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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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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How to choose to be happier in our crappy world (VIDEO)

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Happiness is something that humans think about a lot. At least I do.

For years now, I have been saying that “happiness is a choice and it’s a choice that I make (almost) every day.” That’s still true, of course, but sometimes that kind of thinking gets away from me.

Look, there’s no two ways about it: The world is currently not a happy place.

There’s untold chaos, which isn’t exactly anything new, but now that chaos is complemented by a particularly hairy situation in the country which I call home: the United States of America.

In case you are living under a rock, our president of just under 100 days is not well liked by people like me… You know, basically anyone with a brain, an appreciation for science, the environment or any kind of diversity. As an American citizen and immigrant, I am not a fan and I truly wish that the American public hadn’t elected this racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic pseudo-tyrant into office. But it is what it is, and I for one certainly plan to spend the next four or so years resisting.

Enough about my politics though… This post is about happiness. About why we seek it and how we find it and, most of all, how we recognize it.

And that’s the key word: How to recognize happiness.

I honestly think that is one of the hardest things about “being happy.” It’s not that we are clueless about what happiness means, but I do think that we have much higher expectations for it than we possibly should. And that’s part of the problem: our expectations.

Recently, a video titled “An Algorithm for Happiness” made the rounds on Facebook. When I watched this fascinating video, something clicked in my brain and reminded me how to be happy.

The truth is, primarily because of what is going on in the world right now and the election of President Orange Cheeto Dumpsterfire (my all-time favorite moniker for #45, since I can’t actually bring myself to say or type his name), I haven’t been my usual happy self.

Sure, I’ve had a lot of happy things going on in my life: I bought a car, celebrated mine and my partner Adam’s 31st birthdays and I’ve had some pretty great successes in my career. But in general, I have been angry and grumpy and sometimes what I jokingly call an “angry feminist.” And those feelings are totally okay, of course, because we must acknowledge and honor our feelings.

But… at the same time, being an unhappy bitch sometimes can be mentally taxing and ultimately harmful to our overall selves.

A week ago, I celebrated my one year anniversary since my last relapse in recovery. You see, I’m an alcoholic. I entered rehab in July of 2015 and I have been working on sobriety ever since. It’s been a mostly successful and occasionally bumpy road, but I am proud of the progress I’ve made.

How does that relate to happiness, you ask?

Well… Although I no longer attend meetings, I don’t remember getting to know many addicts who were happy. Which makes sense, of course, because if you’re happy, why would you need to dull yourself with drugs and alcohol? You don’t, and that’s the point.

As I watched the video talking about the algorithm for happiness, I was reminded of some of the lessons I learned through recovery, primarily the lessons of cognitive behavioral therapy, which strives to teach you how to think differently about your issues.

To be honest, I was never a fan of AA or NA meetings, but I did thoroughly enjoy Smart Recovery – and cognitive behavioral therapy is exactly why. When I went through one-on-one- therapy for my alcohol addiction, it was with a CBT therapist too, and it’s a system that has really worked for me.

The reason that CBT has worked for me in terms of my alcoholism and happiness is because I learned how to reframe my thinking. In this video, the Google executive uses the example of a glass to demonstrate how we think about happiness.

He argues that happiness is looking at the half-full side of the glass and being grateful for it and looking at the half-empty side of the class and asking “Can I do anything about it?” and, if not, “Can I accept it?”

This kind of thinking is absolutely critical to understanding happiness and how it works in your life.

He goes on to explain that happiness isn’t actually about how much water is in the glass, but what you think about how much water is in the glass. LIGHTBULB MOMENT!

When I watched that, I realize just how much my happiness had to do with CBT and recovery and how much it had to do with the current state of the world and my thinking about it.

Adam recently pointed out that I am not the same happy-go-lucky girl that he met almost a year ago. And in a lot of ways, it’s true. Although I reasoned that there’s many, many reasons for it (most of them beginning with the man currently sitting in the White House’s main room), some of it is also my thinking about what is currently going on.

To be honest, it made me feel bad that the world has come to such a dark place and it’s made me feel even worse that I have lost some deep down belief in hope and the goodness of people because of the current situation.

But that’s not fair to the world, and that’s not really fair to all of the people who are doing good work now. I strive to be one of those people and, after watching the video below, I realized that there is more that I could be doing to help make the world a slightly happier place.

The first part starts with me. It starts with reframing how I view the world – even just a little bit – and recognizing that there IS still hope and there IS still good here.

To be honest, it’s a lesson that I expect to have to learn and relearn for the next four years. But you have to start somewhere, right? And I choose to start with being happy today, and happier than I was yesterday.

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The lesson I learned about myself on my first Valentine’s Day with a partner

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Valentine’s Day isn’t for everyone. 

It’s a very specific, sort-of-made-up holiday that tends to favor those in love and fans of cheesy gestures of affection. 

I have never in my life been one of those people. Sure, I was a self-admitted hopeless romantic but I usually kept my romanticism where it belonged: cheesy boy-meets-girl rom-coms. I’m not someone who has been counting down the days until a cute boy puts a ring on it with a secret wedding planner scrapbook under my bed since I was 16, nor did I want to be. Which is why it might seem fitting to say that Valentine’s Day was just never my holiday. 

I don’t remember getting a single card when I was younger and I honestly couldn’t tell you what my young adult (and very single) self thought of the holiday. 

I didn’t have a boyfriend until just before my 22nd birthday and, as luck would have it, he was a fellow Valentine’s Day hater. Although for him it largely stemmed from the fact that it was also his birthday, I only mildly minded that we didn’t celebrate the occasion during our two years together. My only other serious relationship afterwards didn’t fare much better. Although not a VDay hater, my then-boyfriend was going to be out of the country. Oh well! Although we did have a small celebration beforehand, it seemed that my destiny was clear: Valentine’s Day was just not for me.

I spent the next several years single AF, as I like to say. I dated, sure, but there was never anyone special to call my own for the five years between my last relationship and the man who has now become my life partner. 

I was never sad about it, though.

Deep down I did house some insecurities about my dating prospects and seeming inability to find love, but I brushed it aside to celebrate this holiday in different ways. I hung out with girlfriends, went out dancing, had dinner with cool married friends and even babysat one year. It was NBD, as they say. 

But this year something changed.

The obvious change in my life, of course, is that since my last Valentine’s Day I have met the person that I plan to be with for the rest of my life. I never imagined that my love life would transform into its own mini rom-com, but it did. Since meeting my now-life partner, I have learned a lot about love, relationships and life in general. 

I’ve learned about the importance of generosity in dating. I’ve learned about moving in with someone, how to unite our finances, why fighting is totally normal (and that making up afterwards really IS the best) and a million other little lessons that can only come when you suddenly become part of a couple. 

To my surprise, even my career has benefitted. Not only have I found my #1 fan (who has already done more to support me and my work than I could have previously imagined possible) but I also have a newfound courage to take more chances and seek new heights with my writing. And I know that much of this I couldn’t have done without the encouragement I receive from home. 

The one unexpected thing, however, is how my perception of Valentine’s Day has suddenly changed. 

It’s not that all of a sudden the day had meaning simply because I was in love for the first real time in my life (because, um, gross?) but it’s that out of nowhere I had expectations about this day. 

Whereas before, in my many years in bad relationships and even more years as a single gal, the day knowingly meant very little, now it had some kind of *meaning*. But what, exactly? 

I’m not proud to admit that I spent the better part of the week before Vday worrying that my boyfriend wouldn’t get me flowers, something which is particularly important to people from a culturally Russian background such as myself, and subsequently feeling ridiculously silly for putting such expectations on him. 

We had talked before that I wasn’t that into this fake-ish holiday, and I was relieved to find out he wasn’t either. But as the day approached, deep down that hopeless romantic I always knew I was started to come into my real life. She wanted to be surprised. She wanted to be wooed. And she wanted it NOW. It was hard to keep her at bay as I argued within myself whether or not I actually wanted to bring any of this up with Adam. Do I tell him now that maybe my opinion of Valentine’s Day had changed just a little, or do I keep silent and risk being disappointed when the day actually came? 

Eventually, I chose to open up.

After all, one of the major strengths of our relationship up until this point was our ability to be totally honest with one another. As cheesy as it sounds, we were totally one of those couples who *told each other everything* and quite proud of it, actually. 

But I was still afraid he’d judge me for my change of heart. On the one hand, I was a rational woman who knew that a single day in the year does not make or break how devoted he is to me and that being pressured into showing that devotion simply, well, CAUSE was silly. Yet on the other hand, I wanted to feel *special* in a way I never had before. 

When I actually brought the subject up, however, he pretended to have a mini argument with me about why this was so important. It wasn’t until days later that I realized he had pulled the wool over my eyes in order to actually be able to surprise me with a lovely dinner and the roses I’d always wanted. 

I was thrilled to celebrate the day with him, and a bit early to boot, in a way I had never been able to do in the past. 

In the end, I realized that it’s not that the day itself became more significant because I was now part of a societally acceptable pairing that would be welcome at any restaurant in town. The truth is that stressing about Valentine’s Day plans – and subsequently being surprised anyway – helped me to understand just how much outward opinions of this day had come up to confront me this year. 

And maybe I’m still understanding the bits and pieces that make me who I am, and certainly all of the parts that make me who I am in my relationship. Thankfully, the lessons I learned this year are ones that I can take with me for years to come. 

Sure, those lessons include that I secretly want to do *something* a little more special than usual on this day… but then again, hadn’t I always done something special with people that I cared about? I’m just lucky that now that list of people includes someone who also happens to be the kindest, sweetest, most generous and incredible person I’ve ever met. 

That’s certainly something to celebrate, isn’t it?

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2016 was an exceptionally happy year for me (and I’m not afraid to admit it)

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We’ve all been saying it all damn year, haven’t we? 2016 IS THE WORST.

I know that I’ve definitely been guilty of this sentiment, and it wasn’t really just because of the election (although that contributed to my year-end complaints). But in the past few days, I realized just how much we’ve all been doing it lately…

Look, I get it. This year has kicked us all (figuratively) in the balls. Between the celebs that died throughout the year and especially around Christmas/Hanukkah, it’s been tough. The election was, well, pretty awful for those of us who care about other people and maintaining our rights. And that’s not even to mention Aleppo and Brexit and… ugh, I can’t go on. This year has been the WORST, right?

Or has it?

The truth is that 2016 is not killing people, but people die because of complicated things like a history of drug and alcohol abuse. That’s not the only reason why so many of our fave celebs passed away this year, but that’s certainly a theory that makes sense too.

Then there’s just the general thinking that… Hey, if we call 2016 the worst, then what about all of the bad years that came before it or the bad years that are still to come? (Ya know, with President Trump actually possibly accomplishing some of the vile things he said he planned to do during his campaign.)

Here’s an idea: Let’s all stop calling 2016 “the worst” ASAP.

The truth is that a lot of bad things happened this year. I’m not going to deny that. But a lot of bad things happen every year. When we put all of our blame on a year for doing bad things to us, then we’re taking away our choice – our choice to do something about it, our choice to see the positives, our choice to move on with something more than just feelings of anger.

So I’m done. I know it’s the last day of the year, but I am not going to look back at this year and talk about how it was “the worst” because, especially for me personally, it simply wasn’t.

In a nutshell, two major things happened to me this year that have actually made 2016 my happiest year yet:

1. After 12 years, I moved out of New York City and started a full-time freelance writing career that’s actually been going really well.

2. I met Adam, who turned out to not only be the most generous and loving person I’ve ever met but also an incredibly supportive life partner.

In fact, the first decision actually led to the second. I had been dealing with some recovery issues in NYC and simply no longer felt all that happy there. Plus I was turning 30 and needed to do something different in my life. By circumstance (not all under my control), the best thing for me was to move back home to Florida for a while.

I decided that I would do this for six months to a year, and that this would be my time to figure out what my next steps were and what I wanted to do for my career. It turned out that going all-in on my freelance writing was the right move, and I love where that part of my life is now.

Of course, when I moved to FL, I didn’t think that my personal life would go anywhere. I had been single for many, many years… And although I was sick of that life, I also thought: Who the F am I gonna meet down here?

Well, you know what they say: Life is what happens when you’re making other plans. In comes Adam…

Here’s the story that I tell friends when they ask how we met:

I moved out of NYC after 12 years on a Friday and, needing to find something to do and feeling like I was ready to “get back out there” after a 5-month dating break, turned my favorite dating apps back on the following Tuesday (meaning OKCupid, Tinder and Bumble).

Meanwhile, Adam had finally signed up for online dating after an even longer break when his last relationship ended… And so there we were, both finally “ready” for something real. We started talking on Bumble that Wednesday morning. By the next Saturday (exactly a week and a day after I moved to Florida), we had our first date. It lasted four hours, and only ended because I had a family obligation.

The next week, I cancelled another date in order to have a second date with Adam… and the rest is history. I never went on a date with anybody else. Neither did he. And we moved in a month and a half later.

Not only has my career and my new relationship made me really happy this year, but I learned a lot about myself throughout 2016 too. I’ve also met some great new people (mainly, my boyfriend’s family, and also many other writers who I now call friends) and I learned how to accept love.

Before this year, I never truly knew how to be kind to myself (my NYC therapist’s parting words to me). I still have trouble with that, to be honest. But Adam reminds me every day that I am worthy of love.

Although I’ve had a few relationships, even a two-year one where my ex lived with me, I never truly knew that I was worthy of love. In fact, I had never heard anyone say the words “I love you” to me. Sure, I mean, family and friends… but never anyone who truly loved me in every way that a person deserves to be loved. Until Adam.

He taught me how to accept love and that I deserve it. He continues to teach me that every day and, the more I am with him, the more that I realize that he is truly the love of my life.

I know how cliche that sounds. I know that it’s a funny and kind of ridiculous statement to be saying at 30 years of age. And yet… I’ve had boyfriends and I’ve had countless dates in the past 14 years of my life. But I’ve never had love. And now I do.

So when I look back at 2016, I can still recognize all of the bad things that happened this year. This year, though, is about more than that. This is the year that I fell in love for the first real time of my life. This is the year that I truly found what I want to do with the rest of my life. And this is the year that I learned what it takes to be my best self (even if I’m not totally there yet).

To be honest, I don’t know what 2017 will bring. But I have plans! Plans for my career and plans with my love. If 2016 taught me anything, it’s that a year isn’t to blame for bad things and it’s not really to blame for the good things either.

My year was great because I made it great. Because I learned what I wanted and went after it and accepted the things that came to me unexpectedly too. 2017 will hopefully be more of the same.

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