is miraculous.

The clouds parted. The angels sang. We sat there smiling goofily at each other, our chests split wide open and our brave little vulnerable hearts on full display, beating, beating, beating.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and use the following questions as inspiration for some “free-writing”:

  • Write about the first time you said “I love you” to someone. What was the experience like?
  • Write about a time you have taken a risk and been vulnerable.
  • When you feel hurt or attacked, what is your typical response? What are the stories you tell yourself? Are they true?
  • How can you embrace more vulnerability in your life?

on vulnerability + saying “i love you” {part 1}

Later this week, Allyn and I are headed to Monterey for a little getaway with his family. I’m excited to see everyone and soak up time adventuring and relaxing together. I lucked out with awesome in-laws and I always have a blast with them!

Our upcoming trip made me think about the first trip I took with them—the first time I ever went on a trip with Allyn, in fact. We’d been dating for a little over two months and he invited me along on the family getaway to Mendocino. I was thrilled. “Yes!” I told him ecstatically. “I’d love to come!” Then I immediately began to stress out about what to pack to make him fall in love with me.

I like to tease Allyn that back then, he was a bit of an enigma to me. For the first few months that we were together, I worried that my feelings for him were stronger than his feelings were for me. Looking back now, I’m not quite sure why. I think it might be because we have different Love Languages—mine is definitely Words of Affirmation, and I’m fairly sure Allyn’s is Acts of Service. Yes, Allyn asked me to be his girlfriend and told me he cared about me. And his actions spoke even louder than his words. He invited me to do things with his friends, wanted me to meet his family, called me every night before bed, and always kept his promises. He planned thoughtful dates for us, listened to my stories and problems, and even wooed my grandma with a box of toffee.

But I yearned for more. I wanted him to LOVE me. I loved him. Of course, I hadn’t told him that. I wanted him to say the big L-word first. Somehow, I felt I could trust it more if he said it first. What if I told him that I had fallen completely, madly, head-over-heels in love with him… and he just said, “Thanks”? Or what if he said “I love you too” not because he really felt it, but because what else was he supposed to say?

I spent a lot of time worrying about this.

I wrote epically long emails to my friend Holly analyzing his words and actions, searching for clues. I imagined what particular circumstances might need to unfurl for him to take my hand, look me in the eye, and say, “Dallas. I love you.” After all, I was pretty sure he did love me. His actions were filled with love. But I wanted him to SAY it. I wanted to hear the words so I could wrap them around myself like a blanket, play and replay them in my mind, shape them into bricks and build a solid foundation on their truth. So they could become my home.

It’s funny, because Allyn has never been one to play games and has always been very clear and up-front about his feelings. {Note above, when he asked me to go on vacation with his family after a mere two months of dating. Um, HELLO past self!} I think what made me feel so vulnerable was that I felt differently about him than about anyone else I had ever dated. From very early on in our relationship, I knew I loved Allyn. He was IT. He was The One. But did he feel that way about me?

Which brings us, my friends, to Mendocino. We were going on a romantic trip into the wilderness for four days. I was officially being ushered into the family as Allyn’s Girlfriend. This was it, I felt sure. He was going to tell me, “I love you.” The clouds would part and the angels would sing.

From the get-go, the trip didn’t unwind quite as planned, even though it was a delightful weekend. Allyn’s family made me feel welcomed right away. The vacation house they rented was fun and quirky, with a hot tub and a stunning view of the ocean far below. We lucked out with gorgeous weather and went hiking and exploring and even spotted a whale in the wild. We cooked big breakfasts and dinners together and ate s’mores for dessert over games of Jenga. I loved seeing the little-kid glimpses of Allyn that emerge around his siblings: their decades-old inside jokes, his sugar-high laughter, his easy comfort with them.

{us in mendocino, april 2014}

But, I could sense it right away—something was off with him. He wasn’t as sweetly attentive as he usually was. Did he regret inviting me along? Was our relationship moving too fast? Maybe I was cramping his style. I made an effort to hang with his sister sometimes, to give him alone time with his brother, to help clean up the kitchen with his stepmom, to not be “attached at the hip.” {Even though we’ve never really been one of those couples and I already felt like we each had our own independent hips.}

One afternoon, during a hiking break, we sat on a log together in the forest. My internal I-Love-You Antennae perked up. This could be it! This was the perfect opportunity. Just the two of us, in the peaceful wilderness, in the dappled sunlight.

He was quiet.

“Watcha thinkin?” I asked after a little while. My stomach was filled with butterflies.

“Nothing much,” he responded. My butterflies drooped in disappointment.

Somehow, we got to talking about his upcoming summer internship in New Orleans. He would be gone for two-and-a-half months, and we’d already discussed me coming out to visit him at some point during his stint there. That’s why I was so taken aback by what he asked me next…

{This story will be continued on Friday! See you then!}

30 acts of kindness for my 30th birthday

This year, I’m ringing in a new decade! Yep—I’m joining my hubby in the 30’s club!

As when I turned 27, my birthday wish for this year is to create a “kindness chain” … I’ve spent the past few weeks doing 30 random acts of kindness, in honor of my 30th birthday. My birthday wish is for you to join me in an act of kindness. Please feel free to share your stories and acts of kindness in the comments section below!

my birthday wish

my 30 acts of kindness:

1. Bake goodies for a neighbor. One of our neighbors helped us Allyn carry a heavy desk up the stairs to our second-floor apartment when I was clearly struggling to hold up my end. He was just walking by and kindly came to our rescue! So I baked him some muffins with a thank-you note. I also gave some dried lavender in a small glass vase to our across-the-hall neighbor Joyce, who admired a vase of dried lavender in our apartment a few weeks ago.

thank you note

2. Donate stamps for The Letter Project. This organization was started by my blogging friend Whitney, and I love her mission to provide letters filled with comfort, hope and encouragement to women and girls. I have previously written letters for girls through The Letter Project, but I wanted to do a little bit more, so I donated some stamps too! Whitney works tirelessly to bring joy to others, and her efforts and genuine spirit inspire me so much.

3. Donate to a classroom on DonorsChoose in honor of all the teachers in my life. I chose this project to help bring a creative writing space to students in a Head Start program in Louisville, Kentucky. {Bonus: all donations are currently being doubled for this project!} This donation is also in honor of my brother Greg, who is a huge champion of Early Childhood Education and play-based learning, and who inspires me daily with his amazing work empowering administrators, educators and students through the nonprofit organization Right to Play.

4. Leave a kind note in a public place. I stuck this post-it note on the bathroom mirror at the airport!

5. Donate craft materials to the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse. I learned about this really neat reuse center from my sweetheart, who has become a waste management expert due to all his environmental work. This organization welcomes donations of everything from used toilet paper rolls to old buttons to fabric, electronics, media and more! Everything at their center is available for teachers to come take to use in their classrooms, for free. It is a wonderful concept, and I was happy to go through our apartment and my grandma’s house and get some materials together to donate, including two fake plants! Allyn was sweet enough to drop the donation off for me when he went to the area to donate blood.

East Bay Depot Creative Reuse

6. Pay for someone else’s coffee. While visiting my hometown for my birthday weekend, I met up with my friend Erica for coffee at our favorite local spot, Simone’s. I gave the barista an extra $5 to pay forward to someone else’s coffee that day. I hope it gave a stranger a nice surprise!

{The two of us at Simone’s during a visit years ago!}

7. Reach out to a friend. I sent messages to a few friends I haven’t been in touch with in a while, and got wonderful responses in return!

8. Write a note of appreciation. I wrote a fan letter to one of my favorite bloggers, Alex Franzen, telling her how much her joyful spirit and empowering words mean to me. I also shared a video that Allyn took of me giving a talk as a Worship Associate, when I shared her words and a story from her blog. She wrote back to my email right away, and was so touched that she shared the video with all of her subscribers. I have long been a fan of Alex’s; now I feel like I made a new friend!

9. Pick up litter. When I walked my favorite loop around my parents’ neighborhood, I brought a plastic bag along with me and picked up any litter I saw. I was surprised how much I gathered in just twenty minutes!

10. Write glowing reviews of my doctorsI am so lucky to have wonderful doctors who truly make me feel cared about and safe. I wrote reviews of them on Yelp so that when prospective patients are searching for doctors, they will know that these people are amazing!

11. Deliver flowers to a nursing home. This is actually something I like to do every year on my birthday, in honor of my dear friend Jewell, who was also born in May—we used to always celebrate our birthdays together. This year, I bought a beautifully blooming orchid and delivered it to the Ventura Townhouse, where Jewell used to live. The woman working the front desk was delighted and surprised. I think Jewell was smiling! Love you and miss you, my sweet friend.

jewell

12. Plant trees. I donated to The Canopy Project through The Earth Day Network. Every dollar you donate equals a new tree planted! Earth Day Network works on the ground with organizations worldwide that strengthen communities through tree planting. Using sapling and seed distribution, urban forestry, agroforestry, and tree care training, this amazing and vital organization has empowered rural and urban people alike to conserve, repair, and restore tree cover to their lands. I donated $30 to plant 30 trees for my 30th birthday!

13. Corral shopping carts in a parking lot. Every time I went shopping, I took a few minutes to push a handful of stray carts into the designated areas.

14. Donate books and magazines to the library. I donated about half a dozen issues of The New Yorker magazine, some crossword puzzle books, and two novels to my local library.

15. Support indie musicians. I donated to two PledgeMusic campaigns for independent musicians I greatly admire, Amber Rubarth & Blind Pilot… their latest albums are such a treat that bring me so much joy every day! I listen to them on repeat. Amber’s album is “Wildflowers in the Graveyard” and Blind Pilot’s is “And Then Like Lions.”

me and amber rubarth 2

16. Review my favorite podcasts on iTunes. I wrote glowing reviews of two of my favorite go-to podcasts: Happier with Gretchen Rubin, and The Life Coach School with Brooke Castillo.

17. Buy a meal for a stranger. One time, when I was a little girl, my family was out at a restaurant for dinner, talking and laughing. We were having a great time, but as the evening progressed, my brother and I were getting a little antsy and ready to head home. I remember we were waiting and waiting and waiting for the check. Finally, our waiter came over and told us that someone at another table had paid for our meal because we seemed like such a nice family having a wonderful time together. It was such a gift — what a lovely surprise, and a memory that will always stay with me. So, every so often, when I am out at a restaurant and see a family or a couple or a member of our military, I try to “pay it forward” by secretly paying for their meal, the way that stranger did for my family two decades ago.

18. Give empowering notes and “inspiration gemstones” to my students. Since we are at the end of the school year, I thought it would be a fun time to give my students little notes of appreciation and pride over all their hard work and growth this year! I typically give them writing-related gifts like pencils and mini notebooks, but I wanted to do something different this time and ordered these cool gemstones on Etsy. I wrote them notes saying, You are a gem! and explained that these are lucky gemstones that will bring them inspiration when they are feeling writer’s block. My students seemed to really like them!

19. Scatter “lucky pennies” on a playground. I picked up a roll of pennies from the bank and drove to a playground close to my neighborhood. I scattered the pennies all over the playground and around on the sidewalks. I also left some pennies on the edge of a nearby fountain for people to use to make wishes.

20. Leave quarters on the laundry machine. I left a note and surprised one of our neighbors with a free load of laundry!

21. Let someone go ahead of me in line. At the grocery store, after I unloaded my full cart onto the conveyer belt, a woman came up behind me in line with just a small basket of items, so I let her go ahead. She was very grateful.

22. Donate clothes to charity. I went through my closet and found a dress and two shirts that are in great condition but that I never wear. Allyn also gave me some clothing that he wanted to donate, so I dropped everything off at Goodwill.

23. Take Murray for a walk and let him stop and sniff to his heart’s content. Love you so much, bubsy! Even though you can be a slow, stop-and-sniff walker!

24. Donate to a food pantry. A couple months ago, Allyn and I spent a morning volunteering at our county food bank. The manager told us that one of the most-requested items is peanut butter, since it lasts for so long and is filled with protein, and kids love it. So I went to the grocery store and bought four jars of peanut butter, and donated them to the bin for the food bank.

25. Donate my old pair of sneakers. I love these bright pink shoes! They were with me on my trip to Europe, all over town, and through countless workouts. They still have a lot of life in them, even though I have a new pair of sneaks now. So I did a bit of research and found a local donation center at Fleet Feet Sports. I hope they bring someone else joy and comfort!

26. Surprise someone with a visit. I took a book to my writing buddy Lari when I was home visiting my parents over Memorial Day weekend. Lari and I write each other letters throughout the year, but it is always so nice to visit in person. She has some health issues, so she isn’t able to get out of the house very much. We had a lovely time chatting and sipping on Starbucks iced lattes on her couch!

27. Thank our maintenance man. We are so lucky to have the best handyman at our apartment complex. Jose is friendly and fastidious—when we have a problem, he always wants to fix it for us in a hurry! Whether it is a squeaky door, a broken cabinet, or carpenter bees on our deck, he is our guy! I left a note for him in the front office, and also wrote a note to his supervisor about how wonderful he is.

28. Give money and a note to a street performer. At our local train station, there is nearly always a man playing the saxophone. It always brightens my day, but typically I am rushing past, anxious to make the train on time. This time, I made sure to head to the train station early so I could listen to him for a little bit. Then I dropped some money, along with a note, into his open saxophone case.

29. Answer a survey. Whenever I go to the post office, they always point out the survey at the bottom of the receipt, but I’m always too busy or forget to make the effort to go online and fill it out. This time, I went home and did the survey, giving our local post office rave reviews because they are awesome.

30. Surprise a child with a balloon at the grocery store. This is always one of my favorite things to do when I want to brighten my own day! I buy a balloon at the grocery store register and ask the checker if they will give it to a child who comes through the line. I love to think of the wonder on a little girl or little boy’s face to be surprised with a balloon for no reason!

 

Thanks so much to everyone who helped in my birthday acts of kindness; to everyone who sent me words of support and encouragement; and to everyone who joined the kindness chain and did acts of kindness! You have truly made my 30th birthday a masterpiece. Here’s to a sparkling new decade!

Lots of love and thanks,
❤ Dallas

* If you liked this post, you might want to check out the archives of my year of kindness challenge!

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and “free-write” about kindness.

  • What is an act of kindness you have done or would like to do for others?
  • Write about a time someone surprised you with an act of kindness.
  • What is a memory that warms your heart, perhaps even many years later?
  • What is your favorite way to celebrate your birthday?

mom to the rescue

I was a freshman in high school, playing in a weekend basketball tournament down in San Diego. It was the off-season and this was sort of like an extra-credit team, separate from the high school team. It was for those of us who wanted to improve and hone our skills before the real season started up again. My parents weren’t able to come to this tournament because my dad had to work and my younger brother had a track meet. My mom was president of the youth track club and had a million-and-one things to do at the meets—especially back then, in the days of dirt tracks and non-computer timing. Plans were made for me to drive down and stay in a hotel room with one of my new teammates and her mom. I didn’t know her very well, but she seemed nice. My parents made me promise to call between games and tell them how I did.

After the first two games, I felt close to tears. I had traveled all this way… just to sit on the bench. They weren’t even close games, but the coach didn’t put me in once. I felt embarrassed and unworthy. Like everyone was laughing at me behind my back. Why was I even on this team? I had busted my butt in practice, the same as everyone else. Why was I singled out as not good enough to get a chance in the game?

{Side note: at the time, I thought this was unfair, but I also felt to blame. Like there was something wrong with me and that was the reason I sat on the bench the whole game. Now that I’m older and can look back with some perspective, it makes me angry. This was a high school basketball summer league. This wasn’t even Varsity, but Junior Varsity. This was not the WNBA. These games were not life-and-death. If I was good enough to make the team, I should have been good enough to play in the games. Coaches of our youth need to remember the power and influence they hold. Sports are meant to build up the confidence and character of kids and teens—not tear them down. For a long time, basketball was something that tore me down and made me feel bad about myself. But that’s a post for another time…}

When I called during a break after our second game, my mom answered the phone. “Hi sweetie, how’d it go?” she asked.

“I didn’t play,” I reported numbly.

“What?” she said. “What do you mean?”

“I sat on the bench the whole time.” I bit my lip, trying to keep the shame from leaking out of my eyes. I wanted more than anything to teleport home, to my snuggly warm bed, where I could just pretend this weekend never happened.

“Sit tight,” my mom said. There was a firmness in her voice I recognized. My mom is the kindest woman I’ve ever met, yet she is also the fiercest. She has taught me, by example, that one should never mistake kindness for weakness. “Hang in there, Dal. I’m on my way.”

I’m on my way. When you are feeling sad and alone, are there any more beautiful words in the English language than those?

Never mind that my mom was exhausted from being on her feet, running around, leading the track meet all day. Never mind that it was a 3-hour drive to San Diego. Never mind that I would be home the next day. She knew I needed her right then. So she was coming, right then.

You know in books and movies, when a superhero will sweep down from the sky and save the day? That is how it felt in my little world when my mom arrived that evening. She swept me off to dinner, and suddenly I could breathe again. I was safe again. I could just be myself. I could cry if I wanted to. I could be angry if I wanted to. I could be anything I wanted to. My mom was there with me.

The tournament continued the next day, and even though a large part of me wanted to just quit and go home early, a larger part of me did not want to be a quitter. I wanted to stick it out. I was hopeful that maybe I would get game time the next day. Mom said not to worry, she would get a hotel room and I could stay with her. The next day, we would go to my games, and hopefully I would play. And then she would take me home.

Only… the hotel where our team was staying was booked up. “No problem,” Mom told me. “We’ll just go to a different hotel nearby.”

As we drove around, every hotel glared at us with NO VACANCY lit up in red fluorescent lights. Later, we would find out that there was a NASCAR event in the city that same weekend, and all the hotels were booked up for miles around.

We drove and drove and drove. Eventually, when we had almost given up hope, we found a motel with one room available. The person working the front desk excitedly informed us that it was the king-sized suite with the whirlpool jacuzzi tub. I don’t remember much about that room. I’m sure it was overpriced. I do remember we were both too scared to try the ancient jacuzzi tub. The bed was probably not very comfortable, but I slept like a baby because I was just so relieved to have my mom there with me.

That basketball tournament may not seem like a big deal, but it was for me then. I felt so lonely at the beginning of that weekend, but then my mom came and the rest of the weekend I felt so loved. Her presence turned everything around.

That was just one of many times my mom has come to my rescue. When I broke up with my first real boyfriend, I flew from Los Angeles to the Bay Area because we were long-distance and I wanted to do it in person. Then I had to fly back home. I am usually a nervous flyer, but I was not nervous on that flight because I was too overwhelmed and sad. My mom picked me up from the Burbank airport with a chai tea latte from Starbucks and a great big hug, and seeing her made me feel just a little bit better. Four years later, she would be the one boarding a plane, this time to Indiana, to come to my rescue in the aftermath of the second big break-up of my life. She helped me pack up my belongings, sell my car and all my furniture, and tie up all the loose ends of that chapter of my life. I remember eating cheese and crackers and drinking wine, binge-watching Friday Night Lights together. I remember her neat lists of tasks that brought order to the days and made me feel less unmoored. I remember laughing with her about some childhood memory, and feeling for the first time like I would be more than okay—that I would not just survive, but thrive, without him. My mom has always made me feel stronger than I feel by myself.

I know that Mother’s Day has come and gone, and this post might seem a little belated. But for some reason, the memory of that hotel with the whirlpool jacuzzi tub popped into my head this morning, and it made me think about my mom, and all the times she has dropped everything without a second thought to come to my aid. As a child, it is easy to take that sort of thing for granted. Now, as an adult, I feel suffused with gratitude that I somehow got so lucky to have her as my mother.

Sometimes, when I am feeling discouraged, I think of driving with my mom down that nighttime freeway towards the next exit, searching for a hotel room in the midst of all of those NO VACANCY signs. At times, that can feel like a metaphor for life. At times, it can seem like there will never be a room that is meant for you. But, I promise, there will be. You just need to keep driving long enough to find it.

When I get discouraged, I try to remind myself of that night. Because it was not an experience of despair. In fact, I don’t even remember feeling very worried. I felt sure that, eventually, we would find what we were looking for. And I was content, in the meantime, to be in the passenger seat, my mom behind the wheel, Bonnie Raitt singing on the radio. I looked out the window at the lights of San Diego, dotting the hillsides like fallen stars. I knew everything was going to be okay. After all, I had Mom by my side.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and use these questions as jumping-off points for some “free-writing” of your own:

  • What are some memories your treasure with your mom?
  • When has someone come to your rescue? When have you come to the rescue of others?
  • If you ever feel lost or discouraged, what gentle words might inspire you to keep going?

a letter to the tree they cut down outside our apartment window

Dear Tree,

I’m sorry I haven’t properly introduced myself before. I’m Dallas, and I live in this apartment with my husband Allyn, and I have loved you since the first day we moved in one year and two months ago. In fact, you were one of the first things I noticed about the apartment when we were looking at potential places to live around the city. I fell in love with your tall, thick-leaved, beautiful branches, stretching over the apartment balcony in a protective way. Your limbs waved slightly in the breeze — friendly, as if you were saying hello.

Over the next fourteen months, you gave us so much without ever asking for anything in return. During the extremely hot summer, you provided welcome shade from the harsh midday sun. Your pretty branches gave us some privacy from the neighbors all around us, making our apartment feel more secluded. When we dined al fresco on our little balcony, your lush leaves reminded me of the time we traveled to Spain and ate outdoors, and our home-cooked meal felt a tad bit fancier. My writing desk is situated right beside the window that looked out at you, and when I was feeling stuck I would gaze out at your greenery. You made me feel calm and inspired. If that wasn’t enough, birds perched on your branches and serenaded us. What more could we ask for in a companion, dear tree?

I wish I had told you all of this sooner. Sure, I appreciated you, but it was in the absent-minded way you appreciate things you take for granted. Things you think will be around forever.

{you provided such a lovely backdrop for our save-the-date photo}

A few weeks ago, the building manager knocked on our door and gave us the news. It was so unexpected. He said that you were old, and that with all of the storms lately you had become a danger. Trees fall over onto houses and apartments and sometimes they do damage and sometimes they hurt people. He said you were impeding on the apartment below us and next to us. He said you had to come down and that was that. There was nothing we could do. We don’t own the property — we are just renters — and so we don’t own you.

When the men came to cut you down, I couldn’t watch. I felt sick and sad and I kept thinking of this Jack Johnson song with lyrics about a tree that burns down. I promise, tree, that one day, Allyn and I will have a house of our own and we will plant lots of your brothers and sisters in our yard. Until then, I want you to know that I donated to The Nature Conservancy to plant a tree in honor of you.

We miss you, dear tree. We miss you a lot. We miss your shade and your beauty. We miss your quiet presence. We miss your wisdom that reminded us of the world that was here before we came onto the scene, and the world that will be here after we leave, and that maybe our problems aren’t so big after all, and maybe our lives are a little more precious than we make them out to be in the day-to-day tasks and busyness. When I think of you, tree, I think of how you were once a small seedling, and then a sapling, and how you just kept growing and growing and growing towards the sunlight. I want to be like you. I want to have your patience and your fortitude, your generosity and your grace.

Your final lesson to me was to focus even more of my energy on appreciating the lovely little details in my life. I loved you while you were alive, but I wish I had been even more present to your presence. I wish I had thanked you every day and marveled every day at the magic of having you in our lives, sheltering our little apartment and sharing your shade with us. You have reminded me of the fleeting nature of this life, and because of you I am hugging the things I love a little tighter, a little closer, a little fiercer. Because of you, I notice and appreciate all the other trees I come across {even though none of them are quite as beautiful as you} and because of you, I am saying prayers of gratitude for all the everyday riches in my imperfect, messy life.

Love,
Dallas

 

Your turn {if you want}:

  • Write a letter to a tree that has been meaningful in your life.
  • Write a letter to a different object {natural or man-made} or a place that has mattered to you.
  • What is something small in your life that you can appreciate and be grateful for, right this very moment?

a letter to my 16-year-old self

Dear 16-year-old Dallas,

Hi there. It’s me—well, you, from the future. Thirteen years in the future, to be exact. I just wanted to pop in and tell you that everything is going to be okay. I know you’re having a hard time right now. Two of your best friends have quite suddenly ditched you, and you’re feeling unmoored and wondering how everything could have unraveled so quickly. It wasn’t one big fight, but a lot of little things that drew the three of you apart—or, rather, that separated you from the two of them. I know that right now you feel confused and hurt and angry. School used to be filled with laughter and inside jokes, and now suddenly the social logistics of each day is a puzzle without an answer key. Where to sit at lunch? Who to talk to at cross-country practice? You’ve cried more over the loss of these two friends than you’ve ever cried over a boy. I know you are tempted to just turn your back and write them off forever. I know it’s hard to see this now, but listen to me: they’re not bad people. They do care about you, and your friendship with them was real. All those memories you shared together are not fake. It was good, until it wasn’t. High school is messy and confusing and full of changes, and the three of you are in different places, wanting different things. And that’s okay. It’s okay that you have no interest in going to parties and drinking—no matter if that means you aren’t “cool.” Even though this is painful, it is better for you to let go of your friendship with them now, rather than stick around and feel bad about yourself all the time, or turn into someone you don’t want to be.

Listen to me: in six years, you will go to the wedding of one of these friends, and all the angst and hurt you are writing about in your journal right now? It will all seem like a long time ago, I promise. It will seem like a novel you read about someone else. The other friend will get married around the same time you do {yes, you are in fact going to get married—I’ll get to that in a minute} and you will genuinely wish her well. You will wish both of these girls the utmost happiness.

I know you are feeling supremely uncool and unsure of yourself. Your self-confidence has taken a beating, and you feel so awkward all the time. But let me tell you something important, something true: you did nothing wrong and there is nothing wrong with you. You don’t need to be concerned about what the other kids at school think of you. {Besides, the other kids at school aren’t thinking bad things about you—that’s all in your head. The other kids, even the popular crowd, respect your straight-lacedness. Just wait and see what nice things they write in your senior yearbook.} Take a deep breath and lean into the parts of yourself that feel the most true and real and YOU. Those are the best parts of yourself. Those are the parts to cultivate, to nourish, to nurture. When you find sprouts of self-consciousness and comparison and shame? Yank those roots out of your soil. Don’t waste any time watering those weeds.

Want to know a secret? Want to know the silver lining to this painful period of time? When these two friends ditch you, it will open up your life for other friends to come in. You will become closer with people who love and accept you exactly as you are. Remember how close you and Erica were in middle school? Reach out to her again now. She is kind and steady and she truly cares about you. She is a lifelong friend. One day, she will be a bridesmaid in your wedding. Be grateful for her and soak up these everyday moments with her. Stay home from a school dance and have an old-fashioned sleepover with her instead. You never have much fun at those school dances, even though you try. You go because you feel like you’re supposed to go. But I’m giving you permission, right now, to stop doing things because of the opinions of other people. If you want to stay in on a Friday night and eat popcorn and watch Robin Hood: Men in Tights with Erica, do it. Do it with no regrets.

I want you to know that you are enough exactly as you are. Mom and Dad know what they are talking about. When they tell you that you are beautiful and kind and strong and worthy, when they tell you that you have no idea how loved you are, when they tell you that one day in the not-too-distant future you will indeed meet a boy who appreciates you for exactly the person you are—listen to them. They are right.

Sixteen-year-old Dallas, you don’t need to change anything about yourself. Your nose is not too big. Your hair is not frizzy. You are not—repeat after me—you are not the least bit overweight, and you never need to feel even the slightest twinge of guilt for eating two or three of Mom’s chocolate-chip cookies, still warm from the oven.  She makes the best cookies, doesn’t she? Thirteen years from now, her cookies will still be the best you’ve ever tasted.

And okay, I’m getting to it, I’m getting to it. You’ve probably skimmed the rest of this letter, eager to get to this part. The part about getting married one day. Right now, I know it feels like you’re never going to meet a boy who like-likes you, much less loves you. Right now, you haven’t even had your first kiss. All of your ideas about love are based on Sarah Dessen books, your weekly TV obsession The O.C., and your favorite rom-com Serendipity. Here’s what I want to tell you about love: it’s bigger and better, more complex and yet more simple, more consuming and yet more ordinary, than you imagine it to be. Love is going to break you apart and put you back together again, stronger and braver and more content in your own individual, lovely wholeness. Love is going to take you by surprise and take your breath away.

Right now you alternate between despair that you are never ever going to get your first kiss, and a desire to plan out every detail of your one-day, future relationship. But, dear one, love isn’t something you can map out. It’s not a short story you can revise and revise again. It’s not a physics problem you can solve. It will sweep into your heart without warning, announcing itself to you boldly, and even though you might feel a little bit scared or unready, you will not be able to ignore it. When love is right, it will continue to grow and grow inside of you, and you won’t have to make excuses for it, and you won’t have to twist yourself to fit into what doesn’t fit. The right love will become a part of you, like your breath, in and out, in and out, and like your breath it will give you life in little moments every single day, with you hardly even realizing it. Right now you think that love means grand gestures and passionate kissing in the rain, but real love is in the ordinary, everyday moments that connect you to another person. When you feel seen and understood and accepted and cared for, little by little, day by day. If you really want an example of the love that is waiting for you in the future, look at Mom and Dad. You will get married on their wedding anniversary, and they are the best blueprint out there for a beautiful, sturdy, lasting love.

To be honest, 16-year-old Dallas, your first kiss won’t come for another couple of years, and it isn’t going to be all that spectacular. But your first kiss with the guy who will become your
husband? Woah. It will be worth the wait, worth all the mess and tears and lonely nights and uncertainty it took to find him. Here’s what I can tell you about your husband: he is amazingly kind, and generous, and thoughtful, and compassionate. He makes you laugh every day, and he is a wonderful listener, and he supports you with all of his heart. He is so handsome, and he tells you that you are beautiful, and he loves every detail about you. {For the record, he thinks you have a great nose.} He is better than any of the loves you imagined for yourself before you met him. He is better than you could have dreamed.

I know, despite your heartbreak and pain, you do realize how fortunate you are, and you’re grateful for what you have right now. You’re grateful for your parents, and for Greg, and for Erica, and for your teachers and your Gramps and your books and your writing. Lean into that gratitude. Lean into those things that fill you up. Savor them. As Mr. Enfield, the drama teacher, will tell you next year before the curtain rises on the final production of the play you wrote {get excited—it’s going to be an awesome experience!}, life is ephemeral. It is always changing, and even those things that feel permanent about your life right now are fleeting. So soak it in, every day. Even the hard days. Be confident in the person you are now and the person you are becoming. Don’t get lost in self-doubt or worry. You have no idea how much you are going to grow, and stretch, and shine, and love, and explore, and how big and wide and incredible the world is. You have no idea of the wonders waiting in your future, in this life you are building. Trust in me, your 29-year-old-self. And trust in yourself, as you are here, now, at sixteen. Everything you need is already there, inside of you.

Love,
Your Future Self

p.s. Give Gar as many scratches and loves and doggy biscuits as you can. He’s a really great dog, isn’t he?

Your turn {if you want}:

  • Write a letter to your sixteen-year-old self. What advice would you give?
  • Write a letter from your sixteen-year-old self to your self today. What would that previous version of yourself want you to remember?
  • Sign up for The Letter Project to write a letter to a real girl or woman who could use a little extra encouragement. Your words can make a real difference in someone’s life!

on online dating, “meet cutes” & magic

Last week, one of my favorite writers Hannah Brencher published a wonderful blog post about online dating titled “Why It Doesn’t Matter If You Met (Or Meet) Online.” I loved her words against the stigma some still feel about meeting online. My heart especially felt drawn to this final graph:

It doesn’t matter where we meet. We are silly and insane if we get caught up in the “how we met” story that we forget the rest of the details. What will matter in 5 years from now is how we thought to build one another. How we thought to lay our hearts on the line. How we showed up. How we emboldened each other.

Hannah’s words got me thinking about my own dating experiences, both in person and online. To be honest, I was a bit nervous about online dating before I ended up taking the plunge and signing up for an account. It was a few weeks into 2014 and I was feeling ready for new beginnings. On a walk with a friend, we started talking about dating and how hard it was to meet a romantic partner “out in the real world.” My friend was a middle-school teacher at the time and I was living with my grandparents, writing for most of the day and teaching in the afternoons. The grocery-store “meet cutes” I had envisioned were not coming to fruition. I had met some new people at church, but no one close to my age.

“Here’s an idea,” my friend proposed. “We both sign up for online dating accounts. Best case, we meet awesome guys. Worst case, we go on some horrible dates and we get to laugh about them together.”

“It’s a deal!” I agreed. It was the extra little push I needed.

That night, I went home and created a profile on OkCupid. A couple days later, I was browsing the site and saw the photo of a cute guy with a nice smile… and a parrot on his shoulder? Curious, I clicked on his profile to read more. Through the way he described himself and his life, I felt like I got a good sense of him. He seemed like a genuine, kind and funny guy. Someone I wanted to know better. So I sent him a message.

In our first weeks and months of dating, when Allyn and I would introduce each other to various people in our lives and they would ask how we met, I was always impressed with the matter-of-fact way he would say, “We met online.” He wouldn’t beat around the bush. He wouldn’t evade the question. There was no shame in his voice. No hint of the questioning inflection I sometimes heard in my own voice – “We met online?” – as if asking for approval from the listener. Allyn was proud that we met online. It was part of our story, so that meant it was something to embrace, not hide.

It wasn’t that I was ashamed of meeting online. I think it was more that it seemed somehow less romantic, less special, to meet online than to meet in some other way, going about our daily lives. In the movies and in books and TV shows, people tend to meet not online, but in line — at the post office, at the drugstore, at the bank. They meet sitting next to each other on public transportation and running in the park. And in bars. But I didn’t want to meet a guy in a bar. {And I would never have met Allyn in a bar, because he doesn’t drink.}

I once asked Allyn if, had our carts bumped into each other in a grocery store, would he have started up a conversation. This was after we had been together a while, after we had said, “I love you” and after I had learned that parrot-on-his-shoulder photo was from a trip he took with his mom to Honduras. I knew that the very first time Allyn saw me, he thought I was beautiful. I felt sure that his answer would be, “Yes, Dallas Woodburn. If I had seen you pushing your cart through the produce section at the grocery store, I would have deliberately made my way over to those organic carrots and thought of some way to strike up a conversation with you.”

But no. Allyn was certain he would NOT have asked me out in a grocery store aisle. Even if he thought I was beautiful. Even if he wanted to go on a date with me. “That’s not my style,” he explained. “I would have been too shy to just walk up to a complete stranger and ask her out.”

Even if that stranger was me?

Yes. Even if that stranger was me, his future wife, in her tennis shoes and loose-fitting jeans, casually browsing the organic vegetable display. Me, a contender for least-intimidating woman on the planet.

To be fair, if our carts had bumped against each other at the grocery store, I probably would have been too nervous to ask for Allyn’s number. I would have assumed he had a girlfriend, or I would have made some other excuse to myself and then I would have kept on daydreaming about some other meet-cute straight out of the movies.

In the past, before going online, I did date guys who I met in cute or unusual ways. I met a guy on a plane once, when I was flying to Indianapolis from LAX to return to grad school after spending the holidays at home. We talked for a little while and he asked for my number as everyone stood up around us, jostling for their luggage from the overhead bins. We went on one date, but it was awkward and not a good match. Sometimes you can just tell these things right away.

I met my first serious boyfriend, a college student from the Bay Area, when we were both studying abroad in England. {And through him, I would later meet my dear friend Dana — something I will eternally be grateful to him for!} The night we met, I remember looking across the table at his goofy smile, and there was something familiar about him — it felt to me like a moment out of a movie, like we were somehow guaranteed to meet and fall in love. And perhaps that idea obscured a lot of things that were wrong about us, and all the ways we were not the right fit for each other, until eventually — like some couples in some movies do — we reached an ending that also felt inevitable in its truth.

The thing about online dating is, I know you aren’t meeting someone in front of a painting at an art gallery or in line for a sandwich during the lunch rush, but I still think there’s a component of magic — of, dare I say, fate? — at play in your meeting each other. Because there are a lot of people on online dating sites. And there are a lot of online dating sites out there. What if I had signed up for OkCupid in February or March instead of January, and Allyn wasn’t on the site anymore? What if he had met someone else or given up and decided to take a break from dating? What if I hadn’t decided to browse profiles that night, and I had never come across his cute smile?

Even though we met online, there are still a million ways we could have missed each other. We could have — as far as statistics go, we should have — but we didn’t. We found each other. I think there is magic in that.

Plus, a first date will always be a first date, whether you met online or at the dog park or through mutual friends. There will always be those first-date butterflies and nervousness, the tentative hug hello, the polite questions and the relief when you share that first genuine laugh together. I vividly remember walking down the street towards Allyn on our first date. It was evening, drizzling rain, and the streetlights and shop lights were reflecting on the sidewalk in a lovely way. Allyn and I were meeting at an ice cream shop, and halfway down the block I glimpsed a man standing on the sidewalk, waiting for someone. I was pretty sure it was the ice cream shop, and I was pretty sure the man was Allyn. I remember staring at him for a few moments, wondering who he would turn out to be. Then I looked away before he noticed me, glancing in the storefronts and shop windows for the rest of the block until I reached him. I remember the buzzing of my nerves, and the warmth of his smile when we said hello for the first time in person. There was no lightning bolt. There were no fireworks blazing through the sky. There was just him, and me, and the rain, and our smiles, and the magic of two open hearts getting to know each other, a little at a time.

If our “meet-cute” story was written in a book or a movie or a TV show, here’s how it would go:

One night in late January 2014, sunflowergirl87 was browsing OkCupid when she came across a photo of a handsome guy with a bird on his shoulder, OaktownA’sFan, who the dating-site algorithim declared was a 92% match. She decided to reach out with a message.

Hi! I was really drawn to your profile — you seem like such a genuine, adventurous, glass-half-full person, and I just wanted to reach out and say hello….

OaktownA’sFan read this sincere, heart-on-her-sleeve message and immediately knew this girl had not been online dating for long, because she sounded way too optimistic and friendly. “I better swoop her up fast,” he thought.

Hi there! Thank you for such a sweet and thoughtful message. I would love to meet up for coffee or tea sometime!

They messaged back and forth a little bit — about Dallas’s writing, Allyn’s sustainable business MBA program, dogs, random acts of kindness — before OaktownA’sFan {my name is Allyn, pronounced Alan} asked sunflowergirl87 {my name is Dallas, like the city} out for ice cream at Lottie’s Ice Cream Parlor in Walnut Creek.

Their first date, on February 1, was a rainy evening — not the best weather for ice cream, but neither of them minded. Allyn ordered the adventurous flavor with cayenne pepper in it. Dallas ordered something chocolate. Allyn was so attentive asking Dallas questions that she talked and talked and talked and her ice cream all melted. They walked down the street to Starbucks to talk longer because neither felt ready to say goodbye yet. The next day, Allyn asked Dallas out on a second date.

Soon after that, they both disabled their OkCupid accounts.

One final reason I’m grateful that Allyn and I met online is that we were ready to meet each other. Both of us signed up for online dating because we were at places in our lives where we knew what we were looking for. We knew what we wanted; we knew what was important to us and what was not. We were happy with ourselves and happy in our lives. Yes, both of us wanted a partner to share things with — but our happiness wasn’t dependent on each other. I think that was really important, and I think it’s a big reason why our relationship has felt so effortless and right from the very beginning. We were both ready for the big love that we created together — and that we are still creating, each day.

Your turn {if you want}:

  • Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and freewrite about dating. What are some of your dating experiences? What have been your best dates? What about your worst dates?
  • Have you ever been hindered by ideas of how you “should” meet someone? Have you ever held onto a relationship that wasn’t right for too long?
  • If you are currently dating: what are you looking for in a partner? What is important to you?
  • If you are with someone: what is your “how we met” story and where do you feel the magic in it?