Introvert confession: I left the party early

This past weekend, I left a bachelorette party early. Here’s why and how.

To be fair, my anxiety about this party had been mounting since it entered my calendar. Who was going? Would I know anyone? How many people would be there? Where will I sleep? All questions that race through an introverts mind. My husband (bless him) kept telling me to calm down, and that everything would be fine. I tried going in with a positive attitude, and on the first night, that worked. There weren’t that many people, and it was relatively low-key and chill, so I was vibing and having fun. The second day, as more people started arriving, I felt myself shutting down.

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Not sure who made this, but I’m fully embracing the early 00s vibe (:

As a self-described “textbook Leo,” some people I know quite well are surprised when I describe myself as antisocial or introverted. I do love the spotlight, but only in the context of people I know and trust. Once you’re in with me, you’re in, and I feel safe enough to be my best and funniest self around you. But with people who I don’t know yet, I’m way more reserved. I’m constantly feeling people out trying to figure out if I vibe with them, if I have anything in common with them, etc. The larger the group setting, the harder it is to do that. In this case, I wound up as the oldest person in a group of girls who had all gone to high school or college together. A lot of the conversations centered around “remember when” or people who I never knew–nothing for me to add there. It can be quite isolating to be in those situations, especially as an introvert.

I tried my best to make the situation work for me–but it wasn’t about me. It was about the bride, and I never for a moment wanted to be a wet blanket or to be a spoil-sport. So, after much hemming and hawing (and texting friends and husband), I decided to leave early. Before I did that, though, I let the girl-gang leave on their party bus with intentions to meet up with them later (in my own car; needed a quick escape). As soon as they left and I was alone, I felt instantly better. I could hear birds chirping. I felt the sun and breeze on my body. I observed a hummingbird sipping nectar from a pink flower. I could again feel mindful and present in the world, rather than caught in the vortex of  commotion of socialization happening all around me, that I didn’t feel a part of.

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Artwork by the amazing Hiller Goodspeed, whose work speaks to my soul

Here’s the thing: It’s okay not to be a part of it. Not every social situation we engage in is about us (in fact, most are not). What I’m proud of is that I did go, I did show my support, and I hung as long as I could before my discomfort overwhelmed me. I later learned that the discomfort I experienced during the swirls of uninterrupted, long-term social activity might have a name: Introvert hangover, which is apparently a real thing. For me, it was simply all too much.

Of course, I’m an introvert, not an asshole, so I texted the bride (my sister in law) and let her know that I was heading home, and that I cannot wait to be by her side as a bridesmaid at her wedding. No hard feelings were had (but I would be lying if I didn’t feel just a tad guilty before I had fully committed to bailing). I knew the party would continue in my absence, and since I wanted no part of said party anymore…the solution was clear.

What an immense relief it was, to pack up my belongings and retreat to my air-conditioned car, accompanied by my favorite epidemiology podcast. What joy I felt, when I stepped through the door into my apartment to greet my husband and two cats. I was overwhelmed with gratitude at the life that was my own, that I had built for myself.

Here are some takeaways I learned from this experience:

  • If you’re uncomfortable/miserable/unhappy in a situation, it is completely acceptable to remove yourself from that situation.
  • Not being great at socializing in certain situations doesn’t invalidate your personhood.
  • Just because you’re not “funny” or “fun” around those people, doesn’t mean you’re not funny or fun.
  • It’s okay to want to be alone sometimes.
  • It’s okay to observe people and know they’re not part of your “tribe.”
  • It’s okay to retreat to a safe place when you need to.
  • I’m an emotional creature and I need certain things in my environment to be comfortable and thrive.

What about you…are you an introvert? Have you ever left a party early? Tell me about it in the comments.

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“Wild Ambivalence” – a series, ch. 1

There’s a book inside of me. Instead of actually write the book or attempting to parse them out into scribbly outlines or bullet points, I let the ideas spin and swirl wildly in my mind, letting them take over like climbing ivy on a decaying house. The tangle is so dark and dense you can barely see inside–or out. This is the snarl of ambivalence in which I dwell, daily.

What would I even call this? I often muse to myself. The feeling is so animal and fierce, wholly consuming at times. Wild ambivalence. Covers it perfectly.

The subject of the ambivalence? Motherhood. More specifically, my own personal contemplation of motherhood, my journey there (or not). As I explore these ideas/fears/concepts with my therapist, in some ways I find myself even more tangled, because there is so much, quite frankly, to “unpack” here. (Pardon the cheap turn of phrase.)

As a married woman in my mid-thirties, the time is now to contemplate motherhood. I always felt like I had time to bide, and so I did. I bided my time through college (which I finished two years ago at the age of 31) and then it was a waiting game to engagement, and then marriage. Buying a house hasn’t been so easy, and in some ways it’s been an excuse-barrier to protract my ambivalence. (Ours, really–the ambivalence belongs at least in part to my husband as well.) For so many of my millennial set, the glide to motherhood seems to occur with relative ease and without much doubt or reservation. Surely, I am not the only one to teeter on the precipice, gazing into the mysterious abyss with wonder/awe/confusion/disgust? Or is it really a binary decision for most people, who fall firmly and decisively into “baby” or “non-baby” camps? For me, the isolation is the worst part, followed by the paralyzing non-knowing of the correct answer to the question: Should I have a baby?

I recognize that having a choice at all is a luxury that previous generations of women have fought like hell for. As a feminist, I find the subject of motherhood to be wrought with complex emotions: the deep biological desire to create a being and impart some of yourself onto the world in that way, pushing against the (assumed?) submission of self into a maternal role that at least partially robs yourself of identity/agency, and certainly of money, time, and freedom. These are not struggles that men contend with, at least not visibly or painfully. It seems to be a uniquely feminine conundrum.

I check the New York Times website every workday morning, and today this piece was in a sidebar: What to Expect When You’re Expecting Evil, about works of fiction that capture the horrors of motherhood. Not something I should probably be reading in my current frame of mind, but it lead me to contemplate Sheila Heti’s novel Motherhood, which is now in my Amazon shopping cart. A review published in Slate seems to deride Heti for being meandering and self-indulgent:

Heti works herself into contortions trying to solve the mystery of the child who is not there. Motherhood, the book, is a “prophylactic,” a writing project that the author embarks upon, at 36, to figure out whether she wants a child, but that carries her through to 39 without one, literally pushing off the possibility of conception until her age obviates the issue. The book, in other words, is self-consciously a way of killing time, and after the first 60 pages, it reads like oneIt idles, it digresses, it repeats, it makes no progress. — Willa Paskin for Slate

Heti’s novel will be on my summer reading list for this very reason: it aims to capture, in essence, the torturous circular thinking to which I am falling prey at the present moment. Surely, many readers may find the meandering “go-nowhere” indecision extremely irritating. For others (me, maybe) might find it vindicating. Ah, at last–someone sees us! Someone who can artfully articulate my specific feminine vortex of indecision and confusion. Someone who writes about what I want to write about–has done so, successfully.

Until next time…

RIP American shopping malls

I was born in 1985, during the height of the mall craze in the United States. Of course, in the 1980s I was too young to enjoy or appreciate “mall culture.” One of my earliest memories is of my parents driving 40 minutes in their Jeep Cherokee, me strapped into a front-facing car seat, to the nearest “substantial” mall (that still exists today, hugely transformed). I’m sure they bought things for themselves, but the highlight for me was getting candy by the pound, from a store that has long since closed—I remember the taste of banana runts and sour gummy rings like it was yesterday. In my pre-teen years, the mall was the coolest place to be. In 1995 (the year Clueless came out) I was obsessed with Bonne Lip Smackers, and I wanted to spend my entire allowance at Claire’s. A true treat was getting to go to a different mall than the usual one. I was always thirsty for fresh malls.

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80s mall vibes | Image via Tumblr | Photographer unknown

Fast forward to my teen years: in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the cool kids at my school wore head-to-toe Abercrombie & Fitch, but with my earnings from bagging groceries at the IGA, I could barely afford American Eagle. Convincing my mom to drive me to the mall was a huge accomplishment. “Mom, can we go to the mall? Please? Pretty please?” Mall shopping was an event. Going with my friends was a treat—we could go to a movie, get our nails done, and of course shop. The mall had its own unique fragrance: the rich buttery aroma of Pretzel Time mixed with a bouquet of department store perfumes and a base note of new rubber, presumably from the lawn equipment or tires from Sears.

In my early 20s, I was living on my own, barely able to afford rent. Somehow, I still managed to open a Victoria’s Secret Angel Card to purchase too many pairs of rhinestone-crusted PINK sweatpants, a lifetime supply of Love Spell, and cheap costume jewelry from Charlotte Russe that turned everything it touched green within a week. I was still under the spell of the mall.

But in the last decade or so, malls have lost their appeal. Going to the mall wasn’t a fun opportunity to flex my consumerist muscles; it had become a drudge, a bore. In other words, I was over it. I’m not the only one. American Malls are closing at an alarming pace, and those that are still open have a growing amount of vacant storefronts. In June of 2017, The New York Times’ fashion section featured a piece called “An Ode to Shopping Malls,” about a filmmaker named Dan Bell who specializes in documenting “dead malls.” I watched every single video in Bell’s Dead Mall playlist on YouTube. It was magnificent: the decay, the brightly-colored nostalgia, the eerie sadness, echoes of a bygone era. (Admittedly, I thrive on ephemera and vintage-y stuff.) The music is a huge part of it: Dan Bell sets his videos to a specific type of electronic music some describe as “mallwave,” which for those who remember any part of the 80s or 90s, will evoke a very specific feeling. Summer 2017 was Dead Mall summer for me, and I still love Bell’s videos just as much now as I did then.

Malls are dead, even the ones that still exist. I went to one today, motivated only by my need to return one tank top from American Eagle (that I bought online, by the way, as I do most of my clothing these days). I could find nothing to buy as I milled around. Apparently this spring the 90s are back in full force, with floral-print lettuce-hem baby-tees, striped tube tops, bucket hats, and tee shirts adorned with Friends. Surely none of these are meant to be worn by anyone who was actually alive while Friends was on, I mused to myself. As I pawed at the cheap-feeling fabrics likely made unethically in developing countries, I thought: malls are the worst, and there’s nothing I want. Everything felt cheap and disappointing.

I had the idea to visit Gap before I left, a store I still shop at (online!) occasionally and can be trusted for decently soft fabrics and staple pieces that work for myself as a thirty-something Fashion Coward. I walked to the place where Gap has been for as long as I remember: It was gone. I remembered then that Gap had closed hundreds of stores (and continues to do so), including the location at my mall. As I walked empty-handed toward the exit, I noted that the food court only had three open kiosks, the other seven were boarded up. My mall—the mall I visited as a baby with my parents in the 80s—is dying.

The death of malls is a death of an era. It isn’t that Americans are buying less stuff, exactly; it’s just that the way we shop has changed. The way we spend leisure time has changed, and shopping malls are no longer a part of that equation. I feel a bittersweet nostalgia for the way things used to be, but there is no way to reclaim the past. And so I drove home, leaving the concrete expanse of the mall in my rearview mirror.

Written 4.17.19

 

Your financial past, present, and future

By nature I’ve always been curious about “witchy” things like tarot, astrology, palmistry, metaphysics, etc. (Fun fact: I bought palmistry book in 6th grade that I still own. I used to read my classmates’ palms. I accepted Surge soda and pizza goldfish as payment.) I’m currently nurturing a budding obsession with crystals (could be a phase), and on my commute to work I got to thinking about the tarot themes of past, present, and future…specifically concerning personal finance. Here’s what I uncovered:

The Past // Lessons

This is where our most powerful lessons reside. I’m a firm believer in that even our ugliest mistakes were made to teach us something, and that includes in our financial lives. My financial past is full of regrettable decisions: payday loans (yep!), not budgeting for YEARS, not saving enough money, falling shamefully behind on my rent when I lived alone (to the point of almost being evicted), not paying my credit card on time, taking out a high-interest car loan…the list goes on. Some of my financial errors are so embarrassing I would rather not think about them ever again, but I needed to at least remember what happened to avoid making the same mistakes again.

In my early 20s I lived in a place of struggle and want. I didn’t make nearly enough money to support the lifestyle I wanted. I bought (useless) things I couldn’t afford on credit cards to make myself feel better. I was working two low-paying jobs and I deserved to treat myself, right? In reality, all this behavior did was cultivate a debt cycle and reinforce my attachment to material goods as a measure of my worth. If I had to hazard a guess, 95% of the items I spent money on back then are gone—donated or discarded. In retrospect, I would have been better off to embrace a simpler lifestyle of living without. (Marie Kondo wasn’t a thing back then.)

Over time, I learned to be more mindful of the things I buy, and how reckless frivolous spending impacts my future financial goals for the worse. While it’s important to look back at what went wrong for us, we don’t want to dwell in a space of shame, negativity, and regret when we think about the past. Regard your past self with kindness, and allow it to be a lesson for you: when you know better, do better.

The Future // Freedom

But wait, what about the present? (It’s coming, I promise.) In order to be effective in the present, we must look to the future. Think about yourself in 5 years, 10 years. What goals do you want to have achieved? Buying a home? Taking amazing vacations? Paying off a portion (or all!) of your debt? Your future is your “why,” that helps you stay on track in the present. A huge chunk of successful personal money management centers on delayed gratification. Skip buying a few handbags and pairs of shoes, and that money can pay for your vacation. Take your lunch to work and drop an extra $100 into your savings account every month.

The future looks different for everyone. Regardless of what your goals are, it’s a sound piece of advice to prepare for an unforeseen expense by creating the oft-hailed “emergency fund.” If you’ve not done so already…you need to do this! Almost every financial guru will tell you the same. Suggested numbers will vary, but I would suggest beginning with $1,000, which can assist with most short-term “unexpected” expenses. Starting small with an achievable goal is way more encouraging than having an unattainable goal. I’ve found that building my savings is addictive. I do my very best not to touch it unless I absolutely have to. Keep your money working for you by using a high-yield account to stash your emergency cash.

Ultimately, it’s sometimes about the long-long term and weighing pros and cons of all your decisions. Sometimes spending money will make you “poor” in the short term, but build wealth or happiness (or both) in the long term. (Example: taking out student loans to pursue a degree in a field that interests you.)

The keyword I use when I think about my financial future is “freedom.” This can mean so many things, but that’s what I love about it. Freedom to do more of what I want in the future is what today’s discipline is going to “buy” me.

The Present // Discipline

All we have is now. It is, after all, the only thing we can truly control: our actions today. The past is immutable, and the future is unpredictable. Our actions that we take today should be informed by our past mistakes and made with our future selves in mind. By striking a balance between the two, we can build financial stability that makes sense for us.

There is no such thing as perfection. I still struggle immensely with balancing my needs and wants, fighting off impulsive urges to buy things and keep my easily bored “inner child” satisfied. When I slow down and remind myself why it’s not a good idea to spend $50 on a cute hoodie, I can put my present actions and future goals in line with each other, which is really what it’s all about. We can still have takeout twice a month and be effective savers. It shouldn’t be a feast or famine mentality. Small habits over time can lead to big gains if you are willing to commit fully.

So what can you do today to improve your “financial tomorrow?”

  1. Reflect on your past mistakes. Be honest with yourself and look at everything.
  2. Think about what your future goals are. What money goals do you want to manifest? Write them down. It helps make them feel more tangible.
  3. Begin a spending diary today. You will learn so much about yourself from writing down all of your expenditures, I promise.
  4. Create a budget. Boring, yes, painful, perhaps, but oh so necessary. Regardless of how much or how little you earn, you really do need a budget, and it doesn’t make you poor.
  5. Get inspired. Seek out content that you find encourages your goals. For me, it’s been minimalism, decluttering, and “panning” (a beauty-lover’s term for using up products) that keep me from overspending.
  6. Unfollow any social media accounts that don’t line up with your goals. You won’t miss them.

I would love to hear from you in the comments! What are some of your worst financial mistakes? What are your future financial goals? And what are you doing today to make them happen?

What meticulously tracking my spending has taught me

I’ve been tracking every penny I spend since October 2017. I plan to continue to track my spending for the foreseeable future. If you’re reading this, you probably have some interest in personal finance and improving your own money situation. My husband and I have been on the path towards home ownership since September 2017, when we attended a home-buyer seminar. That launched our diligent spending tracking, which we have kept up, despite our hectic schedules and planning our wedding (we got married in July). Tracking our spending as individuals and a household has been transformative—here’s what I’ve learned.

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It keeps you accountable—for the big things and the little ones. Knowing that I will have to write my purchase down and share it with my spouse really and truly does keep my impulses in check. I’ve still made some questionable purchases and I still spend money on frivolous things sometimes, but by and large, if I know it has to come from money I don’t even have—I won’t spend it.

It helps you be more transparent about money with your partner. My husband and I each have notebooks we organize and track our individual bills and spending, and we enter all of this info in a spending tracker, which at the end of the month gets entered into a budget spreadsheet. Whew—it seems like lot of work, but it keeps the money fights to a minimum when you know exactly what your spouse is spending money on and what their ins and outs are each month. Unifying our finances and being fully transparent about money have brought us closer and given us a firm foundation for our new marriage.

It gives you framework to build and adjust your budget. Tracking our grocery spending, for instance, gave us our monthly budget for groceries: $300. Now we are always shooting to come in under that each month. We’re not perfect, but we tracked what we spent for a few months before setting our goal. If you track your grocery spending and realize you’re spending $800 a month for a household of 2, you may need to tweak your shopping habits to fit more neatly into your budget. It can be shocking to see all of those little trips add up, but so crucial to know where that cash is actually going.

It helps you identify annual expenses or bills so you can budget for them. I was caught off guard by my annual New York Times subscription renewal in January ($143) my NatureBox membership fee in June ($50) and my Amazon Prime membership fee ($119) in October. But now I know! Going forward, I can work these items into my budget, and knowing they are coming helps to minimize any disruptions to my cash flow.

It helps you stay grounded with your charitable spending and gift-giving. I’ve found it’s very helpful to monitor what I’m actually spending on gifts. It’s really easy to derail my budget, one “small” gift at a time. I’m a pretty generous person considering my income level, and tracking these categories have helped rein me in when I need it the most!

It gives you a sense of control over your financial life. I think my biggest money problem pre-tracking, pre-budgeting was a lack of control, and that was due to a lack of information. I didn’t parse out what was due every month, when bills were due, or what I was buying. I also didn’t have a clear goal in mind until we decided we needed to be more prepared to buy a home someday. I flew by the seat of my proverbial pants for a long time, and while I had a good credit score, that was about it. I was pretty clueless without the raw data I’ve gathered in the past year. My financial house has only benefited from the habit of tracking my spending, and I have no plans to stop tracking. I actually find it a comforting and healthy habit, one that I know is helping us work toward our long-term goals.

What do you think about tracking your spending? Have you done it? Do you plan to? If you have, what did you learn? Please share in the comments!

PSA: It’s none of your business

A couple of my fiance’s friends asked him over his bachelor weekend if I was pregnant. Me, his bride, who was not there to answer for my body or myself. Me, whose uterus and its contents, are of no concern to them. If I had been there, I would have taken the opportunity to provide what we call a “teaching moment.”

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Image: NBC

We need to be woke enough as human beings that both women and men can know what’s appropriate and not appropriate to ask a couple/man/woman about.

For the record: No, I’m not pregnant. No, we’re not trying. And it’s definitely none of your business.

As a woman of a certain age, I’m ever-aware of my biological clock. I’ve written about it before. My heart has ached and grappled with the decision to become a parent (or not). Fertility, pregnancy, and the idea of becoming a parent are emotionally fraught topics for me (and many others). I suffered a miscarriage when I was very young and not trying, and the experience of it has made me afraid to try again–afraid I will lose a pregnancy that I very much want. We don’t know what issues or complications will await us when we do start trying. I try to be sensitive to the topic of infertility, the pain of it, the financial burdens that go along with fertility treatments (most of which are not covered under American insurance plans). I may or may not have problems. I don’t know. But I know it’s a sensitive topic and I know better than to ask someone what’s up with them in the reproductive department.

Some have said to me: “They’re men. They don’t know. They’re clueless. Let it go.” To me being a man is no excuse to be clueless or insensitive. In fact, it only underlines my point. We collectively excuse an entire gender because they’re “just men?” I don’t think so. It’s 2018. We need to be woke enough as human beings that both women and men can know what’s appropriate and not appropriate to ask a couple/man/woman about.

The timing of trying to conceive–of starting a family–is so deeply personal. There is no right or wrong time to do so. But it is wrong to ask. Always. There are plenty of good articles on the internet that are spreading the word about pregnancy etiquette and surrounding topics. The bottom line? It’s never okay. If a couple wants to share with you their happy news, let them. Welcome their experience with the joy and attention it deserves. But please, never ask. You never know someone’s journey, and truly–it’s none of your business.

How it felt to be outbid on our first offer on a house

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Photo: Moore Realty Group (not the house we bid on)

It’s no secret that first-time millennial homebuyers do not have favorable odds in today’s fiercely competitive housing market. My fiancé and I knew this when we placed an offer on the first home we saw and loved—a charming midcentury ranch just over 1,100 square feet. The house was a true “starter home” with nothing fancy about it, but was elevated from the undesirable fixer-uppers we’ve been seeing. It was only our third property in our two weeks of active house-hunting, but we knew we had to be ready to pounce.

We put an offer in on the spot—$10,000 over the asking price and offering to pay $3,500 of closing costs. Initially we included all closing costs in our offer, but panicked and reduced our offer. Yes, asking a seller to pay any part of closing costs in a “seller’s market” weakens the appeal of an offer, but we simply don’t have the cash to lose. We have minimal savings, and didn’t want to drain them completely leaving us with nothing when we moved in.

The reality of our position set in when we found out (after two long days of waiting) that the seller had gone with another offer. This didn’t surprise us, of course, as there were dozens of people at the open house we attended. We had discreetly eyed our competition, wondering what their positions were and assuming (correctly) that many of them were flusher than us, making their offers naturally more appealing. I’ve asked our agent for some insight, and the unfortunate truth is: We are at a tremendous disadvantage in the current housing market. We are going with 100% financing through USDA RD. We don’t have a down payment. We earn low salaries. We have auto loans and student debt that we can’t just magically erase overnight, even though we’re really good with our money and have excellent credit.

Being outbid on what would have been our perfect home felt terrible. Even though it’s what we expected, it still sucks to hear from your realtor that buying a home will be a struggle for us because of our position. It all comes down to that almighty dollar. Having a steady job and good credit hurt you if you don’t have them, but having those things doesn’t really help you. It was the absence of cash that stung us, and will continue to. It feels like an insurmountable, impossible obstacle. How can we compete in a seller’s market when we don’t have heaps of money?

Becoming homeowners is important to us, and we’ve already worked so hard to get where we are (even though we’re not swimming in cash, sadly). Right now, it feels like nothing we can save is significant or good enough, even though we are tucking away about $500 a month between the two of us. It’s so difficult to not feel discouraged, even at the beginning of our house-hunting journey. We’re getting married in a month and a half, and we desperately want a home of our own so that we can start our life together as husband and wife, and hopefully have a family. The reality we’ve woken up to: It will not be easy. It will not take two weeks. We will have to spend most of our savings. It will be frustrating, difficult, and disheartening at times. Right now it feels awful, but every month that passes gives us another chance to save money, and continue our quest for finding a home to call our own.

I’m thinking about making a first-time homebuyer series here, from our perspective as two “broke” millennials. If that is something you’d like to see, let me know! Share your thoughts, comments, and advice in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.