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the story

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the first time i went to london, it was 2006. i was 20 years old, a junior in college, there for four months thanks to a study abroad program in english literature at kings college. i’d never lived in a city before, and everything excited (and terrified) me.

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a blurry big ben, snapped on my digital camera in fall 2006

kings was in central london, right in the heart of it, but i’d stupidly (or perhaps rightly) picked a dorm 20 minutes by tube from the hustle and bustle. situated atop a grassy knoll of sorts, the hampstead dorm had looked quaint and entirely british. i was sold from the moment i saw photos.

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the hampstead campus at kings college london

2006 was nearly pre-social media. instagram had yet to exist, and facebook had barely activated the photos feature, so i captured my stories in pages upon pages of emails (many of which my parents kindly printed out and saved for posterity). i had no internet in my dorm room, so when i wanted to check or send email, i walked next door to the student center, a brightly lit, harry potter-esque building with chesterfield couches and large wooden tables. i’d find a spot at a table or, if all the tables were taken, on the floor against the wall, and cue up my skidmore.edu email client.

from there, i’d sit for hours, tapping away on my keyboard, capturing my life abroad in a blue and white message box. i wrote about how crowded the tube was, how the trains were simply too small for the number of people who had to ride on them, and how, thanks to a lack of air conditioning, i’d ended up with my head up against someone’s stinky armpit more than once. i wrote about my classes in literature, how i’d walked by the home of dickens on a seemingly average street, how i’d discovered a new drink called a snakebite (1/2 cider + 1/2 beer + a shot of blackberry liqueur).

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my hampstead dorm room, fall 2006

i wrote about my dorm room, which was large and sun-drenched and came stocked not just with a large armoire, but with a small sink, at which i could wash my face and brush my teeth in the privacy of my own space (showers were shared). i wrote about the view from my window, how i could see the red shingled rooftops of the rich and the possibly famous at morning, noon and night.

 

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enough stuff to give marie kondo a heart attack

my time in london was, in so many ways, my first true adult experience. sure, college had meant leaving home, but it was london that truly took me away from what i knew. at skidmore, i lived in a small, liberal arts bubble, surrounded by people much like myself, in a town much like the one i grew up in. london was the opposite of saratoga springs: it was loud. it was dirty. it was beautiful. it was filled with people speaking english in accents so thick i could barely understand them–and also with people speaking languages i’d never even heard before.

it sizzled with energy, it vibrated with life. the streets of london were old, older than anything i’d encountered anywhere i’d ever been in the states. the students who shared my classes barely paid attention in class, but somehow managed to ace their exams come reading week. every afternoon, they’d head to the university bar (yes, the bar run by the college. this blew my mind.) for a couple of beers before heading back home for the evening. the british were polite and austere, but come evening, they tumbled out of lively pubs, smelling slightly of fish and chips, their cheeks pinked by alcohol.

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golden hour in london, fall 2006

in london, my friends and i strolled along the thames with an open bottle of grocery store white wine. “drunk birds,” an old man shouted at us as we passed, “the birds are drunk!” (birds means women, over there). we ate cheap indian food along brick lane, consumed bowl upon bowl of edamame at wagamama. on saturdays, we took the tube to notting hill and perused the rows of antiques along portobello road. once, i purchased 2 faux fur coats for 10 pounds (a steal!). i still have them; they sit in my coat closet, untouched. i can’t bear to get rid of them.

 

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my friend martha and i , out at a bar, smooching random brits

on weekends, we’d drink too much and steal away in the night to the gardening club in covent garden, or walkabout, an australian club where i once let a british soldier stick his hand down my pants in the women’s bathroom until the security guard rapped on the door and ordered us out. i often took absurdly expensive black cabs back home to hampstead at 2am, or rode the double decker bus up finchley road all on my own.

london sarah was something college sarah hadn’t yet figured out how to be: free. free to skip class every so often, because everyone else was doing it, and go exploring. free to stay out too late and drink too much and still get up the next day and do it again. free to be alone–truly alone–in a way she’d never been before. free to board a plane at 3am to a destination unknown. free to hop into the car of two unknown men along with two friends in the bermuda triangle of vienna and hope she made it back to her hostel safely. free to walk las ramblas in barcelona at 11pm. free to sing karaoke in dublin along with a crazy old man. free to get her first ever fully body massage in prague following a particularly grueling day of exploration.

 

in oh so many ways, my time in london is what led me to new york. london taught me how to live abroad, sure, but more than that, it taught me how to live, period–both alone and with the humans around me. it taught me that it was okay to be scared, and even more okay to do it anyway. it taught me that i didn’t need to go to the supermarket with friends; i could go alone. it taught me that i didn’t always need to speak the language, i could go anyway. it taught me that seeing the world–the world outside my own, the one that is so very big where i am small–was a magical, beautiful, heart-wrenching thing, and that i was lucky to be able to do so.

that’s not to say i didn’t get homesick. that i didn’t miss the comforts of america, and my own bed, and my family and my friends. that’s not to say i didn’t wish things were easier, that i didn’t sometimes cry alone in my dorm room, wishing i’d never gone so far from home.

but god, was it worth it.

and so was going back, 12 years later. in so many ways, i am vastly different from the sarah who saw london for the first time. for one thing, i’m a grown woman, not a college kid trying to figure herself out. i’ve lived in new york for ten years, and have traveled extensively since leaving college a decade ago. but i’m still me, and good lord, did the same old me feel ALL THE THINGS walking the streets i walked all those years ago, this time with a smartphone that did oh so much more than send texts tapped out on a tiny keyboard.

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in a cab from heathrow to hampstead | tuesday morning

i arrived in london on tuesday morning, may 22nd, and had approximately 3 days there before i took off for italy. i did my very best to make the most of it, spending time with family (my mom’s cousin lives in hampstead, and kindly offered to let me stay there during my visit), strolling as many streets as i possibly could, eating all of the good indian food (this was my fave), splurging on tea at sketch, going to platform 9 3/4 (obviously, had to), catching up with my old coworker, and more.

so, let’s have a look, shall we? there are a lot of photos here, so be warned. think of it as my visual diary.

 

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walking to the tube at finchley road, a walk i did every morning during my time abroad back in 2006

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black and white magic

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a tiny doorway on my walk to the tube

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beautiful hampstead

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this garden in hampstead took my breath away

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the guest room at my mom’s cousins’ home | where i spent my time in london

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a doorway adorned with flowers

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magical brick buildings of london

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matching my surrounding during golden hour | hampstead london

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an afternoon in notting hill

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adorned in ivy | notting hill

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bright red doors | notting hill

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a night at artist residence hotel | pimlico london

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cambridge street kitchen | artist residence hotel | pimlico london

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textile dreams | cambridge street kitchen | pimlico london

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bright red in the sunshine | marylebone lane london

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sunset in pimlico

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paid $10 for this photo op and i’m not even the least bit ashamed

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the pink room | high tea at sketch | london

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decked out in florals |sketch london

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high tea tower of sweets (and some savory) | sketch london

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trippy bathroom selfies | sketch london

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crazy pod toilets | sketch london

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welcome to paradise | sketch london

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afternoon coffee | west hampstead london

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3 americans, 1 brit, 1 italian |dinner ahead of our weekend in italy| shoreditch london

at the tail end of my trip, following a long weekend in italy and nearly a week in nice, i boarded a plane back to london, and spent one last afternoon/evening in the city before flying back home to new york. the following photos are the ones i snapped during my last evening abroad, back at artist residence (but in a different room!) and exploring the pimlico neighborhood once more.

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tan, tired, and happy | exploring the streets of pimlico london

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decked in flowers | the streets of pimlico

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seeing what all the fuss is about | peggy porschen cakes

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i think i could live here | pimlico london

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dusk falls on pimlico

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why yes, i’m certain i could live here

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mews | pimlico london

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side by side | pimlico london

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lime green | pimlico london

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number 21 | pimlico london

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travel | kings cross st pancras london

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dickens | pimlico london

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what dreams are made of | artist residence hotel | pimlico london

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i ended my last night in europe here

 

 

 

i’m oh so thankful to have the means to travel–to go back to cities i loved in my twenties and see them through the lens of my thirties. london, you were a dream, and as always, i just can’t quit you.

 

 

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last night, i attended my first ever shareholders meeting. for those who don’t know, i live in a coop here in NYC, which means that technically, i own shares of my building, rather than truly owning a piece of property (like i would if i had purchased a condo). coop buildings come with coop boards, and every so often, those boards hold meetings where the shareholders (aka, everyone who lives in the building) can come and discuss proposed updates for the coming year.

having never been to one of these shindigs before, i figured it would be a relatively simple affair: people would sit in the community room, the board would give us some updates, and boom! we’d be done, and head back up to our respective apartments to cook late dinners (me) or tuck our kids into bed (other people).

BOY WAS I WRONG. you guys, the meeting was insanity. it wasn’t even a meeting, really, but rather, a multi-hour time block set aside for people to air their many grievances about the building. as it turns out, despite us living in a not really that fancy building, let’s be real, people feel strongly about us having certain things. like a fancy laundry room–one that doesn’t vent dryer air out into the courtyard. like fountains that only shoot to certain heights, lest they be interpreted as lewd (more to come on this. PUN INTENDED).

i walked into the meeting a little bit late, having just gotten home from work (and honestly, having forgotten the meeting was even happening). i sat in the back, careful not to crowd any families or couples or people who seemed to know other people. for the first ten minutes, i scrolled through my emails on my phone, pretending to be busy so that i didn’t have to acknowledge that i was there all by myself. having been in the grand apartment for a year and a half, i’ve mostly gotten past the whole “i’m here alone” thing, but every so often, the feelings of inadequacy and loneliness creep in, and let me tell you: there is NOTHING more lonely than sitting on a plastic folding chair in a busy common room where you’re talking to exactly NO ONE. being surrounded by groups–either neighbors who’d been in the building forever and knew all their floormates, or young families who huddled together, showcasing the latest ‘cute kid’ photos on their phone–was sobering. when i’m up in my apartment by myself, i could care less that i’m there alone. but being alone in a crowded room…WOOF.

but that, friends, is a story for a different day. you’ve heard me wax poetic about my loneliness before, and that’s not why we’re here today. today, we’re here to reenact the ridiculousness that was my first board meeting.

so, let’s set the scene, shall we?

picture about nine rows of plastic folding chairs. they’re white, but dingy, old. people are scattered amongst the rows, some on cell phones, others engaged in conversation. towards the front of the room sit about 5 older men (all men, always all men–the women who interviewed me when i applied to live in the building were nowhere to be found) at a series of folding tables. in front of the tables is a small podium.

7:15 comes and goes. 7:30 arrives. the board president, an elderly man with tufts of white hair and large glasses, makes his way to the podium and clears his throat. he informs us that we haven’t met quorum, but that we can go through the agenda items, and schedule the voting portion of the meeting for another time.

agenda items include very important things like new laundry machines, fountain enhancements, and self-inspections for leaky faucets (yes, that was an actual agenda item; see my photo above).

abe, the president (ha!), calls the meeting to order. he introduces the folks at the long tables, apologizes for/explains an incorrect abatement warning letter we all received from the city, and then launches into the good stuff: let’s talk about the fountain.

editor’s note: we have a fountain in our courtyard. when it’s nice out, the fountain runs, pumping water up and out into a small pool. it’s a lovely feature, one that drew me to the building when i first came to look at the grand apartment. apparently, it’s also one of great contention.

see, earlier this year, the fountain got a little refresh. the previously sad spurt of water was now high and mighty, and one night, i walked by to see it was lit. IN A RAINBOW OF COLORS. i texted our super immediately: what was this ugly, tacky ass shiz?! but beyond that, i didn’t think much of it. 

back to scene. abe tells us he knows that some of the shareholders have had “issues” with the fountain restoration, and assures us that they’re still working out the kinks. at this point, all hell breaks loose.

a woman stands up in the third row, and tells abe she’s got a little something to say on that front. as it turns out, she has more than a few issues with the fountain restoration. she finds the “ejaculatory nature” of the water levels to be lewd, she finds the bright rainbow lights offensive (especially in a building that should have landmark status!). at the words “ejaculatory nature” the crowd gasps. there’s silence, but just for a second.

undeterred, she soldiers on. she’s a designer, she tells us. she’s lived in this building for 15 years (15 years, people!) and she cannot imagine what the board was thinking. a kind soul passes her a microphone, all the better with which to broadcast her rant.

two rows in front of me, an older man straight out of the shtetl mutters to himself in a thick eastern european accent, but makes no attempt to reach for the microphone. the peanut gallery begins to converse. people agree–the rainbow lights are entirely too tacky for our lovely pre-war building.

abe tries to calm the crowd, and tells us that the rainbow lights are only temporary. even the empire state building is doing it! he says above the din. the empire state building is an art deco building! it’s fun! it’s modern! people like to take pictures of the fountain at night.

at this, the woman with the microphone explodes. THIS ISN’T ABOUT TAKING PHOTOS! THIS IS OUR HOME! i hear her hatred of the instagram generation simmering below the surface, and duck my head instinctively, lest she single me out.

HEAR HEAR! the crowd chants. shtetl man nods to himself in front of me. eez tacky, yes, i picture him saying.

next up on the agenda is the laundry room. we’re getting new machines (this is a good thing!). people fail to see past this; instead, they choose to focus on the fact that our ventilation system is busted–the smell of dryer sheets permeates the courtyard air. a man in the row next to me stands up, and requests the microphone. he tells us he lives above the laundry room, and while new machines are great, he’d rather spend our money where it counts: on venting the dryer air elsewhere. like, out onto grand street.

abe pushes back on this. this type of job would require a mechanical engineer, this type of job would cost tens of thousands of dollars.

he motions to issac, our building manager, a man who i’ve previously only spoken to on the phone and whom i’m overjoyed to learn is an adorable, diminutive, soft spoken soul in a kippah. he’s like every average jewish guy i went to summer camp with, but smaller! i want to put him in my pocket and carry him around to fight my battles in his lovely, soothing voice.

issac, abe asks. how many people do we have living in this building?

issac estimates the number to be around 240, not counting spouses.

almost 400then. abe says, loudly. he futzes with his sweater, and stares pointedly at the laundry complainer. and how many complaints have we had about the smell of dryer sheets in the courtyard?

issac stares at his shoes. about 4, maybe 5.

FOUR! abe roars. FOUR OR FIVE COMPLAINTS. IN A BUILDING THIS LARGE. 

shtetl man gets up from his seat. he’s had enough of this.

laundry man shakes his head. he’s frustrated. if the board would only consult a professional, he says. he’s an architect, and he’s seen these things done, even in old buildings like ours.

a voice emerges from the front row. a woman who’s also lived here for many, many years has a solution. she’d like to tell us about it. may she have the microphone?

the microphone is passed to the front.

the issue with the ventilation, she tells us, is the scent. dryer sheets are toxic, and people should knowmaybe, she thinks, the board could tell people to stop using dryer sheets. then we wouldn’t have this problem. 

my ears perk up. i love dryer sheets! i love how they make my clothes smell! i am clearly the enemy here. i wonder if i’ll ever come across this woman in the laundry room, and if she’ll scold me when i take out my bounce sheets and put them into the dryer.

abe shakes his head. we cannot possibly control who uses dryer sheets, he says. and if we were to speak ill of them, we could be sued by the companies.

the peanut gallery goes wild. who on earth would sue our dinky little lower east side coop?!

abe persists. we will not ban dryer sheets. when the new dryers are installed, he tells us, he’ll look into fixing the ventilation issue.

we’re now more than an hour into the meeting and only halfway through the agenda. my stomach is growling. it’s 8:45 and i haven’t yet eaten, and i look around me, wildly, for an escape route.

after a few more minutes of uninspired fighting about the laundry room–will prices be raised? will strangers still be able to walk in and use the machines?!–abe puts a moratorium on the conversation. issac, kind soul that he is, offers to schedule an appointment with laundry man to talk to him about his issues living above the dryers, and strategize about ways to fix it. laundry man is unsatisfied, but seems to understand he’s lost the battle for now.

sensing a lull in the meeting, i duck out into the aisle, busy myself with grabbing my packages (they store them at security whilst we’re at work), and head out the side door.

but not before i whisper to my favorite security guard, with the most exaggerated eye roll in the world, THIS. SHIT. WAS. INSANE.

he grins, and shrugs his shoulders. it’s just another day in the life, i suppose.

 

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this morning, around 10am, a text message lit up my phone. it read, “happy valentine’s day (the worst holiday ever).” my phone suggested it was from “maybe: andrew” — a guy from tinder that i’d texted a bit with a few weeks ago.

i’d swiped right on andrew because he was cute, because he was older (and presumably wiser) than me. i’d given him my number because he was witty, and when his opening text read, “hi sarah. let the sexting begin! jk jk” i’d thought him funny and self aware. i told him i’d gotten quite a few unsolicited dick pics in the past, and that i appreciated the jk.

we chatted throughout the evening. andrew seemed like someone i could have a drink with, maybe even dinner. but after that night, i never heard from him again.

until today—valentine’s day—of all days.

my immediate response to his text (after taking a few minutes to scroll through our previous text exchange and orient myself to who exactly “maybe: andrew” was) was that it was indeed the worst holiday ever.

i then asked how many tinder ladies he’d sent that text to.

“oh only about 10 lol.”

first of all: i can’t imagine marrying a man who uses lol un-ironically. second of all: ten. ten! like it was nothing. such is the world we live in. a world where single men can drink from the fountain of youthful women all day ever day, whilst those same women pluck and tone and bleach and pray that they’ll someday be deemed a mate acceptable enough to leave the fray behind.

did i mention that valentine’s day makes me a wee bit bitter?

here’s the thing: i don’t give two shits about andrew. like, not even a little bit, not at all. but he was a reminder of another guy–one who i would’ve loved a valentine’s day text from.

we’ll call him d. d and i met back in october. he was visiting new york from england. we spent multiple nights in a row together following our first date. the second night, i invited him to come home with me after dinner. i figured i had nothing to lose. he was nice. he was normal. he liked me. i liked him. i told myself i was the type who could do a casual thing and be okay with it. sometimes i am that girl! (sometimes i’m not)

the next morning, he got up for his flight back to england, and told me i’d hear from him soon.

i wrote it off – i’d recently been burned and figured this was just another guy who planned to get his kicks in and then disappear. imagine my surprise when d texted at 11am saying he’d made it safely to the airport and that he’d had a great time.

from october to december, we texted daily (note: texted, never spoke on the phone – this should have been a warning sign to me). and then in early december, when i got up the guts to tell him how i felt (spoiler: i had feelings, as one tends to catch after months of constant contact), he disappeared.

a week or so later, i went to lunch with a few of my coworkers. ben, the only man in the group, was talking us through our troubles, and when i began to fill him in on the latest with d, he stopped me mid-sentence.

“you know what this is, right?”

i looked at my tuna melt. yes, deep down, i knew what it was. it was nothing. i was someone to flirt with, a fun fling to be played out via whats app—anything but the real thing. i knew all of this. but i sure as hell didn’t want to hear it said aloud.

why, i asked ben, had he wasted time telling me that what he remembered about me wasn’t the time we spent in my bed, but that my smile lit up a room? that my laugh was contagious? that a two hour cab ride from bristol to london was nothing if he was talking to me all the way home? if he wanted a cheap fuck (pardon my french), he could have gotten across the pond.

ben shrugged. a loose translation of his explanation: it was an easy in. i was an easy in. guys know girls fall for shit like that, so they say it. i was a distraction from life at home—nothing less, nothing more.

that hurt. for the next few weeks, i busied myself with holiday preparation. i went home to my parents over christmas. i went away to vermont with friends for new years. i told myself that life was amazing, that it was nothing. i gave myself the types of pep talks you give your best friends: he wasn’t worth it. you deserve better. you are wonderful and he would be lucky to date you.

by early january, it hurt a bit less.

and then, last sunday evening, my phone lit up. it was d. he was in LA, and wanted me to know that in a contest between the two cities, he’d decided new york won out. we resumed our usual banter. rather than calling him out for ghosting me just two months prior, i played along. we talked about the trip i was booking to europe for a friends’ wedding over the summer. he offered to play tour guide in london and sent me a screenshot of his calendar: a bright blue rectangle reading “sarah visits” appeared on may 27th.

he asked me when the wedding was, then said he’d love to come—he’d never been to nice. i pointed out that coming to the wedding meant he’d be my date. that he’d have to meet my friends.

his response?

“i’ll meet your friends and tell them how amazing i think you are.”

that one line was enough for me to think that maybe the second time around, it would be different.

it wasn’t, of course. it never is.

within a week, he’d fallen off again, texting short, curt replies to my questions about how he was enjoying mardi gras in new orleans (his second stop), offering only what was polite—no more, no less.

this, from the same guy who’d told me only 7 days prior he’d rent a hotel room for us to stay in during my time in london, who contemplated an airbnb so that he could cook me indian food from scratch.

as soon as i engaged, as soon as i texted first, he pulled away. a game. the game.

of course, it’s my own fault, partially. having previously closed off my heart to him, i opened it back up again without a second thought. i allowed myself to think this was different. that his reaching out to me meant he missed me (doubtful). i dared to think that maybe, just maybe, i would be enough this time. enough to convince him i was more than a three night stand.

i wasn’t. i’m not. not to him, at least. and while i know that this particular hurt shall pass—advice i gave to a good friend going through a somewhat similar situation just today—it seems to hurt just a bit more today of all days. the holiday meant to celebrate love. the love i don’t have. the holiday that brings “maybe: andrew” out of the woodwork, looking for a drinking buddy and maybe a fuck buddy too.

“maybe: andrew” isn’t the one for me. and d isn’t either. but just once, just once, i wish one of them would be, you know?

i got an instagram message from a fellow single lady today. in it, she said, “i am very happy with my life, but sometimes the doubting voices do creep in.”

and that’s all it is, isn’t it? the doubting voices that tell us that because we’re not enough right now–in this moment, with this particular person–we’ll never be so.

but that isn’t the truth. it’s not. these are things i tell myself, over and over again. and also, this: that one can be enough without needing a partner to complete them, or tell them they are so. i do not need d to tell me that my life is worthy of living, that my contribution to this planet is singular and magical and that i am oh so lucky to have all that i have. and i sure as hell don’t need to hear it from “maybe: andrew.”

here is my wish for myself, and for you, too: that today, but also ALL DAYS, we remember that we are enough. and that nobody gets to tell us (or make us feel) otherwise.

say it with me now: i am enough.

because you are. and i am too.

 

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{preface: i haven’t been writing much on here because this blog is meant to be one about my home and my renovation projects, and there hasn’t been much to talk about over the past few months. but this morning i felt like writing something else, so i did. for those of you that read for the pretty, well, today isn’t that. but i hope you’ll stick around anyway.}

you know those days where you wake up and you just don’t feel like yourself? i had one of those days yesterday. blaaaame it on the rain, blame it on the fact that i slept in and skipped my usual bar method class, blame it on drinking 3 glasses of wine the night before. either way, i just felt off. it happens sometimes, right? (tell me i’m not alone here)

i remember a time about a year ago where i felt REALLY off for a good week or so. it got to the point where i freaked out a bit. there was no trigger to my bad mood, just a lingering sadness and a halo of anxiety that i couldn’t seem to shake. i called my parents around day 4 (they’re both doctors, and have seen me through my share of ups and downs), and tearfully asked if i needed to check myself in somewhere. THIS IS WEIRD, i said. I’M NOT MYSELF. HELP.

with the kind of calming assurance that only a mother can offer, they gave me a bit of advice, and it’s advice i follow to this day when i’m feeling off. “go distract yourself. go take a soul cycle class, take a bath, go get your nails done, go out to eat.” in short: get up and get out. out of your head, out in the world. go do the things you know make you happy. and do them again, and again, and again. and guess what? generally, when i do that, in a few days time, i wake up feeling like myself again. the fog passes, or rather, i pass through it.

i don’t dare indicate that my mental health stuff is anywhere near “bad” – lord knows it could be much worse. but i do believe in talking about it, because i don’t think we do that nearly enough (for inspirational people that do this well, see @jengotch), especially not on social media, where perfect and pretty is the name of the game.

so, here it is: i had a bad day yesterday. a bad day where i still had to go to work, and see all the people and do all the things. and guess what, guys? people do that EVERY DAY. we get up and we get out and we interact and we move forward, even when we feel like shit. it’s a good reminder to be kind to everyone you meet, because you never can tell who’s having a moment (most of us are pretty good at hiding it).

i handled it by getting my ass to an evening bar method class even though i wanted to cancel. and then to a tiny ethiopian restaurant where i ate curried lentils with my bare hands alongside my dear friend martha (who, as it turned out, was also having a bit of a shit day). and then this morning, i rose with the sun, and i biked my butt over the williamsburg bridge to a 7am soul cycle class where i REALLY sweat my shit out. i headbanged to the chainsmokers and sprinted my face off, then biked back over the bridge (bless you, citi bike). by the time i put my key into my front door at 8:15, i felt like a new woman.

in other words: i got up. i got out. and i got the F out of my own head. and damn, did it feel good.

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“you just wait. once you buy this apartment, the men will come knocking. you won’t be able to turn them away fast enough.”

it was a sunny day in early summer, and my friend sarah and i were taking a stroll around the neighborhood near our office. i was complaining about dating, or the lack of dates i was currently going on. it was the absolute worst, i fumed. the apps were a veritable minefield of crazies, dick pics (sorry, mama), and assholes who’d sleep with you and then never call you again.

there wasn’t a good man left to be found in the city of new york, i was sure of it. no, i hadn’t dated them all, but over the past year, i’d gone on enough online dates to know that it wasn’t for me, and that i was likely destined to be single forever, and definitely destined to be single when i signed on the dotted line for the grand apartment.

i was sick of it, of all of it–of getting dressed and getting my hopes up, of braving the smoky air of yet another dimly lit bar only to realize i was stuck with yet another hour of boredom, of the MOST un-stimulating conversation i’d ever encountered. i felt like charlotte york: i’ve been dating since i was 16! i’m exhausted! WHERE IS HE?! and also, MY HAIR HURTS. {kudos if you get these references, if you don’t, you need to get thee to an HBO Go account, pronto}

“come on,” sarah said. “it’s not that bad.” and maybe it wasn’t. or maybe, soon, it wouldn’t be. after all, sarah had reconnected with an old boyfriend soon after purchasing her own apartment (on her own, just like me). it was proof that one could do a big thing alone, and very soon after, be one half of a whole.

~

last august, around the time i broke ground on the grand apartment, i started seeing a guy i met off tinder. we hit it off immediately. he was too good looking for me, i knew it from the start, but that didn’t stop me from falling for him over cheap beers at some weird NYU-esque bar on west 4th street. in the span of a few weeks, we saw each other as many times. i slept with him too quickly, because, well, i think with my heart and not my head. and then i went away for 2 weeks, and i never heard from him again. i tried texting him once, during my trip, and his response was so cagey that i backed off. the guy who’d literally pushed me up against a wall within 2 minutes of my walking through his door wanted nothing to do with me. i couldn’t figure it out, so i tried not to ruminate on it (and what it said about me) too much.

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come september, construction work and design choices and the stress of a renovation caught up to me, and i stopped dating all together. as i’ve written about before, the purchasing and renovation process was an isolating one. it was as though i was reminded of my aloneness around every corner. there was a sense that i’d never wake up next to another person in the queen size bed i purchased, that i’d never flip pancakes on my brand new griddle alongside someone else’s bare feet on a sunday morning, that i’d be alone, really and truly alone, forever.

this sense of aloneness was juxtaposed, however, by an underlying current of pride. pride that this thing i was doing, it was big and it was scary, and i was doing it all by myself. on some days, my aloneness took on an almost sacred quality. it was rare. it was beautiful. it was magical. and it was just me.

~

i moved in on halloween, october 31st, and i started to dip my toes back into the pool of dating shortly after the new year. for months, it was a series of failed tinder chats, strange apps named after breakfast pairings, and nothing happy to report. every time my mother would call, she would ask me, “what’s new?” and i could hear in her voice that maybe, just maybe, today would be the day when i would tell her not about work, not about spin class, not about the latest crazy person i’d seen on the street, but about a romantic interest. i could spin the tale out from there without her even saying a thing. romance leads to love leads to marriage leads to babies leads to grandchildren. it’s a simple equation, really, once you find the one.

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but i couldn’t, it seemed, find the one. hell, i could barely find anyone at all. i felt the pressure of the clock ticking. i turned 31 in january, an age i never thought i’d reach, and all of a sudden, i was staring down the barrel of 35, and then 40, and then sudden death with no babies in sight.

all around me, people walked hand in hand. they stood on tippy toes to kiss on subway platforms. they shared cheesy engagement videos on facebook. the romances swirled around me, everywhere but just out of reach.

and as jealous as i was, as much as i, too, wanted that, i started to grow comfortable in my aloneness. i was alone, but i wasn’t necessarily lonely. i was doing just fine, THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

and in that comfort, something odd happened: i went from having zero prospects to having 3 very nice, perfectly normal (at least, on the surface) men interested in me. there’d been a drought, and all of a sudden, i was trying not to schedule two guys on the same night. sarah was right: the men had come knocking.

i tell you this not to be like, oooh look at me, i’m hot shit, but because ultimately, i couldn’t do it.  i had what i wanted: i had people who wanted to be with me. hell, one of them even spent our second date months ahead of himself in the future, talking about the antiquing we’d do upstate, and asking me how i felt about hiking (spoiler alert: i hate it). but i didn’t, i couldn’t, want them.

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and it made me wonder: had i gotten so used to being alone that i couldn’t bear the thought of another person breaking through that aloneness? was it them, or was it me? i thought about it some more:

the first guy was a dud, through and through. he said he wanted to be a comedian, but he could barely carry on a conversation. i sat through one awkward date, and granted him a second, thinking maybe his nerves had rendered him mute the first time. of course, it wasn’t nerves. it was just his lack of personality that had turned me off. i swear to god, the man was so freaking vanilla. not even vanilla! he was CARDBOARD.

the second guy was, over text, innately charming, and funny as hell. he even threw in a bieber pun here and there. i was shaking in my boots nervous to meet him, hoping desperately his real life self would live up to his online self. i was sorely disappointed. he was so nervous that he could barely lift his drink up to his mouth. he kept wanting to know more about me: what did i like to do? who were my friends? what did i do every day after work? what did i think about work? what were my hobbies? how long had i been doing them? it was like he was playing 20 questions, a detective trying to get me to crack. it was exhausting! i felt like yelling, ASKING ME EVERY SINGLE GODDAMN THING ABOUT MYSELF ISN’T GOING TO ENDEAR ME TO YOU. IT’S JUST GOING TO FREAK ME OUT.

and that was just the beginning. texting me after our second date, he mentioned he lived far out in brooklyn, but when we dated, we’d obviously spend most of our time at my place, you know, since the lower east side was way cooler than his neighborhood.

i shit you not. my fists clenched almost automatically. i felt my heart seize up. how DARE he think he could come into this home–my home, the one that i had literally sacrificed blood, sweat and WAY TOO MANY tears for over the past 9 months–without an invitation? how dare he assume that he was welcome in my sanctuary, the place i had created all by my damn self?

and then i caught myself. this was what i wanted, wasn’t it? someone who wanted to go upstate and go antiquing on the weekends? someone who wanted to eat toast and runny eggs at my breakfast bar on the weekends? someone who would appreciate it when i told them i sealed that entire wall of exposed brick without a professional, that i’d picked out every last piece of the grand apartment, right down to the toilet paper roll he used to wipe his ass in the morning?

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i had it, right in front of me, a perfectly nice (albeit a little overeager) man who wanted to take me out for watermelon margaritas on a wednesday and walk me home afterwards, and who had already, by the second date, started picturing our life together in the future.

and i couldn’t do it.

i broke it off a few days later, telling myself i had a third guy waiting in the wings.

and guess what? he, too, was perfectly nice. he was a swede who worked for spotify, and who had transferred 6 months ago to their new york office. like me, he was a foodie who liked indie music. like me, he owned an apartment (in stockholm). he lived in williamsburg, and he ordered a scotch egg on our first date.

i should’ve been all in. he was cute, he was cool, he was interesting. our conversation, over the span of 3 dates, had very few lulls.

and still, i couldn’t do it.

suitors 1 and 2, sure, i could write them off. they were awkward, they were immature, they were overeager, they were bad conversationalists. but suitor #3 had not a flaw in sight. and still, i didn’t feel it. on paper, it was all there, but in real life, standing outside his apartment at midnight on a saturday, i didn’t feel the need to pull closer, i didn’t want to be invited upstairs.

i just wanted to go home. to my home, that i built all on my own. and i wanted to go there alone.

~

i’m not sure what the point of writing this all out was. most likely, it just proves that i have some serious baggage and that my twice-weekly soulcycle classes are no longer cutting it as therapy. but i’ve always used writing as a way to work my shit out, and i suppose i hope that putting my thoughts down on virtual paper might help me sort my way through them.

because here’s the thing: there’s nothing wrong with being alone, if that’s what you want. i’m not sure i really believe this sentiment, but i want to, very badly. i want to believe that a person in today’s world can be self-sufficient, that they can be alone, and that they can be happy in that aloneness.

i also want to believe that my turning down these three guys wasn’t just me running scared. it was my gut telling me, these people aren’t yours. they’re not right for you.

and i want to believe that the person who is mine is still out there. and that when i meet him, i’ll invite him in–to both my home and my heart–without hesitation.

 

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last week, i spent an evening wandering around the enormously overwhelming aisles of ikea all by my lonesome. i had biked over from manhattan with a singular goal in mind: i needed to order my kitchen sink and my range hood, both of which, the ikea website told me, were “likely to be in stock” when i arrived.

i had assumed that going to the swedish superstore on a weeknight would cut down on crowds, but i hadn’t expected it to be practically empty. ikea red hook is housed in what is effectively an enormous warehouse; take out the people, and it begins to take on a solemn, echoing feel.

by the time i docked my bike across the street from US fried chicken (an eerie looking joint alongside the red hook NYCHA housing project), it had started to rain, a light sprinkle, glistening in the streetlights above. i picked up my pace, partially because i was the only one walking the quiet streets, partially because i worried it would soon start to pour. i felt, just for a moment, scarily, freakily alone. i plugged my headphones into my phone and called my parents. they were at home, starting to eat dinner. i pictured them bustling around the kitchen, warm with yellow light. there’d be a freshly made salad sitting in the middle of their table, and one mom would be yelling at the other to grab the ken’s caesar lite out of the fridge. the news would be on in the background, or perhaps, an episode of madame secretary.

“i’m on my way to ikea,” i said.

“now?”

“it’s raining,” i said in response.

“how did you get there!?”

“i biked, but i had to dock right next to the projects, and now i’m walking alone on a deserted street, so i thought i’d call.”

good mothers that they are, they stayed on the phone with me until i was safely ensconced in the bright yellow and blue womb that is every ikea store in the world (points for consistency, ikea).

as soon as i disconnected the call, i was, again, alone. and much to my surprise, ikea was almost empty. the emptiest i’d ever seen it, certainly. a lone couple sat at the restaurant, sharing a plate of swedish meatballs, heads hunched together, talking quietly.

a woman rode the escalator ahead of me, her husband bringing up the rear, his hand intertwined in hers.

as i entered the showroom, i did what i always do at ikea: i wandered into the faux homes, trying to imagine myself living in them. could i do it, live in a 420 square foot studio? if it was designed by ikea, perhaps.

i opened the kitchen cabinets, peered inside, exited. a few paces ahead of me, two children skidded into the aisle, nearly knocking into me.

“ten cuidado,” their father scolded, “la señora!”

he shook his head, “lo siento.”

it was fine, i told him. here i was, alone in ikea on a wednesday night, in no particular rush.

i arrived at the kitchen area, and snapped some shots of my soon to be sink in situ. flagging down a sales person, i inquired as to the process of bringing one home with me.

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“well, you have a few options,” she began. “if you want to carry it out with you–are you alone?–you can do that, or you can have it delivered.”

there it was again, that reminder, ever so quiet, yet ever so powerful, that i was, indeed, alone. that i was…that i am, doing this entire thing alone.

“it’s just me,” i laughed, nervously. “i don’t think i could get it out of here on my own. it looks heavy!”

“okay, then, delivery it is. just write down the three numbers, and bring it to the home delivery desk downstairs. they’ll take care of everything for you.”

with that, she was gone. a transaction with zero fanfare. a big moment for me (I AM BUYING A KITCHEN SINK FOR AN APARTMENT IN NEW YORK CITY THAT I OWN), just another hour at work for her.

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i looked at my sink, price tag and bin number dangling in front of me. beside me, a couple contemplated a faucet.

just for a minute, i let myself imagine what it would be like to be the couple next to me, to be one half of a full unit. to not be alone in ikea on a wednesday night, stupidly feeling like i have to explain myself to a salesgirl who could care less about why i can’t tote the sink home on my own.

i let myself think about how it would feel to turn to my partner and say, “what do you think? can we lift it? that would fit in the backseat of a cab, don’t you think?”

i gave myself a moment. i gave myself one shuddering breath and a few tears dotting the corners of my eyes, and then i moved on.

i pulled my shoulders back, i took my chin from the ground to the sky, i took a deep breath, and i took myself downstairs to the delivery department, where i gave a nice woman with fabulously glittery fingernails my information, and scheduled my delivery for wednesday the 6th of october.

and then i treated myself to a $30 car service across the manhattan bridge, and i rolled down the window, despite the rain. as we inched across the iron behemoth, i stared out at the city–my city, of which i now own a piece–and i told myself, over and over, that being alone in ikea wasn’t the worst of things, not really, not even a little bit, not at all.

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yesterday,  i was at brunch with my friend lisa, filling her in on the status of the apartment, complaining about all the red tape surrounding renovation, when she asked me a seemingly simple question.

“what made you decide to do this now?”

the implied subtext of the above, of course (whether she meant this or not), being “why do this now, when it’s just you, alone?” why not wait until i was married, or at least, in a serious relationship? that’s when most people make big real estate purchases, right?

there are a myriad of reasons why i bought the grand apartment now: i came into a small inheritance. my parents were willing to help me with a down payment. i finally admitted to myself that i wasn’t leaving new york anytime soon. i am lucky enough to have a good job where i make good money. i was sick of throwing thousands of dollars a year in rent down the drain. i wanted to own a piece of manhattan. i wanted an investment.

but the number one reason? in my heart of hearts, it’s very much connected to the “just you” subtext of lisa’s question.

see, i turned 30 about six months ago, and suffice it to say that relationship-wise, i’m not where i thought i’d be at this point in my life. all around me, people are getting engaged, getting married, settling down with the loves of their lives, even starting to pop out little humans. and then there’s me. still alone, still single, still unwed.

all throughout this process, i’ve had a certain sex and the city episode in the back of my mind. in it, miranda decides to set out on her own and buy a place. touring an apartment with a middle aged broker, miranda marvels at the pre-war charm.

“just you?” the broker asks her.

“just me,” miranda replies.

the broker proceeds to try and set miranda up with her (also single) son.

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later on in the episode, when miranda applies for her mortgage, the broker asks her again, “just you?” he wrongly assumes the down payment is coming from her father (it’s not). begrudgingly, he tells her to check the “single woman” box.

now, this is television, not real life. i don’t recall checking any boxes marked “single woman” over the past few months, and i have completed mounds upon mounds of paperwork. but i’d be lying if i haven’t wondered, ever since i started this, if the men guiding me through this process have been biting their tongues, secretly asking themselves, “what’s wrong with her? why is she doing this alone?”

it’s like every time i take a step forward in this process, cartoon versions of the question pop up around me, clouding my vision. just you? just you? JUST YOU? really, it’s just you?

towards the end of the sex and the city episode i’m referencing, we see miranda, all moved in to her new apartment, surrounded by mounds of boxes. she feeds the cat, turns on some shitty television, and pops a bite of chinese takeout into her mouth. almost immediately, miranda starts choking on the food, and runs around the apartment, grasping her throat while the cat looks on.

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her cat can’t help her. there’s no one there to help her. she is alone in the new apartment that she bought, just her. eventually, she runs into a cardboard box stomach first, performing her very own heimlich. the offending piece of food pops out, and miranda calls carrie, panicking. what if she dies alone? what if she dies alone, and when the paramedics come to find her, she’s been eating shitty chinese food, and the only one there is her cat? 

i can’t lie. i’ve never choked on my chinese food, but i’ve spent many a night on my couch consuming it while watching endless episodes of law and order: svu with my cat by my side. and i’ve had that very same thought: what if i die here, alone, and there’s no one to find me but my cat, who, despite her undying love for me, will eventually be so overcome by hunger than she decides to eat the human who has loved and cared for her for the past 10 years.

i’m being overly dramatic, of course, but you catch my drift: it is a scary thing to be “just you” in the world. all around me, i see happiness, i see partnership, i see marriage, and babies, and people “moving on” with their lives and becoming real grownups. and then there’s me, moving on in so many ways but still so stagnant in this one department.

that’s why i bought this apartment. because no one can have it all, but i can have this – this one thing, this one place, this one corner of the universe that is mine, and mine alone – just me.

when i was home for july 4th, my parents told me they’d recently spoken with a financial planner. that planner had set aside a decent chunk of money for both my sister’s wedding, and my own. i can’t speak for my sister, but speaking for myself, the news crushed me. a tiny little bit of my heart snapped off and disappated into thin air. my parents, ever the optimists, planning for a wedding that may never come to fruition. my parents, seeing the good in me, believing that someday, someone else will see it too. my parents, planning for a future that could never come.

it hurt. because as much as i want marriage and kids and the white picket fence for myself, i really, really want it for them. i want them to live long enough to walk me down the aisle, two moms flanking their daughter. i want them to bounce baby grandchildren on either side of their hips, to hear them sing lullabies to my babies, to hear my mom say, just like my grandma did, “aw aw bay-by, aw aw bay-by” over and over until their tiny little eyes close and their breathing slows.

i want that so bad it hurts. some days, i wake up and i think, holy shit, i’m thirty fucking years old and i have nothing to show for it. and i just see myself as a ticking time bomb, like before i know it i’ll wake up and be 50 and my parents will be dead and gone and they’ll never have gotten the chance to see me twirl around in a white dress or waddle around as an enormous pregnant lady.

but those are the bad days. on the good days, i am able to remind myself of a few things:

first, just because i am alone now does not mean i will be alone forever.

second, there is no timeline. there are wants, there are wishes, but i am on no one’s track but my own.

third, alone does not have to mean lonely. because 99% of the time, i am NOT lonely. sure, i want someone to stand behind me while i flip pancakes on a sunday morning, but i do not lack for much in my life. i have incredible friends. i have an amazing family. i have a job i quite like, coworkers i adore. i have a city that is so alive it literally vibrates with energy at all hours of the day. i have oh so much to be thankful for.

at the top of that list? this little home i bought. the little home i am going to make my own. and on my good days, i’m not just not upset that it’s just me. i am really fucking PROUD that it’s just me. that i have this opportunity, that i took this opportunity, that i am doing this, really doing it, on my own.

just me.