humor

I Was Working in the (Dating) Lab, Late One Night…

I have a confession.

I LOVE TikTok!

Assuming you filter for funny, likeminded people, this app can restore your faith in humanity. So many positive, hilarious, creative folks are putting their silliest feet forward and, unlike Facebook and Instagram, I walk away feeling more optimistic about myself and life after scrolling. One of my recent favorite TikTok videos involved a woman conducting a dating app experiment. She asked her matches, “What’s your most controversial opinion?”

The results were… troubling. And fascinating. Naturally, I decided I needed to conduct this highly scientific experiment myself. Which meant once again downloading dating apps on my phone, a practice that in the past had been entirely scarring and short-lived.

I’m not sure if it’s because I live in a relatively small town, or people in central Oregon have learned from their mistakes, but no one, absolutely no one, was willing to give a less than P.C. response. My favorite? “Pumpkin pie is actually not good.”

Another excellent submission.

Before I knew it, my experiment was turning into actual dates. Three four five six in a row. Hang on. This was just for giggles! I texted one of my girlfriends, Sara.

“This is Mr. Thursday. Do you know him?”

I had learned the hard way to vet any first dates with my single girlfriends. I had also learned the hard way not to get too excited before the first meeting – and to arrange said meet up as quickly as possible. Text messages do not an accurate impression make.

Take, for example, Kyle.

Kyle was Mr. Saturday Night. Kyle had a great smile. Kyle said allllll the right things.

Even if he didn’t spell them correctly.

I was sure -absofreakinglutely sure- this date would wind up in Smooch City. I wore my date-iest shirt and assembled my date-iest hair. When Kyle got out of his car (15 minutes late…), I was still sure. Kyle looked like a young Bon Jovi.

If you remembered that I’m a Jersey girl, that should explain everything.

“Do we need to wear masks?” Kyle asked as we approached the bar.

“Oh, yes, everywhere inside,” I replied, trying to cover my surprise. Geesh, he really doesn’t get out much. “But you can take it off as soon as you get your drink.”

We ordered our drinks and quickly went outside and stood near a picnic table, not far from the raging fire pit. It was a chilly, drizzly October night in central Oregon’s high desert. I stuck my free hand in my coat pocket, wondering why we weren’t sitting down. Radiating nervous energy, Kyle immediately blurted,

“My sister has COVID.”

“Oh no!” I replied. “Is she okay?”

“Yeah, no symptoms. After a week, she was going stir crazy, so today she came into town and went shopping.”

My jaw dropped ever so slightly.

“I’m not vaccinated. I have a rare blood type that doesn’t get COVID,” he went on. “Are you vaccinated?”

Soooo I’m thinking making out is off the table.

“Um,” I paused. “Yes…fully vaccinated…” Holy f@%* how did I miss this on his profile?

Just as I tried to recover from this news, Kyle dropped another bomb.

“I have a 10-year-old daughter,” he said, pulling out his phone to show me a photo. “I didn’t know she was mine until she was five. I dated this woman 10 years ago who was engaged to a guy who couldn’t have kids, so she was using me for my sperm, but I didn’t even know she was engaged.”

“10, wow, well, that’s a great age…” I said, peering at his phone and gulping my wine.

Instead of sitting down, Kyle kept inching closer and closer. I shifted back ever so minutely as the conversation continued.

“I don’t believe in abortion,” he said without missing a beat. “I’m pro choice, but I don’t believe in abortion for me. And women wouldn’t need abortions if they didn’t sleep around. How about you?”

“Well,” I replied, unwilling to part with my wine in order to toss it in his face. “As a woman, I believe women can do whatever they choose with their bodies, including sleeping around.”

Unfazed, he released his third bomb of the night.

“Have you ever seen those TV dramas where the kids don’t realize they were raised by their grandparents?”

“Uhhh…maybe…?”

“Yeah, that was me. I thought my grandmother was my mom. My mom had me when she was 16, so we have more of a friend relationship.”

Before I could comment, he unleashed Bomb #4.

“I was at my brother’s funeral this summer with a friend. She’s 6’4″. All of my guy friends were asking about her because I guess they thought she was hot. I just don’t think women that tall can ever be hot. Yeah, my brother died in June. We think it was a drug overdose.”

“I’m so sorry. Wow…you’re giving me a lot to process here,” I stuttered. “I was thinking we’d start with our favorite pasta shape.”

“Well I don’t really care what you think,” he said.

“That’s kind of a rude thing to say,” I said, my eyebrows threatening to reach my perfectly coiffed hairline.

“I only really care what you think of my brother dying. I don’t want you to think I’m not ready to date yet because of that.”

“That’s definitely not what I was thinking,” I answered honestly.

DEFINITELY not what I was thinking, Kyle.

“I’ve had other girls message me on Bumble, but you’re the only one I’m interested in. If this doesn’t work out, I’m deleting the app.”

“So what if I said I just wanted to make out?” I questioned, strictly for research (*cough* blogging) purposes.

“If we made out, you’d definitely want to go out with me. I’m an amazing kisser. I’m very confident. I know what I like.”

“You are not like your texts,” I confessed, my brain continuing to slowly turn itself inside out. “You seemed so shy.”

We had now migrated halfway around the picnic table in my efforts to stand as far away from him as possible. He hadn’t noticed and continued to invade my personal space.

“What do you do for a living?” I asked.

“I work in cryptocurrency,” Kyle replied, and then began to describe something that, in fact, sounded like a pyramid scheme.

“So you work from home?” I asked and he nodded. “Do you live alone?” In a town like Bend, Oregon, this question often yielded unexpected results.

“I rent out two rooms.”

“Oh, so you own and rent out two rooms?”

“I don’t want to talk about my living situation.”

I almost choked on my drink. That’s the topic that’s off-limits? He gave me a dramatic once over, leaning to look at my backside.

“I like what I see. I love thick girls.”

“Um, so, I’m going to go,” I said, the two of us now standing a full five feet from where we’d started our conversation a half an hour earlier. “I don’t think either of us is going to get what we want from this.”

The last thing I saw was his taken aback expression as I bolted through the bar, placing my half full glass of wine in the plastic wash bin near the door. I debated shouting, “Six feet from that man, people! Or maybe sixty thousand!!!!”

On the upside, he unmatched me before I even got home.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

humor

How to Get Propositioned & Other Lessons from the Road

Oh you. Look at you. You look different. Did you do something with your hair? Is that a new mask? I’ve missed you. I’ve spent the past few weeks gathering blog-worthy content as I trekked cross-country once again. This time, I drove from Oregon to New Jersey to try to convince my parents that homeownership is all a massive ploy to turn carefree joy into anus-puckering fear.

Driving 2,798 (x 2) miles -not counting the extra seven miles inevitably driven trying to find the DAMN entrance to the DAMN truck stop like seriously you put it THERE?- always comes with certain, ah, learning opportunities, and this particular trip was no exception.

Lesson #1 – You Can’t Build Dreams on a House of Cards Canopies

On the return trip to Oregon, I planned to stop in Iowa to drink beer table a vegan market with my Business Partner Extraordinaire, Robin.

“I think I’m going to buy a canopy,” Robin texted while I was still in New Jersey. “It looks like it’s going to be hot.” Babs caught wind of this text and said,

“I think we have one. We tried to gather all of the pieces after the flood and put them here.” She guided me towards a large Tupperware bin now nestled in my parents’ shed.

I spread out all of the parts on their lawn, hoping nothing was missing. If I can make this work, it’ll save us a ton of money. I was in charge of our business budget and I took my role very seriously.

I soon discovered that a critical corner piece was missing, but, no matter, that’s what duct tape was for. Babs and I spent a solid half hour wrestling the world’s cheapest canopy together, and, once it was precariously perched in all of its DIY glory, I triumphantly snapped a photo for Robin.

“The only issue,” I wrote. “Is that we’re going to be on concrete, so we can’t stake it into the ground.” No way was I buying bags of sand or kitty litter that would cost more than the tent itself. I took the canopy apart and organized all of the pieces, loading them into my trunk for the long haul from New Jersey to Iowa a few days later.

When event time rolled around, it was nearly 90 degrees and sunny. “Thank god we have this tent!” we declared. And then, as though on cue, a huge gust of wind rattled through Des Moines. We sprawled our arms out, octopus-style, grabbing hold of tent corners and merchandise.

“Well,” I said. “I guess we’ll both just have to stay here at all times to make sure it doesn’t blow away!”

Ninety minutes later, I let my guard down for seven seconds to guzzle a gallon of much-needed water. Mother Nature -that fickle mistress- seized the opportunity and let loose her most massive fart yet.

We got lucky. And by that I mean our NJ sourced flying projectile didn’t impale any passersby.

“Wanna hop in, too, Jules?” -Robin

Lesson #2 – When You Assume, You Make an “Ass” out of “U” and “Me” Latte

While in Iowa, I stayed in a tiny one zero-light town. I was surprised to find a modern coffee shop right around the corner called The Daily Grind. Better still, I could order my beloved oat milk latte online! Score!

I begrudgingly paid the extra service fee for the privilege of pulling up to the coffee shop and skipping the line. I forgot where I was, and that there wouldn’t actually be a line. In fact, there was only one other car in the lot when I arrived. I parked next to my fellow java drinker, and as I got out of my car, a woman came out of the coffee shop holding her cup, hopping into the driver’s seat of the neighboring car.

A moment later, a second woman came out of the shop. She was wearing a black hoodie and also holding a large cup. She smiled directly at me as she approached.

“Oh, wow, you bring it out, too!” I exclaimed, beaming at the woman. “That is so awesome!”

She tilted her head and pointed to the other car.

“Um. No. This is me,” she said as she opened the passenger door and climbed in to join her friend.

This had better be good since I had to go ALL THE WAY INSIDE to retrieve it.

Lesson #3 – Never Make Eye Contact

As you’ve probably gathered from Lessons 1-2, I only enjoy spending money on things with calories, which means when it comes to booking roadside lodging, I’m often wrestling between, “Do I spend an extra $50 to reduce the likelihood of finding pubic hair on the plastic cups in the bathroom?” and “Can’t I tolerate anything for just one night?”

Unfortunately, there’s a pocket of hell just east of Chicago -at least for single female travelers with a spoiled, senior Labradoodle- which always has me choosing the same Motel 6 with a sticker price so questionable it’s a wonder I’m still alive.

Safety first.

On my return trip to Oregon, I pulled up to my (un)trusty Motel 6, wondering if it could possibly be any worse than the last time I’d laid my weary eyes upon it. Stepping out of my dusty Subaru, in two day old clothes, sporting unwashed hair and a formidable scowl beneath my wrinkled mask, I tried not to step too close to the patch of grass littered with cans, broken bottles, and cigarette butts. An overweight, middle-aged gentleman in a stained gray t-shirt caught my eye.

F*ck.

He was chain-smoking near the front door and grinned.

“Not much to do in this town is there?”

Double f*ck.

“Yeah, guess not,” I muttered, charging towards the entrance.

Later, as I filled my ice bucket -utterly shocked it wasn’t bearing a tattered “OUT OF ORDER” sign- I heard the same voice from behind. Stale cigarette stench hit my nostrils as he drawled,

“If you’re bored later, I’m down the hall.”

I darted back into my room without acknowledging him, wondering if it was smart to let him see which room I went into.

“Pretty sure I just got propositioned by a man who definitely goes by Bubba,” I texted to my girlfriends, detailing his advances. “Are these still the sweet nothings a lady of the night can expect?”

The kind of place where you’re afraid to let your stuff touch any surface. I found the penny on the bathroom floor and assumed it was the deposit from Bubba. (Note my $6 bubbly poured into a water bottle because that comment about the pubes on the bathroom cups was not hyperbole.)

~*~*~*~*~*~

Any lessons from the road you care to share?

~*~*~*~*~*~

humor

The World’s Worst Buffet: Another Dating Fail

DISCLAIMER: Names changed because we already know people I go out with once like to read this blog and leave comments six years later.

“Oh wow, someone else just recommended that book to me,” Carl smiled. “You know when you hear something twice in one week, you’ve got to pay attention!”

I grinned and nodded, sipping my can of sparkling wine. The gas fire pit cast a faint glow across our faces.

“It’s the book that got me into hiking!” I went on.

The conversation meandered from food to family to the outdoors, just as it had done the night before, on our first date.

“You guys, I’m so, so sorry to do this,” a head popped out of the tent behind us. It was my friend, Sara. “I can hear everything you’re saying; I’m so sorry. But it’s 1am and I can’t sleep.”

Photographic evidence that I actually went camping again after this experience.

“Oh my god,” I whispered back, mouth agape. “I had no idea! I’m so sorry! We’ll wrap things up right now.”

I glanced at Carl, mortified.

“I seriously thought it was like 11,” I grimaced. “Do you know how to turn this thing off?” I gestured towards the gas fire pit, which was fastened to a large propane tank.

“I think so,” he said, leaning his long, lanky frame forward to unscrew the tank.

I got up and turned off the twinkle lights that another friend had set up in the surrounding trees. Oh man, I have to pee. What is this goodbye gonna look like? I wanted Carl to kiss me, but not here, in the middle of the woods, with five friends’ tents within earshot, my bladder bursting.

“Thanks so much for inviting me to come by,” Carl said sweetly as we walked over to his car, our phone flashlights illuminating the path. “Let’s hang out again this week.”

We hugged, much less awkwardly than when he’d first arrived that night. On our first date, the evening before, we’d realized we were camping in the same location the following night. It felt like Fate, so we seized the opportunity to meet up again for dinner at my campsite. He was clearly nervous, walking into a group of five strangers – and a blonde chick he’d just met.

When I’d handed him a plate full of homemade food, I had noticed his hands were shaking.

I get it. Vegan food sounds scary – except when my friends and I are behind it. (Pictured here: one of my famous sandwiches complete with homemade muhammara. You can find the recipe in the cookbook I wrote. #crossovermarketing)

I hadn’t been on a date in over a year, and found his timidity endearing and comforting. In fact, my last blog post was about how I prefer the long game, and Carl certainly seemed like a long game kind of guy, letting me take the lead and not making any swift moves. The only downside was that we’d met on a dating app.

Somehow, in between these two blog posts, I found myself on Bumble. Okay. I strategically placed myself on said app in the hopes that I would virtually ‘bump into’ my current crush and present him with an easy way to ask me out.

“Because that’s the kind of s%@& that can happen in a small town.” -Boca Betty

Instead, I matched with Carl. His profile and photos were positive and sweet and stood out amongst the men holding dead fish, looking for a ‘swing’ partner, and/or living in a van.

And better yet, my other single girlfriends hadn’t already been out with him. #smalltownwin

By day three on Bumble, my crush no where in sight, I was about to throw in the towel when Carl sent a follow up message. I realized I couldn’t find a single good reason not to meet up with him.

“I hope this doesn’t seem too forward,” I wrote. “But I don’t think I’ll last much longer on this app; do you want to meet up for a drink tomorrow or Thursday?” We settled on Thursday, and our first date then quickly became our second.

Feeling confident that “First Date Selfie” might lead to “Second Date Smoochie”

“Oh my god, I felt so bad,” Sara said first thing in the morning, as we all sleepily emerged from our tents.

“Me too!” another friend, Rachel, chimed in. “I was trying so hard not to eavesdrop, Jules, and then I remembered I had ear plugs!”

“Are you kidding?” I laughed. “This is a dream come true! Witnesses and firsthand feedback on a date!”

“[My partner] Dan kept gripping my arm,” Sara laughed. “It was like listening to a soap opera. He thought Carl was going to invite you back to his tent!”

“So how are you feeling about him now?” Rachel asked. “What else did you talk about?”

“Oh I can tell you!” Sara said with a smile. “There was a long part about kitchen appliances.”

“Yeah, it was another titilating conversation,” I chuckled. “But I think he’s really cute.”

And I’m not just saying that because I could talk about this blender all. night. long.

“And he said he wants to see you this week,” Rachel’s fiance, Tim, added. “The fact that he specified ‘this week’ is a good sign.”

“He’s definitely into you. I can’t believe he stayed until 1am!” everyone concluded.

When I got home, I kicked myself for metaphorically sitting by the phone, twirling the phone cord, waiting for a boy to call. I’d been down this road so many times; it was impossible not to count the hours between dates and texts.

On Monday, two days after our campfire marathon, Carl texted.

“How’d the rest of your weekend go?”

We entered into a painstakingly slow back-and-forth over the next couple of days, each waiting hours before replying to the other. When is he going to ask me out for this week?!

I texted a few softballs his way and he let them crash to the ground. I tried again. In response to his sadness over summer ending, I wrote:

“So what needs to happen on Carl’s list before he can part ways with summer in peace? ;)”

“Not really sure,” he replied. “I don’t plan things out more than a week at a time. Maybe another good hike or two and another weekend of camping. Then bike riding in the fall is always amazing.”

Really? We’re going with that response, Carl?

I slapped my forehead. Good god, Carl. Help me help you. Since I’d already dated a Carl, I knew what I needed to do. I waited until the next day and took a deep breath before texting:

“I feel like you’re forgetting something important on this list… Like, I dunno, ‘hanging out with a hot blonde’?”

I included a couple of smirking emojis at the end. Less than an hour later, he replied.

“Well I would like to spend more time with you. Definitely good company to be around!”

I stared at my phone, wearing the same expression as when watching people in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Is that a bathing suit bottom or actual shorts? Before I had more than a moment to consider my reply, he sent another text.

“Although I should be upfront and say I’m not sure I feel a romantic connection between us. If being friends works for you, then great… if not I understand.”

Tears pricked my eyes and I closed them, feeling that old familiar nausea pool around my stomach. The One-Two Sucker Punch. I knew it well. I laid down in bed and let it sink in. How in the ever loving chipmunks did I -and five of my good friends- read this guy SO wrong?

I decided to share the news sooner rather than later. After unmatching him on Bumble and archiving his message thread so I didn’t have to see it in my text feed, I sent a screenshot of Carl’s final messages to several girlfriends.

“Oh thank god,” Sara wrote back. “Now I can finally say it. THAT GUY WAS SO BORING, JULES. That’s why I kept saying, ‘Yeah….but do YOU like HIM?'”

“I just told Tim and he was like, ‘Wait, HE said that to JULES?'” Rachel added.

Two days later, I deleted Bumble, not caring that I left several people hanging. I immediately felt re-centered and relieved. I can’t help but think that the gamification of dating, the endless carousel of two-dimensional profiles that we can dismiss with the flick of an index finger, created this entire experience – along with so many similar ones for so many people.

Thanks to technology, we treat dating like a crappy buffet, wading through one disappointing dish after another. We don’t stop and savor. We don’t wonder what’s behind each ingredient. And why would we? Every second there’s another tray wandering by, and we don’t even care that it’s turning our tastebuds numb.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Do you think dating apps are the devil’s work? Discuss.

*~*~*~*~

humor

Your Clutter is in My Way

“You just need to open yourself up more.”

“You’re too guarded.”

“You’ve gotta put yourself out there.”

Over the past few years, it’s fair to say I’ve heard it all when it comes to dating advice. The well-meaning words of friends and family members rattles around as I walk my dog, drive to the grocery store, and shave my legs.

Just kidding. I don’t shave my legs. #twohairysingles (Yachats, OR, June 2021)

After coming out of a 10+ year long marriage in 2014, I experimented with everything from “All the dates!” to “Imma go hide under a blanket, thank you very much!” I had married my first boyfriend, so the dating world was a shock to the system.

And not the good kind of shock. (Charles Schulz Museum, July 2021)

I started a cycle not unlike yo-yo dieting: Put self on dating app. Engage in series of ultimately disappointing experiences. Swear off dating. Repeat.

As an introvert with stage fright, dating -especially online dating- was torture. It felt like an endless series of performances that always left me anxious and drained, often making unhealthy decisions to cope with the stress. “There has GOT to be a better way,” I’d say to myself after each exhausting date, peeling off my too-tight jeans and scrubbing away my waterproof mascara.

“Oh, he’s cute, you need to give him a chance,” some friends would urge after I’d describe another lackluster date.

Have you met me? I’d always want to respond. Since when does a guy without a box spring or a hairbrush who waits two weeks to get in touch sound like someone I’d want to pursue? I’d then inevitably spiral. I’m a snob. Uptight. Prudish. Close-minded. And worst of all: Maybe I don’t deserve better.

Someone please pray for me, I’m about to go on another date. (Sonoma Botanical Garden, July 2021)

I’d watch my pretty, extroverted, single friends meet guy after guy, rebounding quickly from any letdowns. Maybe they’re right. Maybe I need to change. What would it be like to have a one-night stand? As each thought would pop up, my stomach would tighten.

By 2019, I’d quit my corporate job and moved 3,000 miles away to a new town, sight unseen. At 37, I had finally plucked up the courage to live a life that was uniquely my own. It was terrifying. Uncertain. Magnificent.

I tried dating in this new setting, only to meet similar results. By then, it had already occurred to me that the better part of my life had been spent following footsteps down a path I didn’t want to be on in the first place. I was making the same choices as everyone around me, overlooking one critical detail: I didn’t want anyone else’s life.

And that’s something to celebrate. (My cookbook launch party, Bend, OR, July 2021)

That’s why, when I hear even the kindest and most well-intentioned, “You need to open up [to dating/men] more,” my extremely sensitive self hears (and sometimes cries in public from hearing):

“You need to change.”

“You’re missing out on the best life has to offer because of the way you inherently are.”

“All of your life experience, self-reflection, and years of therapy isn’t enough for you to know what’s best for you.”

“You will never be whole without a romantic partner.”

Interestingly, the advice almost always comes from fellow singles. Married friends are far more likely to applaud my independent streak and passion/career focus. “There’s always time for relationships. Being part of a couple isn’t the be all, end all,” many of my married friends say.

Perhaps because I started young in the marriage department, I’m excited to fill my time with other things. After a vacation this month, I couldn’t wait to get back to work on my new business. Especially as an introvert, my energy is a very finite thing, and I’ve learned to carefully protect it.

There’s a season for everything, as they say. (Yachats, OR, June 2021)

When we protect ourselves in this way, others sometimes interpret it as a kind of shutting down. We retreat to a place known only to us, and our loved ones may not understand this sacred practice. I also think it scares people when we unapologetically go against the grain. Like quitting a stable job. Going vegan. Declaring that you genuinely enjoy being alone.

Boca Betty says, “Always remembah: Othah people’s advice has everything tuh do wit them and very little tuh do wit yous.”

Still, I often wonder if all of my conviction about singlehood is rooted in defensiveness and stubbornness. A fear of getting hurt (again). All fair points I’ve extensively mined, always returning to this notion that I should only take steps that lead to the results I uniquely desire.

The path I’m carving is full of face-to-face connection, pursuing passions, friendships, and shared laughter, and what may look like guardedness towards men or strangers is often just energy preservation. When it comes to dating, I’ve intentionally chosen a quieter path. I’ve chosen the long game. This is very different from saying, “I’m closed off to love.”

I prefer to think of my decision to put dating on a back burner as a kind of decluttering. Just like I can’t relax or think straight when my tables are piled high with junk, I can’t ground myself emotionally when I let too many other opinions or too many competing priorities stack up inside of me. When I feel myself wobble from the extra noise, I’m grateful for this blog as a way to stabilize my thoughts, standing both open and firm as I share my voice.

May you always find your path through the clutter,

~*~*~*~*~*~

How do you “declutter”? What has been the hardest advice to process?

~*~*~*~*~*~

humor

I Wouldn’t Go Back… Would You?

“How do you meet people here?” the baby-faced cashier asked, deftly punching keys on her register.

After spending a Kohl’s gift card on much-needed, post-quarantine clothes, the cashier and I had struck up a conversation about moving to Bend, Oregon – a common topic in a town full of transplants.

“I got really lucky,” I explained. “I had a few friends here who introduced me to a bunch of people as soon as I got here.”

“Wow, that is lucky,” she replied wistfully.

“But there are a bunch of great groups you can join!” I offered, rattling off some examples of how I’d met other people. “There are some really nice running groups here, even if you’re not a runner. Everyone hangs out afterwards for beer.”

“I guess I’ll have to wait a year then,” she laughed.

Realizing that she wasn’t yet legal drinking age, my heart melted. She could have been me at 20. Pale, tall, overweight, hopelessly sweet. I bet someone once told her she was “made for retail,” too.

18-year-old Jules dressed to (not) impress for her role as Retail Store Clerk of the Year at a Harry Potter book release party.

“It was so nice meeting you,” I smiled as I gathered my bag and headed into the high desert heat.

I thought about that cashier all night long. Her kindness and sincerity, loneliness, and what I imagined to be sky-high dreams. How she let me do most of the talking and showed genuine interest in and compassion for a complete stranger. When I was just a little younger than her, also working in retail, an older coworker -and soon to be best friend- took me under her wing and showed me the world’s wonders. A late bloomer, I was in my late teens and early 20s before I really started living.

22-year-old Jules marries the lead singer of a rock band. (True story. Although that outfit is all lies.)

Now, at 39, I so badly wanted to tell that sweet young woman at Kohl’s about the untold adventures she would surely have. The heartbreaks and “sex, drugs and rock and roll” and monotony and horrible jobs and great jobs and moves and upsizing and downsizing and new friends and lost friends and weight loss and weight gain and lessons learned and mistakes made and death and birth and epiphanies and ice cream pints and crying yourself to sleep.

I would tell her it gets better.

Even when it doesn’t.

I would tell her suddenly you’ll be almost 40 and still wonder (and care) if people like you and if your dream of your soulmate just came from a Disney movie and if this is -dear god- as good as your ass is ever gonna look and if that freckle got bigger overnight and is actually deadly skin cancer and if you go broke how bad would it really be to live in your parents’ basement and speaking of what on earth are you going to do when your parents are gone and at least you have your dog but oh f*ck he’s 11 and you’ve gotta come up with a plan and you’ve checked all the boxes and gotten all the credentials and kissed all the right butts only to find out.

There is no plan.

Why the f@%# didn’t anyone tell me there’s no plan?!

And yet.

I would tell her, “20 years ago, I doubted my sexiness, humor, intellect, and power even more than I do today. You’ll come to cling to the version of yourself who realizes that anyone worth knowing and anything worth doing embraces all of you – even the older, slightly saggier you.”

Sunset lighting: masking wrinkles since forever.

Nope. I wouldn’t go back to 20. …Would you?

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

humor

The First Damn Page

This is awful, this is awful, this is SO awful…

I adjusted my sports bra and sniffled. Everything hurt. And why was my nose running anyway?

Is this pavement getting HARDER?

I glanced at my watch. Oh, you’ve got to be f!%&@ kidding me. 0.67 miles?!

How did people do this? Why did people do this? Running had to be -positively no way around it abso-freaking-lutely- the worst possible idea since scorpion bowls.

But it seemed like such a good idea at the time…

It was 2014, and, newly divorced and influenced by a number of sporty friends, I’d decided to turn my daily walks into daily jogs. I’d never run more than a mile, and had nothing charitable to say about the “sport.” Psh. Sport. Masochism at its finest.

Despite my entire body screaming at me to come to my senses, I trudged onward. After I passed mile one and closed in on mile two, the strangest, most miraculous, most unexpected thing happened.

It. Stopped. Hurting.

I nearly keeled over from the shock of NOT WANTING TO KEEL OVER. Is this… can this… is this how people do this?!

I stand, er, lie corrected.

Within a few days, I went from never having run more than a mile to running six. In a row. And then a half marathon six weeks after that. And then a full marathon a few months later. I had cracked the code. I had done the thing that only DOING THE THING can show you:

The first mile is the hardest.

Okay so also [cycling] mile 100 is the hardest.

So is the first time you say to someone, “I don’t think this is working out.”

So is the first day on a new job when everyone is using lingo and technology that flies over your head.

So is the first moment you leave the known for the unknown.

In my experience, if I can get past the starting line, I’ve already won the race.

I’ve been thinking a lot about starts and finishes because springtime is so full of contrast, especially in Bend, Oregon. One minute you’re pulling up the zipper on your “puffy” coat (mandatory clothing in the Pacific Northwest), the next you’re sunning your shoulders on a local trail.

Bright, beautiful wildflowers begin to pop up in the most unexpected, seemingly inhospitable places – like between lava rock or thick sand. And even though it happens every year, springtime always feels like something brand new. A birth, rather than a rebirth.

Am I the rock or the flower? OR AM I BOTH? –Deep Thoughts with Go Jules Go

During the long, cold, fallow winter, it’s nearly impossible to remember that in a few months’ time, your neighbor will once again pull out the grill every night, the sound of squeaky wheels on concrete wafting through your open window.

During the lowest lows of heartache, job uncertainty, and loss, you feel like you’ll never begin again. Or perhaps it’s that long-held dream -the kind you’ve had for so long you don’t know who you’d be without it- whose fulfillment seems more unattainable with every passing day.

I’ve wanted to write a book for as long as I can remember. In fact, according to an article in the New York Times, 81% of Americans want to write a book. And almost no one does.

Why?

It’s that first damn page.

Sadly, so many times we never get to mile two and learn this ultimate life hack. Because the best part? Tackling the first mile of any race makes all the other “first miles” easier, too.¬†

Never in a million years did I envision my first published book being a cookbook. Let alone one that I (co) wrote, photographed, designed, and marketed – despite having zero expertise in any one of those categories.

It’s the hardest project I’ve ever undertaken. Every element involved a first step – something I’d never done before. I doubted myself in almost every moment.

Except when I asked these cuties to be on the cover. Zero doubts there.

Now that copies are about to land in people’s hands, and I experienced the unadulterated horror of seeing that my first news interview added 40 pounds and involved me eating my hair on air in a windy park for 60 seconds (and prompted a whole slew of, er, uncharitable comments from meat-loving locals), I’m battling another first: Putting myself out there – really, really out there. Which of course involves finding the confidence to keep saying, “I made this, it’s good, and I’m proud of it.” Which of course means saying, “I’m worthy.”

Still working on that one.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Thank you so much to everyone who has supported BEEFLESS CAKES at every stage. You’ve kept me from setting up permanent residence under a blanket. I love you!

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

humor

The Must Be Nices

It was another bright, sunny day in Bend, Oregon as I cruised down the main drag on my way home after a run. I passed the local elementary school and saw a dozen parents standing outside. I glanced at the clock: 2:30pm.

I came to a slow stop as a man leisurely crossed the street in front of me. Every parent was decked out in expensive, athletic-inspired clothing, and looked about 40 or older. They were all tall, thin, and their skin glowed. Any one of them could have graced the cover of I Ski a Lot, Have a $2,000 Skin Care Routine, and Never Had to Work a Crappy Job and Put My Kids in After School Care magazine.

“Wheeeee! Our parents funded our ‘whimsical taco holder’ start-up and it made millions – both of which we didn’t need in the first place!” (Photo by Eirik Uhlen on Unsplash)

“Must be nice,” I thought. Gah! No!

I stopped my inner monologue dead in its tracks. I had just had a discussion with a friend about the “Must Be Nices.” Those friends or family members who just can’t bear to celebrate other people’s successes. That neighbor or coworker who takes one look at the surface of someone else’s life and assumes that every aspect of it is easy breezy.

Oh really, Claire? Your boyfriend just flew you to Italy so you could stage this photo for InstaChat? (Photo by Kate Hliznitsova on Unsplash)

We all know that person, and we’ve all been that person.

WOW, Chad. I’M SO HAPPY FOR YOU. (As seen on Monday at my local market.)

A few weeks later, once again on the way to my go-to running spot, I pulled up to a red light and noticed a man standing on the corner, holding a cardboard sign:

NEED WORK / FOOD / MONEY.

I had seen him before, and many other men holding similar signs, on that same corner. Over the past year, this sight had become more and more commonplace all over town. I felt a pang of shame and guilt every time I drove by or avoided eye contact.

La-la-la, if I can’t see it, it doesn’t exist.

I used to wonder why on earth people would stand on street corners all day when surely there were better, safer methods and resources available. In the past, I’d felt fear, and even resentment, when passing by someone holding a sign asking for help. Why should I have to play by the rules and slog away in Cubicle City just to give my money away to someone who didn’t earn it?

After my jog, I popped into Whole Foods. When I pulled away, a woman was sitting in the grass near the exit, holding a sign that read, “Every bit helps.” I suddenly remembered I was carrying cash – a rarity when I’m out running. I pulled over and quickly jumped out, praying I wouldn’t get rear ended for stopping in such an awkward spot. I handed her what money I had.

Over the next two weeks, I couldn’t get her face out of my mind. Why didn’t I do that more often?

I mean we can’t take it with us.

Why was it so easy to focus on what I lacked instead of what I had? No matter what my circumstances, didn’t I have the power (and arguably, responsibility) to create a more just world through positive thoughts and actions? “A rising tide lifts all boats,” as they say.

In spiritual terms, as in tithing, I’ve often read that benevolent acts are returned tenfold. For every hug, encouraging word, and generous gesture you put out in the world, you get it back times ten.

While I’d hate for that to be my motivation, where else can you get that kind of return on investment?

After I handed the woman outside of Whole Foods money, we smiled at each other. She looked right into my eyes, and with more warmth and sincerity than I can muster when the line at Starbucks is too long, she said,

“May God bless you tenfold.”

What she didn’t say?

“Must be nice.”

humor

Before 40

Last week, I turned 39. So it might seem strange that I’m already thinking about my next birthday.

When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to age out of childhood. I was always more comfortable around adults, so naturally, I wanted to be one. I fantasized about being one of those cool older women, with gorgeous gray hair, rock climbing into my 60s, kicking ass and taking names.

Never mind that I’m terrified of heights and have never rock climbed a day in my life. IT’S MY FANTASY, OKAY?! (Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash)

What I didn’t anticipate was that I’d start having a midlife crisis in my 20s. By 30, my master plan of aging gracefully came to a screeching halt. I was freaking. The. Freak. Out.

What am I doing with my life? What’s the point of it all? What if I never figured “it” out?

The crisis, in many ways, continues to this day. Perhaps suggesting we have more of an existential, versus midlife, one on our hands. This can’t be it. This can’t be all there is. Accumulating baggage and trying to unload it. Accumulating more baggage, attempting to unload it. Over, and over, and over. An endless series of life lessons, distilled into messages that read like a crappy, floral-covered mug.

Love is the answer. Live in the moment. Breathe.

My 39th birthday was filled to the brim with love and celebration. It always feels deeply humbling and bittersweet to be on the receiving end of so much kindness. Face in the sunshine, puffy white clouds, heart full – full of gratitude, but also the knowing that every puffy white cloud casts a shadow. Darkness and light. Hope and despair. Two sides of the same coin, forced to exist together to hold any value.

And maybe that’s at the root of all of our crises. The idea that there’s anything to hold onto. A certain person. A certain age. A certain weight. A certain feeling. A certain bank balance. A certain outcome. In the quest for certainty, we miss out on so much.

So over the next 11 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days, as I wind my way towards my biggest milestone birthday yet, I’m going to try something different. I’m NOT going to sit here and type out a list of all of the things I want to make happen before I turn 40, which was my original plan.

I’ve already checked countless boxes. Hiked/run/biked all the miles. Surpassed my own To Do lists. If any of that held the Key to Existence, Oprah would have interviewed me by now.

Annnnd still waiting.

The coming year will be as likely filled with promise as it is with heartache. There will be picture perfect moments with people who raise my spirits, and lonely nights with a bottle of wine that whispers, “You’re unlovable.” Suns will set and rise, and laughter will come and go, and instead of trying to hold onto any of it, this year, I’m just going to ride the waves.

F&@*. That sounds like a floral-covered mug.
humor

I Lasted 48 Hours on Tinder

“We met on Tinder!”

“…And now we’re engaged!”

“It’s really not just a hook-up app anymore.”

In recent years, I’d heard testimonials trumpeting Tinder as, “No Longer the One Night Stand Dating App You Used to Love to Hate.” Nevertheless, given that I wasn’t a big fan of dating apps (or, let’s be honest, dating), I’d steered clear.

Two years ago, when I moved to Oregon from New Jersey, I’d been single for two years. Free from marriage, Corporate America, and east coast humidity, I decided it was time to fire up Bumble (a dating app similar to Tinder in its swiping, but where only women have the power to send the first message). Let’s see if the scene is any different now that I live 3,000 miles away from my hometown.

Arguably, it was far worse in my new, small town (as the story linked above will prove). In New Jersey, the most densely populated state in the U.S., you could go weeks without bumping into a familiar face. The likelihood of running into an ex or bad first date in Bend, Oregon, however: 113%. (Give or take.)

I quickly gave up and resumed my usual lifestyle: Friends, food, fur babies.

If only I could date him. Side note: My fur baby is famous now.

There was always the nagging thought that perhaps I’d “given up” versus consciously deciding to bow out of the dating scene.

“You’ve gotta put yourself out there!”

“It takes time to meet the right person.”

“Give him a chance!”

Despite honing my gut instinct over the past 38 years, the din of the masses still got to me. Maybe “they” all knew something I didn’t. Maybe everything I thought was right for me was just a way of protecting myself from getting hurt. Maybe I was going to DIE ALONE OH MY GOD I DON’T WANT TO DIE ALONE.

And that’s how I got sucked in -AGAIN- to downloading a dating app on my phone last week. This time, I bit the bullet and chose the infamous Tinder. I swiped right, I swiped left, and I periodically put down my phone to hide under a blanket.

As matches and messages trickled in, my heart raced. Not in the good way. More in the clammy, “it puts the lotion in the basket,” low-level dread kind of way. Okay, Jules. Maybe you’re just talking yourself out of a good thing. Maybe you need to just get a post-COVID date out of the way. Break the seal.

I fired back a couple of overly clever replies to two men. Ugh. No. I can’t do this! I don’t want to meet any of these people! Who knows who they really are?!

I’d been on enough online dates to know that, no matter how many photos and phone calls you exchange before the first meeting, you’re still going on a blind date. And does anyone really want to go on an endless series of blind dates?

NO. BECAUSE IT’S WORSE THAN SYPHILIS. Or so I’ve heard. From a friend.

Let me put it this way. The best online date pales in comparison to Netflix and pasta. And involves far more prep time.

Do you think this just happens?!

Within 48 hours, and long before I could exchange more than two short messages with anyone, I deleted my Tinder account. I briefly entertained the fantasy that some of my matches fell to their knees, shaking their fists at the heavens, crying, “WHERE DID SHE GO? WHERE?!?!?!”

A few nights later, I shared drinks with a couple of girlfriends, and the conversation turned to our exes.

“I just got this random Facebook message from my ex’s new girlfriend. Look.”

She showed us her phone, which displayed a long string of messages: “I hope you don’t mind me reaching out. I know you dated [him] a while ago and I just have to know… did you experience anything like this? He’s gotten really emotionally and verbally abusive, accusing me of cheating and calling me all of these names and I just don’t know what to do.”

My friend was too afraid to say much in response for fear that this ex had created a fake account and was in fact the one messaging her. “Oh my god he’s been doing that to me!” the new girlfriend wrote. “Creating fake accounts…stalking me…”

“I still fear for my life from one of my exes,” I chimed in. “Everyone knows who to arrest if I go missing.”

Hint: It’s not Uncle Jesse. Even though I know he’s still plotting his revenge after this haircut.

“Yes!” my friend exclaimed. “Every woman I’ve talked to has a story like this!”

A familiar feeling rose in my chest. A mix of nausea, compassion, and curiosity. All of the “scary ex” stories always made me think, “What are we [as a society] doing wrong? This can’t be the result of testosterone overload. If our male counterparts could express hurt, sadness, and fear freely, would any of this happen?”

The very next morning, I woke up to a ‘New Blog Comment’ alert. Someone from Match.com, with whom I went on one date six years ago, had commented on a blog post from 2015. I had written a post about our first (and only) date and… apparently it didn’t land well with him.

He also took the time to create a fake email address and website to leave this comment.

I scratched my head. How did he even FIND this? I don’t think I ever mentioned that I had a blog, I always change or omit names, and I try REALLY hard not to say anything seemingly cruel… In fact, I had intentionally framed the post as, “This bizarre thing happened on a first date: what would you do to handle it?” to avoid coming across like I was maligning the man.

(In a nutshell: After our first date, this fella started sending me a cappella karaoke clips he’d recorded on his phone, and some other things I wasn’t quite sure how to react to, like a LinkedIn connection request and an article he’d written many years earlier [which he copied and pasted, in its entirety, into a single text message].)

After rereading the story several times, I definitively concluded that the post was funny – and harmless. Also, half the reason I’ve suffered through dating is for the stories.

PLEASE DON’T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME.

Still, I cringed. I’m sure it can’t be fun to stumble on a blog post about you, even if it’s innocuous (…and six years old). More than that, though, I felt that same swirling concern. Why? Why do we exist in a world where hurt and pain (or simply bruised egos) become violence, cruelty, stalking, and aggression?

Here’s a situation where I spent a few hours with someone -a perfect stranger- six years ago, never saw him again, and now I feel unsafe. Perhaps the most disturbing part is that my inner monologue shouts, “Well. You blogged about him. YOU’RE ASKING FOR IT.”

Sigh. If anyone wants a pasta and Season 4 “Breaking Bad” binge, hit me up.

Ah. That’s more like it.

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I almost don’t want to ask this, but: Any similar stories or concerns you’d like to share? Or, what do you think we can each do to create a safer, kinder world?

~*~*~*~*~

humor

A Working Issue

I promise this is the last in an unplanned, overly contemplative series (that began with, “My Mane Issue,” followed by, “A Weighty Issue“). Next week: Puppies and Pop-Tarts!

“Are you looking for jobs?”

“Hey, I know someone who’s hiring.”

“You could always do consulting.”

“Have you heard about Fiverr?”

Over the past two years, since quitting my corporate job, well-intentioned and wonderful people have asked all of the questions and suggested all of the resources you might expect if you were out of work.

I don’t mind one bit. In fact, quite the opposite. Having friends and family who care enough to take an interest in my life, and want to help me in any way, fills me with humility and joy.

Also a lot of them give really good presents so I don’t want to piss them off.

What’s interesting to me, though, are the underlying, often subconscious beliefs we all seem to hold about working and jobs in general. They run the gamut from, “work to live” to “find your passion and turn it into a living” to “you must work until you’re 65 and then you can relax and enjoy life.”

After quitting my New Jersey-based corporate job two years ago, I hiked, explored, and saw friends every day. Oh, and moved across the country.

HANG ON. YOU’RE NOT 65. BACK TO WORK!

As the months ticked by and I failed to sign a contract committing myself to another Inc. or S-Corp, I could almost hear the wheels in people’s minds turning. What is she going to do? How much money did she save? Wow, that would make me so nervous

Every time I felt like my inner balance was restored, my tank overflowing, I’d pull up a job search engine on my laptop. Project manager… Editor… Event planner… Work from home…

I was 37 years old. Eventually my hard-earned savings would run out. “It’s time to get serious,” I’d think. In fact, I even took a low-paying job at a nonprofit for a few weeks before pulling the plug. Just dipping a toe back into the 9-to-5 world made me feel suicidal (…I wish I was exaggerating about that).

Empty.

Alone.

Frustrated.

Worthless.

Lost.

Trapped.

One of my life’s central themes was playing out in a big way: Do What Everyone Else is Doing and Endlessly Spiral vs. F@$% THAT NOISE, GURRRRRRL!!!!!!!! THAT SHIZ IS CRAYYYYYY. PEACE. OUT.

What can I say? I like to shake things up. (Champagne excluded.)

Half the time, I was convinced I was stuck in an adolescent stage of development. Dramatic. Self-absorbed. Impulsive. Rebellious. Why was working for someone else SO hard? “Something’s wrong with me!” The other half of the time, I was sure I was a brave crusader. A fearless path forger. “You don’t fit into that box ’cause that box is bullshirt, friend!”

My dad once said I’m a Phoebe (a la “Friends”). I have no idea what he’s talking about.

I was yet again doing the Comfort Zone Dance; the one with all the fancy footwork so you forget that nothing incredible ever actually happens there.

And as we all know, bouncing between shoulds and coulds is exhausting.

When I was just two years old, I would regularly go full-on Beyonc√©, changing my clothes 4-6+ times a day. “You’d pull every outfit from the bottom drawer of your dresser,” my mom, Babs, often recounted. “It was impossible to stop you.”

I’m headed for the bottom drawer and JUST TRY AND STOP ME.

A few years later, in first grade, I heard another student talk about his mom laying out his clothes for him.

WHAT?! I thought. You let someone else pick out your clothes?!

I stood on the blacktop while we waited for the bell to ring, utterly horrified. It never even occurred to me that other kids wouldn’t choose their own outfits, too. That was also the year I learned about ocean conversation and started paying attention to what I threw in the garbage. The following year, when kids ganged up on one poor soul for being “different,” I stepped in and shouted, “How would YOU like it?”

Man. I’m telling you. Seven-year-old Jules was a rockstar. And maybe a little bit of a brat.

I DEFINITELY wasn’t this.

By the time I was 17, I had gotten my GED, worked full-time, and had started taking college classes, not really sure I wanted to pursue a full degree. When I committed to a Bachelor’s in creative writing, I found a school that let me (mostly) design my own curriculum and worked my butt off.

Speaking of butts. They let me graduate, and now sometimes I even put my pants on the right way!

It’s taken until just this past year to recognize -let alone embrace- that all of those breadcrumbs trickle down the same path. The path the says: You’re hardwired to go your own way. You should have never […gotten married or…] worked for anyone else.

I can’t tether myself to anyone else’s vision, expectations, or rules and expect to thrive.

It isn’t laziness. Now that I work for myself, I work harder than ever. It isn’t over-confidence. I swirl in a familiar cloud of self-doubt roughly 17,633 times a day. And it isn’t selfish. All I want to do in this life is protect other life.

And it’s okay if my rollercoaster existence makes people nervous. Uncomfortable. Confused. Threatened. Worried.

In fact, don’t tell anyone, but I’m pretty sure that’s why I’m here.

Buckle up, y’all.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

How have you found your way in the world? (Yes. We ask simple questions here at Go Jules Go.)

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