the city and the man | laura marie meyers

Today I'm picking back up with the fifth post in a long-running series about wanting men/not needing them.

Over the years I've never quite been able to resolve for myself the "you should't need a man" comments that come my way. Of course I don't, I think! I never I said I did. There's a quote out there that's something along the lines of: don't wait for a man to bring you flowers, go out and tend to your own garden. And I get it. And I like to think that since graduating college I've done a hell of a lot of tending to my metaphorical peonies and dandelions and cherry tomatoes. But the whole man bringing you flowers thing? Well, it isn't really about the flowers. It's about the person on the other end of that bouquet.

The feminist in me bristles as the double standard of women-don't-need-a-man-but-poor-Jen-Anison-that-she's-never-found-one.

And because I know some pretty spectacular women, I asked them to weigh in on the subject.

Laura and I met through this strange and lucky world of the internet. Over the years I've met a good handful of people this way. But very, very few like Laura. She is remarkable. She is infuriating in that she's one of those rare people who is actually smart and funny and hard-working and lovely. She is all the things you want to be. But gracious and kind and empathetic as she is, you can't hate her for it. You can only thank your lucky stars that she has chosen you as a friend. And revel in the hours you log on the phone, situated as you are on opposite coasts, figuring out the big life questions. 

Here is her response:

In the middle of my eighth-grade diary, there are two illustrations glued to opposite pages: a football drawn by my then-boyfriend and forever-best-friend, plus a pair of theater masks, blue and green, that I drew myself. We'd been asked to sketch out our dreams for the future, and before they made their way into my messy composition notebook, our pictures were strung along a display outside the classroom. On a Friday afternoon, I grabbed both mine and his in a moment of puppy love, and I remember walking home from school together, red leaves beneath our feet, as I told him who I wanted to be someday.

Turns out, "who I wanted to be" was more of a list than a picture. A long list. I wanted to be on Broadway or on Saturday Night Live, or maybe act and write. I wanted to be a children's book illustrator, a playwright, a novelist. I wanted to be the sort of person who penned essays for magazines in my spare time, which felt like a very rom-com thing to do.

It was cold and crisp in our small Chicago suburb, the two of us walking home, as we always did, with our giant pack of lifelong friends. He told he wanted to do something with sports, and I told him I wanted to do something with art, just one thing clear to me in all those hopeful, dramatic teenage ramblings: Someday, I'd move to New York.

Thirteen years later, now 27, I'm not on Broadway, and I'm not on Saturday Night Live, the closest I came to either of those dreams being high-school theater and a job promoting Broadway plays. (Although, to be fair, I'm an editor at PopSugar — which does feel like a very rom-com sort of job, if ever there was one.)

Thirteen years later, I write this not from New York, but from California, at a desk in a home I bought with my husband — the one I married two years ago, the one I met in college before we moved in together at 22. In our very first conversation together, we spoke at a bar on the beach in San Diego. We were 20, both of us blushing as we made small talk about our majors (Communications, the same) and our minors (English, the same) and our families (six kids, five kids — him the oldest, me the youngest.) The bar was dark, the music too loud, both of us half- screaming as we sat on a bench between our mutual friends, leaning in to hear each other speak.

He told me he wanted to do something with sports, and I told him I wanted to do something with art.

I said that someday, I'd move to New York.

*

What I didn't tell my first boyfriend and what I didn't tell my last — at least not then, anyway — is that I also wanted to be a wife. I wanted to find a love like the one I saw between my parents: a simple sort of happiness, a thoughtful familiarity. I didn't say it because that hope felt sacred — the wish for someone else. At fourteen and at twenty, and at every age before and in between, love was the biggest dream of all. Of course it was. Of course.

Nowhere is that more clear than in my diaries. (Please, please don't let anyone ever read my diaries.)

I've kept a journal since first grade. Which means, you know, close to twenty journals or so. In the younger years I wrote a lot about school and friends, what we did and where we went. In third grade, I wrote about the time we went on a super-secret "spy mission" to save the trees that were marked with X's in the park. I wrote about learning to ride a bike, learning to drive a car, and later, learning to cure a hangover. Throughout elementary school and middle school and high school and college, there were entries about test grades and best friends and my brothers and sisters. But mostly, it's just one long, epic narrative about Who Liked Who on any given day and at any given moment, with a very heavy, occasionally hilarious emphasis on who I liked — or, sometimes, loved.

And so when Meg asked me to write about the notion of wanting (and not needing) a man, this is what I kept turning back to: Entries about the men I'd once wanted, and the man who made that want feel an awful lot like a need.

*

I had a raw, freshly broken heart when I met Radley. In my experience, the days and weeks and months after a breakup bring some of your darkest days, and also some of your best. The day we met was one of the latter, and not only because his smirk made my breath catch in my throat.

At the time my hair was blonde, too blonde, thanks to some post- heartbreak highlights that seemed like a good idea at the time. (What is it about breakups and hair changes?) It was my best friend's birthday, a Friday, and I felt like I had nothing to lose.

And then, of course, I found Radley, and suddenly I had everything to lose.

At 20, he wore a lot of Bob Marley t-shirts and flip flops, and his face was clean-shaven, his cheeks always slightly sunburnt. Most of those t-shirts are tucked away now, traded for plaid button-downs and soft flannel shirts I steal on weekends. There's a sprinkling of gray hairs at his temples, a short five-o'-clock-shadow of a beard, and a charming confidence that edged its way in slowly, gradually nudging out the insecurities of his early 20s. He's (very) tall with dark wavy hair and a half-smile that fills you up. On weekends, he does crosswords, and in the summertime, he likes to sip beers and play cards. His eyes are green- brown-gold, and when he's sitting in the sun, they look like the smooth Tiger's Eye gemstones I used to collect as a kid.

We fell for each other quickly, easily, unexpectedly, but I hadn't yet learned how to let go, allowing months to pass before I could finally face, and embrace, the easy joy I'd discovered with Radley. The fun beginnings of our relationship folded into the bittersweet endings of our senior year, and by the time graduation rolled around, we realized we had a decision to make. He's from San Francisco, and I'm from Chicago, and at 22, after a year or so together, there was goodbye, or there was going for it — really, all-in going for it. I'm not one for forced goodbyes, and neither is he, so in the end, it wasn't much of a decision at all. We wanted to know, and we wanted to know for sure. And so three months later, jobless, that born-and-raised California boy drove a U-Haul across the country to move to the Midwest. I'd gotten into grad school and started a full-time job; things were in motion. He showed up in my parents' driveway on a Sunday, stepping out of the truck in a faded t-shirt and flip flops, a pair of Ray-Bans pushed into his hair, a hopeful, tired, terrified grin on his face.

That's how I've come to remember those early months together, those early years — Radley and me on a scale, hope and fear at either end, the balance shifting back and forth between the two as we grew up together, alongside each other. We bought couches and kitchenware and all the late-night pizzas that mark some of the best nights of your twenties. We framed pictures, shared chores, compromised on what made the cut for our DVR. I remember living room picnics before furniture arrived, boxes of Chinese food scattered across a Blackhawks blanket, and I remember writing in my diary that it felt like having a sleepover with your best friend every single day.

In that bright, brick apartment on a busy, oftentimes snowy Chicago street, Radley and I checked off first after first, and on the 3rd of July — a big deal in Chicago, my favorite day of the year — he asked me to marry him. We were 24, in love, and as sure as you can ever be, which actually isn't so sure at all. In that way, the only way, we were sure.

Like anything else, marrying young shapes you. It doesn't define you, but it certainly shapes you. For me, those post-college years marked the first time that my friends and I merged on to different roads moving in different directions, and it felt both surreal and wildly inevitable to be sitting beside Radley during that time. We learned how to live with and around and beside each other. We learned the odd little dance of creating a life with another person: when to bend, when to stand tall, how to lean.

(The how and the when and the why of leaning is most important, I think.)

Radley and I, both of us, we were living a life we hadn't planned. And two springs into our shared, special, unexpected life, and six months before he proposed, I brought him to New York. New York.

*

With only a few months of my graduate writing program still lying ahead of me, I knew I was on the brink — on the cusp of whatever was to come. Our plan, from the start, had been simple: Two years in Chicago, two years in San Francisco. Our two cities, two years each, and then, who knows? That was the plan. That was our plan. And yet.

It was March, the slushy aftermath of Chicago's "snowpocalypse" still blanketing the city when my mother and I flew to New York for a week- long vacation. We were shameless, starry-eyed, Broadway-and-red-bus loving tourists, and it was during this weighty week — one I knew would be important even as I lived it — that I met Meg. (A connection I've always loved.) In any case, toward the end of our girls' getaway, Radley met me there for his first trip to New York City.

Giddy and anxious, I'd planned each day of our stay down to the last pizza slice. When I love something, or someone, or someplace, I want to share it, and there was just one clear impulse driving me that week: I wanted Radley to love New York. I wanted him to love it as much as I did. Or, at the very least, to not hate it.

He didn't hate it. And he didn't love it, either. He liked the buzz and the food and the beers at McSorley's, but as we sat in a small, cozy pizza parlor on that last night, a tiny red candle between us, I understood what he didn't say: It wasn't the place for him.

What he said instead: That he could see how much I loved New York, and he could feel the pull of that lifelong dream. That if I wanted to, I could live there. That he'd meet me there soon, or maybe right away. That he wanted me to have a life that I loved, and that if it meant a couple years on the opposite coast from where we'd met, he'd be willing to try. He'd come to Chicago, after all, and what was the difference, just a few states further, anyway?

There it was, the life I'd drawn for myself, hanging in the air between us. I felt a buzz that had nothing to do with the beers we were drinking, and a heaviness in my chest where I'd thought I'd feel light. He'd said all the right things, and meant them. And yet.

I was a wreck. I questioned everything. I wrote list after list, made call after call, exhausted every idea and option. There wasn't an angle I didn't consider, not a route I didn't debate. He became more and more excited about a possible East coast adventure. I became more and more sure that I wouldn't live in New York, and that maybe I wasn't ever supposed to.

That spring felt impossibly warm. After a winter for the (literal) record books, Chicago seemed to open up like one of those pop-up children's books — all color and light and surprises. My runs got longer, my mind a bit clearer as I came to understand what I'd never, ever seen coming: A love so big, and a man so mine, that the shape of my dreams had shifted. Not entirely, of course, but just so. Just enough.

That May, this is what I wrote in my diary: I'm full of more love than I ever expected to be, and I'm more sure of Radley than I've ever felt about anything.

Radley proposed that July, and nine weeks later, we boarded a one-way flight to San Francisco. There were new jobs, new (and old) friends, and more Chinese-food picnics on our living room floor before all the furniture arrived. We traded Lake Shore Drive runs for jogs to the Golden Gate Bridge, and after some true trial and error, I finally learned how to properly layer clothes.

It felt as if my life had click-click-clicked into place, and returning to California seemed to lite me up somehow. I felt light, buoyed by the rightness of where I stood, and who I stood beside. That following summer, we were married beneath the arch of two oak trees, his green- brown-gold eyes glowing in the sunlight that slipped through the trees.

This is what I told him.

Radley—
My best friend,
My brightest light,
My husband from this day forward:
You are the greatest, most magnificent man I've ever known.

You've taught me peace and charity, strength and integrity, the beautiful bliss of life's most simple joys.

You've shown me what it means to be good and true,
what it's like to wake up each day with faith and hope and a fearless, grateful spirit.

I love you for so many reasons, but I love you most for your heart — Your true and kind and open, compassionate heart.

Our love has always felt both incredible and inevitable — a miracle that's meant to be —
And my most cherished blessing is to know that I'm yours.

Today, surrounded by the ones we love,
I vow to honor, inspire, and respect you for the rest of our days.

I'm yours, Radley, forever and always: All that I am now and all that I'll ever be.

In his vows, Radley said, "Since the day we met, I knew I'd be up here next to you. I've never wanted to fight for something more in my entire life." He called me his best friend, his soulmate, and at one point, he said, "I promise to always find time for our love."

*

Someone told me a few weeks after our wedding that it must feel odd, at twenty-five, to already be half of a whole. I didn't feel that way, though. We weren't one, we were two; I was whole, and so was he. That's what it means, I think, to find love. Real, in-your-bones love.

The thing is, I never expected to meet someone so young; I never expected him. But what a lovely surprise he was, Radley — the man who fell into that space between wanting and needing, the one that blurs the lines between the two.

See, I still don't think I need him — not in a literal sense, anyway — but hell if it doesn't feel like it most days. Real, in-your-bones love.

My husband isn't quite my "other half," and that's not a phrase I relate to. Over the years, and within more than a few diary entries, I've tried to capture what, exactly, he is to me. The words finally came to me one sunny Sunday morning while we were drinking coffee on our deck, the California sun hotter than it should be on a January day.

Radley — he's my New York. 

december 14

i sat in tom's office yesterday morning weeping gently.

my hands tucked between my legs. sitting on the unforgiving brown couch, next to the worn velvet pillow.

tom sat somewhere between to-the-side-of and behind the large three-sided desk.

we were in the room i don't care for. it's too large--the room--with a mammoth, faux-wood-panneled desk, over-saturated light, and a scent of ketchup that's sometimes-there, sometimes-not.

but there i sat. weeping. gently.

i feel like i'm banging my head against a glass wall, i told tom. i feel like things can't continue on this way. something has to change. my life is stagnant and i'm so filled with the need for change that i might just explode. but i can't imagine that anything will change. ever. 


it's near then, tom calmly said.

his words hung in the air for a moment. buoyant and light. tangible almost. i wanted to reach out and pocket them. but there was no need. because they were true. as soon as he spoke them i knew them to be true. and truth can't be collected in one's pockets. it simply is.

why do i always cry now, tom? i pressed on. is it the residual of banging my head too many times against a glass wall?


it's good. it means you're experiencing things. deeply. allowing yourself the experience. probably in part what makes you a good actor. 


ah yes, that acting thing that i don't really talk about.

tom, sometimes i ask my gut things, i admitted sheepishly. and i know to listen to the answer that comes back. always, i must listen. because my gut is the wisest and truest part of me. it is the part of me that's lived a thousand lives already, that knows everything, that sees everything, that sees the end before it's even begun. it is my inner shaman. it is where God resides. my gut is a little piece of divinity. people say true love resides in the heart, but i know better. and so, well, Tom, i've been resisting asking my gut this  question--this question of "should i act" because i'm afraid of the answer. i'm afraid it will say no. and that will be that. 


it's a funny thing when you're life turns out different then you thought. a hard thing. when everything you've planned for shifts and morphs and you fall down the rabbit-hole. and it's terrifying. and not so nearly mystical as alice led you to believe. and you wonder if it's time to move on or circle round and there are so many options and that hall with doors is long and and those doors are aplenty and you can't imagine which one to walk through so you just stand there. frozen. terrified.

i asked the question recently, tom. whether or not i should act? i asked my gut. and the thing is... it didn't say no. it didn't return with the verdict i lived in fear of and yet...it didn't really give an answer at all. it told me i was afraid. and that that fear was getting in the way. but that that was okay. that i'd figure it out and it'd be okay. i'd be okay. 


and tom looked at me, kinda smiled and said, it believes in you so much it doesn't have to answer. it believes in you to the point that it'll go wherever you choose. it actually believes you can do anything--acting or not. 


i looked at tom in all of his infinite wisdom, felt fresh tears hovering at their own brink, turned my head and looked straight ahead, and said, well, that's a lovely thought. 


when what i really meant was well, that's everything isn't it. 


graduating from college was an exercise in losing faith. losing that little kernel of belief in my own ability. and as well as i am and far as i've come, i've yet to regain that.

so imagine my surprise when sitting in tom's office yesterday i realized it wasn't lost at all. it was there. patiently waiting for me to awaken to it.

and imagine my surprise when i came to understand that the one person i'd spent all this time fighting against, railing against--myself--simply loved me all the while--never grew impatient or frustrated. never accused me of being selfish or cruel. the one person who's love was infinite and almighty. who loved me with the power and force of the heavens.

alright. mark it down. december 14, 2010: the day i realized everything was gonna be just fine.

bubble, bubble (toil and trouble? nah).


toast


i love champagne.


cava. prosecco.

this is not a secret.

i need no occasion. no excuse.

and i love the glasses in which to pour the bubbly.

in fact there is a cabinet waiting for me in new york.

it sits next to the couch in the living room.

it has dividers. probably meant for filing. but the sections are just wide enough--just tall enough for the long slender flutes and the shorter, vintage-inspired coupes.

yes, my roommates and i have a furniture piece dedicated solely to the housing of champagne glasses.

(is it any wonder we get along?).

i hadn't had anything to drink since arriving in utah at the end of june.

so on saturday night i made my way to the liquor store. picked out a bottle of pink bubbly and carefully unpopped the top (oh the sound of the cork coming undone!). i poured it into a fancy glass-cut goblet (the kind perfect for russian estates--perfect for checkhov plays) and sipped quietly as the conversation carried on around me.

i didn't need much. didn't need to drink quickly. hardly needed to go back for seconds.

and i though, there is something to be learned from this love affair with champagne.

you see i respect the champagne. i recognize its place--its purpose. and so i never overdo it.

now if i could apply this understanding to just a few other things (like ice cream and mexican food and cheese) it might change...oh you know, everything.





on why i don't drink diet coke (kind of). and a whole host of other nonsensical ramblings...


i gave up drinking diet coke a year ago last may.

last may?

i punctuate this with a question mark because i can't think of when exactly it was that it happened--the passing of diet coke from my life.

it's a funny thing when you stop drinking it. you still crave it but it never tastes the same. not even close. in fact it tastes just plane awful. and empty.

i started drinking soda water instead because i found the thing i missed most was the hit of carbonation.

yes, i said hit. yes, it is my drug of choice this thing called carbonation.

why did i stop drinking diet coke?

well, the fake sugar actually.

i could go on and on about how bad it is. about how the onset of wide-spread obesity in this country can basically be traced back to the introduction of artificial sweeteners. about how it actually makes you crave food (carbohydrates especially). jeffrey steingarten wrote a really interesting article for vogue about all this. however, where jeffrey failed is that he didn't discuss how artificial sweeteners actually change how the brain tastes sweet. suddenly real sugars aren't so exciting. and so we stop craving and eating real food. and this is, how to say... really dangerous.

look i'm not judging anyone who drinks diet coke. not by a long shot. i get it, i really do. this wasn't mean to be the point of the post. just the preface. so let me try again...

i have found soda water harder to come by here in utah. i have to be really forward about making sure i always have some in my fridge, i can't just run to the corner store if i find i've unexpectedly finished my last bottle of canada dry. it took me some time to learn this and because i often found myself without, i began to turn to the gorgeous silver frosted cans in the fridge bearing the emblem of the alter at which i prayed for a very long time:

it wasn't good the first can. nor the second. but after not so long it began to taste like itself--like really good. like leave-me-alone-i'm-having-a-moment-here good.

and this scared me. this was the start of the slippery slope. diet coke is my gateway drug. it leads to gummy candies and whole bags of tortilla chips and store-bought frosting (and i hate store-bought frosting, in fact i am diametrically opposed to it).

all of this--this long-winded-nesss--is to say, i've passed the diet-coke phase of my life.

in fact, i've passed quite a few phases now.

i'm past the point where i'm okay with dirty dishes being left in the sink. or where i'll sit down on the couch and just watch the E! channel. i think trashy magazines are precisely that: trashy. and i find value in cooking a meal. in eating real food. i like going to bed at a reasonable hour.

because somewhere in all these passed through and now past phases i'm learning a little something about growing up. and responsibility. and the fact that actions have consequences. and maybe i'm a little late to the party, but i don't think so, it all feels right on schedule.

i'm gonna be twenty-five soon. and i can't wait. it feels like a good age. i think i'm gonna have a big party. with an american-in-paris theme (the thought for that went as follows: 25--1925--the lost generation of writers--ex-pats in Paris). i think it's perfect--lots of stripes and berets and red-lipstick and a smorgasbord of cheeses, grapes, wines, and crackers. and champagne, who could forget the champagne?! yes, the party will be grand, the age will be grand. and life will move-on, forward.

you couldn't pay me to go back to twenty-two, the college years, and a sink full of dirty dishes. no sirree.