Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Your Resident Single Friend: Doing things by yourself vs. Being lonely

Loyal Island readers will be happy to know that I completed and submitted my Date Lab application this past Sunday. Y'all keep me honest and now we wait and see what the dating geniuses/mad scientists at The Washington Post come up with when trying to find a suitable match for me. I answered all the questions as best as I could and was honest. I used this as one of my allotted photos:


Teddy is my favorite and I do genuinely like going to baseball games. That makes me a catch right?

Rather than dwelling on the idea that TWP may not find a match for me, I decided that I need to address something that comes up every now and then when I discuss my love life with my friends (both single and attached/married friends). Without fail, we eventually make our way to the topic of doing things by yourself versus being lonely. There is a difference and it's always interesting to see where my friends' opinions fall on this. I could make a lot of grand statements about personality types or the relationship status of the person but ultimately, those things are only part of the equation.The collective we places a lot of importance on having friends and networks of contacts and being social while also praising independence and uniqueness (although not outward weirdness). Quirky is cool as long as you can somehow turn that into something mainstream and can diminish the independence of the subject (this is why the Manic Pixie Dream Girl exists). Frankly, this is messed up and it's what causes my friends (and me) to get into heated debates about how doing things by yourself is not the same as being lonely. They may occasionally be connected but my personal experience has taught me that they are not synonymous despite what society and pop culture would like us to believe.

People, my friends included, assume that because I do things by myself that I am sad and lonely. The truth is that I like to do things by myself. This doesn't mean that I am lonely. I'm a fairly classic introvert and I happen to need time to myself. I'm not a fan of things like small talk and extreme group situations. I love Susan Cain's book and Ted Talk about the power of introversion. It's given me a lot to think about in terms of my relationships and communication style. The true balance of being an introvert is that you need both alone time and meaningful time with trusted friends. I don't need to talk to a ton of people at a happy hour; I need to spend time with a few friends during said happy hour talking, laughing, and enjoying ourselves. When I go home from that happy hour, I want to watch a little tv or read or do some writing. It's how I recharge and think through things. I'm not being a recluse or antisocial; I just need a little down time. That shouldn't be a bad thing.

I'm also incredibly independent and am absolutely fine with doing things by myself. Going to the movies alone is one of my favorite things to do; there is beauty in sitting in a dark theater watching any movie and not having to think about whether your companion is enjoying the movie or what you're going to do after. It's about the film and the story. Now there are some movies that are designed for groups (comic book movies, Magic Mike, the Pitch Perfect movies) but for the most part I prefer going alone. I also have no problem going to a restaurant by myself. I've spent enough of my professional life traveling for work that this is a non-issue for me. I bring a book, observe people (and make up stories about them), or just focus on the meal that I'm eating. There's nothing embarrassing about this. I understand that it's not for everyone though so I'm in no way trying to make anyone feel bad if this isn't their thing. However, I do believe that we have created unnecessary fear about dining alone. Some people have social anxiety about this (which is totally legit); others have simply chosen to believe the lies that dining alone means you are sad and pathetic. You're not.

To me, being able to be by yourself is something that all adults should be able to do regardless of their personality type or sociability. We all need time to recharge, think in a more focused way, and simply not have to be in the noise of daily life. Even the most social people need a break from time to time and you should be able to take a break with yourself.

I will concede that there are some events/situations that do not belong in the "do by yourself" category and can potentially be the stuff that causes a person to feel lonely. I've done several of these things by myself and have, on occasion, felt lonely while doing so. These are the times when it's good to call in your friends or a family member or bribe someone to be your date:

  • Weddings - Being the single person at a wedding is the absolute worst (destination weddings are the worst of the worst especially if it's somewhere secluded or on the romantic side). I would never not go to a friend's or relative's wedding because of my single status but I would still know how potentially lonely it can be. Emotions run high at weddings and going alone often makes that worse. I have at least two weddings in the next year or so and I would rather beg/bribe any of my single guy friends to be my date than go alone. 
  • Certain types of travel - I love to travel by myself but there are some types of trips that are better with a group or a friend or two. Road trips, cruises, and theme parks are so much better when others are around. I loved my solo trip to Paris but my one regret is not spending as much time out at night because I wasn't comfortable doing so alone. There are also certain countries I won't go to by myself. Traveling alone makes me feel brave and free but I also know that I have to be incredibly careful when doing so. Such is the world we live in.
  • Concerts - Yes, I have been to concerts by myself and had a great time. However, I have more fun when I'm with friends or my favorite concert buddy, my brother. I'm especially fond of going to outdoor concerts with groups.
  • Sporting events - I don't think I've ever gone to a sporting event by myself. Like concerts, games are more fun with a crowd. And I love to people watch so sharing those observations with someone else makes them even more entertaining. 
  • Certain holiday events - I'm mostly thinking of holiday parties from around Thanksgiving through New Year's and then social holidays like Memorial Day and the 4th of July (picnic/BBQ season). It's the small talk that gets me at these types of events. I always want a partner in crime to get me out of awkward social interactions with strangers or acquaintances.
  • Parties where you only know the host - This is the one type of social event that gives me social anxiety. I often find excuses not to go to these parties if none of my friends are going or I can't convince a friend to join me. I'm not the type of person that would just walk up to someone new and start a conversation (except at work because it's part of my job). I'd probably end up hanging out with the pet of the host rather than the other guests.
  • Buying furniture or other significant purchases - Second opinions are helpful and insightful. Just because you have a vision about that new couch or car doesn't mean that the vision actually works. Or maybe it is absolutely perfect and your friend confirms your awesomeness. Win either way.

I think it's important to consider this as I think about the Date Lab application and the possibility of trying online dating again. Since I do like to do things by myself, how much of that will I lose if I start dating? Do I need a more introverted person in my life or would I be better suited to be with an extrovert? How much of this is tied to the fact that I don't want to have to have the "by myself vs. alone" conversation/argument with my friends anymore?

It goes back to the idea of a balance for the introverted - being able to be confident enough in my own need of alone time while balancing the desire to spend time with those important to me. Maybe I've missed that balance for all these years and that is why I'm Your Resident Single Friend.


Introvert Problems meme
Party image

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Short Story: Return of the Peeps, Part 2

 Read part one HERE and the story that started it all HERE.

Monday afternoon
The soft rustle of paintbrushes on canvas was the only sound in the studio. Margaret walked around the room, observing her students and occasionally making suggestions or answering questions. Her Monday afternoon class was a quiet group, none of the friendly chatter of her Friday groups. Normally the quiet was soothing and gave her time to truly observe and teach but today it just made it easier for her mind to wander back to her kitchen and the evil waiting for her at home.

She supposed she should have called the police but what exactly would she tell them? Every explanation sounded ridiculous. It had been too early to call Sam when it happened; she'd talk with him when she got home. He would want to her to call the police. He was rational that way. She had been going over and over opening the box in her head since leaving her apartment. Who would have sent something like that to her? Why would they do that? Who else knew about the diorama she made? She hadn't told anyone and had sworn Sam to secrecy. No one else had known. That was what troubled her the most.

Margaret didn't suspect Sam of anything. If she were to follow horror movie formula, Sam would be the first suspect for the Peeps Murders and for the package. She knew in her heart that he was not involved in either. There had to be someone else.

The end of class pulled Margaret out of her thoughts. She wrapped up the lesson with her students and made end of class small talk with several as they gathered their things to leave. Margaret had one tour left to give and then she could call it day and figure out what to do next. She closed the studio and made her way to the 4th floor galleries to meet her group. She did a few deep cleansing breaths to prepare for her talk on contemporary photography. Thankfully, none of the artists used Peeps in their photos.


Later that evening
The conversation with Sam was not going as she had planned. He couldn't believe that she hadn't called the police. "You're being threatened, Margaret. That's a serious thing. You have to hang up right now and call them. You need their help." Sam's tone was one part stern parent and one part concerned boyfriend. Margaret knew this would be his reaction but that didn't stop her from being annoyed with him.

"You didn't tell anyone about the diorama did you? You kept it a secret like you promised right?" Margaret had to ask.

"Of course I did. Who would I have told anyway? And don't change the subject. You're hanging up and calling the police. Now." The phone clicked. He hung up on her. Margaret moved from annoyed to angry.

"He hung up on me!?" Arthur circled her as he had done earlier in the day. He settle down and stared at her with those all knowing dog eyes. "You're right, Arthur. I need to calm down. I shouldn't be mad at your dad and I should call the police." She picked up her phone to do just that when she noticed something outside. Her apartment building was made up of two towers; she was in the east tower and her view was across the courtyard was of the west tower. She never paid much attention to the apartments across the way but today she noticed one apartment in particular. It was directly across from her apartment and there were two posters in the window: a Peeps promotional poster and the original Halloween poster. She couldn't recall if they had been there this morning. It was all too coincidental.

"You have got to be kidding me." Margaret said to herself. She was clutching her phone and remembered what she was supposed to be doing. She called the police and explained what had occurred as she watched the apartment across the way. There was no movement but Margaret couldn't help but feel as if she was being watched.

The police arrived promptly and spent over an hour going through the events of the morning. Since the Peeps Murders had never been solved, they were taking this call very seriously. The boxes, paper, and note had been collected and taken away. She eventually told them about the Peeps diorama from two years ago. The detectives, Arnold and Roberts, had given her an odd look but both agreed that diorama was a coincidence. Weird but coincidental. She hadn't taken any photos of the diorama but had found one sketch. The detectives took it as evidence as well. 

"Was there anyone else that knew about the diorama? Friends? Co-workers? An enemy?" Detective Arnold asked.

"No. Sam was the only person who knew about it. He helped me with the more mechanical parts of the diorama. We never really got to those parts of it because I burned everything." Margaret wasn't sure if they thought she was crazy or guilty or just had an incredibly morbid sense of humor.

She thought about it for a second, "I mean, I guess someone could have heard us in the elevator here. We talked about it on the way up to apartment a few times. You never know if someone is listening to you in an elevator." 

"Okay Margaret. I think we have all the information we need for now. Do you have anyone who can stay with you this evening?" Detective Arnold knew the young woman was scared and definitely not a killer. He also knew that now he and his partner would be interviewing all the tenants of this building.

"I called my friend to come over; she should be here soon. Sam is Denver right now and trying to come home. I'll be fine."

"Margaret, if anything else happens call us immediately. Patrols have been increased in the neighborhood for now. We'll be in touch soon." Detective Roberts gave her his card. She thanked them and showed them out. She hadn't mentioned the posters across the courtyard. She figured that was just another coincidence.

A week later
No more packages had been delivered. The detectives talked to Sam once he made it back home. Arthur kept following Margaret around the apartment but nothing else out of the ordinary happened. Margaret insisted that she was fine but Sam knew she was frightened. They were having dinner earlier in the week when she pointed out the posters in the window. Since she first noticed them more had been added: another Peep ad, Freddy Krueger, and Leatherface were now staring at them. He hadn't noticed them until Margaret pointed them out. Sam made her call Detective Arnold. The detective promised to check out the apartment. He was sure the person was already on their interview list but didn't share that with Margaret. The Peeps Murders case had always been weird and these recent developments made it even more so.

They were watching The Daily Show when they heard a loud thud against the front door. Arthur immediately began growling and standing in front of Margaret. Sam approached the door cautiously and looked out through the peephole. No one was in the hall and he couldn't see down. He chained the door and slowly opened it. A bigger box, wrapped like the first one, and addressed to Margaret lay at his feet. He unchained the door and kicked it into the apartment. No one was in the hall.

Margaret was already on the phone with Detective Arnold. He gave her strict instructions not to touch the package and to stay put until he and Roberts arrived. The tenant interviews had been going on all week and they had a few  people of interest from the building. One happened to live in the west tower across from Margaret. They were trying to get a search warrant for the apartment. The tenant, Edwin White, was unable to recall his whereabouts when the Peeps Murders occurred, he had a record (harassment, animal cruelty, and a bar fight or two) , and a fascination with horror movies. It was flimsy but the detectives needed something.

The new box revealed a more intricate Peeps display: Jason at Crystal Lake with the phrase Fridays will never be the same again along the bottom. It was one of the taglines from the original Friday the 13th.

After the detectives left without providing any additional information just reassurances that they were safe, it was decided that Margaret and Arthur would stay at Sam's place for the rest of the week. Margaret argued at first but gave in after it was agreed that they could leave in the morning. She was too tired to pack for herself and the dog tonight. They got ready for bed and both feel asleep almost immediately. Arthur had taken to sleeping by the door in protector mode. He was a pretty solid dog so an intruder/crazed Peep killer would probably trip over him and maybe break something before any real harm could be done.

Around 2 am Margaret woke up. She had been dreaming but couldn't remember what her dream was about. She laid in bed a moment trying to will herself back to sleep but it didn't work. She carefully got out of bed and went into the living, stepping over a sleeping Arthur. She had forgotten to close the curtains so she could see the other apartment tower. This time instead of thinking someone was watching her she saw someone in the window. He was dressed in all black and a white mask. It took her a moment to focus on the mask. It looked like a mash up of Jason's hockey mask and Michael Myers blank face with something else. Margaret's heart was beating fast and she couldn't move or call out to Sam.

What else was on the mask? Peeps - it was Peeps. The mask was made up to look like a Peep villain. The man (she assumed it was a man) held up a sign, Everyone is entitled to one good scare. Another tagline.

She was finally able to move from the living room. She ran back into the bedroom, waking up Sam and Arthur in the process.

"We have to leave now." She shook Sam awake. "Put on your shoes, grab your keys. We have to leave now."

Sam struggled to wake up and make sense of what Margaret was saying. "What's going on?"

"It's him. He's watching from across the tower. I saw him in an awful mask. We have to go." Margaret already had her shoes on and her phone and purse. "Please Sam, move!"

Her tone got him moving. They got the dog leashed and made their way out of the building and to Sam's car. The figure had still been in the window; Sam had seen him too. When they got to his car, there were Peeps smashed on the windows. Surprisingly that was the only damage done to the car. Margaret could see the apartment window from the car; the figure had vanished. She called both detectives as Sam sped away. Detective Roberts answered and told her to head to the police station.  Margaret looked back and saw the mask. He was following them. Sam saw too and tried to lose the guy. The second car vanished.

Every horror movie she had ever seen flashed through her mind at once. Margaret knew the Peep Murderer was going to hit them and try to take Sam out of commission. That's how these things worked. Just as she was thinking this, it happened. Sam thought he had lost the guy but he came out of a side street and hit them. Sam hit his head as he tried to regain control of the car. He was out; not dead just out.

Margaret was dazed by the crash but not hurt. She tried to help Sam but he wouldn't wake up. She grabbed for her phone and dialed 911. "There's been an accident and there's a killer outside my car. Help me!" The dispatcher tried to get her to calm down and give more details but Margaret was too distracted by the other car. It was idling across the street, poised to strike again. She dropped the phone. She braced herself and Sam for another hit.

Nothing happened.

She opened her eyes and stared at the masked figure in the car. And then she got angry. She forced her way out of the car and faced him. "Too chicken to hit us again? Is this too close for you? Or not your weapon of choice?"

The masked figure didn't move. Margaret stepped closer to his car.

"You've been terrorizing me for two years and you're just going to sit there? You can't even get out of the car and chase me or come at me with a machete? What kind of crazed killer are you?" Margaret was suddenly a sassier version of Laurie Strode minus the 70s wardrobe and awesome hair. The sound of sirens was getting closer. Margaret stood her ground, waiting for a reaction from the masked figure. His inaction only made her more angry.

Before Margaret could taunt him again, police cars surrounded the crash. Margaret saw Detective Roberts approaching her. "He's not going to put up a fight," she told him. "The guy won't even come out of the car."

The detective led her back to Sam. He had come to just as the police cars arrived. Paramedics were helping him out of the car. One of them had Arthur too. Margaret rushed over to them.

"You don't get to be the Final Girl after all." Sam said as they embraced.

"It's not really my style. Too much running and screaming involved."

They sat in the back on an ambulance watching as Detectives Arnold and Roberts handcuffed the man from the car. The mask had been removed and she saw a man from her building. His name was Ed or Edwin or something like that.. She remembered seeing him when she first moved in; he had given her the creeps. He looked at her right before the detectives put him into the car. His face was blank but Margaret sensed he was testing her, seeing if she'd look away first. Margaret did not blink. She stared him down and let him know that he had no power here. She was done with this story. 



Epilogue

Margaret rearranged the flowers again. She had been rearranging the table setting all morning long. Sam took the vase from her and held it out of her reach.

"I wasn't done with that. Put it back."

"No, you're done. The table is perfect. The flowers are perfect. You have to stop." He placed the flowers back on the table.

"Fine." She smiled at him and walked away from the table. They were hosting their first dinner party in their new house and she wanted everything to be perfect. In the year since the car crash and capture of Edwin White, they had moved into a new house and had decided to get married. The party was a combination wedding party (they had eloped) and Easter party. Their parents and close friends would begin arriving soon.

Edwin White had confessed to the Peeps Murders. There had been plenty of evidence in his apartment to convict him even if he hadn't. He had included the Peeps after watching Margaret work on her diorama. He thought he had found a kindred spirit and was trying to get her attention. He realized his plan backfired when he saw her burning the diorama. The bloody Freddy she had found two years ago had been his first "gift" to her. He was sentenced to life in prison and had no prospect of ever being released.

Margaret and Sam made their way back into the house. The backyard setting was beautiful. They had done a lot of work on the house since moving in and it was home. She took a final look at the decorated table. Her flower arrangements were a mix of spring flowers and Easter decorations. Two of the vases were full of Gerber daisies and Peeps in coordinating colors. Peeps weren't so evil after all.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Short Story Hour: Return of the Peeps

I wrote the short story "House of Peeps" as part of National Writing Date Day this past September. It was based on a writing prompt: make me afraid of the Easter bunny. I decided to work on a sequel to the story just in time for peak Peeps season. It's not particularly Easter-y but then again are sugary marshmallow bunnies and chicks really all that Easter-y?

It was getting harder and harder to avoid the seasonal candy aisle. Stores seemed to put the holiday candy out earlier each year. Of course, Easter was no longer the only holiday for Peeps; every holiday seemed to be in on the game. Margaret wondered how long it would be until there was a groundhog shaped Peep or awkward President shaped Peeps. There wasn't much difference between that and the pumpkins and trees and snowmen. If the added shapes weren't enough there were all the added flavors. It was too much.

Margaret did her best to avoid the holiday candy aisle whenever she went to Target or the grocery. At her local Target she had a route worked out that took her from electronics through toys and fitness to land at the edge of the regular grocery section. She could completely bypass the seasonal section. She employed this route strategy from late September (after back to school sales ended) through the end of April when Easter items gave way to summer. It was the only way she could avoid shelf after shelf of seemingly innocent marshmallow candy. She knew looks where deceiving and that the little bunnies and chicks were more vicious than anyone could imagine.

Two years had passed since the Peeps Murders, as they had been called, rocked her Arlington neighborhood. Of course it had also been the one year she finally decided to enter the annual Peeps diorama contest. Margaret's diorama depicted four famous horror movie villains in iconic scenes from their films. In each of the Peeps Murders, references were made to the movies and Peeps were found smashed at the scene. Margaret was convinced that her diorama was evil and that the marshmallow characters were to blame. She had even found blood on one of the monsters she created. She burned the diorama and the killings stopped. Margaret vowed to never buy a Peep again.

Margaret's thoughts were interrupted by the ping of her cell phone. It was a text from her boyfriend, Sam. He was the only other person that knew about the diorama and its destruction. He had actually helped build part of it. He didn't think the Peeps were to blame (necessarily) but supported a Peeps free lifestyle.

Are you still at Target? I'm leaving now. Should be @ your place in 15."

Margaret quickly responded, Just got in line. You'll probably beat me there. Had to avoid the seasonal aisle. It seems to be growing.

She knew he thought her fear was getting out of hand but he was nice enough to hide that from her most of the time. She loved him more for that and knew she needed to address this problem but Target was not the place for therapy. Sam replied that he'd get dinner started and the movie ready. It was Friday night movie night.

Make sure to check on Arthur's water. I fed him before I left but you know how he is about the water bowl.

Arthur was her/their bulldog. He lived with Margaret but they adopted him together. When they adopted the dog, Sam wasn't ready to move in together but pet parenting was apparently okay. Arthur was a great dog but he tended to stand in his water bowl when full or flip it for no reason. They had tried all the suggestions to get him to stop but he didn't. Now they just let him do it and cleaned up the mess. Recently, they had begun looking at apartments together. Maybe Arthur's water bowl issues would be resolved when they all lived together.

The line was moving fast. The couple in front of her must have children or were planning a massive Easter party. They had everything you could dream of putting in an Easter basket and then some. Margaret didn't recall her childhood Easter baskets including action figures, Legos, and Barbies. Among the chocolate bunnies and jelly beans, she spotted packages of Peeps in every color, shape, and flavor available. She focused on putting her items on the belt. Every bunny reminded her of the mangled marshmallow Freddy Krueger she created. She had to stop this. Peeps were not evil. It had just been a coincidence two years ago. Marshmallows couldn't be possessed.

Later that evening
Sam was snoring lightly as Margaret tossed and turned, trying to get comfortable. She was having trouble sleeping. She had woken up two times already after weird dreams involving Peeps chasing her and demanding her soul. Sam and Arthur both slept through it all. She didn't want Sam to know anyway. Earlier in the evening, she told him she was done worrying about the Peeps and avoiding the seasonal candy aisle. He had been proud of her and excited that it was finally done. She couldn't wake him up now. She crept out of bed, heading to the living room for some television.

She flipped through her usual standard channels: comedy shows, Hallmark movies, cooking show, and travel programs. She settled one of those extreme cake baking challenge shows. Of course the featured ingredient was Easter candy with Peeps being a major focal point for most of the competitors. It looked like one had even made some sort of Peep filled city. Margaret had to force herself to watch the show until the end. It would be a first step to her letting go of her Peep fears. The show ended (Peep city did not win) but Margaret felt no more tired than she had when she started and no more at ease with the Peeps. She flipped to one of the movie channels and watched the end of a cheesy romantic comedy before returning her bedroom. Sam threw his arm around her as she settled back into bed. She eventually drifted off into an uneasy, dreamless sleep.

Monday morning
The weekend had gone by too quickly as weekends do. Margaret and Sam spent most of the time looking at new apartments and hanging out at the dog park with Arthur. Their leases were up in June so they had a few months to find something. Margaret was excited about the prospect of a new place and the next phase of her life with Sam. She dropped him at the airport Sunday night with instructions to keep the search going while he was away at a conference. They could look at places when he got back on Friday. She had slept well the rest of the weekend and had lots going on at the museum this week. She was teaching several art classes (mostly painting) and leading a few tours of the collection for school groups. Margaret loved her job and that she was making a living as an artist.

Margaret was startled by a loud thud right outside her apartment. Probably just someone leaving for work in a hurry, she thought. She didn't really know most of her neighbors that well. It was mostly nods and sort of friendly hellos in the elevator. Most people seemed totally fine; youngish professionals or government workers who lived in Arlington and kept to themselves. She knew her next door neighbor a bit and there were a few "eccentric" characters in the building but no one Margaret considered a friend.

She finished her coffee, checked on Arthur, and grabbed her bag. When she opened the door to leave she found the source of the thud. A package, addressed to her, had been tossed at the door. Margaret looked up and down the hall but no one was around. Packages weren't delivered to apartments normally so she was a little surprised it was there. She picked it up and went back inside. Should she open it? Throw it away? There was no return address on the box and nothing extraordinary about the packaging. Maybe one of her neighbors picked it up by accident and didn't think anyone was home so they left it. That had to be it. She decided to open it.

She grabbed kitchen scissors and sliced open the tape. Inside was another box wrapped in bright pink paper. The brightness of the paper immediately made her think of a Peep. It was the exact shade of pink. She hesitated before unwrapping the box.

Margaret screamed and dropped the box on the counter. Arthur started barking and running around her in circles.

Inside the box were four Peeps made up to look exactly like Freddy, Jason, Leatherface, and Michael Myers. They looked eerily similar to the Peeps she had created two years ago. But she had burned them. And then burned the ashes again just to make sure they gone.

A piece of paper fluttered to the floor. The words made Margaret shudder.

One, two Freddy's coming for you...

Saturday, March 14, 2015

You get a date! And you get a date! And you get a date!


Here's the awesome/challenging thing about writing a blog - you have to do the things you write about because you published it online for the world to see. And then you promoted it on all of your social media accounts. Being a blogger is a wonderful accountability tool.

Several weeks ago I mentioned in a "coming soon" note at the end of one of my posts that I was planning to apply for Date Lab this spring. What's that? You're not familiar with Date Lab? Date Lab is my favorite part of The Washington Post Magazine. I started reading it when I moved back to the DC area in 2006 and quickly turned my mother into another super fan. The basics are this: two people are matched up and go on a date paid for by the paper (and agree to the fact that WP staff are responsible for setting them up). They agree to take photos on the date and be interviewed following the date. Most of them don't end in a second date but it's always fun to read and see how people's expectations differ from reality. My favorites are the older couples (especially the couple in their 70s from a year or so ago); they have their priorities in order.

I've been joking about applying for Date Lab for years. I'm not much of a dater and I'm naturally introverted so things like small talk and bringing attention to myself are not my favorite activities. When you date, you have to do both. It's weird because I talk for a living (teacher, trainer, docent) but it's different in a dating situation. I know I'm making excuses for my lack of a significant dating history but it's my blog so I can. Anyway, I decided that this would be the year that I would apply for Date Lab. There is no guarantee that I will be matched in the near future; the database is pretty big and there have been people who are married by the time Date Lab gets around to them. Maybe that's the real power of Date Lab; you put yourself out there and love or whatever finds you without their assistance.

But let's focus on the task at hand: completing the Date Lab application. When deciding to do any type of online dating you have to be prepared for answering a lot of questions about yourself that are probably not the types of questions you've spent time contemplating. That's probably why dating is hard; none of sit around thinking about the perfect date or even these "would you rather" questions. There should be some sort of class that we're all required to take that forces us to go through the process of really deciding what it is we want in a significant other and how to talk about yourself without sounding like an idiot. I don't think taking this class would mean that we'd never date awful people but at least we'd be more aware of the fact that we're making a poor life choice.

I'm taking some time off later this month (it's March use it or loss it PTO time) and decided that I would spend a bit of my staycation working on my Date Lab application and creating a Match.com account. The Date Lab application does not have a save and return option so I thought it best that I get prepared for this exciting endeavor by going through the questions in advance and having an idea of I will respond. I may have printed out the online form. My inner planner must control everything. It's not a long application but I do have to find some photos of me that I like (up to three!) and answer some rather difficult/interesting questions. Let's examine some of my favorites from the application:
  • What is the first thing you do in the morning? Not a challenging question but is it too boring to say I make coffee, feed Pumpkin, check my email, and take a shower? On the weekends, I go to the gym before checking email. That's how crazy my morning gets. Should I have a more significant morning routine?
  • Pitch your dating history as a tv show. I have no idea how I'm going to answer this question. How does this sound: Smart, sarcastic, but incredibly nice young woman expects too much from the guys she dates so she never finds the right one. Instead, she dates men that could only be described as man-children and watches more of her friends get married while hanging out with her cat and traveling? I'm guessing that's a bit too bitter. What if I dress it up with a fun friend played by Tina Fey or Neil Patrick Harris? People seem to like them.
  • What ways are you very DC? I actually like this question a lot. Part of the challenge of dating for me is that I live here and I have an aversion to being too DC because that means something somewhat unpleasant to many people. I also don't want to be too NOVA because I'm not really from here and don't own it either. This is the problem with growing up with a transient suburban existence. I guess I would say that I'm very DC because I judge people based on whether or not they know how to navigate the Metro, their opinions on commuting, and whether they consider Arlington a suburb or a city. I also know that the best way to experience the monuments is at night. I'm very NOVA because I think it's problematic if a person doesn't know how to get to their house without using public transportation. You're an adult; you should know how to get home.
  • What makes you a good catch? I'm sure I'm not the only one who struggles to answer this question. It's not that I can't but you have to strike a balance between talking yourself up and not sounding too full of yourself. I have a lot of varied interests so I can keep up in conversations, I like nerdy things so that will appeal to a lot of people, and I think I'm amusing and fun to be around. That's a start.
  • Dream date - whom or what kind of person would you like to date? I'm assuming I  should avoid quoting the Bonnie Tyler song from Footloose so do you think asking for someone who is a combination of Andy Dwyer and Ben Wyatt from Parks and Rec and might also play the drums, hasn't been arrested/convicted of a felony, has a job, and likes cats is too much to ask for? I like slightly goofy and nerdy guys with good hygiene and who can cook. Liking the same/similar music would also be a plus.
  • No-go - what would rule someone out? The easy ones would be a convicted felon, someone who clearly hates women (you know what I mean), someone without any manners, and someone who dislikes fun. Being employed would be nice. Should I include that I have an aversion to both Enya and Kid Rock, movies starring James Franco, men who wear incredibly skinny jeans and deep V-neck t-shirts who are not famous rock stars, and professional basketball? How much is too much?
There are about fifteen additional questions but they're fairly straightforward. I need to pick my theme song and the superpower I'd most like to have (I waiver between telepathy and teleportation), whether or not I'm religious (not particularly), eat meat (yes), or drink (yes please), and my Gilligan's Island scenario (three hour tour that gets stranded - who would you want to be with, what foods would you take, and what movies would you bring to watch). I also like the question about what differences I'd like my date to have from me; I had this conversation with several of my guy friends (always have guy friends to help give you perspective) and I feel pretty confident about my response to this question. I'd never want to date my twin in everything; musical tastes need to be similar enough and I don't see myself dating an incredibly conservative man. That would not start or end well.

Introspection is a good thing. When I was younger I didn't feel so great about myself; I was always comparing myself to my friends (skinnier, prettier, knows how to apply eyeliner) so it was just amazing when a guy paid attention to me and wanted to be around. I was less interested in thinking about whether or not we made sense or if he was what I wanted in a partner. Now, I'm less concerned with how I compare to others and more focused on how awesome I am. I think that's the key to dating; you have to be comfortable with who you are so you don't become someone else because of a guy. RuPaul said it best, “Honey, if you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love someone else?"

I guess the only thing left to do is play my theme song over and over again and get this application done.



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Friday, March 6, 2015

The Pants Experiment, Part 2

I recently finished Marc Maron's book, Attempting Normal. In one essay he details his purchase of a pair of jeans from the ultra hip Levi's store in San Francisco. He's told by the sales guy (who has a handlebar mustache) that the only way to truly get the perfect fit for these jeans is to sit in a bathtub in the jeans and then wear them until they dry. The bathtub scene also makes an appearance in season one of Maron. Levi's even has a blog about this and it's apparently very common for people to sit in their bathtubs to get the perfect fit jeans. I guess I'm not the only one who will do anything for the right pair of pants.

I was thinking about this essay and episode as I awaited the arrival of my dress pant yoga pants from Betabrand. I've been searching for a pair of comfortable and stylish work pants forever and finally decided to buy a pair. Despite my excitement I hesitated to wear them immediately so I waited until today. I should not have waited to wear them; I may have found my new favorite pair of pants.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the dress pant yoga pants are made out of the same type of material that yoga pants are made out of but they're cut like dress pants. The design includes the sort of fake pockets that are common in women's pants, a decorative button, and functioning belt loops (if you're into belts; I am not). They're well made and machine washable. I prefer not to dry clean anything so this last bit was of the utmost importance.

After spending a portion of my morning cleaning my car off and possibly getting mild frostbite, I put on my new pants and made my way through the icy streets of Arlington to work. I was ready for comfort and fashion. The pants were warm enough; the weight is heavier than normal yoga pants but not heavy like some dress pants can be.I hemmed the pants about an inch and half which ended up being the ideal length since I was able to wear my boots and then switch to flats for the office. I felt ready to tackle my day.

What had concerned me at home was how much more form fitting the pants are but honestly, I didn't notice as much once I was at work. I'm sure it was because I was working so I didn't have time to think about it but I also know that I was probably putting too much emphasis on this in the first place. Crawling under conference room tables to set up to set up projector cables was a snap. I had the feeling that I was lounging sitting at my desk or in the conference room. Several of my co-workers knew about the pants and agreed that you really couldn't tell that they were yoga pants. One of my other co-workers was completely surprised when she overheard us talking about them. They just looked like dress pants to her. When I got back home, I didn't immediately change into lounge pants or regular yoga pants because I was just so darn comfortable. I consider this entire experiment a success.

The verdict: these are excellent pants. They're comfortable, not as obvious as I thought they'd be, and worth the investment. I would wear these pants everyday if that wasn't weird. I'm considering buying a second pair. I only have two "complaints" and they're not really a big deal:
  1. The length - I wish they had a shorter option. I don't mind hemming pants but it's be awesome if I didn't have to.
  2. Pockets - seriously, when is someone going to figure out how to make women's pants with pockets? These pants have no pockets which is a challenge but one that I got over. 
They're a great addition to my wardrobe and I'm excited to plan my next outfit. Comfort and fashion don't have to be separate ideas. There's no reason to sacrifice one for the other. That's really what I like most about these pants. And I didn't have to sit in a bathtub or wet jeans all day to make it happen.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Pants Experiment, Part 1

I'm the type of person who decides what I'm going to wear the night before and has it all laid out, ready for the next morning. I firmly believe that we're all a little OCD. I'm definitely a morning person but I'm not particularly fond of making certain types of decisions before 7 am. Choosing an outfit is one of those types of decisions. Some people dream about going to school naked; I dream about wearing two different shoes and a pair of mom jeans.

When I worked at the university, I had to dress professionally everyday. I had a closet full of dress pants, suits, button-down shirts (that never quite looked good on me), and low heeled shoes that still gave me some height but didn't make me want to cut off my feet at the end of a long college fair. I dressed for the job that I had and I felt professional all the time. Admissions counselors set the impression for the universities they work for and I set a very good first impression. I found it easier to make decisions about what I would wear each day because there wasn't a lot of variety in my closet. I had a set rotation of dress pants/shirt combos that I ran through most weeks. In the summer, I'd throw in some skirts for a little variety. On dress down Fridays, I'd wear a university polo and less dressy black pants. It was awesome and easy.

Now I think about what I'm going to wear all of the time. My company has a casual dress policy; we can wear jeans and t-shirts and tennis shoes every day if that's what we want to do. I used to joke that I could wear pajamas to work and no one would say anything. There was a time when that was very true. Anyway, I find dressing for work to be challenging on two levels:
  1. I have to come up with an "outfit" even when wearing jeans. Personal style matters when dressing casually at work.
  2. It can be a struggle to feel professional when wearing jeans all the time.
When I began my journey to being the leading lady of my life, one of the areas I focused on was my personal style. I have since defined this style as "classic meets quirky librarian with a side of punk." I have a love of oddly patterned sweaters (pineapples! swans! neon bicyles!), brightly colored tights, skirts and dresses, Converse low tops, and platform heels (preferably wedge heels). What I don't love: pants that are never the right length (which would be all of them), trying on jeans, swimwear, and stiletto heels. I'm always on the lookout for a comfortable yet fashionable pair of work pants. In the last year or so, I've really tried to wear jeans only once per week; I feel more professional and adult when I dress less casually. The problem is that I'm on the short size (5'2) and I am plus size. These two things make pants shopping difficult. Short length is silly, regular needs to be hemmed, and long looks like I'm swimming in pants. Waistbands always do stupid things and can we all discuss pockets? Every size has its challenges. It's taken me 30 years to truly be confident and pleased with the way I look so I have no time for size shaming.

I've been on the work pants hunt for some time now and have found a few pairs that I like (both by the Gap, both not made anymore) but mostly I've been disappointed in my options. You can imagine my excitement when I came across Betabrand and their dress pant yoga pants. Betabrand is a San Francisco based clothing company that designs clothing for comfort and fashion. They make dress pant sweatpants for men so dress pant yoga pants are really not that far fetched. I first heard of Betabrand this past fall on Facebook. I was joking with several of my friends on Facebook about yoga pants and having "dressy" versions of them and what popped up? An ad for these pants. I didn't purchase them at the time because I thought they were expensive for pants but after my recent shopping experiences, I've come to realize that they're really not that expensive after all. Quality dress pants will run you anywhere from $60-$300 depending on where you shop. Yes, I can buy cheaper pants at Target but they're not going to last.

I decided last week that I would buy myself a pair of dress pant yoga pants. Sometimes you have to treat yo self and that's what I did. I ordered a pair of black boot-cut dress pant yoga pants. The pants arrived today. Here is what happened.

I stalked the concierge in my building because I had received an email notification that the pants had been delivered. I'm convinced that he hates me because I always have the notification before he puts the note on my mailbox. I took the pants up to my apartment and had to keep myself from opening the package in the elevator. Many thoughts raced through my head: Would they fit? Would they be too long or too short? Would people know they were really yoga pants? What would my first outfit be? What shoes would I wear? This is what I do with new, shiny things...I obsess.

The pants are black yoga pants. Cut like dress pants. Are they comfortable? Yes. Are they stretchy? Absolutely. Do they look like dress pants? Sort of. They're made of rayon, nylon, and spandex so they look (on me) like tight dress pants. Not tight in an obscene way but tight in a skinny jeans with a flair because they're boot-cut way. They're also about an inch too long for me even in my tallest heels. I can hem them (I usually hem my dress pants). As I write this I have actually forgotten that I'm wearing pants. I definitely don't feel like I do when I wear my regular dress pants or jeans. I feel comfortable.

My dilemma is this: can I pull this look off? I am not one to shy away from fashion; I own 1.5 pairs of skinny jeans so I can be daring. Is my hesitation to wear these to work tomorrow less the pants and more of that old self-doubt about how I look and what people think creeping back into my life? I don't like that this is what I'm thinking. Frankly, it's unacceptable and very un-leading lady of me.

The Pants Experiment, Part 2 - coming at you this weekend!


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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Ennui, or an open letter to winter

Dear Winter,

Let us begin with a short film:


February is the month that I most often feel a sense of overwhelming boredom and restlessness with the world or as the French would say "ennui." Henri seems to get my feelings and so I share his first film here. I tried explaining Henri and ennui to a co-worker recently and it didn't work out so well. It's possible he was really cold and couldn't focus on what I was saying. Too many layers make it impossible to hear things clearly.

Winter, what is it about February that makes life so difficult? Why is is such a drag? Is it because a little groundhog "predicted" that we'd have six more weeks of winter (which by the way we'd have even if he didn't see his shadow because that's how calendars work)? Is it the lack of sunshine and vitamin D that your perpetual gray skies block? Is it the frigid, frigid cold winds that you believe we deserve? Or is the mountains of snow and the sheets of ice that you fling about this country like confetti?

I get it - seasons are how nature works. I live in a place that experiences all of the seasons so I am prepared to be cold and experience snow a few times during your yearly reign. But seriously Winter, below zero temperatures in Northern Virginia for multiple days in a row? Temperatures that don't get about 10 for more than a week? Snow squalls on a Saturday night? Why have you sent Minnesota to us? What did the people of the DMV do to make you so angry? Wasn't the polar vortex of 2014 enough of a punishment for whatever slight we have committed? My poor plastic dinosaurs had to find refuge in my scarf yesterday. That is just sad.

You have a lot going for you so I'm not sure why you have to make it so difficult for us to like you. Think of all the positive things we associate with colder weather:
  • cozy sweaters
  • flannel sheets
  • Peppermint Mochas
  • hot chocolate
  • a nice hot toddy
  • the warm glow of a fire
  • Christmas
  • scarves
  • binge watching television shows on a snow day
  • snow days
  • sledding
  • other activities outdoorsy people enjoy
  • mittens (especially if kittens are wearing them)
  • boots 
It's even a thing now to name winter storms like we do hurricanes. Granted the names are sort of lame but it's something. It should make you feel special and appreciated. Doesn't the love affair that Jim Cantore has with thundersnow count for anything?

Let's come to an agreement today about how the rest of the season is going to work. I think you'll find that I'm a reasonable person who just wants to be a smidge warmer until Spring arrives. Here's what I'd like (and you know I'm serious when there are two lists in a post):
  1. Raise temperatures to the slightly warmer 40 degree range. 
  2. No more snow or ice. You may throw in a wintery mix or two but only if it doesn't stick and doesn't occur during rush hour.
  3. Tell the wind to go bother someone else.
  4. Keep the snow around pretty landmarks in DC like the memorials and the White House. They look so beautiful with a covering of snow.
  5. BUT make it so people can still get to those places and enjoy them in moderately cold temperatures.
  6. Wrap up your reign in the allotted six weeks. I have vacation at the end of March. I'd really like it if I didn't have to deal with snow and ice like I did last year. Not cute. 
  7. Let those poor meteorologists and other news people come inside. They look so cold and shouldn't be covering any more oddly named winter storms this year.
  8. Leave people's electricity, hot water heaters, heat pumps, and roofs alone. And no pipe bursts either. 
  9. No more flight cancellations. Airline and airport employees (as well as travelers) deserve a break.
  10. Exit this year like a lamb. Just call it day, pack up your stuff, and go quietly into the night.
And what will I do if you agree to my terms? I promise, dear Winter, that for the remainder of this winter and for all of next winter I will not complain about the weather or criticize your life choices during your time of the year. I will go out and enjoy the snow. I will wear a hat even though I look terrible in them. I will not drive to work on days when I should work from home. I will sing your praises and discuss your better qualities to anyone who will listen. Next winter, I will declare you my favorite season.

I am not asking you for a lot really just some common seasonal courtesy. In exchange I am willing to give up Fall as my favorite season for one whole year and worship everything that you, Winter, have to offer. Can we agree to these terms?

If you agree, please meet me at Starbucks for a hot chocolate to toast our agreement for the year. We will then switch to ice coffees because 40 degrees is perfectly reasonable for drinking cold beverages. You can help me pick out my new hat for next year since I'm sure I'll need it as a true devotee.

If you don't agree, I will find a way to punch you in the throat (I'm sure you have one) and I will tell everyone how terrible you are and that you can't be reasoned with. I will start a campaign to revoke your named storm privileges and I will make it my mission to get Jim Cantore to never speak of you ever again.

Let's end this on positive terms, Winter. I know in your cold, cold heart you only want us to be happy.

Love and warm, warm wishes,
Erin


Check out all of Henri's musings:  http://www.youtube.com/user/HenriLeChatNoir