A Beginner’s Guide to Being the Single Girl at the Wedding

Last summer, my best friend R, then single, had seven weddings to go to. Seven. I felt horrified on her behalf: how could she possibly withstand the trauma of attending so many celebrations of romantic love when she, herself, didn’t have any?

She shrugged me off. The weddings were fun, she said. She loved seeing the dear ones get married. She wore pretty dresses. It was no big deal.

I didn’t buy it. But this summer–with three weddings under my belt so far and one more coming up–I’ve changed my tune.

Weddings are fun. They’re fun as part of a couple: D he might not be the most talented dancer, but–with the help of no small amount of scotch–he humored me; we made friends; we had fun.

But now I’m back to flying sola, and I am here to report that R was right: actually, it’s fine. Actually, it’s better than fine. It’s awesome. So, here, a beginner’s guide to making the most:

Step One: Go alone. The morning of the wedding I called my Albuquerque friend A to make plans for transportation. “Aren’t you bringing that guy you’re seeing?” she asked. “Hell no,” I said. I explained that I had been given the option, and had sincerely thought it through. There were compelling reasons: the guy (let’s not even discuss his initial, you can guess) would have been a fun date; he would have looked damn good on my arm; in my state of relative fragility, it can seem appealing to avoid presenting yourself as conspicuously single. But then, I thought better: what if I didn’t want to get stuck babysitting him? What if there were cute boys to flirt with? We aren’t committed–why limit myself unnecessarily? There’s no question: it was the right choice.

Step Two: Wear something skin-tight. Or whatever it is that makes you feel completely, undeniably sexy. During that phone call with A, she asked me what I planned to wear. “I’m not sure,” I said. “I have a couple cute halter dresses…and this slinky thing that I’ve never worn…” “Definitely wear the slinky thing.” she replied. I started to talk like a silly woman. “Well yesterday I felt great about my body, but today I don’t feel so great, I dunno…” “Wear it,” she said. I did. I felt hot.

Step Three: Apply red lipstick. A lot of it: by the end of the night, it will come off. Not because you forgot to put it in your purse, but because by the end of the night you will have no idea where your purse is. Or, probably, your shoes.

Step Four: Flirt. Recklessly. I don’t condone leading someone on when you’re dating over a period of weeks, months or years. But for a few hours in close proximity to an open bar? It’s not exactly polite, but it’s not the worst crime in the world either. There are times for restraint–this isn’t one.

Step Five (Optional): Maybe, make out a little bit. I’m just saying, if you find yourself near a handsome guest toward the end of the night, I would not judge you for kissing him. Bonus points if he’s legitimately single.

Step Six: Wear sunglasses to the morning after brunch. And do not remove them: no one needs to see that your mascara is still creeping down your cheeks or that your eyes are extremely red because you’ve hardly slept. (It helps if, on the way to brunch, you stop to pick up a generous and resourceful friend in possession of eyedrops.) Eat bagels, drink coffee and copious amounts of things with bubbles.

Step Seven: Be grateful that you are not accountable to anyone besides your bed, your dog, and your Netflix–all of whom are expecting you for the afternoon. And enjoy all of the above.

Repeat as necessary.


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Those Elusive Life Skills…and My Always Omniscient Mother

A few days before leaving for my recent trip home–this one for the primary purpose of spending time with my father, sister-in-law and niece, at the beach–I talked to my mother on the phone.

I ambled around my dirt-topped backyard as we spent twenty minutes or so catching up, and then told her I needed to go get dinner.

“Okay,” she said. “What time is your flight on Sunday?” And then: “Don’t forget to pack your bathing suit!”

I’m certain she could hear the sound of my eyes rolling through the phone.

“What?” I retorted. “Do you really think I’m twelve years old? Jesus, mother. How do you think I survive in the world?”

Let’s just hold onto that question for a moment as I ask you to imagine the way I felt when, sitting at my gate in the Albuquerque Sunport that Sunday morning, I ticked through the contents of my suitcase and realized that I had, indeed, forgotten to pack my swimsuit.

I’d like to think it a testament to the strength of our present relationship that my first thought (after: “Wow. Really???” and “Good lord, Elizabeth, are you fucking kidding me!?”) was to tell my mother: I was eager to share with her the laugh.

(And it is perhaps testament to the frequency of this sort of exchange between us that when I did get ahold of her and asked “Guess what I forgot?!” she laughed and said “It’s okay, we have plenty of cell phone chargers!”)

Why do I tell you this? A few reasons. One, it is my mother’s birthday today and I suspect that she’ll appreciate the nod to her all-knowing-ness–as she usually, quietly, does. Two, it’s mildly amusing, and when things happen to me that are mildly amusing I sometimes (you know, about weekly) like to share them. Three, to ask this question: how in god’s name do I survive in the world?

It’s been ten years, now, since I moved out of my parents house and went to college in a state few people I knew had been to. (Or, could remember: “Where are you again?” they’d ask. “Missouri?”) Since then–save a perfectly lovely three weeks at my parents house between stints in DC and New Mexico when I worked on grad school applications and took off my pajamas, maybe, twice–I’ve been living on my own.

I’ve lived alone. I’ve lived with roommates. I am the primary (though, thankfully, not the sole) caretaker to an energetic pitbull mix. In a year, hopefully, I will have a graduate degree.

But still: I struggle with the basics of life. (Seriously: it’s possible that I haven’t been to the dentist since the Clinton administration.)

Last week in New York I had coffee with a friend and former roommate from college: she recently finished her grad program and has spent a few months unemployed. Those months have been filled with the kind of life stuff–bills, IRS issues, doctors appointments–that are a constant challenge to balance with work.

“I don’t understand how anyone who has a job gets this stuff done!” she sighed to me over iced teas at a Park Slope coffee shop.

It reminded me of a conversation I once had with my brother R.

“What have you been up to?” I asked him.

“You know, the usual, life things,” he replied. There was a pause. “All that stuff that you put off and don’t deal with, that you do everything else but? Like bills and appointments? That’s the stuff I do every day.”

“Oh,” I said. “Right.”

Which is all to say that there are people, my brother apparently among them, for whom basic responsibilities are a manageable burden. And then there are people, people like me and A, for whom they are a persistent struggle.

But, baby steps: in NY, I borrowed bathing suits from my best friend and sister-in-law. Yesterday, I made an appointment to have my teeth cleaned in September. The pit mix is sometimes crabby and not the most reliably obedient, but she’s got a pretty good life.

I’m not always sure how I survive in the world, but–with the help of good friends, occasional handy dudes, and an always all-knowing mother–I do. And, I suppose, I will.

Happy birthday Mom.


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On Neil Young, Not Panicking, and Not Knowing a Thing

I won’t tell you that it’s always important to listen to Neil Young.

Just, a lot of the time.

There’s something about the quality of his voice: it’s so urgently sincere–I can’t help but believe him just as urgently.

Another benefit of attending an out-of-town conference post-breakup is the opportunity to go for a long, solo drive and play your favorite road trip albums and sing along to them with as much volume and facial and vocal expression as you desire.

Personally, I feel that nothing tops Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” for this purpose. But Neil Young’s “Zuma” is a pretty close second.

And so it happened that, last week, I drove to Taos and listened over and over again to the song “Lookin’ for a Love.”

If you’ve not heard the first verse in a while, allow me to remind you of the lyrics: they’re important.

I’ve been looking for a lover but I haven’t met her yet/She’ll be nothing like I pictured her to be/In her eyes I will discover/Another reason why I want to live and make the best of what I see.

I know, I’m a cliche: whatever stage of romantic ecstasy or despair you find yourself in, it often seems that each and every song you hear resonates with the singular specificity of a horoscope. Whatever: originality is overrated.

Anyhow, back to Neil. So here’s the thing I’ve been thinking about lately that made that lyric ring so, beautifully, true: the more people I date, the more relationships I experience, the less I feel as though I know what I’m looking for.

I thought it was supposed to the be opposite. It’s one of those platitudes people try to comfort you with when you’re broken-hearted: “At least you’ve learned,” they say, because god forbid you should just be sad for a few seconds, or months. “At least now you have a better idea of what you want and what you need.”

At least, except, not at all.

The last time someone asked me what the essential thing I look for in a partner is, I drew a blank. The only thing I could come up with was that they must adore me absolutely and unconditionally. (A requirement that is either extremely basic or extremely grandiose–I can’t tell which.)

In the moment, this made me feel terrible. I’ve written about this before–this idea of knowing, or not knowing, what you want. I write a fucking blog about relationships. For Christ’s sake, I’m going to turn thirty in less time than it takes some people to complete a graduate degree. And still: I can’t articulate what I want in a boyfriend?

But of course, I can. There are qualities–curiosity, humor, warmth, to name a few–that I’m pretty sure I require from everyone I care about.

But what seems more significant is the realization that–as Neil puts it–I have no idea what my next lover will look like. Or be like. How he will act or think.

In many ways D was far from the image I had of the type of guy I go for, and he turned out to be a great companion: someone who satisfied and intrigued me in ways I couldn’t have been predicted before I knew him. Same for the person I’m (slowly, cautiously) seeing now: he’s totally different from me and from my expectations of who I’d be compatible with. And turns out I completely enjoy my time with him.

I swear: this is not code for I’m-panicking-about-my-age-and-need-to-get-knocked-up-so-will-dare-to-date-anyone. (In all honesty, that’s a panic I might, sometimes, exaggerate: growing up in New York, I only recently learned that anyone gets married before thirty-five.)

And it’s not about lowering standards, or settling. It’s just about knowing that there are different sorts of people out there who I can connect with in different ways.

And that I have no idea what they’ll be like until I meet them.

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On How Women are Like Wine, And My Urgent Greed for Female Wisdom

If, three and a half weeks after getting unexpectedly dumped, you have to go somewhere–let me suggest that a weeklong writers’ conference is not the worst place to wind up.

Not because you will likely feel inspired and write your heart out, though, probably, you will–and that matters.

And not because it will probably take you out of town, to someplace remote and green-ish and, most importantly, out of the element-in-which-your-heart-was-broken–though that, too, matters quite a bit.

More important than all these things is this: that, in all likelihood, you will find yourself surrounded by a large number of middle-aged women.

I’m aware, this demographic is not without its’ accompanying pitfalls.

Probably, you will encounter numerous questions in regard to decaffeinated beverages and the persistently problematic temperature of this or that room. You will hear a lot about lost husbands and multiple cancer struggles and feel as though you have experienced exactly nothing. You will see multiple pairs of unfortunately bejeweled flip-flops.

But you are about to turn twenty-eight: a birthday that feels much more significant (read: traumatic) than the last, and contemplating not whether but when you are supposed to start panicking because you would like to have children not long after thirty and have absolutely no idea where you will be raising them or with whom, to say nothing of what they will be called.

And it is important for you to stop considering panic and to remember that women–all of us–improve with age.

(Note: This may be true of men too, but let’s face it: they’re starting with less.)

On multiple occasions over the past few days, I have turned to the (older) woman next to me and felt the strong urge to ask her to adopt me as her daughter.

This is not at all to suggest any inadequacy on my the part of my mother: whose beauty and brilliance I appreciate now more than ever.

But in those moments when the opening of your hips (yoga) collides with the breaking of your heart (D), making you question the significance of just about everything–including manhood, literature and sex–you need all the wisdom you can get.

I feel greedy in my pursuit of elder female knowledge, like an aggressive shopper at the Union Square DSW during clearance: I want all the product I can cram  in the little time I’ve got. I want it in abundance. I want it immediately. And I want it in bright colors and interesting fabrics. (Just go with it.)

It’s not that the advice they’ve given me has been extraordinarily insightful. It’s that their delivery is so assured. As women get older, we grow into ourselves: we grow more and more comfortable with who we are and how we look, the things we can and cannot do.

And I kept hearing the same version of a story: single for twenty or thirty years. Four marriages. Heartbreak and loss. And then: happiness. It was only when they had truly grown into themselves, achieved their ultimate in confidence and strength, they said, that they were able to find an equal.

And so I stare at these women, awed by their poise and elegance, their agility with liquid eyeliner and strength in downward dog, and I try to tell myself that it wouldn’t be so bad: that if I wound up having to wait until I match their confidence and grace before I find a partner who is truly worthy, it wouldn’t be so terrible.

It’s hard to accept that you might not find the fantasy: that you might not follow the path you (and everyone else) always imagined. But you simply can’t predict how your life will play out.

And, sadly (for me), for all the generous wisdom and insight these older women provide, neither can they.

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On Serial Monogamy, and Why It Ain’t For Me

It’s not that I haven’t wanted to be a serial monogamist.

I mean, I enjoy my independence. But I also enjoy having a boyfriend. You know, intimacy: it’s pretty fun.

But I haven’t not gone from one relationship to the next out of any sort of moral, practical objection. By choice, in other words. It simply hasn’t worked out that way.

(For the record, I did in fact meet a bassist named Marty within a week of breaking up with J–who also, incidentally, was a bassist: he took me to Blue Ribbon in Park Slope and told me I had him at steak tartare days before vanishing into the gray cobblestone landscape of Brooklyn Heights. That sucked.)

This admission does not mean that I’ve witheld judgment toward those who do engage in that illicit practice of serial monogamy. (Just that word, “serial”–as though dating a lot of people were somehow akin to killing them.)

“Ugh,” I scoff, as I watch one acquaintance or another hop straight from one person’s arms into those of the next. “God forbid they should be alone for five minutes. Everyone needs to be alone. It’s so important.”

But frankly, having been alone for the better part of my (now late) 20s, it’s not feeling so important any more. I think I’ve done my time.

So why, then, do I find myself–three weeks out of one relationship and one, lovely but clearly too intense week into the next–in a state of more-or-less panicked terror?

Surely, there are other, more concrete reasons that one shouldn’t immediately enter into a relationship quick on the heels of another. But what are they?

It’s not an easy question to objectively ponder within close proximity to a beautiful person who likes to take you to to dinner and tell you how gorgeous you look in very little clothing.

For a minute, I let that get to me: I thought I was doing fine. When I talked to M one night last week, and he inquired how I felt about this new thing coming so soon after my breakup with D, I told him I didn’t feel anything about it.

“It’s fine,” I assured him. “I can have emotional experiences toward two people at once. Have I mentioned how attractive he is?”

To some extent, that’s true: we all carry around different emotions, often simultaneously, toward different people and things in our lives. Just because you aren’t done loving one person doesn’t mean you aren’t capable of growing fond of someone else.

But emotions come in different quantities. And right now, I feel a lot of them: strongly. At times, they seem to swell up in my stomach and throat as though they’re going to come leaking out–in the form of coffee or seltzer or a frantic, screaming fit.

I remember spending the night with Marty, the bassist I met after J, only hours after I’d left Minnesota and him for good. I couldn’t sleep at all: there was a new Strokes album that had recently come out and I’d been listening to compulsively, and the whole night I lay there staring at the brown, unfamiliar ceiling as the record played in my head on repeat. I was so overwhelmed with emotion I could hardly move, or think.

I was feeling so much, I could hardly feel a thing.

And that, I guess, is the danger of moving too fast from one thing to another. It takes time to mourn someone: it takes time for the intensity of sadness and grief to wane, for there to be room for those new feelings of excitement and lust.

Perhaps other people are better equipped to handle all of this than I am. We all deal with things differently: emotions, perhaps, above all else. I could tell you that I won’t judge them for it, but you’d know I’d be lying.


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On (Other People’s) Young Summer Love, and (Not) Keeping Hopes in Check

When I was a ten-year old at summer camp in New Hampshire, my social life was minimal. I had some moderate popularity with the girls in my bunk, but the boys, not so much.

(Except for one, a hopelessly nerdy kid from the Upper West Side named Gabe, who wrote me letters during the school year that may be the most romantic snail mail I have yet received.)

There was one girl, though, who all the boys liked. She had shiny, stick straight brown hair that parted in the middle, like Winnie from the Wonder Years, and fell to her shoulders–all untangled and effortless.

Eventually, she chose one boy–Diego–on whom to set her sights. And, in the storied tradition of those pre-teen summer-camp liasons, he asked her, next to some bush they’d probably poison themselves making out in a couple of summers later, to be his girlfriend.

That afternoon, laying quietly in the cabin during the after lunch rest period, I watched her sit on her bed and read. And, vividly, I remember thinking: “How could she possibly be so focused on that book? How could she possibly be thinking about anything besides having a boyfriend?”

I swelled with envy. Both notions were so foreign to me: that, to begin with, you could even be desirable enough for a boyfriend. And that, if you were, you could spend a single second not feeling ecstatic about it. I didn’t understand.

And, to be honest, I still don’t.

This is what I was thinking about last night as I lay awake, unable to sleep. I wasn’t sleeping for a lot of reasons: for one, I’m an insomniac with a minor addiction to nightly doses of Ambien or Nyquil. For another, it’s been not only an emotional few weeks (the fire is finally under control, or so the yoga teacher thinks), but a busy few, too: the conference I help plan starts on Sunday. Not to mention the fact that I anticipated having to get up at 4:45 this morning to drive my dear college friend A to the airport (after her restorative, blissful weekend visit)–a wake-up time that equals a surefire means of preventing meaningful rest.

But also, there was a boy to think about. (An admission that compels me to qualify: I have, within the last 72 hours, cried about D. I am not over it. Nor am I that girl who goes from one relationship to another in three weeks–I am the girl who winds up alone for years between serious entanglements. At least, I think I am that girl. My point is only this: don’t worry, I am as wary as you.)

And as I allowed thoughts of him to enter my sleepy head, I tried to remind myself of what S had said right when D dumped me: that the hardest part of breaking up with someone is parting, not so much with the person, but with the expectations you’d built for the relationship.

And I tried to tell myself that this problem could be minimized if you were to keep those expectations in check: if you were to shoo away those thoughts of what it might be like to be with someone new (or, in D’s case, someone less new) and pick up a novel instead.

And then I thought: just as I will never be able to feign genuine or artificial insanity to be more attractive to certain men, so I will never be able to protect my perpetually open heart by not thinking about someone I like.

Which, perhaps, may be alright in the end. The reality of relationships, after all, is hard. The fantasy? Now thats the fun part.

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An Open Letter to God: Sometimes, You’re Really There For Me

Dear God,

There have been a lot of moments in my twenty-eight years in which I have not, at all, not one little bit, believed that you are looking out for me.

Such moments include:

–Speeding Tickets

–Reggie Miller, Game One, Eastern Conference Semifinals, 1995, Knicks vs. Pacers, last 14 seconds (I was in the last row of MSG, God. I was twelve. I cried.)

–My Perpetually Disappearing Pretty Pink Shirt (Since roughly 2004, this item, a favorite, has been lost, then, found, lost, then found, only to disappear again. Seriously, what is your beef?)

–One Week After My Fireman Boyfriend Dumps me, There Breaks Out, Right in His District, the Largest Wildfire in the State’s History (Tragic on account of many outcomes, including this one: my otherwise aloof yoga instructors are now compelled to direct me, daily, to “send love to those fighting the fire up there.” Just as I am attempting to stop doing exactly that. Geez.)

But then, on occasion, there have been those moments in which I have had cause to believe that, yes, you absolutely, positively, most certainly must have my back.

Such as:

–Frederico, Puerto Rican Surfer I met at Marx Cafe, Washington DC, circa 2006

–Sparkling Water, Ice Cold, From the Bottle, Maybe With Some Lemon

–The Dark Crunchy Stuff that Separates the Vanilla and Chocolate Layers of a Carvel Ice Cream Cake

–Lemon Curd

–The Extremely Hot Asian Man in My Bikram Yoga Class

In such moments, God, (particularly this last one, of which I am currently, obviously, most interested), I can really only imagine that you are sitting up there, in some sort of majestic, shimmering, air-conditioned lair, stroking your jawline in a non-evil fashion, and thinking to yourself: “Now let me see. What thing, what exact, precise thing, does Elizabeth need right now?”

And then, I imagine, you conjure exactly that thing–in this case, an obscenely attractive male with the potential capacity to both repair my Volkswagon and boost my fractured ego–and with a simple plop/poofing gesture of your right hand, depositing said person/thing behind me in my 9:00 am yoga class. And then, the following day, the 6:00 class. And the following, at 4:00.

“You don’t even need to move a muscle,” I imagine you thinking. (Well, except those required for Spine Twist, Standing Bow, Triangle Pose, Separate Leg Stretch, etc. You don’t need to move a muscle except those.) “Just leave it to me.”

And, as I’ve recently written on this very blog, I aim to please: politesse is my M.O.. And so I don’t ask questions. I merely accept what you have put before me, with gratitude:

I smile politely when he offers a damp handshake during a break from class, and assures me the exchange is “not at all awkward.” I am cool and nonchalant pocket the business card he offers in the parking lot, and  dutifully accept when he offers me a ride home.

And I go to sleep smiling.

Because in these moments, I trust that–in spite of those occasions on which you have allowed me to misplace precious items of clothing, get pulled over for speeding twenty-one miles over the limit, and have my heart painfully broken–I believe that you actually, truly, want to provide me with what I need. Sometimes.

And for that, I wanted to say thanks. And of course, go Knicks.




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