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The Ones Who Love First

There are two kinds of lovers in this world. The ones who wait to be loved, and the ones who dare to love first. The key to winning, the ones who wait will tell you, is to show just enough enthusiasm to appear intrigued without looking eager. Feign just enough interest to appear engaged, without seeming desperate. Allow just enough transparency to appear relatable, without feeling exposed. Love is simply about appearing. Appearing intelligent. Appearing witty. Appearing worthy. Appearing available. Appearing out of thin air. And the trick, they say, to keeping the other person interested, is to make damn well sure they know you’re capable of disappearing at any time. Love is a game of power, and you lose when you love first.

To the ones who dare to love first,

For some you will be too much. Too much grit. Too much force. Too much impact. Too much pressure. The devastation you are capable of will cause others to seek shelter. You are a glorious storm, seismic and ferocious. A cataclysmic tidal wave. A brutal drought. You are a 9.5 earthquake. When it feels like everything inside of you is trembling and raging at once, and you’re begging for inner peace, know that you are not a leaf in the breeze, a marsh reed, a tumbleweed, for a reason. How special you are to be one who creates such movement instead one who waits to be moved.

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c/o Emma Jane Kepley

To the ones who dare to love first,

Your heart is your Magnum Opus. You will feel so deeply and valiantly that others won’t always understand or appreciate your mastery. You have dedicated your life to making all things beautiful. Even the dirtiest people and places on earth shine with your touch. This optimism will be your strongest asset and your greatest downfall. As the artist, you forfeit the right to determine how your work is perceived the minute you release it into the world. You can get your work in the eyes of the masses but it is not your job to convince them to decorate their lives with you. Your only job is to make more of it.

To the ones who dare to love first,

You will lose people by caring too greatly. By loving too soon. Let them go. When each loss roars more intensely than the last, roar back. Your love is a wild animal, primal and unbridled. It does not wait to be fed when it is hungry. It was meant for licking palms, and faces, and wounds clean. Those who want to love you from afar are not brave enough for your love. Those who feel safer standing behind three inches of glass are not bold enough for your love. There is a lionhearted love that wants to devour you whole. It is just as feral as your own. It will not watch you do back flips. It will not feed you table scraps. It will not keep you captive.

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c/o Emma Jane Kepley

To the ones who dare to love first,

When the ones who wait to be loved appear out of thin air, with all of the intelligence, and wit, and worth they can muster, you will love them first and desperately. You will love them torrentially and relentlessly. You will love them fiercely and savagely. When they place the risk of losing their power above the risk of losing you, you must remember, this is not personal. You must remember, they think this is a game they are winning, but caring the least is a lonely accolade when coming in first means loving last. You must remember, they haven’t yet learned there are two kinds of lovers in the world.

The ones who wait to be loved,
and you.

What should I wear? Whatever I want.

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Photo c/o Linsey Shaw

This holiday season I bopped merrily and brightly into a party wearing a long red dress. The mood was loud and light as friends and family snacked and sipped their drinks. Coat still on and presents still in hand, I exchanged Merry Christmases and one arm hugged each person sitting around the kitchen island. A man whom I hadn’t seen in months stood to greet me. He embraced me warmly, the way old friends do.

This was immediately followed by a comment on my outfit.

“You need to put a slip on.”

For context, my dress was not see-through.
For clarity, this justification is not necessary.

My face turned red. I’ve been known to have a sharp tongue with a lightning fast response time. A SLIP? Oh. You mean the garment invented in the 1940s to make sure women covered their legs appropriately? I’ll get right on that. So in these situations, I try to find a moment of pause to assess the intention before reacting. I wasn’t willing to chalk this up to whether or not he meant well. His remark was loud enough for me to hear, loud enough to make me uncomfortable, but quiet enough to sneak under the radar. This way, he could slink seamlessly back to his drink as if nothing had happened, all while feeling as if he’d done me a favor.

As a woman, receiving comments about my appearance is nothing new. In fact, I’ve had this interaction with hundreds of men over the course of my life. I’ve been told my lipstick was “a bit much.” I’ve been told my romper was “hideous.” I’ve been told I’d be prettier if I wore more makeup. This time, it wasn’t an opinion. It was a command.

Put a slip on.

I stepped back from the kitchen island to face him squarely.
“YOU need to stop commenting on what I wear.”
He scoffed and rolled his eyes, so I reasserted myself.
“Unless I ask for your opinion, you can keep it to yourself.”

The party grew quiet.

Still wearing my coat and holding presents, I excused myself and walked briskly into a bedroom. I needed a breather. I took off my coat, placed my bags on the bed, and replayed the interaction in my head several times. What happened next still disturbs me.

I opened my bag and dug through my belongings, searching for an alternative outfit. Surely I brought a backup…Because I usually pack an extra outfit in case some dude has any varying degree of problems with what I’m wearing. Then, I rummaged through the drawers for a pair of, I kid you not, pantyhose. I’ve never worn pantyhose in my life, probably because they’re called PANTYHOSE! Standing in front of a full-length mirror, I measured the slit in my dress, which fell below my right knee. It didn’t matter. As a grown woman, there I was examining my body, placing my fingertips against the side of my dress like a fucking 9th grader arguing with the principal about whether or not my outfit was “too distracting.”

There he was, telling me to cover up.

The man eventually pulled me aside to apologize, but only because a few of the houseguests heard about his remark and urged him to do so. Before apologizing, he asked me which part of his comment upset me. My instinct was to tell him that if he had to ask, he wasn’t ready to apologize, but I didn’t actually want an apology. I wanted understanding. I took it as an opportunity to educate.

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Photo c/o Linsey Shaw

My response to any man who acts this way is this:

When you make an unsolicited comment on a woman’s appearance, before even saying hello to her, you are telling her that the way she looks is what matters the most. It isn’t. When you declare what a woman should wear, you are undermining her own decision to put what SHE wants on her body, as if you have a right to make a woman doubt herself. You don’t. When you roll your eyes after a woman asks you not to treat her a certain way, you are telling her that she doesn’t have the authority to stand up to you, and for herself. She does.

If you’re willing to act this way toward a mutual friend, I assume you’d be willing to act this way toward other women. Other women who may not have the courage to speak up for themselves, who will take your disparaging remarks to heart. Young women, who haven’t yet developed confidence in a world where every magazine is telling her what she needs to be more of. Little girls who haven’t developed the articulatory skills needed to stand up in these situations. She will have to re-learn that she is enough simply by being a little girl. By being a woman. By being a PERSON. And whether you want to take accountability or not, your “harmless opinions” are a threat to their self-esteems.

To these women I say this: Wear whatever the fuck you want. Be whomever the fuck you want. Do whatever the fuck you want. And if someone challenges you, say whatever the fuck you want to the person who is making you feel small.

I chose this dress because I felt like it. Because I feel good in it. Because at 28 years old I am my own adult guardian, and I’m capable of deciding what to put on my body. I don’t follow you around critiquing your choices, so what makes you think you can shame me for mine? That’s not rhetorical. I’m ASKING you. I want an answer. Is it because it was a holiday and you thought I WOULDN’T ruin the festive mood? Is it because we were in the company of others and you thought I WOULDN’T make things uncomfortable? Is it because you thought by now I’d be so exhausted with this topic, the fact that women STILL have to justify our decisions, that I WOULDN’T challenge your archaic opinions? That I WOULDN’T write 1,000 words about it? Or is it simply because you found my outfit so distracting that you thought you wouldn’t be able to enjoy your scotch and political discourse unless I put a slip on for you?

On all accounts, you thought wrong.

And For My Next Trick, I’ll Reassemble.

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photo cred: Emma Jane Kepley

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last year, it’s that in most situations, you’ll stumble upon your biggest breakthroughs just beyond what you think you can stand. Endurance is a magnificent thing. If we choose to actively pursue it, our capacity to bounce back stronger after emotional trauma is a nod to how remarkable the human spirit is. I think we assume we can’t do something simply because it looks scary, because it hurts, or because it seems difficult. To gain access to that type of endurance, you have to surrender to the growth it lends itself to. That type of growth takes hard work and heart work, and there are no shortcuts.

Which leads me to the piece you’re now reading.

Publishing this is well-beyond the edge of my comfort zone. I’m taking a big mothertruckin’ step here. I’ve avoided for this piece for an entire week. I could sit here and say I don’t know why, but I do. Because, hello! It’s scary. It hurts. It’s difficult. It doesn’t mean I haven’t moved on, it just means I’m human. Publishing this piece required me to reach deep into the pockets of discomfort. It also required me to reach out to the other party for their green light. Normally, I’m not one to wait for green lights when it comes to owning my story. That’s sort of the whole point of this blog. Still, somehow after the chaos, we maintain unwavering mutual respect and camaraderie. It is questionable at worst and admirable at best. But, like I said, human.

Rehashing old wounds feels like a step backward, so I’ll try to make this less about rehashing and more about reassembling.

Last weekend would have been the one-year…anniversary? Or another word we use as a yearly reminder of something we’d prefer to forget. A one-year “observance” of a morning I’ve relived hundreds of times since it happened, only it hit me harder last weekend than I expected it to. Perhaps, someday, I’ll stop remembering the date. The events that took place will soon become a mere chapter in my overall life story. Regardless of when I start forgetting, I spent all day last Friday remembering. I also spent it sleeping, watching Friends reruns, texting my friends that I love them, and MAYBE eating nachos in bed.

The aftermath of betrayal is dark and lonely. When somebody you trust lies to you, everything gets called into question. Everything. It’s a slippery slope when you start doubting your own competence. One minute you’re questioning an entire relationship and the next minute you’re questioning your intelligence. This was never about you. Your memory. This was NEVER about you. Your self-worth. THIS WAS NEVER ABOUT YOU. It will stay like that until you accept the reality of your circumstance. Even then, when somebody continuously breaks you down like a cardboard box, the decision to reassemble is last on your list of to-dos, especially when you’d love nothing more than to disappear with the morning recycling

Over the course of a year I disappeared almost completely. The funny thing about disappearing is everyone sees it but you. In the midst of losing your sense of self, you will also lose more obvious things. Weight. Sleep. The wheel. You will become a mere outline of yourself until you wake up one night in the dark and realize you’ve erased too much. You should know by now that you cannot erase yourself to help others define themselves. That realization will be your first step of many. Each step you take thereafter, no matter how small, will be further along than the day before. One year later it will no longer be, “Look how far I have to go.” It will be, “Look how far I’ve come.”

Please note: Some days you’ll take no steps at all. Instead, you will sleep, watch Netflix, text your friends, and MAYBE eat nachos in bed. Be gentle with yourself on those days.

Betrayal forces your hand. You either have to gamble or fold. We did both, gambling for eight more months and eventually folding. Only then was I able to see the third, hidden option. Reassembling. Because here’s the deal. (Ha, see what I did there?) You can fall apart and stay apart, or you can slowly put yourself back together. Whether it’s betrayal, heartbreak, uncertainty, insecurity, fear, grief, (or the general ambiguity of our current political landscape—wink) you CAN choose to open up your heart, clear out the dust, and let the light in. Let it make you awesome. It will certainly mean enduring a whole lot of pain first. You have to assess the damage before you gain access to it. From there, all you can do is refuse to let the hard things make you hard.

I’ve accepted that I am not who I was before. That version of myself is gone. But you know what? I like the person I am today, somehow even more. I am bolder. I am stronger. I am more self-aware. I am kinder. I am more understanding. I am better assembled. Before the breakdown, I existed based only on the information I had at hand. After the breakthrough, I have learnings, and I’m using them. The beauty of reassembling is you get to put yourself back together however you’d like. I decided I didn’t want to be a cardboard box ever again. Cardboard boxes can be broken down. They are dark inside. They are empty. I wanted to be an open room, and I wanted to be filled with light.

Because watching yourself disappear for a year is the darkest magic there is.

Two Places At Once

My greatest first loves always start with music and cities. St. Lucia will always be New York for me.

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I have an uncanny ability to photographically remember where I was, and what I was doing,  when certain songs were playing at specific moments in time. It’s a bizarre, useless, auditory sensitivity I’ve grown accustom to loving and loathing. Everyone has those things. A smell. A place. For me, it’s always been music. A song will come on, and I’m standing right where I was when it first played. I’ll know what I was wearing. I’ll know who I was with. I’ll know what the mood was. There’s no undoing memories like that, however meaningless or meaningful they may be.

The first time I heard Bon Iver’s “Holocene”, I was standing alone on the Williamsburg Bridge. I was wearing a green utility jacket with leather sleeves, perched atop the pink railing. The lens of my Nikeon D3000 was pressed against a gap in the protective fence. It was meant to keep people off, but there I was scaling it for a photo.

The first time I heard Matthew Mayfield’s “Heartbeat”, I was sitting at a table for two in a Jersey City apartment for one. Messy and disheveled. Hungover and happy. I was wearing an oversized T-shirt and sweatpants. It was the first and last time I’d see the city from that perspective.

The first time I heard Sara Bareilles’ “Breathe Again” was in a parked car overlooking the city lights in Newcastle, Australia. An interesting parallel, because the first line of that song is, “Car is parked.” That was seven years ago. I don’t remember what I was wearing, but I do remember this: For once, I wasn’t facing the ocean. The glittering buildings in the distance were more beautiful. That feels like a more telling detail to recall.

The first time I heard St. Lucia, I was North of Houston. It would have been 2013, the end of fall, right around this time. It was the awkward period between seasons where being outside is no longer easy and comfortable. To combat New York’s in-between weather, I wore fingerless gloves so I could control my music. This is a habit my mother scolds me for to this day.

“Carley, PROTECT YOUR FINGERS.”

I have a circulation disorder, but gloves with touchpad fingertips look lame.

As I was walking toward the train, shuffling through songs, “Elevate” came on. I stopped in my tracks. I remember stopping because that’s what I do when something grabs me. Whether it’s an idea, a person, a song, or a sweater in a window, I stop. I zero in. My excitement for the idea/person/song/sweater takes over and I can only do that one thing. In that moment, I wanted this song the way you want any great first love. I wanted it immediately and everywhere. I wanted it again. And again. And again. I stepped off the side of the walkway and waited for the song to download in iTunes so I could take it with me on my descent into the Bleeker St. station.

The only reason I remember any of this, is because of what happened next: On the dirty and crowded 6-train, I stood with one hand gripping my phone out in front of me, and one hand gripping the bar above me. It was then that a stranger behind me tapped my shoulder. I took out one of my ear buds and turned around.

“Great song.”
“Yeah! I just discovered them.”
“You’ll never get them out of your head.”

It was the type of brief exchange that makes New York the most special place in the world. A fleeting connection over a song on a screen, with a stranger on a train, whom I never saw again. He had probably formed his own love affair with the song. The song that would follow me to a different city three years later.

On Tuesday night I stood in the House of Blues in Boston. One of 2500 people, each with their own first loves. There’s nothing like that energy at a live show. I always catch myself looking around the venue, wondering which songs mean what to humans I’m surrounded by. I wait for their reactions. Unbridled elation. Unassuming tears. I want to reach out to them and say, “Me, too.” Sometimes, I do.

Halfway through the show, I left my friend at our post to hit the bathroom. On my way to the head, I heard the infamous introduction to “Elevate.” Its catchy tempo. Its rhythmic drums. It’s keyboard kick-in. Bobbing and weaving in and out of the crowd, front row became my mission. For a moment, I forgot about my friend. For a moment, I forgot about going to the bathroom. I forgot I was in Boston. I was standing outside of the Bleeker Street station with my fingerless gloves, hearing the song for the very first time.

And how magical it was in that moment, to be in two places at once.
St Lucia will always be New York for me, but last night they were Boston.

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Emptying Your Cart

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Image Credit : The Fiscal Times

I’m the kind of person who will go into a grocery store with the intention of buying two things. Let’s say grocery bags and yogurt. And you know what sucks? I was just at the grocery store, and managed to not get the only two things I needed. So here we are again.

Then I decide I want avocados. And then I see tomatoes. And then I think about how much I love avocado toast and I pick up a baguette. And for some reason I HAVE to make apple crisp like a true overachiever. I rarely bake. So I pick up a dozen apples. A DOZEN. I’m pretty sure apple crisp only requires 6 apples but what if my neighbors want some? It would be nice to be the chick who bakes apple crisp for the whole goddamn neighborhood.

I needed two things. I was literally just here. My fridge is full. My arms are full. I should, in theory, be ALL SET. Instead, I am dashing up and down aisles collecting all of these unnecessary items, and I’m already in desperate need of extra arms. When the grocery store clerk asks me if I’d like a basket, or some help, I always politely say, “No thank you. I got this!” But I don’t. I stumble on, peering over my own armload, refusing help and refusing to put things down.

You can imagine how much worse this gets when I have a cart. NEVER give me a cart. I quickly become a family of 16. The basket is my sweet spot.

This is ACTUALLY how I grocery shop, but over mescal cocktails and good conversation last week, it became a metaphor for life lately. I mentioned to a new friend (new friends are still a thing in your late 20’s) over dinner that it felt like my cart was overflowing. I just kept adding things and adding things. It was officially too full, too hard to push, and it was slowing me down.

I was about to go to New York for two lightning fast days because I couldn’t get Friday off. So technically, one full day and one sort of day. I had a Blood Orange concert, an event at GIFY, a few meetings, and also made plans to play catch up with friends in that one and one sort of day. Then, I’d make a mad dash for Boston Sunday morning to catch the tail end of a wellness conference. And much like the grocery store, I was JUST in New York. But I had made my mind up. I had things to do, and people to see, and meetings to have, and life’s ass to kick, accordingly.

And then life started very rapidly kicking MY ass. A few family health scares popped up within weeks of each other. A few work projects and freelance projects ramped up. I paid a huge ticket (awesome). I hadn’t slept more than 4 hours a night all week. I found myself on Friday morning feeling overwhelmed. My cart was past the point of being hard to push. It was literally overflowing. Wheels were popping off. Annie’s mac and cheese, ground turkey, frozen pizza, pasta sauce, Lara bars, toilet paper, Talenti everywhere. Pretty sure I dropped some diapers at some point and I don’t even own a baby so explain that one to me. I also just said “own a baby” and we’re going to leave it alone.

I did something I almost NEVER do, but need to get better at. I started to take things out of my cart. I put New York back on the shelf knowing I’ll be there in December (and if I’m being honest, probably November). I put the conference back on the shelf knowing I have a few conferences coming up. I put freelance work, and emails, and decks on decks on decks back on the shelf knowing the world wouldn’t stop if I unplugged for a weekend and focused on my loved ones.

If you know me, you know that decision tortured me for a solid six hours. My bag was packed and in my car. My wide brim hat sat on my seat. My road trip playlist was locked and loaded. My whole Saturday in Brooklyn was planned down to the last second. There would be Uber rides. And bouncing between boroughs. And finding coffee shops for quick creative jams. And good live music. And heart to hearts. And reminiscing about days when I didn’t have to leave it all. And reminiscing about days when I couldn’t WAIT to leave it all. And pondering days when we won’t have to leave whatever it is we’ve settled on. We’ll choose to stay.

But you know what my heart needed more?

A cozy Friday night catching up with my college roommate.
A Saturday morning in natural light spent writing in my journal.
A Saturday afternoon wrapped in the warmth of my family.
A Saturday evening spent laughing on the couch with my mother.
A Sunday, morning surrounded by my best friends from high school.
A Sunday evening spent baking apple crisp…for only two people.

My soul needed quiet love for a few days, so quiet love I gave and received. My cart isn’t quite empty. It never will be. But it’s a little less full right now.

In the upcoming week, try to find one thing to take out of your cart. Replace it with something that makes your heart and soul feel really, really, REALLY good. For one day, evening, or even just a moment, prioritize your needs above the stuff you need to do. All that stuff will still be there, I promise.

Like Yourself, Babe.

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Photo Credit: Sam Nute

We talk so often about practicing self-love, which I believe is the greatest gift we can give ourselves. But if we’re being real (which we always are here) loving any person, all the time, including ourselves, is hard. Sometimes, you can’t. Sometimes you’re not equipped to love yourself that deeply at the drop of the hat. Loving yourself that deeply in every moment is exhausting. Sometimes, it’s enough to simply like ourselves.

Let’s start there.

Let’s start with thinking about our best qualities, and projecting that energy out into the world. Because I’ll tell you something. I am OVER the mindset that we are all supposed to sort of hate ourselves, using qualifiers to sheepishly admit our few redeeming qualities. Let’s start with finding reasons from within to be confident instead of looking to others for validation and acceptance. Let’s look in the mirror and let go of that one glaring flaw in favor of appreciating all the things the universe got right in assembling us.

And in the name of not being the BIGGEST high and mighty hypocrite ever, I’m happy to admit that there are ABSOLUTELY things I don’t like about myself. Gobs of things. Insecurities that used to cripple me. I could probably write a blog post about those things, too, but the older I get the less those things matter. Sure, they sneak up from time to time. I once spent so long obsessing in the mirror over a pesky pimple that my roommate stopped me mid-rant and said, “Hey, stop being so mean to my friend.”

So today, we’re going to practice being nice to ourselves.
We’re going to sing our own praises for a hot sec.
Deep breath. I’ll start. And I hope you follow.

I like my eyes. They’re green with little yellow flecks in them. Last weekend a man at a bar looked straight into them and asked, “So how do you get people’s attention? I bet it’s those big green eyes of yours!”

I pointed to my temple.
“Your mind?” He asked.
I winked.

Not because I liked his attention, but because I liked my answer. I like my mind. I like that it’s mine. I like that I know how to use it.

So I like my always-tired eyes. I like my always-messy hair. They are signs that I am working hard to create end products that I feel proud of. Often that means sleepless nights and rushed departures. I like my adventurous spirit. That I say yes more than I say no these days. I like my willingness to return to a city that still holds so much of me captive. I like my readiness to return home when I know it’s what my soul needs. Right now, anyway.

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Photo Credit: Sam Nute

I like my endearing clumsiness. My outward silliness. My inconvenient spilli-ness. My brazen independence. I like that they pour out of me like an overflowing coffee pot left unattended. I like the juxtaposition of my dry irreverence, inherited from my father, and my ability to feel so very deeply, inherited from my mother. Those qualities have turned me into the kind of woman who finds humor in the darkest hours and compassion for the most tortured souls.

I like that I recognize my brother’s face every time I look in the mirror, because I spent the first half of my life trying to be a son and a daughter to compensate for my family’s loss.

I like that I failed at that. I actually fail at a lot of things.
I like that I am only capable of being the daughter that I am.
I like that I am only capable of being the woman that I am.

I like my freckles. I like the birthmark on my stomach. I like the intimate details of my body that only I, along with a chosen few, will ever know. I like my slender fingers that always longed to play piano, but found a pen and paper first. I like my flat feet that always begged to fit into pointe shoes but found high tops first.

I like my long legs. They took years to grow into, enduring names like “Spider-Legs” and “Gumby.” They have taken me to Australia three times, the UK, and Ireland. I like my full lips. I like my lone dimple. I like my dark eyebrows. I like my small breasts, and my small butt. Everything on me is generally small. That’s just the way I was built. It has nothing to do with being a “real” woman, or a “strong” woman. These are the parts I was given and it’s taken 28 years to understand the full magnitude of what it means to have all of them all in working order.

I’m not “just” a woman. I’m a woman. Period. Pun intended.
A woman who unflinchingly likes who she is becoming.

You see, we are in a critical time where the next leader of our country may very well be a broken man whose only self confidence comes in the form of tearing women down by calling us pigs and slobs, by attacking the way our bodies look and function, and by criticizing the way we choose to use them. But it won’t just be that one man. Nothing will ever come down to just one man. In fact, it won’t just be men at all. It will be people. People who haven’t yet found things to like about themselves. They will bare their ugly traits to you as a way to bring yours to the surface. They will come clawing at the bottom of your door first thing in the morning like a starving, stray cat. Your downfall will be their milk.

So I beg you, in those moments especially, to take to the street, the mountain, and the sea with the things you like about yourself. Take to a notebook, or a white board, or a word doc. Grab a permanent marker or a can of spray paint. Find the nearest building with the biggest, blankest wall. Make it a statement. Make it indelible. Make it on purpose. Have the courage to stand firm in liking yourself in a crowd of people who are trying to make you doubt yourself. Shine your self-like on them like a spotlight and maybe they, too, will find their own light. Maybe not.

But if you ask me, the most audacious thing you can be is a woman who truly, truly likes herself.

So like yourself, babe. Audaciously.

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Photo Credit: Sam Nute

Body Armor.

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I had a conversation with friends a few nights ago (over real apps) about dating apps, and can I be honest? I hate them. I’m not built for them. Do I respect some people’s affinity for them? Yes. Have I tried them? Yes. Are they amusing? Yes. Mostly because when you come across someone who is hopefully a doctor (but presumably Dexter) literally performing open heart surgery in their main picture, you have to laugh at the idea of swiping left or right based on your initial reaction.

Which, by the way is, “What in the actual living hell is this?”

But I finally realized what’s missing from all that swiping and double tapping garbage that we’ve allowed present day dating standards to convince us we depend on for human interaction.

Eye contact.

At a yoga festival recently (sup Wildvibes!), in the closing ceremony, they asked us to hold hands with a stranger and look them in the eyes for a few minutes. No words. No laughing. Just two softened sets of eyes showing up for each other without interruption, in complete silence. I can say for certain that it was utterly dismantling, letting someone see me that way, without my body armor.

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Eye contact is fucking alarming.

And you know why it’s alarming? Because we’re used to seeing people behind a screen and judging them based on six curated photos, a well-punctuated bio, and the perfect entry line. Unless their entry line sucks. In which case we dismiss them entirely. Imagine if we let that bullshit fly in the flesh. Imagine saying, “Hi, how’s it going?” or some other “wrong” opener over drinks. Now, imagine your friend/date/person-you-find-attractive-but-you’re-too-afraid-to-say-it-out-loud just got up and walked away mid-convo? Imagine being written off that quickly in real time. It would be ABSURD. But that’s what we’re doing to each other, and it’s a real bummer.

We have these platforms where we’re constantly sharing our highlight reels, myself included. We’re asking people to fall in love with our sunsets, and our concerts, and our cocktails without the context of whom these experiences belong to and what we’ve gone through to get here. And that gritty “how we got here” stuff matters way more to me, especially if I’m dealing with another human that I want to stand to be around for longer than 5 minutes.

But here’s the kicker. On a screen, we THINK we’re swipe-able. In real life we are not always right swipe worthy. We are not perfect tens. None of us are.

Actually, on good days when we’ve hit snooze sixteen times and skipped breakfast we are barely 6’s. On bad days we are 4’s pretending to be 6’s, expecting everyone we come across to be 11’s. We don’t look people in the eyes because we’re afraid of seeing too much of ourselves inside of them. We don’t want to see ourselves at all. When we are in front of somebody, we’re somewhere else. When we’re somewhere else, we’re mindlessly tapping and swiping through an endless array of faces and bodies like we’re trying to upgrade our seats to “even more space” on an upcoming flight.

We are walking distractions.

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When we finally round up enough courage to tell people our truths, we mistake their silence for dissonance. It’s called listening. But hey, when it’s not artificially injected with watered down beer and equally watered down dialogue it’s harder to digest. Our systems aren’t used to doing that much work, so they’re shutting down entirely.  So much so, that it causes consternation when somebody enters our chasm of unloveable qualities and squares off with the beast we have over time become. They know very well we could devour them whole. They say, “Go Ahead.”

They stand their ground. They mean it.

They know deep down, we are not these calloused creatures. We are raw. We are soft. We are products of every amazing, and terrible, and shameful experience we have been through. We are tired, and poor, and starving, and filthy, and lonely. We are all missing parts. We are all misfit toys. We are brilliantly flawed. We are chaotically arranged. And we are enough, just so.

When was the last time you really looked somebody in the eyes and let yourself feel them looking back at you? When was the last time you came to the table alone, present, and bare? Your battle scars are your body armor; but armor is heavy, Darling. All that weight? Know where to hang it up at the end of the day.

Let them see you and all your gory details.

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Photos courtesy of Sam Nute [http://samuelnute.com]