What a strong woman really wants

Let me level with you from the start. I am not a relationship expert. In fact, I have previously been an expert in exactly what not to do in a relationship.

I’ve accepted being treated poorly, like I wasn’t valuable or worthy of consideration. I’ve spent too much time trying to make thing works at any personal cost, trying to patch up things that were beyond repair, and trying to figure what was wrong with me.

If you’ve been reading my work recently, you know that isn’t the case anymore. My entire life has changed – and nothing more so than my love life. Recently, a friend’s partner reached out to me for advice because his lady is unhappy, and for many of the same reasons I was. So I’m going to put this out there for men who have found themselves with a strong woman, so you at least have an inkling of what it is she wants.

I’m pretty fresh out of a relationship that crashed and burned for a lot of reasons. But the main reason I ended it?

I didn’t get the kind of support I needed. And not only that, but I didn’t think I would ever get that kind of support that I so. desperately. wanted.

Surprised? Well, I can’t say I’m shocked.

This isn’t the 1950’s, right? I don’t need a man for financial support. I am capable. I am strong.

From your perspective, it probably looks like I’ve got everything handled over here, and well, that’s because I do. I’m a single mother of two with a successful business, living in a beautiful place in the city. Cue up the Beyonce, because this independent woman has it together on her own terms.

And I love it. I love knowing my life is this way because I made it that way. From the apartment to new friends to how my business works, these choices are entirely mine, and that makes me feel powerful.

Along with this new found empowerment, another choice I’ve made is to embrace transparency. I’m not talking about “blunt honesty” which is just an excuse for airing opinions without kindness. I have chosen transparency because I want all of the parts of my life to fit together without me having to make excuses or allowances for them. I want my life to be a clear representation of what it is I say I stand for.

With no room for excuses and nowhere to hide from the consequences of my actions, I’m continually putting myself in a position that forces me to stay honest. There’s no barrier, no walls left there to protect me. And that leaves me very vulnerable.

And guess what? That’s what I want from you. I want you to be just as vulnerable as I am.

Vulnerability isn’t always pretty. Staying open means you’re just as likely to feel pain as you are love. And that is terrifying, especially as you try to maintain it over a progressively longer period of time. You get deeper into a relationship, you feel things more deeply. That’s just the territory you end up in, and the only way out of it is by backing off or moving through it.

But sometimes, even with the chance to step away, scream your head off in a car, and pound your fists against the dashboard, you’ll still experience an evening that leaves you raw and crumbling. No matter how irrational the fear, no matter how obvious the insecurity, there you are, cursing yourself for letting this happen and trying to figure out what’s next.

But you know what’s next. Either you put up new walls and pretend it doesn’t hurt, or you stay open, feel what you’re feeling, and figure out how to move on to at least some marginal acceptance.

The deeper I get into this relationship I now find myself in, the more I have to confront triggers, demons, and all of the baggage I’ve been carrying around for a very long time. I don’t want the frustrating, selfish feelings that come up – pangs of jealousy, fear of driving him away, the desire to possess him. I refuse to let those feelings define this relationship.

Finally, I think I understand Woody Allen’s quote, “To love is to suffer.”

It’s a strange thing to accept – at least in theory – whatever is going to happen is going to happen. Not long ago, I realized I had this deep-seated desire, this need, for a masculine counterpart. There’s a part of me missing without it. Acknowledging that need is difficult because it means there is in fact something outside of me that I can’t have without another person. It doesn’t get more vulnerable than knowing you want someone who might not end up wanting that, too.

And I feel that failing to incorporate someone like that into my life, I am missing something of incredible value.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not afraid of being alone anymore (because now I know there are much worse things). I am capable of being alone and living a good and fulfilling life that way. I enjoy my own company. I can take care of my needs.

And I know I would like to share a life with someone else. That I want to build a house and garden and build communities wherever I plant myself. That I might want more children. And more immediately, that I would only choose to be with someone I felt there was a chance I could share that with.

Given all that, I have to accept that if this ends, it will hurt worse than anything I’ve ever experienced. And yet, here I am, willing to be destroyed for a chance at the Real Thing.

Let’s be real.

I’m a big tough girl. I’ve got it covered. I have things handled.

And guess what?

I love it when I don’t have to. I love knowing that if I need to step out for a minute, you’ve got this. I appreciate when you plan things so I don’t need to. Sometimes, I can’t hold it all together, and knowing you’ve got my back? I can’t tell you what that means to me.

Yeah, it’s important to me to know I can get things done, to know I can keep the ship afloat when things get rough. Chances are I became this way for a reason. Whether it’s my rough background or fucked up childhood or a history of people telling me I’d never make it out, knowing I’m independent is a part of me I won’t let go of. (Because I can’t.)

But let me tell you a secret. Can I tell you just how wonderful it is to think there exists this kind of relationship where I feel so held, so considered in the midst of everything else you’ve got going on? How amazing it is to know I can lean into you? To be in a relationship where I can feel strong and supported?

I became strong because I had to. Knowing I don’t have to be so strong around you? That is a gift.

The fact may be that I don’t need you.

But guess what? I want you. You get to stick around because I choose you. Just like every other aspect of my life that has undergone careful consideration, I am choosing to be with you.

And really, I think I’m stronger when I’m with you.

Things that I regret

Anyone who says they have no regrets probably isn’t being honest with themselves. Even if it is just in some small way, there is a situation you’ve been in where you wish you had done something differently. I have thought a lot about this recently, and I came with short list of things I regret.

Not getting help when I needed it.

Not leaving things I’m not enjoying sooner.

Not celebrating the victories.

Not volunteering.

Not letting myself relax.

Not taking the chance.

Not asking for what I wanted.

Not raising my hand.

Not telling someone exactly how I felt.

Notice any patterns here? My regrets have much less to do with what I’ve done than what I haven’t. I’ll have a thought, play it out in my head, get a little bit thrilled at the prospect, think about what it would take to accomplish, feel nervous at the thought of what the proverbial “They” might think, get scared, and back off.

I cannot tell you how often have I become overjoyed at the thought of a creative pursuit only to back away from it in fear of… what exactly? It’s not even a real thing to be afraid of. This invisible, nameless thing is continuously attempting to strangle my voice, my longing to create beautiful work that makes someone else feel like they matter. Because really, even if I do get a negative response to my work, so what? Critical feedback won’t kill me. I’m a sensitive snowflake, but I hold up to heat pretty well.

Ever so slowly, I am becoming more brave, but it is a constant struggle – to choose what’s hard now so I’m not oppressed by what’s harder later.

So when an idea hit me this past Tuesday while I was playing on the swings (it’s like my meditation), I decided not to just let it go. Brielle and I were making plans a couple of hours later over cocktails and inspired conversation, and the next day, we went for it and made this.

So first of all, thank you so much, Brielle. You are a dear friend, and I am thrilled we got to collaborate over our hopelessly romantic outlook on life. May your life ever be as delicious as a Nicholas Sparks novel.

And happy birthday, Daniel. I hope this removes all possible doubt about the effect you’ve had on me, my work, and my life.

And because we’re still working on the resolution, here’s what the whiteboard says:

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Learning to date myself

(This is an excerpt from my next book Falling Madly. Get updates as they are published here.)

Six weeks into this adventure in somewhat solo city living, I’d begun to establish some local haunts. My absolute favorite is Serratto.

Their happy hour is incredible, and they serve the best cocktails in town. Generally, these expertly-crafted drinks get paired with a conical serving of twice-fried pomme frites with garlic aioli. Or maybe the tomato basil soup that is somehow magically vegan even though it’s the creamiest tomato soup you’ve ever tasted. Oh, and the ambiance!

I’m a girl who seriously values great atmosphere. Maybe it’s because I’m dramatic, and I like to surround myself with a certain mood before I dig in and write. Actually, that’s definitely it. But really, lighting can completely change how a place feels, and Serratto’s carefully curated environment is no exception.

You enter through two over-sized glass doors to a massive vase of flowers – think lilies and grass accents six feet tall – resting at the top of a short staircase before the hostess attired in a more casual version of a trend you think you saw in a magazine seats you. You follow her back past the bar to an open sea of blues, lightly-nautical-but-not-too-kitschy decor accented with wrought iron that look older than it possibly could be. She seats you at a thick wooden table framed on either side with antiqued cobalt blue chairs with wicker seats and leaves to rejoin the other offbeat but attractive waitstaff gathered around a bar, folding napkins over small talk and side glances.

Tiny acts of delightful debauchery take place in the grand room, full of tucked away corners. The wood floor is a witness to the steady stream of the feet of happy customers, content to bring in a book while they enjoy the lightness of a lemon drop stronger than anticipated. But the tipsiness merely enhances the experience.

Another day has gone ridiculously well, and I’m reveling in it. Another client engagement booked, meetings with new friends arranged, and now dressed up and out on a date with myself, things are looking very, very good.

And then there’s Daniel.

It’s only been a month since I started seeing him, and I’m in so deep already. It’s a little unnerving. This was not in the cards for me before. At least, I didn’t think so. But then he goes off saying things like how he thinks I’m fascinating. What’s strange is I believe him. Stranger still is how natural this feels. Nothing about it has been earth shattering, and that seems to be a part of why it is so remarkable. For someone in the throes of transition, I feel more peaceful than I have at any time in my life. I don’t know what that means yet.

There’s something about being with him that is so unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I wonder how much of it is biochemical. I decide I don’t care, and that I’m just going to ride it out as long as I possibly can.

God, how did this even happen? Somehow from being a trainwreck and miserable just a few months ago, I’ve completely transformed. Now I dance salsa and blues and write books and take business classes and make things and cook and have somehow become someone who sounds interesting. Like someone who might just be worth knowing.

Does thinking that makes me a narcissist? Maybe. I think it just makes me someone who is slowly learning how to follow their bliss.

A single white votive flickers on the table from the draft coming through the open doors. A table of silver-haired women at the table across from me celebrate a birthday, emanating a beauty and brilliance I hope one day I’ll have earned.

This is my normal.

Last weekend, I was hiking on the Oregon Coast with Daniel through light rain and muddy trails. For someone like me, it was perfect. I love the gray skies of the northwest, and enjoying it feels like I’m spiting the much-too-hot weather we’ve had all summer long.

Then somehow, I was inexplicably talked out of my pants. That is, I ended up in my underwear (which covered just enough skin to pretend they were swimsuit bottoms), waist deep in the freezing cold Pacific ocean while crabs sailed past my legs in the water. (Can’t lie, it was unnerving. The only place that damn water spider belongs is on my plate swimming in butter.) I screamed, laughed, and then we piled back into the car to hit up our post-hike ritual: eating as close to an entire pizza as we can manage. Ah, the things we do when we’re in love (and in desperate need of a carbo-load).

The next morning was a Monday, so I dove right into… cultivating the kinds of details that make a life worth living. After waking up to delicious sunshine on my bed, I pulled out the lipstick, lace top, and skinny jeans. I turned on jazz radio and made a french press of this Honduran roast I’m in love with right now, pulling out soft ciabatta bread from the night before and smothered it in blackberry preserves. Then I sat at my table and wrote for a few hours, did some business planning, and walked through the forest by my apartment.

And the best part of all of it?

This is a weekend like any other. This is my normal. I am so incredibly grateful for that. It took what felt like forever to retrain myself to enjoy the present moment and make it a little richer instead of jumping straight into the hustle.

But it wasn’t always like this.

It’s taken me over a year of intentionally looking at my life and figuring out what I wanted. And often, I found myself frustrated and overwhelmed because there was so much that I wanted to be different. I wanted to make big changes… and I had no idea where to start. So I didn’t. Things stayed more or less the same. I was miserable.

But in May of 2014, my best friend and I both hit the wall. We knew we had to get away. So we escaped up to a retreat in the mountains for two nights. Complete with hot-tubbing, prosecco, yoga, and endless giggles over how we felt like we were getting away with something, it was a great kick-off for a year that ended up being very much about taking tiny steps towards the lives we wanted.

As it turned out, the biggest thing that was missing from our lives was proper self-care. Being mothers, wives, business owners, etc. self-care wasn’t something we had time for.

We neglected ourselves, and our lives ended up neglecting us.

Fast forward to now? Well, you could say we’re a little better at it. You might even call us self-care queens.

 

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The thing is that none of the things that we do to take care of ourselves are taking away from our families. These tiny acts of self-care help us fill back up, and in return, we can show up the way we want to in our relationships and our lives.

We wanted to give you something so what happened to us doesn’t have to happen to you. So we created #tinychallenges, a free 30-day self-care-centric series of prompts to get you back on the path to the life you want. 

Because sometimes? It turns out you don’t need a Big Life Change. You just need to take care of what matters – and that means you, too.

Coming to the table

I know I’ve got this whole strong, independent woman vibe going these days, but I’ve got a confession. This strong independent woman seriously loves homemaking and hospitality.

Not that those things are mutually exclusive, but I really love it. Down to the frequently-used Martha Stewart cookbook on my shelf, there isn’t much I enjoy more than entertaining and taking care of people. I love crafting lovely experiences by curating environments and making incredible food, cultivating all of these little domestic things into a place that fosters community.

That’s why in July, I decided to host my first cocktail party. It was going to be a celebration, a culmination of all of the things and people I value in one beautiful space. I invited every interesting person I could think of who was near Portland, planned some incredible appetizers, pulled out my favorite little black dress, and even made a fool-proof plan to have everyone out by ten – and down at my favorite karaoke haunt down the street. (I’m an extrovert, but frankly, I have my limits and almost always prefer smaller, more intimate groups.)

Leading up to the party, I was totally prepared. Except for one little thing. I had no table.

I was hosting the party later in the evening, and I’d put off buying one… well, since I moved… in April. I just ate at my desk and called it good until I found the right one. Sigh. I know, I know. I know better, but it just didn’t feel like a priority. But with 20+ guests expected, there was no way I’d have enough counter space without one to have a bar, an appetizer station, and a space for dessert. So the table hunt began.

I’m fairly picky about what I bring into my space these days, doing my best to prime my space for creativity and ease, and there is something about tables in general that makes me even more so.

Maybe it’s that tables are where we come together. Historically, there has always been a significance to sharing a meal together, and that still is visible in some of our modern traditions, especially around dating and more formal decision making.

As a former barista and cafe owner, tables get an awful lot of consideration. The importance of this idea of coming to the table is at the heart of why they caught on first in Mecca then in parts of Europe as centers for debates and salons. These were houses for discussion, for connection, and that legacy is crucial to understanding the continued prominence of the cafe.

Cultivating beautiful, intimate spaces for people to connect with one another in is an art form in and of itself. Careful thought must be given to lighting, to seating, to what belongs on the table from dishes to food to flowers and the reasons why those tiny decisions all support each other. Although I’ve never considered myself detail-oriented, it is these small factors that add to a greater atmosphere one can truly relax into. The value of truly great ambiance cannot be overstated. It effects how we feel in such a way that it can shift everything, thus the careful attention to what (and who) enters my apartment.

A desire to create that kind of ambiance influences my writing. When I write, I want to create intimacy, an opportunity for personal connection forged over a perfectly-brewed cup of coffee – and I think that’s what others are longing for, too. So I continue on, trying to take everyday events and crack them open to reveal the beautiful moments hidden inside of them.

It influences my relationships. Inviting people into my space to share that is a small way I can show hospitality, and at the heart of that, it’s a way to show that I care about how you experience life when you’re with me. This longing to share these precious moments with those I most love seems to only increase as I get older, softer. It is odd to think about how much I have softened over the years, and how much work there is left to do there. But at my core, there is nothing more important to me than nurturing relationships, connecting deeply with those I love and those I could. For me, showing love may happen in a grand gesture of romance (can’t resist writing love poems), but the way I’m much more likely to demonstrate I care will be smaller, more subtle.

It’s making breakfast while visiting a dear friend, being able to share the ease of a long, lazy morning over Dungeness crab omelettes and blueberry pancakes.

It’s waking up seeing a lover dressed in sunlight on my bed, rejoicing in the sweetness of it, and then starting a french press to continue to share in the warmth of the morning.

I long to commit these tiny acts of love, artful and domestic. I want to dig into the daily romance of living, because it is so lovely and intoxicating, how could I not? The warmth and familiarity created in these moments is too much not to adore.

 

So I come to the table – and I bring others with me. Much of what I’ve been up to for the past month has been just that, dedicating myself to pursuing deeper relationships as wholeheartedly and openly as I can in simple, meaningful ways. Because if this isn’t the point, what is?

That fateful day of the party, the right one finally came along. Found at a locally-owned thrift shop, it came to me at the exact right moment. My best friend, Nina, and I sauntered down the street and found it – the perfect-fit size and shape for my apartment with a worn-in Anthropologie-esque feel to it in a cracked, pale hue of yellow.

And in case you were wondering, yes, the party was fantastic.

P.S. If you want to bring the intimacy that is coming to the table to your brand, I have a *very* limited number of bookings remaining through December. Click here to learn more about what working with me is like.

Cultivating secrets

I’m back from my first real, planned vacation ever. (When did my life get so good?)

I went glamping for three nights (which was incredible and everything it’s cracked up to be), and as soon as I got back, it was WDS weekend. I thought a few days of relaxing in the forest would put me in the perfect headspace to come back and rock the many social gatherings planned that weekend, but it was a shockingly rough transition.

Don’t get me wrong – this was an amazing week. I got to spend most of it with all of my favorite people, my best friend came and stayed with me, the gatherings I went to were delightful, and it all culminated in one of the best nights out singing karaoke I’ve ever had.

But I’ve come to appreciate and really enjoy these weekends where I’m disconnected. My time gets spent reading and writing and hiking and loving on the people I’m with. It’s exactly what I want. Really, the more I get off the internet, the more I realize how exhausted I get when I’m constantly plugged in. This morning, I went to write about the past week, and the thought crossed my mind that I don’t want to.

And that is very, very odd for me. And I don’t really know what that means. But I don’t want to write about these most intimate details just yet. I want to savor and cherish them. These are for me.

Given of all this, I’m going to take the rest of July to recuperate, complete some client work, finish my next free e-course – Take Center Stage, and refine my book proposal. I’ll start blogging again in August, most likely.

If you’d like to stay in touch, you can follow me on Facebook or Twitter.

If you’d like to work with me, I’m now booking for Fall 2015. Email me at Dusti.Arab@gmail.com, tell me about your project, and I’ll be in touch.

And if you’d like the new e-course once it’s done, sign-up here.

See you in August.

8 Lessons I Learned Busking as a Disney Princess

Last summer, I started a princess party company. It was fun and picking up steam fast, but in February, I was going through so many other things (and had a full time job), so I gave the company to my business partner. It was definitely the right call to let it go (HAH), but lately, I have been missing just glitzing up and going out.

So I decided to pick up a new Elsa costume and go busking. Because why not? I get a performing fix, kids get to see their favorite character, and hey, I can pay for more costumes this way. (Working on a 7 of 9 get up for September!)

Busking is quite a bit different than going to a planned, structured children’s party, though. Here’s a few lessons I’ve learned.

1. People are, in fact, usually good.

I was surprised by who would approach me in costume. Some kids, some adults, some randos who didn’t want a photo. Mostly older people who seemed to just appreciate I was something beautiful.

2. Having an established character simplifies a lot.

Most people aren’t trying to figure me and my shtick out. I’m a somewhat known quantity which makes me safer to approach for most people.

3. It’s as good for me as it is for them.

Walking up to the corner I’d chosen, I felt a few nerves, but the big, goofy smile on my face was genuine. Standing up there greeting strangers, I was vulnerable. I could be rejected. I was rejected often. Because I was – I am – out of the ordinary, I make people uncomfortable.

4. So many connections = so much exhaustion.

Even as an extrovert in flats, experiencing so many moments of connection so rapidly was surprisingly exhausting. 70 minutes of busking on a Tuesday evening and $40 later (Woo! My costume will pay for itself in no time!), I was having trouble balancing on my box. Just a smile, wave, and “Good evening!” performed 100 times is an experiment in energy management.

5. Eat/drink right before you go.

This should have gone without saying, considering how many children’s parties I’ve done. During my princess party days, I might as well have been carrying around a “Powered by Starbucks” sign with as many Frappuccinos as I chugged to stay continually Disney-levels of perky.

6. A fork will pull money out of that vase you thought was such a good idea.

Ahem.

7. By simply being, I am a challenge.

There were quite a few people who looked openly disturbed when I attempted to engage them. I’d make eye contact, smile, and bow to them, and they’d quickly look away and walk faster. My demeanor scared them. My openness challenged them to interact with me, to remove themselves from their reality for a moment to be fully present. If you’re not used to that, it can be a terrifying prospect.

8. I need more of a challenge.

I didn’t expect the whole experience of busking to be so… easy. Don’t get me wrong. Boldness is a second language for me, but the idea of jut standing on a corner and drawing the attention of hundreds of strangers? Even I balk at that. That said, I’ve spent a lot of time as Elsa, and it felt remarkably comfortable. I want more of an opportunity for vulnerability than that.

Who knows what character I’ll play next?

P.S. I made this video for a friend’s kiddo. If you’d like one, drop me a line. I love this shit.

Embracing ease

Aside from a kiddo with some major tummy problems, today was pretty fantastic. This has been week one back to freelancing… and now I’m on vacation. Not just any vacation mind you – my first, real, scheduled vacation ever. Never before have I trusted myself to take time off, because you always have to be hustling, right?

Nope. Not anymore.

If I’ve learned anything this past year, I’ve learned to embrace ease.

As a self-identified rebel, it’s hard to just things as they are. More than that, it’s hard to accept that even if I long for change and growth and more, I am (personally) already enough in this situation. That doesn’t excuse me from doing the work. Far from it. If I can trust my own strengths and my ability to take right action, I damn well better be doing it.

But often, just by asking myself, “What feels right? What feels light?” I’ll find myself staying on the right path. No matter the transition I’m going through, I have what I need to navigate it.

The past six months have brought so many changes and transitions that I couldn’t have imagined (and well, some that I could) that sometimes I think I should feel overwhelmed. This has been a big six months of firsts for me. Lucky for me, it’s been more ups than downs. Far from feeling overwhelmed, for the first time in my life I feel like I have the space to move forward in confidence. I don’t have to second guess or wonder if I made the right call.

This is ease.

It’s easy to curate things and make everything look peachy keen on Facebook. I hope I don’t do that too often, even though I do try to steer towards the positive. There is so much strife in the world right now, and one of the things I’m constantly thinking about is how to use my privilege for good. (Also transitioning from being marginalized to a privileged position? Fucking hard. I wish more people would talk about this. Or at least talk to me about it.)

But today, today was very good. I got my new website pictures back from my incredible photographer. I got to spend the day relaxing (mostly) with my kids. I even had the time to write a little.

Really. How does it get any better than this?

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Friendship, romance, and commitment

Bri is my first Portland friend I’ve made since moving. Fresh out of Tri-Cities, she didn’t know anyone around here either, and we’ve taken to meeting up at the drop of a hat. She is magic, an absolute delight to be around. Passionate, fun, and incredibly (and genuinely) sweet, she has been editing a short film she’s been working on about a whirlwind romance she’s experienced that had ended as quickly as it began when her boyfriend was killed in a car crash.

The effect of the tragedy on her and how she processed it through her incredible art is nothing short of inspiring, and every time we get together, the kinds of conversations that fuel your best creative work are inevitable. Yesterday over cocktails, we talked about our respective weekends and the details that made them so delicious. With both of us in fresh relationships, there’s plenty to share.

I mentioned that even though my weekend with Daniel did not go quite as planned, it still turned out pretty well. (After an inordinate amount of time stuck in traffic and then spending an hour trying to figure out accommodations, you might say we were lucky to discover we could handle each other in a less than optimal scenario.) But the beach was lovely in that overcast Oregon way, the pauses were as rich as the conversations, and everything ended up working out in a delightful if unexpected way. Aware that I’m still in a place with this relationship where things are new and passion-fueled, I said so. I don’t want things to appear perfect when they aren’t, and I want to keep myself honest about the whole thing.

Bri smiled, sighed, and said she didn’t want to lose that feeling of passion. As soon as she did, I stopped for a moment. Recollections of the books I’ve been reading and the women who wrote them started popping up. Because the reality is as much as you might want to you can’t hold on to that freshly passionate feeling forever.

The thing is, I understand what she means. There is nothing like those first passionate moments with someone – or that perfect first kiss. God, the first time Daniel and I kissed was unforgettable. After a few weeks of very intentional not touching while we were hanging out – oh, bless his self control, for I have none – he was getting ready to leave my apartment, and I gave him a hug goodbye. (This is normal behavior for me. I hug the people I care about, just in case.)

But, I couldn’t help but linger a moment. As I slowly pulled back, my face brushed against his, and our lips met. I could feel his kiss shoot through me down into my toes, my fingertips tracing his shoulders. I hesitated a moment to give him space, to make sure this is actually what he wanted, too.

And when he leaned in and kissed me back, I wished he’d never stop. He grasped at my waist, and my breath quickened. It was electric, overpowering.

But we forced ourselves to separate, wordlessly acknowledging the night was over. I didn’t want to ruin this by rushing into things, and he was smart enough to pull away before things were past the point of no return.

But oh god. Laying down in my bed that night, thoughts of him and the moment just passed filled my head, and I couldn’t help but think about how that was the best kiss I’d ever had.

(Sidenote/actual question: WHY DID NO ONE EVER TELL ME HOW AWESOME WELL-KEPT FACIAL HAIR IS?!)

That moment of passion is something I’ll carry with me. And I’m sure there will come a point where I will long for that again. It wasn’t so long ago I was craving that kind of fiery connection. But even as wonderful as that moment and that kiss was, the only reason it happened that way was because of the intense emotional nature of mine and Daniel’s relationship prior to ever getting anywhere near each other.

And really, that kind of intensity isn’t sustainable. I know that. Besides, the state of infatuation renders you unable to think clearly about anything. It literally changes your brain chemistry. The early stages of love transform an otherwise healthy brain into something that closely resembles that of an addict, because as it turns out, that rush of chemicals your body releases are addictive. And as much as I enjoy it, and hope everyone gets to enjoy some of the high that comes from those initial pangs of infatuation, I also deeply appreciated this past weekend of a completely different variety.

After spending another weekend with Daniel, I’ve noticed there’s a comfortable rhythm being established, one that you only get with some measure of familiarity. Not too comfortable – this relationship is bringing up some serious, deep-seated personal issues I need to address, continually making me question how I’ve come to be who I am and choosing who I will become in the future.

But, there is a certain level of wonderful being able to show easy tenderness, to trust that whatever comes up will get handled.

I’ve been reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed, a book she wrote when marrying her lover became unavoidable if they wanted to live together in the United States. It might sound odd to word it like that, but I understand her hesitation with the situation. After a failed marriage or even a serious failed relationship, there are fears and insecurities that get brought up and must be dealt with  if there is any hope of growth and not repeating mistakes.

Committed’s relevance for me right now is uncanny. As I’m considering what caused previous relationships to fail, I have the benefit of what feels like a wise, older friend giving me advice with a tale she’s woven from personal experience and relationship research. Since my split with my ex, I’ve wondered at my own ability to commit. Is that something I even had the capacity for?

Looking back in my journal over the past few months, the story line whips along like wind on a coastline and some of the threads I’m still exploring are beginning to come together.

I am so fearful, afraid of committing to anything outside of myself. Except I know that’s not true. I am committed to truth, to my kids, to never settling. I am committed to finding my way and not repeating mistakes. I am committed to being true to myself, even if they don’t understand. 4/1/2015

When Bri talked about maintaining passion, all of this fresh input gave me pause. Because as stunning and potentially life-changing as that passionate feeling is, there is something Gilbert mentions that I’ve heard time and again in these books and stories of decades-long marriages. It’s never quite been defined for me in ways that were more than anecdotal, because I’m not sure you can.

There seems to be this relationship maturity makes up the coals that passion leaps from. And with a little more research, it turns out that is more or less the case.

Love is beginning to become a hot topic among social scientists, and Susan Kraus Whitborne Ph. D., a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts who studies fulfillment, has summarized the differences between passionate love and that slow-burning, longer lasting love – a major part of what brings humans fulfillment. In particular, a study by Oklahoma State psychologist Robert Sternberg (1997) she references introduced me to this concept of “triangular love” where the most vital factors for long-term intimacy are explored.

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It appears the phrase I was searching for beyond that idea of infatuation, or more appropriately “romantic love,” was this concept of consummate love. With identifiable variables, this seems a little easier to define or at least to understand.

It’s more than the heated passion that comes with those first sparks. It’s more than the hollow commitment left after the fire has faded. It’s that deep, connected feeling that says “I am in this with you. It’s going to be hard, we’re going to fight – and I’m not going anywhere.”

That sounds right to me. I have never experienced that feeling, and I don’t think most people ever will. But I think that is actually what we want when we fall in love. I think that’s where that longing for another person to share a life with comes from – the desire for partnership that can withstand hardship with enough work. It’s a desire for commitment most of us have a hard time quantifying in a culture that tells us you have to have your own back.

I’ve certainly made that mistake of pulling back from a relationship when things got difficult because the cost of being vulnerable, of admitting that just maybe I needed someone else and their help, simply felt too high. It turns out those are exactly the kinds of relationships that aren’t worth very much.

And yet this longing remains. This search to find someone you’re suitably compatible with, someone you’re willing to commit to doing the work with, someone you can make compromises with, someone who you will be there for and you unequivocally trust that they will be, too. What a terrifying prospect. This longing is wrapped up in so much long-term vulnerability you can plan on it being just as exhausting as it is illuminating, as frustrating as it is wondrous.

In America, we’ve been sold a false bill of goods. The idea that a relationship should fulfill all of these disparate and imperfect parts of ourselves is laughable, that passion can and must be maintained for ultimate happiness, and of course the idiotic, Disney-style delusion that a quality relationship isn’t work.

When I think of the married couples I most admire, I can’t help of my friend, Nina, and her husband, Ian. When Nina and I first met, they were on the verge of divorce after almost ten years together, and Nina was incredibly unhappy. We mutually whinged about our respective relationships and how they were failing us, failing to see our own part in that – an utter lack of willingness to be open with someone who we’ve allegedly joined forced with in the name of love and being a better joint unit.

Of course, that doesn’t work if you’re not vulnerable with your partner.

Nina and Ian ended up making the choice to open up to each other, to answer each other’s bids, and to keep working towards meeting each other’s needs while maintaining their own identities. To date, they have one of the strongest relationships of anyone I’ve ever met, and their dedication to making it work and to one another makes me believe that this idea of consummate love is possible. They aren’t perfect, but they are committed.

I hope I can say the same someday.

 

Fuck you, I quit! and fuck ups as a freelancer (also announcements)

Last year, after a whole lot of frustrating life events, I gave up.

After years of freelancing, small businesses, and working my ass off, I’d had enough. Nothing seemed to stick the way I wanted it to, and I was always in financial crisis mode. The constant hustling was taking a toll on me, and most of what I’d worked on, while providing incredible learning and growth opportunities, had been financial failures. (To be clear, I was always making money, but it was never enough to not worry at least a little bit about making rent every month.)

I decided I wanted a real job.

The kind where you made a salary, got health benefits, the whole shebang. The consistency sounded so sexy and secure given how not stable my living situation was at the time, and it meant I didn’t have to always be hustling so hard.

Cover letters were written. Applications were sent out. And I interviewed with some pretty impressive, name-drop-worthy companies. In one case, I made it to the top 7 out of a pool of 150 for an executive position with a swanky Portland hotel – with exactly zero industry experience.

But as flattering as the interviews were, no one hired me.

Finally, I got hired by a tech company, and then another. I’d gotten exactly what I wanted – a content marketing position with a funded startup based out of San Francisco. Go me! Great success!

I visited San Francisco back in March, which was a fascinating experience (especially since I’d made the final call on my relationship split before I hopped the plane). I did tequila shots with Imgur’s CEO, danced with someone in a giraffe suit, and finally felt like I fit in somewhere for a change. SF is all abuzz with this unquantifable ambitious energy generated by people who want to reach their goals as badly as you do. But as an acquaintance noted, “SF is like a pressure cooker.” A few days there, and I was toast.

Highlights aside, the trip was very, very strange, and a month into working for this new company, I had my doubts about whether or not this was the life I actually wanted. As it turns out, the majority of bro-centric startup culture is awful for someone who doesn’t think work should be your whole life. At least not working for someone else. Harumph. It wasn’t a good culture fit, you might say.

These things don’t always turn out like we plan.

Sometimes, you get what you want, and you realize you were chasing somebody else’s dream.

I’d been frustrated as a freelancer, but that’s because I was doing it wrong. Always stressed, always launching, always falling short of the work I wanted to put into the world, and always, ALWAYS terrified of doing the kind of work I desperately wanted to, I had found myself in a struggle business owners often do – I’d built myself a job I hated.

A short list of things I did wrong as a freelancer:

  • Not charging enough
  • Being inconsistent
  • Going off-brand
  • Doing ALL THE THINGS
  • Failing to delegate 9 times out of 10
  • Not niching down
  • Not asking for help
  • Not asking for testimonials
  • Wasting time on tactics
  • Working with just anyone
  • Not following up after completing projects

I could go on, but I think you get the picture. If you could find a way to fuck up as a freelancer, you can basically guarantee I have done that.

Want proof? My first client was a stranger I’d met over Skype who I worked for a rate I couldn’t believe she was willing to pay me ($12 an hour), ghostwriting a book on man catching. Four months into this very strange project, I found out she was a 19 year old stripper trying to become internet famous. I was a little more careful with client intake after that one.

But I learned from my mistakes. Things got a little better every gig. Some projects went incredibly well. Others, well, they went embarrassingly poorly. But with this whole REAL job thing, I didn’t need to freelance.

But the chronically self-employed can never really ignore that siren call of being their own boss, because they just aren’t very good at working for other people. They have a vision of what they think the future should look like, and it centers around doing their work their way. (It’s also terrifying to have all your eggs in one basket if you’ve ever lost a job.)

A former client who I’d had a wonderful engagement with years ago reached out to me about the time I moved into Portland – oh synchronicity! – and asked if I was taking on any work. Her work is beautiful and vital. How could I possibly say no?

Working with her was every bit as joy-inducing as I remembered. Soon, another perfect-fit client was referred my way. Then another.

The projects I had were going so smoothly, I could hardly believe it. Clients were happy. I was happy. I started Paul Jarvis’s Creative Class just to make sure I didn’t fuck anything up. (Highly recommended. I’m still implementing all of the goodness from it.)

Between referrals and all of the guest posts lining up and driving more traffic my way, it wasn’t long before my freelance client load matched what my day job was paying me. Which was amazing, except that there aren’t enough hours in the day for that sort of thing to be sustainable for long.

The thing was working in tech wasn’t nearly as satisfying as working with creatives who are actively changing the world. It also didn’t pay nearly as well, since I started charging the rates I should be for someone with my skill set. (Writer with an acting background? Why yes, I can channel you almost verbatim on to the page.)

So last week, I made the choice to let that vision of being a Silicon Valley, full-stack content marketer go.

Don’t get me wrong. My job was great. I had a lot of creative freedom, had a lot of opportunities, and the title of this post is a total misnomer. I left with plenty of notice and all those polite things you do when you leave a company you don’t loathe. Today was my last day with that company, and I’m back to freelancing for the coaches and creatives I love working with so much. (Really. So much love for these incredible women I have the privilege of working with.)

Because maybe – just maybe – it’s okay to change your mind about these sorts of things.

So what’s next?

Well, that’s easy. More connections, more adventures, more of what makes me happy.

I love telling stories. I need the time to devote to writing my next book, to working with clients who I adore, to enjoying a summer being young and in love, to playing with my kids before they both are in school this fall. These are the things that matter to me, and these are the things that deserve my attention.

Writing Availability: I have a very limited number of openings for new clients for this summer, and I’m booking now for fall 2015. I just revamped my offerings to three very specific, story-driven packages – and I think you’re going to love them. Check them out here.

WDS Unconferencers Write-in – This low-key event is free, and I’ll be there as your host and to edit anything you’d like. Often at conferences, I feel like I need a detox from all of the ongoings – which generally translates into needing to hunker down somewhere and write. Please RSVP so I can let the cafe know how many to expect.

Stop Blending In: A Workshop for Women in Transition – Transition is fucking hard. But you know what’s harder? Waking up one day and realizing you’re living a life you never signed up for.

Complete with swag, mimosas, and a real relationship building opportunity, this two-hour workshop will put practical and powerful tools in your hands so you can stop blending in – and start stepping out into the world as boldly as you want to. This will be a very intimate gathering (in my living room!) and only 10 spots are available.