9 Lessons I’ve Learned in My Post-Breakup Life

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It’s been almost three months since I broke up with my ex. Well, two months if you count what I call the “One Week of Insanity” where I backslid into the ecstasy and misery of a reunion with a person who is clearly not right for me, only to have the sense slapped back into me by a good friend who pointed out the well-known definition of insanity (hence the nomenclature). Or maybe it’s almost four months since the first time I tried, unsuccessfully, to break up with him – something I’ve only mentioned to a few people. So Hello, World! Welcome to the unfiltered version that you didn’t see on Instagram. And if we’re being really honest here, it’s been about six months since the first time “maybe this isn’t right. Maybe I should end this now” crossed my mind. Try coming back from THAT one. I did, and failed miserably.

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The truth is, breakups suck, and working up the courage to actually initiate something that you know in your heart of hearts is the right thing to do is a process. You don’t just get there over night – not if you genuinely care for the person. I remember the days and moments, usually after a horrible fight, where I felt frozen; I couldn’t move my lips to bring myself to say the words that would finally end things, even when I was screaming them inside of my head; all I wanted to do was leave his apartment or send him away from mine, retreating so I could escape the tears and and the misery, the inability to express myself to someone who didn’t get me, who couldn’t make me feel safe or heard or understood.

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In any event, the following three two four six I give up months post-breakup have taught me so much about myself that I am actually grateful for the process. And while I wouldn’t wish a breakup on anyone – not even on my ex – I do appreciate that it is an excellent learning tool. Some people turn bitter or resentful, spiting the person they left/who left them, or refusing to realize that a failed relationship is a two-way street. We both bear some of the responsibility for why things didn’t work out. Others take the opportunity to work on themselves, to love themselves, and to find ways to become happy within themselves.  I’ve certainly learned things and grown in ways that I wouldn’t have were it not for the agony of putting the pieces of my heart back together.

So without further ado, a few of the things I’ve learned in the last few months as I navigate heartbreak and singledom as a twenty-something in New York City:

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A Mutable Feast: Street Art in Brooklyn at the Bushwick Collective

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Recently, I’ve been spending a lot of time in Brooklyn. This should come as a surprise to most of you, as I’m not exactly shy about my aversion to New York’s “hippest” borough. Part of said aversion stems from the fact that, like vegans and marathon runners, people who live in Brooklyn are usually apt to tell you within sixty seconds of meeting them how they live in a converted warehouse loft apartment near a great bodega and a bar that serves “uh-mazing” Scandinavian-Indian fusion small plates. I mean no offense to my Brooklynite friends, who are some of my favorite people in New York and don’t generally announce their Brooklynness to anyone who will listen, but they are usually the exception and not the rule.

The second reason I haven’t spent much time in Brooklyn is related to the fact that when I first moved here nearly two years ago, I was so fresh-off-the-boat to New York that I still thought Times Square was cool. I voluntarily chose Starbucks over the other myriad (and infinitely better) coffee houses. I thought Central Park was the *only* park worth visiting. I didn’t venture further north than 100th street or farther east than 5th Avenue. I was a total obnoxious cliche newbie who was too busy exploring the island of Manhattan, and even then in a limited (read: midtown) scope…I didn’t have time for Brooklyn.

Furthermore, travel between the outer boroughs is a nightmare – it can take me up to an hour and half to get to some parts of Bushwick (which in theory is like, 6 miles away) because the trains from Queens only go west into Manhattan, where you have to change to another line heading east and south into Brooklyn.  The MTA can’t even extend one subway line north four stops without spending millions of dollars in too many years on a two-part project, so seamless inter-borough travel is nothing but a pipe dream – it probably won’t ever happen in my lifetime. Not to mention the fact that for the last year I was dating someone who *also* hated hipster haven – which gave me even less incentive to go.

Have I given enough reasons for my dislike of Brooklyn yet?

In any case, recent events have sent me into New York’s trendiest neighborhood on a few different occasions, and I have to say…I’m warming up to the borough. Partly because of some amazing summer weather that was just begging for an adventure, but mostly because I saw my blogger friends’ (Lynn & Justin over at Mad Hatters NYC) amazing post about the Bushwick Collective, I decided to brave the L train and check it out myself.

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My Big Fat Italian Wedding (and everything in between)

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It’s finally the weekend (this week has been THE longest) and I’m back in action after a three week break! It feels good to be back in the writer’s seat…though admittedly not as good as the Mediterranean sun on my face for two weeks (yeah yeah, I’m allowed to brag just a *little*).

It’s been an interesting first week back in the city – I returned last Sunday night at 9pm and essentially stumbled out of clothes into pajamas and onto bed by 9:30…which meant the inevitable 2:30AM wake up, tossing and turning until I gave up at 6AM and decided to get out of bed (or at least check the socials for an hour under the covers). This week has been lacking in sleep but loaded with activities – something I’d purposefully planned so that I could avoid the inevitable post-vacation-blues. I resumed Tuesday trivia, Wine Wednesday, started a new kickboxing class on Thursday, and even went out on a date on Saturday before heading out to Brooklyn to check out the graffiti art at Bushwick Collective (post on that forthcoming).

It’s going to be impossible to try to recap an entire 16 days worth of vacation stuff in a single blog entry, so I think the best approach is to try to sum up the feeling of the trip by sharing some of my key takeaways from the experience.

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Where to Go for Coffee in NYC

I promise this post will be about coffee, but first, a short story.

Exactly four years ago almost to the day, my best friend came to visit me for 10 days in Italy as a college graduation present to herself. That trip has inevitably been filed away as “one of my favorite life memories/something that will be hard if not near impossible to duplicate because when are we going to be young and free and have unfettered time, money, and minimal commitments again?” We traveled through the country, made some amazing memories, ate delicious food, and of course conversation with one of the people who gets me most in this world was never dull and always uplifting.

Turns out, we would have those things four years later – and completely unexpectedly.  I say unexpected because my two week trip to Italy and Greece was a trip I had originally planned with my now-ex-boyfriend.  Suffice it to say, I took lemons and made limoncello in the form of two weeks in Europe with my bff. This could not be more ideal.

I’ll be on blog hiatus for the next two weeks, but before I go to the land where the cappuccino was invented, bask in the the basilicas of Rome and the Athenian acropolis, and eat ALL of the pizza/gelato/baklava/melomakarona, I felt it was appropriate to leave those of you staying in NYC (in this finally amazing weather!) with a few local places to check out, on which this certified caffeine addict and coffee snob gives her seal of approval. Ranked in descending order, because I always save my favorite for last…

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What I Learned by Hosting My First NYC House Party

What a weekend! No, I’m not talking about this next one coming up, though I am looking forward to it.  I’m talking about last weekend, when I threw my first ever house(warming) party in the Big Apple!

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Actually, this was the first house party I’ve thrown pretty much anywhere.  It might seem strange coming from a twenty-something, as I’m sure most of my peers have hosted and attended such parties their whole early-adult lives, but for me, I’ve never lived anywhere long enough to feel at home hosting a party – and if I didn’t feel at home, it seemed kind of phony-a-la-Holden-Caulfield to host a housewarming.  I never planned on staying in Malibu when I graduated college. As an expat on a student visa in Italy, I always knew in the back of my mind that one day I would be leaving.  New York is the first city I’ve lived in for the last 10 years where I’ve felt like I am finally putting down permanent roots. I intend to stay here for the foreseeable future, and though I am no psychic, my time in the city that never sleeps is, at the moment, indefinite. It only felt right to celebrate my first REAL, significant move surrounded by the new (and old!) friends that I’ve made over the last 20 months.

Of course, if you’ve ever read my spirit animal Mindy Kaling’s book Why Not Me? (which hits close to home for many reasons because Mindy really is my spirit animal), you’ll know that hosting a party in a tiny, cramped NYC apartment comes with its own set of obstacles and challenges and oh-my-god-how-is-everyone-going-to-fit moments.

Thanks to those moments I learned some life lessons last weekend that I hope to carry forward for the next Friday night fête:

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Addition by Subtraction

We are all faced with decisions in our lives. At times, those decisions are blindingly obvious. Pizza or pasta? (Pizza). NSYNC or Backstreet? (Is this even a question? I’ve hearted Joey Fatone since elementary school). Should I add avocado even though it’s $2.50? (Obviously).

Some are a little more difficult, and require a bit more thought. Should I reallyyyyy order that third (or fourth, who’s judging?) glass of wine at happy hour pricing? It’s past midnight, should I take an Uber or wait for the train? Heels or flats? Netflix and chill or go out?

Other decisions can leave more of an impact on a person. Where do I go to college? In which country should I study abroad? What is the path that will best lead me back to Italy? Should I try to stay in Italy, or return to the US? What city do I move to if I do in fact decide to repatriate? Do I continue to pursue art history, or try my hand at something I’m more passionate about?

I’ve had to answer some (okay, ALL) of these questions at some point or another in my life. Some were harder than others to make. Some defined who I was and who I am as a person.

By far, the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make was the decision to leave the relationship with the person that I love. I knew that leaving was going to shatter my heart and his, and the life that we were trying to build together. I knew my fragmented hopes and dreams and the potential for what could have been would lay on the ground like broken shards of glass cutting deep into my skin as I stepped over the pieces. I didn’t – I don’t – know what the next steps are, but that’s life. It suddenly became so clear to me, as I was agonizing over the decision and what to do, that there was literally no blueprint in front of me to tell me what was best. Sure, I had the advice of a few friends and family who really care about me, and who may have had the wisdom of experience, but there was no way to foresee or predict the future, no way to weigh one possible outcome against another. And that was the scariest part. I was faced with the vast and all-consuming void of the future, of time stretched out in front of me, of future memories and a life that is yet to be lived – and the course of my future all came down to the choice that I was about to make at that very moment.

Choice, a powerful idea. Do I choose temporary happiness at the risk of my entire future? Do I choose to add to my life, to make it better, to become happy once again, by removing something that is simultaneously a source of joy and yet, also, of pain and sadness?

When something no longer makes you happy, when the bad days start to outweigh the good, that thing no longer serves its purpose. The only way to add to your life, to enrich it, to restore happiness, is by removing it from your life. Addition through subtraction.

Addition through subtraction is not easy. It’s counter-intuitive to everything you want to do in the moment. It requires you to literally step outside of yourself and really look at what you want versus what you need. To take the gamble that what you have is not enough to carry you through the good times and the bad; that some compromises can not and should not be made.

I recently started reading Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, a novel inspired by the existentialism of Sartre and Nietzsche in which the author prefaces the story with a discussion of Nietzsche’s theory of eternal return. Kundera writes, “Putting it negatively, the myth of eternal return states that life which disappears once and for all, which does not return, is like a shadow, without weight, dead in advance, and whether it was horrible, beautiful, or sublime, its horror, sublimity, and beauty mean nothing.” Essentially, in layman’s terms, this means what’s done is done – and has little effect on the course of human history, as events can not be repeated.

And yet…what if they could be repeated? What if they WERE repeated? How would the eternal return of events effect the outcome of history or, at the very least, how we perceive said events?  Kundera continues, “There is an infinite difference between a Robespierre who occurs only once in history and a Robespierre who eternally returns, chopping off French heads. Let us therefore agree that the idea of eternal return implies a perspective from which things appear other than as we know them: they appear without the mitigating circumstance of their transitory nature. This mitigating circumstance prevents us from coming to a verdict.  For how can we condemn something that is ephemeral, in transit? In the sunset of dissolution, everything is illuminated by the aura of nostalgia, even the guillotine.”

While nihilism is not exactly a preferred life outlook, as it raises some serious questions regarding faith and hope and love and the meaning of life, I do believe it is a necessary check on perspective when things start to feel too big. At the end of the day, I am small.  We are small. The decisions I make in my life will not affect the course of human history, even though they will affect my own history. I don’t know if this is depressing or comforting, but it is freeing, in its own way. Because of this I am trying to view things without the rose-colored glasses that nostalgia lends to entities near their death. Death tends to canonize people, relationships, and situations. I’m trying to remove the golden halo I’ve placed post-mortem on my relationship in order view things as they were, as they are, and how they would be if they continued.

I won’t deny that as much as I know the relationship, at least as it is right now, isn’t right for me, I still miss him, every day. I’ve never known a hurt like this. The void is unmistakable and threatens to swallow me up if I think about it too much. A part of me hopes that even though I told him never to contact me again, that he’ll find a way back to me; that he’ll be there one morning outside of my office before work, or I’ll come home one day and find him waiting outside my apartment with a bouquet of tulips (my favorite) because he knew he could never live a life without me. Or that I’ll find a love letter in my mailbox, a final word proving, once and for all, that he really and truly cared for me and my happiness – not just when it was convenient for him.

An even greater part of me holds out the hope that someday, maybe, in the future, be it a few months or a few years after we’ve both worked on ourselves, that things will turn around and we’ll find our way back to one another once more. That someday, he’ll become the man I need him to be for me. That we’ll be right for each other. That instead of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, it’ll be like sliding into your favorite pair of jeans that hug your body in all of the right places.

Review: Whitney Biennial 2017

April showers bring May flowers, as the saying goes.  For me, this year’s showers came in March, and the flowers (and sometimes pain yet always beauty) of new growth made their glorious, tentative reentry at the beginning of April. April has been a month dedicated to rediscovering my passions and reconnecting with the things that make me happy as I enter a new chapter of my twenty-something life in the city.

In the spirit of such, I recently had the pleasure of taking some time out of a perfect spring Sunday to wander down by the Hudson to the Whitney Museum of American Art. My primary reason for going was to check out a special exhibit on the museum’s 8th floor, devoted to paintings from the 1980s. While my formal training was in Italian Renaissance Art History, my favorite professor in undergraduate was my Modern and American Art History professor. He brought Modern and Contemporary Art to life in a way that this hardened “realist” had never before considered, so much so that for one of my senior projects I wrote a paper on Transavanguardia and the Italian Neo-Expressionists from the 1980s, focusing on the artists Sandro Chia and Francesco Clemente, and art critic Achille Bonito Oliva.

Inspired by the evocative portraits and painterly gestures found in the works of Chia and Clemente, hearkening back to the 1950s and the quintessential Abstract Expressionists, I developed a deep appreciation for the urban grit, grime, social and political commentary, and pop culture references found in much of the art of the 1980s. When I saw that the Whitney was showcasing this era at a special exhibit, I knew I had to meander down to the waterfront to check it out – especially as the museum touted the presence of works by one of my favorite artists, Jean Michel Basquiat.

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Jean Michel Basquiat, LNAPRK, 1982 (acrylic, oil, oil stick, and marker on found paper on canvas and wood), Whitney Museum of American Art

As excited as I was to finally be re-immersed in art, I have to admit – I was largely underwhelmed by the exhibit. There was only one Basquiat that I was aware of, and the rest of the show consisted of largely disconnected lesser-known works scattered among what seemed like attempts at bulking up the show’s quality – i.e. remarking on the “Keith Harings” in the show, when in actuality there was only one Haring and a large wall covered in Haring-esque wallpaper (pictured above) which was, at times, quite distracting to the works of art placed on top of it. Placing a Haring on a Haring, or even a Basquiat on a Haring, skews the viewer’s visual field and takes away from the work itself. On top of that, it was a pretty meager collection that I spent less than 20 minutes viewing, and I would have left disappointed were it not for the Whitney’s 2017 Biennial Exhibition taking up the remainder of the museum’s floor space.

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What to Do in NYC this Weekend

Last weekend we were #blessed with unseasonably warm weather here in the Big Apple. I’m talking temperatures in the mid-80s, breezy, sunny, and warm – it was like Spring in all of her splendor was welcoming us with open arms!

Alas, like a lover scorned, she turned away too soon and shed her tears – in the form of constant drizzle, wind, and temperatures in the 50s. It was a short-lived blissful reminder that summer is just around the corner.

This weekend we can expect a hybrid of the two, a salty-sweet combo of sun and rain, cold and warm, the last dredges of winter and the first buds of spring. Given the unpredictable nature of NYC weather and the wrench it can throw into weekend plans, I wanted to share a couple of fun indoor AND outdoor activities to pass away this upcoming April weekend.

If you find yourself in Queens…

Make your way to Queen’s Comfort in Astoria for hands-down one of the best brunches I’ve ever had.

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Postcards from My Past

Recently I was cleaning out my Hotmail inbox (yeah, I still use my high school Hotmail email address – don’t judge) when I stumbled across a folder I had created in 2011 called “Archived.” I had forgotten about that folder entirely.

I clicked on it.

Inside was a nice slew of old emails from my past – letters and notes that I didn’t want to lose for some reason or another. Mixed in with a few recipes and random notes, “Archived” was like a digital scrapbook or forgotten junk drawer of old phone books and takeout menus that I was only now cleaning out.

Lately, as many mid-to-late twenty-somethings are apt to do, I’ve been self-reflecting a lot, so it seemed appropriate to sort through some of the emails I had saved from my past, to see what 21-year-old Lauren deemed worthy of saving for 26-year-old Lauren.

I could not have been more proud of 21-year-old Lauren for her foresight at knowing the exact emails I would want and need to see today.

Here are some things I found in my digital scrapbook:

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What it’s Like to Live Alone for the First Time

It’s been a whole week since I moved into my new one bedroom apartment. A whole week since the grueling 72-hour weekend in which my dad and I (who am I kidding – it was mostly my dad) packed, unpacked, built, arranged, and rearranged an entire apartment. It was exhausting. We laughed. We cried. We shrugged our shoulders and said “it is what it is” a lot. We quoted random movies out of context and spoke in strange accents once we reached what I like to call “teenage girl sleepover mode,” the point of delirium. We ate at the same nearby diner three meals in a row – when we remembered to eat. I physically ached. I needed a weekend from my weekend.

But once it was all said and done, set up exactly how I (how I and nobody else!) liked it – I felt an overwhelming sense of peace.

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My dad left, the dust settled, the remaining two boxes of knickknacks and jewelry could wait to be unpacked (are still waiting to be unpacked). Finally, in the midst of all the chaos that has been my life the last month, I took a deep breath, and smiled.

I was in my little oasis in the city, a place to grow and thrive and heal and relax, to create new memories doing the things I love, simply because they make me happy. The apartment is a blank page for me to fill with the people and objects and memories that I choose – I am both author and editor.

Of course living alone is definitely an adjustment, albeit a welcomed one. Here are a few such adjustments that I’ve come across in making the transition from resigned roommate to satisfyingly single.

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