Keep An Open Heart

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We took a selfie one day, giggling in the snow. The snowflakes stayed in tact when they landed in her soft curls while my hair looked every bit wet dog. It’s an image, a moment, I can’t find in my phone, but forever burned in my brain.

We’d ski, drink spiked hot chocolate and share crazy stories. There were so many trips, date nights and dinners in pajamas with glasses of wine. Our friendship was one of ease and in the past few weeks I have seen her everywhere. In the profile of a woman at a conference in Salt Lake. In dark curls bouncing through a crowd. The freckles in someone else’s Instagram post. I randomly found myself in the same restaurant we were in during a blizzard in Utah. I ordered her favorite salad without even realizing that’s what it was until it was placed in front of me.

What are you trying to tell me, Briar?

I hold enormous guilt. You see, we had a falling out before she died. I was there for her the day she was diagnosed with brain cancer and I was there for a long while. When she first fell into a coma her husband and I walked behind the bed the surgeons were wheeling her away in as we clutched each other and cried the big tears that you don’t wipe away. Then I went through a divorce and stories were twisted and I saw how the pain of my breakup was hurting her. After I shared my tearful side of the story I heard her sob after she thought I’d hung up the phone. I felt selfish. She was undergoing hardcore chemo and radiation therapies and I was talking about my problems. I decided not to talk to her about it anymore.

She tried to get us back together. She begged. She asked me to keep an open heart, to listen to her, to accept a marriage intervention of sorts. I stopped talking to her altogether because I was in pain. I was hurting and I was hurting her and it was easier to hide inside myself. So I did. She sent me emails, texts. I explained that it was hard to see her because I knew she was spending time with my ex and that we used to be couple friends. That I just needed some time to get over everything.

I didn’t have time.

She didn’t have time.

My ex husband called me almost two years ago, “Jeanette, Briar is dying and you are going to regret it if you don’t see her.”

The doctor had determined it was the end. She had maybe a week and I immediately left the office and went straight over to her house. I felt her in my chest as soon as I entered the room. It almost knocked me over. Her pastor and several friends were sitting with her while I wished them away. I finally realized they were there for her and whatever was about to transpire. They knew our rift was the last thing she had to resolve so were firmly planted, no excuses.

I took a deep breath to steel myself, “I have to say this….” The room got incredibly quiet, “Briar, I was never mad at you.”

She immediately started crying, “I know.”

“I was hurting and I was so broken and I didn’t want to talk to you about it. I was losing my family and never once was I ever mad at you. Never once. I need you to know that.”

Now, in hindsight, I realize I probably could’ve included another sentence or three, “I knew I was losing you as well. I was too weak to handle all of that loss at the same time. I’m a jerk.”

We both sat there crying, softly sobbing and nodding. No more words needed to be said and before long her pastor asked if he could say a prayer.

Briar lost consciousness soon after my visit and passed away several days later.

Sometime before that day and between the emails, texts and tears, I shared the biggest gift she ever gave me and I know it filled her heart. She brought me back to faith. I’d forgotten the God of my childhood and I found some semblance of him; different, more amenable and forgiving, in the prayers that came after Briar’s first seizure. I thanked her for helping me find the courage to give something bigger than me a chance again.

At her funeral her mother and I locked eyes and moved directly into each others arms, crying. I apologized through sobs and she shushed me, “She loved you so much. That was her unfinished business. You helped her let go. Thank you.”

I felt guilty for my tears, guilty that I was mourning someone I’d abandoned. I didn’t feel deserving of my grief or time with Briar before she passed. I ran from the loss rather than facing it head on. I also didn’t know that I was still carrying all of this with me until this past week.

When I saw flickers of my friend in the life of others.

I’d like to believe she was sending me a message. That she’s ok. That she’s at peace. That WE are at peace and all is forgiven. I don’t think she’d say it exactly that way. I’m pretty sure it would be like, “I’ve seen your tears. Cut that shit out. We’re good. Have you seen my wings? They’re ridiculous.”

She’d probably have a beer in hand.

Say the things you need to say to the people you love. Say them before you can’t. Forgive like its your job. Love them when they’re in front of you. Love them hard.

And, in the words of my friend, “Keep an open heart.”

Miss you Briar.

xo

Love Yourself Some You

loving-yourself-revolutionMy inside-and-out beautiful friends at Kaia Fit asked me to guest blog for Valentine’s Day and I jumped up and down and said, “Yes, pick me!” It felt fitting as LORE turns two today! I’ve reposted my article for them below and I am so excited to spend a week with them in Belize in March to dig into the love letters process. Well, in between all the diving, hiking, yoga and such, I need a vacation.

Happy Valentine’s Day, lovers!

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, love is on the mind. I’d like to use this occasion to remind you of the most important love affair of all and that is the one with yourself.

I first began collecting and publishing love letters from women to their younger selves over a year ago. Successful women took off their shine to virally mentor those women who are still in the struggle. What I didn’t expect (nor did they) was the deep, cathartic work the writers would undertake. As I began to interview them about the process, it became clear I was on to something pretty amazing. Since that time I’ve been gifted stunning letters by incredible women. Donna Brazile, the former Chair of the Democratic National Committee, shared that she felt it was important to reflect, pause, and give yourself credit for what you’ve accomplished. Emily Nolan, a plus-sized model and author, expressed the deep love she found for herself after years of severe body dysmorphia. Many themes bubbled up around forgiveness, boundaries within relationships and learning to ask for what you want in your life. Every woman shared how important the work had been, but one message stood out among the rest and on the heels of Valentine’s Day, consider it our gift:

You have to love yourself. First. Foremost. Always.

Easier to read than practice, granted. I’m not talking self care. Self care is now almost medically approved. Many studies have been done to show the direct correlation between self care in all its iterations and life happiness, longevity and the avoidance of disease. I argue that one of the most loving things you can do for yourself is to dig in, do the work, learn who you are under all the layers you’ve put on and start to love yourself some you. Release all the stories you’ve been told and in that blissful, painful work you will begin to see the you your children and lover see. I’m here to get you started.

The instructions are easy. Imagine a younger version of yourself. Is she 5? Is she 8? Is she a teenager? When you see her, really see her, trust your gut. What do you want her to know? When I began this exercise I was completely blown away by my first sentence. I had an overwhelming desire to tell this dejected little girl I imagined that she was so loved, so worthy. The first sentence hit me like a ton of bricks,

“You will spend most of your life believing you are unlovable.”

I had to take a deep breath and sit back for a moment, shocked at how true that sentence was and how it had colored so much of my life and relationships. It is ok to take a moment as you write. Just don’t leave it because the feelings are too heavy. There is no growth without pain, my love. If you have to wait until the kids are in bed and you have your glass of wine and a box of Kleenex you do it. Give yourself the gift of time to feel your feelings. If that means you write one sentence and have to process it for several days before you get back to it, you are still on the path. I have found most women need time, because the unlocking of these truths have a bit of a whiplash effect. They bring up memories and misgivings that no child should believe about themselves. With all that said, if you begin unlocking repressed memories or find yourself reeling or having dark thoughts from what you begin to feel, please seek the counsel of a professional therapist.

As women have complete these exercises I have found that the ages they choose are typically aligned with the moment right before or during a tragic or painful event or memory. One writer, Chelli Wolford, a survivor of sexual violence, wrote to the four year old that was being molested by her uncle, “It’s not your fault.” It took her until she was forty to realize she’d carried so much of the responsibility for the behaviors of others on her shoulders and what a relief to finally put them down.

You will also notice that your tone changes. The harshness which you likely view yourself today, get it together, sister, falls away and is replaced with, it’s not your fault or you are perfect the way you are, love. You will find that you begin to guide your younger self with the tone of an older sister. One writer suggested that if we could be as gentle with ourselves today how much healthier we would be.

Once you imagine that younger version of yourself and start with your first sentence of the letter, begin to scan over the distance between that version of yourself and who you are today. How did that first message you’d share with your younger self play out over the course of your life and do you want to carry it with you?

Some questions to ask yourself:

What is one thing I’ve always known about myself? My greatest strength?

What is one thing I’ve always known about myself that was negative? How was it originally triggered? Was it reinforced by my family? Is it true?

What is the best thing that has ever happened to me?

What was your most humbling experience and what was the lesson?

What was I missing as a child?

Who or what do I need to forgive? Is that person me?

The act of writing the letter and referring back to it helps excavate old programming, memories and feelings that you’d like to release and offers you a chance to start fresh at a new point in your growth.

If, after you’ve written your letter, you realize you have something you’d like to share with other women or girls to further help our gender, I have the platform to do that and would love to publish your letters for others to read. If you would like to keep it personal, then thank you for having faith and trust in yourself to do the work and I hope you will share your experience with me.

I will be teaching a workshop at the Kaia Retreat in Belize in March and so look forward to meeting you lovely Kaia women in person!

Happy writing!

Love,

Me

An accomplished author and public speaker, Jeanette founded LORE Advocacy, a network of professional women who aspire to change the world through a gender lens. Jeanette also founded “LORE and Little Things” in 2015. It is a platform for women to discuss issues relevant to professional women and mothers. Her articles and “Love Letters to Myself,” a viral mentorship program, have been seen on Huffington Post.

During the day Jeanette is a Senior Vice President and Institutional Client Advisor within the financial services industry. She serves on the boards of Spread the Word Nevada, the President’s Advisory Council for The Smith Center for the Performing Arts and a large charitable foundation. She is a member of the Hall of Fame of the Women’s Chamber of Commerce of Nevada and a 2016 Vegas, Inc. Woman to Watch.

Connect with Jeanette at www.loreandlittlethings.com, on Twitter @msjwrites or Instagram @msjwrites and @loreandlittle. Letters can be sent to jeanetteschneider@gmail.com.

Five Facts About Your “Bad Boy” Boyfriend by Randy Susan Meyers

I had the distinct privilege of meeting Randy Susan Meyers several years ago in New York. I loved her Bostonian vibe, quick wit and literary prowess and then, when her first book THE MURDERERS DAUGHTERS was released, I fell in love with her brain.

I reached out to Randy to ask if she’d share something based on her experience working with batterers, what would you want women or girls to know? She recently sent this gem and I hope that it resonates with the those who need this kind of insight.

Please welcome the lovely Randy Susan Meyers –

Randy Susan Meyers

Perhaps the lure of the bad boy is similar to the lure of climbing Mt. Everest. It feels so good to conquer it and get to the top—despite all the pain you felt on the ascent. Unfortunately, you have to climb down and start all over again to get back up to that thrilling peak.

And that trip down is filled with pain and ugliness.

Working with batterers for ten years afforded me plenty of material and plenty of insight. The clearest and most useful lesson I learned was this: a ‘bad boy’ isn’t edgy, exciting, and a bag of fun, he’s mean and selfish and looking out for number one—himself—all the time.

Many of the batterers were classic bad boys; they could charm like no one else. They gave me smoldering glances so I’d know that I was the only one in the entire world who they’d let inside their soul. When they didn’t have money to pay for classes, or had been picked up on a new charge, or failed a drug test, they’d look at me with their carefully tortured eyes and tell me how sorry they were.

They really were sorry. Sorry they’d been caught and sorry they had to spend another night pretending to pay attention to this crap we were teaching.

At their core, these guys weren’t very different from the bad boys I’d once been drawn to. But never again, not after working that job. I wish I could share with every woman the experience of sitting in a circle with 15 court-ordered-to-be-there bad boys, because at some point during the 42 weeks they occupied that chair in the church basement, they let loose with some truth that revealed the dime a dozen ordinariness of bad boy behavior.

So, while I can’t put you in that room, I can try to share with you what I learned there:

1) When you and your bad boy get in that insane fight, and you don’t know how it began, why it happened, or why he stormed out the door . . . when you’re ready to follow him so you can beg his forgiveness—but you don’t have any idea what to apologize for—here’s what’s really going on:

He wanted to get out of the house. So he caused the fight. The men I worked with (ages seventeen to seventy-something) admitted it. This sleazy little tactic is dime-a-dozen common.

2) Which leads to this: What did most men admit they wanted to get out of the truly awful battles that you cried through? You know, the ones where he yelled so loud you finally backed down? The ones where you felt as though you’d die of hurt?

If Jeopardy could have more realistic categories, the response to “most common thing men want women to do during a fight?” would be “Alex, what is “shut the f*** up.

Yes, another thing these men admitted to me when I worked with them. They knew that with enough fighting and yelling they could wear you down and get you to shut up and back down.

3) Remember this when he tells you “you’re the only one I’ve ever been able to talk to.” Yeah, right. Think those words with a real sarcastic tone because first of all he’s probably said the same thing to 100 other women before you. Because he knows those words work like catnip and honey.  The men I worked with were very clear that they used this line only to manipulate. Every man I worked with admitted to saying the same.

4) When he says, “I can’t live without you,” here’s a news flash. He can. And he will. Quite well. The question is, can you live with him? Do you want to? Do you like being kept off balance? Do you treasure being used like medicine for someone’s lack of self-confidence or need to control?

5) You want to believe it will change and that things will get better. That if you explain it once more, write one more email, one more letter, one more pleading text, and cry one more time, then finally he will understand! And once he understands, those moments of incredible tenderness and bliss —when he gives you that crooked smile and takes you in his arms and then gently helps you onto his exciting motorcycle—will last forever.

I promise you, things will not change. He will not get better. There’s nothing you can do unless he wants to change. Nothing. The cycle will continue as long as you let it.

So here’s my advice, as a mother, a sister, a friend and most of all, from a woman who worked with those bad boys:

Choose kind over thrilling. It wears much better.

Choose responsible over devil-may-care. It will keep you and your children warm and safe at night.

Choose a man who wants to be your friend, not one who will be your life-long home improvement project.

Randy Susan Meyers’ novels are informed by her work with criminal offenders and families impacted by emotional and family violence. Her most recent novel, Accidents of Marriage, was chosen by the Massachusetts Center for the Book as “2015 Must Read Fiction” and by Kirkus Reviews as on of their “Top Ten Popular Fiction” choices. Both the hardcover and paperback placed on the Independent Bookstores IndieNext List in 2014 and 2015.

Choosing Accidents of Marriage as a People “Pick of The Week,” the magazine wrote, “This novel’s unsparing look at emotional abuse and its devastating consequences gives it gravity and bite, while a glimpse into a physically damaged mind both surprises and fascinates.
”

The Boston Globe called her second novel, The Comfort of Lies, “Sharp and biting, and sometimes wickedly funny when the author skewers Boston’s class and neighborhood dividing lines, but it has a lot of heart, too.”

Meyers debut novel, also picked by the Massachusetts Center for The Book as a “Must Read” book, The Murderer’s Daughters was called a “Knock-out Debut” by the LA Times and was a nationwide Target Book Club pick.

Meyers teaches writing at Grub Street Writers Center. She is the mother of two grown daughters and lives in Boston with her husband. Her books have been translated into twenty-two languages.

You can find Randy at www.randysusanmeyers.com.

 

 

Co-Parenting: Loving The Women Who Love Your Child

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I blogged anonymously as Little Ms. J for several years. Although I had a nice little following and over 250 articles I decided to take down the site a little over two years ago. It just didn’t feel right.

When  I wrote as Little Ms. J I was a married woman who was coming into her career and wanted very badly to have a baby. I wrote about my fun adventures with my hot husband and our parenting aspirations. I needed to get my time in as a dancing tartlet in high heels with a handsome man by my side before burp rags and cellulite made their appearance. I was sassy, snarky and bold. I was also very naive.

Then I had the baby, I came into my career and got divorced.

The storyline as I knew it ended and I had to figure out how to rewrite the me I knew. So, I dug into who that person was, came up for air and as I started LORE I thought, “Oh, I’ll just go back every now and then and grab an old post off Little Ms. J as a “Throwback,” something fun.

Every single time I’ve gone through the posts I’ve come up short.

I don’t know that girl anymore.

I wince a little in the memories. I smile at others. I look at the precious child I waxed and waned over, both the planning and the pregnancy, and the mom I’ve grown into shakes her head, I was such a baby trying to have a baby. I was such a girl-child trying to be a wife.

As I was looking through posts today I smiled at a few. My then-husband pulled me along to every sort of outdoor sporting event he possibly could while I looked adorable in my tennis skirts and twirled around, “Check out my legs. I look hot. Seriously, how do you hold this racket?”

He laughed at me. A lot. He said things like, “Oh, Little,” which was how “Little Ms. J” came about. I was little. He was big. It worked.

I golfed, I played tennis, I joined a volleyball team, I scaled indoor rock walls, I became SCUBA certified.

I kind of hated it.

Not all of it. Just most of it. I had the harnesses, rock climbing shoes, gear, clubs, fins, you name it, but I’m an introverted type of fit girl. I really don’t want to talk to anyone while I play my sports. I’ll go on a yoga retreat, I’ll listen to my “Damn, Girl” playlist while I do circuit training, gym rat style. I’ll play pickup on a golf range and be blissed out. I will absolutely go diving with you (if the water is warm), but the moment we have to keep a tab, score or compete I am thoroughly annoyed, this is not Zen!

But, I did it all because I was in love and I thought this is what you did. You put on the really adorable gear and showed up with your insanely muscular legs as you flexed them in various positions to annoy your mother in law, is this how you address the ball? I love this skirt. Wicking, huh? Flex. Flex.

I dropped Liv off at her dad’s house recently and took note of the His and Hers tennis rackets on the floor. Girlfriend was likely going to play with Ex’s mom, a former State tennis champion, when they visited her in Tucson that weekend. I laughed inside, his mom is thrilled. I remembered her exasperation, “You have no coordination. I can’t help you,” when she tried to lob a few balls at me years before. I honestly think she’d have rather lobbed rackets at me.

That’s when I’d turn and spin, “No, but seriously. Have you seen my legs?”

Ex laughed. Mom rolled her eyes, “She has no sport!”

He argued that I went to the gym a lot. She sighed and shook her head. At the time I thought these interactions were funny. I just wasn’t like them. I can look back now and see how mismatched I was for him and for them.

They liked to compete in wicking fabrics. I did not.

I text the girlfriend the other day to tell her I was going to be late dropping Liv to them. She was playing tennis.

Today she text back that she was at beach volleyball, but she’d let dad know whatever I was updating her about, thanks!

Yesterday we text back and forth about my daughter’s diet and the search for the perfect smoothie to hide vitamins and nutrients in since she’d rather live on gummy bears and macaroni and cheese.

I smiled, knowing inside that he very well may have found his soulmate. I told him as such. I am thrilled for him and for my daughter.

Me too, if I’m being honest.

They make far more sense than we ever did and for 7000 reasons. Not only is she sporty as hell, but they match up for reasons we never could. They have a similar sense of humor, she’s patient and most importantly, she loves my daughter. All those years I thought we were meant for each other? Well, maybe we were meant to have Liv, but past that? I realize that I was just one person in the way of someone better for him. I actually text him after meeting her, “I like her. Don’t eff it up.”

My daughter still lets me know that she’d discuss an arrangement where dad, girlfriend and I could all live together in a compound sort of environment where she’d also have a trampoline, two dogs and four fish. I just have to say the word. I remind her of how much she loves dad’s girlfriend and she agrees with a sing-song sigh, “Alright. Don’t worry mom. I’ll find someone else that loves you.”

I have to laugh at her sweet, manipulative and earnest little heart.

I ran into Girlfriend after a hot yoga class a few weeks ago. She wanted to make sure Liv was ok with her moving in to their house and I shared that she was, “She loves you.” Liv once told me that she wanted a mom at dad’s house and I told her the story explaining that she just loves being around feminine energy so it makes sense that she’s more settled with the living arrangements. Girlfriend very quickly sided with me, “You are always the mom!” I smiled, appreciative for the unnecessary gesture, “The best thing that could happen for Liv is to be surrounded by women who love her. She will be the most well-adjusted woman.”

Girlfriend looked a little surprised and, in response, I couldn’t help but think about Liv’s earlier offer.

I certainly do hope that when she makes good on her promise to find the guy who loves me he will also come with a really cool Ex.

Like me.

Flex flex.

#grownup

 

 

Balance Deconstructed

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When people talk to me about balance I want to throw things at them.

For real.

Certain words have become catch-alls, cliches, if you will, and full of well… nothing. If you google “quotes on balance” everyone from Buddha to the dude that just taught the yoga class with the crazy abs has a quote about how you must find this thing, it’s something you create, not a destination, blah, blah, blah. 

I’ve decided they have no idea what they are talking about and have simply surrendered to a cultural norm.

I have a love/hate relationship with cliches and quotes. I’ve come to think of them as fillers. They are sugared words, glazed and mostly well intentioned. I do believe that life experiences create these phrases and ramblings and some are incredibly beautiful, insightful. I also think that the person delivering the quote has no idea of the history or intention of the person quoted nor the inner workings of the person they are hoping to help. Maybe it came from a man who survived a war, the death of children, syphilis and amputations and you are telling a clerk at Target. Maybe it was a Taoist who had never experienced love and a divorcee is your audience. Maybe it was a writer with a drinking problem and a thesaurus, the odds are high. I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t care for the copy/paste quality of them when they’re offered in a prescriptive fashion. I sometimes wonder if they’re not proffered as a very kind exit strategy from conversation, a way to acknowledge, but remove the need to dig in and truly relate.

When I was in my early twenties I remember ruminating on the word “balance,” wondering what my life would look like when I achieved it.

I still have no clue.

So, I’ve decided to take the power away from the word, dear God, please don’t offer me another quote. I’ve decided, instead, to deconstruct it and make it less zen idealism and more of a word with letters, realizing that no matter how you look inverted, you probably struggle with balance as well, so let’s just call a spade a spade. Instead of striving for this otherworldly word that is seriously just some vowels and such, I have divided my life into my roles as a mother, career gal, woman, friend and writer. I consciously strive to simply be present in each of them. I have days when I’m running between things and Liv wants a mama moment. Rather than snapping that we’re in a hurry or telling her that I have chores to do, I stop and remind myself, “THIS is my life. I am living it right now.”

It helps to reframe things.

My life is not whether or not I get laundry done. It is not whether or not she eats yogurt for breakfast tomorrow or I’ve checked a box from a To Do list that never really needs to get To Done. It is the extra smiles and moments we spend snuggling. It is the living that makes a life, the interactions, the blessed conversations she wants to have right before bed when she relaxes into her prayers and tells me who she is and who she’s becoming. It is not the fact that it is three minutes past when I told her to be quiet. It is when she asks God to make sure her heart stays kind and that our dogs will stop stealing her food. It is the sweet moments when we’re at Target and instead of telling her to behave and be quiet while she yammers on in the cart, I catch my nugget sweetly say I’m a great mom and I’m really pretty, can I buy you these cute pajamas, mom?

Sure, baby.

I have caught so much just by reminding myself that THIS is my life.

I have also realized that in order for me to be my most present, most engaged self, I must first take care of myself. This is something I require of myself. I fill up my bucket first and those close know that while I may work my tail off and love my daughter like my life depends on it, I also find a way to run to the gym, hit a yoga class and take small trips to fill up my soul. I am healthier and happier for others when I am taking care of the person that does the taking care.

I learned the hard way.

When I was going through my divorce and running in fifteen different directions I was anxious, sickly and a raging insomniac. I didn’t even like me. We have a tendency to think of ourselves as “selfless” if we put everyone else first.

Nope. Forget that right now, drop it, email me if you need a pep talk.

My loves, the best thing you can do for the people that depend on you is to take care of yourself first and foremost. They will benefit from your enhanced health, mood and overall demeanor.

I promise, Get on it.

Give yourself the space to forget things. To leave the dry cleaning at the cleaners. To be out of dryer sheets. Forgive yourself if your body says nap when your clock says gym. Turn your To Do list into Suggestions and Reminders. The only person in between you and YOUR life is you.

Forgive yourself. Love yourself. LIVE.

Balance be damned.

 

 

 

 

 

Insecurity Is A Waste of Time

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A few times over the last few years I’ve been asked for a favorite quote or expression that is important to me. Once was for a female small business owner who was building her own blow dry bar. She wanted a wall of famous women’s quotes to act as a backdrop for women who’d just had their hair done. A few months later I stood before it while celebrating the opening of Blowout Dollhouse with a proud new business owner.

Last week I was asked again for quotes for an event where I’ll be speaking this week. I took a few days, mulling over all the gifs and pretty sayings that decorate my phone and my office. I again found myself drawn to the same one and I always smile to myself when I share it.

The back story is a good one, if I do say so myself.

It was roughly four years ago. I’d flown in from one city to realize that while changing out dry cleaning to fly to another, divorce was on the horizon. I wiped tears as I headed to West Palm Beach. I sank into the Florida humidity upon arriving, feeling as if my home state was going to help soften the blow. I had to get it together and fast. I was going to spend a weekend with the most successful women in financial services. They wore Laboutins and sparkling things, all brains and verve. I was intimidated in my state.

I prepped for my mission: looking like them. I would seem poised and polished while my insides were caving in upon themselves. Yes, definitely. They wouldn’t notice that I didn’t belong.

Then a funny thing happened.

They were honest about all the things on my mind. There were maybe twenty men to the thousand women and my God, how women speak differently when we are around our sisters. Yes, there were talks about economies and global trends, but there were also talks about how you have to take time for yourself, how it is hard to juggle career, marriage and children, solidarity sister.

One woman shared that while she had gotten kids to school, ran meetings, thawed dinner, made soccer and took a red eye out of New York, all she wanted to do was fill her brain with mindless drivel. She tucked herself into an InStyle magazine. Her seat mate, however, had her laptop out and was making notes while flipping through graphs and reports. After realizing they were heading to the very same conference, she told the very focused woman, “Wow, I feel incredibly lazy.” The woman laughed and I will never forget what she said, “No, you don’t understand. I’m the keynote speaker tomorrow. I just had a baby and she’s sick. My husband has been sending me updates every few minutes. This is the only time I’ve had to prepare.”

She was the Chief Economist for a large firm.

They then talked babies and balance.

She nailed her keynote.

Every woman at the conference was her most beautiful, natural, smart and nurturing self. These women were so enlightened and encouraged by the way a male-dominated industry feels when the men aren’t in the room. When women come together to inspire one another, to make you feel less alone, less anomaly, its a beautiful thing.

We talked about the guilt, my God, the guilt. We talked about marriage and personal relationships, messy and glorious, I try so hard to be present. We talked about the children we were raising, I try so hard to be present. We talked about who we become when the men are in the room, the layers we put on, the children we forget for a lunch meeting, because you can’t be a mom. We talked about the health concerns we don’t share with our male colleagues and clients, because then you are a woman. We talked about how you are scared to take maternity leave, because then they look at you with the wondering, soft eyes.

The weekend ended with a final keynote by Diane von Furstenberg. She had a Power Point presentation with pictures of herself as a child, as a Princess, as a mom and finally, the pinnacle photo of the wrap dress that turned her into a design house. She talked about her regrets as a mother, her role as a grandmother, her career frustrations and failures.

When asked what she lived by, what drove her to continue, she said as self-confidently as you can imagine a former princess to espouse, “Insecurity is a waste of time.”

Isn’t it just?

Can you imagine if every woman in that room confidently owned each relationship she had and all the hats she wears, no insecurities? I think through conversations I’ve had, meetings I’ve walked into, moments I’ve silenced myself and worried that I was too… something. Too soft, too hard, too feminine, too masculine, too talkative, too expressive, too… all the things that make me who I am.

There sometimes comes a time in your life and in your career that you find your value. And, most will tell you even when you find it, life has a funny way of saying, “Are you sure?” and offering you missteps and ego to dig through so that you finally find your footing and say, “Yes, I’m sure. This is who I am and what I do well. And you know what? Here are the things I don’t do well. I’m going to own them too.”

Ms. DVF herself, in her very poignant, clipped comments, asked us to learn who we were, all our iterations, and own them. Own who you are today, find your why, your reason, your gifts.

Then stand up and introduce yourself.

No apologies allowed.

 

Fall In Love

LORE Fall In Love

Somewhere in between Kanye antics and Annie Lenox shutting down Hozier during last week’s Grammys was a match.com commercial. You may know it. A man approaches a woman and wants to know why she hasn’t tried match.com as her sister found her husband through the site and is “living happily ever after.”

You expect the girl to walk away with a thoughtful expression, buy a soy latte and then head to her tiny New York loft apartment. She will bite her lip while she stares at the laptop on her shabby chic desk. The matcher man has made her wonder about the feasibility of having someone else use their super match making software to take the hard work out of Likes, Dislikes, Religious Affiliation, Smoker or Non, etc.

She likely walks by her laptop at least three times before she suddenly decides she wants love, dammit. Fingers fly over keys while she uses her marketing degree to catch her prince.

Flashback to my first experience with a match maker – I was a junior in high school and a personality profiling company convinced students that for $10 each love would be delivered to our Homeroom. It would be there in a week and the name of the man of my dreams was going to appear in dot matrix print.

I had to select whether I would prefer Long Walks On The Beach over a Romantic Dinner Out. At 16 I had never felt a boy’s lips on my own so I imagined Long Walks On The Beach because the other options felt too Lady And The Tramp.

A week later I stared at the printed sheet in my hand while my eyes went wide, “Ohhhhhhh myyyyyyyyy Godddddddd.”

I will refer to my match by his initials.

A.J.

We weren’t just a little matched. We were like Perfect For Each Other matched. The problem with this was that A.J. was completely and utterly annoying.

He was seventeen. Or maybe eighteen. He had peach fuzz on his ears and teased me incessantly, but always shrugged off his leather jacket when I was cold and had forgotten my own. He’d meet me after my last class and take his jacket from the “matchstick girl” as he walked me to my bus and called me names before I told him I was taking it again tomorrow. I very clearly recall him calling me an albino and telling me I had butter teeth.

This was before the miracle that is Crest White Strips.

When A.J. bought lunch I would eat most of it by the time he sat down. He would shake his head, smile playing at his lips while I would giggle, “I was hungry and you were just ignoring those tator tots like they didn’t have feelings.”

I found him in the courtyard after class staring at his computer print out with a shocked expression on his face, “You are my match?”

I shook my head, “I’m not happy about it either. You must like Long Walks On The Beach, huh? I’d burn.”

There was a lot of teasing. We never pursued a relationship, but I’m fairly certain that had more to do with my inexperience. I didn’t know how to like a boy without being mean to him. I had four older male cousins that regularly drowned me in my aunt’s pool. I only knew how to insult boys and punch them in their junk. The idea that a boy wanted to kiss me made me very nervous. I would almost fall into my shoulders and turn seven shades of shy.

Or disappear down a hallway.

I know. Mad game, right?

The New York Times recently posted an article To Fall In Love With Anyone, Do This by writer Mandy Len Catron. It is based on the study The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness by psychologist Arthur Aron, and suggests that anyone can fall in love if you ask 36 questions. The point is to create interpersonal closeness.

Clearly the school match maker should have stapled these to our match results, help a girl out.

I read over the questions and they are definitely personal. I’d be hesitant to answer some right away and not because I have anything to hide, but because I’d be heading down a path of vulnerability.

But, isn’t that the point?

We spend so much time asking what someone does for a living, if they want children and if they prefer long walks on a beach, we don’t get to the good stuff for quite some time. We are nervous to offend by asking something that could trigger, being too nosy too early, but the study suggests that if you really want to know someone you have to develop intimacy.

What I find fascinating is that the female relationships I have are rich with detail and we sit around and talk about our flaws, our values and our relationships. I could probably answer most of the 36 questions for my girlfriends. Granted, we don’t spend time lusting or courting, but we get to the heart of the person. We get to know each other in a way that is empowering, beautiful and requires no birth control.

I wonder what would happen if every person that reads this tried out the questions (link provided, you are welcome) on your dates, your boyfriends and even your husbands? A husband of twenty years may already know everything about you, but what if he’s forgotten about that dimple you get when you reminisce? What if you’ve forgotten he can be soulful and still make you laugh when you aren’t entangled in children and such?

Do it and report back.

That was my bossy tone.

I don’t in any way knock those that find love on match.com, Congratulations, I hope you get your forever after. I absolutely agree there has to be a screening process to make sure you aren’t having dinner with a dog-eating serial killer or a man with fifteen children who wears clown shoes to bed. Whether you choose that screening process to be a computer’s metrics or your own intuition, I simply suggest that you not be afraid to ask the hard questions, answer the hard questions.

Be vulnerable.

Everyone deserves a little love in their life.

Even the guy with the clown shoes.

Cry Pretty

374Q5550 It isn’t so much that I was broken up with, it was more the timing of said breakup.

I have no idea why people can’t admit someone broke up with them, but I’ve had a few friends look at me with confusion playing about their face when I share that this was, in fact, what happened. Maybe most feel they’d be admitting they were flawed, that there was something wrong with them if they didn’t get to the business of breaking up first or refer to it as mutual, it wasn’t working.

Silliness.

Originally I thought about posting guidelines for men on the verge of breaking a heart, but that seemed trite and neither the ended relationship nor the offender is deserving of trite. It was a very healthy relationship and this is why I had to put cold spoons on my tragic eyelids prior to the LORE photo shoot that was in preparation for our launch.

Text to both photographer, Talbot, and Melissa:

X broke up with me. I will not be talking about it, but serious editing will be required.

Many outs were offered. I accepted none because I am a prideful little snot. I can tell you a boy broke up with me, but God forbid he makes me fetal when I’m supposed to be doing something fun. No stinky, dirty-hearted boy (note: he’s not really stinky or even dirty-hearted in RT) was to come between me and my passion project. I most certainly did talk about it a few times throughout the shoot and the above photo was taken during one such diatribe which I was asking Melissa to transcribe on song lyrics Talbot handed us innocently enough as a prop. I was pretending to be a boss and I posed as if I were telling Melissa about market efficiency and readership. She was actually cracking up because I was saying things like, “They’re all tricky and smell good and then you go to dinner and they break up with you IN A RESTAURANT. THE NIGHT BEFORE A PHOTO SHOOT.” I turned, hip jutted out as I looked the camera square on, flash, jut, flash, “Talbot, did I tell you I had to put spoons in my freezer this morning?” I wrote “Boys SUCK,” somewhere in between the box flash going off and the popping sound of magical moments captured.

I wonder what conversation transpired in the studio the next day when the artist got his song lyrics back.

After changing into jeans and my sad face Melissa lovingly insisted we sit in the very dark bar at Ferraro’s, “No one will notice. People cry there all the time. Besides, you cry pretty.”

She had to say this several times while I wiped my tears between bites of pasta with the most amount of cream and pancetta the chef offered. I figured the cholesterol and sodium could fill the cracks of my broken heart and if I ran out of napkin I could start wiping my tears with bread.

It wasn’t until our waiter paused that it was clear crying pretty is still crying, “Honey, are you crying?”

I nodded, silent tears streaming down my cheeks, while Melissa explained that my boyfriend broke up with me in a tone that sounded like warm sugar and Advil.

“Did he want to be with you?”

Typically this type of question from a complete stranger would make me purse my lips or turn my eyes into little judgmental slits, but I could tell the waiter was asking in earnest and had no ill will. I shook my head no, not able to say the word.

“Then he did you a favor. You don’t know that now, but you will.”

I knew what he was saying was truth and I wanted to set my sad little broken heart in the pool of awareness (and cream sauce) he offered. I wanted to float a little, to feel some comfort.

The waiter then told a story about a girlfriend and a dog and how you know who loves you most because when you let them out of your trunk your dog is happy to see you. We laughed. He walked away and we both leaned in toward each other with quizzical expressions.

Melissa got there first, “I think that was creepy. Was that creepy? I’m pretty sure you shouldn’t laugh at people being put in trunks.”

We agreed that you shouldn’t.

When the bill came my drinks had been removed from the tab, my dinner discounted. In that moment I smiled into the gift of friendship and compassion I’d been afforded that evening. Rather than telling me I should get back into the dating scene immediately or that he’s an idiot with a dismissive wave of hand (my gay boys are going with the latter, dear God I love them), I was gently offered some carbs, a little alcohol and the grit of understated support; the kind where the eyes are soft, the smile understanding and the bit of space you need to greet sadness before you get to the business of moving past.

I blew a tearful kiss to Melissa as we parted. As I rolled up my window I heard her voice over the sound of whatever singer-songwriter was bleating on whatever Sirius station covers my state. I’ll take bets on Coffee House.

Hers was a sweet offering, “You still cry pretty.”

I cried pretty for at least a few more lights.

Oh no. I didn’t stop crying because I was done. That’s when cry ugly was like, Ok, that was sweet, but let’s move this along. I only paused to laugh at the pinnacle of the ugly cry when you have to look at yourself in the rearview mirror out of pure curiosity and wonder if anyone would comp your drinks in a dark bar now, bless them.

Whether or not someone would stick around for the cry ugly, it doesn’t matter. I look at the photos from the shoot and smile. They are not a reminder of a hard day, but of lovely souls that recognized where I was and my desire to rise above the deeply shattered remnants of my poor darkly bruised heart (I hope he’s reading this) and give me the space and the respect to do it with humor and a safety net.

Bless.

Get Real

IMG_5580Inspiration can be found in many places. Sometimes it is in a conversation I have or overhear, an article I read or within the moments life decides to hand me a lesson. There are occasions when it is clicking through Pinterest quotes that something syrupy and motivational set against a backdrop of stars or a lacy font makes my wheels turn. I want to grow the cute little quote that your 16 year old daughter is thinking about tattooing on her ribs into a story that will stick to her ribs.

Tonight it was overwhelming, this need to write about a quote I can’t even finish. That alone is telling. It started with, “A real man…” and I felt my eyes cross and I catalogued the primordial grunting sound that emanated from me.

I hereby request a moratorium on the proclamation that anyone is a “real” anything. I don’t know if those that feel they are above defining the qualities and values they appreciate in men and women are just looking for inspiration in a gif world or if they realize that blasting a very broad adjective in the context of demoralizing those they don’t consider “real” is tacky.

I have spent a lot of time making mistakes and talking to people and having meetings and reading and stuff and I can assure you of one thing:

Real people are flawed.

Gorgeously, inherently, deliciously flawed. It is the cracks and fissures that make us empathetic, lovable and granted, sometimes frustrating as all get out.

There are entire boards on Pinterest dedicated to “Real Man” and “Real Woman” quotes. They always proclaim that those that are “real” do not cheat, do not lie and a plethora of other things that the poster clearly aspires to manifest in their next relationship. I’ve heard the judgmental way women who are reapplying their Viva Glam sparkle sticks in the mirror of the cutest new restaurant assert this knowledge. While they all throw support at a girl who is clearly dating someone worthless they get that Goddess complex look, “A REAL man would pick up the check” or “A REAL man would order the most expensive wine.”

Or, worse, “Honey, I’m a real woman. If he can’t handle me at my worst he doesn’t deserve me at my best.”

What? I say with a wrinkled nose.

Why aren’t you always trying to be the best version of yourself? We all have our moments, but are you tucking your tantrums in the guise of worst as an ultimatum? That’s terrible and I will tell you why. I worry we are forgetting qualities, character and the celebration of difference because a marketing company figured out how to make it pretty, make it catchy, make you buy into it. You have sold your own values, your own adjectives, because someone gave you permission to be above them and then overlaid a blurry picture of stars.

Real: [ree-uh l, reel] adjective

1. true; not merely ostensible, nominal, or apparent: the real reason for an act.

2. existing or occurring as fact; actual rather than imaginary, ideal, or fictitious: a story taken from real life.

3. being an actual thing; having objective existence; not imaginary: The events you will see in the film are real and not just made up.

4. being actually such; not merely so-called: a real victory.

5. genuine; not counterfeit, artificial, or imitation; authentic: a real antique; a real diamond; real silk.

I would argue, genetically, we are all real men and women. The words genuine and authentic above (number five) are used to describe an item physically.

I’d rather think of someone as being genuine in their manner, authentic in their spirit. How much better would it be to describe the person you aspire to meet or to be by qualities as opposed to hanging sixty pretty gifs on a page?

The most common theme I’ve noticed is that women want men who have character, who make them feel safe in their relationship and who value them the way their father said a man should. Women want to be viewed as strong, but not be labeled as a word I have come to despise – bitch. The two sometimes become synonymous and that is criminal.

Gentlemen, if you make a women feel safe in your relationship, and by that I mean supported, loved, respected and confident that you understand her value, you will watch her shine more brilliantly than you can imagine. You will experience a strength and a warmth that will feel like a tangible glow. Safety for a woman is paramount to her emotional security and this should not be confused with financial security. They are two very different things.

Women can be secure in our value and still maintain a level of humility and femininity. A man doesn’t need to be smacked with your strength. It is when we are busy being their lovers, their friends and sitting within our gifts that a man is drawn to the beauty and strength of you.

I have no other advice for you because I cannot figure out the rest.

Confusing creatures, truly. Do they want to be fed? Is it a sense of humor?

I got nothing.

With all this said, I simply ask that as we consider the people in our lives and ourselves, for that matter, we attribute characteristics and qualities as opposed to expectations or comparisons.

You get a lot more action that way.