From Moments to Memories

I’m a crier. I have never admitted that until this moment. I mean, my friends and family have probably known this for years, but Denial remained my middle name- even while tears streamed down my cheeks during country music videos- until today.  I’ve cried four times this morning- three from different articles my friends shared on Facebook and one from a speech on television. Four times. I can no longer turn a blind eye to my condition. One article was about a couple that survived the Boston Marathon bombing and wed last month, one was about Pharrell crying (chain reaction!) because he was so moved by the worldwide reaction to his song “Happy,” and one was about how moms have the toughest job in the world. I know what you’re thinking: why are you reading so many articles? One might ask the same of you since you’re here reading mine…

When I cry in the middle of watching Les Miserable on Broadway (Eponine’s death…I can’t) or when I see dogs being reunited with their owners, there is no doubt that my tear ducts are a bit too free-flowing. However, I will say that the speech I watched during this morning’s coverage of the one year anniversary of the Boston bombing gave me every right to get a little watery. Adrianne Haslet-Davis, a survivor who lost her leg during the blast, gave a beautiful tribute to her fellow survivors, the victims, and to Boston’s strength. To wrap up, she said this: “The biggest lesson I have learned is that something in your life, in anyone’s life, can go horrifically wrong at any second. But it is up to us to make every second count, because believe me, they do.”

I’m a big fan of taking phrases that we’ve all heard a million times and deeply reflecting on their significance. After all, we must keep in mind that there is a reason we’ve heard these phrases before- in this case, “Life can change in a moment” or “Make every second count.” Life really can change in a moment. And because of that, we have to make every second count. The survivors of the Boston bombing woke up that morning, brushed their teeth (hopefully), probably cracked a joke with their friends, maybe looked forward to a beer later in the day, and then- mid-cheers- lost limbs. Though the Boston bombing and other random acts of violence make headlines and are indeed devastating, lives are also unexpectedly changed or taken by car accidents, mother nature, or cancer (among countless other possibilities). Not for the sake of morbidity, rather for the sake of motivation to live fully, do I bring up the many ways our lives can negatively transform or disappear in just a moment.

You see, my mother was diagnosed with cancer in March 2012. She died in September 2012. It wasn’t a freak accident or a sudden collapse- which makes us lucky. However, the second I got that call, my life changed. I felt it shift. I was standing outside of a steakhouse on the lower east side of Manhattan, wearing a red sleeveless turtleneck, about to meet friends for a birthday dinner. Though she had months of chemo and hopefulness ahead of her, I heard a resolve in her voice- this was her time.

bgmom

Mom jumped into this picture with me right before I ran onstage at Busch Gardens [yes, I know this is wildly embarrassing]

My first thoughts were of what life would be like without my mother. The day I pick out my wedding dress and she’s not there. When I have screaming, crying kids and I need someone to tell me what to do. The first time I sing on Broadway or publish a book or cook something other than mac and cheese. You know, all the dreams in life (I made spaghetti the other night- does that count?). Once I grieved those moments, I moved onto the ones we had already shared together. When she sewed us matching dresses for Easter when I was little. When she sat on the stairs and listened to my brother and me sing and play the piano for hours. That time she wore her fanny pack to Busch Gardens and unabashedly took pictures of me during my performances. When I called her almost every day I lived in New York to take her on my rollercoaster of emotions that happens to every young soul who braves the Big Apple.

During the grief that came (and comes) as a result of moments we’ll never share and moments we were lucky to share, I noticed that the latter hurt the most to ponder. People often assume that the worst part about losing someone is all of the time you’ll miss out on, or perhaps any regrettable moments that were handled poorly or neglected altogether. My experience is not so. Rather, when all you have of a person are memories, those existing memories become far more emotionally valuable than imagined ones. Remembering my mom’s voicemails that always started with “Oh, hi sweetie, it’s Mom” or “Shannon, it’s Mom” (when I was in trouble) triggers more of a reaction than thinking of how great it would have been if I’d spent time learning from her how to cook. Remembering crossing the finish line together during our five miler Turkey Trot trumps wondering what it’d be like for her to have known I became Miss New York. Knowing how her hugs feel outweighs guessing what she’d say the next time I am broken-hearted.

Actual moments > imagined moments. That was the Boston survivor’s point when she said “…it is up to us to make every second count, because believe me, they do.” The moments that we actually live are the most important- not the could have, should have, will do. Yes, make choices with your time that you won’t regret and get excited about the moments to come, but more crucially- live in the now. Enjoy listening to voicemails from your mom. Befriend coworkers so that your time in the office isn’t a waste of life. Tell someone you love them if you do. Reflect on the beauty in the world while you’re exercising. Pray when you’re distressed. Laugh when something is really funny, even if no one else thinks it is. Dance at weddings and dance in your car. All of those moments count. They really do- so let them.

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Two Genders, Two Planets

brains-men-womenMen are strange creatures. Rumor has it that women are far more complex and difficult to understand, but I beg to differ. Women are openly complicated. We tell men outright that we want to be told we’re beautiful, but then make it clear not to say it right now because that would be contrived. Then we’re very grateful when they say it later on, but we’ll probably still ask if they’re only saying it because we asked them to three weeks ago. Complicated, yes. Confusing? No. You know what’s coming. Prepare. Acknowledge. React (quietly, while offering wine).

Then there are men. Complicated, no. Confusing? Yes.

Men have this strange way of lacking any complication, thus are maddeningly confusing. How can they be so simple? I don’t understand. Usually when they’re mad about something, they say that “I’m fine.” This part, I get. Women do the same thing. The difference is that one day later- sometimes one hour later- you can ask a man if he’s actually fine and he’ll say “yes”…and he is. He really is fine. In most cases, men can magically make their negative emotions disappear with a good basketball game and some Zzz’s. Since women will never, ever have that luxury, we can’t accept that they’re actually fine. There’s no way he’s actually fine. He was clearly mad yesterday and we haven’t talked about it yet. He’s lying. To me. He must not care about us. He probably is going to end things. I bet he has a girl on the side. Her thighs are probably toned. God, I bet she’s 22 and goes tanning. Should I go tanning? Girls who tan are desperate. She’s terrible. He’s terrible. Over it.

He’s fine.

Hopefully you’re a functioning female adult who has stopped trying to fathom male minds. You have a long and bumpy road ahead of you if you think you’ll ever grasp exactly how they work. I hope, for the sake of your sanity and future relationship, that you have learned to accept that they’re fine when they say they are and that his nights with the guys are equivalent to your Dove chocolate binges: they don’t need to happen every night, but are necessary, refreshing, indulgent, and rarely regrettable. If you still react to his one word answers or need for an estrogen-free evening with the snowballing thoughts that inevitably lead you to hating tan girls, then might I suggest you join a nunnery.

Learning that men mean what they say, point blank, coincides with the lesson of one of the greatest movies of all time (okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration)- He’s Just Not That Into You. I think this is the second time in a month that I’ve referenced this movie in a blog post, but it deserves the recognition. You see, men’s actions- like their words- line up with what they actually want and mean. If he’s not texting you, he doesn’t want to. If he has you over to hang out, he sincerely wants you there. Men double it up for good measure sometimes, too- like when he says he does not want to see you anymore and does not respond to your texts. That, my dear, says it all.

So what’s the point of all of this? Well, I think that a very important part of life is finding someone to spend your life with. Not out of desperation, cultural pressure, or dependence, but because humans are made for companionship. Particularly women. If you believe in the Bible, you know that Eve was made after Adam- for Adam- for the sole reason of giving him a companion. No wonder women are relationship-oriented! And if you don’t believe in the Bible, I’m sure you understand the science that men and women are communal mammals. We are happiest when connected to other humans. With that in mind, I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting to “find someone.” It’s natural. Not “needy” or any other stigma people slap onto those who openly desire a relationship.

If you want a happy, healthy long term relationship, accepting the differences between men and women is a simple- yet enormous- necessity. On one account, we should accept our instincts to be relational, but on the other, we need to actively fight our instincts to get exasperated with a gender to which we’ll never completely relate. So many relationships and marriages are plagued with constant arguing, suppressed frustration, and missing satisfaction simply because one or both parties stop actively remembering that they function differently from their partner.

A common gender difference lies in the female preference to talk through an issue either immediately or about 5-10 minutes after the initial tension arises. I think 5-10 minutes is enough time to step away, cool down, gather your thoughts, and return to the conversation. Not so much. Men usually want a solid 5-10 hours (24 is even more likely) before opening the floor to a rational discussion about an incident. As a woman, learning to momentarily drop a subject is a truly valuable skill. Now, should women constantly be the ones to compromise? No. However, we are the more relationally-driven gender, so I do think that comes with the responsibility to nurture a relationship in a way that men are not as capable of matching. Both in this case and generally, developing patience is probably one of the biggest gifts a woman can give her partner- and herself.

I’m not saying that men have a right to behave any way they please or that women are more communicative and interpersonal than men 100% of the time. Exceptions, exceptions. Still, keeping in mind the mantra “Men are from Mars; Women are from Venus” will do wonders for any relationship. Even beyond romantic relationships, if you learn to step outside the way that you think and understand that all minds tick uniquely, what a pleasant and less dramatic world you’ll enjoy!

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24 Daily Moments of Happiness

Apparently Thursday, 3/20/14, was the International Day of Happiness. That sounds awesome. Sorry I missed it.

I didn’t miss it in the sense that I was miserable all day or anything, rather I just didn’t know it was happening. Celebrating happiness seems to have hit a new high ever since Pharrell’s song “Happy” blew up. With its catchy tune and association with minions (the giddiest little creatures ever), that song is impossible to dislike. If you do, you’re a heartless soul. You probably hate puppies, too.

Anyways, the concept of an International Day of Happiness is great. I think we should all take a moment to step back and appreciate life in its simplest forms: dancing, singing, breathing in fresh air, laughing with a friend, tasting Chipotle, etc. Don’t worry- I’m not going to write about how the concept is great, but we shouldn’t need a holiday to be happy. No, I actually mean it when I say that a holiday for happiness is great. Clearly nobody thinks that the International Day of Happiness is the only time we should reflect on the positive things in life. Just like Valentine’s Day isn’t the only day you should show someone you love them, Thanksgiving isn’t the only day to be grateful, and St. Patrick’s Day isn’t the only day to drink an exorbitant amount of Guinness. Those things should happen frequently. Obviously.

Instead of debating “happy” vs. “joy” or whether or not we should have a single day dedicated to happiness, I’d like to list 24 things throughout each 24 hour period that can make anyone happy. We may miss them as life whizzes past, but consider this a boost towards paying attention so that your spirit will bubble over:

1. That moment when you get the shower temperature just right. You push the nozzle just teeny tiny bit up..nope, too much..a teeny tiny bit down..and barely a smidge up one more time. Ahhh. Euphoric.

2. When you’re locking the door to your house and apartment and realize that you actually have a roof over your head, no matter how unideal it might be (I’m looking at you, fellow broke millennials).

3. As you walk to the car or subway and feel the wind on your skin. You’re alive. You have another day to make the most of this life.

4. Being called by your first name by the cashier at your favorite morning coffee stop. Kind of embarrassing, but mostly heart-warming.

5a. When someone lets you merge in front of them and responds to your wave with a wave of their own. Waving is like hugging through your hand.

5b. City folks: When someone scoots over so you can sit on the train (Bonus: they’re showered and have in headphones).

6. When someone on the elevator chats you up about the weather. Another nice person on earth! Yay!

7. Your coworker makes fun of your lunch choice, but the fact that they know your usual eating habits shows their affection for you. Happy.

8. The text that your friend sends that makes you laugh. Maybe it’s a dream she had about you. Maybe it’s a really ugly picture of her face. Maybe it’s the poop emoji. I hope you have friends like mine, or else this could sound weird.

9. When you figure out what’s wrong with the copy machine and start thinking of yourself as the most brilliant IT professional in the world.

10. When there’s no one else in the bathroom and you get a moment of silence during your otherwise hectic work day. Try not to be too unhappy if there’s someone else in there, though. You’re probably ruining their afternoon silence plan, too.

11. When your boss smiles at you. Relief.

12. Your favorite song starts playing on your commute back home from work and you feel like the world must be on your side.

13. The gym only has one elliptical [name your machine] open and it has your name on it.

14. When you tell the cashier at the convenient store to have a great rest of the day and they look you in the eye and say the same. They meant it. They definitely meant it.

15. When New Girl, Mindy Project, or whatever happy show you watch makes you laugh out loud. By yourself. Alone in the room. Note: This is why you need to branch out from The Walking Dead and House of Cards.

16a. For relationship folks: The moment your S.O. gives you a huge hug, a kiss on the forehead, and says (s)he missed you today.

16b. For single folks: The moment your blanket covers your feet and shoulders at the same time even though you could swear it’s not big enough to do that just by looking at it.

17. When you talk to someone on the phone at the end of the day. Maybe your parents. Maybe your sibling. Maybe your best friend. Just someone else in the world whose voice is coming through a wire and reminding you that you’re worth holding up a plastic device to their face just so they can be with you.

18. Leftovers.

19. When you realize a prayer has been answered.

20. Drinking a glass of wine and getting so relaxed that you think your face must look like Droopy’s. Nothing in the world could get to you.

droopy_dog_happy (1)

21. When your head hits the pillow. It’s so fluffy. Like a cloud. What would clouds feel like if they were actually giant cotton balls? Like this pillow. For sure.

22. Thinking about all the bad things happening in the world and knowing that you’re safe in bed with the ability to spend 30 seconds being grateful. Do that.

23. Waking up to your alarm and knowing you still get one full snooze before getting up.

24. Getting up to start another new day. Time to nail that shower temperature.

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Listen To Your Heart: A Misguided Philosophy

I’m going to attempt to write this post without breaking out into song, but I can’t make any promises.

“Listen to your heart” (..when he’s calling for youuu – D.H.T.) is a widespread philosophy on how to approach life. It is accepted- nay, promoted- by Dove chocolates (my personal mini-therapists) and other commercial outlets as the answer to alleviating turmoil. Having a hard time making a decision? Your confidant is bound to coo, “Just follow your heart, sweetheart” (..let your heart, sweetheart, be your compass when you’re lost –Lady Antebellum). I mean, the fact that I can’t write this opening paragraph without singing some of my favorite tunes just goes to show how often this ideology is etched into our brains. I’m pretty sure people would look at you like you’re crazy if you ever said “Don’t follow your heart.”

I’m used to people looking at me like I’m crazy, so this won’t bother me a bit.heart

Think of a time you followed your heart and it didn’t go so well. Honestly, it’s probably happened more than once. You can’t stop talking to the guy who repeatedly breaks your heart because you just know in your heart that you are meant to be together. Or perhaps you passionately decided to pursue a career that your heart loves, but it turns out that you’re miserable 80% of the time. We put so much emphasis on this feeling that we’ve forgotten to use our brains. Logic. Sense. Instincts, even.

Before I continue, let me throw in this side note: sometimes following your heart does work out. Maybe the love of your life finally comes around or you end up doing something really unique with your career. However, as a whole, following your heart can be a selfish gate that leads to dangerous, hurtful, and debilitating conclusions.

The Bible says that the heart is deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9). You don’t have to be a Christian to understand why this is a valid statement. Our hearts have complicated, emotional, and irrational influences over decisions. Our brains are practical, controllable, and experienced. This is why we have both. Balancing the two can lead to beautiful and successful decisions. One without the other, however, is destined for disaster. In this case, I’m focusing on the risk of the heart without the brain, though the opposite can be just as detrimental. You see, the heart is all about selfishness- what makes you feel good. What makes you feel wanted. What makes you feel like you’re right. But sometimes what you feel isn’t the truth. Sometimes the truth is that you have to let someone go, you can’t get your worth from your job, and that the world isn’t meant to be full of self-indulgent individuals. Feelings serve a purpose, yes, but that purpose is not to be the sole leader of your actions.

I don’t know a single person over the age of 23 that has never looked back at a previous time in their lives and exclaimed, “What was I thinking??” Well, you weren’t thinking, as they say (and I’m not talking about wearing scrunchies or pants without pockets on the butt). But if you weren’t thinking, what were you doing? What led your actions? Your heart. How you felt. What you just knew was right. So how come we haven’t learned by mature adulthood that following your heart isn’t worth promoting? Why are there so many songs and motivational speakers and posters that say “Listen to Your Heart” when we all know full-well that that will lead to some really stupid choices? Come on, world, think about what you’re saying.

I don’t think it’d be so bad to listen to your heart if we didn’t live in such an internally-focused culture. Listening to your heart would be great if you listened to it when you feel guilty for trash talking someone or when you feel a tug at your heartstrings when seeing someone in need of help. But we have a different term for those situations- we call that “something on my heart.” It was “on my heart” to stand of up for the girl getting bullied. It was “on my heart” to call my grandmother. We only say “I listened to my heart” when it’s selfish and about making ourselves the center of feeling good. That is the primary difference- and that is why I don’t think that this particularly-worded ideology is something to honor.

Wanting to feel good is natural and necessary for preservation throughout life, so do not mistake my criticism as a Debbie-Downer mentality. Rather, I’m looking towards the long run. Often times what makes us happy in the moment is not what will satisfy us for the rest of our days. Closing the door on an unhealthy and emotionally-attached relationship will open the door for a healthy and contented relationship. Leaving behind the daily stressors that we justify for the sake of following our hearts allows for the daily joys of life to flood in.

So be wise, friends. Listen to your heart when it’s beating too hard at the gym or when your indigestion makes it clear to hold off on the Indian food for a while. But please don’t listen to it when making important decisions unless your brain has spoken its piece, as well.

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More Than One Healthy Body: Former Pageant Queens Weigh In

People talk a lot about health, weight, and how the two correspond. The general consensus seems to be that “healthy” does not look the same on every body type. Agreed. But what if each body type- each individual- doesn’t have one weight or look that reflects personal health? Can the same person be equally healthy at 125lbs and 150lbs? Can we be just as healthy with normal, flat-ish stomachs rather than six packs…even if our bodies are proven to be capable of the latter?

Men and women alike look to the cover of Fitness Magazine or at their marathon-running friends for proof that their bodies are unhealthy or unattractive. These harmful body-to-body comparisons are constantly critiqued and analyzed by talk shows and blogs and Facebook statuses and “real” celebrities. But what about the comparisons we all make with our past selves? Most of us were at an “ideal” weight at one time in our lives. We have pictures that we look back upon with a sense of anxiety…Why don’t I look like that anymore??? That’s my body’s happy weight. That’s when my arms were toned and healthy. I’m ready for the underexposed discussion about the battle many of us face- the one where we use ourselves as the weapon.

Before becoming Miss New York 2012, I competed in my fair share of pageants within the Miss America Organization. This means I spent years getting into fighting shape for the swimsuit portion of pageants. I cannot speak for every woman in pageants, but for me, I was healthy as a horse for swimsuit. Sure, I was really thin, but I was in great shape thanks to hours in the gym. I ate mostly protein and veggies, but didn’t deprive myself of every little thing. At the end of the day, I rocked that bikini like I was Alessandra Ambrosio (okay, maybe only in my head…).

Surprise, surprise- my body does not look like that anymore. I still eat relatively healthily and go to the gym 3-4 days a week (rather than 6-7), but am a size 4 instead of a size 0-2. Sometimes I catch myself looking at pictures, thinking “I am not as healthy as I used to be. I have got to get my pageant bod back.” HOW RIDICULOUS.  My doctor says I am currently the epitome of health. Funny thing, though…he told me the same thing when I was in pageant shape. You see, muscles are healthy, but so are hips and boobs. Guess what boobs are made of? Not muscle. Just saying.

health blog Shannon

L: Associate at a strategy and management consulting firm/Aspiring Writer; R: Miss Virginia 2011 Competition(I don’t have a full length picture of when I competed for Miss New York…womp)
L Work Out: 3-4 days a week/30-45 mins
R Work Out: 6-7 days a week/1-1.5 hours
My take on health: I’ve gone through stages of not working out for X or Y excuse, but found that I felt constantly tired and spent way too much time stressing about my looks. Eating healthily and hitting the gym even just a few days a week takes about 2-3 hours of my time each week, which is an amazing trade for the countless hours I spent feeling lethargic and insecure. Health is objectively seen in your body, but it’s also about subjectively how you feel…and hopefully, those things align!

I’m not telling anyone that gaining bunches of weight isn’t a health problem. I’m talking to the crowd who still works out regularly and doesn’t eat like they’re Michael Phelps. To those folks, keep in mind that you don’t need a booty that can bounce a penny in order to be fit! Your body can display more than one representation of happy and healthy. With basic maintenance and balance, post-pageant (or baby or career) bodies are just as desirable and healthy as the pre-[fill in the blank] bodies!

My friends are great examples…my friends being Miss America 2013, Miss America 2010, Miss Virginia 2010, and Miss Virginia 2011 (does this count as name-dropping?). These women were incredibly beautiful and healthy on the Miss America stage, but are still incredibly beautiful and healthy today. Most of them are like me, however, owning their health in bodies that don’t look the exact same as they did when they were focused on competing in a swimsuit (though they still look pretty darn fantastic). They did not starve themselves or take unhealthy measures to reach that competition physique (self-control and deprivation are different beasts), plus they continue to treat their bodies with respect in their new daily routines that don’t revolve around bikini-wear. The only difference in their health is that they may look slightly different. And you know what? That’s okay.

The women below are 10-25lbs heavier than their lowest pageant weights. They are brave and proud and strong to bare their health in honesty while facing a culture full of critics! May any reader bear that in mind (though I’m sure most of you will agree that they look fantastic in both bodies).

Mallory Hytes Hagan, Miss America 2013

health blog mallory

L: Newly signed talent to William Morris Endeavors with the hopes of becoming an Entertainment Host

R: Miss America 2013 competition

L Work Out: Weight Training 4 days a week (approx 45 min); Cardio twice a week (20-30 mins)

R Work Out: Alternated Weight Training (45 min) and Cardio (45 min) every other day; Tap Dancing (1 hour) three days a week, Bikram Yoga (1.5 hours) three days a week

Mallory’s take on health: I truly believe that health cannot be measured with the eyes. Health is a combination of consistently choosing nutritious food, maintaining an active lifestyle, being spiritually fulfilled, being connected and engaged with your friends and loved ones but, most of all, enjoying your life. While competing in swim suit, I may have been overjoyed with how amazing my body looked, but I never felt as though I was “living.” As I’ve been quoted before, “sometimes you just want potatoes!” I’ll take a glass of champagne, an occasional piece of bread and even delicious dessert every once in a while over the “perfect” body. Why? Because that’s what makes me HAPPY! To heck with the rest of it.

Caressa Cameron Jackson, Miss America 2010

health blog Caressa

L: Director of Client and Community Engagement at FAHASS an HIV/AIDS non-profit in Virginia

R: Miss America 2010 Competition

L Work Out: 2 days a week, mixing workout tapes with gym time

RWork Out: 6 days a week with strict diet plan

Caressa’s take on health: Being mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy is critically important as a young woman. Finding the time to nurture all of those areas amidst our ambition, careers, school, volunteering, friendships and families can often be hard. The most important thing is to find the space where YOU are happy with you and not allowing society to dictate what you SHOULD look like. Side note: My husband loves my curves.

Elizabeth Crot, Miss Virginia 2011/Top 15 at Miss America 2012

health blog elizabeth

L: Nanny and aspiring singer/actress in NYC

R: Miss America 2012 Competition

L Work Out: 1-3 days at gym doing mostly body weight workouts, yoga, and a ton of walking in the city (yes, that’s a workout)

R Work Out: 5-6 days a week and very plain food

Elizabeth’s take on health: I grew up with a southern cook for a mother so nutrition and organics were kind of foreign until recently. I’ve found that what you put into your body has the most impact on how you look, and I’ve been experimenting with healthy cooking. I use garlic in everything!

Katie Uze, Miss Virginia 2010/Top 10 at Miss America 2011

health blog Katie

L: Associate Producer for CSPAN/Student at Harvard University

R: Miss Virginia 2010 Competition

L Work Out: 3-4 days a week (workout DVDs and gym)/30min-1 hour

R Work Out: 6 days a week/1-2 hours

Katie’s take on health: Healthy isn’t about a number- it’s about having a body that that is strong and capable of carrying us through life. We should celebrate our bodies for all they do for us daily rather than punish them for the small superficial ways we feel they don’t live up to society’s unrealistic ideals. We are so much more than a shell, so much deeper than we appear. There are so many more valuable ways to judge a person and so many truer measures of a woman than her waistline or dress size. Respect your body as a vehicle to take you where you want to go in life, and remember that true beauty is demonstrated through the way in which we live our lives.

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The 5 Worst Relationships on Valentine’s Day

wine

My dad sent me this…he sure does know his little girl well :-)

I’ve never had a successful Valentine’s Day. The closest I’ve come was when my college boyfriend sent me on a scavenger hunt…but here’s the catch: he didn’t know he was supposed to have a surprise at the end. You know, to make all of that running around campus worth it. Minor detail. Anyways, other than getting some good cardio that year, I’ve never had a great experience on Valentine’s Day. Not because I have had bad experiences, but because I haven’t had any traditional experiences. I’m serially single on February 14th. I’ve dated men here and there during the red and pink season, but none of those flings were ever in a place where I’d want to celebrate a holiday about love. I’ll take Chinese food with my gay best friend instead, thankyouverymuch.

As I sit here on Megabus, trying to outrun the snow storm to NYC, I’ve begun to reflect on the situations that compel me to spend five hours on a bus to be with my male friend who isn’t even attracted to women on Valentine’s Day. What are the worst kinds of relationships to be in when February rolls around? Some of my list is based on personal experience and some is from my imagination, but I guarantee all singles this simple fact: you don’t want to be in one of these not-quite-relationships on February 14th.

1. The OK Cupid Relationship

Online dating sites are responsible for tons of successful relationships. Most of my friends have met their significant others on OK Cupid or Match or Tinder (but seriously, if you met on Tinder, don’t tell anyone). All of the success is good and well, but odds are you’ll simply force yourself to go on multiple dates with someone just because they are normal compared to the sea of weirdos who flood your inbox. Example: Last time I used OK Cupid, the following was one of the messages in my inbox: “Hello! I’d like to get to know you. This morning I lapped milk from a bowl like a kitten, but that was the most interesting thing I did today. What about you?” Taking that winning intro into consideration, along with screen names like “blackmeat84” and “want4u2luvme,” pretty much anyone on a dating website with a job, basic hygiene, and common manners seems worthy of a second date. DON’T DO IT. Especially not on Valentine’s Day. You’ll trick yourself into liking someone just because they’re OK with Cupid (get it?). That, or you’ll have a stage 5 clinger on your hands come February 15th. Trust me, newfound online interests are pretty much the worst things in which to involve yourself on Valentine’s Day. Do yourself a favor and avoid the awkwardness by pretending you didn’t see their text.

2. The Ex Relationship

Ending a relationship shortly before Valentine’s Day makes February 14th switch from being a hokey Hallmark holiday to a distressing evening that you spend imagining your former loved one cuddled up to a desperate wannabe-you. Or just a nice girl whom you can’t help but hate. But she’s probably awful. Anyways, I think the only month during which you should be allowed to break up with someone is May. That way, you have the whole summer to get over the person- plus you’re naturally happier when you aren’t a winter hermit. By the time February arrives, ex who? Really, at all costs, avoid breaking up with someone November 1st -February 13th. It’s just not worth it.

3. The Frielashionship

A friend-relationship mash up is the definition of complicated in February. Odds are, one person likes the other way more seriously than the other likes them. Two years ago, I learned the hard way that I can’t just ignore the signs that a male friend likes me and expect him to act like a normal person on Valentine’s Day. I got a red heart-shaped vase with two dozen roses delivered to my apartment. First of all, kudos to the delivery guy who climbed the six flights of stairs leading to my old walk up in Manhattan. Secondly, what was I supposed to say to my friend? “Thanks for the flowers but I’d rather be single than date you- isn’t it obvious?” I mean, there’s really no good response. I said “thanks for the flowers” and then never saw him again. We clearly weren’t the best of friends, but still- Valentine’s Day will surely ruin any sign of friendship with someone who wants to be more, so go ahead and clear all of that up before February 14th. Rip off the Band-Aid.

4. The Imaginary Relationship

No better day than Valentine’s Day to remind you that this relationship is 100% in your head. Snap out of it! I don’t care if this is an office crush, a celebrity obsession, or your second cousin. You don’t have a chance of ever feeling their perfect arms that you’ve creepily studied wrap around you. They are not subtly flirting, they aren’t playing hard to get, and they don’t wish you’d make a move. Get your mind in check before Valentine’s Day so that you don’t suffer a pseudo broken heart. Particularly if this person already has a special somebody…no relationship is worse than the one where you can’t accept the truth. Pull yourself together!

5. The Undefined Relationship

An undefined relationship is generally not a lasting relationship. Take it from me. If you’ve been “together” for months and he still refuses to call you his girlfriend, then you’re in for some emotional trauma. Ben & Jerry better be waiting in your freezer, because they are the only men who will make plans with you on Valentine’s Day. If someone has a fear of commitment, Valentine’s Day is sure to ensue panic. They’d rather jump in a pool of snakes than take part in this loaded date night, so you might want to call a spade a spade before their disappearance surprises you (which it shouldn’t).

Godspeed, and Happy Valentine’s Day!

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The Biggest Loser: Let’s Rein in Outrage Over Winner’s New Body

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Rachel Frederickson, Biggest Loser winner, from 260lbs to 105lbs (this dress actually adds weight to her)

Few things make me uncomfortable or queasy. The limited list includes cockroaches, shrimp that still have legs attached, and desperate men. Weird assortment, I know. In the society we live in, however, people often view extreme weight issues as “disgusting,” “scary,” or “nauseating,” whether viewing the morbidly obese or the painfully underweight. Our bodies are merely flesh, which should lead to understanding that the souls within are no more or less human because of physical appearance. Unfortunately, the idea that our bodies are merely flesh makes people all the more eager to criticize, forgetting that those limbs and torso are a host to someone. Someone who is a hilarious friend. Someone who is a loving sibling. Someone who is full of personality, fear, love, and everything that makes someone somebody.

Tonight (or last night for many of you reading this) on The Biggest Loser finale, we saw an interesting combination of extreme weight issues (call them eating disorders if you’d like, but I’m sticking with “issues” as to not marginalize…we don’t all have disorders, but we definitely all have issues). We watched men and women who were previously 100-300lbs overweight dwindle down to “average” and “healthy” numbers on the scale. Well, most of them. Some were still technically overweight. And a few- the winner in particular- were underweight. Severely, severely underweight. Pause here for a second: I am in no way putting down the winner (Rachel Frederickson). She showed nothing but class, determination, and humility throughout the show’s season. Rather than putting her down, I am objectively stating that she is dangerously underweight, weighing in at 105lbs at 5’7″**. For a reference, I am 5’7″ (though closer to 5’8″) and a healthy 135lbs. I know other women who are 5’7″ and and a healthy 120lbs. We all have different builds. But in no way is 105lbs healthy for someone my height. I don’t care if you’re made of bird bones.

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Yours truly, 5'7-8"ish, 135lbs

Yours truly, 5’7-8″ish, 135lbs

Of course my concern is with how the image of health is portrayed to our ever-radical culture, but even greater is my concern with the insensitive responses I have seen all over social media. Have we forgotten that Rachel will read all of this backlash? I’m glad that most viewers agree that rewarding anorexia is not the message The Biggest Loser should portray, but spewing tweets about how “awful” and “gross” Rachel looks is just as harmful. She is human. She has working eyes. She will feel defeated, mortified, and confused. Trust me, from the look on Bob and Jillian’s faces, they’ll let her know that her body is in trouble. She doesn’t need all of America harshly criticizing her and feeding whatever food issues she already faces.

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Trainers’ (and contestant’s) reactions to seeing Rachel. See? They’ll take care of it.

The intentions of many were to attack NBC and Biggest Loser producers rather than Rachel. Yes, someone should have put a stop to her weight loss about 20lbs ago. But they didn’t…and what did you expect the show to do in that moment? Embarrass her on national television? “Psych! You don’t win because you are too thin. Now scat and eat a burger.” No, the show did what they had to do by running a normal finale- albiet a really, really awkward one, considering the circumstances. I’m with all of you who are shocked that no one stepped in to stop her spiral, but we have forgotten Rachel herself in this grander desire to express outrage at a corporation. The responses telling NBC to rethink its approach to rewarding weight loss were fine by me. I fully support rewarding contestants for reaching their goal weights, rather than playing a game of Who’s the Skinniest. However, in those well-intended responses, the words “scary winner” and “her arms make me queasy” should have never been involved. Even if compassionate indignation led you to feel uncomfortable seeing this beautiful woman in an unhealthy body, you are by no means permitted to publicly say that she is unattractive. Because “she” is not the arms, torso, or teeny thighs. “She” is that bubbly, giving, inspirational woman we got to know on the show. Her body is the inconsistent vessel. She remains. And she is beautiful.

She needs to know that. Not all of this other offensive junk.

I’m interested to see just how far the media will run with this compelling transformation. My only hope is that we can remember that although Rachel will most likely become the poster child for unhealthy extremes, she is still but one individual who is not defined by her body. Her body’s importance is monumental only so far that it can sustain the woman within. I hope she gets it to that point, and that we all remember that people on T.V. are still people. Let’s put ourselves in their shoes and express ourselves on social media accordingly.

**Different reports of Rachel’s heights claim anywhere from 5’4″-5’7.” Exact height is not public knowledge.

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10 Things the Arctic Blast Taught Me About Myself

I’m sorry to write something that may be unrelatable to the tiny portion of you who didn’t experience this week’s taste of the Ice Age, but I’m not really that sorry, because you didn’t have to endure the gripping fear that your eyes would freeze shut every time you blinked on Tuesday. While you were in a casual sweater and jeans (maybe even a tank top), the rest of us were donning Eskimo-in-training gear and wondering how we’d survive the walk from our house to the car/train. Arlington reached a bone-chilling 7 degrees, but I’m well aware that 7 practically sounds like a heat wave compared to the -50 degrees of other regions. Either way, I think we all learned a few things about our tolerance levels, priorities, and career choices.

Here are the 10 things I learned about myself during the 2014 arctic blast:

1. I have no sympathy for children

Kids across the nation got a full day off of school because of concern that standing at the bus stop in single digit conditions is unsafe. The argument was that too many children don’t own heavy coats. First of all, if a kid didn’t own a coat before this arctic blast, the bus stop had already been a problem since about November. To the kids who truly were never provided with a coat, my heart goes out. To the rest of average America, here’s a newsflash: kids bounce back. Sorry to be harsh, but I grew up having to go to school unless I had a fever higher than 100 or a hurricane was about to turn my street into a current-dwelling river. A little discomfort is good for a kid. They’ll lean on that experience when they run out of sick days and still need to pay rent. Now, the -50 degree areas are another story…if you made a child go out in that, you’re in the ranks with Tanning Mom.

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A Christmas Story. This is how you do it.

2. If I love something enough, nothing can stop me from reaching it

I saw Frozen last Saturday with my little brother and quickly became obsessed, mostly because the writers used me as their inspiration for the character “Anna.” It’s very flattering to know that Disney secretly followed me around in order to get Anna’s little nuances just right. Obviously, seeing Frozen only once was simply not enough, so I tried to find time for the movies this week ASAP. My first free night was Tuesday, mid arctic blast. So be it! I may not have been willing to go grocery shopping for dinner, but by golly, I was going to see that fantastic cinematic production. Again.

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3. Eating is not as important to me as I thought

This was one of the most upsetting and thrilling discoveries I’ve ever made. In general, food takes precedence over just about anything, including my health and safety. Somehow, this arctic blast took what I knew about life and turned it upside down. I had no desire to make the trek to Harris Teeter, and I had nothing to eat at home, so I just didn’t eat dinner. I know what you’re thinking, “But you walked to see Frozen!” Yes, I did. This highlights my priorities. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.

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This was taken during Miss Virginia 2010. My normal reaction to food.

4. My response to being freezing is similar to being hangry

Speaking of food, I’m usually a walking terror when I don’t eat. Let’s forget the weird not-eating phenomenon that happened during the arctic blast and look at my general reaction to hunger: I get really hangry (Urban Dictionary: When you are so hungry that your lack of food causes you to become angry, frustrated or both), leading to irrational hate towards every human. Period. Every. Human. Along the same lines, other humans were the bane of my existence on Tuesday. They couldn’t walk fast enough, keep the heat appropriately high in every building, or simply leave me alone so I could freeze in peace.

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A picture of my real hangry face would be too upsetting for some readers.

5. I tip in accordance to how bad I feel for delivery people

I couldn’t bring myself to order in food, thinking about the pain the poor delivery guys (they’re usually guys, not girls, so that’s what I’m sticking with) would endure. While walking to Frozen, however, I noticed that most of you are not as empathetic when it comes to ordering delivery. Delivery cars and bikes (even worse) were whizzing past me like the Lion King stampede. I mean, the number was shocking. I felt the need to give a $20 to every man carrying a bag to the door of a building. When I lived in New York, my Indian delivery guy got $5 on a sunny day, $10 on a rainy day, and $15 if it was snowing. The arctic blast tacks on at least another $5. That is, if I’d had the gall to ask someone to bring me food in those conditions.

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God bless them.

6. I will never approve of Ugg boots in the workplace

I don’t care how cold it was, I still judged girls wearing Ugg boots with their work attire. If you are running to Target or Total Wine- fine, girl, do your thing. Work? No excuse. Not even arctic conditions.

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7. My nose is the strongest part of my body

That little nugget protruding from my face can handle anything. My fingers didn’t work if they left my coat pockets, my forehead was the source of an automatic brain freeze when exposed to the air, and my legs would barely move me forward due to the ache in my knees (listen, I’m not joking with this granny stuff). But my nose? It laughed in the face of the arctic blast. Somehow it could be abused by the cold for significant lengths of time without developing frostbite, which I’m pretty sure started developing on my well-protected feet. You go, little nose!

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Look at my nose being a survivor on my dog sledding trip!

8. I will risk my life to keep my body temperature regulated

I’m not sure if anyone else has noticed, but turning your head while wearing a huge fluffy scarf is not an easy task. Instead of a simple blind spot check over my right shoulder when driving, I had to struggle with a full body twist beneath my already-tight seatbelt. Halfway to work, I couldn’t handle one more back-breaking lane change. Yes, I completely agree that forgoing a blind spot check when changing lanes is dangerous and stupid, but guess what? Arctic blast took over my sound judgment. And for you New Yorkers or non-drivers out there, something tells me you weren’t quite as meticulous about looking both ways before crossing the roads.

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The struggle is real.

9. I always want a job that requires me to work in extreme weather conditions

Though part of me envied people who were excused from the office for the day, I know that the expectation to work despite the mood of Mother Nature means one of three things:

a)     Your job is indispensable

b)      Your company has a strong reputation of getting things accomplished within your industry

c)      You work for yourself

Any or all of those things are just fine by me!

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10. I need a dog

Someone grab me a tiny violin, because I don’t think anyone should suffer sleeping alone during the coldest night of their lives. This is not just an arctic blast notion for me, though. I want to have a pup to cuddle with every single night. It’s either that or the boyfriend pillow…and I have way too much pride for that contraption.

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Why are dogs just the greatest?

Hmmm…I wonder what I’ll learn about myself during the inevitable heat wave this August!

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No Drink January (Granuary)

Partaking in No Drink Granuary…I mean January…automatically makes people think that during all other months, I drink myself into a coma. Though wine does help me drift into a rock-like state, I want to immediately address the fact that in no way do I have a drinking problem. For me, No Drink January (alternatively known as “Dry January”) is some sort of self-inflicted torture to prove to myself that I do, in fact, have a thread of self-control left in my body made of cheese. Last time I tried this stunt, I made it until January 27th, so we’ll see how this year goes.00011

The general reaction I receive after proclaiming my decision to refrain from any alcohol for a month is, “Oh my gosh. I don’t know how anyone could do that!” When I suggest someone join me, their first words are, “I need to check my schedule to see if I have any events I’ll want to drink at.” Nobody is a bad person for wanting to get loosey goosey on the dance floor of a wedding or celebrate a birthday with some sensible shots champagne. Heck, if you need your late night scotch every Monday to mourn the long week ahead, who am I to judge? I will say, however, that I think it would be a fascinating social experiment for every single person to participate in No Drink January.

I can imagine it now…

I walk into a bar to find the grim bartender bitterly sipping on a ginger ale. The lonely bottles behind her, the beer taps still wrapped in saran wrap (if you have ever worked at a restaurant, this does not sound weird to you), and drink menus stuffed onto a shelf. A few brave souls sit on the stools, talking about their days at work and trying to figure out what to do with their hands. Sweet Caroline is faintly playing in the background since loud music just sounds dumb when liquor isn’t involved. I get a text from my fiancé  (it’s my imagination, okay?? I can have whatever I want) and he tells me that he signed us up for ballroom dance lessons because it’s either that or go to the gym, but those are way too crowded with people who’d normally be at the bar. What else are we going to do on a Thursday night? After I down my water, I meet him at the ballroom dance studio in the underappreciated part of town reserved for the stray Waffle House and bridal boutique. We’re magically awesome at waltzing, plus we laugh and befriend a hilarious couple who are both doomed with two left feet. The four of us dance to Sinatra and chat without using shifty eyes (the common tactic of pretending to look for someone across the room during awkward silence). How refreshing and pleasant!

Okay, I know this won’t ever happen- in large part because I don’t have money for ballroom dance classes, but mostly because far fewer people try random things like ballroom dancing when they could easily go to local bars and turn off their brains. How would we (being my fake fiancé and myself) meet our hilarious imaginary couple if we/they hadn’t taken a chance at ballroom dancing? Don’t say “at a bar” in that snarky head of yours. Maybe I don’t have enough faith in American culture to think that tons of people aren’t already engaging in interesting activities or holding significant sober conversations, but I honestly find that most people associate socializing with drinking. Hobbies take up one weeknight and Saturday afternoons, but the average millennial schedule involves Thursday at Happy Hour, Fri-Sat drinking at bars, Sunday having champagne brunches, and Mon-Weds recovering while watching New Girl, Modern Family, The Bachelor, Blacklist, Scandal, Revenge, Mindy Project, The Biggest Loser, and Suits.

Exceptions exist, I’m aware. Plenty of you are out there CrossFitting your little hearts out every evening or rehearsing for a musical on Saturday nights. But I know you don’t disagree with me in thinking the month of January would be very interesting if all of America went dry. By the way, bartender friends, I’m not trying to make you panic or feel forgotten. Have you heard of what happened during the Prohibition? Universal No Drink January will never happen. Calm down. I love you.

I’m on day eight and so far, so good. I’ve had to turn down one brunch because the person said that I must take part in the bottomless champagne portion (rude). I have seen Frozen twice, drunk weird amounts of apple cider to replace my wine cravings, and hung out at my friend’s mom’s house since meeting out for a glass of Pinot wasn’t an option. These things may be a little off the normalcy curve, but I’m getting by just fine! Here’s to 23 more days!

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My Response to “23 Things to Do Instead of Getting Engaged Before You’re 23″

I just read a blog post by a girl who is 22, living overseas, and proudly single…so proud, in fact, that she wrote a post about why you shouldn’t get married young. Now, she didn’t give an exact age that one should reach before she approves of marriage, but she basically took the stance that your life is over once you’re married, plus you’ll probably get divorced. Essentially, being young and carefree means not having a ring on it. I can’t pretend that I’ve never thought that getting married in your early 20s would have its challenges, but after reading this young lady’s blog, I feel the need to stand up for my friends who are already married/engaged.

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Four weddings down, two coming up…proud to stand next to my friends!

Statistically, my fellow single blogger is correct: many marriages in America fail. And, yes, the age bracket with the highest rate of divorce is 20-24. That being said, why do so many single women cling to these depressing statistics and use them as a way to make themselves feel better about being single? Worse, why do they use them as a way to pass judgment on their married peers? Call me crazy, but I hope with all of my heart that my girlfriends who have said “yes” will all live long, dedicated, happy lives with their husbands. I am not in their homes, do not witness their daily interactions, hear their goofy jokes on the couch, or know their whispered words of love in the bedroom (ew, thank God). I can’t feel what they feel or comprehend their mutual trust. You’ve heard it before, but here’s a friendly reminder: You can’t understand a relationship unless you’re in it.

I’m not talking about blatantly terrible relationships where the guy is cheating and the girl is crying and they get married anyway because of the baby on the way. No, I’m talking about the average friend who gets engaged to a guy she met in a bar or on match.com or through her roommate, who seems genuinely in love and excited to hang out with her man for the rest of her life. In that case- give the girl’s ring a “like” on Facebook and maybe try not comparing your life to hers. Just because you’re having an awesome time in your singlehood doesn’t mean that someone else your age can’t be ready to kick back with a husband and a yard project. I should also point out that some married people still travel, work out, make out, and enjoy bro-time or girls nights out. Shocker- I know. Especially since we’ve been taught that being married means being tied down, letting yourself go, only being physical to procreate, and losing contact with all of your friends. 

Let me touch on where I’m personally coming from. I’m 25, single, and really can’t imagine being married right now. I live in a run-down apartment, eat brie cheese every other night for dinner, and really loathe giving back rubs. The idea of having enough money or patience to pick out pretty home décor is more than I can grasp. Plus the thought of sharing counter space in the bathroom is super stressful. On the significant other front, I have dated some terrible guys and some fantastic guys. Some too nice, some too rude. Some too loud, some too quiet. Some too old, some too young. I’m kind of like Goldilocks, waiting for one that’s jusssst right.

Marriage might be a foreign concept to me right now, but I hope that someday I’ll understand why all of my friends are tying the knot (congrats to the 87 new engagements among my Facebook friends that happened while I was on vacation last week). I’m sure it’s a very exciting moment when you realize that the person you’re with could satisfy you for the rest of your days. When I think of it that way, who knows if I would’ve taken the plunge at age 23 had I met the right man? But I didn’t. Not even close. At that point in my life, I was seeing an Irishman in NYC who disappeared one night and resurfaced six months later, after I had already held for him a mental funeral and prayed that the police would find his body. It didn’t work out.

…But back to my take on being single. I love traveling and eating copious amounts of Nutella and writing a blog (all things that this blogger claimed were important things to do before you get married), but I also feel no need to make strangers uncomfortable in public places, cut my hair, or get a tattoo because “they’re more permanent than marriage” (also on her list of things I’m apparently supposed to do pre-ring). Getting married has nothing to do with missing out on a full life. In fact, many would argue that marriage makes your life even fuller. If you don’t agree, keep in mind that a full life can mean something completely different to every person- hence why blogger girl thinks you need to “hang out naked in front of a window” and I do not. To say it simply, being single can be great. And so can being married. Being single can be painful…and so can being married. No need to pass judgment on those who check a different marital status box than you on their W-4 forms. We’re all just people, living life, and enjoying the cards we’ve been dealt (hopefully).

Twenty-two-year-old single blogger girl has every right to be thrilled with the choices she’s made in life, but in my humble opinion, maybe she should add one more thing to her list of “23 Things to Do Instead of Getting Engaged Before You’re 23”: Overcome the immaturity of thinking that your way is the best way to live. Lord knows you’re not ready to be married if you still think your life choices are superior to others.

So go ahead, my young single ladies (and gents)- be happy for your friends who are engaged/married. Have faith that they’ve made the best decisions they could regarding the bling on their left hands. You can always unfollow certain newsfeeds or drink Pinot Noir while watching He’s Just Not That Into You if you need to get away from all of the wedding fuss. And you married people- remember that those of us who aren’t even close to creating bridal pages on Pinterest (I don’t have Pinterest, so I apologize if “pages” is the wrong lingo…Shanny the Granny strikes again!) are not to be pitied. Life would be really lame if we were all on the same track.

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