just me and taylor

In the last few years, I’ve learned to do a lot of things by myself that I might otherwise always do with a friend, boyfriend, or a large group of folks. Going to the movies is a pretty easy one — I mostly want to be left alone when I do that, anyway. When I used to travel alone for my job, I got used to dining out by myself — sitting at the bar is faster than waiting for a table and I would almost always end up having a fun conversation with someone. It took a bit of gumption to decide on it, but traveling by myself has uncovered some of the deepest joys I’ve yet to know in this life.

Live music was one of the big draws that attracted me to Nashville twelve years ago, and in that time I’ve dragged a number of friends along with me to shows all over town. It’s obviously way more fun when both parties in attendance are equally excited about the concert or share a love for the artist, and that’s been the case a lot of the time, but not always. When I was dating someone for a long time, I got used to having a go-to concert companion. I knew that I could buy two tickets and we would both go and it would be fun, but when I was single again, that changed. Sure, I still had lots of friends I could call up and invite, but for some of the bigger shows I wanted to see, the tickets would go on sale so far in advance that it was hard to make any firm plans.

I looked to my fictional mentor for all things hopelessly romantic, Ted Mosby, for direction. When Ted Mosby receives a wedding invitation, he RSVPs for two, even when he is single— it’s a bold act of hope that by the time the wedding rolls around, he’ll be in love, or at least excited about the possibility of love— maybe even with the mother of his kids. Following suit in pure Mosby fashion, I started buying two tickets to shows without a specific guest in mind —who knows where I’d be several months from now?! Pulling a Mosby felt like a way of breathing life into my hopes and putting those possibilities out into the universe — not that I was so hard up for a boyfriend, but it was nice to think about how much fun it might be to take a really great date to this concert ten months from now. And sure, I’ve ended up selling a lot of single tickets and standing next to a stranger, wondering then if this person might be my soulmate before quickly deciding “no, probably not.”

In the summer of 2013, I was spinning in a delayed whirlwind of Taylor Swift fever. I’ve never been a big fan of country music so I suppose it makes sense that she caught my attention at a point in her career when she was leaning almost fully pop. Like a lot of folks, I had decided Taylor Swift was a whiney girl whose subtlety in breakup anthems left us wanting. I hadn’t ever really listened to her until she dropped the single, “We are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” which I listened to approximately 26 times in a row one afternoon. It wasn’t until that year that I became obsessed with one song at a time until I was fully enamored with her Red album, which I had ripped from a 9 year old’s CD copy while I was working as her nanny. Taylor Swift would be playing three nights at Bridgestone Arena that September and a lot of my friends were going, but the tickets had gone on sale over a year before and all three nights had almost sold out immediately. There was no chance of me jumping in with a group of friends who had been planning on it for so long, but I was wearing that album out and was already experiencing serious anticipatory FOMO. I had to go. In a fit of Taylor-fueled excitement, I grabbed my phone, searched for a single ticket on Ticketmaster, and bought it. 

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I hesitated to share my excitement with a lot of people because I knew I’d be met with the dreaded question, “Who are you going with?” At this point, I hadn’t been to any concerts alone. Many of my friends wouldn’t flinch at the news of my going out solo, but this was not my typical genre or taste and there was something inherently creepy about a 27 year old woman going alone to a Taylor Swift concert. With another adult who wears Taylor superfandom with pride? No big deal. With a group of kids squealing with excitement to see their favorite star? Not weird at all. Alone? At this show. A little weird.

But the night arrived and I had shared with a few trusted comrades just how out of my mind excited I was. I put on my red lipstick, chugged a Coors Light in my kitchen, and drove myself downtown. I gave myself a little bit of time so that I could have a drink at the bar at Merchant’s beforehand, so I parked in a garage and took my time walking down Broadway, smelling the cigarettes and spilled whiskey from ten thousand nights before, feeling the anticipation that hung heavy in the dusky downtown air. I ordered a cocktail at Merchants, all the while breathing deeply and reminding myself that there was nothing weird about being alone and doing something I wanted to do, believing that this would be a great night and that I had everything I needed — ticket, red lips, ID… well, almost everything. I sprinted back across Broadway, bargained with the garage attendant to let me out and back in without paying twice, sped home to grab my ID and tried again. I went straight to Bridgestone this time, directly to the beer line, which was delightfully short at this Taylor Swift concert, since her fanbase was still mostly underage.

Ed Sheeran was opening for her on this tour. I didn’t and still don’t care about him, but I have never experienced a surge of positive energy and excitement like the one I felt when I pulled back the curtain to walk into the stadium that night. Red blinking signs filled the seats, girls screamed at Beatles-Ed-Sullivan Show decibels — I’m not remotely ashamed to share that I teared up a little. I couldn’t remember a time when I had been in the presence of such genuine excitement — I’m not sure that I had ever felt the magnanimous joy and enthusiasm that filled Bridgestone that night.

…Until about an hour later.

I don’t know if any of you have ever been to a Taylor Swift concert, or if you have an idea of what to expect from a big stadium show like this, but I was not prepared for the level of sheer, nonstop entertainment and unadulterated fun that would keep me on my feet, dancing and singing for three hours straight that night. Say what you will about Tay, but I love her. She works hard, she shows incredible amounts of kindness to her fans, and during her concerts, she’ll give at least one breathy, impassioned speech about loving yourself and how that, with the love from your friends, is so much stronger than all the mean things that people will say about you when they try to tear you down. Oh, and she moves through the air on a floating pedestal while she does this— to get closer to the nosebleed seats! She’s amazing and seeing her perform live only magnified my admiration for her.

The great thing about being alone at a concert is that, instead of turning to your friend who might not like these songs as much as you, you just look ahead, throwing your fangirl arms in the air and singing as loud as your lungs will let you because this is for you. You don’t have to worry about anyone but yourself. Sharing this with someone equally excited is, perhaps, the ideal situation, but I learned that night that it’s a close second. And it’s followed even more closely by a third option that I doubt I’ll ever find in a more truly joyful form than I did that night. My seat was in the first section off the floor, about halfway back from the stage — to my right was a group of four people about my age, with whom I hoped desperately to blend, and to the left was an eleven year old girl.

She and I had shared some excited glances earlier in the night, but as Taylor moved through the stadium, dazzling us with her best songs, both old and new, our communication of squeals and claps and jumps-in-place cemented our connection. We mirrored one another’s dance moves, including series of dramatic, head shakes to accompany each “trouble, trouble, trouble”. She lost her mind when Ed Sheeran joined Taylor on stage for “Everything Has Changed’ and I lost mine when Taylor sat at her enormous piano and flung her hair back and forth in “All Too Well,” stirring my emotions and undoubtedly racking up a sizable bill with the chiropractor. During a set change, as Taylor spoke about love and loss over vague lead-in music for the next song, I turned to my new friend, leaned down to her level, and shouted, “DO YOU THINK SHE’S ABOUT TO DO LOVE STORY?!?” She did. And I cried at the key change.

A bunch of my close friends were somewhere in the room that night. I could have easily texted them to meet up in the lobby after the show, but I didn’t. There were 19,999 other people with whom I was now permanently bonded by this magical experience—their energy would be impossible to forget and their screams would ring in my ears late into the next morning. I had made a new little friend who I would never see again. Love filled the room and spilled out onto Lower Broadway. But being in that sold-out arena, in that square foot of dance floor in section 104, in my body, with a belly full of expensive beer and a heart full of joy, I was alone. I was alone and I was grateful. I was alone, just like every other person that night who stood up, strong and sure, screaming loud enough so the person with whom she was never ever ever ever getting back together would hear.

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I told this story at Tenx9 Nashville on 2.22.16 for the theme “Alone” and, evidently, pointed bossily as I spoke. Wonderful evening with fantastic folks sharing and hearing true stories. Learn more about Tenx9!
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beginning of yes

In the last year, I’ve become a part of an incredible community called tenx9 nashville, which gathers monthly to hear nine people share true stories (in ten minutes or less) on a given theme. In January, I told my second story with tenx9. The theme was “Beginnings.” Here it is. 

People always say that the beginning of a relationship is the best part — lots of firsts, each with enough nervous excitement and anticipation to forget that we’ve felt this way before, but with someone who is now a distant memory— or so we pretend. It’s that time when everything still seems perfect. Not yet complicated. You’re enamored. It’s great. The naiveté is allowed and encouraged. “Just enjoy it,” people say. The beginning is the best part.

For any of us who have made it past this stage, or hope to, this trite or sentimental outlook on love and relationships may seem shallow and sad. We might say that true love reaches far beyond the excitement of the first weeks and months. So yes, I’m sure the best is always yet to come or something, but you can’t deny the beauty of the good ol’ days… you know: before you realized that your partner snores like an erratic freight train or all those nights before you laid awake wondering how he still has a damn molar in his mouth with all that grinding. It may not be as rosy to start uncovering dark and unsettling insecurities— it’s much nicer to stick to discovering similarities and family trees and favorite albums. I’d be lying if I told you I hadn’t looked longingly over my shoulder at the carefree levity of a relationship’s earliest stages.  It’s easy to romanticize my memories of the beginning of one in particular, because the beginning is all that it ever was.

Last December, my friend married her love in a tiny Episcopal church in Spring Hill, TN. My fingers were crossed for an invitation — I knew it would be a small wedding and I didn’t know if work-friends would make the cut. We were at lunch one day when she was telling me how excited her sister was to be the Maid of Honor.  Her sister has some developmental disabilities and it was important that my friend be able to give her this gift without creating more wedding-day anxiety for herself, so she was hoping to find a Maid of Honor “coach” for the weekend— someone to be at her sister’s beckon call, help her get dressed, remind her where to stand, when to move, how to kneel for communion in a long dress— that kind of thing. She told me, “I know it will all be okay and my sister will be fine but I’d feel so much better if I knew someone was there for her and with her on that day… and I just keep coming back to you.” I jumped all over it — not only because it would definitely lock down that wedding invite I was coveting, but because I felt somehow deeply connected to this celebration.

I was excited to be a fly on the wall during this wedding— kinda in the wedding party, but not really connected or tied down. I arrived just in time for the rehearsal. My long hair flowed behind me as I raced through the church, reporting for duty. I rounded a corner and there he was, tall and bearded and starting to smile back at me: the nephew of the groom.

I collected myself and went into the sanctuary for the rehearsal. At that point, Steve was standing in the sanctuary and people were milling around so we introduced ourselves – I learned that he was finishing up an M.Div at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and shared that I had just done the same at Vanderbilt Divinity School. We exchanged some other pertinent details, like what I was doing at the wedding, but to be honest, it’s all a blur. I do remember the minister asking if we were ready to begin, and realizing that everyone else was in the right place and waiting on us to be finished with our conversation in the middle of the aisle.

We spoke more at the rehearsal dinner, played the “do you know” game, which I’ve come to find is a favorite Presbyterian pastime, second only to doing energizers at bars and bemoaning the confusion between the PCA and the PC(USA). We also discovered we had each spent a year in the same volunteer program, where he served in Belfast and I, in Seattle. His mother suggested that he get my phone number in case he had any questions about Vanderbilt during his visit to campus the next day to learn about PhD programs. It’s always good to lock down that mom vote.

I heard from him a little that night and some the next day in the midst of wedding prep with the Maid of Honor. We did hair, nails, put on Spanx, makeup — all the works. At one point in the afternoon, I was racing around and called a friend to ask for a favor and tell her that I might marry this guy. It sounded crazy and it was totally crazy, but I had that weird feeling that you get when you meet someone who is going to be important in your life.

The wedding was beautiful – The Maid of Honor was so relieved to have made it through the ceremony and, oh, so happy for her sister and her new brother-in-law. I quickly accepted the invitation to sit with Steve and his cousins and the rest of the wedding party at the reception— I mean, I was practically IN the wedding. No more of this fly-on-the-wall, safe-distance nonsense. At one point, we were standing around, he had his hand on my lower back (which I’m certain is some knee-weakening pressure-point) and I knew I was in trouble.

This never happens to me — that I would meet someone and have a connection so strong and have it immediately validated. I’m more accustomed to the dance of trying to pretend like we haven’t noticed each other, finding ourselves in a casual setting that could maybe be called a date, but isn’t, and then eventually stumbling into a serious long-term relationship. This was different.

I hung with the family all night, even going back to the house where everyone was staying for the after-party. They all insisted I stay the night so I wouldn’t have to worry about driving back so late. So we all hung out, toasted the bride and groom, watched SNL, and basked in the glow of a great day. I felt like I belonged there. At one point, Steve and I went out to the back porch to get a bottle of water because that’s a two-person job – and by the time we made it back inside, everyone had gone to bed. We stayed up all night, talking, kissing, repeating. We were in a fog of mutual admiration: lots of eye-gazing, face-touching, memory-preserving. It was like a movie scene that you watch, then scoff about how that never happens in real life— a magical, swirly dream. We didn’t know what the hell we were doing and we knew it was crazy to entertain the idea of being together beyond this night— he lived in Texas, I lived here, we had known each other for 24 hours. None of it made any sense. But my excitement insisted I throw caution to the wind and let myself feel all of it enough to enjoy it.

By the morning, we had plans. He was coming to visit for Valentine’s Day and I knew I would certainly implode by then. He bought a plane ticket the next day and we spoke on the phone for hours each night. We were both considering summer trips to Europe and started talking about making plans to meet up and do some traveling together while we were over there. I told this crazy story to everyone — I couldn’t help it. It felt like a dream and I just couldn’t get over the fact that any of it was actually happening.

The haze wore off a little bit, which was actually reassuring. It felt good to get a foot on the ground, but I was definitely still wearing the new-relationship goggles. I did notice that he wasn’t without his quirks: he did this weird thing where he leaned into kiss the camera when we were Facetiming. He was terrible at texting. He was a little obsessive about working out. He really liked the band Owl City. I was nervous. Not about the poor texting conduct or Owl City, but — I couldn’t stop worrying that it all seemed too good to be true, that we had been too rash, that I was too invested for my own good. Over and over, I talked myself down, and decided it was worth it to see what was there.

Until it wasn’t. About two weeks in, he called one night while I was in the drive-thru at Taco Bell with some friends after a night out. He asked me to call him back when I got home, so I stewed silently in the backseat, got back to my friends’ house, ate my Doritos Locos Taco, and excused myself to go home and make a phone call. I sat in my driveway while he told me he thought we should end things. He said he got caught up in everything and he wanted to be my friend but nothing more. I said “okay”. We never spoke again. I have enough friends.

I was devastated for about 24 hours. There’s that nonsensical equation about how long it takes to get over a person, based on how long you were together. I don’t know how this fits into that, but after a few days, and making sure that everyone I had told about him knew that it was over, the whole thing was just gone. Over about as quickly as it started.

I felt foolish for letting myself go rogue. This wasn’t my style, and I gave in, and it fell apart. Before Steve, it had been a long time since I had really made space for someone else. I called it an extended recovery period from a previous breakup, but as more time passed, it felt harder to take the leap and, frankly, it never felt worth it. My dear friend Ben, who is nothing if not immediately and unwaveringly loyal at times like this, reminded me that, while this sucked royally and that he would heretofore be replacing his name with “douchebag” — that it might be refreshing to see that I could feel that way about someone again.

The feeling of being so swept up that I had no choice but to say yes. this came out of nowhere and surprised me and was exactly what I needed to begin a new chapter— one in which I’m not quite as scared to be vulnerable with someone, a time to stop overthinking every little move out of fear, to do the things I want to do when I’m ready to do them. I hadn’t realized just how much I’d put on hold, for some excuse or another. In terms of love, I was and still am deliberate in waiting for something that feels worth it — but in the meantime, I realized I was passing on so much that has very little to do with my relationship status. While I was waiting on a love that moved me like that, I was waiting on life to happen to me. Going to that wedding and meeting Steve and falling in … whatever that was… was the beginning of saying yes. It was the beginning of listening to my active, energetic spirit and letting her call the shots. It was a reminder that I can trust myself – a reminder that I’m all I need to be me right now. I started taking some risks. I went on that trip to Europe by myself last summer and it was amazing. I started saying yes to things that, sure, one day, will be great to do with the love of my life, but for now, that person is me – and we are having a damn ball.