25

Me at 18, looking at snapshots of my future. Can’t believe this was more than six years ago.

Today, I turn a quarter of a century old. It’s reasonable to think that I’ve only lived a quarter of my life. When you put it that way, I feel incredibly young. To think that I might have to live my life three times over makes me feel like that’s too long! I’ve had so many experiences in my short life — sometimes I feel that if my life were suddenly taken away from me, I would be okay with that. Life has been plentiful and beautiful and exhausting. Looking back, I don’t have any regrets, and I feel like I’ve seen most of what life has to offer. I always say that the one hallmark of the human experience I haven’t known personally is profound grief, but perhaps I’ve felt that in my own way. Death isn’t the only way you lose somebody. Of course, I still have a lot to learn, and there is plenty that I don’t know, but I don’t feel the way I used to when I was younger, when I was so afraid of missing out on some unique, once-in-a-lifetime feeling. I used to picture scenes of my future life, where I would make hot chocolate and look out the balcony of my New York City apartment on Christmas Eve. Where I would travel across the world and meet a stranger and exchange our life stories. Where I would show up to my very important job in a suit and converse with colleagues in foreign languages. Gradually, each of those scenes unfolded in real life. It always surprised me how much they were exactly as I had envisioned, and then, how little I needed to have them again.

Maybe I’m jaded, or maybe I’ve just grown up. Sometimes, I wish that I could have grown up in this way later, but perhaps it’s for the best. I don’t want to end up having a mid-life crisis later and realize that everything in my life was meaningless. The truth is that I still have dreams, and my life has so much meaning. My dreams are simply different, and the things I find meaningful now are also different. I just think 99% of what society says is important is bullshit. People might think I’m crazy, and I certainly doubt my sanity at times, but I can’t change how I feel. This past semester, after taking a puppy maternity leave, I realized that staying home with my puppy and protecting him from the dangers of this world and being there for every new sight and sound trumped any law school lecture. I love my dog more than I ever thought I would, and his wellbeing is paramount to me. Besides my fur baby, my human child AKA Billy Bob also means everything to me. This time in her life is so important, and it’s an incredible privilege and responsibility to be in a position to change her life for better or for worse. Every day, I think about how I can better prepare her to live a happy and fulfilling life once she no longer has us. That’s your job as a parent, isn’t it?

Instead of continuing to wax poetic about an arbitrary birthday, I’ll leave you with some things I’ve learned in my 25 years:

  1. You don’t have to be a Good Person™. I feel like there’s so much judgment in academic and liberal circles (cough, Yale) about what you choose to do with your career and whether you’re helping to change the world. Let’s be real — not a lot of jobs actually better the world. Some just appear to change the world more so than others. A lot of jobs that aren’t saving lives or protecting human rights can have an enormous impact on others. More importantly, your job doesn’t have to be the primary way in which you help other people. Personally, I believe that the people who always treat others with empathy, compassion, and kindness are the truly rare good people in life. I have one Facebook friend who takes an interest in others’ lives without expecting anything in return, just leaving positivity wherever she goes, and I aspire to be more like her. In contrast, another Facebook friend has a PhD and is always traveling to Africa for some humanitarian reason but ignores my attempts to connect with her.
  2. Money matters. Again, I feel like there is too much judgment about people who value money. Money freaking matters! Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it does buy freedom. Freedom is one of the most valuable things in our short lives where we are often stuck in an office 40+ hours a week. Money means you don’t have to work more than 40 hours a week. Money means when you leave the office, you don’t have to think about work anymore. Money means you can invest in hobbies and self-care and the things that truly matter in life. Money means you don’t have to choose between healthcare and putting food on the table.
  3. Relationships matter. Even more than money, relationships matter. I mean family, friends, and romantic partners. Not everyone needs or wants to be married, but I think the vast majority of people benefit from a stable, long-term romantic relationship. That kind of relationship, a good one, is so much harder to find and maintain than anyone ever lets on. Contrary to popular advice these days, which is worry about your career first and then your dating life, I would tell my kids that they have their entire lives to figure out their careers, but they only have a decade or two to figure out the most important decision of their lives — who to marry. Assuming that they want marriage and kids, of course. I would tell my kids to take dating as seriously as their calculus homework.
  4. Enjoy pre-adult life. You will never, ever, ever have this much time ever, ever again! Also, you’re not an adult until you’re living on your own and financially independent. I think you’re not really an adult either until someone else is dependent on you.
  5. People suck. I used to think that adults had their shit together and people were generally nice. Nope. People are selfish and vain and irresponsible. This has become abundantly clear to me since getting a dog. You would think that dog people would be better than the general population, but I’ve had dogs attack Juno while their owners were nowhere to be found. I’ve had owners bring their aggressive dogs to dog parks. I’ve had to catch runaway dogs and bring them back to their owners because their owners let them off-leash. They’re the same people who don’t train their dogs and then yell at them for being poorly behaved. Ugh, don’t even get me started on backyard breeding and the people who dump their dogs on the street. Now, I’m sure that there are good dog people and good people in general, because I’ve seen them on the internet (I love, absolutely love, the reddit community). But seriously, I never meet them in real life. I really hope that people are nicer to their kids than their dogs.

    A page out of a book called Adulting that gave me a good laugh. I know a lot of people who should read this book. 😉

  6. People won’t understand. Along the same vein, people are judgmental and mean and critical. They don’t understand mental illness, chronic but invisible illnesses, the effects of sexism/racism, etc. People will always judge you, so stop caring what they think. Treat others the way you would want to be treated, and then simply walk away.
  7. Just be happy. This one is the #1 piece of wisdom I hope to pass on to my kids. Nothing, absolutely nothing, matters if you’re not happy. I don’t care if you’re smart or dumb, pretty or ugly, successful or not, single or married, rich or poor. The most challenging and the most important task of your life is to find your happiness. I’ve seen so many smart, attractive, successful, married, and rich people make horrible life decisions that lead them to depression, addiction, and worse. I’ve watched someone who was all of those things die a little inside until he wasn’t even the same person anymore. Nothing matters if you’re not happy.

After Five Months of Marriage, I’ve Let Myself Go

…and I’m loving it. Before you get concerned for my well-being or call Dan to ask if he’s okay with this, yes, this is a joke. In fact, I’ve asked him before how fat is too fat, and we’re in agreement that I can gain around 20 pounds or so before he buys me a gym membership. In case you’re wondering about that, no, I’ve actually lost weight since getting married. Somehow, though, I’ve changed in a lot of other ways since last December. I don’t really think marriage was the main reason for these changes, but it’s kind of hilarious how they corresponded with my nuptials. It probably has more to do with the fact that I’ve become a gigantic homebody since moving in to my house, I often don’t have time to shower because I’m running around with Juno, and if I leave the house it’s usually to go to a dog park. Most days, I wake up and throw on whatever clothes are weather appropriate and comfortable, and I head out with my doggie. Depending on what I have planned during the day, I either shower and change out of those clothes or I just wear them all day until nighttime, when even those clothes aren’t comfy enough, and I take off my bra and change into PJs. For those of you who haven’t had this pleasure, taking your bra off at the end of the day is literally the best feeling in the world.

My favorite drapey shirt + one of the last times I wore jeans.

And let me tell you: this is amazing. I haven’t worn jeans in months. Anything that has seams or stiff fabric or a waist that cuts in to my stomach or a low-cut front — no thanks. Over the winter, I lived in black leggings. I don’t really care that a lot of people hate leggings, and maybe I’m too old for them, but as long as I can pass as a college student, I’ll keep wearing them. My go-to outfit consisted of black leggings, a drapey long-sleeved shirt, and a fuzzy blanket vest. That vest is both the warmest and softest piece of clothing in my closet, and it makes me feel like a baby kangaroo in a kangaroo mama’s pouch every time I wear it. Now that the weather has warmed up, I’ve been exclusively wearing cover-up clothing. I’m so obsessed with my new Madewell shorts and pants, and I want to get them in every color and print. They are so comfortable it doesn’t feel like you’re wearing clothes, and nobody can even tell they’re cover-ups. My new litmus test to see whether I should purchase an article of clothing is 1) can I wear this over a bikini? and 2) can this go in the wash? I already have to hand-wash all my expensive Polish bras, which admittedly happens less than it should, so no more hand-washing for me. And I just hate the idea of dry-cleaning…I feel like only my fancy suits are worth that kind of money. I still haven’t gotten my wedding dress dry-cleaned, and maybe I never will. It’s like a museum artifact, you know? Like maybe I should preserve that stain from my red velvet wedding cake as a memento.

Besides shunning half my wardrobe, I’ve also de-accessorized. Before my wedding, I wore three rings on a daily basis. One was a copper ring with a horse engraved on it, which was my favorite since it was particularly special to me. I picked it up at this little shop in St. Augustine when I went there with Billy Bob a few summers ago.

Bye bye, horsie ring.

That was the first time I took Billy Bob out on my own, and I felt so adult doing it. She remembers that trip in great detail, everything from the live birds in a clothing store to the songs we heard on the radio. The other two held a lot of meaning, too. One of them I picked up at an antique store for roughly $7 somewhere in the middle of nowhere on our road trip west. The other Dan got me as a present in an artisan market in Omaha. At first, I stopped wearing the ring on my left index finger, because I felt that it looked too clunky with my engagement ring and wedding band. Then I stopped wearing the rings on my right hand too. The thing is, I just didn’t need them anymore to feel complete. Before, my rings were like my armor. I put them on every day and felt safer, because they said something about me, and people would notice that without my having to explain. But now, I don’t need that form of expression. I absolutely love my engagement and wedding rings — they’re so beautiful and so me. I kind of just want them to have the spotlight. I’ve also stopped wearing necklaces and watches for the most part, for comfort more than anything else.

The husband could not have done better.

My current style. I’m dying to get my pants in that print! And that hat.

I guess what all of this means is that I’m happier with myself than I’ve ever been. I don’t need form-fitting clothing to show off my body, armor to protect me from the world, objects to mark my identity. Before, my style was an important form of expression for me, because I needed the world to know that I was different, not like everyone else. My style said: I’m not that college freshman in leggings and Uggs. I’m not that trophy wife who got the biggest rock her husband could afford. I’m not that girl in crop tops and bralettes and cold-shouder sweaters. I’m definitely not that rich lady who wears lululemon to do her grocery shopping. Look at me, I’m so alternative. Now, it’s still important to me that my clothes aren’t too “mainstream”, but I care a lot more about my comfort than my appearance. I don’t know what my new style says about me, probably somewhere between divorcée having a mid-life crisis while touring India and trust fund baby on vacation in the Hamptons.

Maybe marriage has something to do with this after all. I know who I am, Dan knows who I am, Billy Bob doesn’t like my style anyway, and Juno couldn’t care less about my clothes. I’m not letting go of myself, but I’m letting go of something.

Dear People of Color, I’m Sorry

My previous post was one of my most popular to date, and the feedback I’ve received from people of color has convinced me that I should write more about race. I guess the first question is: why haven’t I written more about race? There was a time when I cared a lot more about the Asian American experience in white America, but my foray into thinking about race critically never got much deeper than that. For the past five years or so, my understanding of racism in this country has been completely stagnant. Why is that? Part of it is that I devoted almost all of my intellectual efforts to my writing, and I think it’s telling that I wrote about Asian Americans in all of my novels — I did want to be part of the Asian-American narrative. But I still didn’t think deeply about what racism meant to me or how the Asian American experience could be connected to the Black, Latinx, etc. one. I didn’t write about Black Lives Matter, I didn’t express outrage at the fact that white America voted Trump into power, I chose not to get involved in the people of color community at Yale.

To all my fellow people of color, I’m truly sorry. If you would allow me to explain myself, though, there is another reason for my lack of participation. I have been and still am self-racist. Well, that wouldn’t be the accurate term anymore, since there has been a movement in the academic and activist circles to redefine racism as prejudice plus power. When a person of color discriminates against a white person, that is racial prejudice, but it is only when a white person discriminates against a person of color that such discrimination becomes racism. So, since I’m not white, I cannot be racist against myself. Instead, what I have been is a participant in and a victim of white supremacy culture. Let me explain. White supremacy culture is the predominant culture in our society. Its traits are definitely not limited to white people or even to America, but those particular traits are used in our country to shut down minority voices and perpetuate the dominant status of white culture. All my life, I’ve grown up within white supremacy culture, and its effects have been lasting. When I was in high school, I wanted more than anything to have white friends. Unfortunately, white people saw me as a goody two shoes, as someone who spent all her free time studying and playing piano. They never saw me as an equal, and they would often look through me as if I didn’t exist. Well, not all white people. White girls. White guys, on the other hand, sought me out to talk to me, maybe because it gave them a thrill to lure a straight-edge girl into darkness, to see if they could crack my sexuality.

In high school, I cared about things like how many white people were in my Facebook pictures. The more the better. I highly doubt that white people have ever looked at their friends, noticed that they were all white, and wondered if something was wrong with them. I looked at Asian Americans who had mostly Asian friends with disdain. The few Asian Americans who had majority white friends, I looked at with awe and admiration. How had they managed to do it? How had they cracked the code? What did they have that I didn’t? Fortunately for me, in college I dated my first Asian American man, who patiently taught me to embrace my Asian side. And he was tall and handsome and charming, defying the American stereotype of the quiet, skinny, nerdy Asian guy. After dating him, I never saw Asian men the same way again. I developed a newfound attraction to and appreciation for Asian men, because they shared so much of my experience and my culture.

Despite that I started allowing myself to indulge in the Asian part of my culture, however, I was and still am very “self-racist”. I’ll admit, it continues to offend me to this day when someone comments on how Asian I am. I often claim proudly that I am interested in Asian culture the way white people are interested in it — I like the sightseeing and the food and the raw feeling of a developing country, but I’m not at all connected with Asian current events or pop culture or politics. I love visiting Asia, but only as a tourist, and I’m happy when Chinese people think I’m Korean because I fumbled so much asking for one coconut in Mandarin (I ended up asking for yige zhege). When I traveled in Asia with my dad, I let him do all the talking for me, even when I could easily have spoken up. I really struggle to speak to anyone except for my mother in Mandarin. That’s not something to be proud of at all! It’s shameful. If I really think about it, I am incredibly grateful that my mom forced me to speak Mandarin to her, and my Mandarin is good enough to communicate most things. If I really think about it, I’m really proud that my Mandarin was good enough that I translated an entire personal statement about my immigration client’s domestic abuse. If I really think about it, I’m really proud that I was able to overcome my fear of talking to Chinese people in Chinese when I was in China last, because my siblings depended on me.

I would be remiss to say that I have any real understanding of what it means to be a Chinese person. My experience of China has mainly been cheap massages in fancy massage parlors.

So why does a part of me still believe that being a white-washed Asian American is a good thing? Let me tell you why: white supremacy culture. Dear white people, racism isn’t just the KKK or your senile anti-semitic grandma or Donald Trump and his supporters. That kind of overt racism is certainly harmful and can lead to death. But subtle racism can have more long-term effects, simply because it’s easier to recognize and reject overt racism, but subtle racism unknowingly changes how a person of color sees herself. Dear white people, every time a person of color writes about her experience with white supremacy culture and you are offended and imply that she shouldn’t write like that, that is racism. Every time a person of color writes about racism and white privilege and you call her racist and deny having white privilege, that is racism. Every time you try to argue with a person about the definition of racism and white privilege, that is racism. Every time you try to flip the conversation and accuse people of color of making you uncomfortable, that is racism.

Every time a Jewish person makes a joke about eating Chinese food on Christmas, that is racism. Jewish people may think that Chinese restaurants are open for Christmas because, like them, Chinese people don’t celebrate Christmas. That’s not why. Poor, uneducated Asian Americans are among the most underprivileged groups in the United States. They do not benefit from the model minority myth. Chinese restaurants are open on Christmas because they’re open on every holiday, including the Chinese New Year, Mid-Autumn Day, National Day. They’re open on every holiday because they need the income and now, because of white supremacy culture, they’re expected to be.  You are essentially making a joke about people who are a cut above slave laborers and victims of human trafficking. I know for a fact that some of them are literally mail order brides, because I’ve represented them in court. Instead of making jokes about Chinese food on Christmas, try avoiding Chinese food on Christmas. Go on another day. If you must go, instead of laughing about it, try expressing sympathy for the workers who, unlike you, have to work on Christmas.

Dear people of color, I’m sorry. I’ve been silent too long for fear of upsetting my very white community, for fear of uttering the two words “white people”. I’ve been ignorant too long of how white supremacy culture has affected me. I’ve been too slow to join my fellow people of color in the fight against oppression. But I promise to be better. I have to be better, because white America is so, so racist and it’s only getting worse. I have to be better, because my children will grow up surrounded by racism, and it’s highly likely that they will be racist themselves. Can biracial children be racist? I don’t know, but I don’t want to find out.

When You’re Married to a White Guy

My white guy.

The fact that I am in an interracial relationship isn’t something that I think about a lot. It helps that I am as white-washed as Dan is yellow-washed…if you took away the color of our skin and the people we know, you would have a hard time telling us apart. When we travel in Asia, I often forget that Dan isn’t Asian. The other night when Dan, Billy Bob, and I were at a Vietnamese restaurant, Dan commented that we were the only white people in the place, and I laughed at him. Since when have you self-identified as white? I asked him. But the truth is that Dan will always be white, even when his Mandarin is better than his English. And I will always be Asian, even though my English has always been better than my Mandarin. Since we’ve gotten married, I haven’t really thought that much about being in an interracial marriage, but I have begun to realize what it means to be married to a white guy. When I say white guy, I don’t mean any Caucasian male. I mean white, upper-middle class, American, possibly Jewish guy who was born to a mom who baked and a dad who raked the yard and who had 1.5 siblings.

I never thought that I’d end up with a white guy. In fact, Dan is the only one I’ve ever dated. Back when I was single, I thought white guys were boring. Compared to the guys I dated, who were the product of statutory rape, whose parents didn’t speak English, whose families were constantly getting evicted, those white guys and their privilege were a turn-off to me. What did they know about suffering? When had they ever truly felt like an outsider, their white skin making them stand out in a bad way, not good? How would they know how to raise a biracial child? I stayed away from Taiwanese Americans and Chinese Americans like me, though. They always seemed too similar to me, like I was dating a sibling. As a culture junkie, I loved dating men who spoke a different native language than me. If I hadn’t found Dan, I probably would’ve ended up with a Korean American — it’s easier when you both speak English fluently, and Korean culture is just different enough from Chinese/Taiwanese to be interesting. When Dan and I started dating, I didn’t mind so much that he was a white guy, because he seemed to be an exception. He had lived in enough foreign countries and dated enough crazy girls that I assumed he had suffered. What I wasn’t prepared for was the amount of white privilege I would gain solely by virtue of being his wife. And how much, at times, I would hate being a part of it.

There are things that Dan knows because he’s a white guy. When we try to do a crossword puzzle together, he starts saying things that sound like a foreign language. Every time someone old dies and everybody cares, I’m like who the hell is that and he’s like you don’t know who Chuck Berry is? Although I know more words than he does, he knows how to pronounce them — words like “stability” and “macabre” and basically anything that English borrowed from French and then butchered. These are the small things. And then there are the things that Dan knows to do, like getting lawn and leaf bags to fill up with leaves from the yard. I had so many questions. Why are there bags specifically for leaves? Will trash bags not suffice? What is the point of raking anyway? And then there are the big things. Like yesterday, when Dan accompanied me to my doctor’s appointment and the rheumatologist spoke directly to him about my health. Of course, there was a good amount of sexism involved there, but I get the feeling that the doctor wouldn’t have been so chummy with Dan if he hadn’t been white.

Everywhere I go with Dan, white people like me more because I’m with him. He understands them and he knows how to play his role in their song and dance that is small talk. Whereas me, I’m just baffled by small talk. If you’re not one of my closest friends, I have zero interest in hearing how the customer service was on your last transcontinental flight and how your toddler is coming along in his potty training. Even with my closest friends, I would not expect them to listen to me talking about something so mundane, unless it was somehow relevant to their life. What do I prefer in place of small talk? Silence. Or normal introductory questions that you ask when you don’t know someone. Where did you grow up? What did you study in school? What’s your favorite color? Since I was introduced to Dan’s world, I have had to learn small talk, which is probably an important skill for me to have professionally. To be perfectly honest, though, I hate it. I hate that people who love to small talk force themselves on others, content to blab on about their lives without regard to whether the listener is enjoying the conversation. I hate that they use small talk as a crutch to never say anything personal, never show any vulnerability, never actually get to know someone.

Maybe this post is about how I hate white, upper-middle class American culture — the nepotism, the elitism, the egocentrism — and how I hate that I married into it and am now enjoying the benefits of it. I hate that my doctor takes me more seriously because of my hedge fund Jewish husband dressed in Gant and Cole Haan (I take full responsibility for the clothing…and I guess his job too). I hate privilege, and I hate that I have so much of it, but I don’t know what to do with it, short of throwing it away or moving to another country. I feel incredibly conflicted about the reality that I now have more white privilege than I ever did before, and that my children will have more white privilege than I ever will. How do you teach incredibly privileged children, who have received that privilege through sheer luck, to have perspective? What if they grow up thinking that having a full-time nanny and a cleaning lady and a luxury vehicle is normal?  I’m already raising one spoiled brat — Juno has no idea whatsoever that other dogs don’t go to the dog park every day and consume $500 of raw meat a month. What if I raise many more? Shudder. These are the things that you think about when you marry a white guy.

My Fairytale Story

First photo together. We both look like babies.

First photo together. We both look like babies.

There are eight days left until I’m no longer single, unattached, free to roam the world. Eight days until I will never be alone again, except by choice, until I get to tell everyone I know that I’m sure this is what I want. Short of either of us developing a brain tumor that changes our personalities dramatically, I’m not getting divorced. People may think that I’m naïve or delusional, but I’ve spent my entire life studying other people and trying to understand them. That comes with being a writer. I follow all kinds of blogs and all kinds of wives, from the former teen mom who got married to her childhood sweetheart after dating for 18 days to the young Mormon student who got married and had two kids before graduating college. I believe that, as long as you have a good understanding of who you are and who your spouse is, you can predict the success of your marriage. With a certain degree of compatibility, you can make a marriage work with anyone. Staying married becomes a choice. It’s been a while since I had real doubts about my relationship, which is an actual miracle, if you know me at all. Once I’m married, though, I won’t allow myself to even consider the alternative. This is what I’ve chosen.

Though I’ve struggled with commitment issues all my life, I hope I can still say that I take commitment extremely seriously. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always taken commitment so seriously that it scared me. I want to be able to live up to my word; I hate letting people down. In fact, I was so adamant that things wouldn’t work out between Dan and me before we started dating that I kept telling him not to date me. Well, it was a bit more subtle than that, but I’d had four out of five relationships end because I couldn’t love my ex back the way he loved me. When I first heard this song on the radio, I laughed so hard — it was the soundtrack to my life. The one ex that escaped the unfortunate fate of my other exes, I couldn’t get over because I was so afraid that I’d never be able to love anyone else the way I’d loved him. He was the only living proof that I could fall in love. So yes, I warned Dan that I was 99% sure I’d break up with him and I’d ruin him for other girls because I was that perfect combination of emotional and crazy that guys often mistook for true love.

A happier moment in Chongqing.

A happier moment in Chongqing.

Not only was I sure I’d break his heart, I was sure that he couldn’t handle being with me. I tried to warn him what loving me would entail. I told him that I could say I loved him, cook him dinner every night, knit fuzzy socks for his newborn nephew, and then wake up one day six months later and realize that I’d never been in love with him. I told him that any day, I could wake up and want to leave. I told him that, if I wasn’t actively deluded by my desire to be in love, I might never be able to articulate what he meant to me. That I might never be able to admit, even to myself, that I cared about him. I told him that when things got overwhelming for me, I would run. That he might have to go searching for me in the middle of the woods. I told him that loving me would require giving me every ounce of love, patience, and life he had, leaving him nothing for himself, and the rest of his life would gradually burn out. I really knew how to sell myself, huh? A lot of my prophesies came true. There was the time I asked him why he couldn’t be more like my ex. There was the time we flew across the world and were eating ramen noodles in a mall in Chongqing and I told him I didn’t know if I loved him enough to do the rest of the trip with him. There was the time I told him that I would rather die than continue long distance with him.

But a lot of my prophesies didn’t come true. I only came close to breaking up with him once, and I took it back after five minutes. I’ve run away from him, but never to somewhere he couldn’t find me. Though it’s still hard for me to tell him what he means to me, in the first few months of our relationship, I wrote him poetry, something I’ve never done for anyone else. The poems spoke of the way he made me feel, the way he opened me up and brought out the child inside me and touched me and erased all of the pain. They painted a future that I envisioned for us, one with creaky floors and a drippy sink and a dog running in the front door. The poems told him more about how I felt than I ever could. I’m sure that, all the times I looked him in the eye and told him I didn’t love him enough, those poems were what he held on to. There was a lot more, too, that I hadn’t imagined were possible before we started dating. A month into long distance, I asked him to move across the country to be with me. A few months after that, I invited him into my childhood home for our first Christmas together. Then, I drove out to Norwalk by myself one weekend and found a house for us.

Our one-year anniversary.

Our one-year anniversary.

Our story didn’t end there. We said goodbye to long distance after a grueling year. Not wanting to give ourselves a breather, we decided to get married and adopted a 14-year-old. We even have a puppy on the way. Tonight, we are going to our kid’s choir concert. I plan to take many photos and videos and embarrass her for the rest of her life. That’s good parenting, right? The biggest problems in our lives these days are making sure Billy Bob grows up a happy, healthy individual and feeding my stupid stomach, which has decided it no longer tolerates wheat or soy. This isn’t exactly the creaky house I imagined; it’s even better, and soon we’ll have our puppy to complete the picture.

In eight days, I will get up in front of my family and friends and tell them that I’ve found what I was looking for. In eight days, I will show them my home in the hope that they recognize how much I’ve changed in the past two years. In eight days, I will share my life with them in the hope that they can be proud of me, knowing how hard I’ve worked for this. This may not be everyone’s fairytale, but it is mine.

Teenagers

The stop sign says, "Stop telling me what to do."

Look carefully at the stop sign…that’s her slogan!

Being a parent is like having the hardest job in the world, with the most observant, demanding, and judgmental boss — your kid. Well, I should clarify…being the parent of a teenager. Sometimes, I feel like an actor on a stage and my every action, reaction, expression carries it with the implicit message: this is how you do things. The scariest part to me is not that your teenager might disagree with you, but that they might subconsciously internalize your message and carry it with them for a lifetime, withstanding even the most expensive therapy. Now that is frightening. Though less daunting, it’s not a walk in the park when they disagree with you, either. Every time Billy Bob says something, I’m always wondering what judgment underlies her comment. A few days ago, she mentioned that we eat out most nights. Immediately, I was like, “What? I cook three to four times a week. You’re delusional, child.” And then, as my mind raced, I thought, “Well, shit, maybe that’s not a lot. Is that not enough? Am I feeding her garbage?”

Teenagers resemble narcissists in a variety of ways, I’ve found. The obvious one is that they think the world revolves around them. The less obvious is that they are extremely good at drawing out your guilt. Their questions are the worst. Yesterday, after hauling my ass to and back from New Haven, cooking a four-course dinner, and clearing the table, I was on my way upstairs when Billy Bob stopped me. “Are you going to build the sofa table and bookshelf and set up the projector?” she asked. And, even though all I wanted was to retire to the study and play video games, I grabbed a hammer and headed for the basement. Yes, I felt guilty, but I didn’t do it just because I felt guilty about putting it off. I also did it because everything I do is an example to her. I did it because I have to teach her how to get things done around the house, even while working or studying full-time. I did it because setting up furniture while Billy Bob does her homework on our new couch is better family time than sitting in front of a computer screen.

The early stages of our basement project. It looks even better now!

The early stages of our basement project. It looks even better now!

Raising teenagers is a truly altruistic task. Everything you do for them is for their future benefit and for the benefit of those around them. I think it’s hilarious how teenagers think you give them chores or ask them to clean their rooms solely to antagonize them. Ha ha. It is way easier and less work for me to just clean Billy Bob’s room myself than to constantly nag her. But what happens when you clean up after your kid for 18 years? They turn into a lazy slob whose spouse divorces them for leaving dishes in the sink. What I worry about the most is making sure that Billy Bob grows up to be able to have intimate, healthy relationships with others. So many grown-ups, me included, struggle with that. And those problems stem from your relationship with your parents and their relationship with each other. Since Billy Bob joined us, I’ve felt the scrutiny on my relationship with Dan. From the simplest things like her asking why Dan drives most of the time (answer: I don’t like highways and the law school commute is enough driving for me) to more difficult things like figuring out what is the optimal amount of PDA, I’m always acutely aware that we are teaching her about romantic relationships with every interaction we have.

Recently, we’ve been watching Mad Men as a family. It’s not necessarily age-appropriate for a 14-year-old, but given that Billy Bob has already watched the whole thing and says it’s her favorite show, we wanted to take the opportunity to gauge what she thinks about the characters. She often asks me who my favorite characters are (so far: that kick-ass gay guy cut Peggy’s hair and Joan) Once, she asked if all men were bored of their wives. I chuckled at that one — I didn’t really think she believed that. We discuss themes like sex, marriage, family, and sexism, but only when it comes up naturally. Sometimes, I tell anecdotal stories from my past. I commented that Jane bothered me because she reminded me of my immature, pretentious 20-year-old self. Billy Bob asked if I slept with married men, and I laughed and said no. Thank God I never made that mistake, or else I’d have to lie to her now!

You might ask yourself why I signed up for this job, since I wasn’t the one who brought Billy Bob into this world. That’s an easy answer — parenting is hard, but it is honestly such a privilege. You get to shape and mold someone to be a happier, better person. You can make or break their future marriage. You can save or cost them years in therapy. Every time I look at the court order that grants me legal and physical custody of Billy Bob, I am struck with a sense of gravity. This is one of the most important things I will ever do. Plus, there’s the added perk of learning how to co-parent with Dan many years before we take on the ultimate taskmaster, the screaming newborn. How do I get out of that job?

I’m Getting Married Guys

Engagement on a BoatSo, I’m getting married. Like soon, 71 days soon. No, I didn’t get engaged recently…I’ve been engaged for a while and just haven’t wanted to tell everyone yet. Why, you ask? To answer that question, I’d have to answer a different question that someone asked me recently: why is a self-proclaimed commitment-phobe like you getting married? Huh. Good question.

To all my exes and acquaintances whose jaws just collectively dropped — trust me, I’m just as surprised. If you had told me a year ago that I’d be engaged now, I would’ve laughed in your face. My commitment issues have a long-seated history. When I was a teenager, I read a story about a woman who panicked before walking down the aisle. Her husband-to-be had to come talk to her. The only way he could get her to marry him was to ask her to commit to him for that day only. And then, the following day, she could commit to him for another 24 hours again. One day at a time. I thought to myself that if I ever got married, it would be something like that. For much of my early 20s, the thought of getting engaged, wearing a diamond ring, planning a wedding…was revolting. And here I am, 24 and getting hitched in two months. What happened? I’m neither religious (already living in sin, yo!) nor pregnant, so the answer must lie elsewhere.

My answer is the same one that people give when they break up with you, telling you that they just can’t commit, and then marry the next person they date: I met the right person. Dan and I were friends for a while before I realized I wanted to date him. Before I realized I wanted to date him, there was a moment when I realized he was different from any other guy I’d been with. I knew then that he liked me, but I was determined to nip that in the bud because I was sure our relationship would go down in flames. So I told him all about this other guy I liked, expecting that to hurt him and turn him off from pursuing me. It didn’t work — he had no visible reaction. I was intrigued. Because the one trait I’d always sought out in men was emotional sensitivity, the guys I dated were also bad at managing their emotions. Add to that mix my own emotional volatility, and you had relationships full of both fireworks and destruction that I’ve never experienced elsewhere. Dan wasn’t necessarily different because he was good at processing his emotions; he was different because I could throw whatever I felt at him, and he’d casually put it out like a fire.

Unflappable. That’s the word I used to describe him. In the early stages of our relationship, his unflappability drove me goddamned crazy. Do you even have emotions? I’d ask him. Do you not hurt when I hurt? Can’t you flap once in a while just to humor me? Alsdfkjldaksjf. Though his steadfastness exasperated me, it was good for our relationship, and it was good for me. Every time I burst into flames and taunted him to pour some gasoline on it, just a little bit, he wouldn’t. The result was that I, the Crazy Girl in previous relationships, became the Less Crazy Girl. And somewhere inside of me, I knew that he felt the same things that I did, perhaps not with the same intensity but with the same depth. Slowly, gradually, my wounds healed. Slowly, gradually, I began to trust him. And lastly, finally, I began to trust myself.

That was the last piece of the puzzle, trusting myself. I’ve never trusted myself in a relationship — I was always worried I’d cheat, or change my mind, or simply fall out of love. Doubts would plague me until I was physically ill. When I first started dating Dan, I was 99% sure it wouldn’t work out, and it’d be my fault. Over time, that percentage dropped, but in all honesty it was pretty high even a year ago. Things were going really well about six months in, but long distance did a number on us. Every other day, I was sure that I couldn’t do it. I thought it would kill me. Somehow, we made it out alive. And then, the weeks went by, and the doubts fell away. At some point, I just knew with 100% clarity that I would never break up with Dan. Concepts like the One, being together forever, true love, etc. are too nebulous for my mind to comprehend. But I know that Dan and I work now, I know that we will work in the future, I know that I can build the kind of life I want with him. I know that I want to create a family with him, full of kitties and horses and laughter. We have made our own family here in Connecticut. On Fridays, we load up the SUV and take our 14-year-old golfing. On Saturdays, we hop the train to New York or head upstate for hiking. On Sundays, we clean and grocery shop and run errands. Since we’re already a family, why not make it official on paper? December 27th, here we come.

There is one thing that makes all of this bittersweet. To my ex Phineas, I want you to know that I’ve been thinking about you a lot. I haven’t forgotten about you — moving on like this means that I carry so much survivor’s guilt. In my dreams, I’m asking for your blessing. It kills me that you might think all of this cheapens anything that happened between us. You changed my life forever, and I owe every happiness that I have now to you. It kills me to think that you might not be happy like I am now, and you won’t be for a long time. I wish there was some way I could share my happiness with you. You deserve it. I loved you as much as I’m capable of loving anyone, and I still have so much love for you. You will always be like family to me. Someday, I hope you will let me know how you’re doing. If I had more than one life to live, I would have spent one of them waiting for you.

Why I’m Not Having a Wedding

My dream wedding venue, despite that it has no trees and is only accessible by helicopter...

My dream wedding venue, despite that it has no trees and is only accessible by helicopter…

This isn’t about how I have something against weddings, or the institution of marriage. In fact, I very much plan on getting married. Recently, a close friend and her boyfriend have been at a crossroads — she wants to get married and he doesn’t. While giving them advice about their relationship, I’ve found myself really thinking about marriage and what it means. In the past, when I was young and idealistic and enjoyed writing essays on Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality, I liked to tell people that marriage was meaningless. It was a piece of paper, and it represented nothing. Instead, it was the bond between two people, choosing to be together, but not forced to be, that was truly beautiful. Over time, my view on marriage changed. As a law clerk at an immigration legal aid center, I saw how much marriage meant to the government. Just to apply for naturalization, we had to list all of the applicant’s prior spouses, including their birthdays and dates of marriage and immigration statuses. My clients would never remember, obviously. They would have to call up their ex that they hadn’t spoken to in years before they could apply. Not to mention, if you were married, your spouse could be automatically attached to every kind of application for immigration status. Often, our Latin American clients liked to refer to their long-time boyfriends as “mi esposo” or “mi marido”, and we would have to ask them to clarify: ¿están casados o no? Are you married? Though clearly not to them, to the government, there was a huge difference.

So I told my friend that marriage means something. Whether it is antiquated or not, it means something to the government and it means something to our society. The LGBTQ community didn’t fight so hard for marriage just for a piece of paper. The legal benefits of marriage are many, though almost all of them you can achieve through roundabout ways. Personally, I believe that the most important benefit of marriage is societal respect. The words boyfriend, fiancé, and husband have very different connotations. You can move across the country for your fiancée or your wife, but girlfriend? That sounds ill-fated. You can take time off work to care for your fiancé or husband, but your boyfriend? He should be able to take care of himself. Marriage legitimizes your union to the public; it’s something that almost everyone can respect.

Anyway, I’ve gone off on a long tangent. Back to weddings. Yes, when I was a kid, I always thought I would have a big, beautiful wedding. When I started dating my first boyfriend in high school, I fantasized about that wedding. I wanted a big tree, with lights strung up, and I was going to walk down the aisle to Book of Love by the Magnetic Fields. My first dance was going to be Leanne Rimes’ Unchained Melody. And then, because I have a morbid sense of humor, I wanted Creep by Radiohead. And You Know I’m No Good by Amy Winehouse. I’ve always found the saddest songs the most romantic. More recently, I’ve added details to my dream wedding, like riding down the aisle on horseback, against the backdrop of the Canada’s Torngat Mountains, while the first snow fell.

And now? I’ve realized that I don’t want any of it. What happened, you might ask? Moving in to my first house happened. Well, technically I haven’t moved in to it yet, but I’ve been virtually moving in from 1,000 miles away, which is infinitely more stressful. I want my first house to be perfect in every way; I want every corner to give me a little joy when I pass by. For the past few weeks, I’ve been stalking Amazon, Zulily, Craigslist, and estate auctions for the best deals for everything ranging from custom-made club chairs to steam mops. I learned what valances are and how many panels of curtains you need for different sized windows. I bought diffusers and essential oils and two bird feeders for Blueberry. Most of these things I bought were 30-50% off. The few pieces of furniture we picked up from the auction are more than 80% off their original retail prices. Dan is obsessed with his Italian leather recliner. I’ve told him that it’s gonna have to go in the basement, but for now he’s put it in the living room and has been enjoying it in all its glory. The fabric on our club chairs is softer than a baby’s bum. We have crepe makers and Korean stone bowls and a fire pit. How could I be anything but insanely happy?

The beginnings of our library/piano room. Don't worry -- those valances are coming off.

The beginnings of our library/piano room. Don’t worry — those valances are coming off.

Let me tell you why — I can’t get over the one thing I lost. I had my eye on a stunning distressed white solid wood table at the auction. Full retail price would be in the thousands. The final bid was $225. And I lost that motherfucker because I entered my credit card information wrong! Since then, I’ve been devastated. I really needed that table to come home with us, not only because it was the best deal we could have gotten, and I can’t find any table that I like better than that, but because holy crap I need this process to be over. That would have been by far the heaviest piece of furniture in our place, and it would have gone a long way towards making me feel like we’re almost done. Instead, there’s still an empty space in the dining room where that table should be. The only other tables I like as much as that one are custom-made and cost around $1000. Dan says we should just get one, but I don’t know if I can spend that kind of money. That’s what all of this comes down to, money. Well, not really money, but feeling like I don’t deserve to spend money on myself. I never let myself buy anything at close to full retail price, even when I could easily afford it. When I get something more than 50% off, I feel better, because technically I saved more than I spent, which means that I almost didn’t buy anything for myself.

In her book on anorexia, Peggy Claude-Pierre wrote about her own daughter’s experience with the disease. One of the most painful scenes to read was the one where she drove her daughter for hours and to a dozen grocery stores in search of the “perfect” banana. To her daughter, the perfect banana was the one that was bruised, black, nearly rotten. To her daughter, that was the only banana she was good enough to eat. This anecdote resonated with me. Though I’ve never withheld food from myself, I’ve withheld almost any kind of guilty pleasure. My version of that disgusting banana is 80% off furniture. Buying all of these things that I love hurts me, because ultimately it’s an act of love towards myself. I’m creating the home that I’ve always wanted and never had, full of everything that will make me happy. And I still don’t believe that I deserve it. I still don’t believe that I deserve to love myself in that way. So I’m coping by holding myself to the highest standard — buying the “perfect” things at the “perfect” price. When I fall short of that standard, I torture myself.

I don’t know if there’s anything more self-loving than throwing yourself a wedding. As far as I know, there are no 80% off wedding invitations, photographers, florists, venues. If I had to have a wedding, I would probably buy someone else’s wedding from them for a discount and give up my big tree, my Torngat Mountains, my snow. I would stress over every expense the way I am now for our house. I would blame myself for not being “perfect”. And then, what would be the point? I’d much rather take a helicopter to the Torngat Mountains with Dan, 420 miles away from the nearest road, and see if our love can survive a complete lack of civilization.

Fainthearted Rebellion

Why is the sun always setting here?! If only there were horses in the horizon.

Why is the sun always setting here?! If only there were horses in the horizon.

I’ve had a really rough month. One by one, all the things I thought I wanted began to fall flat. Part of it was the depression that blankets my every day like the heavy sun that sets at 4:30 pm here. The other half of it was that the goals I’d set for myself since starting law school seemed so empty, aimless, meaningless. As I sat in class, I could not bring myself to care about anything I was learning. In the halls of the Sterling Law Building, I heard the usual buzz words tossed in the air along with strings of collective stress — class selection, clerkships, finals. But I just didn’t give a damn. Every time I found a reason to be in law school and tried to follow it somewhere real, I realized I’d fallen down the rabbit hole. So you like international law, huh? law school goaded me. Let’s see how you like spending ten years working on a case with no enforcement mechanismSo you want to be a judge? Well, first, don’t ever admit that to anyone. Also, don’t plan on ever having a writing career, lest your fiction be used against you. I changed my class selections for next semester three times, increasingly disillusioned with what law school had to offer me. At last, I settled on the courses that 1) I didn’t have to submit any statements of interest for and 2) were the furthest from what people were telling me I should want. A part of me wants to shoot myself in the foot, so that I won’t end up trapped in a conventional box of misery.

Despite what my friends and family might think of me, I am not a rebel. I try my best to be, which is why I never quite fit into the paths that others find so comfortable. But there’s a reason why I’m attending Yale Law School, why I joined a religious cult in college, why I don’t have any piercings or tattoos. I’m a fainthearted rebel; I’m afraid. If I weren’t afraid, I’d be in the middle of nowhere in Iowa, complaining about the lack of civilization, rolling my eyes at my pretentious classmates’ interpretations of the Millennial experience, and loving every minute of it. If I weren’t afraid, I’d be in a village outside Aix-en-Provence teaching French children English. If I weren’t afraid, I’d have kept the company I started and spent my days redesigning tea packaging.

Yes, please, can I go to school here? Photo courtesy NCPR.

Yes, please, can I go to school here? Photo courtesy NCPR.

Now, for the first time in my life, I’m more afraid of my own fear than of Failing to Achieve My Potential. I’m terrified that my fear will forever cripple my ability to choose the life that I want instead of the life that others want for me. My fear of what my classmates, potential employers, and professors think of me has stopped me from writing this post, which is my tactful way of saying that I hate law school. I’m saying it now because I can’t live like that. I can’t live under a watchful, judgmental eye. It reminds me too much of my childhood, of my previous religious life, when I couldn’t fall in love without the entire congregation praying over my sin.

I know that I’m not supposed to be here. In a way, that is freeing. I’m not stressed about finals, summer jobs, grades. My priorities for next semester are finding a good agent to represent me and a good horse to lease. I haven’t been satisfied with my experience riding with the Yale Equestrian Team, and I’m looking for a barn where I can ride the way I want. I’m also creeping on the barns in the area to see how they’re run, because my dream has always been to have my own stable. In the past, I always thought of it as a far-fetched idea that might come to fruition if I married a millionaire or retired rich. But now, I’m thinking, why not? After I graduate, I can save up for a few years, draft a business plan like I once did so many years ago, get a loan from a bank, and voilà horse farm. Of course, it won’t be that simple. It could be a total failure, and I could lose my savings. But I’m going to try, because I’m goddamned tired of being a fainthearted rebel. Months ago, when he was trying to get me to jump off a mild cliff into Lake Superior, Dan shouted at me, “Don’t be a pussy!”

I jumped in there! Well, not quite there exactly, but the same lake...

I jumped in there! Well, not quite there exactly, but the same lake…

In addition to my long-held moral belief that it’s better to be sorry than safe, “don’t be a pussy” shall be my new life motto. It starts with meeting a big bay Clydesdale-Thoroughbred cross next weekend to see if we’ll make a good team. I might fall off, but I’ve never been afraid to hit the dirt.

Summer Update

My summer got off to a great start when I saw a Triple Crown in person!

My summer got off to a great start when I saw a Triple Crown in person!

I can’t remember the last time I blogged, and that’s kind of embarrassing. I should have had lots of things to say these past few months. So much has happened life-wise. A lot of difficult things and a lot of happy things. I have changed. Reflecting upon my absence here, I’ve wondered if I’ve stopped thinking deeply. For so many years, I relied on this blog to help me think. Instead of posting here about some revelation I’d just experienced, I’d often start blog posts out of confusion and write my way to clarity. But I didn’t think that was it — over the past half year, I’ve done lots of thinking. Lots of growing up. So I wondered if I simply didn’t have anything to say anymore. As a writer, I was scared by that. What kind of writer are you if you don’t have anything more to say? It comforted me that, during this time, I was still writing. I worked on a new novel, wrote more poetry than I have in my entire life, drafted long and convoluted emails to my boyfriend.

I could still write, that I knew.

I’m still not sure what the reason was for my hiatus. I do know that, when it came time to renew my WordPress subscription, I only hesitated briefly before entering my credit card information. I want to keep this blog going. I want to share the experiences over the next few years with all of you. I want this to be an outlet for me when I need to tell the world how I feel. I want this to be a continual public journal of my thoughts.

With that said, I have lots to update you guys about. Although it was challenging, Dan and I made it through his graduation weekend and meeting his parents. Family is not something I do well, because I’m both hungry for the love I never got and scared to ask for it. I didn’t know if we would make it through that weekend, but something in me knew that I didn’t want to lose this. I didn’t want to lose my chance at love, at happiness. Dan and I have been together for five months now. We’re quickly approaching six months. I remember telling my mom that if I ever made it six months in a relationship, it would probably be for forever, because I couldn’t imagine myself lasting that long with someone. Though I said those words half-jokingly and out of pessimism, I feel like they could end up being true. This is the first relationship I’ve been in where I don’t wonder every other week if we should break up. This is the first relationship where I can face my fears without hurting my significant other or myself. Well, most of the time. Sorry Dan!

After an emotionally grueling few weeks, we were off to Asia. First stop was Shanghai. Then, we spent two weeks in Wuhan with my dad and siblings. From there, we flew to Chongqing to visit our good friend Weihao. Finally, we ended the trip in Taiwan. Sounds like a nice, relaxing time, right? Unfortunately for me, and by extension Dan, things are never easy with my family. Besides that, we had to go through a lot of firsts on this trip that were hard for both of us. He’d never even met my dad or siblings before. We’d never spent 24/7 with each other for seven weeks straight. I’d never been deathly ill in a foreign country. I’d never been deathly ill and had to rely on my boyfriend to take care of me.

It wasn't easy playing surrogate parents to my siblings. Figuring out Chinese taxis was one of the many tasks bestowed upon us.

It wasn’t easy playing surrogate parents to my siblings. Figuring out Chinese taxis was one of the many tasks bestowed upon us.

Many things could have gone wrong. Some things did go wrong. When I couldn’t sleep because my throat was hurting so badly I was in tears, we got in a heated argument at 5 in the morning. Ultimately, though, the trip didn’t end terribly. In fact, when I look back, all I see are the happy moments. The ways in which we grew closer. The comfort of knowing that this is the person you will fall asleep next to and wake up to for the next month. The gradual realization that, quite possibly, you will wake up to this person for decades to come.

Since getting back, it’s been both exciting and difficult adjusting back to real life. It felt really good to be back in the states. Being reunited with my kitty was the highlight of coming home. Unexpectedly, I realized how much I do love living here and how much I’ll miss Ann Arbor when I move to New Haven. I think I filled out a bajillion forms for Yale. I had three doctor’s appointments in the span of a week — I’m scurrying to get my vaccinations up-to-date so I can get my health clearance before class registration starts. Apparently, I do not have tuberculosis. This morning, I updated my resume and applied for a teaching fellowship at Yale.

This coming week, we’ll be getting ready for our road trip out west. I’m super excited to channel my inner cowgirl and ride some wild mustangs in Montana. After that, I’ll be moving out east and starting my adventure at law school. I’m planning a new blog series about life at Yale, so stay tuned!

À la prochaine,

R

P.S. I may have done something new with my hair. What do you think? (Don’t worry, the cat ears are removable.)

Rebecca with New Hair