What I Learned From My First Festival Experience

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One thing that you should know about my boyfriend, The Secret Agent is that he has more zest for life than many men half his age. If there’s a concert, art show, festival, opening or anything note worthy happening, he wants to be there to experience it. I partly attribute this to the years he spent living in New York City. His willingness to try new things and embark on adventures pushes me to do the same – one of the many reasons I like him so much.

With that said, as the months have passed (fun, adventure & music filled months…) I’ve learned that The Secret Agent and I have very different personalities. He is very much an extrovert who gets his energy from being out and about with other people; whereas I fall somewhere in between extrovert and introvert. I love being the life of the party, however when the party is over I’m more than happy to retreat back to my “mole hole” (the nickname I have for the bedroom/office that constitutes Skinny Dip HQ) for some quiet R&R (cue: books, blankets and podcasts.)

Now flashback to the night he and I met, when over drinks he brought up the Squamish Valley Music Festival. SVMF is a huge festival that takes place in the mountains, about a 40 minute drive from Whistler, BC. The Secret Agent has attended for the past few years. I’ve never been to a music festival. I love live music however, (thanks to multiple viewings of the Woodstock movie with my Mom over the years) I’ve always viewed music festivals as crowded, drug and mud-filled events with questionable toilet situations. I also don’t camp – at all – making me both an anomaly on the West Coast and (I presumed) ill prepared for a music festival.

However, as The Secret Agent told me about all of the acts he’d seen over the years, I could hear the excitement in his voice. Maybe I could enjoy a music festival? I mean, it’s now or never right?!

As I inch closer to my mid-thirties I’ve become way more aware of how we, as humans shape our own stories. Some of my proudest and most enjoyable moments over the past three years have come about when I’ve pushed myself outside of my comfort zone and challenged long held beliefs about myself. Can’t work out in the morning? Yeah, I was wrong about that. Can’t have a full-time freelancing biz and write a book? Wrong. Will never enjoy the music of Drake? Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Although I knew these things about myself, when The Secret Agent purchased us two tickets to the festival and the weekend grew closer, I became anxious. Would the crowds and overall intensity of the festival be too much for me? What would I wear? Would everyone think I was an old lady if I didn’t show up to this thing in frayed daisy dukes and a crocheted vest? I mean, what is the deal with crocheted vests? OH MY GOD WHAT WILL THE BATHROOM SITUATION BE LIKE?

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Although the bathroom situation left a lot to be desired, that whole “music festivals aren’t my thing” refrain that’s been part of my story for the past 34 years – yeah, I was wrong about that too. I had a really awesome weekend. I heard so much amazing music in such a short time that it was completely surreal (Sam Smith, Gorgon City, Drake, Schoolboy Q, Alabama Shakes & A$AP Rocky were faves.) The Secret Agent even made a Joe the Intern t-shirt that he could wear while we enjoyed the festival & the gorgeous scenery in Squamish.

(Joe says, “I’m not too clear on what goes on in people’s bathing suit areas, but I like seeing my face on a t-shirt. I wish I had a t-shirt”)

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I also learned a few things from losing my festival experience, so here they are:

1. You have to let the music festival take you where it takes you – Similar to my philosophy on how to do Vegas, in order to have a good time at a music festival you just have to give in to the energy of the whole thing. In other words, you start having fun as soon as you stop worrying about that damn crocheted vest.

2. Wet Wipes are your friend – I’m so glad that I came armed with tons of anti-bacterial wipes and hand sanitizer…. because I needed it. Those porta-potties get really gross by the end of the day. For some reason they seemed to get extra disgusting on the day that Mumford and Sons headlined and I never figured out why. Come prepared, my friends!

3. You will have a new found appreciation for indoor plumbing of all kinds. Never will a shower and a real toilet seem so incredibly wonderful as they do after a full day festival-ing. Even the bathroom at Subway will seem luxurious in comparison.

SVMF 3(There’s lots to see and do at SVMF, so sometimes we had to split up to catch it all. Here’s Hammer taking in the very rainy A$AP Rocky show while Joe watches Hot Chip. Joe says, “Considering Hot Chip are from London, this was not what I was expecting. Where are the singing potatoes? The newspaper wrapping? THE GIANT DEEP FRYER?! These red laser lights though…“)

4. There will be lots of delicious food at your musical festival. That doesn’t mean you have to eat all of it. If you’re gluten and dairy intolerant, don’t decide to binge on mini-doughnuts and poutine every night. Just don’t. I learned this the hard way. Instead, stick to the stuff that you know is OK (like that really awesome Jerk Chicken food truck you discovered and those chocolate dipped strawberries on a stick that you’re still thinking about.)

5. You will come in contact with bare ass-cheeks. This can’t be avoided. Women don’t wear a lot of clothes to music festivals: fact. While getting ready to watch the A$AP Rocky show, I noticed a really attractive young woman wearing the bathing suit I’d just purchased from American Apparel and a pair of white sneakers. That’s it. The swimsuit shows a substantial amount of ass (this was another “it’s now or never!” purchase) and the crowd was tightly packed. As the crowd began to move to the music, my swimsuit twin’s semi-bare ass cheeks began to repeatedly slap my arm, which was clutching onto my cross body bag for dear life. No matter where I shifted my body I somehow came in contact with her butt cheeks. This is why Wet Wipes are your friend.

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(“For a safe festival experience, don’t Drake and Drive.” – Hammer.)

6. I can step out of my comfort zone and everything will be OK. (Except for those washrooms. Those will never be OK but you just have to roll with it.) About five years ago, I wrote about going on a roller coaster for the first time. My first festival experience felt very similar.

The thing that I was afraid of and thought was so beyond my comfort zone (going to a huge, boisterous festival in the mountains), really wasn’t. It was more a matter of letting go of that fear. I also learned when it comes to experiences like this, you just have to do things your way. I wore clothes that I feel comfortable in (cute flats & a collection of boho-ish trapeze dresses) and did the whole weekend sober (because day drinking makes me feel gross).

I learned that I actually love music festivals, but I will never be the drunk, half-naked girl in the fringed bikini, crowd surfing to Drake (and I am totally OK with that.)

The Secret Agent and I capped off our epic weekend by driving down to Seattle to see D’Angelo play – a concert that was nothing short of amazing & rivals Prince as one of the best performances I’ve ever seen.

I enjoyed myself so much that I’m already researching other festivals I can go to. So far I have my eyes on Voodoo Fest 2016 in NOLA. Who’s in?!

Oh how things change.

Have you ever been to a festival? What did you think?

How to Recharge & Stay Inspired When You’re Really Busy

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A few years ago, everything in my life felt out of balance. I was anxious and constantly felt overwhelmed. When I was going through this, I made a list of things that I could do to make myself feel better. I’ve learned that part of living well with an anxiety disorder, means having “touchstones” I can draw on whenever I need to re-group. In fact, it’s crucial. So, I thought it might be interesting to not only share some of the (fun) ways I manage my anxiety, but also some of the stuff I love to do when I’m not here writing about dating, sexy lingerie and vibrators.

Now, here’s the thing – I wrote a version of this post a long time ago and it’s been sitting around in my drafts for…I don’t know, FOREVER. Why you ask? Because life has actually been really great lately. The Secret Agent and I have been having tons of great adventures: we’ve gone to Vancouver multiple times together, seen Erykah Badu in concert (my 3rd time seeing her!), plus been to a handful of other amazing shows and events (Zaki Ibrahim, Ester Rada, Talib Kweli!) We’ve been having a great time. Work has also been going well and am in the midst of working with a lovely editor to finish up the next stage of my book project.

However, the thing about having anxiety is that you can still have off days even when life is good. Anxiety is a bully like that. Although medication has helped me so, so, much, sometimes my brain chemistry can make it feel like life is either moving too fast or like it’s a bit too slow and foggy. These feelings are much more subtle than they used to be, but they are still there. Also, writing all day everyday can sometimes make you feel burnt-out. When these changes in mood happen, I don’t feel like the best version of myself.

One of the most important things I’ve learned over the past few months is that in order for me to feel my best, do my best possible work and be a good partner to The Secret Agent, I need to look after myself and make sure I take time to practice these good habits or touchstones – even when life is going swimmingly.

So, without further adieu, here are a few of the things I do to keep my anxiety in check and have fun in the process! (Thanks to Joe the Intern and his friends for helping me with the visuals…) Whether I’ve been travelling a lot or just need a mid-week re-boot, these are some of my favourite personal rituals.

Feeling overwhelmed, burn-out or creatively uninspired? Here are a few things to try

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I always joke that I consume books like most people consume food – and it’s almost true! I read a lot and always aim to read at least 3-4 books a month in hopes of staying on top of my perpetually long “to be read list” on Goodreads. Reading is not only highly enjoyable, it’s a great way for me to relax my mind when things start to feel “busy” in there (if you can relate to my stories about anxiety, you know what I’m talking about.) I like to make time to read for at least an hour before bed and an hour or two during Saturday mornings (I regularly document my coffee & reading adventures here.) When I read a lot, I also write better – so, there’s that.

Some of my favourite reads from 2015 so far include Redefining Realness by Janet Mock, The Wild Oats Project by Robin Rinaldi and Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I’d also recommend anything by Junot Diaz, Cheryl Strayed, Cristina Henriquez and any of the female friendly reads from this or this list. 

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One of the things that brought the Secret Agent and I together was our mutual love of 90’s hip hop and R&B – among other genres. I love that I can play him a song I really love & there’s a very good chance that he’ll enjoy it too.

One of my favourite things to do when I’m having writer’s block is to explore new music. Although I’m always on the look out for new music to fall in love with, if my boyfriend mentions that he’s heard something on Soulbounce that I haven’t yet, I know that life has been busy & I need to spend some time with my headphones exploring some new sounds. Listening to music is one of my favourite ways to get energized and inspired. 

(FYI, in a few days I’ll be losing my music festival virginity at Squamish Fest, so I’ve been preoccupied sonically researching all the acts we’ll see like Sam Smith, Drake & Alabama Shakes (eeee!))

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Green smoothies made with Vega One mix have been my saving grace over the past year. With the exception of weekends that I usually spend at The Secret Agent’s, I drink one each and every morning – even while travelling. The older I get, the more important it becomes for me to pay attention to what I put in my body. Having a protein rich green smoothie everyday means I eliminate the “ugh, what should I eat for breakfast?” question, therefore creating more time and energy in my day for other pursuits, like writing and client work.

Regardless of what else is going on during the rest of the day, my green smoothie habit ensures that I get more than enough servings of veggies & fruits first thing in the am. Also, green smoothies are delicious and make me feel awesome. Joe the Intern agrees.

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When I sat down to write down this list I asked myself, “what makes me feel most like myself?” One of the first things that popped into my mind was moving my body. I spent most of my childhood to young adulthood dancing ballet. I’ve since learned that whether I’m dancing, taking a barre class or punching & kicking the crap out of a bag at the gym, I feel my best when I’m getting sweaty & moving my body. Doing exactly that on a regular basis is what keeps me sane & feeling good. A workout has always made me feel better, not worse.

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In the past, one of my go-to relaxation tools was to watch a couple (or many) episodes of a favourite TV show. While I still love Netflix (the latest season of Orange is the New Black made me feel all the things & I’m wholeheartedly in love with BoJack Horseman) ever since the release of Serial, I’ve become completely obsessed with podcasts and have started listening to several on a regular basis (most of which are about social justice issues.)

I’m of the belief that we’ve become so programmed to communicate & “connect” – especially online – that many of us don’t slow down long enough to really listen to each other or ourselves. I love podcasts because they force you to listen and focus, without looking at a screen. As I discovered from my experience listening to Serial, there’s something really intimate and comforting about hearing someone’s  voice tell you a story – even if what they are talking about is a murder case. Plus, learning about something new about the world around you is a great way to get out of your own head (this is one reason I also really love to watch documentaries!)

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I used to scoff at the term “self-care” and accompanying articles that suggested that I do things like “take a bubble bath” or “paint my nails.” More often than not, I couldn’t relate. Hot baths usually make me feel lightheaded and painting my nails is futile endeavour (the chipping frustrates me too much to make it worthwhile.) In the inaugural words of Kimberly “Sweet Brown” Wilkins, ain’t nobody got time for that. 

However, self-care is really important. Looking over the above mentioned actions, they all fall under the banner of self-care because they are all things that make me feel good. With that said, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t feel better when I take the time to give myself a pedicure and stick to my regular at-home laser hair removal sessions (more on that later.) So, whether it’s giving your hair a new paint job (above) or treating yourself to a much needed pedicure, I’ve learned it’s important to take care of the external as well as the internal.

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Sometimes the best thing to do is nothing at all. When people ask me about how I ward off creative burn-out, I simply tell them, “naps.” Whenever my mind starts to feel foggy or like I can’t concentrate, I lay down for an hour and sleep it off. I tell myself that when I get up in 60 minutes, things will feel better and I will keep working. I liken the mind to a computer: sometimes you need to shut down and reboot. And you know what? It works.

So, whether you’re just really busy, have anxiety or both, these are a few rituals that I embrace to re-balance and feel good. However, this is by all means not an absolute list. Everyone is different and what works for one person, might not work for another.

Do you have any touchstones or personal rituals that you practice? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

I Have a Boyfriend and Life is Good

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We met the old fashioned way: in person, through a mutual friend who introduced us at a cocktail party that was taking place at our local art gallery.

Although he says he first remembers seeing me lurking by the coat check area, I only remember the moment we met.

One thing you need to understand, is that like many laid back locales on the West Coast, my hometown isn’t exactly known for it’s well dressed male population. In fact, between the masses of conservative buttoned up government workers and the slew of prototypical west coast dudes who live in hoodies (and who I suspect have never worn socks or owned a pair of full length pants) this city is often referred to as a place “where men’s fashion goes to die” (this phenomena was even covered on the local news!)

When he walked into my life wearing pink pants, a tailored suit jacket, with an earful of piercings, my initial thought was  “Where the hell did this guy come from?!”

I was instantly drawn to him and we bonded quickly over our mutual love of Jill Scott and Ballet (me – from having danced for 18 years, him – from having worked as a publicist for a famous ballet dancer.)

As I was sitting on a step, enjoying a cocktail with my friend he told me,

“Sitting there like that, you look very much like Heather Sweet. Has anyone ever told you that before?”

(I learned a few seconds later that Heather Sweet is the given name of Dita Von Teese. Colour me flattered.)

With his shaved head, dark eyes and sexy facial scruff, I thought he looked like a cross between Andre Agassi and Jason Statham. Think: Russian athlete meets action hero/character from James Bond. (as I’d later discover, we are both Eastern European mutts.)

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Cocktails at the art gallery lead to more cocktails at a lounge downtown.

I didn’t have any inkling that he liked me until we were ready to head home and my friend suggested we go to Burger King.

When we got to the restaurant, he asked me if I wanted anything.

I told him that I don’t really like Burger King; that I only like the Filet o’Fish from McDonalds.

“Do you want me to go get you one?” he asked.

So, while I stayed in our sticky Burger King booth with my friend, her boyfriend and a plate of poutine; he braved the throngs of drunks and teen meth heads at the sketchy McDonalds down the street. When he returned a few minutes later, proudly clutching my favourite fish sandwich, I knew that I indisputably liked him.

We now joke that,  “you had me at Filet o’ Fish.

Earlier that night we had exchanged business cards. When I woke up the next morning, the first thing I did was email him.

I sent him a short message thanking him for the Filet o’Fish and he sent me back the most romantic email I have ever received, which ended with him asking me out.

A week later, we went on our first date at my favourite wine bar. Throughout the date I noticed myself turning my chair so I could get closer to him at the bar. When I got up to use the washroom, he handed me this handwritten note.

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It was one of the best first dates I’ve ever been on & we’ve been together ever since.

It’s been almost three months now – three really great, amazing months. I’ve resisted writing this post because it’s hard to distill (and do justice) all of my favourite moments from the past 90 days – there are just too many.

There was the first morning I woke up at his house, looked over and asked him what he was doing on his phone and he replied, “I’m buying us tickets to go see Erykah Badu in June.”

There was the moment after I introduced him to my best friend and I told her, “he just intuitively knows how to be with me.”

There was also the time when he bought Joe the Intern and Hammer a set of top-hats (among other things.)

His burgeoning bromance with Joe the Intern makes me smile everyday, because it shows that he really gets me – blog, “interns” and all. In return, I like to make him Filet o’ Fish themed art work, which is not very good, but that he seems to love anyways.

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(Also, he helped dispose of the iRide, which if you read that post you know was no easy feat.)

For the purpose of this blog, I’m going to call him My Secret Agent – partly as an ode to a character from one of my favourite books, Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block; but also because he seemingly appeared out of nowhere and always makes me feel safe and protected in his presence.

It’s funny how you don’t realize what specifically is missing from your life until it arrives. In my case it was someone who is kind and thoughtful, and accepts me exactly as I am. The influx of romance and handwritten notes also doesn’t hurt.

I don’t know how to end this post because unlike previous dating posts there isn’t an ending. When it comes to the Secret Agent, it feels as though we’re just beginning our adventure together. So, just know that things are good, I’m happy and me & Joe the Intern give this guy an enthusiastic two thumbs up. It’s about time.

On Dating, Intuition and Being Brave

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One of my favourite parts of my job is when readers email me with questions. I don’t always feel qualified to answer them (after all, I always joke that this blog is basically the blind leading the blind – except when it comes to sex toys. I actually know quite a bit about those.) However, the email below, which was sent to me by a reader that I also consider a friend, hit really close to home. It was one of those, “Yup. Girl, I have been there” moments. Because of this, I thought it would be a really good one to answer on the blog –

“Simone – I can’t bring myself to date yet! How do you bounce back from all the whack situations and disappointments? What is your mindset when you date? How do you know when to walk away? I feel like I’ve lost faith and trust in myself for misjudging the last two situations…I always try to make things work or give it more time “to see.”

 I also have this belief that my anxiety and any flaw in me has to be fixed before I can truly attract the love I want and be the partner that I envision. This is a really good mind trick to never date again! In short: gearing up to get back out there but terrified.” 

Ok, so a few things –

First of all, if you’re not ready to date – that’s totally OK. I feel like we live in a culture where everyone is constantly being encouraged to date, pair off and be together – something that just isn’t always realistic, fair or even healthy. We’re fed the message that if we’re not dating, in a relationship or trying to find one, that there’s something wrong with us – something that inevitably needs fixing. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Sometimes hearts just need time to heal. Being alone can help facilitate this. If not dating feels like the most authentic and right thing for you right now; follow your intuition. However long you need, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking a breather.

The truth is, although this blog covers a lot of my life, there are also a lot of things that you don’t see. It may seem like I’m always dating up a storm; immediately climbing back atop of the proverbial horse every time I get knocked down, however this isn’t always the case. Over the past three years I’ve taken several lengthly hiatuses from dating and sex. It just doesn’t always read this way because more often than not, I don’t always write about my experiences in real time.

With that said, this wasn’t always the case. While writing my book, which involved digging through the romantic wreckage of my past, I realized there were so many times that I flung myself, head-first into various relationships with very little regard for my own self-preservation. I practiced what I like to call “emotional cliff-diving.” I wanted to feel and experience things, and didn’t really think through consequences. I was brave to a fault. I had some good experiences but also lots of really, really bad ones.

Although a lot of good writing material came from these experiences, I wouldn’t recommend emotional cliff diving to anyone (well, at least anyone over the age of 23.) With that said, here’s what I’ve learned now that I’m older and a tiny bit wiser: dating is always going to make you feel somewhat vulnerable. The only way you can avoid vulnerability is by closing yourself off emotionally from other people – which doesn’t work if your goal is to meet someone. You have to be brave. Once I decided that I wanted to start dating again, I realized that the only way I was going to get through it was by becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable. 

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But, There’s Just This One Thing

I was having a conversation with a good friend of mine recently about dating in your 30’s. When she asked me about my dating life, I told her, “I feel like dating in your 30’s involves rejecting a lot of good people. I’m rejecting kind, smart, handsome men for the sole reason that I just know that they’re not right for me long-term. I mean, what is that?”

To which she replied, “I think that’s what they call progress.”

For the most part, dating in my twenties was very “exploratory.” I dated a wide variety of people. I was open to any and every new experience, and drank each one up with a straw. Although much of the same can be said about some of my dating experiences in my 30’s, when I was younger I had more time on my hands. Even if I knew someone wasn’t quite right for me, I’d date them anyways just for the story. When I had to reject someone, the signs were glaringly clear and lit up in big, neon, letters (which often I’d ignore anyways, once again for the story – or worse love.)

There's Just This One Thing: Dating in Your ThirtiesBack then, my reasons for breaking up with someone usually sounded something like, “He didn’t call me because he was in jail” or “I think I need to dump him. He keeps getting drunk and throwing up in my roommate’s car.” However, in your 30’s the impetus to reject someone is more like a whisper – the reasons often more subtle, but so much harder to ignore. 

Lately I’ve noticed a pattern in my dating life: I’ll meet someone I like, things will be going well until BAM! This one thing reveals itself – call it a fatal flaw or what-not – and it suddenly becomes abundantly clear that things won’t work out. It’s like that Amerie song, except the “one thing” that’s got you “tripping” is BAD.

For example, Donald was perfect on paper but I just wasn’t attracted to him, Donny was a dreamboat but unreliable, Young Guy didn’t want a girlfriend and The European already had one – and Fitness Guy, well, I don’t think there was ever any room for me in his life. With the exception of maybe Fitness Guy, none of these guys were bad dudes.

There was just this one thing….

There's Just This One Thing: Dating in Your Thirties

There's Just This One Thing: Dating in Your ThirtiesProbably the best example of this phenomenon would a person we’ll call Vancouver Guy.

Vancouver Guy and I met a few years ago through mutual friends and have since stayed in touch online. We met up for dinner this past summer when I was in Vancouver for a work function. I’ve always found Vancouver Guy cute, however all I was expecting from our night out was to get to know each other better as friends over some really good Chinese food – which is pretty much exactly what happened.

As we sat across from each other, chowing down on delicious handmade dumplings and noodles and discussing everything from startups to dating, I was overcome with how much I really enjoyed Vancouver Guy’s company. He was smart, driven, thoughtful and shared my passion for culinary adventures. It was an unusually warm, mid-summer night. Not wanting the evening to end, I suggested we go grab a drink at a local rooftop bar.

There's Just This One Thing: Dating in Your Thirties

There's Just This One Thing: Dating in Your ThirtiesBy the time Vancouver Guy walked me back to where I was staying, I knew that I wanted something to happen. However, before I had a chance to make a move, he grabbed me and kissed me. It was a good kiss. Very, very good.

The kiss wasn’t an anomaly. Half an hour later, we were back at his nearby apartment frantically making out on his couch. It was clear that we had undeniable chemistry.

When I went back to the island, we stayed in touch. Soon we were talking all day, everyday via text or the phone. Vancouver Guy made sure to text me every morning to wish me “good morning” and every night before I went to wish we “good night.” After things had ended in total radio silence with Young Guy, this man was refreshingly attentive. Through our correspondence I learned that we shared similar values, as well as a life-long fondness for the Muppets. When my phone would ping with a text from him, I remember thinking excitedly, “This. Could. Be. Something.” 

There's Just This One Thing: Dating in Your Thirties

There's Just This One Thing: Dating in Your ThirtiesHowever, then life happened (as it does.) I went on a trip to visit my family. While staying with my relatives, I noticed my text correspondence with Vancouver Guy was cutting into family time, so I pulled back a bit. Soon after, I got really sick with bronchitis and my asthma kicked into high gear. My daily focus became work and literally, breathing. During this time, Vancouver Guy’s bi-hourly texts, became difficult to keep up with. However, when I pulled back, it seemed like he just tried harder.

When I was well enough to catch up with friends, and Vancouver Guy knew I’d be out for the evening, he’d text me trying to initiate conversation. Sometimes he’d send me messages that said stuff like “Don’t drink too much, Missy!” (ugh) or worse, inappropriate sexts when he knew I was going to be out with my girlfriends. When I wouldn’t reply to him within a few hours, he’d send a “Did you forget about me??” message accompanied with an emoticon of a happy face bawling it’s eyes out. (Which, I might add isn’t exactly a turn on – especially from a man in his mid-thirties.)

There's Just This One Thing: Dating in Your Thirties

 

There's Just This One Thing: Dating in Your ThirtiesLong story short, what had once seemed sweet and romantic, started to feel annoying and smothering. I like attentive guys, but I also need some breathing room. We weren’t even in the same city and yet, I felt completely cornered.

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