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Confession: My biggest shame in life is that I’m a writer who doesn’t read

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This is my absolute deepest, most secret shame… I don’t read.

I know that might be a funny or surprising thing to say considering that I am in recovery and could probably shock even the closest of friends with some of my worst drinking stories (only my partner Adam knows them all), but it’s true.

You see, I love books.

No, seriously, I love love LOVE books. I love the way they smell, I love the way they look, I love holding them, I love collecting them, I love the way they decorate my bookcase, I love that buying them supports another writer, and I love owning them. Seriously, I *love* books!

So what the heck is wrong with me that I don’t read?

I can tell you right now that I have probably owned at least a thousand books in my lifetime. Working as a journalist has allowed me to buy books for cheap, to give them away when I was done with them, to get books for free even, and so much more. When I was really into cooking, I would buy every cookbook I could find (often for $1), and eventually donated them. The same happened when I was really into writing chick lit and YA, books which I eventually gave to my friend who is a teacher.

These days I have stopped buying physical books, and instead switched to ebooks. I thought this was a great switch for me, and even loved it for quite a while. But now I own at least 200 books on my Kindle, most of which I have not actually read.

In fact, as I was doing my taxes last year, I discovered that I spent $1,500 on books. Thanks goodness it’s a tax write-off!

Do you know how many of those books that I bought last year I actually read?

None.

That’s right. Last year, I bought a shitton of books and read absolutely none of them from start to finish… And I feel absolutely horrible about that. I feel guilty, like a loser, like a failed writer, and like a fake.

A common piece of advice that we writers get is that we should be READING ALL THE TIME. It’s a well-known way to learn “the craft” of writing, by simply reading what others do, learning from those that came before you, absorbing their stories and their prose and their sentence structure and… Yeah, all of that.

I don’t disagree with this piece of advice. It’s just I don’t exactly follow it.

Here’s the thing: I don’t get why I don’t follow it considering just how much I truly, truly love books. I love learning about people’s stories, I love fiction and non-fiction and absorbing things about other’s lives. I’ve fallen in love with memoir, and I try to read as much of it as I can while also working on my own memoir, Moscow Chica.

Or at least I want to, in theory. But I don’t read.

Instead, I buy books and then feel guilty because they stay sitting on my shelf, lying on my nightstand, or waiting on my Kindle.

In fact, even my Kindle is a brand-new purchase. Last year, in hopes of reading more, I switched from an iPad to a Kindle. I bought it around the Thanksgiving Day sale on Amazon for a cool $50. I almost bought a fancier, pricier version in hopes that would motivate me further (but I’m really glad I didn’t, because it hasn’t).

I spent hours setting up my Kindle and making it perfect.

All of my books are now in categories, and that makes me SO happy. All of the books I have ever bought in digital form are just happily waiting for me to finally open them, and yet I never do it.

Why is that? What the hell is wrong with me, a writer for the entirety of my 10+ year career and beforehand, that I don’t actually read?

I think I have finally figured it out, actually. The reason behind my oh-so-secret shame as a writer is that I am an extrovert.

Yes, that’s what I said: I am an extrovert and that is why I, a writer who absolutely LOVES books, doesn’t read.

Here’s what typically happens when I sit down to read a book: I read a chapter or two, sometimes more, and then I get antsy and bored. The last time I read a good chunk of my current bookclub book (Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed, a writer I love and follow), I got through to the next section and then decided to go get a manicure and pedicure.

Sometimes, I start reading and decide that I have to take care of the dishes RIGHT NOW, or that I should be cleaning out the litter box, or that I want to draw, or that I want to catch up with Facebook, or whatever. There’s just always something. Something else I want to be doing that isn’t sitting there and reading. A lot of the times I want to be doing something else that involves other people, which is why I often run off to get a mani-pedi or even put in a movie instead.

In a weird way, reading is too isolating to me.

And I know what you’re going to say: Reading is all about using your imagination! You live in the world of the books! You’re involved with those characters!

Hey, I get that, and I don’t disagree. But at the same time, I am realizing that what reading is missing for me is a more personal connection. When I read, I just hear my own voice in my head and somehow… that’s boring.

I don’t know what to make of this, but I just am not good at reading books.

Here’s the other thing I realized, though: I actually do read. I read constantly. I am also an editor, so I am always reading other people’s writing. And because I am a journalist, I am constantly reading other people’s published articles. I am in a few Facebook groups, where people post their most recent stories, and I am often either saving them to read later (sorry, must be more of the not reading issues) because they’re too long for me at the moment or I’m reading them right then and there.

I am constantly consuming media, really, because I am also always either watching television or listening to Spotify or, my newest thing, listening to podcasts.

I talked about it briefly recently when I confessed that I had some middle-of-the-night issues as a writer, but I have fallen in love HARD with podcasts.

Currently, I’m listening primarily to Dear Sugar Radio (that’s Cheryl Strayed’s podcast), Happier with Gretchen Rubin (another writer I love), Modern Love, Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert (ditto as Cheryl and Gretchen), Quiet: The Power of Introverts with Susan Cain (learning something about my partner, Adam, who is an introvert), and many more.

What I’m finding out as I learn more about myself as a writer and as a person in general is that I need to connect with others in order to “recharge”. That’s the whole extrovert thing. And I guess that reading just isn’t recharging enough for me, but somehow watching television or listening to a podcast is recharging.

Even though in those cases I’m not actually spending time with people, I’m still somehow around people in a weird way. If I’m watching a television show or movie that I like, I’m still learning something or feeling close to someone else (even if they’re a fictional character). And with podcasts… Well, even better!

The reason why I’ve fallen in love with podcasts is because one of the reasons I enjoy reading (and do read a lot of articles, honestly) is to learn things, and podcasts are a great way for me to learn.

I also realized that I enjoy audiobooks, after many, many, MANY years of poking fun at one of my best friends (who also happens to be a journalist) who doesn’t read but instead has been listening to audiobooks for years now. I used to think it was kind of funny that he didn’t read (I even gave him the hashtag #jessedoesntread), but now I realize that audiobooks are AWESOME.

I discovered those a couple of months ago, during my April book club, when I listened to Jurassic Park. Then in May, I listened to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Now, in June, I am struggling through reading Wild (because I don’t have the audiobook), and it shows.

Perhaps the other reason I’ve fallen in love with audiobooks and podcasts is because I love multi-tasking, and simply “listening” to something (while learning or absorbing whatever it is that I am hearing) is fulfilling… because I can also be doing something else.

I absolutely loved listening to Jurassic Park all day on a Sunday, for instance, while organizing the second bedroom of my house (which has long been on my To Do List). Lately, I’ve been listening to various podcasts while doing laundry and cooking for the week on Sundays. It helps me pass the time and makes me less bored, honestly.

As I grow and mature as a writer and as a person, I am trying to let go of the expectations that I have for myself and the things that make me needlessly guilty.

So today I am confessing that I am a writer who doesn’t read… Or rather, a writer who has found that sitting down and reading a book for hours just isn’t for me because I need more activity and movement and noise in my life. So instead, I am a writer who loves to read… audiobooks and podcasts and articles that don’t take me too long.

I think that this new realization about myself will actually make me a better writer because I will spend less time obsessing or feeling bad that I’m not reading something, and instead do more “reading” with my audiobooks.

I can’t even begin to tell you how great it feels to wake up, turn on my podcasts (or Audible app), and take my shower while “reading”… Maybe more serious writers will completely judge me for this and tell me that I’m not a real writer if I’m not reading at least a book a week, but that just isn’t me. And I’m tired of living up to the expectations of what a writer should be, and instead am just going to be myself. #irinadoesntread

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On writers… and our middle-of-the-night insomnia

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Writers all have those nights, don’t we? I know I do.

It starts out innocently enough. I get up to go to the bathroom. I quickly check my phone. Then something happens in my brain… and I can’t seem to turn it off.

I’m writing this at 4 in the morning because I haven’t been able to fall asleep again since somewhere around 2:30am. I’m starting to realize that these nights happen to me once every couple of months. They come, and they go, and then they disappear again. But they always come back.

It wasn’t always like this, however.

In my past life of living in New York City and being a full-time employed editor, I don’t remember nights like this.

I do, however, remember the stress. Stress from work and constantly feeling overwhelmed and behind, along with editor perks like press events with free-flowing alcohol several nights a week, led me to develop a problem with alcohol. I’m in recovery now, thank goodness, and haven’t had a drink in well over a year. I am grateful for that.

But now I have these nights.

I’m not sure what it is, really. Maybe it’s because I am now in a different life, in a different mindset, and my creative brain is set free to roam however it needs or wants to.

I know that when I was living in New York, the nights were often late. I would stay up till midnight or later easily, and wake up the next day to go to work. Then, when my alcohol troubles began, I often used drink to soothe myself into sleep after an exhausting day. It became a pattern that I couldn’t keep up, that eventually led to losing jobs and entering rehab and coming out on the other side of things.

Now that I live in a place that is low-stress, and with a supportive partner to boot, things are easier. My life is happy and filled with the kind of joy that I never thought was possible. Yet now sometimes I still can’t sleep, and I do not have the option of a drink to lull me back to bed.

So what’s a writer to do?

For one, today, I decided to write about it. Cause, ya know, I’m a writer and all.

Usually, I lie in bed, tossing and turning, and hope to go back to sleep. Typically it works within a few hours, and I wake up in the morning exhausted and grumpy and having to tell my partner why I might be a bitch that day. He’s always patient and kind, and asks what kept me up. I’m sure he’s tired of hearing all about my sleepless nights, but yet here I am. At it again, as it were.

Tonight it wasn’t anything spectacular, really. I was too warm to sleep and woke up to go to the bathroom. I grabbed my phone to shine the flashlight and checked it from the toilet (glamorous, I know, but I wanted to set the scene). Then, when I got back to bed, I started to think about some of the podcasts I had listened to earlier in the day.

You see, my partner and I have recently both rediscovered podcasts… and basically fell in love, hard. He’s got a longer commute now and I suggested he start listening to podcasts as a way to distract himself from the misery of traffic. Meanwhile, as I heard him talk about some of the cool new ones he discovered (and did my own search to help him along the way), I decided to try them out too.

The truth is, I have long been a bit anti-audio.

One of my best friends has been raving about audio books for years, but I always made fun of him. We created a funny hashtag just for him, because he #doesntread despite being an accomplished journalist, writer and producer in his own right. But he still consumes media and, to be honest, he’s probably “read” 10x the books I have in the past five years.

I’ve resisted the audio book thing, though, and in turn resisted podcasts.

Maybe it’s because I see myself as a writer so somehow listening to something just felt kind of wrong. It felt like I was taking away from the author, from the written word, from my own love of reading. And yet, I don’t actually read nearly as much as I want to in my head. It’s not that I don’t want to, but that I often keep myself busy with other things… like writing or being social or cooking. Things I enjoy and clearly prioritize over reading.

Then earlier this year, a friend of mine and I started a book club focused on books that have turned into movies. We did Hidden Figures for March and, let me tell you, I barely got halfway through reading the paperback copy I got with all of the ladies of the movie on the cover. Then, in April, I decided to try Audible with my 2-book free sample.. and I absolutely LOVED it.

I devoured Jurassic Park that month and then The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in May, and I didn’t look back. To be honest, I shocked myself with my own love and appreciation of the written word spoken out loud.

I think part of what drew me to audio books and, now, to podcasts, is how easy it is to listen throughout the day. Although I can’t really do it while I am writing or editing or doing any kind of work, I can definitely do it while I am showering in the morning, taking the dog out, cooking myself lunch or dinner, and doing a number of other random activities.

In fact, one of the best weekends I spent recently was when I was “reading” a huge chunk of Jurassic Park while cleaning the house and organizing all the shit I needed to organize. It was weirdly thrilling for me, someone who prides herself on being a multi-tasker, to be able to do it in the most extreme way: Read a book AND do errands at the same time. I could check off things from my To Do List and still enjoy myself!

It was thrilling, and I shocked myself by how much I loved it.

So now it’s podcasts that I listen to, since for some reason this month I decided to actually read our book (WILD by Cheryl Strayed, one of my favorite authors and, as luck would have it, one of my favorite podcasts: Dear Sugar). So what kept me up at night once I started to think of podcasts around 3am this morning? Creating my own, of course.

That seems to be the big pattern on nights like this when I can’t fall asleep: I am unable to turn my brain off with the thoughts of, typically, some new creative venture.

Sometimes I am just thinking about story ideas, particular chapters in my memoir, or other writing quandaries. Other times I literally have some new I-think-genius idea and am just mentally trying to figure out how to make it work, whether I have time for it, if I really want to do it…

I know what my partner would say right now. Besides “GET BACK TO BED!”, he would advise me to calm the F down.

I’m an extrovert and a feelings-based person at that, so when I get excited, I get really freaking excited. I can spend days talking about some new idea or some new venture or some other new thing that has me all in a tizzy and thinking about it at all hours of the day, like right now.

I can’t put myself to sleep or, even worse, I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it and end up losing sleep.

And let me tell you: I love my sleep. One of the things I appreciate the most about Adam is that he likes to get to bed early. It’s helped to reset my own bad sleeping habits and, even though I am not a morning person and will consider myself a night owl forever, I am very much enjoying the 8-9 hours of sleep I am getting on a consistent basis.

It’s probably one of the reasons why I feel so at peace and happy these days (though being sober and having love and support in my life is certainly a much being reason), or so Arianna Huffington would have us believe. Trust me, I am all for getting more sleep… except tonight, it seems. And on other nights when this happens.

The funny thing is, of course, that I am sure this happens a lot to many other people, to many other writers and creative types perhaps.

It’s not necessarily exclusive to those of us who venture intro creative fields, but I would bet that we are natural insomniacs at times due to these “holy crap, what an idea!” moments like I am having now.

So how do we cure those moments and how do we help ourselves?

To be honest, I am still trying to figure that part out. I honestly have no idea what to do in these moments when I am up in the middle of the night and can’t seem to shut my damn brain off. What I’ve done when they come for the past year is simply try to get through them.

I shut my eyes, I tell myself to go back to sleep, I ask my brain to please stop, and then I wait until I get too tired and drift back into sleep. But it often takes hours. Sometimes I pick up my phone and jot down the idea. Other times I simply lie there, telling myself it’s dumb and to just please oh please get the F back to sleep.

I do, eventually.

But tonight I decided to try something new. So here I am, writing out my thought and it’s been about 20 minutes of rambling. Maybe it’s time to stop?

Not sure what all of this will mean to me in the morning, but here it is. And now… to sleep. Or at least to try.

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Uh oh! Do I have baby fever?

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This weekend, my fiancé Adam and I went to meet the 2 1/2 week old baby of one of our friends.

It was one of those “baby greeting” type parties, which I admit I have never attended before, and it was a first for us as a couple. Although we have a few friends who have kids, we don’t really interact with children on a regular basis.

The friends we are closest to, who have two toddlers, are pretty great parents. But they’re also really good about having a life outside of their role as parents, so whenever we hang out, the kids are either with their grandma or busy entertaining themselves in the other room.

We also have more distant friends who have a 1 year old (or, well, I guess he’s older now?) but we don’t see them very often. So when it came to this weekend and our interaction with this newborn, I don’t think Adam and I were fully prepared for it.

We arrived at our friend’s house just as mom started breastfeeding, so we didn’t get to meet the baby right away. Instead, we chatted with the new dad and some of the other guests, had a few snacks and eventually went outside to admire the backyard of their new home and play cornhole (don’t ask).

It was a fun way to spend an afternoon and, of course, eventually it came time to meet the baby. I actually got to hold the little boy for the better part of 10 minutes or so… and afterwards, our friend (who took a picture of me) sent it to Adam with the line, “be careful, she might want one of these!”

Setting aside the blatant sexism of that statement, what he said was true: Yes, I do want a baby… Someday.

The truth is that I have known for sure that I wanted to be a mom since I was 26 years old. Before that, I thought it might be something I wanted… but at some point exactly five years ago, I realized that motherhood is not something that was an option for me. It’s something I deeply, definitely want to be a part of my life one day. This was, of course, long before I met my now partner and future husband, who I have known for just over a year.

Knowing that you definitely want a kid someday makes dating very interesting. Not for nothing, but marriage and kids would often come up within the first few dates because, well, I don’t believe in wasting a person’s time or them wasting mine. I’m a big believer in what Dan Savage says about deal breakers: If you have more than five deal breakers, then you’re the problem. But I never had that many. I just knew that having a family with my future partner was at the top of my list.

Luckily, when the conversation with Adam came up about a month or so into dating, it went well. Obviously. We agreed that we want babies someday, but definitely not today. I remember at the time, both of us talked in vague “maybe in five years” kind of terms.

Now things are a little different, though. It’s been a year since that conversation, we’re very much in love and planning to get married. Someday, we know we will start a family… but as our relationship grows, so does my desire to start a family with him.

I actually recently wrote about my fear of infertility for Cafe Mom. In that article, I talk about how I know I definitely want a baby but I don’t want my desire for a child to negatively impact my relationship. He’s not ready, I’m not really ready either, but there’s a little voice in the back of my head that frequently reminds me of my age.

I’m 31 years old now and, well, biology is what it is.

I don’t want to wait forever to have a child, especially because IVF is an expensive reality for many women and being infertile is scary to me. Ideally, I want us to have a child through natural means. And I hope that it won’t be a difficult, tedious process. I’ve heard stories of couples who go through multiple rounds of IVF, who struggle to conceive, who fight and even sometimes break up in the middle of the process because it is damn fucking hard.

I can’t imagine Adam and I ever breaking up, but at the same time I don’t want us to go through this difficult struggle when we are finally ready to have a child, either.

So while the biological clock is ticking, I just have to sit here and hope that it doesn’t tick by too fast. To be honest, the one feeling I remember clearly when I held that adorable baby boy this weekend is that I’m not ready to be a mom, to be responsible for another life, to hold a baby every day for… well, a while.

But I’m getting closer. Our relationship is getting closer. And I guess that’s something to look forward to. Or be terrified of. Or all of the above, perhaps?

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May Writer’s Life: My first month at Romper was huge [#yearofwriting]

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Hello there, May. In my fifth month of the #yearofwriting, I’ve done spectacularly well.

As I announced last month, May 1st was the start of my new Lifestyle Writer role at Romper — a part-time gig that involves writing mostly about sex, love and relationships for the millennial moms site.

It’s honestly been a joy to not only invest more time in actual writing (and get a regular paycheck) but also to write about something that I truly love and find interesting. I’ve learned a bunch and am pretty sure I will continue to do so for as long as I am with them… which I hope will be for a long time!

The only thing that hasn’t happened much, I admit, is pitching. Because I am now pretty busy between my Brit+Co Food Editor job, Romper and my other contributor roles, there’s almost no time for anything else. Still, it’s been super productive. Here goes!

What was published: 

Romper, specifically: 

My proudest moment of the month happened right at the beginning: My Weight Loss Success story published in Women’s Health! I absolutely love that magazine and website, and it was an honor to write about how I have changed my body throughout the years and the way I have been able to maintain a healthy attitude towards my weight. And, of course, my absolute favorite trick to keeping the weight off. But you’ll have to read the story to find that out, hehe.

The other great successes of my month were, of course, starting at Romper and writing a TON because of that. I blogged a bit, too, but I think the vast majority of my writing and income came from Romper.

How much I wrote: 34,450 words

How much I made: $2808

Look at those numbers! Pretty exciting, indeed.

I wrote more than 10k words and made more than $1k more in income in May, versus April. In fact, I wrote almost as much in May as I did during all of Q1. And the same goes for my income. That’s pretty impressive, and I can’t wait to see what my numbers will look like in Q2.

Pitches sent out in May: 2 (one sent to 6 publications, simultaneously)
Pitch rejections: 0
Pitch non-replies: 0
Pitch acceptances: 2 (unless you count the 5 that didn’t accept the simultaneous pitch, which you can)
Pitch reply with question: 0

Follow-ups with previous pitches: 2
Pitch rejections: 0
Pitch non-replies: 1
Pitch acceptances: 1

As I mentioned before, I didn’t get to pitch much in May… That will likely impact my income in June, which isn’t great. That’s actually something that my writing coach warned me about but, since I am lacking in time anyway, I’m okay with it for now.

Actually, what I am probably going to focus on in June is just pitching the stories that I *really* believe in. With limited time, my priorities come into a different kind of focus. I tried to pitch as much as possible before, and that worked fine… but now I can focus on pitching the stories I very much want to write and pitch them to the editors that I very much enjoy working with. We’ll see how it goes.

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The first time I said “I love you” in a relationship

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Exactly one year ago today, I said “I love you” for the very first time in a relationship.

That might sound crazy for a variety of reasons: I am 31 years old, I have been in at least two other longterm relationships (lasting two years and 11 months, respectively), I was single and actively dating in NYC for several years, and I have met some good people.

But I’ve never fallen in love.

During my previous two relationships, I actually did think I was in love at various points throughout those times. But it was never acknowledged by me or the person I was with. At the time, it was a very frustrating situation.

My first real boyfriend, who I dated for two years, came from a very emotionally closed off family and once admitted that he’d never even heard his own mom say that she loves him. Although I hated that he never said it to me (that is, until months after we broke up!), at the time I was stubborn and didn’t want to say it first or say it when I knew that I would never hear it back.

My second boyfriend was a bit of a different case, but being emotionally unavailable was his thing too. We both acknowledged having feelings for each other, but the word “love” was never used or discussed. In fact, it was probably out of the question considering how messed up he was from previous relationships and his own desire to want to keep me at arm’s length.

I remember both times feeling that there was something wrong with me, questioning why these men couldn’t open up to me, and ultimately realizing that I was attracted to emotionally unavailable men.

I spent the next five years dating on and off. To be honest, my career was starting to take off and I didn’t have much time for finding love. But I also was afraid of falling into those same traps again, and so my relationships while I was “single” didn’t last very long. Usually anywhere from a couple of dates to a few weeks, there wasn’t time enough to get to know anyone very well and, to be honest, nobody was interesting enough to get me out of my comfort zone and force me to open up.

Until I met Adam a year and a month ago, that is.

What made meeting him so special was that I was probably in a perfect storm of being in the right circumstances, the right place in my life and finding the right person.

Here’s the circumstances: I had just moved out of New York City and that toxic dating scene, I had taken a step back in my career to refocus on what I truly wanted, I had entered recovery to deal with some of my addictive issues, I had a long dating break and I had just turned 30 years old.

Meanwhile, being in the right place in my life meant that I was finally emotionally ready to be in a real relationship, I knew what I wanted in a partner and in a coupledom, I had the ability to open up and I could see myself having a future with someone that wasn’t just myself. For possibly the first time ever, I had the capacity to include someone in my life in a non-selfish way. I was willing to accommodate another person into my life and I was even kind of excited to do so.

And, of course, Adam was the right person.

There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind about that. He is the kindest, sweetest, most generous person I could have ever hoped to meet, and knowing him has made me stronger in more ways than I could have ever thought possible. He met me at the lowest point in my life and he has been a huge part of making the last year one of the best in my entire existence.

But the thing that really continues to surprise and thrill me is the love that we share.

Before him, I thought I had been in love… but that quickly turned out to be WRONG, wrong, wrong. Not only had I never actually said the words “I love you” out loud in a romantic way, but I had never really felt them either. I think I had been close a few times, sure, but nothing like the kind of love that I feel for Adam.

We kind of joke about how love came easily for us. We went on our first date last April 30th, then went away together two and a half weeks later and fell in love.

I will forever remember the exact moment when Adam told me he loved me (and yes, he said it first!). We were lying in bed together a month and a day after meeting, and I had been dying to say “I love you” for weeks. In fact, I had kind of slipped up a couple of days before but thought I had saved it by turning the phrase into something else. Turns out, he knew exactly what had happened.

But anyway. Leading up to the words, he told the story of us going away two weeks before and the very last thing we did on our trip together. And then he said it: That’s when he fell in love with me.

My heart soared, and I said it back right away.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Looking back a year later, I am really glad that I never said those words to anyone else. It’s been an incredible year of being in love and happier than I could have ever imagined, and lots of growing as a person and as a partner. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

Happy “I love you” anniversary, Adam… from your fiancée who’s even more in love today than I was a year ago.

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