on being alone

Sometimes, weekends are hard.

On certain weekends, I love being alone. I wake up in the morning and stretch my limbs across my bed, feeling the coolness of the sheets beneath my skin and reveling in the quiet of being the only person in the room. I make a plan for the day that is only mine. Maybe I’ll go for a run, maybe I’ll sit at the coffee shop after lunch, maybe I’ll read my book for hours without worrying about anything else. Maybe I’ll straighten my hair or maybe I’ll let it go wild and wavy. Maybe I’ll wear yoga pants all day or maybe I’ll put on a push-up bra and that pair of jeans that makes my butt look good. Maybe I’ll meet up with my friends or maybe I’ll just lie in bed, lazy and dreaming and doing nothing at all until the sun peeking through my curtains finally tempts me up and out. It doesn’t matter, because I am the only one I’m responsible for. And it feels so damn good to be alone, to make my own decisions, to not worry about relationships and the future and forever. To just be me.

But on other weekends, it hurts. It hurts to be alone, to wake up after a restless night of sleep and not know what’s in store for the day. To lack structure, to wish someone would call and tell me where to be when and for how long. To stare at my to-do list and not know where to start. To read a chapter in my favorite book and be so distracted by the utter silence surrounding me that I can’t even swallow the words on the page. To pick out an outfit but not know who I’m wearing it for. To cry and not know why, and then cry some more because I don’t know why I’m crying. To wish there was someone to grab coffee with, even for a quick 20 minutes. To wish there was a someone at all.

I’ve prided myself for so long on being “okay” with living a single life. I’ve made my own decisions, I’ve changed my mind, I’ve made a path for myself that is all me — I take comfort in knowing all of that. And in the midst of those things, I’ve loved, I’ve made mistakes, I’ve found friends, I’ve gotten hurt, I’ve kissed boys I shouldn’t have kissed. I’ve had experiences and I’ve learned from them, which is no small thing. I don’t know if I would be picking up and moving across the country to go back to school if I had someone else to worry about. I don’t know if I would have worked for three amazing years at a place that has totally and completely altered the way I see my life and the path that I’m on. I don’t know where my life would be, but even while I try not to focus on the What Ifs of life, it’s hard not to. What if I had met the man of my dreams in college? What if I had gotten married at 22? What if I wasn’t alone?

Relationships are complicated and messy and they make you see your life through a lens other than your own. For so long I tried to convince myself that one lens is all I need right now. But I finally believe that’s true for me — at least, most days. Other days, while the rain softly drips outside my window and I sit on my couch, wrapped in a blanket and surrounded by the scent of coffee and nail polish, I wish there was someone there to pick out a movie on Netflix with me and make fun of my dorky boxer shorts.

But I can take solace in the fact that not every weekend feels this way. And I’m proud that I’ve learned how to be my own person, that I’m not afraid to make choices for my own life. I’m not the girl sitting around, waiting for my somebody to show up. Sure, I have my moments where I feel totally and completely desperate and wish more than anything that I had a partner next to me, and I don’t think that’s wrong. When I feel like a pathetic single mess, I will own that and embrace it and allow myself to feel that way. I will allow myself to feel sad and alone on that rainy Saturday, because in the long run, I’m doing something. I’m going somewhere. I’m not letting the idea of love keep me from accomplishing the things I want in life, because you have to be your own person before you can be someone else’s.

And I know that a relationship, that love itself, won’t solve my occasional feelings of loneliness. It’s not the solution. It’s hard and it’s work and it hurts sometimes. But that’s the funny thing: being in love hurts and not being in love hurts. The presence and absence of love is an all around pain in our asses as humans, but it’s obviously important enough to us that we overlook how obnoxious it is. And I mean, I’m not one of those cynical girls who believes that “love is dead” or we’ve killed the idea of it by twisting it into something that it’s not, because what good is that belief going to do anybody? (Also, it’s a cliché.) No, I believe in love, and I’ve seen proof of its existence every day. So while I haven’t found it yet (and I have a relatively convoluted view of it that was born from viewing too many romantic comedies at a very impressionable age), I have hope that I will. But I’m not going to make it my life’s mission to find it right now, because I can’t find love until I’ve truly found myself. And at least I’m on my way to that.

portrait of a rainy day in a single girl's apartment

portrait of a rainy day in a single girl’s apartment

profile of a desperate single woman who lives in the woods with teenagers

I’ve never been a “dater.” I’ve always called myself a hopeless romantic, a lover of love, a believer in the power of relationships, but when it comes to actually going out on dates, meeting people, and just casually browsing this vast world for the person who “completes me” (so-to-speak), the very thought makes me want to hide beneath the huge pile of laundry in the corner of my bedroom.

I would rather sit at home alone on the weekend, watching Friday Night Lights on Netflix and eating Nutella with a spoon, than go out on a date with someone I barely know. As a notorious overthinker, the anxiety that plagues me from the moment the date is planned until its final seconds is something I just don’t want to deal with. There’s too much prep work involved, especially considering the slim chances that this person will actually end up being the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. There’s the research phase, trying to learn as much as possible about this person without knowing so much that you have nothing to talk to them about. Then there’s the panic that follows the research, when you discover the person is either too good for you or potentially not good enough. Then, since I’m a girl who buys into socially constructed gender stereotypes once she has caught the attention of any man ever, I need lots of time to plan out an outfit, decide the outfit makes me look like I’m trying too hard, plan another outfit, try on six more and text pictures to my friends to get their input on whether my cleavage is “tasteful” or not, decide on a makeup scheme that makes me look subtle and somewhat natural, shave my legs, pluck my eyebrows, and starve myself, not because I want to lose weight before my date, but because I have so much anxiety bubbling in my stomach that I physically can’t force anything down my throat. And all of these stressful activities occur before I’ve actually gone on the date. The date is a whole different beast. A constant stream of self-analysis is running through my head, and it’s so distracting that I’m probably not even noticing how cool and nice this guy could actually be. He could open doors for me, compliment my dress, and listen attentively as I blather on and on about my weird job, and I would still be focused on the fact that the shoes I picked are too high or worrying about whether ordering a salad for dinner will make me seem like a shallow, insecure idiot. Dates suck, ok? They just do. I want to skip ahead to when I’m comfortable enough with someone that I can wear jeans and a v-neck, and we’ll go to a pizza place and split the bill. I want the comfort and familiarity of a relationship without going through the hard work of meeting someone and learning all about them. I’m too lazy to date.

Recently, one of my friends suggested that we try online dating this school year. First, I laughed at her because I thought she was kidding. Then, when I realized she was dead serious, I immediately shot the idea down. What could I possibly have to gain from online dating? What men are going to want to date me when my home is in a boarding school residence hall? Why would I put myself through the hell of dating anxiety when I probably won’t be living here a year from now? Even worse, what if I do meet someone I’m legitimately interested in and then I have to move across the country in June? I came up with every excuse in the book to explain why online dating would be a nightmare for me. But my friend simply countered that with, “It doesn’t have to be a big deal, but it could be fun!”

Then I realized I was being a complete asshole about it. Online dating is what people do now. Without taking into consideration my main fear of going on a date with an axe murderer (which is very real because I’ve watched enough Dexter to know that you can’t trust anybody anymore), it seems like a relatively low-risk way to meet somebody new. Sure, I don’t flirt well and I don’t date because it makes me want to throw up. I apparently just sit and wait for my knight in shining armor (or Jim Halpert in a white button-down, rather) to come find me and sweep me off my feet, which I’ve finally realized is completely ridiculous and the opposite of everything my feminist mother taught me as a young girl. I was raised to disapprove of the Disney princesses who sang melancholy songs and waited for a prince to save them. I was told real women find their own way in life and love, and they don’t need men to be their saviors. Well, I guess that’s a concept I need to reacquaint myself with.

Whether I will actually attempt online dating remains to be seen, because I still get that pukey feeling in my stomach whenever I think about going out with someone I’ve never met in person, and I am also really afraid of filling out an online dating profile. How much do you reveal about yourself on those things, anyway? I don’t want to end up being a huge disappointment to a guy who reads my watered down biography online and assumes I’m super cool, but I also don’t want to “undersell” myself like a high school kid with low self-esteem. They should teach you this kind of stuff in school. Five paragraph essays? Those are useless once you have your diploma. How to find the area of a trapezoid? COME ON. I now feel cheated by the public school system because for some reason I remember how to conjugate most Latin verbs but I don’t know how to catch myself a fella on OkCupid. If I were to fill out a profile right this moment, it would probably read something like this:

I am 24 year-old who works in residence life at an arts boarding school. When I’m not mentoring/mothering/wrangling the teenagers who live in my building, I enjoy binge-watching TV shows on Netflix, hiding out at coffeeshops, and making playlists on Spotify. I studied vocal music and education as an undergrad student, but eventually gave up that dream and now aspire to join an even less fruitful arts discipline by becoming a writer. I have restarted the second book of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire three times and haven’t gotten past page 70 yet, but I watched all three seasons of Game of Thrones in less than a week. I own an ice cube tray shaped like little penguins. I post on Twitter and Instagram far too often. I am mediocre at playing the guitar and piano, but probably above average at the ukulele. I watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy (extended edition, duh) at least twice a year and yes, I dressed up for the midnight premiere of the first Hobbit film. I enjoy colored felt-tip pens and three-hole-punching documents. I can run 4 miles without stopping but I am slower than molasses. My favorite Bob Dylan album is Highway 61 Revisited and I am very glad he decided to include the acoustic version of “Desolation Row” as the final track.

Would you date me after reading that? It’s ridiculous, I know. But I guess the bottom line is, if I ever do try to meet my soulmate online, they’d better be okay with all of the things listed above, even if I don’t go into this much detail in my actual profile.

…I should also probably get somebody to write my profile for me.

pure michigan, a love story (of sorts)

I’ve lived in the midwest my entire life. I spent the first eighteen years of my life in the same town in southern Minnesota, then attended college in northern Iowa. Needless to say, when I moved to Michigan, I wasn’t shocked by the cold winters or the ridiculous amounts of snow. I grew up in it, I learned to drive in it, it didn’t scare me. I’ve always prided myself on being from the northern midwest, because we have thick skin when it comes to winter. But for a long time, I thought that was my only claim to fame when it came to hailing from the middle of the country; “I’m used to the snow.” It took me most of my life and a move to Michigan to learn to appreciate the region I call home beyond just being unafraid of tomorrow’s blizzard.

Truthfully, there are a lot of places I’d love to live in the future. I feel like I should explore other areas of the country, new regions and new cities. But I think I’ll always have immense pride for the region in which I grew up. I didn’t know it when I was younger, but people are definitely nicer here. You know that stereotype “Minnesota nice”? That’s a real thing. I didn’t see it until I traveled to other places, but there’s a certain neighborly attitude that most people adopt in my hometown and others like it. I didn’t appreciate it before, but I certainly do now.

The midwest will always be my home, and honestly, I think I could do much worse. Sure, people from either coast will tell you that it’s the center of civilization, because that’s where all the big cities with “real culture” are located, or you can find any number of places open after 2am, or because the local music scene has been praised by Pitchfork, and maybe they’re right. I don’t know. But the midwest has great metropolitan areas, too. We have culture. We have local musicians. We aren’t just cows and corn fields (though the drive to my college town would suggest otherwise). Yes, things are more spread apart, and it gets frustrating when the nearest major airport or great concert venue is two hours away, or you can’t find anything to do after 10pm on a Thursday night. Yes, I sometimes feel like I’m living in a bubble. But after living in Michigan for a year and a half, I think I’ve actually fallen in love with it.

I don’t know why I didn’t necessarily see it before I moved here. I mean, Minnesota has its own fair share of natural beauty. But this new area I’ve come to call home really opened my eyes and made me appreciate what is surrounding me. I’ve realized that I will probably never be completely happy living in a place that doesn’t have real seasons. Like I said, winters here can be rough and long, and by February, you miss the sun so much it hurts…but during the rest of the year, we get crisp fall air and rainbow leaves, spring puddles and the smell of new grass, and summers warm enough to enjoy the beach. Sometimes, cliché as it is, I have to force myself to take a moment and appreciate the natural beauty I’m surrounded by, living up here. When I’m missing my family, or so stressed out with work that I can’t think anymore, I remind myself that I am in one of the most beautiful places in the country, and it helps.

I’ve made the decision to be here for another year. Sometimes I think I should move on to “bigger and better things,” find something more exciting to do with my life, start an adventure. But I’m not really ready for that yet. I love this area, it feels like home now, and it feels right that I should stay here, even if I need to move on from this job. I’ll find a place to live, I’ll find a new job. Things will work out. And if they don’t, I’ll still be in a place I love, and that’s enough comfort for now.

ghosts of friendships past

It’s a strange sensation, losing a friend.

It can happen in a bunch of different ways, I guess. Sometimes you simply grow apart. You’re friends in grade school because you both like the same flavor of PopTarts and you have made up an entire saga about unicorns to play out on the playground at recess. Then, all of a sudden, you’re auditioning for the school musical and she’s joining the volleyball team. And from then on, you just see each other in English, exchanging polite smiles or working together on yet another PowerPoint presentation. You’re not enemies, but you’re not friends anymore either. It’s bittersweet for awhile, but you move on.

Sometimes, especially in the case of relationships born out of mere convenience, you start to see certain characteristics in a person that force you to grow apart. The girls who lived down the hall from you in your freshman dorm suddenly don’t have anything in common with you, and you realize they never actually did — you were just friends because you lived together. Your coworkers from your old job are harder to relate to because you don’t have work to talk about anymore. Your former biology lab partner suddenly has horrible taste in music and a fake, peppy smile that didn’t matter when you were dissecting a fetal pig, but now all of these things annoy you to no end. It’s not as hard to say goodbye to these relationships, because you realize they weren’t based on any sort of depth. You miss the friends, but you don’t miss the way they chewed their gum.

Other times, physical distance is what ends a relationship. Your best friend for years moves across the country, or you both go to separate colleges after high school. You make a conscious effort, Skyping once a week or writing old fashioned letters, but inevitably, you lose touch. You see her engagement pictures on Facebook, you catch up every once in awhile, but things will never be as they once were. You’ll never have coffee dates where you can actually get past the surface details of your own lives. “What have you been up to?” and “That sounds exciting!” are the center of your conversations, always. This is also bittersweet, but it’s a natural part of life and growing up.

But the most painful way to lose a friend is to watch it happen right in front of you. Slowly, this person you have come to connect yourself with, to love completely, begins to fade away from you. All of the things that you have become accustomed to — the secrets, the inside jokes, the knowing glances — disappear from your life. Who will you stay up until 2am with, doing nothing but staring at the ceiling? Who will distract you from Facebook while you sit at your favorite coffeeshop for five hours on a Saturday afternoon? Everything you do makes you feel alone, even the things you didn’t share with this person. Days pass, even weeks, without any text messages, any coffee dates, any significant words exchanged. The fault can’t be placed on only one of you, but you don’t know what words can be said to fix things. How do you say the things you can’t even say to yourself?

I guess it just strikes me how transient relationships are. Unlike in a romantic partnership, in a friendship the only thing you have tethering you together is this mutual bond of “being friends.” I mean, you have, in a sense, committed yourselves to one another, but you don’t have the explicitly stated exclusivity that husbands and wives or boyfriends and girlfriends have. But just because you haven’t stated publicly or in a romantic ceremony in front of your family that you intend to be linked to this person, it doesn’t mean losing them hurts less. This is especially hard when you have a best friend. You can spend all the time together that you want, you can love each other with your entire hearts, but in the end, when you lose each other, it still feels like as much of a breakup as if you had been romantically linked to that person.

I think the key is to look fondly on the past relationships you’ve had, the friends you’ve lost, the people you’ve distanced yourself from. Don’t let those losses become tinged with negativity, with grudges and unhappiness. Celebrate the people you’ve had in your life for who they are, who you were when you were with them, and the fact that, for however long, you were able to share something together. Relationships are a unique part of the human experience — if anything, cherish the fact that you’re alive, you can love, and you have loved. Those lost relationships are only proof that your heart is working.

somebody teach me how to flirt before I die alone

All of the following things are true about my living situation at this moment:
1. I live in the woods.
2. I live in a dorm.
3. I live with teenagers.
4. I live where I work.

These factors all add up to one rather obvious statement: Eligible men are hard to come by. Unfortunately, that has been a theme for most of my adult life.

When I was in college, I didn’t really date. I studied and I sang and I busted my ass to graduate in eight semesters instead of nine. Looking back, I wish I had let my hair down a little bit more during those four years, but that’s a different story. I wasn’t really interested in the boys at my school — they were nice, and many of them were very attractive, but I also spent most of my time in the music building, and, let’s face it, straight single men weren’t exactly abundant there. And even if they had been, it’s difficult to look and act alluring in 8am ear training class, when you didn’t get to bed until 3am and barely had time to brush your teeth before sprinting out of your dorm, only to be forced to sing Ottman exercises in a croaky morning voice in your shameless attempt for an A. Snagging myself a boyfriend wasn’t really on the top of my priority list while I was up all night memorizing German lieds and practicing my solfege hand signs. (You can’t believe I was single, can you?) Anyway, when I did go out in college, I usually used my gay “boyfriends” (there were plenty) as decoys at the bar so the creepy guy in the corner wouldn’t hit on me. I was a wimp.

The problem is, I never learned how to “meet people.” If you know me, you probably know that I’m frighteningly bad at flirting. I’m pretty introverted, so I’m not good at making smalltalk, batting my eyelashes, and being seductive. In fact, I kind of suck in most social situations unless I’m surrounded by people I already know. Not that I have anything against talking to strangers, I just don’t make the best impression because I never know what to say. If a random guy ever asked for my number, I would think he was kidding, probably say something completely incoherent, and scare him off.

I think the problem is I am too set on falling in love with a friend. I can’t picture myself meeting someone at a bar or on a blind date and then eventually marrying them. I want to fall in love with someone I already know, who means something to me. I know it’s crazy, and looking at my track record, it’s obvious I need to change my approach. I mean, pretty much any person I’ve ever had feelings for has been my friend first. I like getting to know someone, really know them, before I realize that I want to kiss their face. I want to have a classic love story — best friends and then lovers, a la Jim Halpert and Pam Beesly (yes, my whole life is a giant Office reference) — that I can tell my kids about. I want to have memories from “before” we became a couple, when we were just two people who had a great time being friends and spending time together. I want love to grow out of that.

Okay, so if the magical Jim/Pam relationship isn’t going to happen for me, then what is? Am I destined to die alone? I can’t even become the crazy, stereotypical cat lady because I’M ALLERGIC TO CATS. I need to change my game plan. I need to learn how to flirt.

I need to be more comfortable putting myself out there, meeting new people, and not fixating on where things are going. I need to be okay with striking up a conversation about music or books or my weird ass job because I AM AN INTERESTING PERSON, GODDAMNIT. (Right? I mean, if you’re reading my blog, you’re probably a better judge of whether I’m interesting or not…) I just don’t know how to show others that I’m interesting. The other night, one of my coworkers asked me to share a “nugget” of information about myself and I couldn’t think of a single thing to say! I thought to myself, What if this question was being asked by a really attractive guy I had just met? If I can’t even come up with an answer while talking to someone I already know, how am I ever supposed to meet someone new? 

I think the problem is that I don’t believe myself to be very interesting to people who don’t know me. I’ve never been the “life of the party” type, or the person who comes up with spontaneous, exciting things to do on a Friday night. I’m more content following the crowd and enjoying the company of the people I am with. I’m horrible at making decisions (probably one of my most frustrating traits, if you ask any of my friends), so I don’t mind other people taking the lead. But I’m still trying to convince myself that that doesn’t mean I’m not an asset to the conversation or the group I am with. A good friend of mine gave me some valuable advice recently. She said, “You need to start taking yourself seriously, otherwise other people aren’t going to either.” She’s completely right. If I don’t believe myself to be interesting, or a worthwhile date, or fun to talk to, then I’m not going to be. I need to boost my self-confidence and learn not to be the shy tagalong anymore, because that’s clearly not getting me anywhere. Except maybe closer to being a cat lady.

…Maybe I’ll start getting allergy shots, just in case.

“every heart is a package tangled up in knots someone else tied”

I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on relationships lately. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Josh Ritter, my favorite singer-songwriter. For some reason, during a routine listening session recently, the following line in his song “Kathleen” stood out to me, more than it ever had before: “Every heart is a package tangled up in knots someone else tied.” Though I had heard this song countless times before, I finally really listened to this line, and I stopped what I was doing and thought, Damn. This guy’s got it completely right.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been struggling with a few of my own personal relationships lately, or maybe I’ve just never fully understood the weight of Ritter’s words before now. But I started thinking about the knots that had been tied around my heart and who had tied them. Beginning a relationship with another person, be it romantic or just a friendship, involves a certain amount of trust. You are agreeing to let them see the vulnerable sides of you, the ugly sides that you sometimes can’t control. You are also agreeing to let them have a permanent impact on your life. You will make memories with them, you will be connected with them in some way for the rest of your life. Yet when we form relationships, we don’t think of it in this deep, heavy way. When I meet someone new, my first thought isn’t You are going to make a lasting impact on my heart, am I ready to let you? That would be weird. But it is funny to think about how seriously our relationships with other people impact our lives. For some people, one failed relationship can mean a whole string of other relationships that lack trust and honesty. For others, a solid relationship can make the rest of life seem to fall into place. For me personally, a couple rejections and “friend zones” have given me many insecurities about entering into relationships.

When I love someone, I love them completely. I invest so much of myself into the relationships I make with people, romantic or not, and sometimes, I let my feelings dictate my actions more heavily than I should. I can’t help it, I just love deeply. But that sometimes complicates things or leaves me disappointed. Not everyone can commit so fully to relationships like I do — it would be weird if they did. It’s how I love, and I can’t change that about myself. I think sometimes I feel stupid about it because we are often taught not to be the one who loves the “most” in any given relationship. It means you are weak, or clingy, or dependent, or any other negative adjective that describes a person who can’t function without others. I hate that. Just because I really love someone, I’m the weaker person in the relationship? I agree that there is a healthy level of attachment for a human being to have, and when you become too fixated on yourself in relation to someone else, then something needs to change. But I don’t believe we should ever think less of ourselves based on how much we love.

When you love someone, you are allowing them to tie knots around your heart. You are also, in turn, tying your own knots for them, but blindly. You don’t know how your knots are going to affect the shape of their heart or the ability for them to love others. You just do it anyway. I don’t think a heart can ever be a perfect package, with a single string tying it all together simply. Maybe, depending on the nature of the relationships you form, the knots on your heart aren’t very tangled. Maybe they are, but someone else will come along and be able to slightly detangle them while gingerly adding their own knots on top. Maybe you’ve closed your heart off enough so that no one else has been able to tie any knots in a long while.

I think right now, my knots are a mess. I’ve tried to untangle them with my mind, analyzing and criticizing my own relationships, each knot in relation to the others, but it just made the problem worse. And maybe someone else came along and tried to untangle the mess I had already made, but the knots just turned into a bigger, more condensed knot. It won’t ever go away — it’s like the knots are tied from some permanent material — but I can choose how I’m going to let those knots affect the rest of my relationships. It doesn’t matter that it’s not all a nice, neat package. All that matters is that I have space for new knots to be tied.