You know yours and I know mine.

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Jake Owen and I emptied the dishwasher last night.

Yes, that is how I spend Friday nights at 25 – emptying my dishwasher and dancing to the beat of a song called Beachin’.

That’s how I measure my happiness – whether or not my Friday nights are spent dancing in the kitchen. Maybe it’s something in my bones, maybe it’s the way people used to dance around the fire while their food cooked, but something about my kitchen and a good feeling makes me want to dance and sing and laugh until the corners of my eyes hurt from squinting.

We all have that measurement. The one that, no matter what else is going on around us or in our heads, tells us everything we need to know about our own happiness. For you, maybe it’s whether or not you walk out of Target with a cart full of cleaning supplies and trash bags or a cart full of crop tops and cutoff jeans. Or maybe it’s whether or not you made it out for that weekly run at the hiking trails. Or the number of showers per day you averaged last week.

You know yours and I know mine, and it’s dancing barefoot in the kitchen, getting lost in the music.

I avoided my kitchen for years. Food was my enemy. Because all I wanted was to shrink small and away, back into some corner of the Earth, dancing in the kitchen just didn’t give me joy back then.

Yesterday, though, I walked around feeling the way you do after a boy kisses you goodnight for the first time, in the glow of the buzzing lights outside his house, with the clock itching to strike eleven.

Alive, they call it.

For months, I wrung myself dry with too much work and anxiety and stress. In the last few weeks, I have felt myself budding with more energy and hope and love and patience.

So Friday morning, the culmination of all that cleansing, the walking away from too many things that pulled me down, rose to the surface of me. It bubbled up and out.

And I started thinking about how if you had asked me, six months ago, whether all this was gonna be okay, I would’ve told you no, probably not, not for years. I felt stuck, drowned, waterlogged.

And now, taking life, like a toy, into my hands and twisting it back into position, I feel like breathing, and swimming, and floating.

That’s when my best friend’s text comes in.

“I feel like it’s a ‘you’ thing,” she writes.

She’s known me 12 years, so finding a ‘you’ thing in her days isn’t hard; I find ‘you’ things all the time.

In fact, on Thursday I found myself picturing her mother as I read a chapter in a book about a woman praying in the kitchen. Because when I crack open the front door to my best friend’s house, I always find her mother in the kitchen, and the cross on the wall, and she’s asking, “What can I pray about for you?”

To answer her mother would be to open the floodgates. I cannot answer straightforward questions, because they turn into marks about the life I am heading toward, and whether it’s right, and whether it will be whole and good and satisfying and feel true enough that I won’t wake up in years shaking in my sleep from anxiety that I did this thing all wrong.

So often, I shrug in response. But the text I cannot brush off, because it comes at the exact time I need it to.

“Tell me something good,” it reads.

Truthfully, it’s much longer, a screenshot from some strange girl’s Facebook status about how she and her friend have started each day by sending each other a good sentiment, no complaints.

Years ago, on those days when I avoided the kitchen, and country music, and calories, I wouldn’t have been able to find a good thing in my days. I was looking in all the wrong places.

But now, I know I can answer her. And so I say, “I’m no longer waiting to live the life I want. I’m not, like, waiting for it to start. I’m happy with my apartment and my job, my friends are all growing up doing big, exciting things, my sister is living closer so I can see her if I want to, I’m planning to invest more in friendships that I think got crazy because I was just burned out about life. So it all feels really positive. Even though bad things have happened and will always happen.”

It’s that last part that gets me, because even as I told her, it wasn’t until I said it that I knew it was true. And yet, I’m ready. I hope you find that you are too.

Tell me, tell me something good.

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Swapping Prince Charming For The Boy Next Door

Today’s guest post is by Emily, my best friend of ten years and a girl who taught me that love is risky and terrifying, but oh so worth it. She taught me to make time for the people I love, no matter the miles, and to give love to strangers on street corners. She does nothing with only half her heart. Today is her and her boyfriend’s five-year anniversary.

We’ve all heard it.

Love is Patient. Love is Kind. It does not Envy. It Does Not Boast. It is Never Rude.”

And on and on it goes, painting a picture of love for us, a sweet and quiet, cookie cutter picture of love. It teaches us from the time we are little girls twirling around in ballerina tutus with plastic tiaras on our heads that happily-ever-after and prince charming are out there. Belle and Jasmine and their princess friends make that idea of love tangible, as if you merely need to reach out and grab onto it.

Fairy tale love is not something we stop believing in when we get too old for playground weddings with the boy who twisted his oreo in two and handed you the half with the cream. It is crooned to us through our car radio as we drive to school in the morning. It stares us in the face during Friday movie nights in our best friend’s basement.

We do not outgrow it; we just replace Prince Charming with the boy next door.

So, at 17 years old I believed in fairy tale love. And once upon a time in a diner not too far from here, on Valentine’s Day, a boy bought me a bouquet of deep red roses scattered with Queen Ann’s Lace. That boy walked me to my car, in true gentleman style hugged me goodnight and turned to leave.

I didn’t know very much about life at all but there was one fact I was sure of: that boy was all wrong for me.

That boy put too much sugar in his coffee. He talked too much and he wore a trench coat. That boy was everything I was not, yet something stirred inside of me when he turned to leave that night.

So instead of letting him slip away, my hand reached out for his hand and I pulled him to me. Without a thought or hesitation, I kissed him.

I never would have guessed the impact on my life that that kiss would have. It led to five years of kisses, and laughter and lessons of love with a boy who was all wrong for me.  A boy who taught me that the love we grow up dreaming about is not realistic. Because fairytale love is just not good enough.

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I wanted to share what I’ve learned.

Love is Silly.

A realization that came to me when slipping his too-big shirt over my head and shimmying into his navy fleece pajama pants. Knotting them twice. All the while singing a spur of the moment song entitled “Pajama Time.” A song he joined in with. Love is tickling and playing and lying tangled with each other on the couch, whispering secret nicknames and jokes only the two of you will laugh at.

Love is loud.

It does not sit quietly and let you ignore it. It plays like a catchy song in all of your thoughts and runs like adrenaline through your body. It wants to be screamed from the rooftops and whispered again and again to the boy you cannot satisfy your craving of.

Love is made of small things.

I barely remember our one year anniversary. I cannot list off every Christmas and birthday gift. But what I can tell you about the boy I fell in love with is that he holds open doors for me. When it is down-pouring he pulls me outside because I confessed once that I always wanted to be kissed in the rain. One drink too many and he’ll text me the lyrics to my favorite Taylor Swift songs, even though he denies knowing them.

It is Always Changing.

I cannot tell you how it feels to be in love with someone because every time I think I have it all figured out something else in my heart stirs and I find the feeling once again indescribable.

It is not easy.

A thought playing on repeat in my head when I said words that stung my heart: “I’m moving. And you’re staying still. And I don’t know how to hold on.”

It punched me in the face as I lay sobbing into my best friends couch cushions about the cracks he carved in my heart. It was a bystander when we were screaming in a parking lot about jealousy and broken rearview mirrors.

But It is Always Worth Fighting For.

A realization made after every time I could have turned and walked away from him. But there is a reason I pulled him back to me that night five years. A reason even I cannot understand and still want to find out. A reason that I feel every time our hands find each other without realization or each time I catch him watching me with his green eyes.  

If there is one thing to carry with you and pull out on a rainy day it is that you shouldn’t keep looking for patient, kind old love. While it is a wonderful picture, it shields us from the idea that love can be loud and crazy and not want to wait until the timing is perfect.

It doesn’t have to be fairy tale because it can be better.

And Prince Charming? Well he is out there, don’t you worry. But if you’re only looking for the white horse and shining armor you might glance right over him.

In fact he might be the guy right in front of you, who pours too much sugar in his coffee and talks too much and wears a trench coat. Silly, I know. But that’s what love is.

Why Being Alone Makes You Ready For Something More

Nine months ago, when my parents shut my apartment door behind them, quietly extricating themselves, my biggest fear was something altogether unexpected.

It wasn’t starting my first job out of college, flying solo in a brand new place, learning the names and faces of strangers. It wasn’t mastering my Saturday morning route to Target or analyzing the best times to grocery shop.

I was scared because, for the first time, I was alone with myself.

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In high school, I had clung to lack of a relationship status the way one might a shrunken recreational league soccer t-shirt from their youth: with the comfort it brought, the fear of being somebody’s Somebody much too much to stomach.

Then, mid-way between high school and college, I jumped feet first into a real relationship. It felt a bit like landing in one of those sidewalk chalk sketches in Mary Poppins: like this world was always beneath my feet, but I’d been too busy fearing the fall to see it.

For eighteen months, I became half of someone else’s whole. I let that relationship consume me.

My habits, my opinions, my unsure tendencies? They wrecked me.

For almost three years, I alternated between being defined by others and closing them out for fear they might not like the person they’d pinpointed.

People pushed me into corners, telling me I was never as good as them. I let myself become best at one thing: not handing my whole self over.

And so while I wholly adore the life not tethered to another breathing soul, it’s probably for all the wrong reasons: that I’ll be judged, in the worst possible way, as someone who cannot possibly be understood over a plate of pasta or a cup of coffee; that I’ll be too quiet, too thoughtful, too introverted, too passionate about all the wrong things; that I will be the sort of person who makes you cock your head and think, “Huh, well if that’s what makes you happy…”

And that’s wrong. Let’s just call it what it is.

We weren’t meant to tout singledom like an exemplary indication that we are somehow better for not putting our heart into someone else’s hands and closing their fingers over it, whispering a brief “please be careful” before kissing their cheek.

We are not better. We are not worse. We are just in this place where right now, aloneness is the scariest, most rewarding thing we need to hold. Not hands or hearts or silver diamond bracelets, but our truest selves.

That’s what this living alone, this owning up to myself, has been. It’s what being single should allow: a moment, however brief, to know who you are when you don’t have to be somebody, when you don’t have to impress somebody under some false pretense to make them stay.

Someday, you’ll be able to jump into a relationship and know you really, really dislike folding the laundry, or wearing your hair up, or driving fifteen miles over the speed limit.

You’ll feel content with that, won’t have to messy it with self-effacing thoughts.

You’ll feel right when your hand finds another on a snowy Saturday afternoon.

You’ll know, maybe for the first time, that you don’t have to apologize for you. And you’ll be OK to dive into something more.

This Messy Thing Called Love

Sara Brink is a girl who spent her whole life living within arm’s reach of me, neither of us knowing it. She’s also probably Taylor Swift’s biggest fan and writes her stories in a way that has you sure this was your memory, not hers, flashing onscreen. If you haven’t already, find her on Twitter + keep up with her on her own blog, where she’s making her way toward an editor’s life, love lettering the streets of Philadelphia and NYC along the way.

My first kiss was unexpected.

I was leaning against the giant sink basin in the basement of our youth group center, washing baby blue paint from my hands when he reached for my hips, spun me around, and planted his lips against mine. Just us two, in our faded tee shirts and paint splattered jeans, surrounded by bare concrete walls with only the sounds of a gushing faucet and faint footsteps overhead. Instinct kicked in and I surely kissed him back, but there was a solid marquee of “I have no idea what I’m doing” rattling through my head. My thirteen-year-old heart was caught completely off guard.

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But his fifteen-year-old mouth wasted no time in saying “I love you.” He wasted no time before slipping his hand into mine, before stealing glances across the room, before calling me “baby” through instant messages on school nights. And I wasted no time in returning that sentiment, because it tasted so sweet lingering on my lips and it seemed like the right thing to do.

You don’t know the animal of love when you’re thirteen. You know the simplicity of “like.” You know that you like the boy who plays center field for the community baseball team, and you like that he wears his favorite hockey jersey as if it’s the only shirt he owns, and you like how he meets you at the swim club in the middle of Saturday afternoons, because it’s the halfway point between your houses.

But you don’t know love. You throw that four-letter word around thinking it’s so simple, that it encases exactly how you feel all tied up in a pretty package with a pristine white bow. But when you’re thirteen, you don’t realize that love is complicated, and powerful, and messy, like the mud puddles you splash in on your way home from the bus stop.

And you especially don’t know that people can so easily throw that four-letter word around. Like that hockey-jersey-wearing, sweet-smile-giving, center-field-playing boy, who breaks your heart a mere two weeks later by saying, “I love you” to your best friend.

Love can take you from sailing through the clouds to plummeting to the ground in mere seconds. It can break your thirteen-year-old heart with just a phone call. It can make you laugh, cry, sing, scream, spend hours on the telephone, smash a vase on your kitchen floor. It is the almighty emotion that some people spend their whole lives searching for. And you were naïve enough to think you’d found it at thirteen.

I eventually forgot about that boy. My wounded heart healed, I moved on to better things, and I used that four-letter word again. I learned more about love, and how it can unexpectedly wind and twist its way through your bloodstream to your pumping heart, how it can knock you off your feet for both the good and the bad.

And even ten years later at twenty-three, I still don’t know all the facts and figures about that dangerous four-letter word and the emotional avalanche that comes with saying “I love you.” But I can assure you that I “like” it.

What Are We Doing Here, Really?

Do you hear that? Don’t move a muscle. Right there, yup. That’s the sound of something new + all-encompassing starting.

After listening to John Jantsch’s podcast on creating a total content system, I’m jumping in. That means each month is going to be built on a foundation + theme. February, well, it seemed an appropriate time to muse on relationships.

I never dove headfirst into dating. My one marathon long-distance go at it was sandwiched between a few instances of “what are we doing here, really?”

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But going by the widely accepted calendar of life, February is prime time for relationship banter. I mean, we’re T minus ten days from Valentine’s Day.

The older you get, the more you start thinking the world must have something else in store for you because friends are engaged and married and you’re what? Sitting on your newly delivered sofa eating brownies from a pan?

The other day, I got an email from a girl who had just found out her boyfriend was cheating on her. And I sat there staring at my inbox for a couple hundred seconds thinking surely there was something I could say to pick up the pieces of her and put them back on that sofa. Surely, all I had to do was recommend a good Bundt cake recipe and she’d at least be up to her elbows in something other than salty tears and soggy tissues.

But I’ve never been on that side of the road. And so I told her that, tried to encourage her as best I could. (I also might have admitted to my mother that all I really wanted to do was give this girl a hug, but you can’t climb through the computer screen to console complete strangers, as much as I often wish you could.)

This month, I’ll be diving into my thoughts (and the thoughts of some pretty cool guest posters) on the elephant (loveseat?) in the room: the things we do and feel for love (or because we don’t have love).

If you missed Friday’s post, it was about how I would’ve been a much better girlfriend if Pinterest had been around then. Spoiler alert: I wouldn’t have.

As a little sneak peak, March is on body image and health. Because now that you’ve eaten a 9 x 13-inch pan of Ghirardelli triple chocolate chunk brownies, you may be feeling crappy about yourself. And I don’t want that for you.

Want in? Email me. March is a wide open playground for your little thoughts and fears to dance on.