Vanilla

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Nine years ago, I worked at a software company in San Francisco.

I got the job through a temp agency and quickly converted to a full time role I probably didn’t deserve.  Being an office manager wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, but I did enjoy spending my time blogging, writing Yelp reviews (I had just become “Elite”), and gossiping with my friend Sonny about my dating and drinking life.

I lived for going out, meeting new people, networking, and documenting my adventures on the internet.  I used Blogspot at the time, and I thought my mishaps were of the genius variety.  I was certain there was more for me than a job at a front desk in SOMA, but I wasn’t quite sure how to get there.

So I went out.  A lot.

To fill the work day, I obviously needed a work crush.  When you’re 25, what job is complete without a work crush as a distraction?  I vividly remember the cottonmouth feeling of arriving on Bagel Wednesday after a long night out in the marina with my friend Mary, sweating out vodka and maybe even tacos, preparing the breakfast delivery for a team of data security engineers and executives.  I’d toast a bagel for myself, feeling partially sick as I swallowed my coffee, only to see him walk into the office kitchen.

I immediately became much too chatty, telling him all about my escapades and hinting at inviting him out with us.  He was a gentleman- a Kennedy type from Austin with an MBA- and I was certain he would see past my childish antics, realizing I was a serious writer and potential rising entrepreneur.  I mean, didn’t he see my Yelp reviews?

Nevertheless, I would go back to my desk, and Sonny would swing by and cheer me up.  He, on the other hand, adored my drunken tales of Chestnut and Fillmore Street, Taco Tuesday at the Bluelight, and which Ivy League school my latest conquest was from.

“You have special powers,” he would say.  “Men love you.”  I was extremely pleased to hear this from a 40-something gay man.

“So why doesn’t he come out with me?”  I asked Sonny.  He just smiled.

“He’s far too vanilla for you.”

I had never heard this before.

2010 was the last year I thought my reckless drinking and behavior was somewhat normal.  I was also in deep denial.  However, Sonny’s comment struck a chord.

I may have entered the decade thinking there was something wrong with me; and there was. Obviously, the Kennedy-esque work crush wasn’t interested in a hard partying 25 year old.  Nevertheless, thanks to Sonny, I discovered that maybe he wasn’t what I wanted, either.

I may not drink or go out looking for men these days, but I will never lose my quirks.  They’re what makes me me. 

I entered the decade thinking I needed to change for other people, but I’m leaving it knowing that the only person I needed to change for was myself- and no matter what I became, vanilla wasn’t meant for me.

I am definitely more of the Superman or Neapolitan variety.

The Day I Found My Freedom

I’ll never forget the feeling I had that March afternoon in San Francisco.

I was just dropped off at SFO, heading to my gate for my return flight to Michigan.  Tears in my eyes, I got out my phone to call my parents.

“I don’t want to go back,” I declared. “I’m going to call off the wedding.”

It was 2008, and I had been engaged for exactly seven months.  Although the engagement was quick, and I thought I was happy at the time, it didn’t take long for me to see the reality before my very eyes.

The day in, the day out.  The daily traffic into my corporate job.  Coming home to the same routine, every day, to the same person- at 23 years old.

I knew it wasn’t the life for me.  Two years earlier I had plans to move to New York City as soon as I graduated.  I didn’t expect to meet someone later that year, on my 22nd birthday on December 22nd, who would swoop me off to Kauai for Valentine’s Day and move me into their beautiful suburban house once I finished college.  I’ve always been a big believer in signs, so I thought, “maybe I’m not supposed to go to New York after all.”  There had to be a bigger reason for meeting this person on such a significant day to me.

Back in 2006, my partying was getting out of control despite my grand plans for finishing school and heading to the city.  At the time, it seemed like he was an angel saving me from myself.

I would later learn no one could save me but me.

When I told my father, he thought I was insane.  Of course, any father wants their daughter be taken care of and to have a good life.  A good life to me looked a bit different than my parents’ view, though.

The day before my flight, my half sister (who worked in SF at the time) and I talked about my relationship and my goals for life.  Before I even realized it, she knew the marriage wouldn’t work.  She challenged my views and helped me realize I should take some time to reconsider.  She helped me think differently about what I really wanted- because for over a year, someone else was trying to make all my decisions for me.

Little Italy, 2008

As the plane took off, I thought about how I would wait a couple of weeks before telling my fiancé that I didn’t want to get married.  I thought about what types of jobs I could apply to in San Francisco, where I would live, and who I could become.  I day dreamed of freedom, making new friends, and exploring the magical, quirky sights of the city.  My gut told me moving was the right thing to do- and from the moment my fiancé greeted me at the gate, I knew it was over.

I didn’t wait two weeks.

I told him right away.

Of course, he tried to convince me it was a phase and how my sister was envious of me. He attempted to tell me I didn’t know what I was doing and how I was meant to be with him. All of his efforts to control me- from my diet to physical activities to what I wore- filled my brain, and I no longer felt sorry for him.

I began to have a deeper compassion for myself.

For the next week I stayed on a friend’s couch, who took a day off work with me to pack up my things.  I left my princess cut diamond on the dresser, leaving behind all the furniture I helped buy with my graduation money.  No physical object was worth sacrificing my dreams- or my future.

Who knows what would have happened had I not taken that trip to see my sister in 2008. Perhaps the wedding would have happened, and maybe I would be divorced now.  We will never know.  However, despite the judgment I received from others, I knew deep in my heart that I was making the right choice.  I knew, at 23, that I didn’t want to take the easy way out and allow the wrong man to take care of me.  I simply refused to do that.

I would have to spread my wings and fly.

I would have to make mistakes on my own.

I would somehow, someway, succeed- and despite the failures, I would learn from them- because I finally had my freedom.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring, but I do know I will never have to mourn the chances I didn’t take.  It’s been nearly 12 years since I took the leap, quit my job, and blindly moved to an apartment on California and Commonwealth Avenue.  Over the course of those 12 years, I’ve lived in a dozen more apartments, several other cities, and did eventually move to New York…

All because I chose freedom.

Some of the Best Things About Turning 35

On December 22nd I turn 35.

Unlike most people, I enjoy getting older.  Just look at Jane Fonda!  While some women obsess over looking 21 again, spending thousands of dollars on Botox and anti-aging products, I wouldn’t trade anything to be in my 20s.  Sure, it’s important to moisturize, but why does society glamorize being young?

I’d rather have a few wrinkles than that 20-something soul of mine.

No, I wouldn’t trade years of experience, wisdom, and lessons to go back in time.  That girl was so lost and confused.  She had yet to discover her worth, her values, or how important it was to be herself.  She didn’t realize it was okay to just stay in on the weekend, or that being in a relationship wouldn’t complete her.  She didn’t know it was okay to simply be her.

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As years go by, I feel I better embody the person I was always meant to be: an old soul.

No longer infatuated with nights out, chaos, and what other people are doing with their lives, 35 is a nice age to settle into who you are- and what your life will be.

Since moving back to Michigan, my external life is finally reflecting how I have felt for so long on the inside.  It’s peaceful, quiet, and full of love.  It’s authentic, and it’s meaningful. Although society wraps up the “American Dream” in a mortgage with two kids and a pet dog, mine looks a whole lot like this:

At 35, you realize the joys of simplicity.

One of the best things about turning 35 is people stop consistently saying things like, “don’t worry, you’ll meet him someday,” or “you’ll change your mind and decide you want kids!”  Yes, these statements are completely stereotypical and old fashioned, but until I hit my early 30s, I still listened.

I thought, maybe I’ll change my mind. Maybe I’ll be happier if I had a boyfriend.  Society says so, right?  Wrong.

These are simply toxic messages that are illusions into thinking a milestone or another person will make you complete.

First, you have to feel complete on your own.

Another great thing about turning 35 is being confident about the choices I have made.  After 12 years of post-grad experiences, living in many big cities, and having endless dating stories, I’m certain about what I want- and what I don’t.

At 35, I live by myself with my cat, have an extra bedroom, spend my time writing, and take public transportation, Uber, or walk instead of driving.  By New York City standards, this would be considered luxury.  By Michigan standards, I am probably considered unfortunate.  Nevertheless, this is me living my best life- and it’s the life I chose.  

At 23 I may have had the house, the fiance, and the two car garage in the suburbs, but I knew that life wasn’t for me.  Each night I felt empty inside, drinking wine until I fell asleep to “According to Jim.”  Today I no longer have to explain to anyone why I left and moved to San Francisco, why I bounced from New York to Boston, or what made me decide to get sober.  It was my journey to live.  Although I’m happy to write about these experiences, it’s not up for discussion or debate with anyone else- and today, I finally know that.

At 35, I know my life is meant for me to live- and no one else.