How To Be Perfect

perfect

 

I don’t think it’s going to shock you to hear me say that I’m a perfectionist. Maybe I was born this way, maybe it’s the way that I was made through years of parental expectation and ballet classes, but I can’t remember a time where “good enough” was ever actually good enough.

This hasn’t always been a bad thing. My grades were only ever perfect, because that’s all I could do. And as an adult, I’ve built a career out of being detail-oriented. I don’t know how to be anything else than at my best.

But it isn’t always a good thing, either. Aspiring to perfection means that you always, ALWAYS fail. You will never be perfect. You will never write the perfect sentence or take the perfect picture, execute the perfect look. I have a very hard time recognising my achievements, because all I can ever see is the vast distance between what I’ve done and what I COULD have done, if only this was different, or I had this thing, or this other thing wasn’t happening in the background.

In my head, I’m failing all the time. And the more I succeed, the worse I fail.

Sometimes this is inspiring; it encourages me not to rest on my laurels or get complacent. It’s good to strive for something. It’s not good to constantly feel crappy because you aren’t The Queen Of Everything, All The Time. Nobody can do that, you know? Even the actual Queen isn’t doing that. She isn’t personally ruling every nation in the Commonwealth. She knows better than to try that! It would cut into her hat-wearing time!

Me, I don’t have hat-wearing time. Even when I’m not doing anything, in my head I’m doing something. I wrote this blog post and edited it three times while I was walking my dog.

I’m not sure what the solution is here, so sadly this isn’t going to be a “This Girl Used To Be A Perfectionist. What She Did Next Will Take Your Breath Away” type of article. I know that I can’t change who I am, so trying to be less of a type-A weirdo is about as likely as sprouting wings. Instead I am going to make a list–I still love those–of the things that I want to work on. I don’t want my perfectionism behind the wheel anymore; I want it in the passenger seat, being my navigator.

  • I’m going to start appreciating what I’ve accomplished. I seldom feel like I’ve done anything special, and I need to start giving myself a bit more credit. I knew nothing about photography when I started my job, and I’ve taught myself a lot. I built a studio from scratch for under $50. And video editing? Man, I’m skilled at that now. I know that there’s nothing that I can’t learn or achieve or do if I apply myself to it, and I need to remind myself of this every day.
  • I’m going to start appreciating what I look like. This can be reeeeeeeeally tricky. It’s my job to look at beautiful people day in and day out, and it’s almost impossible not to compare myself–often unfavourably–with them. But you know what? I don’t need poreless skin. I don’t need a 22″ waist. I’m smart, I’m funny, I’m talented, I’m healthy and I am AWESOME. I’m great in my own way. That’s the truth, and that’s what I need to start living.
  • I’m going to apply less pressure to myself. Because the world won’t end if it takes me a day to return all my emails instead of AS SOON AS THEY COME IN, OH GOD.
  • I’m going to take time off. I know a lot has been written about how social media is ruining society, blah blah blah, but I love it. But lately I’ve been feeling spread a little thin, and maintaining twitter/facebook/instagram/tumblr/etc has been feeling like something I HAVE to do. Maybe this means turning my phone off more regularly. Maybe this means setting limits on my social media time like an lazy teenager. I just want to feel joy in the fun stuff again, before it became so important for work.
  • I’m going to cut myself a break. I’m going to stop being so self-critical. I’m far harder on myself than anyone else could ever be–yes, this includes random people on the internet–and beating myself up over my work or not giving my very best to a workout or WHATEVER is just garbage. I wouldn’t let a friend beat up on me like this; I’m not going to do it, either.

I don’t know if this is going to make me happier. But I’m tired of not enjoying good things because I’m too busy wishing they were great, so anything has to be better than where I am now.

Wish me luck.

The Luckiest

allespring15

Every day, I feel lucky.

This isn’t to say that I believe in luck, because I don’t. Like I don’t believe in fate, or destiny, or horoscopes, or The Secret, or any of the magical thinking malarkey that sells us on the idea that it’s the Universe that is controlling our lives, rather than us.

But still. I feel lucky.

Five years ago, I was trying to be a writer. Actually, I WAS a writer; I was just trying to get people to pay me to do it. I had to ghostwrite blogs for popular internet personalities, hide behind male pen names on science and tech blogs because readers wouldn’t respect a woman, and write truly awful copy for businesses that would then turn around and refuse to pay me.

It was a hard time. But I chipped away and it got easier. Then things changed, and I changed, and was glad for the stability that a non-freelance life could provide.

But I’ve always been a writer, even when I do different things.

Common wisdom is that everyone is an asshole on the internet, and sometimes that’s really true. There were times when I was younger that I’d pick fights in chatrooms or message boards, just to show that I was smarter or could shout louder than they could. I usually stay out of comment sections because they are full of people doing exactly this–trying to get attention, trying to get a rise out of someone else, trying to look cool or smart or better than someone else.

But sometimes it’s worth it to wade in. Sometimes something clicks and you can consider a point of view that maybe you never would have come across before. Sometimes you can make friends.

And sometimes you can get a job.

I remember reading a comment thread on xoVain one day and seeing a woman asking how to pick out a bold lipcolour. I wrote a quick response while I shoved a sandwich in my mouth at my desk at lunch. I don’t think I said anything special–just what I’d say to a friend who asked me, or what I’d want someone to say to me if I asked. I didn’t know that the woman I was talking to was a contributor to the site (Hi Beth!), or that she’d email my now-boss to tell her about this girl who was killing it in the comments.

Some of this was luck. I was in the right place at the right time with the right knowledge base. But being nice to someone–that’s not luck. That’s being decent, and it should be it’s own reward. But sometimes it carries additional benefits.

A few days later, when I saw that xoVain was looking for new writers, I sent four or five short article pitches. They were really conversational, and at least one was about my dog. I didn’t think I’d hear back. But I did. My first article on making a custom lipstick shade went up the next week, and it did really well. I got awesome feedback from the other writers and the commenters. Nothing I’ve written has EVER gotten such an overwhelmingly positive response, and right away I felt like I’d found my home.

But I can’t say that was luck, because I busted my ass to make it amazing. I wrote and re-wrote 1300 words for an entire weekend. I took photos in front of a clothing rack with fabric pinned to it for three hours. I picked and edited photos while still learning how to use the software (looking back with a critical eye, you can REALLY TELL that my image editing game was weak). It was fun, but it was hard work. To have that hard work validated was incredible. And it continues to be incredible–getting to know the xo staff and other writers, interacting with the amazing commenters, learning new things, being inspired every day. I love it. This is my dream job.

Last week, Marci and Anne-Marie announced my promotion to contributing editor. I’m still riding high on that. For several days now I’ve been submerged in a sea of congratulations from all over the world, and I am so honoured to be a part of a community that is so passionate and loving. I really think that joy shared is joy doubled, and I feel so lucky to be able to share my exciting life milestones with millions of people that I love. Thank you, everyone reading this, for being so unfailingly awesome to me. None of this would have been possible without you. Seriously.

I remember years ago, in college, idly writing in my Myspace blog that my dream job was “my life.” And now so much of it is. So much of it still might be. It’s amazing.

I don’t know what’s going to happen from here. A new title means new responsibilities and challenges, and change is pretty scary to me. Anything could happen, and hell, IT MIGHT. But I’m excited rather than anxious, because I am actually watching my dreams come true.

None of this was luck. It doesn’t have anything to do with luck. I worked hard and I kept going–and I’ll KEEP going–and because of that I am the luckiest.

Thank you all. You are all amazing, and I hope I make you proud.

Palentine’s Day 2013

Has it really been a full year since the inagural Palentine’s Day? It seems like the older I get, the more quickly time moves. Like I just turn around, and suddenly everything has changed.

I’m astonished at how much it’s changed for the better recently. But I’ll get to that.

The last twelve months have taught me an awful lot about love. And even though this might sound weird, nobody has taught me more about what it means to love and be loved in return than my dog.

olivervalentine

As I’ve mentioned before, Oliver and I didn’t bond at first sight. I was worried that I might not really take to him, or he wouldn’t take to me, when I first brought him home. But within 48 hours, we became a team. And we’ve never looked back.

Oliver can be a grade-A pain in the butt. He challenges me for pack leadership on a regular basis. He demands attention when I’m trying to work. He chewed holes in a McQueen skull scarf that I got for Christmas and hadn’t even worn yet. But he also protects me from ANYTHING that threatens me, even if he’s scared of it himself. He is incapable of seeing me cry–or look sad, or even THINK about looking sad–without capering around like a loon and licking my face to try to cheer me up. And on days that suck, my little Wigglebutt is there to curl up next to me, rest his head on my leg and look at me with his eyebrows raised, like he’s reminding me that it’s okay.

Oliver loves me, even if I yell or cry or am having a bad day. He loves me even if what’s in my head is scary, or too intense, or nigh incomprehensible. He loves me whether I have no time or all the time in the world. He thinks I am totally brave and strong, and that I can protect and lead him through anything. Every day I do my best to live up to that.

My dog makes me want to be a better person.

But I also want to be a better person for other reasons.

Last year, this is what I wrote: “Every day of my life, I set my shoulders and say “Well, maybe I’ll be alone for the rest of my life and that’s okay. Romantic love might not be in my programming.” And then I talk it out and you guys whisper secrets to me and I realise that maybe, just maybe, it won’t be like that.”

And guess what. It isn’t like that anymore. I know that it won’t be.

I don’t want to talk about the specifics of my romantic life, or lack thereof, or WHATEVER, in public. It’s important that I keep some things just for me. But after a really long time of feeling like maybe I couldn’t love people, or that I could but didn’t do it properly, or that was a terrible girlfriend just by nature…well, I know now that’s wrong. I am GREAT at loving people! And sure, I do it in my own way, but that’s true of everybody. There’s no one universal way to love, or be loved in return.

Understanding that has made me a lot happier.

I don’t know that there’s anything better than knowing that I have so many awesome people in my corner. I have friends all around the world who love me. I have family who cares. I have a dog who would take on armies to keep me safe. I’m sure a boyfriend and partner who loves me can’t be far behind.

And I have amazing readers who stick with me and teach me new things every day. It’s impossible to be any luckier than I am.

Happy Valentine’s, Palentine’s and Galentine’s day to us all. xoxoxo

lovesyou

Resolutions

2013

In 1999, I was 15. Some of my friends and I celebrated the new millennium running back and forth from a hot tub to a cold pool, dancing to Love Shack, then climbing a hill to watch the first sunrise. It was one of the best New Year’s I’ve ever had. That year I made a resolution: “No more New Year’s resolutions,” and that was that for about ten years.

dom

But as I’ve gotten older, the truth is that I LIKE resolutions. A new year is a new page, one that has no mistakes in it yet; what better time to strive towards something you want, and make changes that you can be proud of?

Here’s what I’m going to be working on this year.

  • Be nicer to dudes. As I mentioned a little in my 2012 roundup, my relationship style could be described as “benign neglect” at best, and “regular neglect” if you were being totally honest. If you gave me a choice between “falling in love and being happy” or “not getting emotionally hurt,” I would pick “not getting hurt” every single time. I never expect anything to work out, so I look for reasons why it won’t and then run away as fast as I can. This is bullshit. I’m keeping people out and I’m punishing dudes who haven’t done anything wrong (except like me). So in 2013, I’m going to work on looking for reasons why things WILL work, and fighting my natural urge to run, and generally being less avoidant and guarded and weird. Not only will this make me easier to get to know, but I think I’ll also be happier.
  • Live less in my head. I love my mind. I am always safe in there. Nobody else can get in or know what I’m doing (probably imagining what Oliver looked like as a puppy). And that’s kind of the problem. I’d rather be in my head than anywhere else, but by it’s nature it is a solitary place. Gotta spend more time with actual people in the real world, not hide away in my brightly coloured bomb shelter.
  • Be less sarcastic. I mean, not MUCH less, but a little. Because as it is, people can’t tell when I’m being genuine and when I’m being a huge asshole. And it’s like…if I’m going to take time out of my day to be a jerk, I want everyone to know that I’m being a jerk. But mostly when I say something nice, I don’t want my nearest and dearest wondering if I’m mocking them.
  • Have an attitude of gratitude. I’m not really an optimist or a pessimist; I’m a realist, but that in itself can be kind of depressing at times. But I mean, I get it. Life is hard, and there are a lot of circumstances in mine–like in most people’s, probably–that make me really wish that things were different. But instead of looking at what I don’t have, I’m going to work mush harder at being thankful for what I do. Like Spongebob says, “I’m thankful for the life I am livin’, who knows how long I will have it?” Spongebob is way existential, you guys.
  • Create more. I love this blog, and I love writing, and I need to make time to do more of it. I know I have the excuse that my life has a lot of moving parts and I’m always super-busy, but I need to have the outlet of doing what I love. Also, full disclosure: I meant to publish this last week and then I got distracted, so I am not exactly off to the best start.

I love the feeling of working towards something, especially when I suspect it’s going to make me happier. I don’t even mind that none of these things are going to be easy, just as long as they’re worth it.

Happy New Year, y’all! What are your resolutions? Tell me all about it in the comments or on Twitter.

lovesyou

Wind It Up: Thanksgiving Gratitudes 2012

Today is Thanksgiving. It’s my favourite holiday, mostly because you can cook a lot of desserts and drink champagne and not have to worry if so-and-so likes the present you got them.

I also like it because it’s an actual date on the calendar that forces me to reflect on the good things in my life. And oh boy, is that sorely needed THIS year. This year hasn’t felt like anything other than a trudge down a muddy road in grey, foggy misery. You don’t know where you’re going, or even if you’re ever going to get there. It’s easy to get stuck on that, and I do a lot of the time. I forget to look at the good stuff in the world because all that’s in my immediate view is the bad. And that sucks!

So this is me being less of a miseryguts and counting my blessings. Beginning with this picture, which is both thematically appropriate and also a blessing to the entire world.

Amazing. But now I’m forced to wonder, ARE turkey fezzes cool?

  • The thing that I am most thankful for, this year and probably all the years to come, is Oliver. He is a tiny ball of sunshine wrapped up in a furry coat, and the ways in which he makes my life better are literally innumerable. He is so good for my brain. The day I brought him home from the shelter I had no idea how completely my life was going to change, or how I would change along with it. In addition to the unconditional love, cute face and constant affection, Oliver has cracked open my heart and shown me what was in there. It’s hard for me to make emotional connections, and sometimes I’ve wondered if maybe loving is just another thing that isn’t in my toolbox. Oliver has shown me that it is. I love him so much, and I can’t imagine my life without him.
  • I am thankful that I am a strong person. In calmer days I looked back on some of the more notable train wrecks of my life and thought “Man. I know all of this is probably building character, but how much character can one person possibly need?” The answer is, a lot. A lot more than I had, a lot more than I probably ever WILL have. Life really is hard! Everything that’s terrible makes you stronger and more resilient. I’m thankful that even when things are THE WORST, I know that I can count on my vast reserves of inner strength to get me through.
  • I am thankful for the results of this election, especially all the creepy “rape isn’t rape” dickbags getting thrown out on their asses. I am even more excited about marriage equality scoring decisive victories all over! The world is changing, and things like this make me feel like it’s changing for the better.
  • I am thankful for drugs like lithium and basically all the atypical antipsychotics. They help keep me sane, even though I don’t take them myself.
  • I am thankful that all of my friends and family on the east coast are safe after Hurricane Sandy. It was a white-knuckle couple of weeks as we waiting to hear if my cousin and her family were okay, and they are, even though their house was destroyed. I know that not everyone was as fortunate.
  • Now more than ever, I am thankful for technology. Thanks to skype and kik and facebook, I can keep up with the daily lives of my friends who live tens of thousands of miles away. Even though I’m not there physically to cuddle babies or go look at tiles for new houses, I still get to see videos of kids standing up for the first time and weigh in on decorative pillars. Distance is no thing anymore. I love living in the future.
  • I am thankful for my wonderful, astonishing support system. I have some awesome friends and family members. I know a lot of people say that they wouldn’t be where they are today were it not for the support of their loved ones, but honestly not only wouldn’t I be where I am, I don’t even know where I would be (only that it wouldn’t be good). I love you.
  • I am thankful for good tv, and not-so-good tv, and tv I’ve already seen and tv I’ll never see just on principle. Basically I love tv. It’s my medium of choice.
  • I am thankful for my health and my body, which does everything I ask it to and then some, PLUS it looks good in jeans.
  • I am thankful for a job that is both incredibly challenging and incredibly interesting. I am thankful for the people who look out for me and also for the ones who don’t, because both of those situations teach me those Valuable Life Lessons everyone is so keen on. I am thankful that I can support the people who depend on me and occasionally have a day off for some fun.
  • I am thankful for the new Taylor Swift album.
  • I am thankful for feminism, birth control and having rights over my own body.
  • I am thankful for sunny days and misty mornings.
  • I am thankful for long hikes outside with Oliver.
  • I am thankful that I can dance every day.
  • I am thankful for a million amazing opportunities.
  • I am thankful for this space to write in, and I am thankful for you for reading it.

What are you thankful for?

Feed your ego

I freely admit that I have a healthy ego. No, that’s not quite right: My ego is the size of a city bus. Not one of the crappy ones that the CTA drives around Logan Square, I mean one of the big-ass concertina double buses that speed around tourist areas looking impressive. In the past I have gotten some shit from people for being full of myself, or “Thinking [I’m] so great,” as it’s often put. But do you know what? I don’t care! Because I AM so great! And this knowledge has gotten me though some really rough times.

Having a healthy ego doesn’t mean that you have to be a dick, because thinking you are fantastic isn’t the same thing as thinking you’re the most important person on the planet. That is the difference between having an ego and being self-centered & selfish. Don’t be those last things. At best, you’ll be an asshole. Nobody likes an asshole.

Imagine your ego as protection from the outside world. Even though it isn’t out to get you specifically, the world is a pretty harsh place and sometimes it’ll seem like it’s doing it’s damnedest to stab you in the back, roll you in a carpet and throw you off a cliff. That’s where your ego comes in: Consider it a pile of mattresses waiting at the bottom of said cliff to cushion your fall. You can’t prevent the bad things in life from happening (in this case, a long walk off a short precipice). But you can cope with them, you can bounce back from them and–MOST IMPORTANTLY–you can not let them affect your idea of yourself. If you know down to your bones that you’re magnificent and strong, you also know that mere events don’t change that. You are not the things that happen to you.

That’s why having an ego is so great: It makes it easier to be selective about the things that you let affect the core of who you are. Let your ego be a filter. Take in lessons that make you more awesome and keep out things that hurt you or make you feel small. Feed your ego. Stroke it a little. Know that in the whole vastness of the universe and in all of time, there’s only one combination of genetic material, life experiences and social constructs that made YOU. YOU will never, ever happen again. That makes you beyond incredible. Own exactly how incredible!

You get one life. You can either spend it wishing you were something else, or you can spend it knowing that you are absolutely glorious. I know what I’m choosing; what about you?

Ask Alle: Jubilee edition

Hello, and welcome to another edition of Ask Alle! Are you ready for me to solve ALL YOUR PROBLEMS?

To start with, THANK YOU SO MUCH for heeding my Formspring pleas for limited txt spk and emoticons. Everything has gotten much easier to read, although I have still edited for clarity. This week I am answering a bunch of little questions. They are the miniature cucumber sandwiches of questions, if you will, in the spirit of the Diamond Jubilee. How elegant. On with the show.

Alle has a B.A. in Psychology, which is basically a degree in seeing through other people’s bullshit. She also has a B.A. in English, but that’s not really relevant. Though she does not pretend to have it all figured out, she does have enough figured out to be helpful.

How can you tell when a girl likes you?
She tells you that she likes you and acts accordingly. I think that it’s what people DO that matters most (because anyone can say anything), so if you had to pick one canary to set loose in the coal mine of Special Feelings, I’d say it should be behaviour.

Are you a Mac or PC?
I have both, but I prefer my Mac and I’m not going to argue about it.

Are pubes BACK?
Judging by what I’ve read on the interwebs about the state of porn stars’ ladyparts, I guess they are. But while we are all subject to the pressure to conform to current beauty standards, I don’t think you should really be too swayed by what THE WORLD thinks of your vulval grooming. What do you like? What does your partner like? That’s all that matters.

Is masturbating everyday too much? (I’m a girl)
Unless it interferes with getting other things done, it’s never too much.

Why do guys say they like you, then ignore you?
Because guys are people, and people in general are unpredictable and 48 flavours of crazy. Sometimes they have issues that they project on to you. Sometimes they get scared. Sometimes they just don’t care enough not to ignore you. There are about a million reasons why people blow hot and cold, but do you notice what all these things have in common? None of them are really about you. If you’ve done right and someone cuts you out of their life anyway, chances are that it’s because of their stuff. It stings for a minute and then you get over it. Rejection sucks, but I promise you’ll live through it. I even hear it builds character.

Does playing hard to get work?
No, because games are for children and assholes. Being your own person with your own interests, friends and life works.

Bangs don’t look good on me.
This is truly a tragedy of our modern times.

Is 19 and 30 too much of an age difference?
Yes. Feel free to ignore me until the day you turn 30, then talk to a 19 year old and realise they don’t know a damn thing. No shade, still-teenagers, you have lots of growing ahead of you. And I look just as stupid to someone who is 41.

Will boys like me if I’m fat?
The more important question is, will YOU like you if you’re fat?

Why can’t I find a decent girl like you?
I’m not a decent girl. I’m a human being which means I am inherently flawed, just like everybody else on the planet. Making distinctions between “decent girls” and “everybody else” with regards to who you want to date is not a good plan, because it’s built on a lie right from the start. There are no decent girls. There are no indecent girls. There are just girls.

How do you tell someone not to touch you?
I don’t like a lot of physical contact but people aren’t mind-readers, so I’m clear but nice about my boundaries. Saying things like “I’m not a hugger” or “That’s enough” if something goes on too long usually work. People who touch me without my consent–things like street harassment, drunk assholes in bars, grabby first dates–are treated otherwise. If anyone violates your personal space, you have my permission to go right ahead and fuck some shit up. I don’t mean get in a fight; I mean get them off you and say something like “DON’T TOUCH ME” where the meaning is quite clearly “GET THE FUCK OFF ME.” The forcefulness is more important than your word choice, but make sure it’s like a hail of bullets coming out of your mouth.

I’m (height redacted) and (weight redacted), am I too skinny?
These questions bum me out. If you’re eating well and moving around every day, you’re fine just the way you are.

How do you know if a guy is using you for sex?
If you want to have sex with him just as much as he wants to have it with you, there’s no way he can USE you for sex. You see how I did that? Own your sexuality, ladies. Your desire isn’t dirty or bad.

Have you ever fucked a celebrity?
Nope. The nine alarm shitstorm surrounding fame is pretty scary to me, and I would be reticent to involve my delicate bits in a situation that could become tabloid fodder.

How will I know if he really loves me?
Trust your feelings. And say a prayer with every heartbeat.

My mother was emotionally and physically abusive to me my entire childhood. Can I cut her out of my life?
First, you don’t need my permission. Second, I am a firm believer in the idea that the best thing about being an adult is that you get to decide who is in your life and in what capacity. If your mother was an abuser and she hasn’t gone through the years and years of therapy required to address that, then I think that yeah, you can cut her out of your life. Family relationships aren’t just about genetic material; they’re about being love, support, respect and safety. You can’t get any of that from an abuser, not in a form that matters. Use your good judgement.

My best friend likes the same guy I do.
This will either ruin your relationship completely or make it stronger. There’s no middle path. I know this because Charlotte and I became friends when we found out that we were both dating the same guy. I know, how Dawson’s Creek of us. And I’m not saying that it was always easy, but I AM saying that I have no idea what that guy is doing now, whereas I know what Charlotte had for breakfast. You get me?

How can I be alone without being lonely?
Like yourself, get used to spending time with yourself, and then practice practice practice.

Girl, how’d you get so fly?
Big-ass wings.

And that’s all she wrote. I hope you’re enjoying a lovely week, possibly from the comfort of your favourite barge.

Classic Dating Don’ts (that are actually Do’s)

There’s a lot of dating advice out there, and, like most things on the internet, most of it is really terrible. So much of it is focused on what YOU ARE DOING that is TOTALLY WRONG and how YOU MUST CONFORM TO THIS SINGLE STANDARD OF DATEABILITY or else you will DIE ALONE SURROUNDED BY CATS.

And I’m calling bullshit.

I’ve been on so many bad dates that I even wrote a column about the worst ones (shameless self-promotion!). We’re talking the stuff of nightmares. But you know what’s even worse than nightmare dates? Meh dates. Where nothing is really good or really bad, it’s just…meh.

That’s what this dastardly Single Standard of Dateability is trying to do to us: Turn the dating world into a world of meh. As if we didn’t have enough problems.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live in a meh-date world. So I think it’s time to shake up conventional dating wisdom with some actually awesome advice. Hello Alle proudly presents…

  • “Don’t be a weirdo.” There’s nothing worse–okay, maybe there are a couple of things worse–than going on a date with someone who is obviously putting forward their Job Interview Personality. You know the one: “I’d say my worst trait is that I’m TOO sexually giving.” Ugh, no. That is nobody’s worst trait. Your worst trait is that you let your dog kiss you on the mouth (which for the record, ew). While I’m not advocating bringing out every weird quirk in your arsenal on date one, you gotta BE YOURSELF, man. And if being yourself means occasionally high-fiving your date or giggling more than is usually appropriate, go for it! People who are put off by your weirdness aren’t less weird than you; they’re exactly as weird in a different way, but also judgy about it. I speak from experience when I tell you that you cannot say the wrong thing to the right person. Someone, somewhere thinks that your crush on Doctor Who is cute. I promise you that.
  • “Don’t put out on the first date.” Hetero girls, this one is mostly aimed at us: Cosmo wisdom tells us that if you bang a dude on date one, he will only think of you as a piece of ass, and then he will never marry you, and then you will be FOREVER ALOOOONE (sinks to the floor in a slow spiral). I say baloney to that! Sure, there are guys who will not respect you if you don’t provide the thrill of the chase to which they feel entitled. Those guys are assholes. You don’t want to date OR have sex with them on a regular basis. I’ve had sex on the first date and I’ve not had sex on the first date, and guess what? Whether or not I got into a relationship with the guy had NOTHING to do with when initial banging took place. Stuff like emotional compatibility, hilariousness and kindness are much, much more important than outdated sexual mores.
  • “Be a little late.” Apparently this is some kind of dating power-play, designed to show the other person that your life is sooo busy and sooo cool that you don’t even notice that you’re twenty minutes late! Ha ha! Appletinis for everyone! NO. That shit is rude as hell. All that it does is show your date that you don’t think their time is valuable. Even in the midst of your sooo busy sooo cool life, you can remember to send a text. “I’m so sorry, I’m running late!” is all it takes. Being considerate is never out of fashion.
  • “Keep topics neutral.” Look. Nobody wants to get into a fistfight about the intersection of race and class in America over appetisers with the person you just met on OKCupid. A lot of people will tell you not to talk about politics and religion too early in a dating relationship, but I disagree. First of all, big issues are big because there are a lot of threads that go into them, and you can learn an awful lot about the person sitting across the table by which thread they pull at. Secondly, if your date expresses views that are the exact opposite of yours, how do they handle that conflict? Can you have a civil discussion, or do they end up calling you names? Finally, if their views are so totally abhorrent to you, at least you know about it now and can nip the relationship in the bud. I can’t imagine anything worse than finding out six months down the line that my boyfriend thinks the Tea Party is just what America needs, can you?
  • “Always have an out.” Sorry everyone, the game’s up. That emergency phone call in the middle of a dinner that will never end? Everyone knows it’s not your mother/brother/grandfather in the hospital. It’s your best friend calling with a fake emergency so you can bail without hurting your date’s feelings. Except as I’ve mentioned, everyone knows about it, so you’re really just lying and you’re not even doing it well. Don’t be a bad liar. No matter how badly a date is going, stick it out. It’s two hours of your life and maybe you get a funny story out of it when it’s safely in your rear view mirror. It’s not like you have to do it again. Though if it’s going bad-scary, there’s always an exit through the kitchen, and that’s not an out, it’s an escape route. Smart people always have those.

And now I turn it over to you guys: What do you think about “Dating rules”? Are they there for a reason or there to be broken? Let me have it in the comments, or let’s get into it on twitter.

On planning, worrying and Imaginary Future Problems

(Image source)

Being a planner has so many advantages. I can find things in my purse, for one. I know what my week looks like from the outset, as my schedule is a colour-coded thing of beauty. Things rarely sneak up on me. I know what I’m doing and when and how much of it. Planning is my buffer against chaos. It helps me deal with reality, which is obviously terribly unpredictable.

And it doesn’t always work.

The thing about planners, most of the time, is that they’re also worriers. You don’t plan for something unless you’re worried about it. I’m not exactly a Doomsday Prepper, but I’m constantly on the lookout for the next big disaster that’s heading for me. I don’t know what that disaster is going to be, but I’m going to make damn sure that I’ve got whatever I can control, UNDER control when it hits. In some ways this is really good, because when things like cancer or family health catastrophes happen, I know I’m organised enough to deal with it without something minor tripping me up. But in other ways it’s really bad, because when good things happen I immediately begin foreseeing future problems that will make them terrible. And then I try to plan exit strategies for those totally Imaginary Future Problems, which are capitalised because they’re a thing.

This takes up a lot of space in my head.

Yesterday I was talking out a work issue which was seemed really big, because I had knotted it up so much in my head with Imaginary Future Problems that I couldn’t see the end of it. Then, on the way to his real point, Giles gave me maybe the best advice of my whole life:

Don’t try to solve problems you don’t have yet.

Just think on that for a minute, because it’s brilliant. To me, this makes so much more sense than saying “Don’t worry about the future,” because THE FUTURE is nothing but a nebulous, ill-defined concept and the imaginary problem I’m trying to solve is always very specific. Completely hypothetical, yes. But specific.

What I realised is that there’s no point in trying to solve problems that you think you may have someday, because you may never have them. Problems can’t be planned for or dealt with ahead of time, because there’s no such thing as foreshadowing in real life. That’s the thing about setbacks and disasters: half the time, the thing that makes them so disastrous is that they catch you off guard. All you can do is handle them as they happen, which I’m actually very good at.

My mind was blown. And then a friend sent me a link to a page about software development (stick with me here) and a well-known principle called YAGNI: You Aren’t Gonna Need It.

And my mind was blown some more.

YAGNI, the more logical and detailed brother of the KISS principle, states:

Always implement things when you actually need them, not when you just foresee that you’ll need them.

This means that you should only try to solve problems that you have right now, not problems that you think you might have in the future. Because by the time the future gets here, not only are your problems are going to be way different than the ones you thought you’d have and got stressed about, but you will have wasted potentially good times by stressing about them. You will have ruined happy things with imaginary problems and solutions which, as the name tells us, YOU AREN’T GONNA NEED.

I know I’m far from being the only worrier and planner in the world, or even in the Land of Blogs. I also know that the things instrumental in causing me pain are also some of my strengths. It’s all about context. It’s good to take the very long view and try to anticipate future events with work, but not so much when it comes to dudes I like. A certain stubborn dedication is needed to get independent projects finished, but probably doesn’t need to be brought to my friendships. And so on.

I don’t know what it’s going to be like to wake up in the morning and not start torturing myself with what-ifs. I probably won’t even be able to do it cold-turkey; for one thing, what am I even gonna do with all the extra time in my day? But I’m going to try every single day until it stops. Life is really fucking short, and there’s no worse way to spend it than paralysed by the fear of Imaginary Future Problems.

TEEN WEEK 2012: Everything I Didn’t Know When I Was Growing Up & Wish I Did

I’m super proud to be a part of Teen Week 2012! Check out the other posts here and tweet with us by using the hashtag #teenweek on Twitter. Thanks, as always, to the wonderful Mara of Medicinal Marzipan for putting together such an amazing project.

I’m an adult now. Saying that is weird, because the inside of my head still feels mostly the same as it did when I was fifteen, twelve, six. I say “mostly” because there have been some changes for the better, but I love being the same weird person I’ve always been.

The thing about being any age, really, is that there’s no guide for it. People give you advice and they tell you what things were like when they were (insert age here) but it never really seems to apply to you, right then, in that moment. So I’m not going to try to do that. What I AM going to try to do is distill many of the painful lessons from my own teen years into something a little more manageable and cohesive. And I’m splitting it up into three sections: Friends, Lovers and Self.

Happy Teen Week.

Most of my very best friends are people I’ve known since primary school. They’ve stuck by me through everything, including a transcontinental move. Because of these wonderful people, I assumed that every friend I made would be as a constant and as close as they were (and are). But the universal truth is that not every friend is forever.

Sometimes people grow apart. Sometimes people blow apart. Losing a friend, or several at once, is a horrible experience, but yes, at some point in your life it is going to happen. It’s okay to feel sad and lost when it does, but it’s going to be okay. You haven’t lost the only people in the world who will ever like you, because there are other people out there to be friends with! Maybe they’ll complement you in different ways and encourage you to grow in different directions. Maybe in the end they’ll be even better friends. Maybe not. You never know. But however it shakes out, you’ll learn something and you’ll end up somewhere new. And it really will be okay.

There is nothing wrong with you if:

  • You don’t have a boyfriend/girlfriend right now at this very second.
  • You don’t want to have sex right now at this very second.
  • You DO want to have sex right now at this very second.
  • Sex seems a little scary.
  • Sex seems exciting.
  • Nobody has a crush on you, or you don’t have a crush on anybody.
  • You have a crush on everybody.
  • You’re questioning who you’re attracted to (boys, girls).
  • You know damn well who you’re attracted to.
  • You masturbate.
  • You’ve looked at porn.

I’m not a magical genius when it comes to matters of the heart and genitals. I have my own issues just like everyone else. But I do know a few things for sure. One is that you should never do something just because everyone else is doing it. Don’t feel like you have to get a boy or girlfriend because you’re the only single person in your group. Don’t have sex because everyone else is; have sex because you want to and you feel desire. And don’t let anyone else make you feel shitty about what you do or do not want to do. It’s your life and your choices. Make sure they’re good, safe ones and to hell with everyone else.

Another thing: Be respectful of other people’s feelings and insist that they are respectful of yours. This could mean being brave and telling that friend that you LIKE like them, or it could mean breaking up with someone when you don’t feel the same way about them as they do about you. Always be honest and kind. At the same time, don’t let anyone treat you like crap and use “love” as an excuse. Love doesn’t hurt, it isn’t controlling and it’s not manipulative or hurtful. Don’t waste time with someone who doesn’t treat you like the gem you are.

Also, sex is initially weird and takes practice. It’s not scary. It’s not agonising. It’s also not a rite of passage in the way that teen movies make you think it is. It’s a fun part of life, but you won’t necessarily feel **GROWN UP** after your first time (or fourth…or seventh). Wait until you apply for an apartment or put together some Ikea furniture all by yourself. Nothing like assembling a cabinet to make you feel like an adult.

The big one. Your relationship with YOU is going to be the only one that lasts your entire life, cliche as that is, so you’d better sink some time into making sure it’s a good one.

It seems really obvious to say “take care of yourself,” but I’m a big proponent of self-care and I want to hit this point hard. If you hurt, or are anxious, or you hate yourself, or you feel sad all the time, or even if you just feel plain wrong–tell someone. Reach out. Get help. Take care of YOU, because you deserve to be healthy and whole. Nobody else can do that for you, so be your own advocate.

Now let’s talk about bodies, confidence and self-image. This is a subject I’ve struggled with a lot, and this is the survival guide I wish I would have had when I was younger.

First, make sure your body is match fit. Everyday life is stressful and the stakes are high, so you want to be in the best shape that you can be. Find something physical that you love to do and do it every day. Dance. Take your dog for extra-long walks. Start running. Take a yoga class. Try boxing. Be strong and fit and fast.

Second, eat good foods. Eating a balanced diet that’s heavy on fresh foods and light in stuff that’s super-processed, refined, canned or frozen is best. Going on fad diets and denying yourself everything except grapefruit is not.

Third, know that skinny isn’t an endgame. Some people are naturally thin and some people are not, just like some people are tall and some people are short. Unlike height, though, there’s a whole industry built on making people feel shitty about how much they weigh and promising that life is SO! MUCH! BETTER! If you lose fifteen pounds. It isn’t. You won’t be a different person if you’re thinner. If you want to be happier, do things that make you happy. If you want to be more confident, fake being confident until you actually ARE (this really, seriously works). Change–real change, the kind that lasts–comes from within, not from a number on a scale.

Finally, know thyself. What makes you happy? What issues are you passionate about? What’s your personal style? Figure it out, write it all down and then LIVE IT, regardless of what other people say. Oh, you think I can’t be a writer? BAM. Look at me being a writer. Oh, you think a striped skirt and a plaid skirt looks weird? BAM. I don’t care what you think, I look great. Oh, you think women’s rights aren’t important? BAM. Look at me, speaking up and making a difference. When people try to put down what you do or what you believe, they’re saying “My opinion of you is more important than your own, so listen to me instead of yourself.” Guess what. It isn’t and you shouldn’t. Be YOU. Be smart and outspoken and well-informed. Be a force to be reckoned with in whatever way you can.

I hope you’ve been checking out the other Teen Week posts; they’re all so excellent.

What do you wish you’d have known when you were younger?