At First Blush

We spend hours in the bathroom and hundreds of dollars in our favorite shops making certain our hair is perfectly coiffed with not one out of place, our outfit compliments our best assets – just in case our date forgets to – and our makeup is effortlessly applied, masking and filtering our flaws.  All for the best first impression.

Who we are at first blush is hardly ever the best version of ourselves.

That’s hard to hear above a noisy pop culture. The one flooding our ears and filling our minds with false ideals of perfection. And illusive promises that the perfection we chase is the reflection of our significance.

We’ve listened to the clamor of clichés far too long. We’ve normalized criticizing and critiquing and swiping left or right for sport. We are blinded by desires to attain unreachable standards, for ourselves and others, and we cannot see beyond the veneers each of us tries so hard to keep polished.

When the day is done – when the makeup is washed off and the fancy clothes are stripped down – we can allow ourselves to take a breath and stop pretending that we have it all together all the time. We need to accept ourselves as the imperfect beauties we are, letting our truest colors seep through the cracks like light through a kaleidoscope.

I’m full of cracks and jagged edges. But I spent the better part of my young adult life fighting my body, cursing it for all the things it was and all the things it wasn’t. I wasted time shaming my imperfections and hiding my scars, forgetting to appreciate what they are: badges of strength and survival, meant to be celebrated and not condemned.

Our society’s voice does a spectacular job at reminding us that we’re a few crowns short of a beauty queen (unless you are one. Then get it, girl). What that annoyingly opinionated voice doesn’t tell us – maybe we just forget to listen – is that the things making us most flawed, tarnished, too complicated or broken are also the things that show our strength and fortitude, our sassy brassiness and our general badass-ery.

It’s taken a long time to fill the space that I’m in now. Where I realize we’re all just trying to make a mark in this world bold enough to keep our place in it. And I am not alone in all the times I have over-analyzed or under-estimated myself.

I know plenty more women have felt the way I have. That your form or style doesn’t fit a narrow mold so you question your worth and value. That you aren’t beautiful enough to talk to that charismatic guy you’ve been eyeing across the bar (you are, by the way, just as much as that leggy blonde next to you) so you settle for fighting over a bowl of bar nuts with the dude whose conversation skills are seriously lacking. That you won’t find The One so maybe you should just give up and finally adopt those cats (you will, by the way, but go get that cat. Make your own cat videos and send them to Ellen. She loves that shit).

I’m declaring it once and for all: ladies, we are all beautiful and worthy of every single good thing.  Whether you are short and curvy or tall and slim. Whether your skin is delicately pale or richly dark. Whether your hair falls in heaps of curls or hangs sleek and straight. Whether you rock heels or wheels. We are Queens. And fuck anyone or anything trying to tell us we aren’t.

Keep putting yourselves out there. Keep fighting against self-doubt and stereotypes for the sake of love. And everything else that makes you happy.

Be weird. Be different.

Be free and unabashedly proud of who you are.

BeYOUtiful

 

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Year of Yes

I don’t know how it happened. I turned 30. I am legitimate. Kids are calling me ma’am.  Instead of feeling terrified of the milestone, I choose excitement. I like the woman I’ve become as I’ve gotten older; confidence comes much more naturally and so does a desire to try new things. I’ve declared a Year of Yes to explore new places, meet new people and find new interests. I’m ready to challenge my comfort zone and shake things up.

After months of saying but never doing, I have finally created a space where I will reflect, rejoice and release.

 

Take Your Best Shot, Cupid

He spit questions at me rapid fire, taking a breath only to suck down a glug of beer as dark as the V-neck sweater he wore. Unfazed by such a stiff, impersonal exchange – beginning to feel painfully more like a job interview than a first date – my answers came just as quickly, each a variation of the same smart, witty response I’d catalogued and pulled out what felt like 100 times before. We had both switched on Conversation Auto-Pilot, and if either one of us noticed, we didn’t care. We had accepted this loose interpretation of “getting to know someone” as “just part of the process.”

I was half way through a canned explanation of what I want out of life, laced with just enough pithy sarcasm to show him that I’m breezy, when he asked me the one question guaranteed to make me cringe: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done, he asked. For the first time all evening, I could see a glint of personality behind his bored eyes, and as one corner of his mouth turned up into a lazy grin, I knew he was looking for scandal. I slowly shifted in my seat, anxiously biting my lip and hoping a bit of red lipstick hadn’t snuck onto a tooth. I wanted so badly to be able to tell him stories of the times I zip lined in Hawaii or skinny dipped in a hotel pool, but the truth is that I’ve played life safely. I am an introverted creature of habit spending more time inside her head than outside her comfort zone.

At the risk of this guy finding me dull and uninspired, I answered honestly:

“This whole online dating thing is pretty crazy, don’t you think?”

I never thought I would be scrolling through faces until I found one I deemed attractive enough to skim their Self Summary, then scrolling back up to study their pictures to decide if they meet silly, superficial standards. I’m embarrassed to admit how many times I’ve looked at a guy with good hair and an even better smile and thought, ‘he must be a great guy, but there are hundreds more to see.’  This is dating now. And I am sitting in the front row of the bandwagon.

When I created my profile, I had zero expectations. It was simply an exercise in stretching myself, the girl more terrified by the idea of being vulnerable and open than by the thought of voluntarily free-falling from a perfectly good plane.

True to form, I showed my disability in pictures only, refusing to write about it. I didn’t want to expose too much of myself, fearing the kind of men I’m attracted to would pass me over. More than that, I wanted the focal point to be my personality and all the ways I take a bite out of life, not that I go through each day on wheels.

My plan worked until I received salty messages from men who felt duped by my, as one fellow e-dater described it, “calculated dishonesty.” His claim made me out to be manipulative and cagey, like I was intentionally hiding who I am, all for a laugh at the expense of a man foolish enough to be attracted to a woman who uses a wheelchair. The reality is that I am cautious to a fault, and after coming off the bench and getting into a game whose playbook is riddled with laws of physical attraction, I felt justified in my decision to be guarded. More unsolicited comments like, “you’re pretty for a quad,” and  “I can’t help but feel sorry when I look at you” and “you are an inspiration for looking for love,” validated my choice to be veiled.

But no matter how exhausting these brazen and bold opinions were, they weren’t shared in vain. After taking a beat from my quest for online love, I realized it didn’t matter what anyone thought but it did matter that I wasn’t being true to myself. Before I started this journey, I pledged complete authenticity. And although my disability does not dictate the impact I will make or the mark I will leave, it surely affects how I experience our world and has influenced who I am. Looking inward, I began to understand that in choosing to omit details of my life, I was silently admitting that a part of me believed who I am isn’t enough for what I want, what I deserve. In that moment, I was no better than these ignorant men perpetuating a stereotype that perceived differences equate lesser value.

That isn’t the message I want to send.

So, I logged in, clicked edit, took a deep breath (or five) and explained the muscle and nerve damage. With some quippy joke about how I earned my wheels early. I said I’m self-aware enough to know that the idea of dating a woman with mobility challenges may be intimidating to some men, but there’s more to me than that one piece. I am kind and compassionate. I have a creative mind and a quirky sense of humor. I work hard. I am fiercely devoted to my family and friends. I am so much more than what tries, but never limits me.

And suddenly, I was inundated with messages from interested men whose caliber finally met mine. Because I chose originality over perfection. And because I was brave enough to embrace the woman I am.

Don’t be fooled, I did swoon for some smooth-talking stinkers. One whose mom apparently never showed him Bambi, otherwise he would know: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. That sage advice didn’t stop him from making sure I knew, “you’re hot, but your chair is a boner killer.” If I ever see him again, I’ll thank him for giving me what is absolutely the title of my memoir. Then I’ll run him over.

I’m getting gassed out from our dating culture. I’m done keeping score with all the game playing. And don’t get me started on the ghosting. What the f**K is that, guys (and gals – we’re not innocent in this circus). Can we all just be adults here and say what we mean and mean what we say?  If you aren’t interested and would rather not see someone again: Tell them. It’s not hard.

Despite all the bad dates and all the disappointments, I have met some wonderful men, to be sure, who have each taught me necessary lessons about love and life.  What’s best are the things I’ve learned about myself. I’m comfortable on my own. I don’t need someone in my life, but I want to share it with someone. I like the woman I’ve become as I’ve gotten older. I’m not perfect, but I’m beautiful. I’m small, but I’m strong. I’m quiet, but I’m confident. I know my worth and what I deserve. I won’t settle for anything less.

So, Cupid, keep shooting those arrows. If you miss once in a while, I’ll be okay.