I've been walking around with this "carpe diem," live for the moment attitude since January 2014. When I really stop to think about what it was that caused me to begin muttering "F this sh*t" under my breath and paying attention to the breeze and freshly cut grass and the way my baby sighs in her sleep and giggles while dreaming, the way my heart would beat when I would run into a certain someone during my day, I know that it started when the phone call came that my beloved colleague, Susan had passed away.
In about 2007, Susan, who was in her early 50's, was diagnosed with cancer. She assured us, she was going to be fine, would undergo chemotherapy, probably lose her hair, but she'd continue to work. After all, her clients needed her and the attorneys with whom she worked needed her, and what good was it to stay home? Sue took some time off and we missed her terribly, not just because she was a wonderful paralegal, but she was a lot of fun at work. And when she returned, she came back with a cool wig and the nickname "Veronica Bald-Eagle." Her attitude and spirit were amazing. She didn't miss a beat.
I assumed because of her near-miss with the Angel of Death her new spunky attitude had developed. Every Friday, Susan would ask about my weekend plans. I would share with her the things that were bugging me and like a crazy/cool aunt, her advice tended to sound like a Pinterest Meme - "Screw it, you've gotta go for it!" "You hug that baby tight every day. She'll be your every happiness." In response to complaints about a certain person in my life who did what she could for many years to drive me crazy, Susan would say things like, "Oh, what a loser. You don't need that. Who does she think she is? You should just go tell her to F off." Ok, maybe that one isn't going to be found on Pinterest.
I'd ask Sue what her weekend was going to entail and it was usually "beer and the dogs." She and her husband had recently become volunteers at a local animal shelter and fostered a number of dogs.
Susan was always at work. She rarely took a day off - not sick days, a few vacation days here and there in the summer. Every day at lunch, she took a walk outside - even in the freezing cold. She participated in our fitness challenges at work. It was not until maybe October of 2013 when Susan began complaining of pain in her lower back that suddenly she stopped taking her walks. She began to take some days off of work, but she would be back in the office as her normal cheerful self.
Then right around Thanksgiving, Susan stopped coming in. The speculation began about why. No one really knew, and it was so unlike Susan to be "sick." The weeks went on. I emailed her a number of times to check in and see if she was all right. She assured me that she was, that she had developed a kidney infection (or something), it was very "annoying" and she would be back very soon. She wanted to check in on her files and make sure I was ready to argue in front of the Appellate Division. She wanted to know how Anna was doing and whether we were planning to take her on vacation soon. She wanted to make sure everyone at the office was "ok." She wanted to know how my book signings were going for Trinity She wanted to know whether Tiffany and Will were ready to perform their skits for the holiday party and if I knew what they were going to do.
Susan missed the firm holiday party. She never returned to the office. And that January, we lost her.
What we learned after her passing from the few people at the office who knew was that Susan was told soon after her she ended her first round of chemotherapy, that it essentially didn't work. The cancer had spread all over her body and she had maybe 6-9 months to live, perhaps a year. That was in 2008.
She could undergo more radiation and other therapies that might prolong her life a little longer, but the sickness and side effects from these drugs would be miserable. Susan wasn't having it. And more importantly, she wasn't going to start the process of dying - she would start living.
I truly believe it was her positive attitude and refusal to acknowledge what was happening inside her body that gave her an additional 5 years. Until the end, she was free of pain and able to enjoy her life. She never gave the cancer any power over her. Susan didn't tell us because she didn't want to be treated differently and she didn't want anyone asking her about it. While many of us would share this sort of thing, perhaps looking for support and comfort, Susan was more concerned about upsetting us. She didn't want anyone to feel badly for her.
Her death hit me hard. Maybe it was because I didn't know anything until the end. I don't know if that made it better or worse, ultimately. But at this point in my life, I had come to a spot where I was feeling a little lost both personally and professionally. I was unhappy at home and at work with no definable reason why. So I may have thought more deeply about Susan. She wished me a "wonderful weekend" and reminded me to "hug that baby tight" and to tell her "how much she is loved" every Friday because she knew how precious time and life were. Where I lived my life with calendars and schedules and planning, Susan was just excited to open her eyes to the sun every morning. She had it right; I was living my life the wrong way.
So I told myself that I was going to live for the moment. I was going to say the things I needed to say. I wasn't going to be afraid. I wasn't going to hold back. I was going to pursue the things that fueled the fire inside of me. I was going to live the life I wanted to live and not the one that was thrust upon me.
Over the last few years, I have struggled mightily to "do the right thing" while still being true to myself. I haven't always made the best decisions or handled things well, but I found my voice, for certain. I discovered the life I want to live. I found the people I want in this life of mine and identified those people who no longer belong here.
I have a new appreciation for time. I am so grateful when someone chooses to spend their time with me. Time is all we have so we have to make the very best of it. I think that is the biggest lesson Susan taught me.
I still think about Sue often and the beautiful note she wrote to Anna on her first birthday: "Happy birthday Anna Ballerina. I hope you always dance, Love Sue Hughes." From Sue, Anna received her very first leotard, tutu and ballet slippers as well as a video of Swan Lake. I know Susan would have loved to watch Anna dance.
I keep that note in Anna's dresser drawer where we keep her tights and leotards. Every so often, I reach for it and read it for inspiration. To remind myself to be brave like Susan. To rise above the bullshit and live my life. To love every day and love every one (except legit assholes. As Sue would say, "they can go F themselves.") To say what I really mean to say. To live without regrets - to not look back and wish I had or wish I hadn't. To smile and keep going. To appreciate every moment.
I've spent a lot of my life thinking I'm not good enough. I'm sure everyone has a moment where they feel insecure about some aspect in their life, but for me, it was most aspects. Being under five feet tall never really helped, but frankly it wasn't until the eighth grade that any of these insecurities began to rear their ugly heads. Why? Because I began to really care what the boys thought.
To be fair, I was boy crazy from the time I was in 3rd grade. Early on, it wasn't a bad thing. My unrequited love of a certain boy (and every woman who went to grammar school with me knows exactly who that certain blonde haired, blue eyed boy was) led me to become more competitive in everything from academics (I had to beat him in the Spelling Bee and I did) to sports (I joined the boys soccer team and learned how to play and love football) to the arts. In a sense, my enormous crush made me better at most things I tried. I wanted him to notice me and recite love poetry to me (like every normal 9 year old girl desires...right?)
But as we all got older, kids got meaner, especially the boys. Again, I'm the runt of the class and I'm the kid who knows all the answers when the teacher asks. I wasn't annoying about it like some kids (or maybe I was, hard to say), but school was not all that challenging for me early on.
By eighth grade, I found I had to work a lot harder in math, but it was all new (pre-algebra) and I was distracted. There were a group of boys who relentlessly picked on me, led by one in particular who had always been a friend. I liked to think it didn't matter that they mercilessly teased me ALL day long for no reason (I learned later that the ring leader's parents were going through a nasty divorce - why that was my problem, I will never understand, but I was an easy target for his anger, I suppose. The rest of that group of boys were just as^ho*#s.)
Because of the teasing, raising my hand to answer a teacher's questions stopped among other things. Thanks to them I realized I was not pretty enough, certainly not tall enough, not clever enough or cool enough to just be left alone. I mean, the really pretty, cool girls of normal size didn't get picked on and some of them said some really goofy things and acted like complete idiots. No one bothered them. Being the smartest kid in class was getting me no where so I stopped trying so hard. It doesn't matter how smart you are if people are picking on you for your clothes or your size or for just breathing in the wrong direction. And despite how mean these kids were, I still tried to get them to like me, to accept me so they would leave me alone.
Although the mocking stopped by ninth grade (and the ring leader and I went back to being friends), I remained insecure throughout high school. Despite my insecurity, I had a great boyfriend my senior year. So much fun, very cute and he really liked me.
He told me I was pretty and amazing and smart and all the things I believed I wasn't. And I started to believe it, so much so that by the time I got to Rutgers, I recognized my opportunity to be the person I was supposed to be...well, eventually I got there. First I recognized the opportunity to drink a lot of beer on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at fraternity parties and wrecked up my GPA.
But eventually, I found my way among people who didn't know I was teased for being short or smart. They didn't know I wasn't the "pretty girl" in high school. I found boyfriends - lots of them and one in particular whom I ended up marrying.
After working a few years out of college, when I finally got myself into law school, the insecurity bug hit me again: these people were really, really brilliant and I was just not as smart. But I worked hard enough and did well enough to land a good job after graduating. Something weird happened in law school too - suddenly I became a "pretty girl." A close male friend told me I was the girl who was "hot but didn't know it, which makes you really hot." Me? Hot?? All 4'11" of me? Never was the word "hot" used to describe me.
This simple conversation lit something in me. I still remember exactly where I was when he said this to me and what I was wearing. A day that will live in infamy...Because, I cared what the boys thought. Suddenly, I had confidence. I smiled more, became more outgoing in social settings. And as my career in law was met with successes, that confidence grew and grew. I carried myself a little taller.
Now, I am still humble enough and realistic enough to recognize my flaws; don't think I am completely full of myself. I am fully aware of my short-comings (pun intended). I have recently recognized that some things never change: I still care what the boys think. What I deem to be rejection (i.e.: "He's just not that into me") chips away at the security and confidence I finally found as a 30-something adult.
And it's kind of pathetic, right? On paper, I am a successful attorney, writer, mom, business person. I have wonderful friends and a supportive community. What do I have to feel insecure about? Perhaps within that last statement lies the problem. I work very hard for the things I want in life and from that hard work, I have found much success. I've become accustomed to doing well. So when a relationship isn't going the way I hope it will or doesn't work out the way I imagine it should, it shakes me to my core. Maybe this is narcissistic. Maybe it's just silly. Maybe it's normal. I don't know.
If I fail in a professional endeavor, I tell myself "lesson learned," move on to the next project and vow to do better next time. If I fail in a personal/romantic endeavor, suddenly it's because I'm not good enough. "If only I was prettier," "if only I was less needy," "if only I liked the stuff he likes more..." "if only I was funnier..." "maybe I'm not smart enough for him/maybe I'm too smart..." "maybe I'm too sophisticated/maybe I'm not classy enough..."And the list goes on. But then with the personal life set backs, I find myself questioning my competence in every other area of life. Forget just acknowledging flaws, suddenly I am incapable of anything and not good at anything. It's somewhat debilitating.
So what to do, what to do? Well, here's what I am trying to do and it seems to be working: I say to myself "F this s*#t!" But I say the whole F word. One day, I woke up and decided that I wasn't going to allow anyone to have so much power over me that I would feel badly about myself. I can no longer worry about why I wasn't quite good enough for the relationship to work. I can't be troubled by what the boys think anymore.
"F this s*#t" has become my daily mantra in response to many daily setbacks, and clearly, we have answered the question regarding my level of classiness. Try saying it to yourself in a moment of frustration or during a moment of questioning anything from how great your hair looks to how your butt looks in that dress to whether your presentation went over well. I guess it's another way to say "bygones." But it will allow you a moment to breathe and realize that the opinions of others - men or women - are really none of your business.
"F this s*#t!" And then crack open that bottle of Skinny Margaritas and pour it over ice, you sexy beast because you are awesome.
So I may not be pretty enough or tall enough or smart enough or funny enough or independent enough for some people, but in the words of Mama Rose "Some People Ain't Me." I'm the prettiest, tallest, smartest, funniest, coolest, independent-est (not a word, but stick with me, I'm on a roll) Lauren Dawn that I know. In that, I am quite secure.
When it was on HBO, I lived for Sex in the City. Never missed an episode, have them all on DVD (still binge watch on occasion), saw both movies (although, the second one? Really??), and when it came out, I read "He's Just Not That Into You." Yes, the whole book was kind of a joke taken from an episode where Carrie's boyfriend of the moment (Berger, the writer), told Miranda, "he's just not that into you" when a guy in which she was interested lost interest in her and stopped calling. Miranda, was both shocked and relieved by this honest advice. Berger basically told her, "He's not calling you because he's not that into you. it's not that he's so busy or he has commitment issue. He's just not that into you." The message was to stop worrying about what this guy was thinking because if he truly wanted to date Miranda, he would. And so Miranda, in this episode, went around spreading this very freeing "gospel."
As much as this was just an episode of a cable show (for the record, I have always loved Sarah Jessica Parker and everything she has ever done. She's so immensely talented. When I was going on auditions in the early 2000's, I was often told I looked like her or reminded the casting people of her, which I took as a great compliment. But then the casting people would say, "oh, but a younger, prettier version." Uh, thank you? Not a compliment?) the message rang true with me.
At the time, I was out there - dating, meeting some really nice guys, hitting it off and then...silence. Typically right at the sweet-spot too; that 4 month mark where it is appropriate to introduce someone to friends and family (that's kind of my unwritten rule, anyway), suddenly, I was no longer interesting or good enough to continue the relationship. I didn't get it. "Well, he was just getting over someone when we met," I'd say. Or "He did tell me he would be in Chicago for depositions for two weeks, maybe he hasn't had a chance to call." (Yeah, and maybe his cell service doesn't really work there...) I tried to convince myself that there was a good reason that I was being dropped so abruptly.
And my sister or my friends would say things like "well, if he wanted to, he'd call you or at least send you an email." This is pre-texting, mind you. I mean we were texting, but it was a pain in the a*#. Remember, you had to hit numbers to type letters? How did we survive?
So I ended up buying the book, reading it, enjoying it and taking it's principles to heart. Joke or not, it made sense to me. "If he wanted to talk to me, he'd call. If not, he's just not that into me..." "If he wanted to be with me, he would. If not, he's just not that into me..." And so on.
Flash forward to 13 years later, I'm drawing on this well-reasoned philosophy once again. And remarkably, once again, it has helped me tremendously. This thought process assists me not to take what appears to be rejection, quite so personally. Most recently, it turned what could have been a rock-bottom emotional experience (damn, I was close. Definitely picked the wrong day to stop drinking) into a situation I could rationalize.
"He's just not that into me and that's not my fault. That's his thing..." When I drew upon that statement, I felt almost a sense of relief or resolve. In this case, once I accepted that the relationship was sort of dying a natural death, I resolved to go back to doing my own thing, distracting myself with exercise, writing, work and kid stuff. I was far more productive when not daydreaming about "the impossible dream." "If he really wanted to be with me, he would...he's just not that into me." "If he wanted me, he wouldn't be with her...he's just not that into me." There's nothing more I can do about it.
When I reminded myself "he's just not that into me" I was able to avoid the "every song reminds me of you and makes me cry" crap I had been dealing with on and off when I would experience these somewhat random lapses in communication (damn you John Legend and Taylor Swift!) Rather than wondering "what's going on?" with him, "why isn't he calling me anymore?" I can accept, "he's just not that into me." It stings a little less.
I'm in a place in my life where I never imagined I'd be at 40, however, I think that this lesson is something any love-lorn girl should consider at any age. It reminds us all, we are amazing, we are beautiful, clever, fun and there is someone out there who will appreciate all of that. It may not be this guy or that guy, but he exists and if you put all your positive, amazing energy out into the universe, he'll find you because he will be totally into you. And really, why would you want to chase after someone who ultimately doesn't want you to catch him? Why try to force something that isn't going to fit? I am told, if we wait, it will come.
This philosophy holds true with friends as well. There are friends we are constantly chasing after to get together - "Oh, it's been so long. We have to get together soon." And then you try and try to schedule something, it doesn't work and you recognize, "hey, she's just not that into me" and you find another friend. No hard feelings. Everyone is busy and I can't hold it against someone if they have better offers than hanging out with me. I wish I had better offers than hanging out with me too sometimes.
So I offer this: we are all amazing people with unique qualities. It is mathematically impossible not to find a person who shares at least some of our interests, views, and passions, who checks our 5 must-have qualities boxes, and who really wants to be with us. Rather than chase the ones we think look good on paper, wait for the one who feels good on your heart. The one who makes your eyes light up when you hear he likes the same books you do or wants to travel to the same places you do.
Yeah, that's cheesy, sorry if you're all vomiting in your mouths a bit. But patience (not my strongest virtue, as we all know) can make all the difference. And if you're open to it, you never know who might be really, really into you.
I need to clear the air with you, my loyal and fabulous followers: I don't have it all and I can't do it all. Truth. I think it is both flattering and unnerving when someone reads my posts or checks out one of my social media sites and asks me with a sigh, "my goodness, how do you do it all?" Well faithful friends, I don't. God knows I try, but I have learned, I can't be all things to all people at all hours of the day.
A daughter of a family friend recently remarried. Although I don't really know her (other than following her on social media, seeing her on stage and screen), I am told I am very much like her (which is a compliment because she's AMAZING.) - sort of a consummate romantic, very sensitive, passionate, very bright (I appreciate that one because given many of my decisions of late, I don't feel so smart...) In any case, this was her third marriage. I should mention, she's an actor - award winning, ridiculously talented, hilarious and of course stunningly beautiful actor. Younger than me and way taller. Total girl crush material.
I get anecdotal stories from her parents, who of course are very proud of her, but also worry for her happiness and well being, as most adoring parents do. I don't know much about the first husband other than he was a well-known musician, but the second sounded like a nightmare. Of course, the relationship didn't start out that way, it just ended that way. He is also an actor. And as the marriage was ending and being litigated, from the stories, it sounded like she was not in a great place, emotionally. Who would be? Divorce sucks. I offered a few legal suggestions here and there when asked. Of course, with the amazing support system she has with her mom and dad and sister, she made it through.
And then she met "Benjamin" (not his real name). Ben is a "civilian," meaning not in show business. He is a normal guy with a normal job. But I think what draws me to their story is her willingness to share much of it in interviews and through social media. From everything I've read, everything I've seen and everything I've been told, "Ben" is the real deal. Kind, romantic, compassionate, caring, supportive. He doesn't compete with her for the love and admiration of critics or the audience. That is probably an important element to a successful relationship - their professional worlds are not the same. I have a theory about why many Hollywood marriages fail when both parties are actors, directors, etc...- ego. When one career is up and one star is rising (usually hers) and the other is down (his), these marriages tend to fall apart. Cases in point: Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe, Hillary Swank and Chad Lowe...just to name a few. After Oscars for the women, divorce followed.
Regardless of my unscientific theory, Benjamin has helped her find so much joy. She is over the moon in love and terribly happy. (*sigh) He is so proud of her - not because of what she is, but who she is. There is a big difference and I am just learning that now. And even better, he is not afraid to tell the world just how amazing he believes she is.
In speaking to her mom, I started wondering where I could find a Benjamin of my own. He sounds wonderful and like a breath of fresh air. Everyone loves him - mom, dad, sister, grandma...With the same marriage track record of my friend's celebrity daughter, I wonder if that's what we had to go through to find the right "one?" Third time's a charm? We're more mature (sort of), more grounded, have a better understanding of who we are and what we need? Is that how a Benjamin comes into your life? When you least expect him but when you need him most?
And in finding her Benjamin, her career has exploded again. So much critical acclaim, so many opportunities to shine. As I said, I don't know her - met her in passing once or twice over the last 19 years, never had a substantial conversation with her (although, sometimes she likes my Tweets, which makes me feel cool) - but knowing that we have so much in common, I am so happy for her and hopeful for myself that my Benjamin will find me. Very obviously, when you are with a person who isn't afraid to hold you up, cheer for you and adore you, your soul is able to feel fulfilled. You feel alive and strong and capable of anything when you have a true partner. That is who Ben seems to be.
For all of my "I don't need anyone in my life" bravado, the simple truth is, we all need love and we all need someone to share life with. And don't get me wrong, I'm not looking to pick out China patterns tomorrow. (Side issue: do people still do that? Do people still register for China? Who uses fine China? Get a grip young people - are you throwing a party for the Vanderbilts? Save your money for things that you really need like wine).
I just want someone to go to the movies with, who thinks my jokes are funny (they are, like really funny), someone who is kind and helpful. Someone who is real, open and isn't afraid to be honest - who isn't afraid of feelings. Someone who will understand my weirdness, appreciate it and celebrate it. Someone who isn't afraid to speak from the heart. Someone who will surprise me because he knows I am impossible to surprise. Someone who isn't going to judge me for the way I've chosen to live my life to this point.
And let's not rush anything, please - there will be no man toothbrushes in my home anytime soon. (Gross.)
I know my standards are high. I get it. But he's out there. He has to be because I'm here, hoping. And when we find each other, I might just keep him a secret for a while. My own private Benjamin.
I've been spinning my wheels for a long time hoping for impossible things to happen because I am that consummate romantic. I've walked around half heart-broken for too long - it's painful and unhealthy to live like that and I don't want to anymore. Not that I have wasted my time; I haven't. I may have already experienced the time of my life and had the love of my life, but it doesn't mean there isn't more to find. And throwing in the towel now isn't the answer. There is so much more life to live. As my summer anthem tells me: "Make a move, roll the dice..." I'm ready to step off the curb and take a chance.
So if you are Benjamin or you know Benjamin, shoot me a text. Don't bother calling me; everyone knows I rarely answer my phone.