Sunday, September 25, 2016

Almond Counting

I belong to an online forum designed to support professional and educational achievement for LDS women. It’s full of both married and single women who don’t fit the traditional mold for my culture and has become for me a nice place to discuss issues that are rarely broached on Sunday. As an older, single, Obama loving, gay marriage supporting, unapologetic feminist, I don’t always feel like I fit in my church and this forum has connected me to other women who are also trying to figure out their place.

So it was with a bit of disappointment that I followed one particular thread that caught fire there this week.  A woman posted that her, by all accounts pretty amazing, 28-year-old daughter was beginning to despair that she would ever meet a nice LDS boy and get married and start a family. I expected support that 28 was young to worry about such a thing and that there are a multitude of ways to have a fulfilling life and instead, it devolved into tales of how horrifyingly late in life these ladies finally got married and got to leave the nightmare of single life and don’t worry, someone is out there for you girl, keep your chin up while you slog through your poor, poor sad lonely life until you find someone. Maybe it wasn’t that extreme.  However, married woman after married woman told her anecdote about how she or someone she knew had “not married until (insert an age where you can hardly believe someone was willing to take on the old crone)”. Their loud voices managed to drown out the single women here and there who were trying to say, “hey actually it might not happen and here’s how to have a good life no matter what” or “you know, let’s not tell this girl to move to another state to find a better dating pool because everywhere and nowhere is an ideal place to date”. I worried that maybe the forum’s usual encouragement of everyone having their own path and no one’s worth being contingent on their marital status was all lip service to cover a deep, abiding need for a prince to come along and save us.

I don’t believe it was intentional, or that any of those women realized that what they were  making being single sound a form of torture, but I’m turning 40 in three weeks and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about what sort of advice would have been legitimately helpful from someone actually in the trenches of singledom when I was her age. So here we go, my old spinster advice to a 28-year-old single gal.

“So. I hear you are beginning to worry that the relation-ship has sailed for you and that you will be spending the rest of your life alone. First of all, may I say 28, that I have so much empathy for how you feel right now. But I feel equal parts like rolling my eyes right out of my head. I know that as an LDS woman, you have been watching your friends get married for ten years, but man, 28. It’s early to start thinking it’s already over.  

But this isn’t about age, and it’s not about dating. It’s about a promise to you, that your life will be infinitely better if you take the time right now to learn that your fundamental self does not change with your relationship status.

A couple of weeks ago I was listening to a podcast by a woman who has spent her whole life struggling with her weight. She talked about how she had always been heavy, but because it’s shameful to be fat, she spent her time interacting with thin people by always assuring them that she was definitely doing all she could to lose weight and be “one of them”. And then one day, she decided that being thin wasn’t going to change the fact that she was a smart, fun, interesting person and she didn’t want to waste her life counting almonds. So she told her friends, “guess what guys? I’m fat. And I’m ok with it, so let’s stop talking about it eh?”.

Don’t spend your life counting the dating almonds. Don’t relate to the married people around you by stressing how hard you are working to escape being a single person. Don’t position your value to yourself or any of the people in your life on a relationship status scale. You will have all manner of well-meaning friends and family assuring you that it’s going to happen for you, that they just know you will get married. The truth, my young awesome friend, it that you might. But it might be a few years, it might be a lot of years, and it really might be not at all. If you waste those years wallowing in worry and fear, I can promise you from a place of authority that you will regret every second you lost to being sad about something that is essentially out of your control. I have willed and worked myself into nearly every dream on my teenage checklist so I assure you that if a family was a thing you could earn, you would not know dozens of incredible men and women who have achieved success in every other aspect of their lives who are alone. You can go to every singles ward and be on every app and accept every set up, and it doesn’t mean you’ll find a partner. I approached a lot of experiences in my twenties and early thirties with the anticipation that maybe this is where I would meet “him”. I regret the opportunities that I allowed to be dampened by the disappointment of not being romantically fruitful.  So you can decide right now if you want to savor all the advantages of this season of your life or if you want to spend the next unknown amount of years always feeling like a little bit of a failure.   

I want you to do a little exercise for me. I want you to think about all the people you know who are married and ask yourself if any of them became fundamentally different people when they found a mate. Do you know a bunch of people who were lame but then they got married and became kind and good and interesting? No, you do not. Because getting married does not alter the core of a person. Are there unique lessons that only marriage can teach you that will make you grow in certain ways? Definitely. Can the same be said for being single? Absolutely.  Who you are, and what you can contribute to the world is unaffected by your marital status. There are douchey married guys, and mean and gossipy married ladies, and loads and loads of weirdos who manage to get hitched. Just like there are rad single people who are weary of hearing “gosh, you are a catch, why are you single?”. 

I turn 40 in about three weeks. I’m on the tail end of getting over a breakup so I am square one single right now. I have had an unreal, fulfilling, meaningful life so far. I used to feel like I needed to downplay how fortunate I’ve been so it didn’t seem like I was enjoying being single too much. When a friend would say something about all the interesting things I was doing I would always be sure to say, “oh but I would trade it all for a family!”. Here’s the truth. No I wouldn’t. I haven’t been stuck in a back-up version of my life, this isn’t some “plan B” I’ve had to endure because I am not part of a couple. I am so fucking proud of the person I have become and I’m here as a result of the twists and turns of a life that I know is exactly the right one for me. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I might be different in some ways had I married, but I wouldn’t actually be a better or more worthwhile human.  

So here’s the net of my advice. Tell your friends, and your family, “guess what guys? I’m single. And I’m ok with it, so let’s stop talking about it eh?”. And then go live your life. Do things, try things, fail at things, succeed at things. Say yes more often than you say no. And when you turn 30, or 35 or 40 or 80, you will be the very best and most fulfilled version of yourself no matter who does or doesn’t fall in love with you.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


I didn’t watch the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics this year. I was going to, I had planned to sit in the dark of my living room and have a good cry all by myself but then I had friends in town all week. We were headed to a kiddo baptism in St. George. The NBC app was dumb and the tape delay wasn’t especially helpful and so I gave up. I peeked on Twitter to catch a few photos, admired how good they all looked and then I went back to my life.

I have made a bunch of big life decisions in the 2 ½ years since I got home from the last Olympics. I changed jobs twice. I moved to a big crazy city and then I moved to a small, familiar city. I got my heart handed to me a couple of times by people I should not have given it to in the first place. I bought a house. I thought it wise to “put down some roots”.

As the Games approached I felt good, solid in every choice since Sochi that got me to this cute tiny kitchen table in a neighborhood where I can walk to the store and to yoga and have dinner every Sunday with all my favorite people under 4 years old. My job is solid and challenging and my coworkers are great and some days I feel a little bit guilty about how easy and awesome this move to Utah has been.

I got a lot of questions about how I was handling missing the Olympics and I sincerely felt like I was being honest when I said that I know I’m in a different chapter of my life and that the Games are fun but not like, THAT fun and I’m very, very content with my choices.

But can I let you in on a little secret? THAT GAMES ARE TOTALLY THAT FUN! They are so hard, and so much work, and so so much less glamour than what always made it onto my social channels. Every single Olympics I would write an email to future me saying “don’t do this again, it’s horrible”.  But that sliver that IS fun? That IS glamorous? It’s what I imagine keeps people doing hard drugs. It’s so, so good. You sit at the end of the day with your eyelids about to slide off your head but you were standing there when some major thing happened that every human on the planet heard about.  You talked to more people TODAY that are the best in the entire world at a thing than most people will in their entire lives. It’s wild and it’s unpredictable and you have stories to tell that you realize sound like bragging but they are just the real things that happened to you. It’s once in a lifetime experiences, over and over and over and it’s awesome and dangerous and for me, it didn’t allow one bit of room for things in my life that I said mattered. 

I read all my post-Games blog posts before these started and every single one of them ends with me saying how I hoped I would keep my priorities straight and start checking off some of my regular life goals. And then I would get on a plane and go somewhere far flung and they cycle would start again and on and on. I sucked the marrow out of those years with the USOC. I stayed extra days in fabulous cities, I had wildly exciting but not remotely sustainable dating experiences, I met super interesting people, I stayed up too late, I said yes to everything. The Olympics were never over for me. I was in Germany scouting locations for 2014 about two weeks after I got home from London.

Which is all to say that I really thought I was in a great place for Rio. At peace and happy with where I am. I was briefly dating someone this summer and as we were watching Track and Field one night I texted a friend who I knew was in the venue to say that my seat on his couch was way better this time than four years ago.

I was caught off guard with how gut-wrenching it was to watch the best party I have ever been to go off without me. My social media feeds were flooded with the first person accounts from, and I’m not exaggerating here, hundreds of people I knew in Rio and I started having tiny, daily panic attacks. I sat on that same couch, with that same sweet man a few weeks later and thought “holy sh*t is this my life now? Are the once-in-a-lifetimes over? Has my passport seen it’s last stamp?”

I like life to be clean. I like clear beginnings and endings and I dig the idea of chapters opening and closing and the experiences of life not sloshing into each other. I’m rather unnerved to learn that at nearly 40 years old, I am still being blind-sided by the universe and it’s dumb lessons. I am such a believer that there are seasons of our lives and that we aren’t supposed to trip ourselves up with arbitrary timelines but I’m standing here straddling a chasm of “my eggs are dying by the second” and “what if I never dance on a beach in Thailand?”. Both options make me nauseous. There are times that I spend an evening with my nieces and I want my own baby so badly the sensation is physical. And there are other times when I book a last minute ticket to go hang out backstage at Red Rocks with a band I love because I can and it’s hard to imagine giving up a lifestyle that allows such a thing.

Ultimately I know I made good decisions, I am in a great place. I’m happy. And by the next Games I will be removed enough that it won’t feel like an assault every time I open Facebook and ten people I used to sit by are doing sunrise yoga on Copacabana Beach. In the meantime, I’m going to learn how to sit in the dissonance of knowing you did A right thing, but you probably won’t ever be sure it’s THE right thing.  

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Point Break

October 2015. I'm sitting in my living room mindlessly flipping through Facebook and feeling sort of blue. I text a guy who broke my heart earlier in the year because he's spent the last four months trying to be friends again and I know he'll answer. He does. I call him. As soon as I hear his voice I know he's actually the last human I want to be talking to. But I'm lonely so I make an attempt to care about anything he's saying. I don't. I can't. I get off the phone and I'm mad at myself for being weak and dumb. I'm 39, I should be better at loneliness by now. I should be stronger but I've just spent two hours looking through hundreds of photos and status updates that have me convinced that I'm the only one failing at life. In a fit of needing to make some dramatic gesture of regaining control, I deactivate Facebook. And Twitter. I don't make a silly announcement, I just disappear.

It felt good. I needed a break. I knew objectively that it is silly to compare your own real life to the PR versions of everyone else's lives on the internet but when you are in the midst of your lowest lifetime low, it is practically impossible to put miles and miles of shiny, happy faces in perspective. It was good for me to stop looking at photos and instead, focus on phone calls and dinners and sitting face to face with people I love and hearing what was really going on in their lives.

However. Social media wasn't ruining my life any more than anything external is ever responsible for how we choose to live our lives. I got a bad hand last year. My dad died. A man I really wanted to marry didn't want to marry me back. I struggled in my job. I had some blows to my faith. It was like all the ways I defined myself fell apart and I spent a fair amount of time just trying to distract myself from feeling out of control. I quit Facebook as a step towards being myself again.

I filled November and December with good things. My roommate and I started a clean eating program and I basically cooked every single thing we ate for six weeks. It felt amazing and I'm more convinced than ever that taking care of our bodies is probably the best thing we can do for our souls. It also took a fair amount of discipline which reminded me that I'm good at doing hard things.

I spent the holidays with various family and I did yoga and rode mountain bikes and ran in the woods and went skiing and laughed until I was sick with friends who have known me since before I knew me. I snuggled my brand new nephew and then went to the cemetery on the one year anniversary of my dad passing away.

And on December 31, I packed up all my grievances against 2015 and told them they were not welcome in 2016.

Here we are at the end of January and without sounding like I have everything figured out, I do feel like I have one thing figured out: I will never be "done". There is no finish line here. Life is messy. Sometimes I am going to feel like I'm crushing it on all cylinders and sometimes I will be limping along, hoping there is a rest stop where I can pull over and cry for awhile. But this idea that there is a destination, that I'll achieve "x" and then everything will be awesome? It's not a real thing. Everyone is just out here trying their best and the big secret is how often we are totally winging it. I feel more like myself than I have in a long time but I think it's partially because I was forced to get comfortable in the messiness of a year that didn't listen to what I wanted.

So I'm reactivating my Facebook profile. I hope I am more mature with it this time. That I don't waste one second of my life thinking about what a guy I had a math class with once thinks about gun control or feminism. I hope I'm smart enough to know that underneath all those PR posts are real friends who are dealing with real things and I should text them once in a while instead of just liking their posts and feeling like that's staying in touch. Mostly I just hope that the lessons of 2015 stick with me and that I'm more patient, more teachable, more empathetic.

I'm also looking forward to all the memes I've been missing out on. Don't disappoint me people.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

The Middle

I turn 39 next month. That sounds so. Old. I remember my dad’s 40th birthday. As in, I was a viable human person when my father turned 40 and I heard people making all the requisite over the hill, mid-life crisis jokes. My mother was having her sixth baby right about my age and as a ninth-grader I was whole-heartedly dismayed to discover that my old, old mother thought that was OK. 40 was practically dead the end.

But 2015 is a different time to be approaching “middle age” than 1987 was and aside from some slight biological freakouts that a woman my age who would still like a young’un or two is bound to have, I’m pretty comfortable with the distance between me and the big four oh.


When I turned 30 I decided that I had done my twenties a little bit wrong. I am basically all the cliché things you would think about an oldest female raised by devout Mormons. I’m a hyper responsible, rule following, people pleasing, bundle of nerves. Always working, hustling, doing the right thing, being nice about it. These are not bad qualities. I like these things about me. But it also means that I worry a lot. That I feel guilty a lot. That I am exceptionally hard on myself. That I said no a lot because I am also scared of a lot of things.  I wanted my 30’s to be different. So I made a decision that my default answer would always be “yes”. Not to things that were against my moral code or things that hurt people. But to be thoughtful about why I often hesitated over things that seemed out of my introvert comfort zone and to really try to say yes if there was not a compelling reason to say no.

My experiment went well. My thirties have been filled with the kind of adventures and possibilities that seem to grow exponentially once you show that you are open to them.  Saying yes means experiencing things you never dreamed of. But sometimes that also means putting off things that you DID dream of.

I was with some friends this summer who were talking about a triathlon they were training for and I made the mistake of saying that I have been wanting to do a triathlon for like ten years and never have. Don’t say that to the kind of people who regularly train for triathlons. And definitely don’t say that to people who know you are a default “yes” person. Because you will absolutely find yourself committing to train for a race that is exactly one month away.

For YEARS this was something I had wanted to do and for YEARS I came up with excuses. But as Jess and Rob shot holes in all my reasons for not being able to do this one, I could hear how silly it must sound for a grown woman to protest so much over something she clearly wanted to do. Some friends helped me throw together a training program, I found a pool nearby, rented a wetsuit and even kept up my running when an out of town photoshoot threatened to derail me.

Training was even more fun than I thought it would be. I had forgotten how much I love to swim and enjoyed exploring the city on my bike. I got back into running shape. And then came race day. My friend Jess was racing a different distance so she was there to help me set up my transition area and to cheer me on. I loved every second. Even the few panicked moments at the beginning of the swim where I was convinced I would drown and refused to put my face in the water for the entire distance. I passed people on the bike. Lots of them. I felt awesome on the run. I loved looking down and seeing my number in marker on my arm.  I cried at the finish line. Mostly because I was so damn proud of myself but a little bit because what on earth had I been so afraid of? Why had I been talking about this for ten years and not doing it? And what else am I not doing that I’ve been talking about?

So that’s it. That’s my theme for my 39th year. Do the things you keep talking about. I’m kicking off the year with a weekend in Austin at the Austin City Limits Music Festival-a thing I’ve been saying I was going to do for ages.

Saying yes built up a series reserve of confidence and an invaluable sense of possibility. The next logical step is to channel that into dreams and goals that become easy to dismiss as you get older and more “practical”.

My thirties have been fantastic and when I say that I even mean this last pretty terrible year as well. I still worry too much, I still look around at what everyone else is doing and feel behind too much, and it seems like I'm developing new flaws as fast as I'm working on getting rid of the existing ones, BUT, I'm also getting better every day at relaxing into myself. I'm excited for what I'll feel like when I'm working on the theme for my fifties (!). 

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Sail On

I had been in the Missionary Training Center (MTC) for about ten minutes when I started to think I had been the victim of a giant Mormon conspiracy.  A conspiracy where every human who served an LDS mission swore to never tell anyone under 21 that the whole experience was kind of terrible.

When you grow up as a Mormon in Utah, missions are somewhat ubiquitous. Nearly every male you know went on one and you likely know a decent percentage of women who did as well. My parents both went when they were young. My grandparents did it when they were old. From the time I was a tiny person and learned the missionary anthem "Called to Serve", missionary service seem both awesome and totally expected. I grew up hearing great stories from my mom and dad, listening to endless glowing mission reports at church, getting letters from friends out in the "field" who raved about what an amazing time they were having. Whenever you asked someone's mom how so and so was liking their mission it was some version of "they love it! The never want to come home!".

So when I was 21 and eligible to go, I didn't even consider NOT going. I filled out papers, I went to the doctor and the dentist, I went to interviews with my ecclesiastic leaders. I got a call to Switzerland and I bought dresses and shoes and luggage and new and unique underwear and then suddenly, my family was leaving out one door and I was leaving out the other door and I realized I had no idea what I had signed up for.

I don't know what I was expecting. I knew there would be rules and structure. I knew my time wouldn't feel like my own. I knew I would have a "companion" who would basically function like a human shadow and we would have to be together all the time. I just didn't realize what all of that actually meant. I didn't realize that as a fairly independent college graduate, it would feel a little bit like I had joined the Borg.

I also didn't realize that NO ONE HAD EVER MENTIONED THAT THIS WOULD BE HARD. No one. I cried myself to sleep the first night thinking that just about every human I knew had been through this and not one of them said, "this is a really hard thing to do". Actually, one did. I ran into an old high school crush the Sunday before I left and when I told him I was headed to the MTC that week he looked me in the eye, chuckled and said, "if you knew what was coming, you wouldn't go." I remember thinking that was a really odd thing to say to someone, not realizing I would be using that as a mantra a scant week later when I felt like my whole world was upside down. But outside of that comment, my entire life people had painted missions in such a rosy hue, I immediately felt like a failure for being scared and homesick. I think I expected that I would be enveloped in some kind of spiritual cocoon that would turn me into someone who didn't care about missing her friends, or music, or shopping or boys or the myriad of other things that I suddenly couldn't stop thinking about.

I panicked for awhile and felt like I was probably the worst missionary in the history of missionaries until I started to make friends, and run into people from my outside life who I could talk to, and I realized that what I was feeling wasn't that unusual. I felt better but I vowed that when I was back from a mission, I would try to be truthful about the whole thing. That I wouldn't sugar coat it.

I lied.

When someone tells me they are going on a mission, I get starry-eyed and I tell them it will be one of the best experiences of their lives. I don't tell them how lonely it gets, how inadequate they will feel, how exhausted they will be by the end. I tell them about the tender moments they will have, how much they will learn about themselves, how good it will feel to spend 18 months doing something that isn't all about them.

I've been thinking quite a bit about my mission and the way I talk about it these last few weeks. I was catching up with a close friend recently who just moved to a new city and took a new job. He's posted some cool photos so I asked him if things were as awesome as they looked. And he said, "well I'm not having as much fun as you are that is for sure." His comment shocked me because the last eight months of my life have sucked on just about every level. I won't go through my laundry list but save having a baby, I've had pretty much every other major life event on my plate since August and I guess I thought I had been pretty open with him about how tough it's been.

And yet. I post fun things on the internet. I tell people how rad SF is and how cool my job is and that my dad was sick and we were prepared so it's been easier to deal with the grief.

Those things are true. Just like all the things I say about my mission are true. This is a cool city and I feel lucky to live here after years and years of dreaming about it. I work for a great company and have these fantastic coworkers and I'm learning every single day. And I don't cry about my dad every day. I get waves, tidal waves sometimes, but a lot of the time I am really ok.

I do not say that I have felt inadequate and out of my element for nearly all the days since I took the new job. I do not say that sometime I feel so sad about my dad that it feels like a giant weight is pulling me down to the bottom of an ocean. That I am so worried I will be alone my whole life that there are nights I cry myself to sleep.

Do we want to tell each other these things? Do we want to hear these things? Would we still go on missions and get pregnant and move across the country and fall in love if we knew the truth about how terribly awry these things can go?

I think the answer is yes. I think we would. For the same reason I have now moved to a new place six times and taken jobs that scare me to death. Because I sincerely believe that for most of us, we know the very best way to grow, the very best chance to develop empathy and the very best way to lay bare our own weaknesses, is to go through something very hard. Have you ever watched a little kid learning to walk? They fall and they fall and they fall. They know that is going to keep happening but they keep getting up because somewhere in their new little brains, they also know this is a thing they need to master. It's hard and it hurts and they are bad at it for a long time. And then one day it clicks, and then they are so awesome at it you can't even keep up with them anymore.

I think that drive stays in our not so new little brains. We don't have to be afraid of telling the truth about our shared experience because someone can tell us, "this thing is going to be hard you know," and we will say, "bring it". There is something that actually feels a lot like freedom when you stop thinking that you are the only one doing it wrong and you get to it.