Life will keep handing you the same lesson and only until you’ve learned it will it proceed to give you a new one.
It was a very smart book where I read that but I also wish that more like a textbook it came with a back page of all the answers because when it comes to matters of the heart I would benefit more from a Dating for Dummies manual. In life, as in love, I disregard all the rules. I always jump head first, both feet in. In love, as in life, I disregard all the caution signs without the slightest hesitation. I don’t factor in that the older we get the more guarded we ought to be- not because we lack the impulse to jump but because there’s so much more to lose after the fall.
It was this same both-feet-in mentality that brought me to New York without even so much as a weekend visit. Movies like One Fine Day, When Harry Met Sally, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s romanticized my belief that the Big Apple was where I belonged. And then came a little HBO show which would alter the course of my life forever. From the first Sex and the City episode I was sold- hook, line and sinker. I couldn’t wait to decorate my Upper East Side apartment, walk the West Village clad in dainty Manolo Blahniks and find my very own Mr. Big (whom, if I was lucky enough, would be only half the trouble and twice as handsome!). After watching the first movie I left the theatre quoting Jennifer Hudson’s character: I’m moving to New York to fall in love! It was the cheesiest, most poetic thing I ever heard and it made my heart pitter-patter. The excitement, however, was short-lived. No sooner did I step off the plane on a freezing January day that I had half a mind to turn right back around.
Those first few months were the hardest. Instead of an Upper East Side apartment I got a roommate in Astoria, there was nothing dainty about my snow boots trudging against the slush and Mr. Big was replaced by nightly pints of chocolate chip cookie dough and unlimited Netflix streaming. I was miserable, lonely, and terribly homesick. This was not going as planned. When did Meg Ryan ever have to wait an hour for the Q train in the cold? Why wasn't Nora Ephron stepping in to direct my life, set to the tunes of an Ella Fitzgerald song? Where was Michael Patrick King with the re-writes for snappy, witty dialogue? And where were my damn Manolos?!? Shouldn’t those be mandatory welcoming gifts at the airport gate? In an attempt to reconcile my fantasy with my reality I re-watched this one episode: “Anchors Away.” During one of Carrie’s single bouts she starts dating Manhattan- taking herself to the movies and feeling totally enamored with the City. This lasts all of five minutes before she gets locked out of a museum, rained on, yelled at by a restaurant manager and cheated out of a cab- “I realized I’d been kidding myself. New York and I didn’t have the perfect relationship. It was dismissive, abusive, and it made me feel desperate.” In the span of 30 minutes the episode perfectly captured what I’ve now come to know is everybody’s love/hate relationship with New York at one point or another. Turns out, I wasn’t the only alien.
Yet no winter lasts forever so when summer finally came around I went to see Shakespeare in the Park. Sitting under the stars at the Delacourte Theatre, listening to words large enough to fill my whole being- that was the day I fell in love with New York. And because life has a sardonic sense of humor, it gave me just what I’d wanted. Exactly one year later, I was to find myself sitting in the same theatre next to a man whom I was falling for. The irony was not lost on me. We had first bonded over our knowledge of mythological creatures or rather my lack thereof (so dragons never really existed, right?). Pretty soon my days were filled with sweet anticipation and my nights were something straight out of a movie- one to make all the You’ve Got Mail's of the world pale in comparison. Suddenly I saw New York with different eyes. Everything was poetry, everything brimmed with possibility, everything was illuminated. But as I sat on that small theatre seat, my head so tenderly resting on his shoulder, a quiet inner voice whispered “You want different things.” It was an unwanted voice I tried silencing once before but one I could no longer ignore. I wanted more than he was ready to give. It was as simple and complex as that and I knew it wasn’t enough for me. The sharp twinge in my stomach was a surprise. Just when I’d realized the magnitude of my feelings it was time to let him go.
Elizabeth Gilbert wrote- “This is a good sign, having a broken heart. It means we have tried for something.” Well, on paper that’s very pretty and all but no amount of nice words can ease up the heaviness that can settle in your bones and carry you around like a second skin. So I did what any normal girl who watches too many chick flicks would do: spent a weekend watching tear-jerkers, ate a year’s worth of chocolate, and listened to a hell of a lot of Robyn. Oh, the joys of unrequited love; the beautiful tragedy of it all! But one should be so fortunate to have friends who snap you out of your funk by blasting “Dancing on My Own” and make you dance around the living room, singing at the top of your lungs. Why shouldn’t it be a celebration? If it taught you something, if it made you happier for having known it, then it should be a celebration.
A week later during an hour-long phone conversation a wise friend said: “Honey, you are love. So stop looking for it.” Something clicked. It was like balm to a smarting wound because it was a reminder that love conquers all but first it’s meant to conquer you. Despite all the aches and disappointments, we must be willing to let it change us for the better because too often we are the cause of our own growing pains. Too often we place the blame on the outside without first looking in. We are so quick to change others and not so keen on fixing ourselves. All relationships, romantic or otherwise, are mirror images of how much we ourselves are willing to give. In wanting so badly to have him move at my pace, I made a mess of things. In wanting so badly to change New York into a movie fantasy, I made myself the outsider. There certainly will be crappy days when museums or people will be closed, but you are also guaranteed spectacular nights standing on a rooftop counting skyscrapers or meeting Sir Paul McCartney after a play premiere.
So I learned there are no good or bad experiences, just lessons to be had. Life can be absolutely charming if that’s what you make of it. I learned that the easiest way to be unhappy is to expect people to love you the way you want to be loved. But in spite of that we also deserve a “Big,” passionate, all-consuming, core-shaking type of love and settling for anything less is not worth it. At any given time we can choose to be the victims of our feelings or the writers of our stories. I chose to be the author. And I didn’t need Ms. Ephron to spell it out for me. It’s ok to love him- “So love him.” It’s ok to miss him- “So miss him. Send him some love and light every time you think about him, and then drop it.” Maybe that Gilbert chick was on to something. Indeed our hearts have the ability to radiate past the melancholy, reaching farther than the absence. After all, we are Love.