This Is What My Twenties Look Like

Today, I got an e-mail from a friend in New York. We’ve drifted since undergrad, but still share enough of a sensibility to e-mail every now and again, recounting salacious gossip and stories of dates gone horribly, horribly awry. It’s a weird relationship, no lie. She works in the fashion world, stays out most nights partying, and strongly believes leather is work wear. Meanwhile, I watch a lot of Masterpiece Theater. Our e-mail trails read like correspondence from pen pals…on separate planets.

Worse, however, sometimes they read like messages from different generations. Today I had to go look up not one, but three, different words from the NYC rave scene. Y’all, I thought “Molly” was just that nice girl who captained our high school drill team. Not so. In the course of reading about these adventures, a surprising emotion overcame me: envy. Sure, my rule-following self doesn’t actually want to do illicit drugs and wear six-inch heels, but shouldn’t I want to? Aren’t these the years I’m supposed to be living it up, making memories I can look back upon fondly, when my hair is gray and my shoes orthopedic?

My peers certainly are. Every week, it seems another friend moves to Finland or discovers a new bat species. If they’re not procreating, they’re in D.C. protesting on behalf of naked mole rats. Meanwhile, I am still in school, watching The Daily Show every night, and worrying about how many calories are in the pumpkin bread from Starbucks that I just ate two slices of (390, for the record). Something is surely wrong here.

According to popular culture, which we all know is such an accurate reflection of life, my twenties are the prime of my life. They’re the last gasp of fun, before that looming specter of marriage/children/wrinkles swallows up my soul. I should be out every night, flirting with hot men and drinking sparkly pink drinks. I should only stay at home watching Pride & Prejudice, when I’ve just broken up with someone. I should have a quirky, but loveable group of friends, with whom I go on zany antic-filled road trips.

Whatever. Y’all, I don’t want to do any of that right now. (Except for the road trip, because my friends are really fun and that would provide plenty of fodder for a cross-country adventure novel. Like On The Road, but with more show tunes and discussions of THAT LOOK between Veronica & Logan in the last episode of Veronica Mars.) The media and my Facebook feed can go suck an egg, for all I care. Sure, I’d like to be moving to London next week or opening a mini-pie store, but I have other things to do. My twenties are filled with writing books in my pajamas, studying for my next exam, watching Star Trek with my hot professor, and eating a lot of BBQ.

Hopefully, my twenties will also be filled with book signings and more trips abroad, but those are never going to be my day-to-day activities. Which is good. I would never get shit done, if I were going to cool fashion parties every night in New York. Besides, who decided that life is most important at this age? I refuse to believe my days will be any less enjoyable at 65 than at 27. To think otherwise is to buy into the youth-obsessed craziness that is modern culture. Pardon me, but I’d rather live a long, happy, fulfilling life than stay in my twenties forever. My thirties will be awesome, as will my forties and eighties, because they will be mine.

Screw off with your pressure, world. This is what my twenties look like. They’re made of ridiculous dancing, great hummus, feminist articles, adorably retro heels, sewing dresses, kissing bearded men, staying at home to watch Buffy, and all the other things and people I love. Including, yes, Mr. Darcy and too many pastries.

– Grace

The Dating Bed: Politics of a Sleepover

Readers, I slept with him.

Hold on. That’s misleading. Let’s try this again, shall we? Readers, I literally fell asleep in a bed alongside Professor McGregor. We’ve only been dating two months and, while I’m a modern empowered woman, I’m not quite ready for that other totally-not-involving-slumber meaning of “sleeping.” I’m saving that until I know more pertinent facts about him, like his sexual history and favorite Ninja Turtle. (Raphael is the correct answer, obviously. Brooding testudines for the win!)

I have, however, slept over. Thrice. Part of this is borne of convenience. Thanks to our geographic incompatibility, visiting the dear professor requires a 100-mile drive up a stretch of I-35 known for its traffic and speed traps. After a week of early surgery call times, the last thing I want to do is drive three-hours round trip for dinner. Seeing him is worth it, but why spend two hours with a hot academic, when I could spend twelve? Sleeping over is the obvious, if complicated, solution.

Maybe it’s just me, but the logistics of staying at a new guy’s house had me all aflutter. There were so many things to consider! Sides of the bed, proper attire, morning rituals. The (sometimes odd, yes) mind reels. Especially when one is only sleeping and not sleeping with someone, guidelines must be set in place.

  1. Avoid Pirate Cats – In movies, girls always wear super cute things to bed, usually involving lace or sexy little shorts. As far as I can tell, this is just a Hollywood fantasy, like Joseph Gordon Levitt. Left to my own devices, my nighttime uniform is all college t-shirts and novelty pajama pants. My most beloved pair is for Halloween, patterned with pirate cats on pirate cat ships saying things like “Y’arr! Hand over your tuna!” and flying fish bone Jolly Rogers. They’re adorable. And exceedingly embarrassing. Professor McGregor doesn’t get the pleasure of seeing these for at least six months. For now, it’s black nightgowns or yoga pants.
  2. Pack an Extra Toothbrush – One should be ever vigilant against morning breath. Honestly, I feel like this is just a good rule for life, but it applies doubly in this situation. I cannot say this enough: make sure you bring a toothbrush. I’m a big fan of packing one in my toiletry bag, then – just in case a horrible perfume tragedy befalls that one – slipping an unopened one in my purse. Every human has less-than-awesome breath in the morning, as it’s a side effect of being host to trillions of bacteria, but that’s not a conversation for this early in a relationship. Just pack an extra, so you can happily kiss him good morning.
  3. Bring Your Own Sugar, Sugar – Fun fact: other people’s kitchens may not be as well-stocked as yours. Some people, say attractive professors who seem totally normal in every other way, may not have any sugar whatsoever, not even brown sugar left over from an ill-fated baking episode. So, when you say yes to coffee in the morning, you’re stuck grimacing every time you sip, because OH MY GOD IT IS SO BITTER, HOW CAN YOU DRINK THIS? If you’re dependent on sugar in your morning brew, like a normal person who does not have a tongue made of steel, pack some of your own. Because you never know. (Seriously. No sugar at all. How is that possible?)
  4. Leave a Little Early For Work – Not only may there be extra traffic on his side of town/the state, but you may experience romantic flashbacks during your commute. If the night went especially well and his goodbye kiss had you a bit weak in the knees, you may find yourself daydreaming. This is fine, but it could cause you to make a wrong turn on the way out of his neighborhood and accidentally add a half-hour to your drive, as you yell at your iPhone for not knowing where you are either. Not that I know from experience, mind you. Though, seriously, Google Maps can you perhaps update your information on Waco, TX? There are dead ends you do not know of.

With these rules in place, the sleepovers are starting not to stress me out too much. Though, not going to lie, I’m excited that this weekend there are plans for fun in my town. The pirate cats may yet sail again.

– Grace

Typecasting: The Myth of My Ideal Man

If there were some fancy genetic program, in which your friends could design your perfect man, wrap him with a festive bow, and have a deliveryman place him gently on your front porch, I would receive twenty identical guys. My type is specific and well known.

Take one exotically handsome man, add healthy doses of arrogance, expensive shoes, and sophistication. If you have a jar of raised-in-a-foreign-country lying around, so much the better. Mix it all together and – voila! – an instant Grace boyfriend. Those accented sweater-wearing men get me every time.

Except, apparently, this time.

Y’all remember Professor McGregor, I trust? He of the super hot beard and major spark? The dear professor is, if possible, the polar opposite of my supposed type. He’s a dark strawberry blond, of Irish & Scottish descent, who regularly wears cowboy boots. He doesn’t tower over me or speak Spanish so well that it sends shivers down my spine. His wardrobe shows no signs of argyle sweaters or thick-framed glasses.

Honestly, I hadn’t given his lack of type adherence much thought. I’m crazy attracted to him and he makes me laugh, so why does it matter?  The only reason I registered this discrepancy is because I ran across a picture of his ex. Imagine everything you know about me, friends: blonde, a bit ridiculous, intelligent, but given to waxing poetic about sweaters and retro underwear. If someone were to play me in a movie, it would be Alicia Silverstone. There is literally no other option. Once, while participating in one of those God-awful Facebook memes, I exchanged my profile picture for one of Silverstone. Some people who have actually seen me thought I was just all “gussied up.” Interesting, exotic beauty, thy name is not Grace.

Meanwhile, if someone were to play his ex in Professor McGregor’s Magical Monogamy Tour? It would be Angeline Jolie. She’s willowy, brunette, and has the kind of look that screams “I play video games really well, but am also totally comfortable with my sexuality. Oh, and, world peace legitimately concerns me every day.” We could not be more different, kittens. She wears vintage band t-shirts that her dad probably saved from 1978 and I share a closet with Zooey Deschanel.

Upon seeing her picture, I immediately sent a panicked text message to Mae. Why the hell is he dating me, when that’s the girl he loved for so long? When he kisses me, does he wish I were smaller? Does he long for dark, mysterious tresses, instead of my incessantly cheery blonde hair? Y’all, I like who I am. I have no desire to change myself. It’s lovely to always have Alice in Wonderland as a back-up Halloween costume.

However, a big part of liking myself is wanting other people to like me this way too. I don’t want to worry about whether he’d prefer kissing a lithe brunette. Plenty of guys would be super happy kissing me, just as I am. Luckily, before I’d ascribed any nefarious motivations to Professor McGregor, I heard from Mae. Her exact response:

Think back on your past boyfriends…does the professor look like any of them to you? (Pssst. I know the answer and it’s no).

It’s nice to have such a logical friend. Because, yeah, she’s totally right. If we’re doing that whole casting a movie thing, he’d be Ewan McGregor (of course) and my coterie of past boyfriends would be Sendhil Ramamurthy. There is no comparison. They are too different to even judge against one another. But who’s comparing anyway? Despite how much I claim to have a type, it didn’t occur to me once that I shouldn’t be attracted to the professor. He’s brilliant, funny, and super cute.

When it comes down to it, the idea of a type is ridiculous. There’s no predicting attraction or applying logic to emotion. Much as it pains my scientist’s heart, there is no formula to finding my person. That is, I suppose, what makes the (often anxiety-inducing) search worth it. Also, I think we can all agree that there should totally be a movie of my life…if only so we can watch Ewan and Sendhil fight over Cher Horowitz. At the moment, I’m rabidly curious to find out who wins.

– Grace

Please Don’t Name Your Child That

My friends are procreating. It was bound to happen, sooner or later. Enough of them are married and/or regularly rolling in the hay. Babies are the obvious, somewhat smelly next step. My Facebook feed has suddenly been taken over by nursery decorations and pictures of pee sticks pregnancy tests. The infants, they draw nigh!

Now, on the whole, I’m pro-baby. Sure, I’m not ready for one (hooray whore pills!), but I can see the appeal: they’re even cuter than kittens, they often smell nice, and someday you’ll get to embarrass them with the naked pictures you take today. That’s a pretty sweet deal. So, when I’m invited to baby showers, I tend to be excited. Buying tiny clothes! Eating cupcakes with gendered icing! Making fun of the impending spawn’s name!

Oh yeah, that last one happens a lot. People are bestowing some terrible appellations on their children, kittens. I know this isn’t new. When Tiffany went from a store to a chart-topping first name, we were pretty much screwed as a species. Some of these modern trends, however, seem especially painful. When it comes time to name your own vomit-slingers, please don’t choose from these options:

Sex & The Twilight Inspired – When you were a wee single lass, you watched Carrie and Big live happily ever after, whispering to your stuffed camel, “Someday, Butternut Cantaloupe, that will be me!” Now, it’s happened and – hooray! – you’re having his bébé. It’s only natural that you’d want to honor your imaginary friends by naming a miniature person after them. I’m just going to caution you, however. If your friends pay too much for shoes, were written by Nicholas Sparks, or sparkle in the sunshine, rethink this decision. Every other kid in your baby sinking swimming classes will be named: Aidan, Noah, Jacob, or Bella.

Chik-Fil-A Spellings – Question: Are you, or have you ever been, a bovine fast food mascot? If not, please use traditionally accepted spellings. Katherine v. Catherine is one thing, but Kathrynne, really? Really!? Your poor child is going to have her name misspelled by every person she meets, from Starbucks baristas to the police officers issuing her that minor-in-possession ticket. Worse, you can’t get mad at her for drinking underage. Repeatedly spelling such a name for twenty years would drive anyone into the arms of Jose Cuervo!

Words That Will Doom You – I know. Just subbing out some letters in an existing name seems too overdone. You want your child to be the most special snowflake amongst all of the special snowflakes ever. Ergo, you’ve decided to really blaze your own path, and pick a word that best encompasses their spirit. Wait – blaze! – that can be a name right? Blaze McGillicutty has a nice ring to it. No, it doesn’t. It has the ring of a child who will one day burn down your house. Children are already crazy, they need no encouragement. Names like Rowdy and Wilder are just dooming you to a toddler who’s even more rambunctious than usual. When you’re peeling stickers off the side of your BMW’s bumper, blame no one but yourself.

Sugar & Spice & Schnookums – Your child came out super hot. Congratulations! Your genes totally own other people’s! However, this is no time to get cocky with your spawn’s name. Just because she’s as cute as button doesn’t mean you should actually name her Button. Just because he’s as sweet as pie doesn’t mean you should name him Pecan. Cutesy nicknames are great – my brother has been called Bunny Boy by my mother for most of his life – but they don’t work as actual names. When she’s five, JuJuBee is adorable. When she’s a 48 year-old podiatrist? Less so.

Now, if your precious preciouskins’ name falls into these categories, my apologies. To each their own! I may snicker a bit about your choice, but I promise to give little Renesmee really great birthday presents. If you went with Torchy, however, I can’t promise he won’t use that set of Harry Potter books as kindling.

– Grace

Guilt and the Single Girl

Sex.

Three little letters, one natural act, and – if you’re a twenty-something – the potential for a lifetime of guilt. Wait. That’s not right, is it? This is sex we’re talking about, the thing that is supposed to be so much fun that it’s all newlyweds, teenagers, and rabbits would do, if they didn’t have to pause for food. Sex is so great we’ve dedicated most of the internet to watching it and most of high school to giggling about it. Yet, if sex is the be-all-end-all pleasure of human existence, why do so many of us have issues with it?

Oh, right, guilt. ALL THE BUCKETS AND BUCKETS OF GUILT. If we’re not worried we’re going to Hell for doing it before marriage, we’re freaking out that our oral sex technique is sub-par, or that sleeping with one more person will make us Head Slut of the Whore Brigade. I’m sure there are perfectly well-adjusted people out there – those who’ve never felt guilty about having sex or worried about being bad at sex. Well, that’s awesome, but I don’t know any of them. Most of the people I’m friends with have, at one time or another, been totally freaked out about sex.

In the South, it’s easy to blame overwhelmingly conservative society values. In my own Texan teenage years, we were bombarded with the message that sex is only for happy, married heterosexual people, because of Sin and Disease and Children Out of Wedlock. How could any teenage girl agree that she’s dishonoring her family and her god by screwing her boyfriend, then happily screw said boyfriend with minimal conscience tugs? The human brain isn’t outfitted with a magic sex lightbulb. You don’t wake up one morning and think “Today, I feel like sex is a-okay and natural. I should discover what I like and not worry that I’m doing something wrong!” All too often, after years of associating sex with negative emotions, I watch friends get married, obtain that blessed circle of gold, and retain their shame. Sex is something their husbands want or that will give them children, but not something they enjoy.

Here’s the thing, though. I don’t think this is just a southern thing or a Christian thing or even a girl thing. Despite our generation’s supposed sexual freedom and hook-up culture, the American party line on sex remains all too static. Anyone who’s grown up with a sibling of the opposite sex has seen this difference. Girls are encouraged to wait for the “right time,” not be pressured by their boyfriends, and remain ever vigilant against penises. Most guys of my acquaintance? They were told to wear a condom, then patted on the head with a “boys will be boys.” This does such a disservice to both sexes. If a guy’s not ready, does that make him less of a man? If a girl initiates sex, without any male cajoling, is she a slut? I call bullshit on the whole thing. These same damn ideas screw up relationship after relationship.

The idea that guys want one thing and one thing only – raunchy, porny sex – does just as much damage as the idea that girls want the babies and security, not the pleasure. Outside of warning teenage boys to wear condoms, we don’t give them any real guidance. All too many boys are left to learn about sex from their friends or, worse, porn. I think we can all agree neither of these are best case scenarios. Misinformation runs rampant amongst teenagers and porn is not even close to an accurate, healthy portrayal of sex. (I’m not anti-porn, but come on! Two actors worried about camera angles and properly sexy sounds are not even comparable to a real couple.) If guys must rely on porn to form their sexual identities and girls must rely on guys to introduce them to sexual norms, is it any wonder we’re all a little bit messed up?

Guys are worried they can’t give automatic orgasms, like James Deen, and girls are worried they don’t have magical, hairless vaginas like those from that video they’re embarrassed about looking up. We all start off fumbling and awkward and are under the impression we should go from total innocents to porn royalty with one sexual encounter. We shouldn’t have sex until marriage, but if we do, we need to be really good at it. We shouldn’t be prudes about sex, but we shouldn’t have too many lovers either. We should please our partner, but we’re not taught how to do that. They should please us, but if they can’t right away, it’s somehow our fault. We should all eventually feel sexually empowered, whether on our wedding nights or when we decide “it’s the right time,” but no one tells us what exactly that empowerment looks like.

Is sex positive education the way to go? Is it all just a symptom of the human condition, destined to play out over and over throughout time? Have milliennia of ingrained stigma and shame doomed us all? I have no clue. All I know is that I wish it didn’t take most of us so long to feel completely normal about sex. I wish we could all be responsible and well-informed and hurt a minimum number of people on the way to our general empowerment. Maybe I just wish I lived in France?

– Grace