Terrible Twenties

Trials and tribulations of the modern twenty-something because no matter what adults say, your twenties are f*cking hard.
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About once a year I try doing something that’s very difficult for me. In my life, I have yet to do it successfully. I’m pretty ashamed that after just about three decades I haven’t figured this out but…

Hi, I’m Heather and I cannot paint my own nails.

I am was an impetuous child with little tolerance for activities I couldn’t easily master on the first try. I was easily frustrated and fiercely independent, rarely wanting to do anything I couldn’t do without the help of others.

Ok, so I’m still all of those things. People don’t change.

As a result, I never figured out — no, took the time — how to paint my own nails because I was never able to do it right. 

When I was about ten years old, I remember someone gifting me a cool nail painting kit complete with nail polish and instructions on how to paint bumble bees, flowers, cherries, and other fun late-nineties clip art. The paint was super cheap, it peeled right off, and my cute little honeybee turned out like a weird yellow and black blog, ten coats thick.

In middle school, having *wacky* blue and green nail polish was very chic. I had both colors from Wet n’Wild and I tried several times during sixth grade to paint my nails to match my favorite tie-die shirt. Alas, I was left with a clumpy mess, which always ended up getting removed shortly after application.

And, by the time I entered high school, I discovered nail salons were a thing and that was sort of it for me. I started working at 15 years old and, with no bills to speak of, I had ample spending money for my pink and white tips.

So, for almost 15 years, that’s been my means to an end: paying other people to do the thing I can’t do.

And again, I keep trying, just like I keep trying to like salmon. In the past, one optimistic night dedicated to inevitable failure was enough to remind me that some people aren’t good at everything for the next year.

Maybe I just didn’t want it bad enough.

I say this because when I was in middle and high school, all I wanted was straight hair, and I got straight hair. I would spend hours in the bathroom with a fat round brush, painstakingly drying each section into perfection. I took the time to not only do it, but do it right. 

But today, I wanted it bad enough. I had been frustrated all week that I hadn’t found the time to go get a manicure, and decided that I had to take matters into my own hands — LITERALLY.

I am almost 30 years old. This, like knowing how to hand-wash a sweater, is a life skill I need. 

So, I went to CVS, bought myself $27 worth of new red polish and went home determined to make it work. Armed with over a decade’s worth of observing professionals and tips from far more skilled friends, I painted all 20 of my nails,

In the end, this was my best attempt. They aren’t perfect.

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(I was told to paint onto my skin and let the excess fall off in the shower, which worked! Also this was done with my left hand.)

The middle finger on my right hand has about two coats too many due to a shaky hand, my pointer finger has a mysterious chunk missing, and I accidentally smudged my big toe because I was brushing my teeth and looking and my closet to see what tops went with a new sweater and not thinking about how leaning on the top of my foot might be destructive. Overall, I woke up this morning with broad daylight exposing impatient and incriminating finger prints and dents.

OK, but despite all that, they look pretty decent (from far away).

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And I learned something (surprise!). Even though my dexterity leaves something to be desired, that’s not what’s been my problem all these years as I had always suspected and blamed. It’s patience. 

I’ve never been a patient person. Like I said, people don’t change. I love instant gratification, and a slow burn just isn’t for me. It’s not wonder that a task like painting your nails has eluded me all these years.

So, I’m going to keep practicing be patient. I’m going to try painting my nails again sooner than another year. And yes, I’m going to keep trying salmon, even though it tastes like rot.

My dad has being telling me this for years, “Don’t get old Heather. It really sucks.” He’s not the only one. Anyone five years or more my senior has doled out similar unsolicited advice throughout my entire life.

The vote is in. It’s unanimous; getting old is basically the worst.

I’m starting to understand that I inherited my super heightened age consciousness from dad, a man who has been giving himself trial face lifts with his hands for decades. 

"What if I just pull it up slightly right here," he says as he takes takes the corners of his neck skin, right by the jawline, into his thumbs and gently pulls upwards. The soft slightly sagging skin of his neck stands at taught attention.

"I dunno Dad, you’d look kind of weird," I’d always say as a kid, half my face scrunched up in confusion. Why would anyone ever want to be any different than they are today?

This is the man who has been counting down the birthdays until his Medicare benefits since he was forty-five and, now that he has his card, flashes it in his silly Vans wallet like it’s a black Amex, or an undercover badge. 

This man is why I spend a few minutes a day, my face centimeters away from the mirror because I’m not wearing glasses, staring at the very slow change happening. 

Candidly, I’ve actually never felt prettier than I do right now. Given the chance, I’m not sure I wouldn’t trade my twenty-two year old body for the one I’ve got right now. Maybe I’ve finally grown into myself. Maybe I’ve stopped caring.

But then I have days where my fingers hurt for no reason, my digestive system can’t handle once familiar foods, or I realize I don’t really understand Snapchat even though I thought I did. And I know there is no explanation for these things other than, I’m getting older. Maybe I still do care in some ways.

Maybe I should remember my childhood philosophy: Why would anyone ever want to be different than they are today?

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(Atonement #OOTD because insane LA heat is truly doing its part to help me feel miserable today.)

After having a grand time playing #MeanKippur (Mean Girls Day + Yom Kippur) on Twitter with a couple friends yesterday, it’s time to get serious — at least before I become delirious from hunger.

Yep, it’s Yom Kippur, and today is dedicated to reflection on past errors and foresight in setting intentions for the new year. For Jewish people, it’s an interesting stop in time, forcing us to simultaneously look back and forward, all in the present. It’s also about fasting, but that’s just a physical means to a mental and emotional end. 

I am not going to temple today, on the holiest day. I have gone intermittently my whole life. This is an off year. I am OK with this. However, I don’t think my absence should hinder me from feeling the weight of the day, or taking the opportunity to reflect in my own way. There is no right way to observe beliefs. 

For me, bludgeoning my brain with E! news, cleaning my makeup brushes, not eating, fighting the urge to go get my nails done and, yes, blogging/writing, is the way I am observing. And, that’s valid.

Last year I set goals and intentions for this year. Let’s see how well I did:

  • Make time for my mother.Not quite as much as I should, but more than before. 
  • Travel more.I went to NY twice, and Chicago!
  • Give work everything I have.And then some…maybe too much.
  • Don’t get frustrated easily.This might be on my list for a while.
  • Write. Write. Write. Something meaningful.Check! I had an essay published in the LA Times!
  • Read a novel. I can think of 3 off the top of my head: Gone Girl, We Are Water, This is Where I Leave You
  • Invest in new friendships. I made an effort to invest in different friends groups, and create new friendships through work.
  • Floss every day.Um…..
  • Give up cable.I TRIED on this one, but Time Warner has me in a choke hold. A for effort.
  • Save more money.I was able to save more money this year than I ever have in my life. This was a huge step for me.
  • Be proactive in fostering deeper relationships with old friends and family. This can’t be checked off a list. It’s an ongoing effort, but I really did focus on this one this past year.
  • Put my phone away. Still have a lot of work to do, but I’m working on it.
  • Feel less bad about how my nose is way more different than before my surgery four years ago. Eh…better.
  • Have trust in moving forward with big life decisions.  I trusted in myself to move in with my boyfriend and quit being full time to work for myself. I say I did good on this one.

Not bad! I’m pretty proud that I was able to accomplish many of my intentions from last year. But, a new year, new goals to publicly put on the Internet to keep me accountable.

This year is a big one for me, as I’ll be turning 30. And, even though I know it’s just a number, it means something to me. So, I’m going to do my damnedest to do it justice.

This year, I intend to:

  • Restore balance in my life. (Totally vague. Totally ambitious.)
  • Use the yoga series I bought several months ago.
  • Stop shopping as much as I do.
  • Travel more. (I can do better than NY and Chicago)
  • Read MORE novels.
  • Read MORE non-fiction essays.
  • Complete and submit my book proposal.
  • Write and perform a one-person show.
  • Use my museum membership.
  • Work less.
  • Relax more.
  • No seriously, have the strength to say no to more work.
  • Do more improv for funsies.
  • Floss every day…for real this time.
  • Clean my makeup brushes more often.
  • Spend more time with my parents.
  • Treat extended family like more than an extension.
  • Save more money than I did this year.
  • Get window treatments for the bedroom.
  • NEVER trim my own bangs.
  • Always remember to ask my boyfriend if he wants some of the food I am making. 
  • Read more long-form journalism.
  • Keep up with current events/politics.
  • Be more thoughtful. In every way possible.
  • And, as always, more sunscreen.

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As a teenager, I got off lucky in the acne department. Yes, of course, I was cursed with unbearable zits right before important life-changing events like PROM, or Brandon’s super awesome 16th birthday dance party, where even a new sparkly top couldn’t detract from the Mt. Vesuvius eruption on my chin.

In comparison to some people, it wasn’t bad. For the most part my skin was clear enough for strangers to compliment my complexion. But, before you go letting your eyes roll right out of your head, I want to disclose that what I lacked in whiteheads, I made up for in frizzy, unmanageable hair. 

Once I turned twelve, all hell broke loose in my follicles, and the war between me and my hair was on. Our nightly battled involved me spending two hours before bed pulling my hair straight with a round brush, punishing it into submission with the hair dryer set on high. Even with chemical straightening treatments, I dedicated an embarassing amount of time to the gentrification of my hair. Straight was in, and frizzy weird waves were just — Jewish.

In fact, I wrote my college entrance essay about my eternal struggle with my hair. It never did what I wanted, it had a mind of its own, and it could never sit still. My hair was me.

But here I am, more than a decade after penning that pathetic Orange County sob story about one girl’s struggle against pretty blonde hair that somehow always fell into a perfect ponytail, and my hair has changed. I have changed.

It’s still me, but different. Does that make sense?

I care less, natural waves are in, and my hair has physically chilled out of it’s hyperactive puberty phase. After fifteen years or more of being at odds with my mop, we’ve finally come to a truce. I no longer spend more than five minutes on my hair, and it feels great. It feels…deserved.

And yet, just as my hair and I are finding common ground, my face has decided to revolt. 

Zits. All. Over. My Chin.

I’m 7 months out from 30! 

Ok, to be fair, I should be, like, washing my face twice a day. I should have especially washed my face after being at Disneyland all day this weekend. I should remember to wear my old people eye cream. I should not, really should not, pick at my zits.

I am too old to not know better, but I don’t! I never had to do any of those things before because I didn’t have this problem when everyone else did. I’m going through it for the first time.

I’m 29, but I feel 14. I wish someone would remind me to wash my face, and not touch my zits. 

Sometimes I wish I could still deal with complex emotions like an angsty teen slumped in the backseat of a car, earbuds in blaring equally angsty music with hyperbolic lyrics that speak to me and strike the perfect notes of the soundtrack for my life as I stare out of the window, squinting in the sun, not thinking about crow’s feet, but how immensely awful all the awful things are and how I wish life could be different, taking comfort in expanse of time that lay before me, knowing it will all be better one day.

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As a kid, I wanted to be cool, but I didn’t want to be a nerd. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand that all the things I thought would make me cool were, in fact, the nerdiest. Glasses, braces, inhaler, cast for broken wrist. I wanted them all and, eventually, I got what I wished for – except for the cast, which was not for lack of concerted trying.

The reason I thought they were cool was because all of these things intrinsically elicit a lot of attention. Being popular and cool meant everyone gave you attention, right? So, even though it seems counterintuitive, it makes sense why I wanted these painfully dorky items in order to feel cool.

Glasses were easy to check off the list in second grade, followed by an inhaler for my “exercise-induced” asthma – which basically confirmed my status as an indoor kid.

I had to wait until I was eight years old to get my first taste of orthodontics when my big adult teeth began to crowd each other in the small little cavern of my mouth. From my first visit to Dr. Yamada, I knew what I eventually really wanted: a fucking cool retainer! 

On the arm of every chair in the orthodontist’s office were two laminated index cards. One listed the impressive amount of flavors to choose for impressions, and the other was my holy grail: retainer color choices. I knew I still had about 6-7 years of time left before I had to make one of the biggest decisions of my life, but I thought about it every single visit.

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Over the course of my time with Dr. Yamada, I had a myriad of excruciating appliances and oral surgeries. But, there were awesome things too. I had braces TWICE, which meant that once a month I was able to choose seasonally spirited colored bands for my brackets. And although, to my disappointment and dismay, I wasn’t made to wear headgear, I was forced to wear rubber bands that connected my top and bottom jaw.

When I was about three years old, I saw a cashier in a department store (probably the late Bullocks) in the late 80’s with neon rubber bands on her braces. I knew then what cool looked like. After being given regular rubber bands, I inquired about the neon variety that I had seen ten years prior. The assistant went to the back and dug some up from the early 90’s no doubt. They were so old, they snapped constantly, but I loved them.

When the time came for my braces to be removed, the pressure was on to choose a retainer color. I had known friends who brought in tiny purple butterfly stickers for their retainer molds, people with glow in the dark, glitter, neon, and even ones that looked like a watermelon – seeds and all!

I half-joked with my friend Lauren that I should cut out a magazine photo of Tobey Maguire for my retainers because he was my ultimate celeb crush at the time. 

Sadly, D-day arrived and I was faced with one of the greatest decisions I’d ever had to make, a decision seven years in the making – half my lifetime – and I didn’t want to screw it up. I wish I could tell you that I didn’t, but the truth is I choked. I got nervous and chose something safe. I told them I wanted bright red, because it was my favorite color, and because it was a fun color that also blended into my mouth. Why I believed anyone would look inside my mouth is beyond me.

At the last second, the assistant told me they could split the retainers in half and I could choose two colors. I made a game-time decision and “yellow,” was released out of my mouth. And so, that’s how I ended up with two of the ugliest little pieces of plastic and metal. I owned MacDonalds themes retainers.

But, retainers are expensive and, unfortunately, I was pretty responsible with them. I didn’t have a dog to accidentally chew them up, and I diligently put them in their case at night. I wore them for 15 years straight, until I began dating my current boyfriend. I wanted to come off cool and sexy, and besides, they had been bothering me for some time. Into the bathroom drawer they went – in their case of course.

This is how I found myself at the dentist for a chipped tooth, with him inquiring if I had worn my retainers, because my teeth had moved. I was shocked and offended! I had worn them religiously for over a decade – two years of laziness shouldn’t be so harshly punished.

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(This is STILL in my folder at the dentist office. The hygienists always expect a 12 year old when they retrieve me from the waiting area.)

But, he was right. I knew it. Since I started making a real adult level income, I have known in the back of my mind that I really should man up and get a new pair. I made an appointment to come back in for impressions, and I realized that I was giving myself a do-over in the retainer department. “Excuse me,” I flagged down the dentist before he walked away. “Can I choose a color for my retainer?”

“I usually just order pink,” he replied. “But, I’ll look into it for you.”

One week later I returned to the dentist’s office to take my impressions, remembering how much they make you want to gag. As I wiped the saliva and strawberry flavored plaster from my mouth, my dentist returned with a large laminated chart of retainer colors.

I suddenly realized that at 29 years old, I was faced with yet another life altering decision. I would do it right this time! I flipped the options from front to back, oohing and aahing over nostalgic choices that were still available. The watermelon was still around, as was glitter and neon, but there were also new intricate designs depicting a snowy mountainside, a meadow, and a strawberry.

Should I finally get my Tobey Maguire retainer? I earnestly considered.

Ultimately, being the almost 30 year old that I am, I placed my order for the classic rainbow design. Because I have always loved anything with rainbows, and nothing, absolutely nothing has changed.

I had to wait an anxious two weeks to come back to pick them. But when I did, it was worth it. They were nothing short of beautiful. Such craftsmanship! The minute the dentist opened the familiar hard plastic half-moon shaped case to reveal my shiny new rainbow beauties, I was in love. Not to mention, the retainer artisans took the liberty of adding glitter to the yellow panels. They were just as inspired as me, it seemed.

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I walked away feeling great for so many reasons. I had made the adult decision to go out of my way to have them made. I paid for them all on my own, in full. They fit like a dream. And, I finally felt like I had rectified a real regret.

I wear them every night because it’s nice to know that I am preserving my parents’ $10k investment in my smile, because I paid for them, and because they are really fucking fun. I even recently discovered they are also glow in the dark. Can you even??

Even now, I am struck with my guttural desire, the same desire I had 15 years ago. We mature and grow so much, but we’re still so very much the same. It’s comforting to know that these versions of you still exist, ingrained in who you become. 

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But, just as I am excited to have the dream retainers I always wanted, this time it isn’t in an effort to be cool. It’s not for attention. It’s just for me. As much as I wanted to seem cool with my attention seeking glasses and neon rubber bands when I was younger, it was always for me. I realize that just being me, nerdy ol’ me, was what made me cool and I was doing it all along without trying.

I share my dumb elation on Instagram. I share them here with you. I will probably receive attention for it. It might even make me cool. But this time I don’t care either way. We all get excited about weird shit, and this is mine. It’s comforting to know that even though the 8 year old me, and the 14 year old me are still in there, I’ve grown up quite a bit.

Retainers are meant to hold things in place, but despite their best efforts, things still shift a little.

It seems as though 2005 and 2006 were lost years as far as photographic evidence for my clothes. It was a time before I had gotten myself a fancy digital camera, and light years away from a cell phone that could take viable photos. I was working off CVS disposable cameras and relying on friends with real cameras.  

It was also during the inaugural years of Facebook when Zuckerberg and Co. were just figuring out how to let users upload multiple photos into albums, let alone tag them.

However despite the literal technical difficulties, I was able to find some real gems. Here we go 2005!

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Let’s just dive into this primo going out wear. This was on a trip to London, from which I will continue to share a parade of bad outfits and a terrible haircut.

My roommate Brandy (far left) and I flew 10 hours to visit with our third roommate (pictured below), as she studied abroad in London. Naturally, we we decided to go out to a London club one night. Naturally, I wore my best black “going out top” that showed my matronly nude colored (I was very pragmatic about my intimates) bra every time I moved around too much, and much coveted, much saved up for Diesel jeans. 

Look at us. We all look the same. Being 20 is still about fitting in and staying on trend, and we were nailing that clone thing.

P.S. This hair is so awful. It was chemically straightened, and I still flat ironed it. Also. So. Many. Layers. My head looks like a chopped salad.

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This was St. Patrick’s Day on the same trip to London. I chose this green t-shirt because it was the only green item I had brought, but also because I was beginning to slowly discover my true self: painfully casual. 

The shirt is from Urban Outfitters because I LOVED their t-shirts from this era. They made these slightly heathered t-shirts that were just the right thickness in mulitple colors. Maybe you remember them from the “Everybody Loves a ____ Girl” series. Of course, I always wore them with a white tank top underneath, because I treated white undershirts like Spanx.

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There are a few things to note about this outfit. For starters, overall it’s basically “Emo Lite.” I loved those little Ralph Lauren black rimmed glasses, my first pair of nerdy cool eyewear.

Even though this was a bumming around day (see pulled back messy bun with bangs in weird early 2000’s pouf), I was wearing my dark “going out” denim, and my favorite shirt at the time. I also think we should note the black hoodie I found at a thrift store and thought was so EDGY. So much so, that I adorned it with little pins over the breast. 

If memory serves me correctly, there is a red pin that says, “You are loved” in German, given to me senior year of high school by a cool Mormon friend, and a black Darwin pin I found at my favorite high school vintage store in Long Beach. Alt to the max.

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Hello again little ugly Coach purse that didn’t match anything. Hello dark Seven jeans. I knitted that VERY long black scarf that hung down to my waist, and I couldn’t have been prouder. I had those Onisuka Tiger sneakers in TWO colors. I indulgently bought two of the same shoe for practical purposes: one black and white, the other white and camel. I had my footwear bases covered in my mind.

I also want to introduce you to my very favorite jacket from college. It was a very soft black quilted sweatshirty coat with mint green lining. It had a hood. It felt alt. It was from Anthropologie. I wore it until it could no longer be worn.

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Was I on growth hormones? My boobs were giant. Or, maybe gravity had yet to take its toll on my happy 20-year old body.

This shirt was from….you guessed it, Abercrombie. And, of course, I had to be wearing a damn wife beater tank under it, because NO shirt left the house without a companion shirt underneath. I loved layering. That day, I had a natural colored pull over hooded sweater with me, AND a cream colored puffer jacket you can see peaking out from behind me.

I actually remember feeling really good about this outfit and how I looked in it on that day trip to Brighton Beach. No duh, those BOOBS.

*Please note the Hot Topic black plastic bracelets on my wrist. So scene. What a beautiful juxtaposition with the A&F.

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Stonehenge. Wonder of the world. Blah, blah. Look at that incredible layering I have going on! This was clearly my JAM on this London trip. Nice work with the wife beater under shirt, red “Ciao Bella” graphic t-shirt from Urban Outfitters circa 2003, grey USC hoodie, AND puma sweatsuit jacket. That’s FOUR layers.

Oh, and I have been rocking head scarves for fifteen years. Don’t hate. I still have that vintage scarf and it’s super dope.

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I thought this black sweater-jacket thing with the flaccid popped collar was just the most edgy little thing I wore…especially with that wife beater underneath. Don’t go anywhere without it!!

Also, just to give context to the photo, my floor mate in my sorority house and I used to bogart the party pics photographer at events and take carefully planned sequence photos, order them to be printed, and then post them on the wall in order. So quirky and fun.

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Hi Will! That’s my college boyfriend Will and I. We both look so young and adorable. I remember making him buy that light blue sweatshirt from American Apparel because that’s when American Apparel was at its height as our generation’s GAP. Just like Gen-Xers did in the 90’s, we all rediscovered basics at an astronomical price, but were willing to pay for it because they were “ethically”made downtown. Whatever, he looked great in it!

As for me, I was wearing this sweater thing that I LOVED. Sadly there is no full length photo for me to find, so I will describe. It was a dark pea green hooded sweatshirt that went down to mid-thigh, long sleeved, and with a GIANT gaping opening to the waist. It was its own species of sweater, and I wore it generously. — of course always over that DAMN white wife beater!

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Oh dear. I had dyed my hair very dark. I was wearing a USC grey hoodie that I loved. I thought it went with everything I owned and wore it accordingly. Also I LOVED that Penguin polo shirt that I got on sale at Urban Outfitters, even though it was too small! And don’t think I don’t see you, you dumb little Coach bag.

Also, you can’t tell from the photo but…I am wearing a wife beater under that polo. You better believe it.

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There’s a lot to talk about in this photo, but I want to address the grey cardigan with the subtle floral pattern on the breast. The sweater had little puckered shoulders and lapels. It was basically a rare sweater/cardigan/blazer hybrid. I bought it at Urban Outfitters and believed it to be very grown up, possibly a good fit for internships or nice fancy dinners out, as pictured above.

*I, quite literally, only gave this sweater away this year.

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I worked for the The Daily Trojan, USC’s newspaper, as a copyeditor and…I did not have good feelings about it. They were cliquey and weird and I wasn’t into it, which I am clearly expressing in this photo. Of note in this photo is the Abercrombie branded sweatshirt, which was actually SUPER comfortable and great fitting. I mostly wore it around the house, or when I was really bumming it. I had stopped shopping at Abercrombie at this point, but was still ok wearing my old clothes.

I don’t think that lasted very long, especially when I discovered Forever 21. Until 2006….

When I go to an event with free stuff.

When I go to an event with free stuff.

Well, it’s a new day and a new study about subjective topics like moving in with your partner! The Atlantic reported a very long article called, “In Relationships, Be Deliberate.” The title should be a dead giveaway that statistics aside, this is kind of common sense. Of course you should be deliberate in your relationships. I think most people would agree that it’s pretty important to be deliberate in most aspects of your life. Who wants to deal with a wishy-washy person?

But this isolated article just deals with moving in together. It opens by reiterating that even though traditionalists say moving in together before marriage is a bad idea, progressives are making it the norm. But it’s not actually question of whether or not they should move in.

But before couples sign a lease together, they would do well to ask themselves: Did we slide into the decision to move in together or did we decide to cohabit?

That question matters in terms of the length and quality of subsequent marriage. Traditionalists tend to think cohabiting before marriage is a bad idea, and progressives are more likely to embrace it, but new research says that’s not the best way to approach the question: The important thing is how couples make the leap into a shared life.

Does anyone else find this to be the most nuanced, yet obvious study about relationships?

report released today from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia looks at the many factors that predict a high quality marriage. More than one thousand Americans, 18 to 35 years old, who were in a relationship were recruited into the study. Within five years, 418 of those individuals got married. Galena Rhoades (a co-author of this article) and Scott Stanley, both at the University of Denver, looked closely at those who married, probing into their relationship history with their spouse, their relationships with others, and the quality of their marriages.

One of the main findings was about how couples handle relationship milestones, like moving in together. Every relationship goes through milestones, or transitions, that mark how serious the relationship is getting. Going on a first date is one; a first kiss is another. Other milestones might include the “define the relationship” talk—the moment a couple says they are actually a couple—sex, engagement, marriage, and children.

In the past, these milestones tended to follow a straightforward order that began with courtship, passed the milestones of marriage, cohabitation, and sex, and ended with children. The structure and rigidity of courtship meant that couples had less freedom, but also that each milestone was ritualized with most couples following the same script. 

YES. We get it. Being straight forward and telling people what you want has died a slow little death somewhere between AIM and Instagram DMs. Courtship looks a hell of a lot different, and so do people’s life choices. Some people get married after six months, others wait 10 years, and some never sign on the dotted line. It’s all ok! We have options in our love lives because we have more options in other areas of our lives like reproduction and career – albeit not 100 percent just yet, but much better than generations before.

The freedom to choose any relationship sequence has benefits, but it may also come at a cost long-term.

Oy. Here it comes.

Couples today seem less likely to move through major relationship milestones in a deliberate, thoughtful way. Rather, the new data show that they tend to slide through those milestones. Think of the college couple whose relationship began as a random hookup, the couple who moved in together so that they could pay less rent, or the couple who chose to elope on a whim rather than have a formal wedding. These are couples who, often without realizing it, slid through relationship transitions that could have been planned out, discussed, and debated.  

The data show that couples who slid through their relationship transitions ultimately had poorer marital quality than those who made intentional decisions about major milestones. How couples make choices matters. 

This is so silly. Of course making smart, informed and deliberate decisions is the best way to go — again, with anything. But, it’s not realistic. Life is messy and complicated; most of the time it just happens and sometimes you have to jump along for the ride to see how it all plays out. Worst case is you have to pack up your emotional and material stuff.

I have lived with two partners and each time the decision was both a victim of circumstance and choice. The line is pretty fuzzy. For both living situations a circumstance forced us into a deliberate decision. So, which was it? It’s hard to say.

The first time I lived with a boyfriend, he was a touring musician, who also happened to live 1,000 miles away. If we didn’t live together, it would be impossible to stay together. So, after six months of long-distance dating, circumstance caused us to make a deliberate decision to move in together. We didn’t HAVE to. We chose to, for the sake of continuing the relationship. That ended two and a half years later. But, that relationship was never going to last whether we lived in the same apartment or not.

The second time I lived with a boyfriend is my current situation. After dating a healthy two years, his roommate decided to move out, and he was sick of his apartment. Again, circumstance presented me with another deliberate choice to make. After a lot of crying, pep talks from friends, and courage, I chose to go with the tide. I had experienced the worst case scenario and lived. You can’t move forward without actually…moving, no matter the outcome.

Of course how couples make decisions matter, both long term, short term, and within the day. A healthy relationship that turns into a healthy marriage will be founded on good communication regardless if they hopped, skipped, slid or stepped into their living situation.

I tried very hard to be a grown up today.

It’s my grandmother’s 95th birthday and, even though I have an endless amount of work to do, even though she lives a good forty minutes away, even though we can only stay for a short amount of time, and even though my dad only gave me a couple days notice, I knew I had to go.

More than that, I wanted to go. This is how I know I’m growing up.

Five years ago, I might have hymned and hawed, trying to make up some excuse to not go. I would have whined that it wasn’t fair that my cousins lived so far away, making me the default grandchildren’s’ representative because I still live in LA.

To put it mildly, I was kind of a brat. I was selfish about my time and the company I kept. My friends and social life were high priority, and going out of my way for anyone besides myself and what ever weirdo I was totally into at the time, was rare.

But, here I am, almost thirty years old with no weekend plans, finally understanding the high value of taking such a small part of my week to spend with my family. It’s not that I don’t love my family; I do. And, I love spending time with them. But, like most people my age, I don’t really have much of a nuclear family left, making my experience with family time a little more unconventional. 

But today, my family time was going to look a little more traditional. So, I wanted to make a big effort to do something special, and be as present as possible for the limited moments I have left with my grandmother, and be a support for my father, whose mother is reaching the end of her long and wonderful life. I now understand that all those years of him pushing me to go to my grandmother’s was more about being there for him than for me, or my grandmother, and that’s okay.

I woke up, did work, cleaned up the apartment, and went out to buy supplies for the cake I had agreed (and instantly regretted) to make and bring to the birthday celebrations tonight. And then, after all my grown up chores were complete. I did this:

I made the cake only a grandmother could love from their grandchild, no matter how old she is.

I looked at my genuine attempt at decorating the birthday cake, for which I bought the supplies, and made from scratch. I was relieved to be reminded that no matter how old I get, no matter how far I get in my career, no matter how close I am to marriage, no matter how many adult decisions and chores I complete in a day, I’m still an impatient child with poor motor skills who gets frustrated when she isn’t good at something.

Aging scares me. Change can be hard. But it’s nice to be reminded that little things will always stay the same.