The Beautiful Pieces Of Advice Acne Has Given Me

Originally posted on xoJane

I have moderate to severe acne. I’ve had it since I was 18 years old and it’s been a consistent part of my physical identity for the last five years.

Yes. I’ve tried that. I’ve taken that pill. I did that diet. I stopped eating that. I drank a lot of that. It’s all been said and done. But this isn’t a piece about my battle with acne, what I’ve tried and haven’t tried, or even the makeup products I use to cover it up.

Acne vulgaris is simply a part of my reality.

The papules and cystic nodules and pimples have been a terribly inconvenient part of my life; a silent malady that has, at times, caused me to burst into tears or call in sick and stay at home under a crust of lotion and medication. My acne ranges in severity depending on its mood: sometimes it’s a raging cluster of red and purple, other times it’s extremely mild and invisible underneath a dab of foundation.

But believe it or not, as frustrating as this whole situation is, acne has taught me precious life lessons:

1. Unsolicited advice is humiliating. 

I don’t talk about my acne a lot. Why would I? It isn’t exactly a topic most people know how to empathize with appropriately. Most people respond with “Oh yeah, I breakout too.” And then they list their personalized prescriptions for how to deal with it. “Don’t eat this.” “Stop wearing so much makeup.” “Wash your face more.” “Moisturize!” “Be consistent. I don’t think you’re being consistent enough with your routine.” “Have you tried the dermatologist? I think you should listen to your dermatologist.” “Stop touching your face.” “Stop going on these crazy diets. It doesn’t work.”

Been there, done that, this is extremely frustrating so please don’t make me feel like I haven’t been trying my best to fix my condition. Once, an older family friend yelled at me for my condition:

“Why is your face so red?! You should be washing it more!” she screamed.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been accidentally lectured by a well-meaning friend. Trust me, I’m much more disturbed about my physical defects than you are. Unsolicited advice can be humiliating. These days, I keep it to myself because what the hell do I know about another person’s struggle and what they’ve tried and haven’t tried?

2. Beauty and youth is temporary. It’s the internal landscape that really matters and that’s where we should be deriving our confidence.

I had gorgeous skin in high school. It was glowing and tan — free of pockmarks and scars and terrible cysts. I was also extremely vain: I loved taking photographs of myself because no matter what angles the camera was orientated toward, I looked good. I adored shopping and looking for trinkets and outfits that would enhance my look. These days the complete opposite is true.

I’ve grown to disdain shopping because who wants to try on clothes and buy pretty things when their own face is unbearable to look at? And so over the years, I’ve been forced to move my attention away from the physical part of my identity and focus on my internal landscape. I’ve been forced to deal with painful feelings of insecurity and self-hate and negativity. I’ve been forced to ask myself questions like:

“How I can confront the world without feeling insecure?”
“How can I make myself feel beautiful?”

And from these difficult conversations with myself, I’ve found confidence and I’m a much more secure person from it.

3. Simplicity is liberating

I go to sleep everyday with at least eight dabs of acne medication on my face. I slather on at least one layer of foundation every morning, sometimes more. My bottles of acne lotions and foundations are always something I have to account for when I’m packing for a trip.

I celebrate whenever my acne is at a phase where it’s extremely mild because that means less makeup and less acne lotion. I crave to be at point where I don’t have to wear anything on my face without being gawked at in public.

This has taught me to value and bless simplicity. It’s a liberating feeling to not have to carry an extra bottle of foundation with me when I’m out all day because I know my acne won’t rear its ugly head once the makeup fades. I rejoice when I don’t have to put on medication because that means I don’t have to be conscious of wiping the medication off while I’m sleeping.

And so in my life, when I can, I gravitate toward simplicity.

Less is more. Truly.

4. The importance of looking people in the eye when they talk. 

A month before my ex and I broke up, I was talking to him and the entire time, he was staring at a pimple on my face and never once looked at me square in the eye.

It was humiliating and I wanted to crawl in a hole and cry.

I’m at fault with this too. Sometimes when I’m wearing my acne cream in the evening, I have a hard time looking people in the eye because I’m embarrassed. I usually hide or in desperate times during sleepovers or outings, I’ll put on my medication when it’s dark and everyone is asleep.

Sometimes people have something in their teeth. Sometimes they have major physical defects. Or on the other side of the spectrum, maybe they’re gorgeous and you can’t stop staring at their body.

But when someone is having a conversation with you, it’s basic human decency to look them in the eye.

5. Obsessing will do nothing. 

In my junior year of college, I spent significant hours looking in the mirror and experimenting with new lotions and medications. Eventually that made me so mentally distressed I broke down crying and burned my skin because I layered on too much benzoyl peroxide.

Obsessing over your looks, acne or not, will drive you crazy because there’s always going to be something off, there’s always going to be a blemish, there’s always going to be that blackhead.

Step away from the mirror.

6. Be kind. Look deeper. 

I have a dear friend who, bless his heart, once went on a blind date with a girl with “horrible terrifying skin” (as he put it) and he refused to talk to her ever again.

I was horrified.

I’m a lot nicer than I was before my acne. I’ve gone on dates with men who, initially, physically repulsed me but I stuck it out because I’m aware I have flaws that can be deemed reprehensible too. Eventually some of these guys grew on me and I stopped noticing their physical quirks altogether.

To my friend -– be kind. Look deeper. The “flaws” will disappear once you get to know the other person better.

7. I am still me.

I am still very insecure about my acne and a lot of times I let it define me. I have to remind myself that it is just a physical inconvenience and that who I am has nothing to do with the bumps on my face. I am still me.

Burbank’s Best Kept Secret: The Commissary’s Rice Bowl

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The Coffee Commissary is a petite coffee shop on the criss-cross intersection of Olive and Alameda.

One of my gripes when I worked in Burbank was that I had to resort to food truck food because nothing else was available within a walking distance. Yes, the Commissary was within a very reasonable radius — but I never once noticed they had a food menu.

I do now.

This pork belly brown rice bowl was marvelous, an ideal balance of protein to carbs to vegetables, sprinkled with an aromatic flair of sesame seeds and of course, a generous squeeze of Sriracha. A mark of a worthy rice bowl is balance and this passed with flying colors. Textures were all over the place, in a good way. The pork belly was tender, soft, and melted into the dish. Pickles, folded into each other, were thrown in for an acidic kick and the best part was that they weren’t overpowering. The rice had a cooked crunch to it and the vegetables lightened the whole. And on top of it all, this glorious rice bowl had a runny egg which not only made my day, but forced me to pull over to the curb (I had ordered this as take-out) and give it my full, undivided attention.

3121 W Olive Ave, Burbank, CA 91505; (818) 556-6055

Where To Get Crossing Over Bridge Noodles in L.A.

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Originally posted on the L.A. Times.

If you make your way to southwest China and the province of Yunnan, you will encounter rows of noodle shops serving just one thing: guoqiao mixian. You’ll be handed a bowl of rice noodles and a platter of chicken, thinly sliced pork, tofu skin, bean sprouts and vegetables. And then without saying a word, a server will come and pour steaming hot chicken broth into your noodle bowl and instruct you to throw the rest of the ingredients in. In Yunnan, pickled vegetables and homemade chile sauce are regular condiments. But in the States, not so much.

The direct translation for guoqiao mixian is “crossing the bridge noodles,” and the name comes from an old wives’ tale: An imperial scholar was studying for his exams on an island on a lake in the city of Mengzixian in Yunnan. His wife would bring him food daily but found that by the time she crossed the bridge to bring him soup, the noodles would be cold and the noodles soggy. So she separated the ingredients and mixed them together after she crossed the bridge. And thus a new dish was born — a symbol of her affection.

The dish, like American chicken noodle soup, is comforting and ideal for a rainy day (pray for rain). It’s similar to pho ga, Vietnamese chicken noodle soup. This makes sense. Vietnam and Yunnan share a border, and rice noodles are a hallmark in both areas.

In Los Angeles there are a handful of Yunnan specialists and these noodles, an emblem of Yunnanese cuisine, are always on the menu.

Here’s where you can score your own bowl:

Yun Noodle House
Tucked in the President Square food court adjacent to Daikokuya, Yun Noodle House is an overlooked vendor. They specialize in Yunnan-style noodles, and there are 21 varieties to choose from. If that’s overwhelming, we recommend sticking with the No. 1, the house special rice noodle soup. It comes with chicken, pork and vegetables, and you can adjust the spice level to your liking. 1220 S. Golden W Ave., Suite E, Arcadia, (626) 446-1668.

Spicy City
Spicy City is a Yunnan and Sichuan specialist, though, unfortunately, individual dishes’ lineages are not marked. But for a taste of specifically Yunnanese-inspired food, we recommend anything with mushrooms (Yunnan is also known for its variety of mushrooms) and of course, the “crossing the bridge” noodles. The noodles are a perfect pairing to the restaurant’s mostly spicy plates. It’s large enough to comfortably feed six people. 140 W. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel, (626) 280-0186.

Yun Chuan Garden
Yun Chuan Garden has consistently been one of the top Yunnan restaurants in Los Angeles for years. Quality is top notch and there’s something about the broth for the bridge noodles that outranks all others; it’s deep and layered and richly aromatic. Pair it with a small plate of cold pig ears, marinated in an oily chile sauce. 301 N. Garfield Ave., Monterey Park, (626) 571-8387.

Yunnan Garden
Yunnan Garden used to be affiliated with Yun Chuan Garden, so its menu is more or less the same. The noodles are fantastic and come with chicken slices, bean curd sheets and bean spouts in a fragrant chicken broth. We also recommend ordering the sour white pork, or suan ni bai rou, while you’re there. The pork, sliced thin as paper, is layered on top of bean sprouts and topped with chile oil and vinegar. 545 W. Las Tunas Drive, San Gabriel, (626) 308-1896.

How Love Is An Equation

I was inspired to write this when an old buddy of mine called me up and told me about his girlfriend and how she makes him feel ashamed for having a low paying job and how she fully expects them to get married and have kids and how he doesn’t want any of that.

“The thing is, I can’t give her what she wants. I don’t want to be middle-aged and stare at my life and be bored,” he confessed. “She makes me feel bad about who I am.”

It became so clear to me. He was struggling with what I dealt with in my entire romantic history. I just never friggin’ saw it.

You can be the most loving couple in the world. If I locked you guys in a world with no obligations or time or responsibilities, you’d live your lives out happily. But we live in reality and a crucial aspect to compatibility is what your expectations are of the other person — not just emotional, physical, and mental chemistry.

“She doesn’t accept you for who you are in your entirety,” I told my buddy. “She has certain expectations of you. Are you willing to sacrifice certain parts of yourself to fulfill those?”

“I can’t sacrifice myself. I don’t even know how to make him happy. …But I love him!” I would’ve said, if the same information were relayed to me six months ago.

But love, the word, is subjective. Some people equate love to a strong attraction — hence the phrase, “love at first sight.” Others see it as an intense feeling of affection for another person. The word love changes its meaning and seriousness depending on who’s uttering it. It expands and diminishes in potency based on context. It isn’t a constant. It’s relative to the lover and the lovee won’t always interpret it in the right way. That’s why communication is so important — so you’re always on the same page on what your love is feeling like that day.

Perhaps that’s why love is often spoken of in metaphors or in an equation — we’re just trying to quantify it. Perhaps that’s why there are so many unexpected heartbreaks — because we can’t manufacture an exact, universally understood definition of love and so when love wanes, we’re always caught off-guard because “I thought you loved me!”

He did, but his love was not equal to your love. It wasn’t equal for a very long time and maybe it was from your perspective, but if you looked closely, a single decimal point was off and that made all the difference.

And so what are some of my current equations of love? I love the Corinthians equations but I’ll leave those out because we’ve all heard it before.

Love = acceptance. Of all your flaws. But be aware, it may take time for me to get there.

Love = mindful sacrifice. I am willing to reconsider my wants and dreams for your wants and dreams.

Love = consistent communication. No matter how tedious and painful it may be because it’s important to keep watch over love and make sure it’s fed and kept alive.

Love = deeds, not just words.

Love = too big of a deal for me to handle right now in a romantic context… because I can’t even fulfill the four equations above for myself, because I don’t accept myself completely, because I have a hard time pinpointing what my wants and dreams are, because I’m not at a point where I can sacrifice my ambitions for someone else, because I don’t consistently check in with myself, and because I don’t do enough things entirely for myself. And lastly, because I’m too busy navigating the crazy world of self-love.

What are your equations?

Why Am I So Damn Awkward?

I have a difficult time holding a conversation with folks significantly older than me. I cannot, without feeling nauseous, crack a smile, at family affairs. Whenever I speak up in a room full of people, my heart, beating violently, threatens to jump out past my breastbone, out of my chest.  I feel more comfortable at a Chinese business dinner, where I am expected to act submissive and shut my mouth…than at a Westernized soiree, where everyone is an equal and everyone has a chance to speak.  I can’t joke. I’m not funny. Sarcasm goes straight over my head.

Once, I was at a meeting where we were discussing creative directions for an upcoming video. The director looked at me straight in the eye and said, “So, what do you think?”

I had no response so I bullshitted an awkward answer, designed to affirm whatever she decided on. But here’s the truth: I didn’t think.

It’s not that I didn’t have an opinion. I did. I always do. But these opinions take me hours to process and days to refine and most of the times, by the time that opinion is solidified — it is irrelevant (That’s why writing is such a wonderful haven for me).

I’ve always wondered why I’ve come to be like this. Why I, a Los Angeles native born and raised, educated well, raised in a upperish middle-class family, sentenced to tutoring classes all my life…have developed such…lacking… social skills.

My brain knows how to act. My soul knows what’s right. The defiant, rebellious me, the me who you read on this screen — this me knows exactly how pathetic I come across.

“OF COURSE YOU HAVE AN OPINION CLARISSA! VOICE IT”

But I can’t.

“THIS IS YOUR CHANCE TO CONNECT WITH STRANGERS AND TALK TO THEM ABOUT YOUR DAY. CONNECT CLARISSA. CONNECT!”

I attempt to, but all that comes out is scripted small talk and then I find myself giving up because to act otherwise would be against my nature. To voice my opinion. To be assertive in social situations. This is all unfamiliar territory.

Sure you can chalk it up to an innate introversion but I believe it’s more than that.

It’s my parents. It’s their heritage. It’s the fact that they’ve come straight from Taiwan, have never assimilated culturally or even linguistically, and subscribe to a strict religion that’s essential Confucius meets Pentecostalism. It’s my upbringing as a second generation Taiwanese-American in Los Angeles with traditional parents.


 

As I was perusing through the JFK Airport this morning, mosquito-bitten from my three days in upstate New York, weary, and completely ready to head back to the land of Angels (because seriously — too much time in New York is stressful!)…Malcolm Gladwell’s novel Outliers caught my attention on the bookshelves.

“THE STORY OF SUCCESS,” it boldly advertised on its cover.

“The lives of outliers — people whose achievements fall outside normal experience — follow a peculiar and unexpected logic.,” the back synopsis teased.

I walked out, with $16.99 gone from my wallet and the book in hand.

I devoured the entire thing on the plane ride.

It confirmed my theory. Gladwell told a simple story about a child, his mom, and a doctor’s appointment.

“‘Alex, you should be thinking of questions you might want to ask the doctor,”‘ the mom instructs her son in the car.

The child performs spectacularly.

“I’ve been getting some bumps under my arms, right around here,” the kid says. Throughout the appointment, he interrupts the doctor whenever he’s confused about something.

I was in tears.

This was my childhood:

“Meimei, what are you feeling?” my mom would ask on the car ride there.

“My stomach hurts,” I would say.

And throughout the entire appointment, I would be silent and my mom would be my liaison. Even at restaurants, she would act as my proxy and I would order through her, right in front of the waitress. If I had an issue, I would whisper it to her.

I was not taught to be friends with adults — I was taught to respect them. My innate reaction, whenever I meet an authority figure, is to bow, smile, and keep myself busy and out of their way.

Unlike Alex, my opinions and feelings were not allowed to be expressed directly. They had to be filtered through my mom because I, as a child, was not respected as an individual. I was my mother’s daughter.

I remember a couple times in my life when I acted out in public. I don’t remember the specifics but I remember that I did because whenever I was too loud, or didn’t greet my elders properly — I’d feel the sharp pinch of my mom’s thumb and index finger on my thigh. I was scared into submission.

Gladwell’s book talked about all this — how we are a composite of our cultural heritage, even if we weren’t born in our parents’ country of origin. How, even if you are the most naturally talented person… who your parents are, what year you are born, and where you live, will shape what opportunities you are given and that, in turn, will make your future.


My childhood was very serious.

Since the day I was born, I was taught that I was imperfect and dirty and sinful because a couple named Adam and Eve bit into a forbidden fruit a couple million years ago and because of that, I was flawed.

Because of this, the church I was baptized into set me on a quest towards purity. We were to respect the elders. We were to be prim and proper and wear perfect clothes and say encouraging words and have perfect, pure relationships. We were not to question authority. We were handed rule books and doctrines and commandments that said: “This is how you are going to live your life.”

They (the church and my family) thought by teaching me this, they were shielding me from the cruelties of reality. And they’re right. To some extent they did. Their lists of “Do Nots” shielded me from a lot of things. But it wasn’t what I needed.

I needed someone to teach me to pursue a man of deeds — who values me and treats me well. Not “He must be a virgin. He must be in church. This must come before everything else.”

I needed someone to ask me, at the end of the school day, how I was feeling. Not “Your tutor is coming at 5 p.m.”

I needed someone to comfort me when I got my heart broken. Not “What did you do this time?”

I needed someone to look me in the eye when I told my stories. Not dismiss them as child’s talk.

I needed someone to support my desire to learn dance. Not “You’re 12 and too old. Plus you gave up when you were in preschool. What’s the point?”

I needed someone to tell me it was okay when I failed a test. Not “You are horrible at math.” (I gave up trying eventually because I was so discouraged)

I needed someone to share in my joy when I got to go to a wedding for the very first time in my life. And not call me vain and stupid and say, “It’s not even your wedding. Why are you spending so much time on your hair?” (I was heartbroken and teared up silently the whole ride there)

I needed someone to hug me and tell me they loved me for who I was. Not “God loves you. Obey and pray.”

I needed someone, like Alex’s mom, to push me and say “Clarissa, speak up. What are you thinking right now? Tell the world. It’s okay.” Not pinch me under the table because I said the wrong thing.


And so, this is why I am.

I have a difficult time holding a conversation with folks significantly older than me because I wasn’t allowed to talk to them. I cannot, without feeling nauseous, crack a smile at family affairs because I’ve been heartbroken whenever I tried to be myself. Whenever I speak up in a room full of people, my heart threatens to jump out of my chest because whenever I spoke up at home in the past, I was punished by a pinch. I feel more comfortable at a Chinese business dinner than at a Westernized soiree because submission is my first language.  I can’t joke, I’m not funny, and sarcasm goes straight over my head because no one ever taught me to take things lightly.

I don’t blame my family or even that church.. because that is what they were taught and what their teachers were taught. They love me dearly and I thank them for trying.

These days, I’m reprogramming my life the way I want it to be: how to talk to authority, how to talk to boys without getting terrified, how to speak up, how to assert myself, how to love myself and let myself shine through immediately.

Perhaps the first step to change is this realization: This is why I am.

Where To Get Awesome Eggs in Los Angeles

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I wrote this piece for LA Weekly because I truly and honestly can tell the difference between farm fresh eggs from happy hens vs. grocery store varieties. Growing up I hated eating egg dishes but in the last couple of months I’ve been getting my groceries from Out of the Box Collective and cannot get enough of them!

Eggs fresh from the farm from happy chickens just taste better than factory-produced, supermarket eggs. The yolks are a darker yellow hue and the texture is creamy and buttery. This, of course, is all contingent on the conditions in which the chickens are raised.

Now there are different types of labels when it comes to eggs that can tell you a little bit about the poultry. Organic, cage-free, free-range, and pastured are just some of many. The label organic means that the chickens are prohibited from being injected from hormones and drugs, although debeaking and force-molting is permitted under this definition.

Free-range, while it prohibits cages, allows hormones and antibiotics to be used and there’s no rule for overcrowding. Cage-free means the chickens can spread their wings, but they don’t have access to the outdoors, hormones are allowed, and sick hens are not required to be treated. Pastured-raised chickens are probably your best bet. The term means that the chickens roam on grassy pastures and are supplemented with a diet of bugs, but even this can get disconcerting because there are no formal regulations behind this label.

Yeah, it’s complicated, and yeah, these eggs are more expensive than what you buy in the store. But for many people, its worth the added expense — and it is possible to find egg vendors around town who are committed to raising chickens ethically and happy. Here’s a round-up of five of our favorites.

Urban Homestead
“If you show me an egg, I can tell you who laid them,” Jordanne DerVaes of Urban Homestead says. Urban Homestead, established in 1985, is an urban microfarm in the heart of Pasadena, occupying a 1/10-acre space. The family is completely vegetarian and the chicken are all heritage breed. The homestead has been raising chicks since 2002. “For the chicken to lay an egg, it’s the equivalent of a human being giving birth to a nine pound baby,” DerVaes says. “My chickens live longer because we don’t force them. They’re happy and spoiled and they all have names.” The poultry, all 13 of them, are raised primarily on kitchen scraps and fruit and are supplemented with a GMO-free pellet feed from Northern California. There are no animal by-products in their diet. You can get Urban Homestead’s eggs on their website, from their front porch on Sunday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and via Good Eggs for $17.99. 631 Cypress Ave, Pasadena; (626) 844-4586.

Lily’s Eggs
Lily’s Eggs in Fillmore is a 25-acre farm just north of Santa Barbara in the Los Padres foothills. Owners Robert Troppe and Diane Tuomey have over 150 hens who have access to a whopping three acres of open pasture. The chickens share the farm with animals Troppe rescued from a petting zoo— if you make your way up there, you’ll see a collection of turkeys, ducks, geese, goats, emus, pigs, and even a donkey. Chickens graze on rose bushes and receive supplemental, non-GMO organic feed free of soy and corn. You can buy the eggs at the Ojai, Hollywood, and Santa Monica farmers markets for around $6 a dozen or they can be ordered online from Farm Box. P.O. BOX 50351, Santa Barbara, CA 93150; (805) 657-4638.

Dare 2 Dream Eggs
Dare 2 Dream is a chicken and egg specialist located in Lompoc, California. The hens are pastured in 40 acres of rye grass, buckwheat, flax, clover, and sunflowers. The garden is grown pesticide and herbicide free. Owners Jeremy and Megan Raff are dedicated to popping out multi-colored eggs for the Central and Southern California region and if you’re interested in your own backyard chicken coop, they have an entire program complete with chicks and handcrafted infrastructure, that can get you started. If you’re in the Greater Los Angeles area, they will deliver the chicks to your front door for $30. Eggs can be purchased at Lassens Natural Foods or online, at Out of the Box Collective. They’re priced at around $7.75 for a dozen. 890 Lasalle Canyon Rd, Lompoc, CA 93436; (805) 735-3233.

Jaime Farms
Jose Luis Jaime of Jaime Farms lives in Chino, but he owns a 20-acre property in Yucca that has close to 600 free-range birds. And it’s not just chickens; there are geese, ducks, emus, goats, pigs, rabbits and a horse. Luis and Ruth Jaimie keep their poultry in outdoor pens large enough for waddling, and because they are in the desert, the birds are fed a diet of veggie scraps because — well, there’s no grass in the desert. The family supplies three farmers’ markets in the Coachella Valley and six in the greater Los Angeles area. You can find their multi-colored eggs at the Santa Monica farmers market on Wednesdays or the South Pasadena farmers market on Tuesdays. 4016 Francis Ave, Chino, CA 91710; (909) 364-9400.

Apricot Lane Farms
Apricot Lanes is a biodynamic farm in Moorpark. What that means: nitrogen-rich manure and absolutely no artificial compost. The farm is located on 200 acres of countryside and they specialize in avocado, lemons and apricot trees. The heritage breed chickens eat eggs and worms and are free to roam on wide open grassy pastures. They are not fed hormones, antibiotics, soy, or GMO products. You can get their eggs on Good Eggs for around $13.99 a dozen. 10700 Broadway Rd., Moorpark, CA 93021; 805-523-4444.

Do Not Ask Me To Have Sex With You

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Lately strange things have been happening. I’m getting asked out in the weirdest ways and I’m not saying this with passive aggressive, “Look at me I’m getting attention” implications.

I’m bringing this up because the ways some guys are approaching me are disturbing… and while I do my best to be polite and courteous (because I understand it takes a lot of guts and mental energy to send a text message to someone you like) — some issues need to be addressed.

Don’t ask me to have sex with you. Don’t ask me to be your fuck buddy. Don’t ask me to be your no-strings-attached-friend.

I get it. We’re in an age of straightforwardness and there are people who like to get to the point.  Let’s get physical right here.  We’re young, we’re attractive, let’s do it, no strings attached. Instant gratification. I understand that’s a lifestyle and that is a perfectly valid choice people make and a way of dating a lot of people subscribe to — in all walks of life.

But though I understand all of that and though I will thank you for your honesty, I do take a personal offense to it and will immediately lose respect for men who ask me these things.

One of my friends used to roll his eyes whenever I told him these stories; stories of catcallers on the streets who would yell out rude, lewd, sexual comments, and stories of men who would ask me out for sex.  “Oh c’mon. Poor little Clarissa. You’re getting attention and you’re complaining?” he’d say. And he’d tell me I was overreacting. I was speechless. This is a form of harassment and I take it very seriously.

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From an old acquaintance.

Listen. I am not a piece of meat. I am not a sex object. I am not a walking vagina. I refuse to treat my body that way because I believe in true connection and I believe that sex should be meaningful and safeguarded because it’s an act of vulnerability and trust. These are my personal mantras; standards I live and breathe by.

Once, after a first date, a guy and I immediately established that we just didn’t have an emotional connection. “Great meeting you,” I texted, thanking him for his time and honesty.

“You too,” he replied. “But hey, if you’re down to be friends with benefits… I’m up for that. Yeah?”

I deleted his number immediately.

The hierarchy of dating seems to be this: Physical connection first. And then when we’re entangled in a heap of sheets and sweat, we’ll sort out the emotional part… when convenient.

Sometimes that works out amazingly and people get lifelong partners from that. But more often than not, it just leads to pain and confusion and heartbreak. Plus, sex messes with your brain. It amps up the hormones so you can’t think logically.

What if we did it the other way around? What if, we pursued the emotional and mental and spiritual connection first. And then let the physical part come afterwards? It’s terrifying to demand that from people. Why is that?

“Can I tell you something?” my friend Andrea said, as we were sitting in Mari Vanna New York, under the dim fairytale lights of the Russian eatery.

“Hm?”

“I don’t think people believe in love anymore.”

And then we proceeded to talk about the dating culture and how it’s so hard to find people who take you seriously and how people are so focused on sex that it’s impossible to wade through all of that and get to the heart and soul of another person.

People don’t believe in love because love is too difficult. Love means you have to strip down all the protective layers and bear your soul, naked and exposed. Love leaves people completely vulnerable. Love is a world where hard work, blood, sweat, and tears come to play. Love is an arena where you have to sacrifice and give and learn the importance of selflessness. Love is where you are challenged beyond your wildest beliefs — where you are forced down on your knees in complete humility.

Sex? That shit is easy.

“I guess we just haven’t met the right guys,” we collectively concluded.

And so, why am I writing this? If I’m conscious that the hook-up culture is a choice; a choice that I don’t have to be a part of, but a choice that people make. None of these guys are forcing me to have sex with them.

Because to ask a question like, “Want to have sex?” out of the blue or as a pickup line means that you do not respect me. To call out, in the street, “Hey you have a hot ass,” is rude and demoralizing and straight up harassment.  You do not respect me as a soul, as a woman, as a human being. You see me a sexual being with a hole. I am not flattered that you find me physically attractive. Not in the least bit.

I am saddened that all you care for is skin deep. I am disgusted that you see me as a means to fulfill your desires. It’s selfishness at its core. You are not interested in my soul. You view me as an embodiment of pleasure… of your personal pleasure.

I am offended because you do not respect me. With that said, well, the feeling is completely mutual.

 

What’s Wrong With Me?

Dear Clarissa:

On July 19, I went on a date with someone from Iran named Mike. I messaged him on Match.com and we arranged to meet. He’s from Iran. He doesn’t have a car — he rented a car and drove to Durham. The date last about 5-6 hours…which confused me. I thought that that date would lead to something. After the date, he texted me and said “Penny, I got back home and thanks for a great time. I said: “I’m glad you got home safe and I had a great time too.” The next day he didn’t text me and then on Monday he texted me about something he brought up during the conversation we had on the date and wished me a good week. I didn’t hear from him again until Friday and he said he has to work one of the days of the weekend and that he hopes I have a good weekend. I said I am going to read a book that I got in the mail and pack because I need to move. He said let me know if you need help moving heavy stuff. I said: I will, thanks for offering. I didn’t hear from him and felt like I was left hanging so on Wednesday the next week…I texted “Hey how are you?” He texted the next morning: “I am fine thanks.” I have a few more things to do for work. I hope all is well with you. Then I didn’t hear from him all week and so on August 5th I texted: “Hi Mike, I had a really good time when we met. Would you be interested in meeting up again in the next couple of weeks sometime? For coffee or lunch?” He said the next evening: “Hi. Sorry I’m a little more occupied than usual. Let me know anytime you are in Raleigh and we go for a coffee.” I said one hour later, “Sounds good.” Then I didn’t hear from him at all. He had never called me by the way. I sent him a text yesterday at noon because he did say if you’re in town let me know and we’ll go for a coffee.

It was: “Hi Mike, it’s Penny. Hope you’re doing well and that work and school is going well. I finally have an opportunity to be in town next weekend…Would you still want to get together for a drink or coffee or something?? Let me know!! :)”

What do you think of the text? Are the exclamation points and smiley face too much? Was it appropriate? He has not responded yet- not sure if he will. I am very sad about this…he hasn’t responded.

My questions:
Who are the women in his life? Past present and future? Does he cheat? Why not me?
Will I hear from him again? Why isn’t he responding to me? Why did this happen?
I felt suicidal and wanted to go to the hospital. I’m heartbroken and devastated. I loved and liked him after one date. He had me at hello. It was love at 1st sight almost. I’m infatuated, obsessed, addicted. Why did I get so attached so fast? Did I sabotage it? Does he think of me at all? What will the nature of the relationship between me and Mike be? Who will Mike marry? An Iranian from Iran? An American? Where will he settle down?? live? in the US? Europe? or Iran? Will he get US citizenship? Doesn’t even want friendship with me? Why not? No fling with me??
Where will he settle? What city? Doesn’t even want a friendship? doesn’t want to get to know me better? as an acquaintance? Who are the women in his life past present future?? Obsessed with wanting to know about the women in his life and his relations with them.

What I liked about him:
Willing to be seen in public with me
Date lasted a long time- 5 to 6 hours
Offered to help me move
Rented a car to see me

What i did not like about him:
He doesn’t know my last name– he didn’t ask
The rude comments.
Looking at phone once and said sorry that was rude during the date
Brought up pretty blondes–rude
“We’ll see,” about continuing to see me.

I don’t like my image– need to work on this…clothes, style, walk, femininity, posture, smile, flirting, confidence, accessories, makeup, jewelry. Bad communication…hard to keep convos going. Not graceful. Low confidence — so i self sabotage.

I don’t feel feminine. Not sexy enough for him? Flirty enough?

Signed,
Penny

My dear, dear, dear Penny,

Here’s the cold and brutal truth: Love at first sight does not exist.

And wait. Listen. That doesn’t mean that what you felt wasn’t real. I believe you. You’re in pain and it sucks. The sweaty palms, the anxiety, the “Oh my god this guy is amazing. I need him.” The feeling of desperation, that you need to breathe him in in order to feel complete. That thought: “All I need is a fucking text message and I will be okay. Why is that selfish asshole not texting me back?” You want to throw your phone at a wall because shit, you did not sign up for this mental torment and “Why did he go on a five hour date with me if he doesn’t like me?”

I’ve been there Penny and let me assure you that this is all perfectly normal.

A couple weeks ago I met this amazing, beautiful man and we hit it off. It had all the signs of a promising fling. He was hot. Conversation flowed. And I could not get enough of those pretty eyes. Hours later, he asked for my number and I giggled inside. He was the first guy who made me feel butterflies in months. I thought about him the first thing the next day, then the day after that…then…

Three days passed.

Not a word from him. And then I texted him hello. Hours went by, he texted back, and then I deleted his messages off my phone. Been there, done that. Not worth my time.

You see Penny, this is the nature of attraction. When you’re attracted to someone, they turn into this beautiful person who is perfect. After all, he drove out all that way just to see you. After all, he spent so much time with you. After all, you had a moment of connection — a connection you have never felt before in your life and it was special and endearing. And at the end of the date, you’re hooked and you’re shaking. You want more. You need more. But the thing is, you don’t need Mike. You don’t even know him. What you’re looking for is a feeling, not a person. You’re looking for that feeling of being cared for and loved for. And that is not Mike.

Love at first sight does not exist, but lust does and what you experienced was a textbook case of that. Everyone goes through it at one point or another. Others will brush it off, some are more strongly affected by it. You are in latter category. This doesn’t mean that there is something defective or broken about you. You (like myself) are an emotional person. This is a good thing. (In my opinion, it’s better being conscious of how you feel than a stone-cold rock.)  And you have a terrible case of self-deprecation. I’ve been there too. This can be fixed.

Dear Penny. I do not know you but I can assure you that you are being too hard on yourself. And I get the strong sense that you’ve been hard on yourself for a very long time. To solve this problem, first, please, stop hurting yourself. You do not need to work on your image. You do not need to change the color of your skin, the way you talk, the way you think, the way you act. You are perfect being you. How do I know that? Because everyone is perfect when they are themselves. Imperfection lies in inauthenticity

Second, Mike is not what you’re looking for. He cannot give you what you want. Even if he professes his undying love for you and asks for your hand in marriage. You will not get what you want. I promise you that.

Here’s what happened on your date: You guys hit it off. It was a good date. There were sparks. But he went home and you went home and he decided: “Penny is cool. But she’s not a fit for me.” That’s it.

There’s nothing wrong with you. You are worthy of love and affection and time. You are just not a fit for him. There isn’t a specific reason for these type of things. You can scrutinize it all you want but you’ll never find the answer you want. Because sometimes, “She’s just not a match,” is just a feeling people have. He felt that you guys were not a fit. Excuse the cliche but it’s completely and utterly true: It’s not you. It’s him.

I’ve been in relationships before that have lasted for years, where I have felt all the feelings that you are feeling. I have transcribed our conversations into my journals. I’ve kept logs of our communications — when he texted, when I initiated, when he texted back. I’ve taken text messages and held a magnifying glass over them, trying to get deeper and deeper, as if dissecting their meanings would give me answers as to why I wasn’t good enough for these men, as if, the pixels would magically give me a road map and tell me how I could’ve been the woman of their dreams. I’ve read miles of psychology articles and books, trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I scrutinized my every action and thought and inch of my body …with the fiery determination of a woman in love.

…If only I had spent all that energy on myself.

What you want, my dear, is within you. This isn’t some New Agey bullshit. It’s the brutal truth. It’s within all of us. You (and I) cannot be in a successful, healthy relationship until we reach a point in our lives where we are completely satisfied with being alone. I know. That is terrifying and that is a reality I’m going through in my own life right now.

It’s terrifying because to be alone is to be alone with all the negative thoughts swirling in your head. To be alone is to be alone with your inner demons. All of those sad and negative things you emailed me about? Those are the thoughts of your internal self. She is the relationship partner you need to reconcile with first. And I promise you, once those inner demons are gone, once you can look at yourself and say “I am perfect the way I am,” the next time you encounter a Mike, none of those feelings will haunt you anymore. You will be able to look at the situation and think: “He doesn’t like me as much as I like him. That is fine.” And walk away and move onto a man who will like you the same amount as you like him. This is all possible.

To get over him is simple: Have a love affair with yourself. Do all things you want to do, hang out with all the people you love. Eat your favorite foods. Be active about this. And no, wallowing in depression does not count. That’s taking the easy way out. Treat yourself like you’re the love of your life and treat her like a princess. Go on that trip. Get that manicure. Eat that five course meal. Force yourself to be active and awesome and slowly the thought of him will fade out of your mind because your life is too fucking great to be haunted by a guy like him.

Love at first sight does not exist. But the good news Penny, is that love does exist. It exists right now. It exists within you. So love her.

In The City

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I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived back in New York. This was the city I fled in a huff, determined to leave because I needed to be in Los Angeles — because my heart was there and I desperately wanted to reclaim it.

So when I landed in JFK and stepped out of the familiar airplane for the first time in two years, New York came and she fit like a glove. I found myself moving faster, crossing streets with no regard for the signs; if there are no cars, I’m walking. I knew exactly where I was going. I operated with muscle memory. I stood up taller. I changed my clothes. I changed, back into the girl who lived in New York City. And then after all that was done, I stepped my ass into McSorley’s and bought myself two pints of lager.

Cheers to finally being single and happy in New York. (It’s a first for me.)

This was the city I felt my highest highs and my lowest lows, the city that shaped my career and my adulthood. She’s a dear friend of mine and I thought, “I’m happy to be back home.”

And then a sad realization: I had two homes. Los Angeles and New York. I just didn’t appreciate this one while I had it.

And as I retraced my steps, on 7th street toward Washington Square Park… I saw my ghost in front of me, wandering the streets, cold, and crying. It’s 2012 again, October. Hurricane Sandy has hit and the streets are pitch black and I’m scared. My heart had just been broken for the first time. I want out.

And then I see myself, a month after the hurricane, walking back to my small apartment, walking past McSorleys, past Burp Castle and I see the ghost of that man who had, nearly two years ago, saw me and said, as I walked by in silence: “Don’t be sad. It’ll be okay.” ….As if he could see my soul.

Dear Clarissa. He was right. You should’ve listened.

It’s a beautiful thing to be back in a place you left so long ago. Everything I had taken for granted in the four years I was here, came out of hiding and revealed itself, layer by layer. That church on 10th and 4th avenue? You’re allowed to just walk in. For the first time I did, and in that stained glass cathedral, I let the rich melodic tones of the organ wash over me. Strand Bookstore? That place is a gem. For the first time, I entered and let the paperback souls of authors, dead or alive, around the world, speak to me.

For the first time, I let New York City be. I don’t have an agenda here. I don’t have a career to pursue, classes to attend. I simply am.

“Clarissa, you’re on the right track.” “You’re figuring things out.” These are the messages I’m receiving and I, sitting across the table from my teachers, in the form of old friends and new souls, am fixated and high on their every word.

Where was all of this wisdom when I lived here? Oh that’s right.

I was always just too busy to listen.

It’s amazing when you just let things be. Even in the city of ambition, where everyone seems so bent on achievement, if you just sit still and let it all wash over you, you’ll see that there’s something to be fascinated about at every corner. There’s a lesson to be learned with every conversation. All you need to do is listen.