I hate social media. Like, can I just be real about it? I hate the petty Facebook feuds, the tweets that somehow reveal more than I ever wanted to know about someone in just 140 characters or less, and how people construct these ideas on Instagram about their happy, adventure-filled lives where they know everyone and look runway-ready every day. But in all seriousness, one of my least favorite things about social media is reading people’s statuses containing their misconstrued ideas about adulthood.
Since when did my generation start buying into the idea that there’s only one way to do it right? And where did these ideas come from anyway? That getting a college degree, never moving back from our college town, marrying our university sweetheart and bumming it for a year to save up money to buy our first house with the white picket fence, and never having to ask Mommy and Daddy for a dime thereafter is the way to have “arrived” at adulthood! Life’s all tied up in a neat little bow. When did we get so foolish to think that’s how it all works?
I hate seeing pictures of my friends’ official hospital ID or first-year classroom, with silly captions about their first post-grad job officially deeming them a grown up. Heck, if achieving even one of my aforementioned milestones makes someone the real deal, then I’m still a child.
Some of us have been blessed with the support of families who would rather us focus on saving a dollar before they send us out into the world where we’d just sit in our apartments after work nibbling on bread and ramen because it’s all we could afford. Some of us have chosen fields of work where we’re passionate about the mission, but aren’t making much. Or think about the unpaid internship that’ll lead to more experience, a larger network, and a stronger resume. Or take missionaries for example, many of which literally raise their salary to live and do ministry. Or those of us who are working, but aren’t actually sure what profession we might want to invest time and energy into for the bulk of our lives. Or young adults who board a plane to Europe after collecting their degree at the end of the stage. Or what about those heading off to grad school, and living with Mom and Dad until they’ve finished up their masters program? Or students who chose not to pursue the four-year degree which everyone raves about but instead opt for a the more direct approach: the trade school education (and who can blame them? screw Gen Eds!)? Do any of those those things disqualify us from being adults? Please tell me.
I’m glad I only have my student loans and fuel to pay each month, and although you shouldn’t envy that, I truly believe that living for as long as possible for free is right for me at this time in my life. It’s almost like a little project I have: for how long, and in how many places I can live, love, learn, grow, and serve for free or as cheap as possible? Being that I love kids―nannying for free room, board, pocket money, and flexibility to work on my passion projects and side hustles suits me well for now, thank you.
My situation doesn’t make me a child. Or irresponsible. It doesn’t mean I’ve lost my way. That I’m doing adulthood wrong. No, it’s helping me explore the facet in which I’ll best work with kids; I’ve already done the whole teaching assistant thing, and now I’m interacting with youth in a more intimate setting. So what I’m not ready to decide whether I want to pursue another degree or just be certified or even teach overseas? Working with kids is one skill of many that I’m strengthening in order to serve others, to live a simple and frugal life, and to eventually lead me to every corner of the United States and every country I’ve ever wanted to visit. Just think: have you acquired skills to eventually get you closer to achieving your long-term dreams and goals?
And because I don’t have my own place, or even many of my own possessions, that makes it possible and practical to pick up and explore. Because I’m not in a relationship, I can be flexible. I can pay my loans from anywhere. I don’t have to request time off work. And so on and so forth. Might it be possible that maybe, just maybe, in the midst of trying to “get it right” and “make a life” for yourself, that you (or someone you know) has forgotten to actually live? Hope your fancy car, apartment, and first salaried job are getting you a step closer to where you want to be―that’s all I’m saying.
I’m happy for those of you who have worked your tails off to make your current status happen. I truly am. No one would ever claim that you’re not an adult. Seriously, appreciate the fact that you work hard to put food on the table, that you juggle relationships and long hours and buying groceries and doing laundry.
But don’t tell me or your peers who have chosen (or who actually have to) live an “alternative” lifestyle, for the time being, that we haven’t made it. Don’t forget that some of the tangible symbols of your adulthood aren’t the strong desires or focus of people like me, so no, I don’t really think I’m missing out on much, but ya know―you do you.
Sure, the path of finishing school, getting married, and purchasing a house is the typical course of action, the norm for recent grads, but who are we to say it’s the only way to navigate the real world? It works for most, but this course is not the superior or dominant option, and my way of life is not “Other.” This is something we all need to get right, otherwise those of you who’ve nestled into your first job and pad will think you’re better, and those of us not hardwired for the 9-5 may think there’s something wrong with us―that we’ve made major mistakes, or have to change our ways, or that we’ll never be good enough. Take heed to what I’ve been learning about adulthood, and let’s stop acting as if there’s one bridge to the island. Because even though it’s never been on my bucket list to own a home―it doesn’t mean I haven’t found my place. *Drops mic*
I spent the entirety of my late teens and early 20s in a committed relationship. I was happy and I was in love, until one day I wasn’t. There was something missing. There was some level that my relationship just couldn’t reach. It wasn’t enough, no matter how much I wanted it to be. I stayed longer than I should have because I was too afraid to leave. Eventually I felt so trapped that I did the only rational thing I could think of: I ran away.
On Monday, I told my boyfriend of five years that I was moving 300 miles away. By Friday, I was gone.
I questioned my decision the minute I drove away. Despite everything, I still cared about him, and I was hurting him beyond repair. I broke his heart. I watched him fall apart, knowing that he had done nothing to deserve this pain. I spent the next few months hating myself for what I had done, questioning all the choices I had made. I was a mess of self-doubt and self-loathing. What if I had been wrong? What if our relationship was as good as it was going to get? What if I had thrown away the closest thing I would ever find to love?
After spending months making myself miserable, I decided to find something to fill the void. Maybe a random boy to make out with, or at the very least, someone to talk to. I downloaded Tinder, and swiped right and left at random.
You were the first person to talk to me.
We had a good conversation. You asked for my number and I gave it to you without really thinking. I didn’t know how any of this worked. We had an even better conversation, and you asked me to hangout. I wanted to say no, to push myself further away from anything that might resemble happiness. I felt like I deserved to be alone, to be unhappy after what I had done. But this was why I was here. This was why I had abandoned a boy who loved me and moved 300 miles away. To find something more.
Honestly, I didn’t really like you at first. You were foreign and bizarre. You talked about sports, which I hate. You didn’t get my nerdy references. You held my hand wrong. It took everything I had to go on a second date with you, to not just disappear.
Being with you was harder than I could have imagined. Being a girlfriend was my default. I didn’t know how to just be a girl. I didn’t know how to kiss someone who wasn’t my boyfriend. I didn’t know how to hide the darker parts of myself after having them fully exposed for years. I didn’t know how to go slow.
For whatever reason, you let me in. You peeled back the walls around yourself and let me really look at you. You told me things about yourself that, from the way you spoke, I could tell you didn’t normally share. I did the same, and despite my fears and anxieties, you understood.
We went from discussing our thoughts on the universe to tugging at each other’s’ clothes in no time at all. You kissed me for hours, and in between kisses teased me about my skinny arms. We laid intertwined staring at my ceiling, digging deeper into ourselves, pulling up pieces to share.
I didn’t love you. I didn’t need to. I just needed to know that people like you exist. You didn’t love me either, and it was such a relief not to be loved. It was a relief not to feel like I held your happiness in my hands, not to feel like I was the most important thing. This wasn’t about love anyway. This was about starting over. It was about knowing without a doubt that I had made the right decision, that I was going to be okay, that something really had been missing, that whatever it was, it was out there for me to find.
Thank you. You were exactly what I didn’t know I needed.
I think we should just be friends. It’s not you, it’s me.
Okay, so that’s two clichés — both of which (in some form of another) I uttered during my first breakup. Let’s start with the latter.
It’s not you, it’s me. I take full responsibility for the demise of this relationship. I was too shy to communicate my wants and needs earlier on, and by the time I realized the things that made me unhappy — I didn’t have the drive to try and fix things. I liked you. But that’s the thing — I liked you. I was excited by the idea of falling in love with you. You were — are — smart, funny, talented, and oh so cute with your blue eyes and scruff, but that didn’t do it for me. You were also passive, indecisive, the Robin to a whole world of Batmans. Perhaps I am the victim of one too many works of fiction, but I need a man who, well, is a man. Maybe that’s one of the pitfalls of trying to date when you’re young — being swept up in a whirlwind of whiskey and conversation, only to wake up, weeks later, with the realization that you’re with what Mindy Kaling describes as a “man-child.”
I’ve come to realize, that people (both men and women) tend to be at wildly varying degrees of accomplishment (referring to jobs, health, and accomplishment in the Jane Austenian sense) during two stages of their life: their 20s and “the end.” How you are functioning at the end of your life depends on many things, but mostly how you lived it and took care of yourself during the time you were given on this planet. Some senior citizens are confined to bedpans and nursing homes, while others can still be found kayaking and roaming the streets of whatever city they decided to use their retirement funds on that week.
The same can be said of people in their 20s. Granted, you’ve only been alive for 20-something years — but during this time you’ve had the opportunity to grow as a person, using whatever books/movies/life experiences that’ve come your way to further yourself and learn. A man encroaching on his mid-to-late 20s, can either be on the cusp of his career — he’s passionate and excited about life, and may be getting his shit together sartorially — or he could still be living in a post-college haze of bro-nights, video games, and shattered illusions of what he though life would be like.
I don’t regret any of it. I loved the excitement I felt every day when things first began to develop — the way my heart would flutter every time you IM’d me — saving me from just another menial day at work. I liked that you felt that I was someone you could confide in — someone who could share in your life’s problems and joys. I loved that you could make my friend’s laugh and that you would invite me to partake in the occasional guy’s night — knowing that I could hold my own in a room of beer, scotch, and invisible cigars.
I learned from this. I learned that I couldn’t deal with your lack of reciprocated questions. I learned that I need to voice my thoughts on us — on what was and wasn’t working. I learned that we were not meant to be. I need a man who is curious about my life and who wants to take me to such-and-such exciting restaurant/movie/place because he thinks it’ll make me happy. Which brings me to…
I think we should just be friends. We were before, and I hoped that by ending things now, we could still be. We had more fun during those times — hanging out in diners late at night, sneaking alcohol into movies, laughing for days with our combined host of friends. I know you’re hurt. Breaking up sucks. I made the mistake of watching Crazy, Stupid, Love and cried myself to sleep that night. Knowing that I was the infliction of your pain made me sick. I wasn’t expecting to feel sad — I thought, for a moment, that I may have made the wrong decision. If breaking up was my choice, shouldn’t I feel better about it? But eventually, I did. I knew that in breaking up with you, I was potentially severing ties with all aspects of our life together, both before and after us. I feel jealous whenever my friends run into you around town — always wishing I was there to see how you are, hoping you’ll realize that you’re over me. I miss us as friends.
It’s not you, it’s me. I think we should just be friends — can we, please?
Before you reach down to cuff your pants – don’t. Just…don’t, OK? As my cool model friend recently told me, cuffing is a thing of the past. And, in exploring alternative ways to not trip over my pants, I just so happened to discover my new favorite look – unfinished hems. And it appears I’m not the only one! Tons of designers are leaving their high-end pieces un-hemmed, creating a stunning juxtaposition of refined and rough, regal and pauper-like.
Right now, the brands that are slaying the frayed hem game are as follows:
The East-London-based, Parisian designer can actually count frayed hems as one of the few defining characteristics of her namesake label. She’s known for taking frayed denim and imbuing it with intricate weaving, spinning and dyeing. Each piece is made in her studio and by hand.
Prada recently showed an epic Spring/Summer 2015 collection, with brocade dresses, new multi-patterned knee-highs and a staggeringly exquisite take on platform clogs. But what stood out for me was, again, the use of both high-end fabrics with streetwear designs — in particular, the ornate, brocade, patchwork dresses with unfinished hems.
For Rodarte’s Spring/Summer 2015 collection, they made mermaid-style dresses with eclectic patterns that included, for many, a fishnet overlay on the bottom half. Look closely and you’ll notice the fishnet is unfinished at the ends, adding an ethereal effect to an already dreamy collection.
They’ve always kept their hems frayed, ever since their first collection in 2011. They mainly stick to denim and silk, in terms of material, and tend to maintain simple garments, perhaps to balance out all of the unraveling.
Always perfect, Céline’s Spring/Summer 2015 collection — when it came to construction — was no less magnificent than the ones that came before it. However this season Phoebe didn’t adhere to her usual beige and monochrome color palette. Long, knitted dresses were fashioned out of red and blue knits, with unfinished hems that were on the verge of fringe. The same construction was applied to all-white, knitted, loose-fitted pants.
It’s a way to flex your IDGAF muscles – sartorially – and a way to ooze unconventional class. It is also, incidentally, a fun new way to piss off your grandma. you can do it yourself – starting with jeans, perhaps, and then transitioning over to wool and maybe even silk. Or you can buy pre-frayed items, like the ones discussed above, or these more affordable options below. (IT’S ALL RELATIVE, OK?? Link to items in photos.)
1. House of Holland’s Denim Jacket in Embellished Lipstick Print (2.73).
I sing — that’s a fact about me. I sang all through my childhood; and in my teens, I sang with a band; and in my 20s, I sang with my best friend Hula — we wrote songs and sang them at parties — and later I sang to my daughter, when she was a baby. I sang to her until she said, “Mama, don’t sing.”
I never thought there might be a time when I wouldn’t sing — but for a while, there was.
The problem seemed to be that I had no one to sing with.
At 15, in Brooklyn, I’d never thought twice about singing all by myself as I walked down Quentin Road or waited for a train at the Kings Highway station — no more than I thought twice about singing as I sat beside my mother on the Coney Island Avenue bus, sat on my knees facing the window, singing “As Long As He Needs Me” at the top of my lungs. But at 30, making my way across the campus of the University of Iowa, where I was in grad school, it never crossed my mind to sing (and if it had, I’m pretty sure what would have crossed my mind would have been, What are you, 15?). And so, somehow, with no one to sing with in Iowa City, and no one to sing with (there was hardly anyone to talk with) in Omaha, where I moved after I finished grad school, for four years I didn’t sing at all.
At first I didn’t even notice that I’d stopped. I didn’t miss it, either. And even when Hula visited me in Nebraska, there was no singing — there was not even any talk of singing. I was too busy showing her the sights, and showing off my driving, a newly acquired skill (and, to that end, we drove back into Iowa, halfway between Omaha and Iowa City, to Des Moines for the Iowa State Fair), and she was too busy raising an ironic eyebrow, shaking her head, and murmuring, “Are you kidding me?” (for example, when one after another of the contestants in the State Fair Queen Pageant answered, somberly, “The plight of the family farmer” in response to the question: “What is the most serious problem facing the world today?”).
We watched the crowning of the Fair Queen and petted the baby farm animals, examined the butter cow, admired the freshly shorn sheep in their pajamas, watched sheep being shorn, and studied the thousand-pound pumpkins. We ate fried dough and corn dogs and cotton candy and stood aside as the brass band paraded by, and, as the day progressed, I could see Hula trying to decide whether to maintain her sardonic distance or be charmed, as I was — or at least amused, as I also was. It was my first state fair, too, but I didn’t have an ironic bone in my body about it.
We’d brought two of the younger sisters of my (like my driver’s license, also recently acquired) boyfriend to the fair: teenage girls born and raised on a farm in Iowa, living now in Omaha with their brother. Watching Hula with the girls, seeing her finally laugh (at the giant pig, and then, a few minutes later, the giant cucumbers) — seeing her bafflement flicker into amazement and finally into something like pleasure — was a great relief to me. I was still in shock myself (pleasant shock, mind you — happy shock — but shock nonetheless) over how much my life had changed.
Of course, it’s possible that that was why I wasn’t singing anymore. Before I’d left New York for Iowa, I’d never been away from the city for longer than three weeks (and, at that, only once, the summer I was seventeen); for over a decade, I hadn’t left New York at all for more than three days. It’s possible I needed to marshal all my resources simply to adjust to life in the Great Midwest.
No — that can’t be true (possible, maybe, but not true). I didn’t quit writing, after all. Nor did I give up romance — although at first I made a conscious effort to, and I did manage eight romance-free months before I began dating the med student who would move to Omaha for his residency, and for whom I would move to Omaha once I’d graduated too.
I even picked up a few new pastimes — domestic ones suitable to my new Midwestern life in a real house with a front yard and a proper kitchen: I put in a garden; I learned to cook.
Indeed, the only other activity I can think of that I relinquished during the Iowa and Nebraska years was smoking cigarettes.
Did I somehow think singing might be bad for me?
I never started smoking again — it’s been 29 years now — but I returned to singing almost the minute I left Nebraska for Ohio. In Columbus, where I moved for a teaching job, the first friend I found (who, by spring, after the Iowa/Nebraska doctor and I had amicably split, would turn from friend to boyfriend) played the guitar and sang beautifully (which goes a long way toward explaining the shift from friend to boyfriend — but that’s an old story, isn’t it? Doesn’t every woman have at least one story that features a man and a guitar?).
By summer, my new boyfriend and I were singing together for hours every day, sitting side by side in the swing on the front porch of the hundred-year-old house I’d just moved into. I’d bought the house — a leap of faith in honor of my having completed my first tenure-track year, and an act of defiance, too: taking a stand, doing the most dramatic thing I could think of after not marrying the doctor, declaring myself a woman who was not waiting a minute longer for her “real life” to begin.
The new boyfriend and I sang Beatles songs, mostly. We sang “Hold Me Tight” (feels so right now) and “Eight Days A Week” (just like I need you) and “You’re Going to Lose That Girl” (yes, yes, you’re going to lose that girl). I was wildly in love: I took that bromide about “making beautiful music together” absolutely literally.
But by September he was gone (having, yes, lost that girl — though “lost” is prettifying it: he ditched me), and — just like that — I stopped singing again.
This time, unlike the time before, I noticed. I noticed that I wasn’t singing, and I missed it, too. I missed it more than I missed him (or else missing it was all mixed up with missing him — I couldn’t tell). I missed Hula, too. I missed everything. It struck me that autumn that I had made a wrong turn somewhere — that I was living the wrong life.
It did not occur to me then, as it does now, that I was too depressed to sing. I remember consciously considering the thought that I might never sing again.
I dressed up this bit of melodrama in pragmatism. I was sad, sure, I told myself, but I wasn’t only sad. I was also busy. What had I been thinking of, anyway, spending all those hours (hours upon hours, day after day, for months!) singing? I had things to do.
And so I threw myself into all the things I did that weren’t singing. I proofread the galleys of my first novel and began a second one, set up readings and signings and made and remade lists of people who should get copies of the book once it came out, even as I settled in for serious advance fretting about reviews. I taught my classes and wrote up proposals for new ones, served on departmental committees, edited a literary magazine, applied for grants. I made dinner parties and made friends and fussed over my house — the house that had been a factor, the singing ex-boyfriend had declared, in his leaving me (my leap of faith an act of no-faith in us, it seemed to him, and for all I know he was right): I painted and repainted, contemplated and rejected wallpaper samples, made the rounds of secondhand and antique stores and lugged home dressers, chairs, a desk, a coffee table. I moved the furniture around (then moved it around again — and then again). I put the coffee table on the porch and bought another coffee table. I painted the coffee table I’d moved out to the porch. (I painted it red. And then I decoupaged it.)
I started taking piano lessons (it had been 22 years since my last lesson, and I was alternately astonished by how much I remembered and astonished by how much I’d forgotten), setting aside half an hour a day to practice “Für Elise,” “Rondo Alla Turca,” Chopin preludes, scales — making music but not singing. Resolutely (sadly, busily) not singing. As I’ve done all my life, before and since, I battled back depression with sheer busyness (a strategy that hardly ever works for anyone, but works — or more or less works, usually — for me).
Fall passed, winter passed, spring began. My book came out. I made it through my second year of teaching, went off to an artist’s colony (I brought my piano books to Yaddo, so I could practice), made some headway on the novel. Started a new romance.
I would probably have sung with that boyfriend (spring and summer, 1990; breakup in the fall) if he had sung — but he didn’t, or he didn’t then (he sings now — sings and plays guitar and banjo in an all-faculty/staff band at the college where he teaches). If he’d ever played guitar for me back then (if he even knew how to play guitar back then — he never mentioned that he did), we might have lasted longer — who knows? (No, actually, I do know: we would not have. The relationship was ill-fated for any number of reasons, not the least of which was that I’d met him through the boyfriend who did play guitar and sing with me, then left me — and for whom I was still pining — or that the boyfriend who never mentioned that he played, or if he played, turned out to be what one of his grad school housemates delicately called a “two-timer.”)
The boyfriend after the two-timer didn’t sing either — and that was Glen, the one I married. By the time Glen and I got together, I’d stopped missing singing. I’d stopped thinking about singing — that was what I would have said if anyone had asked. But who would have asked? Who would it have mattered to except me?
Two and a half years passed songlessly. And then, one April morning in 1993, I surprised myself with the sound of my own voice.
I was seven months pregnant, in residence at the MacDowell Colony, and as I made my way through the woods to my studio in hip-deep snow, I discovered that I was singing. I was singing “Amazing Grace.” I stopped. I laughed, and then — I was pregnant; this is how it goes when you’re pregnant — I started to cry. And every day after that, as if a spell had been broken, I sang. I sang folk songs and pop songs and rock songs and jazz standards (and the one hymn I knew, “Amazing Grace,” which I sang over and over again). I sang to my daughter, loudly, as I plodded through the snow, from Colony Hall to my studio and back. Every day after breakfast, I sang. I had ski poles to help me keep my balance as I pushed through the snow. I’d reach my cabin, build a fire, change into dry clothes, and write all day, determined to finish the manuscript before the baby came — and ten hours later I’d head back, ski poles in hand, for dinner and conversation, singing all the way.
When I ran into the painter from Maine who had been assigned the cabin nearest mine, he laughed and waved. I waved back and kept on singing.
My great discovery, that cold spring in New England, was that not having someone to sing with didn’t matter so much, after all. Not if I had someone to sing to.
Of course, this too is an old story. What mother doesn’t sing to her child? Still, it felt new to me. It was new to me.
It’s new to all of us when it happens for the first time. Like everything.
Even falling in love with the boy with the guitar isn’t a cliché when you’re the one doing the falling.
These days, 21-plus years after that frozen April (I once was lost but now I’m found) that yielded finally to a true New England spring of rivers of mud, I have people to sing with and people to sing to, in spades. These days, 25 years after those summer nights on my front porch with the boyfriend who would be gone by September (and then I might/never be the lonely one), 32 years after Hula and I traded shoo-wop shoo-wops between lines about narcissistic men (they like themselves so much it’s catching/so watch out for the disease), I sing with a 200-voice choir, the Harmony Project. Our concerts, in a gorgeous old theater in downtown Columbus — a theater in which Lillian Russell and Al Jolson once sang, in which Isadora Duncan and Anna Pavlova once danced — sell out every time: that’s nine hundred people to sing to a night.
My private joke (not private anymore) is that it takes a village to replace my daughter. A very, very large village.
Now that I have plenty of people to sing with — and sing to — I’m pretty sure I’m set. That I’ll be singing till the end.