Quite recently, I was chatting with a friend of mine about relationships and age differences. While I don’t really have too many answers on the subject, I do have some unique perspectives. Somehow, in my life, “relationship” and “age difference” have always been synonymous.

An interesting factoid about me that most people are surprised to learn is that I’ve never dated anyone younger than myself. Yes, I’ve had occasion to hook up with people younger than myself and gotten myself into complicated and confusing situations with people younger than myself, but even then, I have a 4-year rule. In my world, if you were in elementary school while I happened to be picking out colleges, it’s probably not going to work out.

It’s quite funny, because I’m one of the biggest advocates of the “age is just a number” ideal when it comes to dating people older than myself. On average, most of my relationships have been with those a decade older than myself, although strangely, the ones I tended to see working out for the long run occurred with people “around my own age”. While age may be just a number, the truth of the matter is that people go through phases of life, self-discovery, and maturity, Most people tend to go through these transitions around a certain age range in life (I’ve noticed, with very few exceptions, that 27-28 seems to be a time of chaos and struggle for most people, because it’s the time when your problems officially become “adult” problems. I don’t think it’s coincidental that there’s a “club” of famous and accomplished celebrities who have passed away at this point in time.) The idea of the college student finding himself, the young 20-something disregarding everything in favour of really heavy experience, the 27-year-old realising that she is finally the adult, the 35-year-old realising that he’s not only responsible for himself but for other people, the 50-year-old desperate to recapture lost youth…I think they are phases that happen to most people. If you’re in a relationship with a significant age difference, at some point, someone’s “phase” or growth process will come to matter a great deal.

For me, I think the difference is more pronounced when I encounter someone younger. I don’t have much patience for the shallow or for trying to emotionally connect with people who don’t quite know who they are. I never thought I’d be that person, that someone who was, well—old. I remember being in my mid-20′s, and getting a “here’s why we’re parting company e-mail” from a someone in my life, someone I admired greatly and probably idealised more than I should have. One of the things he said was “When you’re at the age you are now, life is all about heavy experience and figuring out who you are. By the time you reach your 40′s, you’ve already determined that. I’ve already gone through what I’ve gone through. You won’t go through what I’m going through now for quite some time. When you do, you’ll understand this better.”

This, of course, broke my 20-something heart. I’d always thought of myself as “old for my age”–certainly more intelligent, more experienced, more well-traveled. It seemed obvious that’s why I’d consistently bond with people older than me, because guys my own age were too self-centred, cared too much about sex and image, and didn’t know how to behave like the type of man I was looking for. But, in certain other ways, I wasn’t the girl who was ready to settle down, to make commitments, to stay in one place, to stay with one person. I’ve always been the sort for whom my intellectual age and experience surpasses my actual age, but in other ways, I’m exactly like most folks my age (at whatever age that has been.) The older I get, the more I see the person who sent me that e-mail didn’t intend to be hurtful—he was just giving me perspective on a journey he’d already taken, that I’d likely learn to understand in the future.

When I was 17 and in university, I dated a grad student who was finishing up his studies and getting ready to receive his doctorate. There’s something about the academic atmosphere that kind of makes you forget about age, particularly in the world of the arts. There’s a certain change in looks and personality that happens to most people after sophomore year, but for many, it can be difficult to forget there’s any difference between 19 and 29 when you’re working as peers in a collaborative environment.

It didn’t occur to me that I was 17 and dating someone who was nearly 30. It also didn’t occur to me that this happened because, far from being the ingenue, I kind of initiated the situation. I suspect he knew better than to get involved with me, but people don’t always listen to their better judgment, particularly when nobody is being hurt in the *now.*

When I went off to school, a director of mine told me to look up this guy, whom he’d worked with years back and always remembered. He warned me that the guy was talented, brilliant, but difficult in a way that bordered on narcissistic. I’m sure it’s not a surprise to anyone that this hardly dissuaded me from remembering the message. And, although I didn’t actively seek him out, I think the laws of serendipity were on my side, because he ended up in one of my dance classes.

I remember approaching him, introducing myself, and really not planning for any friendship to emerge just because we once worked at the same theatre company. Yet, he was extremely friendly despite the obvious ego, and a friendship naturally developed. It didn’t develop terribly quickly; but I remember going to dance class one day and feeling disappointed that he wasn’t there that day. That’s when it occurred to me to notice, “Hey, maybe I like this guy.”

If I did, I didn’t do anything about it, and neither did he. He started inviting me to parties that freshmen wouldn’t be at. We started hanging out in a group with friends, and never once did he hit on me or make any sort of move. Yet, when I had a family emergency and had to leave for a few days, I was greeted with a bouquet of my favourite flowers, in my favourite colour. It was not an understated, “I went to the Korean grocery and picked these up” kind of move. I’m not sure, to this day, anyone’s ever given me flowers quite like that. It took effort.

Yet, he never asked me out. One Monday, I heard from a friend that he had asked out another girl who was a mutual acquaintance, an anorexic dance major known for her bubbly personality and lack of self-esteem (code for a fragile girl who had no qualms putting out on the first or second date.). It offended me on so many levels. I remember my friend saying, “I just thought you should know, because I thought you guys kind of had something going on”.

We didn’t, but I thought that at some point, we might. I thought naturally, pieces might fall into place. And it offended me that he’d spend all this time and energy on getting close to me, but ask out someone I saw as not even in remotely the same league as me. It didn’t occur to me that I wasn’t sending back the right signals, or the guy wanted to be a good guy by not messing with a 17-year-old girl, or that he might have other connections in his life outside of school and just wanted someone with whom he could have a good time. All I thought was, “I am absolutely heartbroken, because I am so much better than that, and he treats me like I’m special, but I’m not attractive enough for him to ask me out.”

So, in a fit of over-emotional Alayna drama, I pulled a passive-aggressive move that I knew would either work out tremendously well, or end up with me sobbing into my pillow for weeks. I sent a long, rambling e-mail about my feelings, followed by refusing to pick up the phone or staying away from anywhere he might be for days. It was a cause of great turmoil, accompanied by feelings that ranged from “I’m so glad I did that” to “OMG, I’m a fucking idiot, and it’s no wonder I’m going to die alone and without friends”.

Fortunately for the sanity of my roommate, it worked out well. He showed up at my door to “talk”, and the next thing I knew, we were seeing each other, and he’d canceled the date with a now perturbed dance major who didn’t much like me..

We dated for a while, but the reality of the situation was, not much changed. Looking back, I realised I had feelings for him, but didn’t quite understand them. We connected on the intellectual and emotional level I wanted, and we were the best of friends, but I can’t say there was any great passion there. In my mind, we had a relationship because we had a good time together, but I don’t I understood why that “magical” thing I was looking for wasn’t there. Simply put, I didn’t love him. He mattered a lot to me, but I didn’t love him, and he didn’t love me either. It was always as if there were some unspoken limitation.

Around Christmas, I had the opportunity to figure out what that thing was, and what my intuition was telling me. He had his best friend come and pay him a visit from her school in upstate NY. They were around the same age, had known one another for a long time, liked the same things, laughed at a lot of inside jokes, had deep conversation that bored me. I was still immature enough to conclude that she was no threat to me. After all, she was a foot taller and 90 pounds heavier than me. Her fashion sense was what could be described as “I don’t care”, and she came across more condescending than fun. In my mind, she was like a teacher, not like someone I had to worry about as feminine competition.

But that’s when it hit me: She looks that way to me because she’s 30, and she’s an adult. And so is the guy I’m dating.

I started to realise I didn’t want to be the only girl in my sorority who brought someone 13 years older than me to the Winter semi-formal, and when I did, how conspicuous I felt. I started to realise that all the things I found attractive, all the stories about the cool things he’d done in his life, were things I wanted to do and be—and that he would never want to do or be those things again, because he was moving forward. But mostly, I came to realise that the frumpy, condescending girl was indeed my competition.

She didn’t like me, or if she did, she didn’t act as if she did. Mostly, she seemed largely indifferent to my presence. The closest we ever came to bonding was singing musicals together in the car. But, it became awkward to me that when she was in town, my boyfriend would invite me to a party or an event or a show, and it was unspoken that she’d be there, too. I felt oddly like I was dating a couple.

I didn’t say anything about any of these things, and the guy and I were still dating when Easter came around, and his best friend returned for another visit. I studied them very intently; they never flirted, held hands, gave any indication of being a couple. She never seemed jealous of me or put out by my presence. But there was something that upset me, a way they acted that seemed like they just understood one another, that their whole relationship was this endlessly amusing inside joke of which I could never be a part.

One night, we all went to a party, and we all ended up drinking too much. I asked her why it seemed she didn’t like me, and what I’d done to offend her. Her reply was, “I don’t dislike you. I just feel a little sorry for you sometimes, because I know what it’s like when you’re with someone who doesn’t love you.”

It was a painful thing to hear, but not vicious. She was simply a straightforward, cut-and-dried kind of person. It was mostly painful because she said things aloud I’d thought in the back of my mind for a long time. Yet, I never had the courage to ask her the one thing I most wanted to know: “Why are you always here? Why are you this necessary part of our lives?”

One night, on the same visit, my boyfriend and his friends went out to a bar. I couldn’t get into the bar, because they carded, and I was far from either being legal or looking it. Rather than leave with me, he stayed with this out-of-town friend and a few other people I knew. Someone else drove me home. The next morning, we were all going on a road trip, but I wasn’t excited, and I didn’t sleep.

Instead, I just cried. I cried for hours. I realised the simple truth: This guy won’t ever love me because he’s already met his soulmate. I’m just the temporary distraction while they have to be apart. I allowed myself to be the paranoid, jealous person I can be on the inside, and rarely let out. When I called his phone at 2 AM and got no answer, I assumed they were sleeping together.

I’ll never really know what happened, and it’s irrelevant. I know she was at his house in the morning, and had stayed there the night before, whereas they had to come and retrieve me for the road trip. I know I was so hurt I couldn’t even pretend to smile and be amiable. It wasn’t until we got to where we were going, and I met up with other people, that I became even the slightest hint of myself again. People seemed to go out of their way to make me laugh and smile, although nobody asked what was wrong. It was as if everyone knew but me, and I don’t know if I was more hurt by not being loved or by being humiliated in front of others. A good friend of mine was present that day, a guy my own age who got me through that terrible weekend and many other difficult situations over our years together, and I think it was having him there that kept it all together. On the way back, I didn’t even ride in the same car as the guy I’d supposedly been dating, and I don’t even know how much he noticed.

After that, he attempted to act as if everything was fine, and we were great friends and nobody had to be hurt. I couldn’t do it. If I spend a night or two crying over you breaking my heart, we will probably never be great friends. I am still not a big enough person for that. Oddly enough, we never broke up. We simply stopped calling each other, we stopped hanging out in the same groups together, and my friend asked him, “So, are you guys broken up now?”, to which the reply was, “I guess so”. We still had to work together, but we stayed out of each other’s way. I gave a polite smile when we ran into one another. One day, the friend who had rescued me on that horrible trip and I were running around the theatre, attacking each other with newly painted duct tape, laughing like difficult children. We were not a couple, as he was dating someone else, but we were unofficially “sneaking around” in the most unsubtle way ever. Armed with duct tape and laughter, I went into the green room, and saw my ex sitting there. I think there was a collective lightbulb that went off, that said “This is what was always missing, because we couldn’t connect that way”. I don’t know if it had to do with personality or age, or both, but the way we related seemed as if it should be right—yet never was.

At some point, my ex called me up to hang out, and we ended up over at his place. I thought we could be friends again. He’d just broken up with the promiscuous dance major, and was looking for a booty call, which I was still too naive to see. We had a lovely day together, and when I wouldn’t sleep with him, he drove me home. We never saw each other socially again. I think I realised that maybe I could make him a part of my life again if we reconnected physically, but the truth was, nothing about it felt right. I knew I’d miss him terribly, but it couldn’t ever be the thing either of us wanted.

After a few months, things thawed out, and we were cordial again. He graduated with a Ph.D next to his name, as did his friend in upstate NY. They moved to Austin to start a theatre company, and offered me a job if I wanted to come down during the summer.

My junior year, I went into the green room, and looked at the bulletin board that had casting notices, call times, and the like. There was a wedding invitation, and that’s how I learned my ex and his so-called “best friend” were getting married.

I had one in my personal mailbox, as did the friend who helped me through that horrible time. Dignified as ever, I e-mailed them both with congratulations I didn’t mean, and informed them that of course I wouldn’t be attending. I asked them both point blank if they’d been seeing each other during the time we dated, and they both denied it. She actually said “It didn’t even occur to me that I already had what I was looking for until I saw him with what he wasn’t.” (She was always kind of a bitch, come to think of it. :P )

He was far more gracious, and also denied it. Yet, whether they were sleeping together or romantically involved or not, I knew that she was what made him emotionally unavailable and why I could never connect in the way I wanted to. Sometimes, you just *don’t* know, until you do. Other times, you’re the kind of person who is willing to play people. It’s naive of me, but I still choose to think these people fell into the first category. In the last e-mail we ever exchanged, he wrote, “Things just work out better when two people are at the same place at the same time, and want the same things. That would never happen for us. You had to have known that from the start. You’re always going to be too young for me. You’re going to see and do things you haven’t even thought up yet, and when you do, I hope you’ll tell me about them.”

I never did, of course. Although he was right, I couldn’t let him have the last word, so instead of the traditional wedding card, my UPS-ed gift included a sympathy card, addressed to her. I never spoke to either of them again, but I know they’re happily married forty-somethings with all kinds of degrees, living and teaching and directing in Austin.

Ironically, The Guy I Am Currently Dating is around the same age as this guy, which I have no doubt he’d find amusing. Most of the time, I don’t consider the age difference as—well, a difference. Yet, there are times when my irresponsibility and insistence on always going out and doing things and tendency to be a little emotionally draining gets to him, and we have arguments. Likewise, there are times when I know he’d rather go home early or falls asleep at midnight on a Friday, and I can’t help but feel restless and bored. There are times when I recognise that when he was going through early adolescence, I was busy being born. Sometimes, I think it’s necessary for both of us to bond with people closer to our own age, people who can relate to problems and experiences and cultural references.

As you get older, it is possible that age becomes less of a big deal. When you’re a freshman in high school, dating a senior is a big deal. When you’re a freshman in university, dating a grad student is a huge age difference. When you’re 30, dating someone who is 50 is typically a challenge. However, I try to remember that when I’m 63, it doesn’t matter if the person I’m with is 59 or 79. We’re all just going to be old.

As much as I’d like to say age is irrelevant, it’s not. The professors who date their students aren’t going to marry them. The cougars who pick up 18-year-old boys aren’t looking for love and connection. There are exceptions, but as a general rule, people need to be able to relate to one another—and part of that is being on the same part of the path in your journey. Can people of different ages do that? Of course. But I think the age itself matters. Someone who is 21 isn’t going to have a clue who they are compared to a significant other of 31, and it is this growth process, rather than age, that causes things not to work out.

Almost serendipitously, I met a guy from London in a bar the other evening. He attempted to chat me up, and was pleasant enough company, but I had to laugh when I found out he was 21. The friend he’d brought with him was 19. He likely considered it a compliment to tell me that I reminded him of Lena Dunham in “Girls” (note: being compared to an unattractive celebrity is not a compliment.), but I think it’s also very telling that he chose that as a cultural reference we might share. It made me remember that when I was his age, I was watching “Sex And The City”, and he likely has no idea who the hell Carrie Bradshaw is.

I left him laughing, because part of me wonders if in 10 years, I’ll totally be into the idea that a 21-year-old is trying to pick me up. Somehow, I suspect that won’t be the case.

Earlier this week, I was sad to hear of the passing of someone I knew during my theatrical days in NYC. We never got to the point where we were especially close, but we traveled in the same circles, and if something fun was going on, there was a good chance we’d both be there. Once we did get past that “Oh, hey, I remember you and your face looks familiar” stage of things, I discovered he was the kind of person with whom it was remarkably easy to have fun.

Theatre people, and artists in general, are most certainly a strange breed. Our parties don’t start until 11:30, because that’s the earliest most working actors and techies can conceivably get out of the theatre. We’re known to start drinking on a Monday afternoon, when the rest of the world has returned to work, because Monday is the night all the theatres are dark. We gather on rooftops and fire escapes and sing show tunes and manage to have fun, even though nobody ever has any money.

Yet, for some reason, there are people who love the life and the camaraderie built into a world that is, by nature, full of struggle and self-doubt and rejection and an utter lack of stability. When you’re working on a show, your company becomes your family. You run out of time to see your real family, your old friends, and dating is difficult—much less marriage, children, or relationships. Yet, somehow, it’s usually worth it.

This friend who passed away was, as he called himself, “a quirky homo chorus boy”. He was only 30, but in the world of musical theatre, it’s the age at which you need to start stepping out of the chorus, or risking the possibility that you’re never going to. I think he’s one of the ones who would have done that. In addition to being a gifted dancer, he also had a beautiful tenor voice that could handle every type of music with a certain joie de vivre. He would sing at parties, in the dressing room, at piano bars. Just like everyone else, he was struggling, hopping from tour to regional theatre and back again, but he was one of the ones who wouldn’t trade that life for anything else.

Off-stage, everyone loved him. There are different types of actors, and this friend was the one who always wanted to entertain, even after the curtain was down. If there was mischief, he was somewhere in the centre of the scheme. People naturally gravitated toward him, because he didn’t give the appearance of ever taking life too seriously.He did, but he didn’t let worries over money or a broken heart ever ruin that particular day with whomever he was around. As someone who takes feelings to heart and dwells on them and can’t find whatever it takes to ignore them and move on with my day (great for channeling your energy into artistic pursuits, terrible for being good company.), I always really admired that. Some people have the gift of free-spiritedness. Others, like me, may find it sometimes overshadowed by a certain amount of intensity and propensity toward the dramatic. This friend was someone perfect for my world; someone less narcissistic and more inclined to brush off every rejection or heartache with a few laughs and the knowledge that tomorrow was a new day.

Many years ago, I did a production of a little-known musical called “The Baker’s Wife”. (If you know it, I played Denise.) Knowing this, this friend took me to see a concert honouring Stephen Schwartz (the composer), and we smuggled cheap champagne in those eco-friendly thermos things everyone loved for awhile before most people gave up on saving the planet. We took the subway down to the Lower East Side afterwards, traipsing through the streets singing Liz Callaway songs and, as I recall, skipping through traffic. We ended up at a bar where we didn’t pay for a single drink. It was one of my best dates ever. (seriously, gay men are awesome at planning cool dates. There should be a book about this for straight men and lesbians. *laughs*)

I was really saddened to hear about this friend’s passing, and it kind of forced me to spend the week remembering the world of “Once Upon A Time”, where I lived a different sort of life and may have been a different sort of person, for better or for worse. I reached out to some people I knew from the “old days”. I remembered that, because I started performing at such a young age, my world was always filled with people who were “unconventional”. If my own family was both conservative and dysfunctional and little approval was given for anything, ever, the people with whom I spent time outside of that were generally proud to be eccentric. I had a lot of really great role models for living life on your own terms, and feeling free to be yourself, however fucked up you happened to be. It was always a conundrum from me, because that wasn’t the lesson that I got at home, at school, from my non-artistic friends. There, the rule was all about having people like you, approve of you, achieving things and being rewarded. That was much more important than any kind of authentic self. I think I grew up as a very divided person, knowing I was somehow not like everyone else, but feeling pressure to pretend so that everyone would always like me.

My best memories in life are of those people who made me feel that just being me made me special enough, likeable enough. This friend who passed away was one of those types of people, and the loss of everything he had to offer to the world leaves a space that can’t really be filled. I still think of him, and admire him, and the way he touched everyone he met…even people he barely knew. Some people love life and live with such enthusiasm, you can’t help but feel the same way for them being in your life.

The result of all this dwelling and feeling and intense introspection is a rather pronounced dissatisfaction with my life these days. I don’t know if I’d go back in time a decade or so in order to be that person I once was—I think I was both self-absorbed and self-destructive, and a bit of a diva. I lived very recklessly, didn’t forgive easily, and didn’t always consider the consequences of anything. I thought the adventure and the experience was enough. And, even when I ended up in Atlanta, I think I brought that attitude with me. I got myself hurt a great deal, and I know I hurt other people more than they deserved.

Yet, there’s this realisation I have sometimes that my life is boring. I sometimes think my friends—at least the ones who live in Atlanta and I’m able to see on a regular basis—are boring. I sometimes think I don’t actually have any friends in Atlanta, because although there are people in my life, I miss having that core group of personalities who are largely obligation-free and rate highly on the “openness to new experiences” chart. There is a focus on family and religion and conventionality and corporate life and attaining wealth and material goods that isn’t necessarily compatible with what I’m about, and it’s hard to meet people who don’t fit into that paradigm. In fact, the more people I meet in Atlanta, the more I’m bored to tears with about 90% of them.

Most of the people I meet don’t create things, and they don’t care that I create things. They’re willing to pay $14 for a drink, but not $8 for a book, which has really kind of dissuaded me from putting any energy into creative projects. (“Why pour your heart and soul and time and money into something if nobody freaking cares?). Most of the people I meet have clearly defined boundaries that simply aren’t open-minded enough to interest me (“I’d come to this, but I can’t really get into the idea of wearing a costume in public when it’s not Halloween.”) or have reasons or obligations that say “Oh, it’s 9:30, time to go home now.”

On top of that, Atlanta’s transportation system makes it pretty impossible to have a crazy adventure. You can’t go out on the town and party and take the subway home. There always has to be a designated driver. You always have to pay for parking. When you get where you’re going, you’re not terribly likely to meet interesting strangers (it’s more of a once-in-a-while occasion.), so you have to convince a group of friends to be willing to go out with you. The older I get, the more difficult this becomes.

I’m well aware that Atlanta doesn’t like me much more than I like it.. Even though I run a social group where people become friends, people rarely reach out to *me* because they’d like to be friends. It’s rare that people contact me to say, “Hey, do you want to get together and do something?”, unless they’re already a good friend. I know there are a number of reasons for this: I’m not single, I’m not in my 20′s, I’m kind of a pain because I don’t have a car, and there are a lot of people with whom I just share few interests. (I hate hiking, I don’t get up before 12, I’m not into healthy eating and wellness, I don’t watch sci-fi, I don’t have children.) I prefer making deeper emotional and intellectual connections over meeting people for the sake of meeting people. I already have thousands of acquaintances. What I need are friends who like me enough to call me up and ask if I want to do something, preferably something new and different.

While I find my directness with people, my flirtatious banter, my snarky sense of humour, and my rather boisterous, extroverted style of communication to be endearing, it turns out that Atlanta does not agree. I’ve been called rude. I’ve been called a whore, a homewrecker, and just “that guy’s fat girlfriend”. I’ve heard people say they can’t stand my need to be the centre of attention, and that my personality is the type that just sucks the air of the room. I’ve offended people just by showing up. I’ve had strangers remark on my social drinking, my fashion choices, and even the timbre of my voice. So, it is quite possible my lack of a core group of friends with whom I find it easy to relate and bond and have adventures is due to this: In the South, most people just don’t like me.

It’s sad, but I know it’s not just all me. There are people all over the world who would love to live closer to me, or to have the opportunity to have adventures with me on a more frequent basis. I have really strong friendships with some really interesting people. Some are based in a shared love of life and adventure, some are based on a romantic connection that morphs into a true friendship, and some are based on an emotional or intellectual bond that just oddly exists. I know right away when I meet this kind of person—someone who genuinely interests me—and it’s a shame that I’m the sort for which this kind of connectivity happens with other human beings maybe twice a year, if I’m lucky. The result is that those who know me the best and whom I enjoy the most are rarely in the same place at the same time, and even if they live in Atlanta, circumstances are such that I don’t get to see them as often as I’d like.

I’ve been told by a number of my friends—who, on the whole, tend to be more introverted souls than myself, but people who can be inspired to have fun new experiences “outside the comfort zone”, under the right circumstances— that I have a way of making the world a more interesting place to be and bringing things to life. People have told me that when I am gone, the exact same place or experience simply isn’t the same, and I am greatly complimented by the fact that there are people in my life who genuinely feel that way about me.

Yet, the problem is that most people in Atlanta—even those I consider good friends—don’t feel that way about me. And, also, there are times when I need to meet someone who inspires *me* to feel that way about life. Those types of people show up maybe once every two years if I’m fortunate, and those connections don’t always work out in the long run.

I realise my friends are not boring. If anything, I am the one who is boring, because I have long since ceased to find a genuine sense of adventure or romance or elation in most things. Life feels generally repetitive, and I suppose it’s a side effect of having crossed many things off of my bucket list at somewhat of an early age. I don’t always know how to feel inspired to have an adventurous next 30 years of my life. When I do find those experiences, or meet people who seem to naturally evoke them, they are surprising—I am shocked by the ability of another person to make me feel like a younger, lighter, more enthusiastic version of myself. A very few people in this world are able to make me open my eyes in the morning and feel excited about the day to come, so when I find that, I tend to place more value on it than perhaps I should.

I sometimes think Atlanta is simply too small and too conservative to provide whatever it is I am looking for, and that’s sad, because I have a great guy who’d be devastated if I left—-but I’m not sure it would be inspiration enough for him to leave with me. Other times, I think I just am not meeting the right people, and the inaccessibility of living in a city where one needs to drive to experience the city will always be a hindrance for me. Most of the time, I think that the prevailing attitudes and social viewpoints, and the things on which most people in this area are focused, is simply not compatible with who I am as a person. I don’t consider myself odd and eccentric, or overbearingly extroverted or even rude. I just want to live in a world where people embrace diversity, variety, taking down emotional walls, and stepping outside of one’s comfort zone. I’m annoyed when people don’t want to do things because there are costumes involved, or you have to drive two miles to another place, or because the event is in the wrong part of town.

People in Atlanta seem to have a lot of “rules” for how they should live, how *you* should live, and what’s considered “fun”. It makes it really hard for me to meet anyone with whom I really bond, and when I do, that interest in “I’d like to get to know you better” isn’t always reciprocated. (I know one person who has seemed to call up every girl he knows to hang out as platonic friends, but has never once so much as contacted me outside of an event. I actually think he’s a fun person, but I find it off-putting that he would not like me in a one-on-one setting.)

Maybe I don’t really know what I’m looking for in terms of “fun” and adventure and meeting new people…but I know it when I find it. Most of the time, I know instantaneously that there’s the potential for me to “connect” with someone. Somehow, an overwhelming number of those people I’d consider “people with whom I connect” live in NYC, Philadelphia, D.C., or California. Sometimes, I miss those people greatly, and wonder what it is about me that makes people in Atlanta unresponsive to friendship with me. Maybe it’s not just me. Maybe people here just generally don’t “connect”, and although it’s a city, there’s truly not that much to do that hasn’t been done before.

Maybe I’ve simply been here too long. I remember feeling excited about this place when I first moved here. Yet, for me, some places may be more suited to me than others—but enjoying life is all about the people with whom you choose to share it.

I need more people, and more sharing….and I miss the days when that came so easily. I miss living somewhere that a majority of people actually like me, relate to me, and invite me out for drinks or coffee or want me at their parties. That has not been Atlanta for me, despite the few wonderful friends I’ve made over the years, and I somehow don’t think it ever will be.

I sometimes just wonder why this is the only place I’ve ever been that I’ve failed to charm people or to make a group of friends who actually want to get out and do things. Perhaps, over the past decade, I’ve lost whatever it was that made me endearing to people to begin with. Or maybe I’m just at that age where life is supposed to be about marriage and kids and stability and owning your house—and cities where there is less focus on those things are going to be a better fit for me.

I think it’s no accident that the people with whom I bond the most quickly are either well-traveled, extremely accomplished and/or creative, and/or open to new and different experiences. I just wish it weren’t so hard to find those people, and have them be around my age group, and have some type of commonality with me.

I wish that, every so often, someone would pick up the phone and express a desire to hang out. Because, really and truly, I’m a nice person. I may even be fun. Some people go as far as to use words like “vivacious” and “inspiring”. Those people exaggerate, but the point is, I like to keep life interesting. But it’s hard for me to do that without partners-in-crime. I’ve never been the “neverending circle of acquaintances” type of girl.

Usually, when I feel this way, someone or something positive shows up in my world, and totally starts it spinning on its axis for awhile. I don’t particularly mind that. It keeps life interesting. It’s almost an unexpected answer from the Universe, pointing out, “Maybe this is what you’ve been looking for?”

Yet, that hasn’t happened over the past few months, and I’ve felt a little melancholy. Instead, I’ve been suffering loss and estrangement and a general sense of “There has to be more to life than what I’m letting in right now.” I wish I were the sort of person who could be happy with the simple things—-a solid relationship with one person, a small group of friends I see on occasion, the TV shows I love—and sometimes, I can be content with that. But after about 3 or 4 weeks, the restlessness returns, and I need to feel there is so much more out there in the world.

Whatever it is, I want it.

For those of you who haven’t known me or read me for a very long time, I started my blogging/writing career with a personal website I called “Confessions Of A Cynical Romantic” (Nope, the phrase “jaded elegance” didn’t pop into my head immediately, unfortunately. Like many bloggers out there, it took me a while to find a succinct and catchy phrase that truly defined me.) “Confessions” was part blog, part love/sex/advice column, and part creative writing e-zine. It didn’t really know what it wanted to be, which is why it didn’t stick around for very long, and I ditched it to start Jaded Elegance.

However, I have a soft spot for it, because it was the first time I’d put stuff out there on the internet that was creative, had a perspective, and was clearly *me*. It taught me to find my voice, as a writer and as a person.

Some people are shocked to find out that I’m a romantic. I don’t come across as the hearts and flowers and happily-ever-after kind of girl, and I’m really not. I have a few too many rough edges for that. I have trouble believing in people, trusting people, making commitments, and not seeing the world through a generally cynical lens. I’ve never been one for sickeningly sweet romantic gestures, giving and receiving compliments too often makes me uncomfortable, and I’m not naive enough to put things like sex and love in nearly the same category.



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Yet, I am indeed a romantic person by nature. I take chances on people. I moved to Atlanta because I fell in love with someone I met online. I’ve started more than one long-distance relationship or friendship through little more than words and a willingness to open up. I’ve invited people into my life because I fell for them within five minutes of meeting them. I still send hand-written letters, adore the “Camelot” legends, and have a wall in my bedroom filled with pictures, ticket stubs, postcards, event adverts, bar coasters, and anything and everything else that reminds me of good times I once had with people once in my life—and those who still are. I may not be the most conventional girl around, or look at relationships the same way many people do, and it’s not always terribly simple to be me. However, it doesn’t mean I’m not a romantic or an idealist—I think I’m both, more so than many people.

So, you can see how a girl like me might have some mixed feelings about Valentine’s Day. Recently, I was chatting with a friend about how I love holidays, but dislike holidays rooted in some convention or that pose some obligation as to how a person is supposed to feel and behave. (In particular, I’ve never much cared for Thanksgiving.) Valentine’s Day largely falls into that category for me, and almost as if on karmic point, a majority of my Valentine’s Day’s have involved a lot of expectation and planning that didn’t end up going well, because something happened. It’s that day where I’ve found out someone has been cheating on me, someone I loved was planning to marry someone else, and that you can’t fix a broken relationship with sex and chocolate. It’s that day I’ve gotten angry at ambitious former significant others for having to work late, or had to field phone calls from drunken emotional ex-es. It’s the day I’ve had to hear, “I love you but I just don’t see a future”, the day I’ve spent crying because I chose to be alone while the person I loved was with his wife, and the day I’ve sent irrational and impetuous e-mails to people I had feelings for because they were about to embark on relationships with others. (Yes, I did this twice. On Valentine’s Day. It worked out both times and I don’t regret it, but now that I’m older and wiser, I wouldn’t choose to have such sucky timing again.) It’s the day The Guy I Am Currently Dating showed up at my door sick and by the time he was better, the only place open for dinner was Moe’s. It’s the day we went to the Botanical Gardens and I learned I was allergic to their Valentine’s display. It’s the day there was an ice storm that trapped us inside for a week, that my ex-roommate got us pulled over by the cops and we almost got arrested, and with one ex, the day we could never celebrate because it was his birthday, and he celebrated it with his family—who couldn’t stand me much.

The best Valentine’s Day celebrations I’ve had were the ones where nothing special happened. Last year, we played trivia and ate Tex-Mex. One year, some friends and I hung out at an abandoned, hole-in-the-wall restaurant. I’ve never been one to feel sad and desperate over being single, and wanted to hit a meat-market club in order to avoid spending the day alone. In NYC, where my average relationship lasted 6 weeks, I had some great times with equally single friends. This is why I have a tradition of throwing a Valentine’s party at a venue that is one of the least romantic choices possible. This past weekend, it was a brewery and a gothic-themed club where everyone wore masques.


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Valentine’s Day can evoke some negative emotions and angst about your current relationship status, no matter which of the Facebook-acceptable categories you happen to fall into.

For instance, if you’re single, there are tons of parties that promote themselves as hook-up parties, ways to meet other singles, or just a place to go to avoid being alone. Attending these parties is a sure-fire way to make you feel less than awesome about yourself. In fact, the ancient Roman lottery system of picking a partner for the evening from a spinning wheel was probably a more entertaining one. Singles Awareness Day typically involves one of the following feelings:

* “OMG! I can’t believe I’m single and sad and alone. Even my friend, who is ugly and broke and has a bad personality, has someone to spend Valentine’s Day with. What’s wrong with me? Am I going to die alone eating chocolate? I might as well get fat, since nobody is ever going to love me. “
* “Look at these people at this club. They’re all so sad and desperate. I’m nothing like them. However, since love and relationships are generally a waste of time, I’m capitalizing on this opportunity for no-strings attached sex. It should make it easier to meet someone, because everyone has severely lowered their standards for the night.”
* “I hate my ex. If he/she wasn’t such an asshole, I wouldn’t be feeling like this. Why does everyone suck so much?”



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Of course, it’s no easier if you’ve just started dating someone, or if you’ve been in a relationship for less than a year, and this is your first Valentine’s Day.

* “I really like this person, but this is a lot of pressure. I don’t know what to do that’s special enough, but not too special. I can’t even pick out a card. All these cards say “love” in them. Isn’t it way too soon to use words like “love”? Or maybe I’m with the wrong person because I don’t want the card to say “love”. PLEASE HELP ME, SOMEONE!! “
* “I’m totally not sure I know this person at all. We’ve only been together for a few weeks/months. But now we have to spend Valentine’s Day together, and I have to prove I care and am not lame, so I have to make a super-awesome romantic gesture. But, wait. Maybe I don’t want a relationship. Should we still spend Valentine’s together? Then again, being alone sucks. And you can’t break up with someone on Valentine’s Day because you don’t love them. That’s rude. Do we have to sleep together just because it’s February 14th? Can we still sleep together if we’re going to break up next week? I really wish I were hanging out with my friends and drinking.”



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If you’ve been in a relationship for a long time or are living together, it probably goes something like this:

* “This is like the 8th Valentine’s Day we’ve spent together, and we’re still not engaged. I wonder if this relationship is going anywhere. Maybe we’re going to break up and I’m going to be middle-aged and alone. Maybe my mother/father/best friend is right, and we’re not right for each other. We do fight all the time, and he/she has all these annoying habits. I don’t feel like we’re soulmates, but we’ve been together for so long! I don’t know anything about relationships or life and I’m so confused. But dinner at that place was awesome. See? We have so much in common. I think this is completely meant to be. Yeah. I don’t know. Do I have to think about this now?”
* “I am totally AWESOME at buying gifts and planning romantic surprises for my significant other. Well, I thought it was. Then, I found out this other person we know was taking their partner to Aruba and made a rug on the loom they built themselves out of wood from the trees in the backyard. This holiday sucks. Am I going to have to be increasingly creative every year for the rest of my freaking life? Also, we see each other all the time. How is this day magically different because it’s February 14th?”



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If you’re engaged or married, it’s not really any easier:

* “I know Valentine’s Day is supposed to be awesome and meaningful and stuff, but we have no money because we have to plan a wedding/buy a house/plan for the baby. Seriously, when did life become so serious? I remember how awesome it was when we were single. Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve had a girls’/guys’ night out? And we already gained 30 pounds in the last year. Why do we have to eat chocolate?”
* “Well, this is inconvenient. Valentine’s Day. We’ve already exchanged every sort of cheesy present there is, and since we managed to find a babysitter, we can do whatever we want. What I mostly want to do is sleep. Is that a choice? I guess I should at least get some flowers or whatever. Does it count as quality time if we share the remote?”

If you’re divorced, separated, in a really confusing kind of undefined relationship, are doing the long-distance thing, travel on Valentine’s Day, have a blended family, are in a poly-oriented relationship, are seeing someone you’re not supposed to be seeing, or have parents who live within 15 minutes of you, Valentine’s Day is the day that you can rest assured that somebody, somewhere, is going to have negative feelings about you. The instability or unconventionality inherent in any kind of relationship for which there isn’t a Hallmark card is going to come to the surface, and in some way, you will be totally screwed. Someone will yell at you about being a dysfunctional person, ruining his/her life, not appreciating others enough, not loving your family, not loving other members of your family, not taking your relationship seriously, using someone for something, or having no idea the way love really works. “If you really loved me, you’d be here and not there.” is probably going to come up at least once. You may just want to buy a bottle of vodka, pretend your phone isn’t in service, or go somewhere that anyone you don’t want to deal with will not find you.



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Is it possible to have a happy Valentine’s Day? Absolutely. This year, Valentine’s Day is on a Thursday. Do whatever you did last Thursday, only with the person or persons that are important to you. February 14th is only a day of obligation, unrealistic expectations, and catalyst of quarter-life/mid-life crises because we all decide to collectively buy into it. There are alternatives, whatever that means to you.

For me, it means having Thai food, which I really like and we don’t do very often. Maybe we will exchange small and not overly-romantic gifts. Maybe we will watch a movie from Redbox, or catch up on Shameless. The Guy I Am Currently Dating will probably leave after Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are done mocking things, because it’s Thursday, and work happens the next day. If we make it through the evening without fighting over anything or anyone getting sick, I’m going to call it a win. :P



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Happy Valentine’s Day to all!

“Men are stoics when it comes to matters of the heart.”
“You seem very stoic to me, too.”
“Yes,” she said. “But I work impossibly hard at it, darling.”

“The Paris Wife”

I’ve been going through a little bit of what might pass for writer’s block over the past few weeks, and I’m not sure what’s inspired it. At the beginning of January, I started feeling really compelled towards spending time with the introverted side of my personality. I watched a lot of movies and television, read a book every two or three days for a majority of the month, and began writing in my personal (private paper version) of my journal. I began work on a new creative project I was initially quite excited about. However, I now think everything I’ve created sucks, and if I open the document, there’s a high possibility I will trash the entire thing.

Not only do I feel the creative spirit has left me, I feel filled with a mixture of ADD, emotional angst, and wanting to go out in the world as often as possible. Restlessness has hit hard, and has not left much in its place. The problem with my creative phases is that they come and they go, as does my desire to party and to be around people more often than the average person. When I’m left with neither, I don’t have much of a sense of what to do with myself, and feel generally bored and frustrated with my life and angry at myself for not being a more interesting human being.

The thing that made me decide to blog today was reading this article, about P.O.S. and the concept of anti-commercialism. I may be anti- any number of things, but I am definitely not anti-commercialism. I love shopping and new and shiny things, and if I won the lottery tomorrow, would be entertained for awhile by the freedom of buying whatever I want, going wherever I want, and being able to adorn myself however I’d like. Yet, I do go through phases where my life feels chaotic and cluttered and restless, and simply throwing away all the extra shit I don’t need and never use makes my world feel like a slightly simpler place. Although I’m about as anti-commercialism as Paris Hilton, there is a part of me that understands the freedom that comes with “not being weighed down”—literally and metaphorically.

The part of the interview that resonated the most deeply with me was this one:

Why is it that you think that no one is happy?

I think a lot of it comes back to the stresses and the pressures of what our lives have kind of become. How many people do you know that are in their forties that like their job? How many people do you know in their twenties that like their job? It’s not encouraged in our culture to find your passion and go after it. It’s encouraged in our culture to make as much money as you possibly can. And that doesn’t necessarily mean happiness for the people that find it, and the people that don’t find it, find the money I mean, that definitely doesn’t lead to happiness. I feel like if you get to the root of it, people don’t feel fucking free.

The times in my life when I’ve felt the happiest have not always been those when I was the most secure, but when I felt the most free. In fact, some of the worst “How do I get over this and start again without this killing me?” kind of experiences have led to a feeling of freedom that happened to be almost euphoric.

There was a point in my life where I absolutely lost everything, all at once. I was not blameless in this happening. It was the culmination of an extended period of bad decision making, not really thinking too much about others, living moment-to-moment, bad karma, bad luck, and allowing people in my life who had their own (many similar) issues with which to deal. But, as the saying goes, when it rains, it pours. I lost absolutely everything I counted on as “security” in my life: my condo, my job, my friends, and all of my personal possessions.

I walked away from the fallout with one or two people willing to be a part of my life and support me, and a few things that fit into a faux-leather travel backpack. Even my family was so pissed off at me and my part in causing the problems I was facing, they temporarily cut me off. Nobody volunteered to send me any money for clothes or food, or even to mail things I’d left behind when I moved out years before, in case they’d be of any use. They made it clear they couldn’t help me rebuild my life and I was on my own. Most of my former friends made it clear I no longer existed, and some wanted me to leave Atlanta. One, who was actually a surprisingly well-meaning person who wanted to stay my friend but felt he was not quite strong enough to stand up and do so, offered to buy me a bus or train ticket and drive me to the station so I could disappear and never look back. He offered the gift of helping me start over, but I didn’t take it. I couldn’t. I didn’t feel strong enough.

Fortunately, I had an ex-boyfriend who was, at the time, every bit as screwed up and lost as I was. He’d also made a lot of mistakes and suffered consequences, and understood. I also had a secondary partner who stood by me, even when the person I was in a relationship with turned his back. This friend was older than me, and despite going through his own stuff, remembered what it was like to be in my position at my age. Between them, they stood by me, and helped me keep the pieces together and provide the basic necessities a person needs to feel an inkling of safety, love, and survival in the world.

One day, I woke up realising I could go anywhere in the world I wanted, be anyone I wanted to be, take any chance I wanted to take. I remember feeling intensely happy, and free. That was the day I realised I was strong enough to handle life on my own again, to crawl out of the minimalistic cocoon in which I’d been hiding.

Mostly everything I owned still fit in my backpack, and what didn’t could be left behind. Over the three months I didn’t care to show my face to the world, I gained 10 pounds, but started to build up my savings. I had a laptop, courtesy of one of the “friends” instrumental in causing my situation, who said “I wish there was more I could do for you.” (and there was, but he didn’t care to, as it was ultimately a gesture of closure on his part, something that absolved him of the feeling that he was abandoning me in favour of his own self-interest.)

I was unhappy in those three months, but I came to value security more than ever. I, who had always been addicted to being at the coolest place with fun people who allowed me to be the centre of attention, found intense comfort in staying in a small one-bedroom apartment, watching TV every night, and eating fast food, or macaroni and cheese, or Hamburger Helper. Most days, I’d fall asleep grateful that I’d had a good day, that nothing bad happened to me. I’d spend time lying in the sun by the pool, reading a book, or being on the internet (where I consciously avoided sites that focused on social interaction.) I knew people were talking about me, that the world did not love me, that I had next to nothing, and yet I was happy because this tiny little world became my solace.

I, who had spent most of my life performing and was constantly conscious (and hopelessly insecure) about my own appearance, suddenly had to rotate through a small pile of garments. I had one piece of dressy clothing, because I realised that eventually, being social and using whatever connections I had left in the world was going to be the thing that helped me put my world back together. The thing that helped me keep my sanity, some days, was that I’d managed to hold on to my iPod, and I had songs that reminded me of when I was a happier person.

The oddest thing happened. As I became more appreciative of living in such a small, portable world, the world started to look a lot bigger. I was able to visit friends in other places who’d stuck by me through all the drama, and made it clear they still loved me. I slept on couches and on floors in artists’ lofts. I traveled through cities with $20 in my pocket. I wrote a great deal; letters that were never sent, journal entries that are painful to look back upon.

When I realised I needed a plan for the future, I started thinking about the kind of things that someone like me would never consider doing. I learned about all sorts of opportunities for people who didn’t have much except youth and an adventurous spirit. The closest I came to embarking on one of those journeys was sending an e-mail to a kindly man, an aging hippie who owned a B & B with his wife and daughter in Asheville, NC. They were looking for someone to work the front desk and answer phone calls, in exchange for modest pay and room and board at the B & B. I was terribly close to taking the job. To this day, I wonder what I might have missed out on by not doing so.

However, fate works in mysterious ways, and a few hours after the job offer, an acquaintance called me out of the blue to ask me to take over his social group. I told him what had happened, and that I was the most ill-equipped person around for that task. He disagreed. I’m not sure if he really thought positively about my personality and my abilities to be resilient, or was simply interested in sleeping with me before he left town, but it didn’t really matter. I took over the social group, and the remaining lease on his apartment. The social group gave me a new group of supportive and understanding friends, including two who became future roommates. I found a new job, and eventually, bit by bit, my world got bigger again.

These days, I am not terribly portable. I have so much to be grateful for, including a boyfriend who is there for me almost unconditionally, friends that have such an important space in my life that they’re like family to me (albeit of the dysfunctional commune variety. *laughs*), a dog who is there every morning when I wake up and every night when I go to sleep, and time to figure out what it is I am meant to do with my life. I have a two-bedroom apartment full of furniture, a closet full of clothing and shoes and accessories, and almost everything I missed so terribly during my times of trouble. Yet, the exchange is that I feel less free. I am constantly worrying about money, and finding not what makes me happy, but a way to pay the bills. I don’t explore my dreams as much, because I feel like dreaming too much or making my world too big will cause me to lose things I love.

I’ve lost some things, too, while I was busy putting my life back together. Along the way, I got terribly hurt and screwed over by someone I wanted to believe in. I lost my health, and for some time, believed I might die. My parents became seriously ill, although not only am I back on speaking terms with my family, my mother calls me at every inconvenient time possible because she’s bored. I lost my youth, my attractiveness, my confidence. Working to rebuild these things is every bit as much of a challenge as rebuilding your life. I’ve had to find myself all over again.

When I travel, no matter how hard I try, I find myself weighed down by luggage that’s over a third of my body weight. I don’t remember how to be simple, how to be without all the comforts I again feel I can’t live without. Yet, some of my happiest days are still when I am away from my world, sleeping on a friend’s couch or a lumpy hotel bed, and watching the sun peek through the blinds. I feel like the world is big, and I am light, and anything is possible.

I like that feeling. I hope there’s no need to go through dramatic loss to get to that, and maybe it’s as simple as, from time to time, getting rid of all your shit.

The next time I travel, I’m going to remind myself I need far less than I think I do, and I will be happier for it.