College flashed by me all bright-eyed and packed with experiences that I somehow always managed to laugh my way through with the help of my best friends. The late-night study sessions for exams in classes so frivolous I barely remember their names, the morning-after recaps with a cup of Folgers and your roommate, and the breakfast taco runs were some enlightened existence. College quickly became some alternate universe where you actually got away with thinking you had it all figured out, perhaps the once in a lifetime moment when all the circumstances you’re faced with enable you to believe that you’re the exception to every rule. It’s the best time of your life, right before you hit the worst. It’s a quick drop to the bottom when you leave college and you realize that you weren’t in fact the exception to many rules—like scoring a job post-grad, like balancing your career life (before it’s even started of course) and your love life, and like, thinking that you would be the rare twenty-something who really had it all figured out.
In college, you justified wearing something with rhinestones and hooking up with some guy from your internship because you were under the impression that it wasn’t your real life, that it was all some last hurrah before the “real life” part of your life sinks in. Weird blue shots at the bar no one can ever really remember the name of? Sure! Trying fashion trends that were never meant for your body type? Hell yes! Texting the guy who you know better than to text?! Done and done, double (okay, triple) texted! What other kinds of self-deprecating acts can I somehow involve myself in?! It’s college, it’s being 21, it couldn’t possibly be real, right? The thing is, there was no lingering guilt because society told you all of this batshit crazy insane stuff was okay because it fell under the College Loophole, the “Let’s pick off-the-wall majors, request Rihanna songs at the bar and get queso at 4 a.m.” loophole that promises it’s all going to work out no matter how many typos your last text message had. And it was amazing, it was the best time of your life. It was a fleeting moment of enchanting illusion that was made acceptable because it was temporary. Simply put, they let us have it because they knew it wouldn’t last.
When I was in college, I used to think four years really is too long to be questioning your entire life, especially because it hadn’t even really happened yet. But now, as recent grad, I cant help but miss the piece of me in college that had no reason to believe everything would work out for me, but fiercely believed it would anyway. The conviction you learn after the many lows college is priceless. Perhaps, it’s what makes you fearless and so willing to believe that you are the exception to any and every rule. (“But I have a college degree, goddamnit!” sound familiar to anyone?!) It’s easy to look at the real world from the outside and see yourself taking it on, conquering it the way your professors said you could; it’s easy because you envision it, but tell yourself you wont have to actually do it for a while.
Recent grad life is by far the biggest mess I’ve ever encountered. Not the kind of stumbling home arm-in-arm with my roommate on a Thursday night, “Let’s celebrate how we managed to get an ‘A’ on that test!” kind of mess. It’s entirely more vague than the very specific little messes of college life. It’s a bigger picture mess. My love life is literally stretched cross country, my career is just taking off and I have no idea where it’s taking me, home is a million miles away and it changes with my every mood. To put it shortly, it’s that horribly awkward moment in between thinking you’ve got it all figured out and realizing that nothing ever really happens at the right times or for the right reasons, that there’s no such thing as fate or destiny, but that all you have of yourself is the decisions you make and the people you choose to care about.
I’m not going to lie and glorify it like the college version of myself would’ve been trained to. It’s a wonderfully miserable mess.
With that, I cautiously followed Bobby as we did reps around the weight machines that were foreign to my body and the muscles in it (muscles that I didn’t know existed until that day). Though I’d never worked with the legalized torture devices Bobby insisted would “rock my workout world”, my dance training got me through the reps without breaking too much of a sweat. Bobby and I politely made small talk as I contorted my body in between metal rods and bars on the weight machines and tried my best to hold my own.
When the hour neared its end, I’d learned more about Bobby than I’d learned about working out. He was 20 and a sophomore at the university 45 minutes outside of town. He’d picked up personal training as a summer job and ended up loving it so much that he was working toward a business degree to start his own private personal training company. He lived with his four best friends, in a virtual frat house without actual Greek letters, and he drove a black Toyota 4runner. And as I learned his favorite movie (Homeward Bound) and his favorite thing to do on the weekends (hit the running trails) I’d learned enough to know he wasn’t my type.
In high school, I’d taken the liberty of convincing myself my type of guy was the unshaven loner in the back row in class who took pride in carving The Doors’ lyrics into desk surfaces, the tattooed ones who read books I’d never heard of, the ones who couldn’t wait to graduate high school and leave town. This type of guy usually played an instrument and there were major bonus points if the instrument was loud and had the potential annoy my father. Bobby, with his practically catalog boyish good looks, Nalgene water bottle and a smile that might has well have “dinged!” was definitely not that guy. In fact, Bobby was so clean cut, it was beginning to annoy me.
At the end of the training session, Bobby had me fill out a survey for gym records. And just when I thought I was home free and feeling relatively confident about my athletic ability, it happened.
“Alright, let’s take your BMI,” Bobby said as he stood up grabbing a pair of oversized plastic tweezers from the desk.
“Body Mass Index, it tells us your body fat percentages.”
I don’t even want to know my body fat percentages, why would he want to know them?
“Really? You really want to go there?” I asked incredulously.
“Come on, it’s not going to be so bad and we’ll do it quick and painless, like ripping off a band-aid,” he said.
I hated when people said that. If you have to convince me that something isn’t going to be painful, then I can, with complete confidence, know it was going to be painful.
I just couldn’t bring myself watch him focus on tweezing the skin above the waistband of my track shorts so I cringed and looked to the side instead. To this day, it is still the longest moment that has ever existed in my life.
He told me the percentage of fat I had on my body and it could’ve been zero and I still would’ve wished the experience had never happened. I’d been tweezed. I was mortified. I looked pathetically down at the indent the giant plastic Tweezers of shame had left in my skin around my hip bone and wanted to crawl into a hole in the ground in the middle of nowhere and never come out.
This had to end now.
After Bobby wrapped up with his pre-rehearsed spiel trying to sell me on the “benefits of personal training,” I rushed out of there before he could give me more reasons to never leave the house for the rest of the summer.
So I fled. I fled straight to Panera Bread.
*Let’s try something a little new here guys, here’s the first part in a series of my various dating blunders and the mishaps that led me to where I am now… this might take a while. Feel free to leave a comment letting me know if you want me to keep doing this series!
Bobby was a mistake.
No, really, he was never supposed to happen to me.
But I suppose those are the intricate little details that make people other than myself believe in things like fate and destiny. If you ask me, “fate” is just a euphemism for life.
The sizzling hot Austin, Texas summer before my senior year in high school I was on another one of my “this is the summer I’m going to get skinny” fits, despite my 115 lb. weight and my size 4 dress size. (High school, right?) I signed up for a membership at the gym by my parents’ house because if the peer pressure to wear all the latest trends, hook up with all the hottest guys and drive the coolest car wasn’t enough, high school required I do it all with washboard abs. Since I was a dancer, I was in relatively good shape throughout high school but the summer before senior year, I was convinced would be the year of the protruding hipbone for my low-rise Citizens of Humanity jeans.
Upon membership I was given a free training session so the gym could do its best to sell out the personal training program. Call me crazy but I just couldn’t justify paying someone to yell at me to sweat when I could be spending that money on things that would actually make me feel good, like hip-hugging designer denim or the latest Marc Jacobs handbag. I tried to brush off the complimentary training hour but the undeniably fit woman at the membership office was rather persistent so I complied and she promised she’d hook me up with the gym’s toughest trainer, Chuck.
Now, maybe it’s just me and my overactive imagination but Chuck sounds like the name of a guy who likes to yell at already body-conscience teenage girls until they cry and swear off carbs and fat pants.
Look here Chuck, you can have my carbs, but there’s no way you’re getting near my fat pants!
I left the gym with Chuck’s business card in hand and winced as I looked down at his picture.Chuck’s face took up most of the photo on his business card. This guy was so built he looked like he could punch a hole in the wall using his face instead of his fists. I looked under his name and read the words, “Master Trainer,” which might as well have translated into, “Your Worst Nightmare.” I could feel my thighs getting sore just looking at his face. Why did joining the gym suddenly not feel like a fun summer project but instead an accidental one-way ticket to fat camp?
The next week I showed up to the gym for my appointment with Chuck with the best attitude I could muster up, which wasn’t saying much, seeing as how I just finished gorging myself on Chips Ahoy cookies in anticipation that I might never want to even look at a cookie again after my training session.
Who was I kidding? I could never give up carbs.
I went to the front desk and told the annoyingly chipper girl behind it that I had a training appointment with Chuck. My eyes followed her ponytail as it bounced from side to side while she spoke and I couldn’t help but want to throw up a little. She was a hair bouncer. The worst part about hair bouncers is that they pretend to be unaware of the way their hair sways happily back and forth, but I know from experience that it takes a considerable amount of skill to get your hair to piss people off that much. She assured me Chuck would be out in no time. I narrowed my eyes at her judgingly and wanted to say, “Look at me, I’ve probably still got chocolate smeared on my lip, believe me, I’m in no rush to meet Chuck the Annihilator,” but I settled for a lackluster “great” instead.
While I waited for Chuck to greet me with an ass kicking, I looked out the window at the shopping center the gym was in the center of.
Ooh, Panera Bread.
There’s just something about the gym that makes you hungrier than before you walked in.
“Anjli?” A surprisingly calm and deep voice asked from behind me.
Maybe I was taking this whole Chuck the Crazy Trainer thing a little too far but I was surprised by the sound of his voice. I sort of couldn’t help but expect Chuck the Master Trainer/Worst Nightmare to just yell everything. But instead this voice sounded relaxed, friendly, and even a little warm.
I whipped my head around and to my surprise, the man in front of me looked nothing like the business card version of Chuck. He was tall, had floppy chestnut hair, an impeccably white smile and though he was definitely toned, he appeared to be a stranger to the steroid look I’d mentally associated with Chuck. He was buff but boyish with big brown eyes and a dimple in his left cheek. He couldn’t have been much older than me. And on second thought, wow, he was sort of really beautiful.
“Hi, I’m Bobby,” he reached out his hand.
“Hi,” I said nervously, not because Bobby looked like a Sperrys’ campaign just short of a sailboat, but because I was expecting Chuck and an ass-kicking, not the seemingly tame Bobby and a handshake.
“Chuck had to bail, is it cool if I take over for him?” he asked.
“Are you kidding? I’ve been having nightmares about Chuck,” I responded with relief, mentally debating whether or not to try a subtly flirty hairflip and consequently decided against it.
“They must’ve given you his business card,” Bobby laughed.
Play the circa 2009 Taylor Swift Fearless album and a distinct feeling takes over my mind; it’s not sadness or longing or painful, it’s just there and it makes me wince every time. (Yes, I realize it’s not a cooler, more honorable artist/album, but I was a college freshman, what did you really expect?) It was my “Fall-in-Love-for-the-first-time/Break-Up-and-want-to-die” album. It’s the album that makes you wonder really cliché shit like, “Was I ever even really in love with him or did I just convince myself I was the whole time?” So it comes up during Shuffle mode, or sometimes it plays at mall, or hell, sometimes you skirt the rules and let yourself wander back to the past and hit ‘play’ even though you know it’s going to feel weirder than words can describe.
Look, maybe I’m the only crazy chick out there who does this but every now and again, I type his name into Facebook, just to see… see what? Well, I don’t really know to be honest. He wasn’t really friends with any of my friends and he lived states away, meaning that since we broke up over the phone, I really have never seen him. After deleting from my Facebook him years ago, I still pretend to be blissfully unaware of the fact that he probably hit the infamous “Ignore” button on my Facebook profile and made the deliberate decision to never pop up in my occasional searches for him. And I can’t really blame him, because well, I deleted him as friend, for reasons I cant really remember now. (Except for, I kind of can, I actually broke up with him for the guy I’m with now…except for it really wasn’t as simple as it reads on this page, but then again, I guess it never really is as simple as words on a page, on a blog, or a letter.)
I don’t know why I sometimes type his name in the little box on my fateful Facebook home screen. Maybe it’s because I’m still waiting for the day that I first see evidence of him with another girl, living another life and probably being another person than I ever remembered him to be. I guess those are the perks of never having to bump into your ex in person and awkwardly so, but then again, I have to wonder if I’m worse off; if the curiosity is more of a pain in my ass than an awkward run-in. It still baffles me how you can know everything about a person and then in a long night of tears and fights with one another (and also yourself) how it can just slip away with a couple words.
Back to my original point, look, I don’t know why I sometimes wonder where his life has taken him, but I have a hunch that it’s because it’s the closest I’ll ever come to a glimpse at what my life would look like if I hadn’t made the choices I made. Not to say I harbor regret towards picking my current boyfriend. In fact, all of this has very little to do with my current boyfriend and actually a lot to do me and the simple fact that first loves are one of the most fickle, strange and haunting things we face in our lives. First love is one of the few times we allow ourselves to be completely naive and even don’t mind using our naivete as an excuse for completely absurd behavior.
So I look him up because in some twisted way, I think it’s going to provide insight on who I would’ve been. I could see why someone would think that it’s pathetic, but it’s also sort of settling in some way. I know it sounds fucking crazy to say that you could manage to find even an once of comfort in looking up the life of a person whose life you are absolutely no longer welcome in. But in the end it doesn’t matter if I finally end up seeing a picture of him and some new girl smiling or if I never see a photo of him for the rest of my life, because it’s about that mental journey of retracing my steps with him and reminding myself that while first love deserves a fighting chance, it should never be an obligation. And as hard as it is for me to sometimes wrap my mind around the concept of knowing someone to their core and then never talking to them again, it’s something that comes with the territory of first love.
While I realize how selfish it sounds to say all of this, the reason I don’t feel bad putting it all out there is because it’s over, like truly over and it’s one of those things that people don’t talk about enough, that they maybe even take a little too seriously. I mean, it was all brought on by a fucking Taylor Swift album, right? So it cant be that serious, not even slightly enough to reconsider where my life is now or who I’m with, but instead it’s a moment that I’m thankful for because it forces me to remember how fast everything you love can slip away. I think it’s the moments that you realize that everything you love so much could disappear as a result of just one misguided decision, that make me appreciate the moments when for once, almost everything in your life is going just fine. And yeah, sometimes that means you gotta look back to look ahead, even if that means getting caught belting out Taylor Swift’s “White Horse.” We’ve all been there. Right? Come on.
It really is quite silly how I will complain about getting less than 12 hours of sleep every other morning than a Thursday morning. And by “silly,” I think we all know what I really mean is pathetic. Why are Thursday mornings different? Well, because the night before is Wednesday… aka NASHVILLE NIGHT! A sacred time where I get to pretend like I can relate to the lives of fictional country divas! During the week (and most of the weekends), I’m like really not cool, and I am usually exhausted from work and asleep by 10:30… if not like, way earlier. Hey! In my defense, I’m still adjusting to this whole 40+ hour work week thing and my sleep schedule has really not caught up and to be quite honest, I’m kind of okay with it. But I digress. Like I was saying, it’s really quite pathetic how I’ll justify staying up later than usual just to indulge in the fictional story lines of fictional characters that carry way less honor and depth than say those of, (also another favorite of mine) Mad Men or perhaps Boardwalk Empire (which for the record, have never actually sat through an episode of). So yes, we are currently living in a golden age of television… but sometimes I just want to experience the less golden agey stuff too…and yeah, you know what, sometimes it does include a couple episodes of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. So sue me.
In other news, I’ve decided I need glasses. Not because I have vision problems, no, that’d be, of course, much too self-explanatory. So allow me to explain why I’ve suddenly decided I need glasses. I need them because they’re fucking all over Pinterest, and I’ve concluded that girls who occasionally wear glasses live substantially more fantastic lives than girls who don’t. They get to do cute things like put their hair in a messy bun and wear glasses be like cute and stuff whereas if I just put my hair in a “messy bun” I’d just look like a fucking mess. Look, I can’t say for sure because I’ve ever actually had glasses but there are just some days that I feel like wearing glasses. So naturally on a complete whim last night I ordered five pairs of frames from Warby Parker for at-home try-on. Um, also, how FUN is their virtual try-on?! I think I spent like, way too much time on it last night but it’s fun to look at a photo of yourself with fake glasses and imagine yourself in a different life, like as a Swedish scientist or a San Francisco coolgirl who eats kale and is dating a guy named Samson. I don’t know, okay, these are just the things that I think. Either way, I actually happen to have 20/20 vision, so I guess my decision to become a glasses-wearer proves that a woman truly can have it all… except for that last red velvet cupcake… yeah, I probably shouldn’t have all of that.
Speaking of cupcakes, not a day goes by in my office that there is not a celebration that calls for cupcakes. My thighs are royally pissed but my mouth is like really stoked about it. Well, until I smear the icing on my white hand-wash only tank and then my whole self is royally pissed. So Kate Moss infamously said that nothing tastes as good as skinny feels, but I have to say going off of that that nothing tastes good enough to have to risk washing it out of a white silk tank top. I’m sorry, there’s just nothing delicious enough in the world that is ever gonna make me think, “Damn, I’m really glad I had a bite of that before I dropped it all over my $80 top.” The only thing worse than a regretted cupcake stain is a red wine stain. But like a red wine isn’t so bad because you can always lie to yourself and be like, “yeahhhh, but red wine is like good for my heart and stuff,” but like with cupcakes, you’re kinda just like, “Fuck, well now I just look like that one girl in the office who couldn’t contain herself over fucking cupcakes, cupcakes that aren’t even like a rare occurrence because—forgive me while I repeat myself to make my point—not a day goes by in my office that there isn’t a fucking box of cupcakes around to tempt me into red velvet sin.
So you manage to find someone who likes you enough to somehow set aside your really annoying habits like being a terrible driver and penchant for saying really neurotic things and then following them up with, “That’s not neurotic, right?!” And hell, he even has the decency to lie to you and say, “No, that’s not neurotic”… sometimes. So you find that one, that one who makes you laugh when you’re so frustrated with your life’s direction (or lack of it…) that if anyone else tried to step in and talk to you at that moment you probably would’ve yelled or thrown something or at the very least had a weird moment that you’d probably have to apologize for later. That one, the one who makes you bacon at midnight because you asked nicely. That one, the one who isn’t afraid to say things like “I can’t cuddle with you all night because you put off too much heat, it’s like you’ve got goddamn miniature men inside your belly shoveling coal into furnace,” and you’re kinda cool with it because even though you pretty sure he’s insulting you, he wrapped it up in clever wit… and now you’re too distracted with picturing tiny men in your belly shoveling coal into a nonexistent stomach furnace to really care if it was an insult in the first place. That one, that’s the one you picked… who actually picked you back… but after evaluating everything else out there, it kinda just makes sense that you would end up together mostly because of your mutual disgust of others. Hey, some people bond over hobbies like sailing or music, some people bond over physical intimacy, and some bond over realizing that you weren’t the only person who rolled their eyes at someone’s story. You meet how you meet, okay?!
Regardless of all of this, I think that there needs to be a bigger conversation about post-grad relationships. And how much they suck. Well, not the actual relationships per se (though, sometimes, yes, those too…) but mostly the circumstances surrounding most post-grad relationships, like steel walls cornering you into the tightest corners, practically pushing you toward an eventual breakup. Let me explain…
There’s the first complication of geography. Meeting in college is particularly a pain in the ass if one person in the relationship is originally from that town. So there’s that whole thing. Then there’s the whole graduating during a recession thing and then this obligation to take a job no matter where it takes you and having to be in a position, where whether you like it or not, you have to take a job that takes you away because you need to like eat and live and like be a grown up and stuff. And also, if you turn down a job, who is to say another will come around? On top of the uncertainty of relocation for a job, there’s also the sentiment that at 23, you don’t want to make a decision based on a relationship for fear that it could corner you after a breakup, but then there’s also the sentiment that the other person doesn’t want to hold you back from being your best self (even if it’s in, surprise surprise, Ohio). So you go because it’s going to be a good experience even if it’s going to be miserable being away from the person that fits perfectly in your bed (even if you don’t really cuddle). So now on top of geography you’ve got the complications of finding a job in the middle of a fucking recession (it’s doubly worse if the both of you happen to be in creative fields, oh I don’t know, like journalism grads, oh hey what’s up real world?) and then you’ve got the complication of being young and in love but also not wanting to make any life choices without considering that sometimes people change their minds and they break up. BAM, one paragraph and you’ve already got three major circumstances that have to make you wonder how anyone ever has a relationship, like ever.
So it’s a little discouraging when you don’t get to spend any holidays together, or when birthdays are lessened down to the weekend before or after, and Tuesday night dates are not even in the realm of possibility, or when all you want is to come home to a glass of red wine and just lie on the couch and watch How I Met Your Mother without talking but just knowing that there’s someone in the world wants nothing more than to come home after a forever-long day, drink wine and silently watch TV with you. In fact, most of the time, it’s discouraging. Having to leave on a Sunday night after having just touched down Friday night after you got off work feels like punishment. You try to figure out ways to really make the moments you’re physically together count more, last longer and mean significantly more than all the other moments, but the truth is they are just as short, just as easy to forget and just as likely to go unappreciated. There’ll come a moment when you have wonder if it’d ever going to change. For a while, it probably wont because being 23 and in a relationship where you’re literally in two totally different places fucking sucks. There’s no eloquent way to say it, to make it sound better than it is, because a long-distance relationship in post-grad life sucks. It just does.
But then there are the moments that I get an unexpected text in the middle of day, when I look down at my phone to see a picture of his dog doing something silly or something equally trivial and I realize that he’s sort of a person I wouldn’t mind hanging out with for the rest of life… even if that means we have to Facetime, skype, text or call to do it.