Last (wo)man standing

I have a distinct group of friends from my hometown that I’ve known anywhere from 10 to 25 years, a small but tight group that are nothing less than family. We’re all still relatively close distance-wise: two in MA, one in PA, one in CT, two in NY and one in DC; we’re home for the same holidays and inevitably we gather at my parent’s place once per summer, enjoying the pool and the chance to spend time as a group again. We’ve grown up together, slept through church together (…just kidding mama B), went to prom together, learned to drive together, and hell, learned to drink together. We’ve shared milestones for our entire friendship, getting into college, finding a job, finding that first apartment, and yet as I surfed the registry for the one of us getting married in July, I realized we’re finally at a point, after 20+ years, where the milestone timing is off: I am the only one of the group not engaged or in a serious relationship.

Uhm. Definitely not what I do writing this or anything

Uhm. Definitely not what I do writing this or anything

At first, that probably seems like a WOE IS ME statement, something to draw attention to myself or elicit pity. But honestly, it’s not. Yes it’s weird that all my friends are getting married or a few months away from an engagement, while my most recent accomplishment was finding a spot for $1 oysters/half-price wine/trivia for Wednesday dates with my fashionista C. Yet I wouldn’t trade places with anyone right now, even if it meant I wouldn’t be facing the possibility of attending all these weddings alone over the next few years.

I was so terrified at the thought of single life at first, in the time where it was something new I had to adjust to. As I looked at the weeks, months, year ahead, all of these plans I made as an “us” were suddenly back to “me”; it felt like a slap in the face every time I started thinking about how “awful” it would be to stand around these happy couples alone. Time passed, and as I adjusted to this new life I started realizing all of the positive things that come with being the last single one standing, like the fact that I can tear it up on the dance floor without embarrassing anyone (except my friends, but they’re used to me), or that I have a great excuse to get the less-expensive things on the registry (I mean what? I would never do that…). The absolute best part, though, goes a bit deeper.

Watching the people who I’ve grown up with fall in love and choose their Person is one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. I’ve seen the person I once killed a bottle of rum with at 11 in the morning agonize over what to get his girlfriend for her birthday, the girl I stayed up with till 3 a.m. in middle school to talk about boys propose to her beautiful girlfriend, and the girl who helped me prove that the bassoon is, in fact, a cool instrument (IT IS) start a fur-family with her fiance, who I can’t wait to meet. I’ve seen the commitment it really takes to choose to take that next step, that big leap, and all that happens in between, both good and bad; it’s like the perfect opportunity to sit back and learn what needs to be important to me in my next relationship.

Next weekend is a bachelorette extravaganza for the first of us walking down the aisle, a weekend excursion to PA that I’ve been looking forward to for months. It may still be a little weird, talking to these childhood friends about favors and place settings instead of trading dating stories and idiot decisions made possible by vodka. I’m fine with spending a little more on gifts and sitting out the slow songs for now though. After all, I know that if the time ever comes, they’ll be waiting to welcome me into this stage of life with open arms, trailing milestones together once again.

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When you just know

In September 2010, I was three weeks into living in the city in a terrifying first-floor shoebox on the Upper East, where I could barely fit a full bed into my room and my neighbors across the way liked to walk naked in front of the window I could see from my bedroom. The only person I knew in Manhattan at that time was my brother, and I was feeling particularly lonely that Friday night after deciding to stay at home, stealing WiFi from a stranger, trying to contemplate what I’d gotten myself into. While surfing Facebook, I noticed a post from a girl I sort-of knew in college – we were in the same sorority and I knew her boyfriend pretty well, but we’d never really been friends per se. The post mentioned New York, and a quick glance at her profile told me she was somewhat new to the Big Apple as well. In a totally out-of-character courageous move, I decided to send my kind-of acquaintance a quick message to see if she’d want to grab dinner or drinks one night that next week.

My lovely friend M and I met at Balthazar because she’d been dying to try the truffle fries after they were featured on Food Network as one of the best in the city. We nervously chatted while waiting for our table to be ready and then sat down and ordered a bottle of wine, a Beaujolais if I remember correctly. The remaining details of the rest of that night have faded after almost four years, but I’ll always look back and remember two very important details: the look we gave each other when we finished the first bottle of wine, because we both wanted another but didn’t know how the other would react (as it turns out, relief and surprise and a lot of laughs); and how I somehow knew walking out of the restaurant that night that I’d found my best friend. It wasn’t that we discussed anything particularly important, or that we were both desperate for an NYC best friend (… although maybe we were), but there was something in the easy way we joked around and how very personal we were with each other from the get-go that assured me this was someone I would have in my life for a very, very long time.

Fast forward three years, and I’m newly single in the city. The only person I know who isn’t in a relationship is my partner-in-crime R, who at the time was more of a mutual friend that M and I shared. She and I had fun together, don’t get me wrong, but we hadn’t ever spent time just the two of us. Desperate to go out with someone who wouldn’t judge my awkward newly-single social non-skills, I sent her a text one weeknight to plan a single ladies night for that weekend, which she enthusiastically accepted. We started the night in her then-apartment in Murray Hill, her little pooch running around the apartment as I played dress-up in her closet and we shared a bottle of wine (I’m sensing a pattern in my friendships…). We traveled down to the village for dinner at a tiny Italian place, and despite a super-rude patron saying evil things to me for no reason, we ended up shutting the restaurant down, talking, talking, talking the whole time. As we walked into Village Tavern later that night, I was drunk on a delicious combination of the high of a new friendship, the second-ever realization that this person was going to be in my life for a long time, and yes also the amount of wine we’d taken down in a relatively short period of time.

There are people that come into our lives slowly, making cameo appearances until they’re a regular guest until they’re a regular, getting to know each other over months and years, appreciating the languid slope of the friendship because it’s exactly what it needs to be. My fashionista C and I have known each other for years, but it’s only been in the past 18 months or so that I’ve realized how important she is in my life, which is to say, insurmountably so. My work buddy S and I practically couldn’t be friends for the first few months after we met, given I was her pseudo-manager; she’s now an integral part of my life. Sometimes you need the slow build, the getting-to-know you, before realizing how much someone means to you and how much you cherish their presence in your life.

But every once in a while you meet someone and right away it feels like you’ve known them forever. Conversation is easy, moving from things you have in common, to funny anecdotes about families, to hopes and dreams and more. And conversation never stops; it’s like a wild desire to know as much as possible and then more, an earnest interest in everything about the person within a few days of the initial introduction. Those moments are rare, a shooting star on a cloudy night, but when they happen you just know: there are people that you’re supposed to know and all it takes sometimes is to find them.

Man Advice (from men)

Girls are an interesting breed. On the plus side, we’re emotional, involved, interested and can hold conversations going 90 miles an hour (or more) for sustained periods of time. Women understand each other, understand how the female brain processes information, looking at all details, every angle, every possibility. We love to overanalyze, overthink, overprocess together, and we know the best way to conclude any conversation is by bringing it back to shoes and Scandal (just me?). This does, however, make us susceptible to self-sabotage when it comes to the not-actually-confusing-but-also-highly-confusing world of Men.

In the past several months, as I’ve waded through questionable decision crushes and the occasional first date, I’ve had to try and learn how to be on my own, how to decipher what the person in question really wants from me, and what I really want from another person. And honestly, trying to contemplate those three things are enough to exhaust me completely. I mean, obviously I love talking things to death with my girlfriends, coming to a conclusion 2 hours and a bottle of wine after asking for the initial advice, but sometimes you just want someone who can pragmatically tell you “Stop being an idiot and just go for what you want”. Much as I love my girlfriends, that will generally not come from them.

Male Advice: 101

Male Advice: 101

Semi-surprisingly, some of the best advice I’ve received since beginning the chronicle of single LB has been from my male friends. To be fair, this is not always the case. They’ll be the first to admit that they do. not. understand. women. Punctuation included. When I ask them for advice, you can practically see the drool hanging from their mouth as I throw too many words, too many potential issues, too much everything at them. Conversations that start with something like: “I mean, we haven’t texted in like 24 hours, but if he liked something on Instagram, is that supposed to be a substitute for real conversation?” inevitably receive “What’s an Instagram?” as a response, clearly focusing on the part of the question that matters.

Social media inadequacy aside, if I’m really in need of advice, the guys will patiently listen to me ramble and rant about what he meant on that date, whether he wants to hear from me, and sometimes they just let me talk, getting out all my frustrations about my as-yet-unrefined approach to dating. After I’ve exhausted my own story and let them speak, they usually comment “bitches be crazy” (truth) and then respond to my extended soliloquy with 10 words or less that are nearly always spot-on. I can ask them “but what if he doesn’t liiiiiiiiike me?!” twelve different ways and list dating scenarios in my head which are occasionally feasible but sometimes involve a broken subway and killer rats; their answers are almost always the same. Stop overanalyzing. Put yourself out there. Remember it’s his loss.

Childhood, college, city. The men in my friendship circle each met me at different points in my life and understand different parts of me, but they’ve all stepped in to help me when I’ve asked, and almost especially when I haven’t. They help bring me back down to earth when I’m turning into psycho chick, and pepper in stereotypical compliments when I’m having an especially low moment, like “You have pretty hair and I bet chicks are jealous of that” or “You’re an amazing person and deserve more.” There will never be a substitute for those nights with my lovely friend M or my partner-in-crime R, sharing stories and scenario-planning for every possible iteration of a date. And yet, when you’re looking for advice as a twenty-whatever single girl, there will never be a substitute for a conversation where “but you do have a nice rack!” and “you’re going to find someone amazing someday” are expressed with the same sincerity and the same amount of love.

Awkward Turtle

Have you ever had to break-up with a friend? From experience, it’s not as emotionally jarring as a relationship break-up, but there are residual feelings of hurt and such that last much longer than post-relationship parting. Over time, we all have friends that fade into the back of our minds, instigated by distance, time, or the general growing-apart that comes with growing up. Consciously ending a friendship, however, is another beast. It’s the decision to delete the person who shares your good news and bad, the one who calls you out on poor decisions and then makes a few of her own. It’s telling the person you swapped clothes and secrets with, survived high school with, learned to drive with, that you won’t be there anymore, not in the present, not in the future. It’s hoping that time and the distance of multiple states will ensure you never run into each other again.

So what happens when your ex-best friend moves to your city?

It all started with a bit of casual Facebook stalking while immobile on my couch last weekend with what felt like strep (again), but was apparently just my larynx being an asshole. She and I haven’t been connected on social media since our break-up (friendship break? burnt yearbook? There should be a specific phrase for this), and I stopped checking in on her years ago, but I heard the phrase “Awkward Turtle” on whatever sitcom was providing the soundtrack to my exciting night in, and she immediately popped into my head. Memories of casually wandering through our hometown, linked arms, Frappuccino in hand, laughing at the absurdity of ourselves, came flooding back like a tidal wave. I can still smell her shampoo (bumble&bumble), hear her voice shrieking “AWKWARD TURTLE” as we teased each other in the back of the music room, the devious double-reeds, at it again. We used to stay up late at my house, planning our weddings, planning our prom, planning how we’d survive college when she was going Very North and I was going Very South, taking pictures of everything with disposable cameras, preserving those moments of carefree abandon like precious jewels, promising Best Friends Forever.

The details of this break-up are as personal to me as those from my relationship break-up. For such a long time, those details were tinged with red, seething with feelings of betrayal, abandon, apathy and myriad other emotions I never thought I’d associate with her. Our last correspondence was mine, a scathing message almost 7 years ago, where I told her that if I ever saw her in the future I’d turn away, like she was a bug on the sidewalk instead of someone I’d loved as a sister for all those years. As the months and  years passed, rage became anger became nothing, and the hole she left in my life slowly scabbed over and healed, leaving a tiny scar that stopped twinging in time. I never thought I’d have to see her again, never imagined she’d be in my city, living close to my office and working close to a neighborhood I frequent.

She looks different these days, her long hair chopped to her shoulders, the curls straight as the grid lines of the city. I’m sure I look different as well, though I can’t see the changes. I find myself wondering if I’ll actually run into her someday, if we’d even recognize each other amidst the strangers lining the sidewalks, heads down, walking fast. I’ve tried to summon the same rage I felt all those years ago, but mistakes we make at 19 are inconsequential by 25, and all I can feel is the deep sting of nostalgia and curiosity. I wonder if she thinks about her part in our break-up, the nasty words she sent by snail mail and the apathy she conveyed when I tried to reconcile one day, crying into the phone, in need of her friendship one last time. I wonder if she remembers my terrible words, written as I was blinded by anger, so much that I hardly remember what they were, just that they were awful on purpose, playing on every insecurity I knew, a grenade of “FUCK YOUs” written in colored Sharpies, her favorite. I wonder what kind of adult she is, and if she lost the dreamy quality I desperately tried to emulate for so many years. I wonder if she would still abandon me for a boy. I wonder so much.

She inspired me to write; she inspired me to be amazing. She made me into someone that distrusts easily and deeply fears another friend abandoning me when I need one the most. We were more than children but less than adults, stuck in a limbo that tore us apart. She might still hate me, or she might be as curious as I am to catch up one last time, to see if we grew into the adults we planned as children. Maybe I’ll reach out to her with a simple apology, and see if she wants to get a glass of wine. Maybe I’ll just keep hoping to run into her in the street one day, just to prove 19-year-old LB wrong. I wouldn’t turn away, I wouldn’t cross. I’d probably just stare, let the memories take hold of me and see if she does the same.