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ICYMI – My Annual “Lesson” Countdown on Twitter

4 Jan

I’ve had a tradition every Christmas for the last four years. This is the day I start my annual “life lesson” countdown on Twitter. I started this tradition after a particularly difficult year, determined to learn from my mistakes and start new. Call me crazy, but I truly believed if I put these lessons out into the universe by New Year’s Day, I’d given myself permission for a fresh start. It worked. As I conclude each year, I feel refreshed, purged, and determined to do and be better.

As years past, my “lesson countdown” acquired a following of friends, family, students, and strangers attracted to my “no fluff” approach to self-betterment. I’ve actually been asked why the advice is so raw. My answer is always the same: You can’t change anything about yourself until you are completely honest with yourself. The more you continue to ignore the tough stuff, the more things will stay the same. Do yourself a favor: Dig deep.

This year was my best list yet for a number of reasons, but mainly, it’s because I turned 30 in September. Yes, this makes me old, but it also makes me realize I don’t care about the same stuff I cared about in my 20s. Sure, I still want to be pretty, skinny, smart, funny, and the life of the party (who doesn’t?), but I also want to be the best teacher, employee, bridesmaid, best friend, and best potential wife possible. This means looking at life through a different lens and realizing sometimes I have to cut people out of my life to be all the things I want to be. It also means focusing on that work/life balance I never had. It means opening my heart to someone new, even if if it terrifies me (Or, I could be a cat lady. Is that so bad?).

So, in short, I’m taking this blog out of hiatus because 2013 made me stronger, wiser, and (of course) prettier, skinnier, smarter, funnier…

Your thoughts and comments are welcome! I love responding. You can also tweet me @OGradyKL.

Happy New Year!

Lesson List 2013:

#1: Tomorrow isn’t promised. Live each day like it will be your last. Have no regrets. Learn from everything you do

#2: Don’t overuse the term “bestie.” It can easily lose meaning. Save for those who you know will be in/at your wedding

#3: Embrace who you are – every positive & negative. The sooner you can, the sooner you can be truly loved by someone else

#4: Drama, pettiness, and immaturity ruin friendships. Understanding, kindness, and effort strengthen them

#5: If you aren’t a doctor, your daily job is not that stressful & the things you’re worrying about aren’t that important

#6: You can’t always accept people for who they are. This doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you a person w/ limits

#7: Don’t underestimate the power of laughter. Its healing qualities are astounding and celebratory effects infectious

#8: Time does not heal all wounds. Some things will always feel like a punch in the gut, no matter how much time passes

#9: Dating is fun, said no one ever. Instead, dating is a chore until you meet someone who doesn’t make it feel like one

#10: A job is something that pays the bills. A career is something you can’t wait to do, even if it doesn’t pay the bills

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Change

16 Jul

I don’t have a tangible connection to the Granite Mountain HotShot firefighters out of Prescott, Arizona. I didn’t know them. I didn’t know their families. I didn’t even have a sixth degree of separation. Even when I lived in Arizona, I wasn’t near Prescott. I resided 80 miles outside, in Tempe. When I heard about the out of control wildfire on Yarnell Hill that took their lives, I was distraught in a personal sense. A sense that alarmed me.

It’s normal to feel sad for your “home” state when a tragedy strikes, but what I felt wasn’t normal. As soon as I heard of the 19 fallen, I became obsessed with their individual stories: A stunningly handsome father of four…a newly married father-to-be…a 21-year-old rookie. Last Tuesday, I tuned into the memorial service online, where it was live-streamed to the nation. By the end of the service, I was in tears. This was slightly problematic, since I work in an open office. My tears were only protected by three cube walls.

What was wrong with me? Sure, I should feel empathy. That’s normal. What wasn’t normal was how personally affected I was. I hadn’t felt anything like this since 9/11. There had to be something more.

The answer came to me last Saturday morning. I was teaching a PR writing class at NYU and I had my students take turns reading an article about one of the fallen firefighters aloud (the lesson was on persuasive writing). By the end of it, one of my students said it was one of the best pieces of writing she’d ever read. Why was that, I asked. She replied it was because it made you think; to live every moment to the fullest. Not wanting to put words in her mouth, I asked if she meant one of the key takeaways was appreciation. She nodded emphatically.

It was at that moment my strange connection to this tragedy became clear: I was sad because of the situation, sure. More so, I was subconsciously telling myself that life is incredibly precious and I wasn’t doing enough to live it to the fullest. Truth be told, half of my tears were for me.

By nature, I’m a fearful individual. I hate change. I seek comfort. I don’t particularly take chances. I’m also the queen of “what ifs” or “maybe laters,” hoping that if it’s meant to be, it will somehow work itself out.

The problem is, my somehows always turn into somedays. My somedays turn to nevers. I’ve had chances to love Mr. Right. A few times. I’ve missed them. I’ve had chances to change my professional path. I’ve passed. I’ve had chances to stop and smell the roses. I’ve run on by.

Before you think I’m an epic failure at living, there are areas where I excel. For example, when I’m teaching, nothing else in the world matters. My heart is full, I’m working at capacity, and I’m taking in every single moment. When I’m with my friends, I’m an active listener, an avid hugger, and a “I love you” advocate. I’m also a loving sister and daughter. Family first, always.

Reading about the lives of 19 fallen firefighters gone in the blink of an eye, it made me realize I need to do better than part-time life-liver. I need to make it my full-time job. Everything else is just details.

Starting today, I’m going to say “yes” more often. I’m going to love more freely. I’m going to change it if it doesn’t make me happy. I’m going to stop giving my friends advice I don’t follow.

You should too.

Love, Part 5 of 5: Putting It All Together

20 May

This last post on love was supposed to be dedicated to successful homosexual relationships and how they yield more long-term benefits than heterosexual ones. I researched for months, hoping to write this piece not just because I found the topic interesting, but because many of my fabulous gay friends are gorgeous, single, and looking (I know, my Friend of the Year Award is in the mail). However, as I sat down to write, I decided to shelve my notes for a bit. My last big post on love should be a culmination of what I’ve learned during the process. Part 5 – El ultimo – should bring new insight into the field of love. It should get me that column in Cosmopolitan that is –in my humble opinion -WAY overdue (Hey, Cosmo, call me maybe?).

So what, pray tell, did I learn about love?

I learned I was spending so much time writing about dating, romance, and sex, I lost sight of what love really is.

This entire series, I’ve focused on romantic love. Mainly, I’ve focused on how and why my life lacks it. What I haven’t done is celebrate the current loves of my life and why they bring me so much happiness. In short, in my constant search for Mr. Right, I’ve focused on everything that’s wrong. I failed to realize how important it is to appreciate all the non-romantic love at my fingertips.

This being said, I want to dedicate this post to all my single friends. May these words help you realize life in your 20s isn’t just about finding romantic love. It’s about celebrating this special time, a time to relish in all other types of love and discover new things about yourself you’ll love until you’re old and gray.
On a psychological level, looking at a list of things you love can help you feel less alone when everyone else seems coupled-up. It can help you make better choices when easy, not-so-great ones are within your reach. It can help you not settle. I mean, why would you? A list like this proves you deserve only the best, because you have so much love to give.

Below you’ll find a list of my current loves. What are yours?

Myself: After 29 years of trying to improve the package, I’m almost at the point where I can look in the mirror each day with confidence, vigor, and acceptance. You have to love yourself before you can love anyone else. This includes friends, family, or a significant other.

Family: I’m close with my parents, brother, and my brother’s girlfriend (who is basically my sister). I also consider my best friend on the planet family (we actually refer to each other brother and sister). You can’t ask for more than unconditional love.

Roommate-Turned-Bestie: Don’t we all wish we could live with someone and never get annoyed? Or fight? Or run out of things to talk about? What about sitting in comfy silence? Agreeing on every TV show? Cooking Sunday night dinner? Regularly laughing until we cry? I’m a lucky girl.

Classrooms Filled with Graduate Students: Each week, students provide me with renewed energy, purpose, excitement, and challenge. My heart swells entering the place I call home: academia.

Old Friends: Boston, Phoenix, Chicago, Tennessee…I can’t express what it’s like to always have someone to call, no matter what time zone. My pre-New York friends continue to make such an impact on my current New York life. I don’t know what I’d do without them.

New Friends: If it’s not through school or work, I thought it was pretty much impossible to make new friends in your late 20s. I was wrong. For example, less than a year ago I met a co-worker of a roommate, and his friend. Within a few seconds of meeting them both, I was wondering where they’d been all my life. It’s amazing to continuously be meeting people who make a lasting impact.

Cooking: Feeding people is in my blood. It’s the ultimate stress relief. Baked macaroni, anyone?

Dancing: Can’t find me? I’m on the dance floor. Usually cocktail in-hand. Music, take me away.

Listening: Listening is the ultimate gift, as it’s a representation of attention and time. Listening is how I show my friends and family how much I care. Whether listening to a problem, remembering tiny details, or sharing in some excitement, there is no question to anyone in my life how much I love them. I’m forever listening.

Love, Part 4 of 5: You’re My Best Friend…Maybe

10 Apr

There are many words to describe me. Ask my friends. Ambitious, passionate, loyal, funny, silly, and fabulous are just some of the adjectives they’d throw out (OK, maybe I threw in “fabulous”). Another thing they’d throw out? I’m a total guy’s girl.

Allow me to clarify before you picture me in baggy JNCO jeans and a backwards cap: I’m not a guy’s girl in the tomboy sort of way. I’m more of a guy’s girl in the “She’s really cool and don’t mind having her around the guys” sort of way. I genuinely like watching sports. I like beer. I’m almost drama-free (and if I have drama, I usually don’t voice it). Additionally, I’m really laid back in the “Let’s talk about chicks!” arena. I’m always willing to listen to who makes the current smokin’ hot list or how her body looked (…and what her non-made up face looked like the next morning. For the record, the results are usually negative). I’m also a standing wedding date and a regular to family/holiday dinners (because their moms already met/love me, so it’s easy). I also know what they’ll eat/not eat on any restaurant menu. That’s a skill in-and-of itself.

Everything I just detailed falls within a day in the life of Kerry. This is because approximately 70 percent of my best friends are guys. It’s been this way since 1999, when I met my core group of best guy friends in high school. My “guy group” only grew as I got older.

Don’t get it twisted. It hasn’t always been easy. Being close friends with dudes has its own set of complications, especially if your friend of the opposite sex is single too. This brings us to today’s topic at hand:

Can a single guy and a single girl be just friends?
Answer: It depends.

First, let’s dive into the features and benefits of guy/girl friendships.

Benefits for a Woman: A woman’s friendship with a guy gives her the opportunity to have a light, fun, non-complicated relationship (not always the case with female/female friendships). Women are attracted to a man’s ability to think logically and rationally. A woman also loves the natural protective nature of a man. Having a close guy friend, she gets all the bennies of having a protective figure in her life without the boyfriend status. She also gets an inside look into the workings of the male brain (gold). She also can wear pajamas and no makeup to his apartment for a microwave popcorn dinner and he won’t care. Score.

Benefits for a Man: Surprisingly, a man’s friendship with a woman affects him more than vice versa. A man values his woman-friend’s opinion more so than women he dates. A man also secretly loves a woman’s emotional support. A man doesn’t hesitate to call his close female friend for advice/comfort, but will hesitate to call women he’s sleeping with or dating (because he doesn’t want to risk his manhood). Another benefit to a man – and probably the biggest –is he never has to explain anything to his female friend (behavior, thought process, anything). A man loves to feel understood in every way, shape, or form. Whether it’s how he acts when he drinks too much or what he prefers for dinner, he loves the fact his woman-friend “gets him” and doesn’t judge. In short, if your male friend considers you his BFF, you are taking on the role of the best girlfriend/wife he could imagine, without all the nagging or sex (in that order).

The above description sounds pretty cookie cutter. Simple, even. Unfortunately, these tidy little descriptions are almost never the case. Males and females are, well, males and females. They are biologically predisposed to figure out what the other person means to them outside the friend zone. This doesn’t guarantee anything will actually transpire between the two. However, it is scientifically proven the thoughts are – at some point – present.

In a 2012 Men’s Health article, male and female friends were asked if they were – at some point or presently – attracted to one another. 41 percent said they were either attracted to their friend or thought about dating them. Taking this one step further, guys were twice as likely to say they were attracted to their female friend than vice versa. Hmm.

Based on this little nugget of information, I decided to conduct an examination of the types of single guy/girl friendships out there. Based on my research, I’ve rated each relationship on a scale from 1-10 (in order) based on if they can “truly” be friends are not. The goal with this little project is to understand the scope of male/female friend dynamics and help others navigate through it, based on my own experience and (at times) stupidity.

You Dated…Then Broke Up
We’ve all been there. Suddenly you’re dating. Then you’re not. The reasons vary: It’s not you, it’s me. We’re better off as friends. Blah blah blah. Then you try out that latter thing – being friends. How’s that going? Odds are not well. It’s because the friend thing doesn’t work unless you both didn’t really have romantic feelings for one another from the onset. Take it from a girl who has tried to be friends with most of her ex’s: It doesn’t work. You either want to be back together or – at least – sleeping with them. If neither are the case, you probably secretly hate them…and will hate them even more once you force yourself into a “friend” situation and see them with someone else (ouch). As true as your intentions may be to keep the relationship, it will always feel forced, difficult, and unnatural. The only exception to this rule is if you know you both know you’ll get back together at some point. Ready to be honest? How do you ever really know?
Really Friends? 1

You’ve Hooked Up
For a man, hooking up and going back to being friends is easy. Sex is an act and then it’s over. For a woman, it’s not that easy. There are hormones, emotions, neurological changes…ugh. Note I’m not talking about the typical one-night/few night stands (chicks can let these experiences go pretty easily. In fact, most are pretty forgettable. Sorry, guys). I’m talking about a guy you’ve build a pretty kick-ass friendship with over the years. It’s simple: If you sleep with him, it will forever change your relationship. No going back. It will either turn your friendship into a budding relationship because it felt right for you both or one of you will end up really hurt. Tricky.
Really Friends? 3

Rejected
Hands down, this is the worst. You know the drill: One of you had feelings for the other. One of you finally put these feelings out into the universe, hoping for the best. The best didn’t happen and the feelings weren’t returned. Total bummer. Getting back in the friend zone post-trauma is pretty difficult and not just for the rejected party. The “reveal” moment for either party is a relationship turning point, giving one friend certain power over the other. This power can transcend into the non-rejected party getting strange and distant once the information is out. Or, they might start hardcore flirting with the rejected party (if they haven’t already) just to test the waters (never good, as it send mixed signals). Further, they may start taking advantage of the rejected party, using them as a dating “crutch” if their current dating life sucks. You both can try to keep this going, but there will always be a perma-stamp of hurt and resentment associated with the friendship. I speak from experience.
Really Friends? 5

Flirt-Tastic
This one can be fun if you don’t take it too far. You both know you’re attracted to each other, but that’s where it ends (you both know it would never work out and you’re both OK with it). Through this understanding, you get an amazing friendship plus all the benefits of longer stares, “You look greats,” intense hugs, semi-platonic (OK, not really) kisses on-the-lips…you get the picture. Pretty awesome, yet harmless. Just be warned: If you cross the line, please reread “You’ve Hooked Up” (above).
Really Friends? 7

Platonic All the Way
This one puzzles your friends and family the most. You’ve been best friends forever. You are the first person the other calls with happy/sad/complicated news. You can sit and talk about nothing for hours. You are happy hanging out or partying like its 1999. You love each other’s friends and family. There are no secrets between you two. Actually, you know too much about each other. The only thing you don’t know is what each other looks like naked.

Don’t think I’m nuts – this type of guy/girl friendship CAN happen. It just takes a very special pair of people. No one will understand it. To others, it’s natural two single, attractive, awesome people should try it out if it seems so OBVIOUS they should be together. Let me break it down for you: Even if the attraction is there – even if one, the other, or both feel like the other person is perfect – they will not cross the line. Why? It’s not the fear of rejection that makes you uneasy (though, that may be a small part). It’s the thought of not having the other person in your life if things don’t work out. It’s a feeling that hurts more than anything you can imagine. Take that as a HUGE sign.
Really Friends? 9 (Not a 10. In these types of relationships, you always have to leave a +1 to chance)

Have any of you had experience with the situations above? I want to hear from you. Leave comments!

Source: http://news.menshealth.com/platonic-friendships/2012/09/17/.

Love, Part 2 of 5: the “Coupled-Up” Complex

18 Feb

As you enter your late 20s/early 30s, the “single” pool slims. In fact, you probably only have a handful of friends left in the “Hey, I’m single” group. Or – if you’re me – don’t even have a handful. To be truthful, I only have up to my middle finger (ironic finger to have on this topic, no?). It wasn’t always like this. When I first moved to New York (2010), I had tons of single friends. We all went out. We all partied. We were each other’s wingmen/women. We never had to check with another person to schedule a night out. Easy breezy.

I blame myself for ruining this wonderful scenario, as the above only lasted a few weeks. I got a boyfriend three weeks after moving to the city.

At first, I told all my friends nothing would change. I’d still hang out with everyone just as much, see him sometimes, etc. Later down the road, he and I had numerous conversations about having our own space and having separate friends. This all sounded great in theory, but the reality was we did everything together and never left the other’s side. When we actually hung out with other people, we did that together, too. Truly, you could have given us one of those annoying Brangelina nicknames. Not once did I ever think about how my single friends may be feeling or think I was doing anything wrong. Instead – in my head – I was doing the best I could trying to balance boyfriend and friends. They had to understand, right?

Wrong. It wasn’t until after my boyfriend left me for another woman I realized how much I needed my friends. In the following months – as I was trying to reconnect with everyone – I not only learned how hurt they were by my long absence, but learned how much being in a “couple” changed me as a person and changed how I interacted with my friends. In short, I sucked. Big time.

When you are “coupled-up,” you change in many ways. Your priorities change. Your conversations with your friends change. Your attitude about life changes. What you find fun changes. Your expectations of others change. Honest Abe? You aren’t the same person you were before the relationship.

I’m not saying this to be Negative Nancy (who, to be clear, has no relation to Honest Abe). Us singles are thrilled for our “coupled-up” friends. Honestly, we want what you have. Hell, we’re happy for you even if we don’t particularly like your other half. Our job – as your friend – is to be supportive. When we end up really liking your other half, it’s amazing. It’s even more amazing when we become really good friends with them. They make you happy and we usually love having them around. Score.

I know what you’re thinking – “coupled-up” reader – if we like your other half (or, even if we are just being supportive), and you still see us (even if it’s with him), then what is our problem?

This is going to sound harsh. The problem is you’re in a relationship with us, too. Your relationship with us requires a certain amount of empathy, respect, time, and energy. It also requires a certain amount of quality time away from your significant other, so we can speak freely, connect with just you, and remember what it was like pre boyfriend/girlfriend/wife/husband.

Of course, we can’t tell you all this. Instead, we are stuck in the awkward position of just dealing with it. Or, hinting around it (even more awkward). Without you getting mad, how can we say “Hey, we totally love Michael. We really do. He’s perfect for you. But can we please have you to ourselves, just for a night? You don’t understand why it’s so important to us, but it is.” Being single is hard enough without thinking we are losing our friend to this “coupled-up” complex.

Are you starting to think about your own actions? Let me make it easy. Here are the top five gripes (plus a bonus) single friends have with their “coupled-up” ones:

1. We invite YOU somewhere, yet you respond with “We’d love to” or “We can totally stop by.”
Again, we may love your boyfriend/girlfriend/wife/husband, but if we didn’t specifically invite them, it was probably for a reason. Thus, getting a “we” response is kinda a slap in the face.

2. We’ve hinted at quality time (either solo, just “the girls,” or just “the boys”) and you’ve made no effort to plan OR you don’t whole-heartedly agree (“OMG, you’re right. We haven’t hung out in a while. Totally overdue”).
In this, you make us feel secondary or simply not important at all. Not cool.

3. When we do hang out with you and your girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband, you bring other couples.
Um. Hello? What about us? Do you have any idea what an all-couple night out feels like to the token single person? Let me enlighten you – it feels like someone is pushing your head through one of those airport X-ray machines. Great visual, right?

4. You stand us up.
You either cancel our plans all together and/or “forget” you already had something scheduled with your honey and do that instead. Oh, and the “We had a rough night and are going to stay in” or “We are so comfy at home right now” totally counts. Personally, my favorite is getting the latter, then being asked if I want to join in plans some other day. Newsflash – I alloted this time to hang out with you. I’m a busy gal and probably can’t jump at the replacement time. Sorry.

5. We always feel like a third wheel.
It doesn’t matter how awesome your girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband is, when we are out with just the three of you, we always feel like the odd man out. God bless you for trying to include us. We truly appreciate it. However, we only go because we want to see you. Not because we like the experience.

BONUS. You don’t think the same things are fun anymore.
We get it. When you are “coupled-up” your idea of fun changes. When you stay in, you cook dinner, watch tv, and enjoy each other’s company over a few bottles of wine. When you go out, you aren’t looking for interaction with the opposite sex. Unfortunately, us singles are still looking and thus, are counting on the company of others to help us out. Further, we understand you don’t want to do the things we did when you were single: out till 5 a.m., meet new people, dance the night away, beer pong championship…Fine. However, sometimes – just sometimes – it would be fabulous if you would do one or more of these things for us. In return, we promise not to complain once about your PDA. Not. Once.

Dear “coupled-up” friends: We love you. We really do. We also probably love your other half. However, we don’t want to compete with your current relationship. We want to enhance it. We also want our relationship with you to stay in-tact and/or grow. In this, you need to give us – your single friends – some consideration and care. We promise to do the same when love enters our lives.

Cue Heart’s “Alone.”

Please be sure to share this blog post with all your “coupled-up” friends.

My New “New Year’s” Resolutions

23 Jan

I know what you’re thinking: It’s three weeks after January 1st. Why is this chick writing about resolutions?

I’m writing about them because I suck at them, both making and keeping.

Like many of you, I make resolutions right before Christmas, then break them by week three. As a perfectionist, I don’t get back on the horse well. I simply forget about them and say I’ll do better next year. The reality is, I never do.

There are many reasons we – as humans – break our New Year’s resolutions. We are weak. We lack support. We hate change. Yup, I’ll say it: changing yourself – and your behavior – sucks. It doesn’t just suck because it takes effort to change. It sucks because you first have to admit what you’ve been doing all these years isn’t working. Once you realize this, I’m convinced people throw their realizations out the window (because no one ever wants to think they REALLY have a problem) and go back to making “typical” resolutions they know they won’t stick to, thus setting themselves up for failure.

IMAGINE BIG NEON LIGHTS: If you don’t make realistic resolutions from the start – ones that you KNOW will force you to change annoying patters or behaviors about yourself – then you are setting yourself up for failure from the onset.

What exactly constitutes a “typical” resolution from a realistic one? Here’s a real-world example from yours truly:

2012 was the year of party girl Kerry. You see, I never got to be 21 (I got very sick my junior year of college and missed out on a lot), nor had I been single in almost 15 years (three back-to-back serious relationships). Thus, 2012 seemed like the perfect time to try this whole night scene out. Too many cringe-worthy moments later (including a few crushes thinking I was a tool and realizing shots were never a good idea), 2013 seemed like a great year to put this lifestyle on perma-pause.

That being said, my New Year’s resolution was a two-drink minimum on any night. I made this resolution on December 27th.

I broke this resolution by December 28th. Epic. Fail.

Here’s why I failed: I realized putting rules on myself wasn’t the answer. It made me feel grounded…and since I’m not a parent yet, my own parents still own the right to ground me (wait, do they? I may write about this later). This self-grounding also doesn’t get to the problem at hand. I’m super social. I love to go out. I’m single. I work two jobs and have some street cred as a writer before the age of 30. Hell, I deserve to go out. I just need to approach it differently and I’ll be good to go.

Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong.

When you’re in your teens and early 20s, making resolutions and trying to follow through is pretty easy. If you haven’t been doing your homework, you commit to doing your homework. If you’ve been disrespectful to your parents, you commit to straightening up your act. If you really want that cute boy to ask you to prom, you make out with him a little during cross-country practice (…busted. That last one was all me. By the way, he still didn’t ask me to prom).

As you get older, making resolutions gets a lot harder. You are forced to take a deep look inside yourself and understand what’s making you unhappy or unfulfilled. Once you do that, you have two choices: Make resolutions that matter or go back to making resolutions like when you were a kid (and let’s be honest – did you ever REALLY end up doing all your homework? I didn’t think so).

So I ask you this: How many of you made resolutions this year? Now how many of you made resolutions that matter? Do you see the difference? If we all stop making the same resolutions we won’t keep – and instead start making resolutions we know we CAN keep (and will) – we will forever be improving honest, transparent communication with…ourselves. Is there a better relationship out there?

I’m committed to making resolutions that matter in 2013. To hold myself accountable, I’m putting them out to my readers. You guys won’t go easy on me, right?

Did I mention I hate change?

1. Date the guy I usually don’t (this means a non-asshole-from-the-start no call/no show bartender, musician, or Abercrombie & Fitch model clone. Who knows? By following this little number, I may get a SECOND date. Whoa. Heavy)

2. Drink a glass of water in-between every cocktail and for God sakes, eat before I leave (did I mention I never really got to be 21? This includes not learning alcohol rules of engagement until eight years later)

3. Say “take a hike” more (me = overly nice and can’t say no. Me = feelings hurt often. Grow some balls and stop getting walked on)

4. Teach as much as possible, wherever you can and with whoever will have you (my heart and mind come alive in a classroom. I was born to teach. The more practice I have, the better teacher I will be)

5. Stop cutting my bangs and coloring my own hair (bangs = I never wear them and I don’t even really like them. Honest Abe? I make my hairdresser cut them because I secretly hope they will make me look like Jessica Alba in Honey. No matter how many times I cut them, they don’t. Instead, I look 13. Stop the madness. Get adult-only haircuts. Hair color = I don’t ever want to relive the Elmo color-fiasco of spring 2012. Enough said)

6. Be in the best shape ever by enjoying workouts (More dance classes, less Pilates {which I hate}. More running, less yoga {which I laugh throughout})

Your turn.

Vacation Anxiety…Family, Fun, Sun, and Data Plans

13 Jan

In early 2011, my entire family planned a trip to the Dominican Republic and invited me and my then-boyfriend along. By mid-year, everything was paid for and we were all really excited…that is, until August 2011 when my (now) ex walked into my room and without warning, ended our relationship. My stuff was in boxes the next day. This box included a check written out to my mother to refund his plane ticket. Needless to say, I ended up not going either. It was too painful of a reminder. After my family returned, they could not stop talking about how much fun they had or stop referencing the inside jokes along the way. It sounded like a blast and I regretted passing up the opportunity.

Fast-forward to early 2012. My mom informed me the family would be returning to the Dominican Republic in January 2013. Did I want to join? Without hesitation, I said yes. I love my family. I love sun. I haven’t had a real vacation since 2004. Why not? I got back last Wednesday and I must say, the experience was quite different from anticipated. I learned a lot about myself, as well as family dynamics.

My family is pretty close. My mom is the most generous woman alive. My dad is a logical, always helpful problem-solving superhero. My brother is 100 times cooler than I’ll ever be and my personality polar opposite. As different as we are, we are friends and siblings. My brother’s girlfriend of over two and a half years is also like family – she’s like the sister I never had and doesn’t have a problem telling me like it is, no matter the situation. All of this background sets the stage for a pretty natural chemistry. When we get together for holidays or birthdays, laughter roars. We all talk regularly. I’ve lived out-of-state since I was 22 and I’m never at a loss with visitors.

Although this vacation was wonderful – and I’m really glad I went – I was stressed out on this gorgeous island for the majority of the experience. For five days, I couldn’t pinpoint the problem, I just know I wasn’t acting like my normal, carefree, my-girl-likes-to-party all-the-time-self. Instead, I was anxious, a little reclusive, and strangely quiet. What was my problem? I’m on this amazing vacation with my amazing family and I couldn’t relax. I came home feeling like I needed a vacation from my vacation.

After some thought, I realized I’ve heard this story before. Many of my friends (who also live out-of-state and are in their late twenty-somethings) head home for a while or go on a trip with their family and come back feeling…defeated (for lack of a better word). Why is that?

Over the past few days, I’ve hypothesized many reasons:

Odd Man Out: My family is all coupled up, either married or in serious relationships. As wonderful as each couple was in trying to include me in activities, it’s intimidating to be in that type of setting, especially when you couldn’t get more single. This is especially true when you are at an inclusive resort with absolutely no cute boys on deck (trust me, I looked).

Extra Curriculars: I work really (really) hard. I balance two jobs. Plus volunteer. Plus work out. Plus write a blog. Plus date. Plus life stuff like errands, cleaning, etc. My life is nuts. As crazy as life is, I’ve adopted another responsibility over the past year and a half: party like a rock star. I love the nightlife and am a chronic sufferer of “fear of missing out syndrome.” In this, my friends and I regularly dance the night away and have a 4 a.m. cocktail. It’s fun. I can’t explain it, but with my family, I feel like that party girl can’t quite come out like she does in NYC. Trust me, they wish this side of me came out more often while they were around, but it doesn’t. Instead, the thought makes me self-conscious.

I’m 12…All Over Again: As previously mentioned, my brother is the coolest guy ever and we’ve become really close over the years. However, by day three, it felt like he and I resorted back to the dynamic when we were kids: he thinking I was uptight and ridiculous and me being, well, uptight and ridiculous. This whole situation made me panic because I was afraid we’d annoy the crap out of each other and not be as close post-trip. This didn’t happen (thank goodness), but it got me thinking as to how you’ll never quite “grow up” within your family’s schemas. Everyone has their “role” within a family, and no matter how much you change, you’re stuck with it like a bad high school superlative. In my case, no matter how laid back and fun I’ve become over the years, I’ll always be the super type-A, academic, sensitive older O’Grady kid when insecurity rears its ugly head. On the flip side, if I was the former fun kid who became serious, I’d be constantly reminded about how fun I “use” to be. You get what I’m saying. In the eyes of your family, you’ll never really shake the person you were at age 12.

Frankie Says…Relax: I need to be honest. I thought it was going to be super easy to turn the world off and do nothing for five days. My family is great at it. They can all sit in the sun, do nothing, and be happy. To 99.9 percent of the human population, this sounds amazing. Before I left, this sounded amazing to me too. Passport in-hand, I turned my data plans off and was left with only 150 prepaid text messages. I should be good, correct?

Wrong. It turns out I am an epic failure at removing myself from the world. I need to check Facebook. I need to Tweet. I need Google searches. I’m not being dramatic. My DNA is constructed to always be connected to people. It absolutely killed me to only have access to my address book (and a few text message conversations) over vacation. I know what you’re going to say: that’s not normal. Maybe not, but it’s who I am and always been. You’re talking to a girl who had a pager at age 14 so she could be could always be available to call her friends back. Hot. Mess.

Additionally – as sick as it sounds – I’ve learned my idea of a vacation isn’t relaxation. “Relaxing” for a day or two is fine, but then I need to get out, bar hop, try new restaurants, build someone a house…you get the picture. Otherwise, have any of you seen Dirty Dancing? The structure of the camp Baby and her family vacationed? Yup, kinda like that.

Although this analysis may sound a little critical, I want to be clear: overall, I had a great time on this family vacation. I got to spend some serious quality time with my wonderful family, slept in, recharged, and ate tons of delicious food. I also have a kick-ass January tan. Sweet. However, as we grow and change within our own lives, it’s really important to understand why we don’t always feel 100 percent our “new” selves going back to our roots. The moral of the story is this: the beauty of family is that they love you no matter how you grow and change. They love you in spite of how your personality shifts. They want to embrace and love whatever person you morph into as you age. Let them. Your bonds will be stronger and trust me; your vacations with them will feel a lot more relaxing. Further, it truly doesn’t matter if you don’t love the same things they do or laugh at the same jokes. As long as you’re a good sport about it, your family is probably just happy to have you around, being part of the family. Just because you’re different, doesn’t mean you’re a disappointment.

Here’s to family vacation 2014.