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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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Am I Latina Enough? (Essay featured in Latina magazine’s May 2014 issue)

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In May 2014, my essay “Am I Latina Enough?” was featured in the pages of Latina magazine. It was an honor to write this piece, which is very near and dear to my heart.

Below is an image of the story, followed by the full text in case that’s easier to read:

[Images FROM TOP: Writer Irina Gonzalez at age 3 in Cuba; as a bundled-up baby in Moscow.]

Am I Latina Enough?

After years of struggling with this question, a Russian Cubana comes to terms with her identity. 

I am a Russian Cubana, and proud of it—though most of my life I didn’t know what it meant to be Latina.

Born 28 years ago in Moscow to a Russian mother and Cuban father who fell in love in what was then the USSR, I grew up in a mostly wintry landscape, eating traditional beet-and-cabbage borscht and reading fairy tales written in the Cyrillic alphabet. And while my dad spoke to my brother and me in Spanish, it was Russian culture that predominated.

When I was 8, my parents moved us to the Cuban enclave of Hialeah, near Miami. And that’s when my identity crisis began. The swaying palm trees, the fast-talking Spanish all around and rice and beans on every dish made me feel out of my element. But what impacted me most was the machismo of Cuban men, always half joking that their women needed to cook, do the laundry and take care of the kids even after a full day’s work. Since I’d been raised by parents who were strong willed, independent and equally in charge, those sexist attitudes were an immediate turnoff to Latin culture. (And yes, Russian men are also known to be macho, but the men in my mom’s family were the antithesis to that.)

Coming to grips with my Latina identity became even more complicated when my parents relocated us to a predominantly white county in Florida, where I spent my teen years. The only exposure to my Latin roots happened at home, through language and food. But that was the extent of it; in school, the focus was American history, in which Cubans were merely a footnote. And since I didn’t have any Latino friends, I continued to feel like a transplanted Russian as I became more Americanized.

But I was also Latina: my last name, my curves and my weakness for bistec de palomilla told me so. Yet I didn’t go beyond the surface of what that meant until I moved to New York for college. It was in this multicultural metropolis that I started meeting young Latinos of different backgrounds—Puerto Ricans, Colombians, Salvadoreans—who shared my ideals of equality for all genders, races and sexual orientations. They taught me that Latinas come in all shapes, sizes and colors, including the multiracial variety.

That’s when I began to embrace every part of who I was. I soaked up as much Latin culture as I could, devouring books by Spanish poet Federico García Lorca and Chilean author Isabel Allende, and became obsessed with getting my hair done in a Dominican salons and perfecting my bachata steps. I also studied Cuban history, reading about the sugarcane boom in the 1800s and the events that led to Castro’s revolution.

These days, whenever I feel homesick, I ask my friends to join me at my favorite Russian restaurant to share a big bowl of pelmenyi dumplings with sour cream. Other times, those gatherings happen around a batch of abuelita’s ropa vieja (a recipe passed down from my mother, who learned how to make it from her suegra). And in the summer we get together and nosh on juicy burgers because, just like my food cravings, I’m a mix of different things—Russian, Cuban, American—and I want to share that with the world.

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It’s been a year since the start of my rom-com love story

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Last July I wrote about how my life turned into a rom-com cliché and that I was okay with it.

It was a post telling the tale of how I met Adam unexpectedly shortly after moving down to Florida. As you now know, the past year has been especially challenging as I slowly climbed out of the darkest place I’ve ever been to in my life. Meeting him had a lot to do with finding the courage and strength to turn my life around, and I can never give him enough credit for the love and support he has shown me.

This past weekend, we celebrated our one year anniversary by going to the beach in Marco Island, FL, and spending a lovely day together. Doing a little day away was incredibly fun, and I am even more excited for part two of our anniversary celebration this coming weekend. We’re heading to Fort Lauderdale for a mini-vacay weekend, where we will stay in a fancy hotel and see Matilda the musical on tour. It’s a particularly perfect celebration of our two interests — since I’m a huge Broadway fan and he loves the work of Tim Minchin, who wrote the music and lyrics.

Since writing my initial post about Adam ten months ago, not much and a lot has changed. For one, we’ve now perfected our little love story. Whenever someone asks, it typically goes something like this:

I left NYC and moved back down to Florida at the end of April. Out of boredom, I turned on all of my dating apps back on a few days later and, exactly a week after the big move, we met for coffee. It was a four hour first date, followed quickly by a two hour second date and a seven hour third date. He was my first date after moving down to Florida, and quickly became my only one. We fell in love when we went away together on long weekend just two and a half weeks into dating. I moved in after a month and a half of being together. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Our incredible little rom-com cliché of a love story is still going strong a year after that first coffee date. In fact, we revisited that coffee shop on our six month anniversary and again this weekend. We shared dessert just as we had that first day and laughed about how my mom interrupted our date at the very end (yes, really!).

Adam still teases me about how I rushed off into the bathroom to compose myself after that, and I still joke that I can’t believe he asked me on that second date despite my mom showing up. But hey, when you know, you know, right?

That’s the mentality that has perpetuated our relationship from the very beginning, and it still holds true today. That’s not to say our relationship is perfect or ideal all of the time. We have our fights and have to get through difficult situations just like any couple. But what I wrote last July, about how I couldn’t have even dreamed of a relationship this great, is still true.

He is still the most incredible, generous, sweet and kind man that I have ever met. His love for me and support of me (and my career) has only continued to grow. In fact, he even gave up drinking shortly after we met because I’m in recovery and he wanted to be there for me. Even this gesture — giving up something he enjoys and has no problem with just because he loves me so incredibly much — has meant the world to me. And to be honest, I feel much stronger in my sobriety because of his constant support there.

The most incredible thing I have felt in this past year, though, is that I truly have a partner in life. I wrote recently that marrying a man doesn’t make me straight (ya know, since I’m bisexual), and he supported my piece. Anything that comes up, even fights and issues within our relationship, we deal with in the best way we can and ultimately come out stronger on the other end.

Now that it’s been a year, I realize that I am happier than ever. A little over a year ago, I didn’t know what it meant to be truly loved and I didn’t know what it meant to be in a relationship where I didn’t have to constantly question that love. But with Adam, love came easily.

I’m still a little surprised at how we found each other… Two people that ultimately don’t belong in Southwest Florida, that don’t fit in here, that shouldn’t even really be here in the long run. But we did. And now that we have, that feeling is incredible.

The feeling of not having to second guess myself or second guess my partner’s feelings for me is pretty incredible too, to be honest. I love actively planning our future with him, and I love that we constantly talk about spending the rest of our lives together.

I know that life doesn’t actually end when you’ve found your “happy ending” relationship, unlike what those rom-coms would have us believe, but I’m glad to see that the right relationship (even after so many wrong ones) does lead to many, many happy times.

And now I have a year of happy times to look back on and, say, roughly 57 more years of happy times to look forward to.

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April 2017 Writer’s Life: My new blog & new gig at Romper [#yearofwriting]

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Well, here we are! It’s April in my #yearofwriting adventures and I have not one but TWO big announcements, so let me start with those…

1. I started a new blog, The Cookie Dough Life!

The first week of April was not good for me. I hadn’t slept very well and I was increasingly frustrated about, to tell you the truth, I can’t even remember what. But out of my frustration was born a new blog that I have called The Cookie Dough Life.

While you’re totally welcome to read the full story of why I started the blog (and I hope you do!), here’s the main thing you need to know: Being cookie dough is the realization that I’m not done baking yet… Meaning that I haven’t figured it all out, and maybe that’s okay. Living The Cookie Dough Life is about embracing the fact that life is constantly changing and evolving, and so am I.

And, of course, I am going to take you on that journey. Really, it’s going to replace me writing random stuff on this site, which I am keeping as more of a portfolio site going forward. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, here is my favorite post so far: A year ago, I was single, unemployed, homeless, broke, fat and drunk.

2. I’m a Lifestyle Writer at Romper as of May 1st! 

In even MORE exciting news, I am happy to (finally) announce that I am joining Romper as a PT Lifestyle Writer starting Monday, May 1st! WOO HOO!

I will be covering various topics but, for those that don’t know Romper: They are a parenting site for millennial moms and are the sister site of Bustle (which is for millennial women in general). I’ve been a huge fan and follower of both since their launch, and am absolutely thrilled to be joining the team.

I realize that’s not really an April writing thing, but I did apply, interview for and get the job in the month of April, so I think it should count. Oh, and in case you’re wondering: No, I’m not a mom (yet, in fact, I write about that here) but I know I will be someday and I have plenty of experience writing about mom topics previously. So, needless to say, I am just OH SO EXCITED!

And now on to the rest of the month…

What was published: 

Breaking into three new publications has been pretty fun this month, especially because they were all posts that were very personal to me: The first about being bisexual (even though I plan to marry a man), the second about my fertility fears (a subject near and dear to my heart) and the third about how to party sober (since I’m in recovery).

All of those stories were written last month, with the fertility fears story actually being written in January. Can you believe how long I had to wait for it to publish?! But this happens, and it was still thrilling to see the story live… FINALLY!

How much I wrote: 23,487 words

How much I made: $1750

This has been my most successful writing month BY FAR, I have to say. I basically wrote double of what I had in February and March, and made as much money as I did in January (except that two stories back then were on spec, which didn’t get picked up).

Part of the reason that I wrote so much was also because I am counting my words for The Cookie Dough Life. Maybe that’s a little bit unfair because I’m not getting paid for that so, at first glance, it seems as if I am getting paid less to write more… but that’s not the case, because this writing is personal and just for me.

Pitches sent out in April: 5
Pitch rejections: 0
Pitch non-replies: 3
Pitch acceptances: 2 (sort of)
Pitch reply with question: 0

Follow-ups with previous pitches: 6
Pitch rejections: 1
Pitch non-replies: 5
Pitch acceptances: 0

Of course, the story gets a little bit more complicated when you look at the pitches I sent out this past month. Basically, let’s face it: they suck. I barely pitched, and most of it wasn’t until the very end of the month (last week, in fact) and that’s that.

I don’t love the way that looks, to be honest, but part of the reason is because I’ve been busy this month, my organization has recently gone to shit and I was actually doing a lot more writing than usual (as you saw above) which obviously meant a lot less time for pitching.

I don’t love this, but I will say that I wrote four brand-new-to-me freelance pieces in January, two in February, two in March and six in April. I’m pretty proud of those numbers and I guess I just have to live with the fact that in a month where you freelance more than before, are in the middle of a job application (as I was for a while) AND also start a new blog, you just won’t be able to fit everything in. And that’s okay.

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Here’s what I learned about partying sober since I gave up alcohol

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When I first gave up alcohol and went into recovery in July 2015, I didn’t know all of the changes that it would bring to my life. However, one of the more obvious changes are socializing sober.

When I was in New Orleans last September for my baby brother’s birthday (and having fun in the cute restaurant bathroom in the picture above), I realized just how different my life had become in the last year. I’ve learned a lot about maintaining a happy and alcohol-free life in this time, but it hasn’t always been easy.

For one, I had a few minor relapses between October 2015 and my last one in April 2016 (which I wrote about here). Minor in that they didn’t fully send me back into drinking full-time but rather were a 2-3 day binge episode. Not great, but I recovered and now haven’t had a drop in over a year.

The second struggle was re-establishing a social life and learning how to navigate the world that I was so used to in a brand new way.

One of the things that I have always said was amazing about my recovery is that my friends completely rallied for me. They supported me, heard my stories, comforted me and generally had my back. They knew I was embarking on a new and scary journey, and they made it clear that they would continue to be there for me.

I know that this is one of the luckiest things that an addict can go through because many addicts who I met weren’t so lucky. I heard many stories in meetings and online of people who lost all of their friends the minute they quit drinking.

And I get why: Your friends are used to you in a certain way and they’re likely used to socializing in a certain way. Even though my true friends supported my recovery, I was faced with others who weren’t so great about my drinking. People who questioned how bad it was (it was bad, trust me, otherwise I wouldn’t have admitted to it publicly) and who simply didn’t know how to have fun with me anymore.

Well, let me tell you: Sober people can still have fun!

I was just as social and fun before I had a problem with alcohol, and I’d like to think I am still as fun as I was back then. In fact, most of my interactions with friends and alcohol had been pretty normal. We drank wine with dinner, had cocktails on the weekend, indulged in happy hour occasionally, went out dancing and had some drinks, etc.

Yes, I occasionally got drunk and partied a little too hard, but my problematic drinking really mostly happened at home when I was alone and stressed out. I binge drank all by myself as a way to shut out the world, and that’s when I knew that I needed help.

So I sought help, my world changed and things have been… well, mostly better ever since.

But partying while sober is still tricky, and I bet it will continue to be for a long time. I’m still relatively early in my recovery and, because I’ve kept almost all of the friends I had before, I don’t have any sober friends.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does occasionally provide some challenges when I want to hang out with my friends and not have alcohol become an issue. And it especially can become an issue when I am in a new group who may not know why I don’t drink or even that I don’t drink.

But instead of becoming a hermit or totally giving up valuable friendships simply because they still drink and I don’t, I have started to implement some strategies for enjoying parties even when you’re not drinking.

And since I am a writer and love to share about things, including and especially my recovery journey, I wrote about it for one of my favorite food websites, The Kitchn. Here is my story titled Teetotal Like a Boss: Tips for Enjoying a Party When You’re Not Drinking.

One of my favorite things about writing that story is that I got to talk to some other women in recovery for their own tips. The other favorite part is that you actually do NOT have to be in recovery in order to enjoy these tips. Some people simply don’t drink because they never liked alcohol, others don’t drink because of medical issues and some don’t drink because they’re pregnant or hoping to become pregnant soon.

There’s lots of reasons for not drinking, actually. Recovery is just mine.

But I’m still hoping that my tips for partying while sober will help others. And remember my very last, but very much not least, tip: Have fun – and prove that you don’t need alcohol to do it.

That’s my plan, anyway.

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