Homecoming and the What Comes Next

Eleven years ago tomorrow, I went on my very first date.

Some people think it’s weird that I can recall dates with creepy precision. It’s not that I have a freakish memory that allows me to remember everything . . . just, you know, particular dates. Important ones. Ones that can mark a before and after in Megan History.

And October 14 is a memorable date. It was my very first “anniversary,” and a day I would recall for months — even years — afterward as the day I went from an awkward 15-year-old prone to acne and frizzy hair to a young woman someone had a crush on.

Do you remember that moment? The first time someone confessed to like liking you, and the rush that flooded your whole body? The first time you realized you could have feelings for someone who might actually have them back?

It was a heady, crazy time. Always prone to dramatics, I had an absolute freak-out when R. asked me to the dance just weeks before the big night. Long resigned to the fact that I would be going with friends, I never imagined someone would actually pop the question and ask me to accompany him. But R. came in out of nowhere, professing his interest and asking me to be his girl.

But that came later.

It’s funny to think about the early days of courtship. How simple everything was in 2000 — before smartphones, Twitter, Facebook. Before social media of any kind. Before text messaging and before most people had cell phones, for cryin’ out loud! I mean, if R. wanted to talk to me, he had to call the house phone. And if he didn’t want to incur the wrath of my very protective father, he better make sure he called before 9 p.m. And if I wasn’t off the phone at 9:30 on a school night?


Like most high school romances, R. and I didn’t last. After a few months, we agreed we’d be better off as friends and “broke up,” thus ending the three months we spent giggling on the phone at night, holding hands in a clandestine manner and shopping together on weekends (ooh, naughty!). The break-up talk took place over AOL Instant Messenger, and I printed a transcript of the entire chat to rehash with my friends at school the next day.

I was as heartbroken as a sheltered sophomore could be.

But before then? Before the mess and sadness? Well, we had homecoming, friends, and what a glittering and exciting night that was! An evening when everything felt possible. When I was invincible in my sparkly black pantyhouse and “princess jewelry,” a set loaned to me by my mother. A night when I had a handsome older man (16!) on my arm, and nothing could possibly go wrong.

And nothing did. We danced with friends and chatted all night, wiggling our way around the reshaped cafeteria. When a slow song finally came on, R. pulled me in close and swayed gently to the music. I remember being way too close to the speakers — so close that I could barely make out anything he was saying. But I do remember his lips close to my ear, listening to him form the words at precisely 10:30 p.m. (I checked the clock): “Do you want to be my girlfriend?”

A wave passed over me. A new title. Even now, in strange moments, I stop and think, “I’m someone’s girlfriend.” A girlfriend to an awesome someone, no doubt about it, but the shift in our identities is so strange. Exciting, but strange. Today I am someone’s girlfriend, sister, friend, daughter. Granddaughter to several someones, and niece to several others. Also a coworker, and an underling. Tomorrow I could be someone’s wife, then someone’s mother. An aunt. A sister-in-law.

I’ve been thinking about the many someones we are over a lifetime — and the many roles we fill for other people. We can be confidantes, bullies, shoulders to cry on. We can provide transporation, advice, hope. We’re many things to many people, and our faces change so constantly. Sometimes I don’t know which role I’ll be stepping into next. Sometimes I think I don’t want to know.

Like the wistful girl above, embarking on the wild and amazing journey of courtship. Of falling in love. Of getting her heart broken. Of falling in love again — and better this time. More completely.

I didn’t know where life would take me after that dance, which was what electrified me most. The Mystical Beyond. The What Comes Next.

Maybe it is better not to know.

The things we do for love

From the time Spencer and I met last spring, he’s made no secret of the other woman in our relationship. Beautiful, talented and mean on a guitar, Nicole Atkins — a lovely musician from Brooklyn — has captivated my boyfriend’s attention. For years — years! — before he ever set eyes on me.

And, you know. Given my history with Taylor Hanson, I’m not exactly in a position to judge.

The woman’s got something, I’ll give you that. On one of our early dates, Spencer and I walked around a nearby Borders and found ourselves in the music section. That was my first introduction to Atkins: there in the middle of a crowded store in Annapolis, being handed her album “Neptune City” on a hot day in May. Had I ever heard of her?

I hadn’t, I admitted, and Spencer bought me her CD on the spot. We spent the rest of his birthday listening to his favorite singer — a woman he discovered years before and had already met. Much as I would wax on about one of my favorite singers, Spence gave me the rundown on Atkins.

And that’s when I knew I was in trouble.

She came in concert to the Rock N Roll Hotel in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday night, and it was with no small amount of trepidation that we cruised in from the suburbs and caught a cab over to H Street. I was nervous, see — because we were out late on a week night — and I’m getting old and cranky; because the weather wasn’t great; because I get anxious when I can’t easily get to a restroom. (Have I mentioned I’m getting old and cranky?)

But if I’m being honest with myself, it was more than that. I’ve listened to “Neptune City” countless times and admired her silky, unique voice; I’ve watched as Spencer hung her album — signed to him in her curly script — on his wall. I’ve looked into her face countless times, always looking at the push of a bang or curl of the mouth.

Nicole has been everywhere. Unattainable.

And I’ve been jealous.

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‘Have a good life’ is less of a brush-off than I thought

My ex-boyfriend is getting married.

I’m grappling with my feelings on this. Not because I’m grappling with my feelings for him — no; those feelings long ago warmed to nothing more than friendship . . . and today, not much of anything. I certainly don’t “hate” him — that would require me to feel much more strongly about him than I do. I don’t really feel much of anything about him, in fact.

The truth of the matter is, while we dated for more than two years, we were never in love. In the four short months in which I’ve known Spencer, he consumes so much of my daily brain power, thinking of the face I’ve probably seen just hours before — the way his eyes crinkle when he smiles; the tiny cleft in his chin; the way I feel when he takes my hand, pressing his palm flat against my own. I feel . . . happy. Loved. Secure. And beyond that? Excited. Giddy with the possibilities of it all. Eager for life and everything still to come. Happy to be a freshly-minted 25-year-old, a woman who found a man who makes her smile so much and so often.

P. was not that man. Though both technically “adults,” our relationship was childish — built more on an initial friendship than anything. At the time, I needed someone there to lean on; and at the time, he was there. We outgrew each other, plain and simple, and maybe things wouldn’t have gotten so ugly in the end if I’d been brave enough to face that. But I wasn’t.

Regardless, he’s getting married this month. Of the four men I seriously dated in six years, he’s the one I would have least expected to learn was tying the knot. Coincidentally, he’s also the youngest. I wish he and his new wife happiness, because I have no reason to wish them anything but pleasant things. Life is hard enough without carrying a grudge. And as I said, my feelings have fizzled and become so muddled toward P., being unhappy about his marriage would require me to care about his marriage.

I mean, it’s not that I don’t care. I’m not rude or heartless. I just mean that I don’t care care. I don’t care in the I-can’t-sleep, up-all-night, sick-to-my-stomach way. Not even remotely. In typical fashion, I’m just thinking that P.’s marriage means time is marching on — and I’m thinking about what all this means for me.

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‘The Rules For Online Dating’: Feel the fear and go for it

Earlier this year, I made a bold move: I joined an online dating site. I’d been out of my most recent relationship for almost a year and, having not met many eligible bachelors, I was eager to find a way to connect with someone.

If you’re single and over the age of 22, the opportunities in which to meet singletons like yourself dry up faster than water in the Sahara. Once you’re out of high school or college, the dating pool is pretty much limited to coworkers, friends of friends and random dudes you’d meet in a bar, bookstore or market.

None of that was working for me.

I wasn’t sure what to expect of online dating. You hear lots of “success” stories but lots of horror stories, too. I was incredibly nervous about going on first dates, most of which felt like blind ones — though I’d seen photos of the guys I was seeing, of course, and had exchanged emails with them several times. Some of the dates went well, full of laughter and interesting conversation. Some of them went poorly, full of the awkwardness I feared. But in each case, I was happy to have gone and put myself out there — especially when I met Spencer, the fourth of the online dates, and now? Well, that crazy guy is my boyfriend. And I barely remember that we “met” online at all.

Friends email me now and ask my take on the online dating scene. I was encouraged to join by a good friend and fellow blogger — I’ll protect her identity in case she doesn’t want me “outing” her, but her initials are JL! — and never regretted joining, though it could definitely be stressful.

One thing that simultaneously eased and added to that stress? The little book above.

In 1995, Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider released The Rules: Time-Tested Secrets For Capturing The Heart Of Mr. Right, a self-help guide for single women on the prowl, and the basic advice was this: play hard to get. Don’t be too available. Don’t make them think you like them more than they like you — and, better yet, don’t let them think you like them at all. And if you do insist on letting them know your feelings — as in, you have some and aren’t an automaton with better hair — you’re proceeding at your own risk.

When I first joined OkCupid.com, my only foray into the world of online dating, I felt like I was sailing uncharted waters with nary a map. After putting in my information and uploading a few photos of myself at my most glamorous, my mom and I sat huddled around the kitchen table on a Sunday afternoon. We looked through photos of eligible bachelors in the area, perused their profiles and started narrowing down the results. Who was the most interesting? Who seemed compatible with me and my goals? And, you know, who was hot?

I was nervous, friends. This was a dating site. This was the Internet. It was good to have my mom there, cheering me on and cautioning me against doing anything rash. So when I started send out emails to boys and hoped to seem sparkling, witty and interesting, it was good to have my mom there making me feel slightly less silly.

And then I waited.

And I waited.

And I waited.

And no one I messaged ever messaged me back.

received plenty of notes, sure, from random dudes who didn’t seem to have bothered to read anything in my profile. Most of them asked questions like, “You’re pretty. Why don’t you have a boyfriend?” and the always popular, “Can I buy you dinner?” (They might have had a chance to buy me dinner if they’d given me an opportunity to even start a conversation with them before delving right in, though I appreciated their willingness to actually go on a date.)

Considering I didn’t know an Adam from a Joe from a Chris on there, it all got very overwhelming very quickly. After going a solid six months without a guy even asking for my number in “real life,” suddenly I had an  inbox full of messages from guys wanting to take me on a date. And who were these guys? Some were heavy, some thin; some young, some older. They were IT specialists and government employees and mechanics. They were in the military and all over the area. Some were blonde, some brunette; some American, some not so much. (I got an email from a Russian in D.C. to study; it was all in broken English. I was tempted to go out with him just for the good stories that would inevitably produce.)

After exhausting my friends, family and blog readers (hi, you guys!) for tips and encouragement, I turned to the only other place I could think of for help: a book. Like any devoted reader, I’ve long believed the answer to any question could be found in a book . . . I just needed to find the right one.

Enter The Rules For Online Dating: Capturing The Heart Of Mr. Right In Cyberspace. A modern incarnation of the popular and controversial Rules by Fein and Schneider, this set of Rules was snatched up before I hunkered down with it for the night.

I read the whole book in a matter of hours, each of the chapters swimming through my head. Huddled over my laptop the next morning, I began the process of putting them in action. It’s easy to remember most of The Rules because they all have a pretty specific slant: namely, sit back and relax. Don’t do any of the work.

According to Fein and Schneider, I’d already committed a cardinal sin in the online dating world: I’d messaged men first. You never want men to think you’re overeager and desperate, but more than that, Fein and Schneider advise that men like the “thrill of the chase.” (How many times have we heard that in our lives?) Men don’t like to be pursued; they like to do the pursuing. If you claw too hard at a dude, he’s going to turn tail and run.

Like much of The Rules, this seemed like stereotypical, sexist advice. In fact, that’s how many of the authors’ detractors have summed up their work: antifeminist. Antiquated. Sexist. Rude. I’d spent months sitting back and waiting for something to happen, and nothing did. So I was going to grab the bull by the horns, darn it! I wasn’t someone’s pet or trophy to be won, reclining and waiting to be rescued and pursued! 

But here’s the thing, too: I was still a willing student — a shiny sponge, if you will. After reading the book cover to cover, I began to implement much of what Fein and Schneider suggested, and not all of it was degrading or ridiculous. In fact, most of it actually made sense.

For example, say the authors, be sure your profile picture features you looking good (of course) and smiling. And not like a false, your-friend-is-begging-you-to-smile-but-you’re-mad-at-her grin — a real, honest-to-goodness smile. Look happy. People like happy people! Happy is good!

And how about this gem: less is more. God love them, men don’t always like when women get wordy. Spencer often jokes that he can write me a two-sentence email and I’ll send him back a novel. My dad is famous for emailing “OK” — just two little letters — in response to a giant message I’ve sent him. Over a lifetime of communicating with men, I’ve developed a “just the facts” mentality — and that applies to online dating, too. Don’t write out a giant note (like, say, this monster of a blog post). Keep it simple. Don’t seem like you spent all day and all night writing your online profile. You’re a busy woman, the authors say; seem aloof, unavailable, and free! Like you barely had ten minutes to piece together to write this thing, because you’re awesome and in demand.

After I read that chapter, aptly titled “Less Is More When Writing Your Ad”? I went back and removed all kinds of stuff. I still kept the flavor of what I was trying to say in my profile, sure, but I condensed everything to two paragraphs instead of five. Continuing on with The Rules, I followed advice about not responding too quickly to messages, blocking myself from instant messages (I don’t even like instant messaging, anyway), and not volunteering my phone number first.

And then something funny happened. After following The Rules for several days, I did find myself getting more responses from men . . . but not the ones I wanted. Following all these hard-and-fast “rules” became a chore, and a painful one; when I got an interesting message from a guy, was I really supposed to wait 24 hours before replying? Wouldn’t that seem rude?

So, friends, I started breaking The Rules — many of them, anyway. I still wasn’t writing to guys first, but I was through playing hard to get — especially after I got my first email from Spencer. He jokes about  how I didn’t write him back right away, but that’s because I was genuinely busy — not playing hard to get. Sometimes, I guess, one can be mistaken for the other.

For a total novice on the dating scene, I can see The Rules being helpful. It does provide some logical advice about putting your best face forward, if you will, but it’s definitely not a be-all, end-all guide that simply must be followed in order for someone to find love via the Internet. The book does a good job of outlining that online dating is a means to an end: basically, it’s a way for you to actually meet people. Like, in person. If you’re looking to develop relationships that never leave cyberspace, start a blog or something — but don’t join an online dating site. You join the site to date, so go do it. With a live, warm, breathing and laughing companion — even if you’re nervous.

And that’s the best advice of all: “Feel the fear and go for it.” Do y’all remember “House Arrest,” that ’90s gem of a film starring Jennifer Love Hewitt, Kyle Howard and Jamie Lee Curtis? . . . No? (Well, it’s awesome, so go Netflix it.) That’s the advice of a self-help guru and, having watched it a million times in the summer of ’96, truer words have never been spoken. Feel the fear. And go for it. Simple, powerful and true.

‘Eclipse’ featured less mouth breathing and abs, but more disturbing relationship insights

Despite my one-time obsession with Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, something was preventing me from getting incredibly excited about seeing “Eclipse,” the third installment in “The Twilight Saga,” the film adaptations of the bestselling books.

I mean, like “New Moon,” I knew it would feature Jacob’s killer abs (though far less in this film — bummer) and Bella’s usual angst. Eclipse was my favorite novel in the series, leading me to believe that I would enjoy that movie most. I was right — this was the film I liked best. But why wasn’t I wandering around town all starry-eyed after, slobbering about how good-looking Edward was? Why wasn’t I rushing off to buy “Eclipse” T-shirts and Twittering it up all weekend?

Well, I’m going to chalk it up to the fact that I’m almost 25 now. And yes, I know there are plenty of Twi-hards of all ages out there — and more power to them. But for me? I just feel older. And more cynical about the nature of Bella and Edward’s obsessive relationship.

Hearing them talk about marriage — Bella is 17 and a minor, at least for a little while longer — actually made my stomach turn. My sister and I both cringed when Edward saw the bracelet Jacob made for Bella, featuring a little wolf charm, and the unhappiness it brought him. He’s trying to control her. And we can argue it’s for her own safety, sure, considering there’s a red-headed psycho murderess vampire after her. But it goes beyond that, too — it runs deep. Depending on your view, he’s protective — or controlling. Maybe both. But either way, it left me feeling strange about the whole thing. And if you have to give up everything — everything — in order to be with someone, as Bella would have to for Edward, how can that be a healthy, sane relationship?

I just feel like it’s . . . disturbing. Setting a bad example for young women, for teenagers like my own young cousin. It worries me to think that 13-year-olds are looking at Edward and Bella’s dependency on one another and finding it “romantic,” a model for love to which to aspire. I’ve been in love, out of love and (happily!) in love again, and I’m not saying I’m The Expert On Romance And Relationships, but I know this: I respect myself enough to never believe, even for a moment, that I have to sacrifice everything in order to be with someone “forever.” That I would die — or rather die — than be away from him.

I mean, get some self-respect, girl.

Am I reading too much into it? Maybe. They are, after all, just books — and movies, too. But books change lives and attitudes, and books change people. Books this popular have the ability to change perspectives, no doubt about it — especially when people are so engrossed in them. I just hope it’s for the better.

But the movie? Well, the movie was good. Entertaining, and finally featured some action. If I had to listen to Bella sighing and stuttering and making strange facial expressions and breathing through her mouth for two hours without any action, I probably would have shoved my face in a bag of popcorn and never come up for air. But “Eclipse” was better than I expected, and I enjoyed seeing the scenes I once treasured played out — especially the infamous tent scene where our vampire-wolf-human love triangle comes to a head.

And I believed Jacob — I believed he really loved her. God knows why because girlfriend is a mess, but I didn’t for a minute question his feelings for her. Jake doesn’t see Bella in the “I have to have you, I can’t live without you” way that Edward does, so maybe some see his feelings as less ardent — but not so. And when Edward says that if Bella chose Jacob over him, he’d let her go, you know I didn’t buy that for a second.

But if Bella makes a big, stupid, ridiculous decision, Jake really will let her go. He wants her to be happy — even  if it’s not with him. He’ll set her free.

And that’s love. Or closer to it.

Why I haven’t been reading

So I haven’t read any books, friends. I’ve been making my way through Juliet Gael’s Romancing Miss Bronte for, oh, two weeks and can barely get my little eyes to focus on the little words.

Because reading? That would require me to quiet the “SPENCER! SPENCER! SPENCER!” chorus in my brain. And considering there’s a full-scale Spencer Marching Band playing at full volume up there, it’s been completely impossible for me to get a thought in edgewise. 

I’ve become that really annoying girl in a new relationship who sees rainbows, puppies and cotton candy everywhere she looks — and can’t stop smiling and generally acting like a crazy person. I haven’t had time to create my all-new, super-sappy love playlist yet (but it’s coming, Rebecca!) but you can bet that once I do, I’ll have that puppy on repeat. My favorite tune of the moment is Colbie Caillat’s “Magic,” and just because I’m in this sort of a mood, here are some select lyrics for you, my fine friends:

All I see is your face

All I feel is your touch

Wake me up with your kiss

Come at me from up above

I typed those lyrics by hand — while listening to the song for the five millionth time this morning. I didn’t even want to look them up; I just wanted to listen to the song over and over and then type them.

I’m losing my mind. Because I just want to look at him. All. The. Time.

Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever looked at anyone so much in my life. I’ve memorized his facial features and live in breathless anticipation of when he’ll offer me one of his slow smiles. I love talking to him and holding him and laughing with him and walking with him and being with him. I don’t care what we do or where we go, as long as I can hold his hand. As long as he smiles at me. As long as we’re together.

This is dangerous.

I know it’s crazy and ridiculous and I feel like I’m losing my mind, but I’m staring into a deep and sparkly well and want to just fall straight in without thinking. Without hesitation. Without fear. All those little parts of my brain that usually yell, “Meg, don’t fall too quickly. Don’t let him know how much you care. Don’t let him hurt you,” have packed up their dark, pessimistic little suitcases and gone on vacation. Hopefully forever.

I’m not even superstitious, afraid to talk about it, because I trust it. I trust him — I trust him with my heart.

Last night we spent hours making macaroons — literally, hours — and I felt like I’d blinked only to realize we were pulling trays of them from the oven. Carefully sliding them from the parchment paper, Spencer piled them high on a plate before we began crafting the little cookie sandwiches. I don’t think I did much but stand there and look like a lovesick lunatic, reaching out to kiss him any time he glanced in my direction. If I could have stood in that kitchen forever, looking into his eyes and waiting for those cookies to bake, I probably would have. I was barefoot. He was smiling as I held on to him, my cheek against his cool neck.

It was perfect.

I’m scared and happy and so excited that I don’t know what to do with myself. I’ve barely eaten this week.

I didn’t think it would be this easy.

Color me surprised . . . and thrilled — thrilled! — for the rest of my life.

You’ll come out of nowhere and into my life

Photo by sunsetgirl creations

I’ve written and rewritten this post several different times, trying with each draft to make it decidedly less cheesy than before. But my problem, of course, is that it’s only getting cheesier!

Here on write meg!, we’ve nursed broken hearts together and flipped out as old loves resurfaced. Blogging about my feelings, even if I’ve had to be cryptic (never know into whose proverbial lap this little blog may fall!), has been such a fantastic and cathartic experience for me. I’ve met so many awesome people through write meg! and can’t wait to meet even more of you soon.

And that’s why I feel the need to tell you when things — big things! — are happening in my life. Because I love you guys. And because you’re my sounding board. And because I’m a writer and couldn’t stop writing if you plucked every single mechanism with which to do so from my cold, unfeeling hands. (I’d probably just start drafting stuff in my head.)

Because you guys? I met someone. Someone awesome.

Now before you think I’m going to board my usual Drama Train and start flinging my arms about wildly, twirling in circles (in my Power Dress, natch), I’ll say this: I am keeping it together.

For the most part.

And if he ever finds this post, I don’t want him to panic in that adorable, dark-eyed way of his. So I’m going to keep this simple and uncomplicated.

I’m heavily in like.

He’s someone I’m crazy about in a totally different, new, exciting and frightening way. It’s only been a few weeks; I’m battling every terrified, cynical part of my heart and challenging myself to stay open and unafraid. To just enjoy this. Every first moment.

It’s been a long journey to staying brave and hopeful — and as unjaded as possible. And it’s too early to shout “it was all worth it!” but I know that regardless of what happens with Spencer and me, it was all worth it.

Because I’m here. Right now. Happy, buoyant, optimistic. Ready.

And it’s not just that now I have a boyfriend. Lord knows I’ve had boyfriends.

It’s that now . . . I have Spencer.

And if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to try and forcibly remove my ever-present, ear-to-ear grin.