Kinda Nervous to Say So

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It happened one Sunday, a month or so after our first date. We had fallen asleep and I was the first to wake. I rolled over and he stirred. “Hey, you,” I said in a whispery voice.

He smiled and replied, “I love you, too.”

I felt myself gasp.

No, no, no, no, no, no, no. OMG, no! He thinks I said “I love you.” Hey you. I love you. Okay, I can see that. Crap! And while I do feel things are moving in that direction, it’s too soon. Plus, I’ve still got all these hang-ups around the L word that I’m trying to shake. My confidence is fast growing, but when it comes to saying it first, I hereby declare NOT IT.

I needed to handle this blunder fast. I couldn’t leave those three words—words my soul had been craving for so long—hanging. I didn’t want to embarrass him, nor did I want to pretend that’s what I had said.

So I smiled and I spoke. “I do love you.” The words came out feeling heavy on my tongue; I hoped all of my hopes that they felt breezy to his ear. “But what I actually said was, ‘hey, you.’”

We laughed, both feeling a little embarrassed and a little relieved. I further lightened the moment with a “Well, then!”

He responded with “I guess it is a little soon for that, right?” Then we swept it aside and carried on with simply being smitten.

That day, I finally learned there doesn’t need to be a dramatic build-up to get to the point where you are comfortable saying “I love you” to one another. In my last long relationship, after a few months in, I said it first. His response (which was not the one that ends with “too”) scared me—and scarred me—from using it ever again. The words he spoke in that moment were indeed heartfelt. But they were also a form of rejection. Rejection that I willfully accepted.

Loving someone, as we all know, is about so much more than saying I love you. And just to be clear, my ex and I showed love to one another in countless ways. But at the end of the day, I’m all about the classic gestures.

Over the years with him, I kept waiting for an apex moment, for an “I love you” to be spoken. That moment never happened—yet there it sat at the forefront of my mind, on the tip of my tongue, and on the surface of my flesh. I waited and waited. Finally, when I could wait no more for our relationship to be what it couldn’t, we broke apart.

That awfully long silence has come to an end. It started in the new year with my resolution to say more yeses in my life. Yes to myself. Yes to letting others in. Yes to possibility—and to potential. Yes to letting go of old haunts. Yes to living an epic life. Yes to being the master of my destiny and the pilot of my soul. Yes to love.

Now, still in the dawn of a new relationship, I express myself and my affections freely—and so does he. It took us a little more time to get there, but now it just feels right. As it should. As it is meant to. As I had forgotten it could be . . .

Soundtrack: “I Think I’m in Love” by Beck

Fast and Forward

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With my new boyfriend, the conversation about his past relationships took all of three minutes. Not because he doesn’t have deep experiences and stories and lessons learned; but because he is living in the present moment. No self-help book, green juice, or meditation practice needed. He’s that good. He’s that unencumbered.

I’m not.

Now, I’m not saying that I’m not good. We’re just different in the ways we regard our past loves and life experiences—and differences of all sorts can be quite good. They stretch the bounds of our comfort zones. They give depth and vibrancy to our everyday lives.

I mine my past for the lessons so that I can move forward in a totally rockin’ way. But I don’t just stop to smell the roses; I reflect on the sender and the sentiment and the color of the sky and the conversations that followed. I reflect on my feelings—the good, the not-so-good, and the truly mundane. I process it all until there’s a shiny souvenir for me to hold on to for evermore. There’s no knick-knack shelf long enough or sturdy enough to support this collection of mine.

I enjoy sharing my collection (i.e., my life experiences) with others. Hence this blog. Hence all the brunches, glasses of wine, cups of tea, hallway conversations, e-mails, phone calls, text messages and Facebook threads I’ve been party to over the years—especially over these last eight months. To know the path I’ve traveled is to know me. I wouldn’t change this part of me—even if I could. Even if it’s a bit unconventional. Even if it means that I count my exes among my dearest friends. I know that’s a rare thing.

As different as my boyfriend and I may be in the ways we hold onto our pasts, our goals in moving forward and living life are the same:

Make today awesome.

Do good, be kind, and have fun.

Build bridges, foster connections.

Laugh. Love. Be a little (or a whole lot) silly.

So, like today’s kale is destined to become yesterday’s Snackwell cookie, there’s something to be said for living a present-moment life by—simply—being present. No new-age-y stuff needed.

Damn, I love when a seemingly progressive idea, like mindfulness, can be factored down to zero.  Just. Like. That.

Bam. Life. There you go.

Soundtrack: “Fisherman’s Blues” by the Waterboys

Daring Greatly

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Three weeks out . . .

“Nice boots,” my brother commented—eyeing the Fryes I had left by his front door. He, too, had taken to wearing boots—his a bit more cowboy than my preppy riding ones—ever since moving to Georgia. “There are two things you should never skimp on,” he proceeded to tell me: “good shoes and a good mattress. You spend two-thirds of your day in one or the other.”

I nodded in agreement as I processed this nugget of simple wisdom from my younger brother. It was November, his 35th birthday, and I was down there for a quick visit. For the last 22 days, I had been tirelessly processing all of the radical ways that my life was changing. Changes that were for the best, even if they didn’t feel that way in the moment.

I went down to Georgia partly to get my mind off of all the heaviness, partly because it had been ages since my brother and I had celebrated one another’s birthday in person, and partly because I just wanted to hear my baby niece make her contented sound that was a cross between a whisper and a cheer. All at once, this trip was a feeling of running away and coming home.

I bought a book on the flight down based solely on its title—Daring Greatly—and binged on its contents. Even though, at that time, I was immersed in so much uncertainty, every bit of me—head and heart, body and soul—knew that greatness was just over the horizon. Day by day, I was starting to see that my willingness to be vulnerable, to experience uncertainty, was the key to living an epic life. And from here on out, I wasn’t going to settle for anything less than epic. More than ever, I was looking forward to letting life surprise me with all of its unfolding.

That first glimmer of surprise came while riding in the back seat of my brother’s car on the way to his birthday dinner. He and his wife had just let me know that, in the event anything should ever happen to them, that I would become their children’s legal guardian. It was a somber turn in the conversation. “Of course, of course,” I assured them and then lightened the moment with a familiar self-deprecating jab: “Even though I’ll have no clue what I’m doing.”

They both turned around to face me. I startled. My brother spoke: “You know you would be an amazing parent, so don’t say that.”

His words rendered me speechless. For most of the last 14 years, I had dismissed the idea of ever becoming a parent. Even though I told myself—and everyone else—that I had come to my own “peaceful decision” not to have children, deep down I knew I had let my ex make that decision for me. It was in that moment while riding in the back seat—the way my pulse quickened upon hearing my brother’s words, upon something so unexpected snapping into focus—that I really started daring greatly . . . .

Soundtrack: “Human” by Civil Twilight

Six Months Out

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The dogs waited patiently in the way back, tuckered out from a trip to the park, while we sat in the parked car and talked. It was a shared routine that had been absent from our lives for most of the past six months. But last Sunday, as the early evening sun shined a bit longer and the temperature released its chilly grip, lingering just felt right. We had stories, thoughts, and insights to share, so we held this moment for one another—a volley of talking and listening—as the sky changed from blue to grey.

And then he said it.

 “I miss this, you know.”

And I nodded in agreement.

This being the camaraderie of and conversation with someone who knows you so incredibly well, who was by your side through two formative decades of your life. Someone with whom you made big life decisions; who had your back through cycles of flourish and struggle; who knows your health, your wealth, your dreams, and your fears. Who laughed with you, cried with you, ate cookies with you . . .

Having a friend to talk to—and who will listen to you—about all the big and little, brilliant and mundane things in your life is a gift. What makes it priceless is its dependability. I don’t take that responsibility lightly—or for granted. I’m still figuring out how to gracefully move forward while carrying with me the healthy and vital pieces of my past. It’s a lot to juggle—and no small feat. But I’m committed to seeing it through. It’s what I do.

The season is changing, both literally and figuratively. Boston’s long winter has finally come to an end. It’s time to shed those protective layers. Like the crocuses and daffodils that are poking their heads up from the earth, I, too, have been in a gestation period.

These last six months have been abundant ones with their life lessons and experiences. I’ve gotten to know myself—and voice my feelings, opinions, hopes, and desires. I’m traveling, striking up conversations, connecting with people, and smiling more. My heart has been reawakened and my spirits are sky high. I see nothing but possibility and potential. I’ve found my way through those dark, challenging times and am better—wiser, stronger, more comfortable in my own skin—than ever before. Simply put: life is good.

As time has passed, I’ve welcomed new people into my heart: a dear friend; a charming boyfriend, too. I’ve strengthened existing friendships and gained a more conscious respect and admiration for all of the people who’ve played a part in my life, including—and especially—my ex.

In the days following our split, a coworker had suggested that I put a six-month reminder on my Outlook calendar. She wanted to be sure I’d remember to pause and reflect on how much has changed—how much I’ve grown and how much I’ve learned—since then. I stumbled across that reminder a couple of weeks ago. In the notes section of that calendar reminder, I wrote:

“Celebrate how far you’ve come and how exciting these times are that lie ahead. Just love. Just joy. Just truth and trust.”

Indeed, I’ve noticed the incremental changes in my life. But the big, sweeping differences? Quite simply, they astound me. How did I do it? No doubt, with a little help from my friends—and a whole lot of deep-dive introspection, too. A whole, whole lot.

I am excited for the times that lie ahead. I’ve learned to step into uncertainty. I’ve learned to see the silver linings. I’ve learned how liberating it feels to speak—and act—from the heart. And most of all, I’ve learned that there is no finish line. The journey is—and has always been—the destination.

Soundtrack: “Half Acre” by Hem

Next Stop: Maybe

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So there’s “yes” and there’s “no”—which are like those slender metal bookends you see on library shelves. Their purpose is to form a boundary. But then there’s everything in between. Nobody goes to the library for the bookends; you go for the books, right?

Same thing goes for life. It’s the mysteries and the adventures and the romances and the dramas and the comedies—cookbooks, travel guides, and how-to books, too—that are where the living takes place. The “yeses” and the “nos” in life are the edges we bump up against that nudge us back into the richness and variety and possibility. The good stuff. The “maybes.”

So, perhaps my thoughts from earlier this year on getting to yes need an epilogue.

It’s admirable and awesome and totally warranted to have my sights set on getting to yes. But the only way I’ll fully understand what yes is, is if I’m not afraid to bump up against the “no” boundary every now and again. It’s an invisible, shape-shifting boundary, of course—as is the “yes” boundary. But finding a comfortable boundary to cling to is not my goal in life—like it was my goal at that one swim lesson I went to when I was six. Having a stronghold on safety and security might look like winning from the outside, but that’s not what getting to yes is all about.

Getting to yes is about exploring the stacks. It’s about getting out of my comfort zone. It’s about not judging a book by its cover or jumping to the last page to see if it’s worth my while. Getting to yes is a sometimes murky, sometimes joyous, ongoing process. There is no timetable. No task list. No map. It’s just life—lived one rewarding, one eye-opening experience at a time.

Soundtrack: “Freewill” by Rush