A Letter to all my Fellow Dating Introverts

My Sweet Introverted Plums,

Rumor has it that you’re dating, or at least contemplating dating, and either way I want you to know I’m proud of you. This is big! And exciting! And yes, nerve wracking! But no matter where your brain is at right now, if this is something you want to do, then there is nothing that should stand in your way — least of all your introversion and social anxiety.

Late last year I decided to give online dating a go for the first time. When I originally moved to New York City back in 2015 I was fresh off a break-up and drawn to the idea of getting to know my single self. I did yoga, hogged all the cat cuddles, dedicated lots and lots of time to my friendships, took myself on dates, spent Sunday afternoons reading and Saturday nights dancing, solo traveled around the US, spent hundreds of hours writing, and explored the potential of my career (can you call being a YouTube Trends Specialist a career? Probably a question for another post). I would ask a boy on a date every now and again, but primarily, I spent this time enjoying my own company and building a colorful life I am deeply proud of.

After years of not pursuing dating with any consistency or seriousness, I decided last winter I wanted to throw my hat into the ring and signed up for Hinge (and promptly deleted it, and then signed up again with more courage).

When I say I felt ready to try dating, what I really should say is that my heart felt ready to try dating while my brain was an anxious mess. In the beginning, I would get nervous 24 hours before a date so by the time I was walking to the pub or coffee shop I was so sweaty and shaky I couldn’t even think straight.

I remember distinctly the morning before my first ever online date. I was so overwhelmed by the idea of meeting this new guy I started crying while putting on my shoes to go for a walk. Rationally I knew there was little at stake here, but my social anxiety was running the show and had convinced me that this was a make-it-or-break-it moment of my life (it wasn’t at all). Seated on the floor of my hallway I Googled “Dating as an introverted” hoping to find the perfect pep talk to ease my anxiety.

It isn’t that I don’t like meeting new people. I love talking to new people! But at the same time, I also am an introvert whose nerves around new groups or walking into new spaces alone can feel draining and disorienting. What if I don’t like them and I have to let them down? What if my nerves make me say something really odd and the entire date quickly dwells into something awkward and uncomfortable? What if I really like them and they don’t like me? What if I don’t recognize them when they walk in? Or what if I forget what they look like in-between the first and second date? What if I’m not interesting or they talk the whole time or they don’t talk at all?

My Google search pulled up a few random articles from 2012, but in reading them, they felt more like a shrug than a pep talk. Now, nine months later and still going on dates, I’ve found myself drawn back to this idea of being a “dating introvert” and in a way, hope that this notes can be the hug I was originally looking for for someone else.

So my sweet introverted plums (who may or may not also have some social anxiety), you’re not alone in how you’re feeling. You’re not alone in your anxiety and your overthinking and your nervousness. You show up however you are — perhaps sweaty and flustered — and stand confident in the fact that you put yourself out there even though it overwhelmed you. That alone makes you amazing.

There is nothing riding on this date beyond you feeling respected and enjoying your time. You don’t have to know all the big answers in this moment, you just have to answer one: Would you enjoy seeing this person again?

Throughout these last nine months of dating I’ve come to understand that I am worthwhile just as I am. And so are you. We don’t need to wait until “the perfect moment” or until we are the most perfect version of ourselves to date. I know, it’s incredibly vulnerable to meet someone new when you’re in the thick of your life. Perhaps it’s been a bad week or you’re feeling low about your look that day or you’re stressed about finances, and the idea of allowing someone to see that side of you — especially someone you’re romantically interested in — why would we do that?

The answer is simple: Because 99% of your life is going to be spent as this imperfect, growing version of yourself and that’s amazing. The person you are right now, the one putting themselves out there, is so much better than that perfect version of yourself that lives in your head because this version is real. They are worthwhile and they are brave. I can’t even tell you how worthwhile you are because it’s too big of a feeling for my tiny words to hold. Your introverted ways are not a negative, they make you thoughtful and emotionally intelligent and also mean you’ve spent enough time with yourself to know what serves you and what doesn’t. Value that, trust that, and instead of approaching your nervousness and anxiety with frustration, accept it as part of your process.

It will also get easier with time. The first couple dates are the absolute hardest. You’ll make a lot of mistakes and say awkward, heartfelt things (like “Your face is so symmetrical!”) and wish you had said some bigger thoughts on your mind. Sometimes you might talk too much or too little, and sometimes the dates will go off with a bang of chemistry and sometimes they’ll sizzle into a polite goodbye and a see you around. There is no “right” way to date, just the right way for you to date so give yourself the space to figure out what that is.

And when you can, take a deep breath, throw on your favorite accessories and try and enjoy being present within this date, and along the way, you might even begin to enjoy all the little moments of magic that a good first date can hold: The heart flutters, the maybe-they’ll-kiss-me-maybe-they-won’t feeling, finding commonalities, trying a new spot in the city, deep belly laughs, the things you’ll gossip about with your friends when you call them on your walk.

Remember, your weirdness is your superpower and anyone who doesn’t make you feel that way isn’t worth your precious introverted time. Some dates will end in cordial farewells, some in tears, some in friendship, and some might even take you by surprise and a first date will turn into many more. But the thing you should be most proud of is that you were open to all of it. So go forth and date, you’ve got this and if you need an extra pep talk, I’ll be right here to cheer you on.

Sending you all the love,

Me

Short-Term Goals, Are They the Key to … Everything?

There is something magical about watching New York City wake up in the morning. She does it slowly and then all at once, stretching with the sunrise before delivering a rush of traffic throughout the city.

On one of those rare mornings when I haven’t hit the snooze button into the double digits (or I’m very jetlagged and my body thinks 5am is actually 10am), I like to let me feet wander down to the water, and if I’m feeling really ambitious, across the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s perhaps the only time you’re not going to be dodging Instagram influencers or tourists taking Christmas card photos, and for just an hour, it feels like it’s just me and my thoughts and the city.

Normally these aren’t very earth shattering thoughts. Should I repaint my entire apartment yellow or split it up and make the hallway and kitchen white? Am I actually into Birkenstocks and should I buy the copper ones? Where do people go on dates in New York City? Is sitting drinking tea at a cafe and reading a date?

But the other day, like a flash of lightening from the sky, I had a thought that shook my tiny Brooklyn world: I NEVER set short-term goals. Like, ever.

Now you might be asking yourself, Carly, good lord, you’ve talked about to do lists and goals in every article on this blog. Actually you’ve talked about goals for the better part of your lifetime. That’s exactly right, I love setting goals! Writing goals, hobby goals, life goals, physical goals — if you can put a goal on it, I will that. And while my desk is covered with post it notes documenting all the long-term projects and big, grandiose ideas I want to accomplish, I have never even thought to set smaller goals that would point me in the right direction.

Wait, has everyone known about this the entire time? This realization made me feel a bit like that guy we all know, the one who waited to finish the Harry Potter series ten years after the last one was released and finally shows up all ready to talk about it at your 4th of July party and everyone’s like, “Damn it Steve, we already know Fred Weasley dies, thanks for bringing up that painful memory AGAIN.”

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Slow Down You Crazy Child

You know what’s funny but also not super funny at the same time? How bloody hard it is to relax, or more precisely, how hard it is to sit down and do nothing. I dream about it loads while my brain is whirling around like an Addams Family pinball machine and yet, when I finally find myself on the couch with an open afternoon spreading out ahead of me, I panic.

I panic because there is always more items to check off on the to do list, because it feels so good to be productive and moving towards a goal, and because — which I cringe to admit — taking time for myself often registers in my brain as being undeserved, selfish, or lazy.

I first developed this productivity idealization in college after feeling such pride at being known as the girl who could do everything at once. A lack of sleep, an unhealthy amount of anxiety due to stress, sacrificing time with loved ones — this felt like the price one needed to pay in order to make their dreams into a reality and every time I reached a new goal, I was onto the next without taking any time to sit down and appreciate what I was actually creating.

This was all going swimmingly (*heavy sarcasm*) until last summer when I hit a wall. Or as blogger Amber Burns put it in her recent newsletter, “I didn’t break up with hustle culture, it dumped me, HARD.”

This January the New York Times published a feature titled, “Why are Young People Pretending to Love Work?” which was a followup to BuzzFeed’s viral op-ed essay, “How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation.” In both articles, the writers address the growing dangers of “hustle culture” for glamorizing unhealthy work-life balance among millennials, many who have taken on this collective mindset of “work hard, play hard, do everything, you’ll sleep when you’re dead.”

I have definitely fallen into this hustle culture trap, especially with freelance work, where your success is based off how much or little you’re putting in. But what I didn’t realize until I hit my wall was how much I was sacrificing along the way. Sleep, mental health, physical health, time with loved ones, the ability to be spontaneous, the ability to see what things were/weren’t actually working in my life, and just a general enjoyment of the little things in life — the things whose value aren’t related to furthering my goals but simply for making me happy.

This past year I’ve been working on overhauling my knee jerk reaction to overplan and overcommit in the name of the “hustle” (literally just rolled my eyes so hard at my own use of the word “hustle”). I hate to admit it, but it’s a hard habit to undo! At least once a week I catch myself stressing about all the things I’m trying to balance at any given moment. How do I keep up with friends outside and inside of NYC AND work on my long-term work projects AND enjoy my time of creativity AND carve out time for working out AND be there for my family 2000 miles away AND still have time for myself?

The answer I learned after a particularly rough week is that I can’t do everything at once and that’s okay. It’s okay to put some tasks to the side, it’s okay to unplug, and more than anything, it’s okay to sit on the couch and do nothing. Because what matters even more than the external accomplishments around me are all the things happening inside my overzealous, passionate, ever-changing mind and heart.

^^ Favorite Billy Joel song that I listen to on repeat when the stress sets in. ^^

This is all easier said than done and this past month I’ve been doing a bit of a life revamp, or a mental decluttering if you will. This means I’ve been slowing down and prioritizing self-care over everything else, which is hard! Choosing to go on a run, or sit and read, instead of driving myself crazy over a pitch letter has felt like I’m reseting my mental code. But this time around, this mental decluttering has truly allowed me to re-engage with productivity in a more focused and intentional way — which feels like a breathe of fresh air. Now I set timers for how long I’m going to work on something each day, I don’t try and do 18 things in my two free hours after work, and in general, I feel more on my own team. It’s a work in progress but it feels good to be doing it slowly but surely.

So if you’re in the same boat, consider this my permission slip to you to slow down you crazy child, and do something just for the joy of it today. All the chores will still be there after you take 30 minutes to turn off your phone and paint your nails but your mindset will have shifted into an entirely different space. You can still be ambitious and passionate and yes, productive, while also having a healthy, balanced life. This is not something you have to earn, but something you inherently deserve.

So best wishes my recovering over-productive friends, you are worth all of your dreams coming true as well as the time to sit and enjoy the hell out of life in the most unproductive, spontaneous, adventurous, relaxing ways.

To be honest, I think this might have been my own permission slip as well.

Must Be Love on the Brain: The Chemistry of Crushes

Looking into my crush’s cinnamon brown eyes, I suddenly realized he had asked me a question, a question which I had not heard because I was so engrossed in the symmetry of his face.

I had two options here: I could either assume the identity of a rational human being and ask him to repeat himself OR I could attempt to outrun the blush heading north from the base of my neck and just say any answer that came to mind. Caught in the eye of a dopamine tornado, I chose the later option hoping that my crush had asked what was holding up the salad line. He had not and what started as just an awkward silence quickly turned into a confused awkward silence broken up occasionally by a lunch order.

I wish I could tell you this was an isolated incident. That outside of this one crush on a California boy, who at the time had been assigned the desk next to me, I was the Lady Casanova of crushes, just collecting heart eye emojis with my continuous talk of consent and graphic novels. But the truth is, I don’t crush crushes, crushes crush me.

I still remember my first crush: Justin Fishman, kindergarten. Everyday I would attempt to sneak closer to his assigned seat on the show-and-tell rug only to be deterred by the exasperated questioning of my teacher. I learned quickly that a Fishman and a Lanning would never work due to the long distance imposed by an alphabetic roll call. 

Later there was Sammy Maxwell, the boy who asked me to the sixth grade dance. There was Aaron Lee, the red headed boy with the bright blue shoes, and Richie the tuba player who I wrote love letters to in high school. There was my freshman dorm mate who’d never been kissed, the writer-turned-gamer in my English seminar with surprisingly broad shoulders, and the friend-of-a-friend obsessed with Groupon. There was the guy whose voice sounded similar to Snuggles the Bear and the former rugby player; the musician who after our first date I blurted out, “Can I put my face on your face?” and later, the coworker who looked like Daniel Dae Kim — to name just a few. 

Over the years, my crushes have been diverse in their interests and backgrounds, but unified in their effect, turning me from a semi-stable human being into a puddle of goo. Even at 29, with two IRA accounts and numerous long term relationships under my belt, I still find myself barely more equipped to handle a crush than my braces-clad 7th grade self. 

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29: The Year of More

To give you an accurate picture of where my brain is at right now, I’ve been waking up every day for the past week wide awake at 3:30am thanks to jet lag. And what I’ve learned during those especially early mornings (besides the fact that this trip to China was totally worth all the sleepiness) is that there is nothing really like Marie Kondo-ing your entire apartment before the sun rises. Sure I almost fell asleep standing at the cross walk yesterday but at least my closet is now organized by color.

These past two weeks traveling around China have been some of the most memorable of my life and while I can’t wait to share all 1493 photos with you, tales of the trip will be coming in another post because today we’re talking about BIRTH-DAYS. Well, not all birthdays, let’s not be crazy. Today we’re talking specifically about my birthday because another turn around the sun always leads to me asking some big life questions like, “Why do people like having birds for pets?” and “What would Harry Potter’s therapy sessions be like?”

On the day of my actual birthday my family and I were attempting to hold our own within the  massive crowds surrounding the Terracotta Army when my mum asked me what my resolution was for my 29th year around the sun. Now, if there is anything that makes my heart beat out of my chest in a flurry of happiness, it’s a good list — bonus points if it’s a list of resolutions!

Surrounded that day by 2,000 years of history and tradition, I assumed I’d be hit with something really profound to guide my new year. But just like reaching the top of the Great Wall of China and comically finding a man in a white tank top sitting under an umbrella with a megaphone selling ice cold beer, this year I decided that instead of letting my perfectionist tendencies run rampant, I was going to keep it simple. This year my mantra is: More.

Hear me out.

Like many people — which may or may not include yourself — I naturally navigate my life using a less mindset. I need to spend less, I need to stress less, I need to be on my phone less. I want to procrastinate less, spend less time in the office, be less in my own way about writing and working out and traveling. On most days I tend to focus solely on the things I am not, or the things I’ve yet to accomplish, or habits I’d like to break, which means my waking hours contain a lot of self criticism in the hopes of self improvement. It also means I rarely appreciate who I am in the present moment and I’m sick of it people!

There is a balance here I’m hoping to achieve between appreciating the present and striving forward. And if any zodiac sign can try and figure out this contradiction, hopefully it’s the Geminis. So in celebration of turning another year older, here are the 29 things I want more of this year.

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The “Perfect Moment” Myth

^^ Saw this shared by Curly Girl Designs this morning and it felt like a sign to sit down and finally write this post. ^^

The idea of opening this blog started rattling around in my head about three months ago. Last year I made the decision to close down my longtime blog the Curious Case after an experience pushed me to reconsider the way I was sharing my life online. Once the dust had settled and I’d gotten back on my feet, I began to realize how much I missed having a corner of the internet to share my ideas and experiences upon — both the profound and my arguments that mariachi bands make everything better. But the more I got excited to start this, the more I found myself dragging my feet to get the work done.

Before I could possibly write, I’d think to myself, first I needed to clean my desk which would then turn into the entire apartment. I’d search Instagram and YouTube for “inspiration” and an hour later lament the fact that it was 11pm and I had nothing on the page. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to turn this idea into a reality, but it just wasn’t “the perfect time” I’d tell myself. Once I had organized all my spices, called every single family member, and planted a garden –essentially all the easy stuff on my to do list– then I’d be primed to devote all my energy to writing. Finally, after months of dragging my feet, I realized that I needed to reconcile my idea of “the perfect moment” if I was ever going to get this blog (and the countless lists of other passion projects) off the ground.

I often catch myself in the midst of a self-imposed “perfect moment” paradox. It’s not the perfect time to go to yoga because the house isn’t clean. It isn’t the right time to launch this blog because there aren’t enough blog posts on it. It isn’t the right time to date because I’m still working on figuring myself out.

The myth of “the perfect moment” is by far my biggest productivity road block and at the end of the day “my perfect timing” excuse comes from being perfectly nervous to fully commit. Because what if it doesn’t work out? What if all that dreaming and hoping and hard work comes to nothing? What does that say about me? It’s scary to give your ideas a real shot because when they’re floating around in your head they’re still untouchable to reality. But they’re also untouchable to anyone else but you.

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A Roadmap For the Blues

^^ Photo by my favorite illustrator Zoe Si. ^^

This week was a week where absolutely nothing worked. I got sick, my cat got sick, my heat in my building broke, I fell behind on work assignments, I ended up canceling all my social engagements. By Friday the Mercury of my world had so fully retrograded that the only thing to do was eat Indian food and drink Aperol spritzes in yoga pants on my best friend’s couch.

Going into each week, I tend to set some high, and highly planned, expectations for the seven days ahead, and most the time, it works. But this week, after trying and failing to keep my original game plan afloat, I finally threw my hands up in the air and decided to lean into the chaos. It wasn’t the week I had hoped for, but it was the week I was having, and a week that was only going to be made harder without any sort of self-care. Once I gave myself permission to just relax and be, my retrograding Mercury week turned into an almost comical collision of calamities.

Should you also be experiencing one of those weeks, here’s a tiny roadmap I used to help get me out of the blues and back on my feet.

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Sundays are for …

There is a special sort of magic that only comes on a Sunday.

While my Saturdays are often days packed to the brim with errands and catching up and to do lists, my Sundays seem to demand the opposite. Sure, they still hold the same amount of time as a Saturday, the same amount of hours and possibilities, but there is something about a Sunday that says brunch and long walks with no destination.

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I Hate You, I Love You – The Story of a Nose

^^ Photo  from one of my favorite illustrators ever, Zoe Sees. ^^

When it comes to the love I feel for my nose, I think Facebook’s limited relationship labels describe it best, “it’s complicated.”

Everybody has a body part (or lets be honest, a few) that they’ve spent years trying to accept with mixed results. A lip moustache, a crooked nose, uneven butt checks — there is often a large gap between the moment you notice the things that bug you about your body and the moment you decide to fully embrace their originality.

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