Sweetness: Vancouver Island Adventure

 

The Entrance to the Soule Creek Lodge

I had a panic attack on the way to Soule Creek Lodge. The road to the lodge goes up a steep slope—one that, during the course of my trip research, literally every TripAdvisor review had mentioned. Most of the roads we’d taken on the 2 hour drive from Victoria to rural Vancouver Island gave the impression that they were created after man had waged a lengthy battle with Mother Nature, where Mother Nature had ceded just enough space for humans to painstakingly create narrow, snaking, two-lane roads. And the road to Soule Creek Lodge was no different. My then boyfriend (and now fiancé) would later tell me that he felt the wheels of our rental car slip beneath us on the uneven, gravel road as we inched our way to the top of the ridge where the lodge and assorted outbuildings are nestled together above the tree line. I was white knuckling the car’s console as we rounded the corner that dropped us in front of a cozy, cedar building turned lodge. A sign next to the screen door instructed us to ring the doorbell for service. The co-owner of the lodge, greeted us, bearing only a clipboard—no iPad or other electronic device to check us in. I was taken aback at first because it’s so rare to use pen and paper for anything in 2017. We were checked in and then given directions to our yurt, and continued the next leg of our adventure.

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Sweetness: The Drake Hotel, Toronto

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Whenever I travel, I make my best effort at experiencing a place as a local would. Yes of course, standing beneath the Eiffel Tower as it sparkles and twinkles at night is its own kind of next level magic, but so is finding yourself wandering down winding streets or discovering a day brightening citron presse at a café that wouldn’t be listed in a Fodor’s guide. Returning to a hotel, typically far removed from places where people actually live, always makes me a little sad and breaks the precious illusion that I’m some sort of local/tourist hybrid. So, that’s why I was so happy to discover The Drake Hotel in Toronto (no relation to Drake). It’s a rare mixture of the delightful luxuries of a hotel stay, but located in a lively neighborhood that feels like it could be your home (if only you were slightly cooler).

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The Drake Hotel is located on the far edge of Toronto’s Queen West neighborhood, a vibrant mix of shops, bars, restaurants, and art galleries. And, fittingly, the hotel itself is one living, breathing work of art, with installations and paintings in every conceivable space. Each of the hotel’s 19 rooms boasts unique pieces of art and character all its own.

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I stayed in a Den, which featured an incredibly comfortable queen-sized bed and a mini bar stocked with all the booze you could ever want. The bathrooms in the rooms are small but interestingly laid out—the bathroom door also doubles as a privacy screen for the shower. The throw blanket on the bed was produced by a local artist, and the terrifying/weirdly charming doll on the bed was also made by a local artist and was available for purchase.

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My favorite part of staying in The Drake? The bars (which makes me sound like an incredible lush and I honestly don’t really care because these bars are awesome). Hotel bars are typically watering holes for weary tourists and businessmen which means the drinks may be strong, but the surroundings lack character. Because The Drake is such a well-integrated piece of the neighborhood, actual people from Toronto flock to the two bars on-site; the Sky Yard (a rooftop deck that stays open year round), and the Lounge—my visit included a Friday and Saturday night stay, and on both nights, there was a line at least two dozen people long just to get in. The cocktails are strong and have playful names—I had more than one “Call Me Maybe” as well as a “Mother’s Little Helper.” Check the calendar for DJs and live music at either of those two bars or the Underground, located…below the hotel.

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Another high point of the hotel is the food. On my first night, I had delicious, sticky duck wings in The Lounge, and then for two consecutive mornings, the best blueberry scones I’ve ever eaten in my life from The Drake Café, located just off the lobby of the hotel.

 

During my wanders around the city, I noticed that most of the other hotels were centered closer in to the business and entertainment district, areas which are great for your standard tourist sightseeing activities, but don’t give you a sense of Toronto as a whole. The Drake isn’t near any tourist attractions, but there are street car stops just outside the door that will drop you downtown in less than half an hour, and you’re in the heart of one of the most multicultural cities in North America. It’s also ideally located for exploring some of Toronto’s best bars—a quick walk to The Lockhart (AKA the Harry Potter bar). It’s not a hotel for everyone—if you’re looking for a resort or a hotel that will provide you with an in-room Keurig and soothing, mass-produced Monet re-prints, this is definitely the wrong choice. But if want to feel like a part of the city you’re visiting rather than just a visitor, even just for a few nights, this is the hotel for you.

The Drake Hotel
http://www.thedrake.ca
1150 Queen Street West
Toronto, ON M6J 1J3

Sweetness: The Lockhart, Toronto (AKA The Harry Potter Bar)

The downsides to being one of the last people in the western world to read the Harry Potter books are numerous—I knew how the books ended long before I’d started reading them, I spent years of my life confused by Halloween costumes that featured people drawing lightning bolts on their heads, and I just genuinely did not understand cultural references that seemed to be in a different language. The one upside is that by the time I’d finally read all the books (at the ripe age of 25), I was old enough to appreciate that butterbeer likely had some sort of alcohol in it, and it would be one of my life’s missions to find butterbeer in real life. And drink it.

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So, last fall, when I saw a number of articles about the “Harry Potter Bar” in Toronto, a city that had started to really fascinate me, I knew I’d need to book a trip. The Internet warned me that there would be an insanely long line for this tiny, intimate bar, but on the night my companion and I ventured into The Lockhart on a Sunday evening, we were among the first customers.

At first glance, The Lockhart seems like another small, hip bar with a somewhat obscure sounding name and a list of achingly trendy cocktails. But when you pass through the thick, velvet curtains (presumably there to block the draft from the very, very cold Toronto nights, but which lend an air of magic to your entrance into the bar), a closer look reveals a series of Harry Potter references that true fans/series devotees will catch, including, but not limited to: the words “Potions and Elxirs” are painted on the exposed brick wall above the bar, on one side of the bar is “Platform 9 ¾” sign, and the the name itself is a reference to a character from the books, the stag’s head bar logo, and cocktails like “The Befuddlement Draft” hint at the books (as well as what will happen to you once you’ve finished the drink). And the greatest touch of all–the words “All Was Well” hang on the wall in the form of a fluorescent lit sign (a reference to the last words of the last book in the series).

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Butterbeer (Left) and a Befuddlement Draft (Right)

We ordered the Befuddlement Draft, which includes a flaming shot and though it says it’s for 2 people, could easily serve 3-4. It was very strong. And very good. Though not listed on the menu, you can order butterbeer as an off menu item, and I have to say that this is exactly the butterbeer I’d imagined when reading J.K. Rowling’s words (we have an adequate option in Seattle, but still, The Lockhart’s is the best I’ve had). The bartenders are friendly, if slightly bemused by the presence of adults who (myself included) spend inordinate amounts of time photographing every aspect of their visit to The Lockhart. And even if you’re not a huge fan of the books, the drinks are strong and the atmosphere and music are a perfect place for a drink or two with someone special.

We visited the bar just a few days after the death of Alan Rickman (who played Severus Snape in the film adaptations of the series), and touching tributes to Snape/Alan Rickman were written all across the chalkboard walls that line the hallway to the bathroom (the bathrooms themselves are also worth a visit).

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On the blisteringly cold walk back from the bar to my hotel, along crooked streets lined with tidy, two-story brick homes, I was reminded of 4 Privet Drive and all the magic that started there for a young Harry. And even though I’m neither young nor a wizard, an evening spent in a place with such a playful spirit (combined with a healthy dose of butterbeer) lent a little bit of magic to my ordinary muggle life.

The Lockhart
http://www.thelockhart.ca
1479 DUNDAS STREET WEST, TORONTO, ON, M6J 1Y8, CANADA

Sweetness: Seattle Summers

I’m a summer baby. Born on one of the hottest days of the year (in…1984), I think my mind and body have just always been optimized for maximum vitamin D absorption. Which is why Seattle winters can really get to me. But then…Seattle summers. Those keep me here and they are, quite frankly, perfect. It’s a common refrain amongst everyone from Uber drivers to the most devout pluviophiles who shake their fist at the sun if it is out for too many consecutive days–there is no more beautiful place than Seattle in the summer. After nine solid months of gray, misty days, the omnipresent evergreen trees emerge from a thick fog into  dazzling, sapphire colored skies. Seattle is flanked by mountains on either side, and water at almost every turn, and on a clear day, it feels like you can see forever. Or, the mountain, when it’s out. And in addition to the natural beauty, this city of quiet, sometimes very serious seeming people, opens up, and we all turn into human sunflowers, craning our heads toward the sun. The energy is palpable, and it’s why companies bring new recruits here during the summer.

Photo: Robert Wade from 2014 #SAMRemix
Photo: Robert Wade from 2014 #SAMRemix

So for that long, gorgeous stretch of sunny days between July 5th and mid-September (though, admittedly, this year’s summer started in early June), it’s important to take advantage of every possible hour of time outside. Wring every drop of vitamin D from the long summer days, and take advantage of the city’s amazing assortment of outdoor activities, my favorite of which are the events hosted by Seattle Art Museum at their Olympic Sculpture Park.

Back in March, my sister and I went to a SAM Remix at the Seattle Art Museum. Because this is Seattle, I expected the usual mix of cargo short clad Amazon and Microsoft employees, pondering the meaning of contemporary art in respectful silence. Instead…well, in addition to the usual suspects, there was a dazzling array of bright young things and an energy I’ve never felt at an event in Seattle, a quick hit of Seattle Summer magic for one early spring evening. There was a DJ, dance floor, people actually dancing, great drinks, and access to all the art on display at SAM. And, of course, being able to support my hometown art museum.

So, I was super excited to hear that there will be a SAM Remix on August 21st at the Olympic Sculpture Park, one of my favorite parks in the city. I’ll be guest tweeting from the iHeartSAM Twitter account, but if you’re in town, use the code twitterremix0821 for $5 off adult event tickets. If you need me, you can find me grinning like a small child, absorbing all the energy around–solar and/or people-based–in the hopes it will sustain me in between summers.

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Friday Five: Sunny Summer Day Edition

My sunny summer saturday must haves.
My sunny summer saturday must haves.

I am a summer baby. I was born on a sweltering hot day in early August, and my earliest memories involve running through oscillating sprinklers in my grandma’s front yard, and sneaking off to the side of her house where a thicket of blackberry bushes swelled with dark purple jewels of fruit. I live for summer and heat and sun and the feeling of sun warmed asphalt on bare feet long after the sun has set. Fall is fine, winter is terrible, spring is Zyrtec. Summer is heaven. And because my carefree summer vacation days are long behind me, I take my weekend summer days very, very seriously. Here are my must haves.

1. Salt Water Sandals

Thanks to the miracle of the Internet and my generation’s very specific and intense nostalgia, I am now able to wear my favorite childhood shoe as an adult.

2. Acacia Sunscreen

I have come to grips with the freckles on my face, but I don’t really want any more, so when I went to Hawaii in April, I decided to invest in some heavy duty sunscreen. The Acacia Sunscreen I purchased at The Royal Hawaiian’s Rebecca Beach store is not cheap by any stretch of the imagination, but it did provide weightless, total, and lasting coverage. And it’s odorless.

3. Rainier Cherries

My 2nd favorite summer fruit, after blackberries? Rainier Cherries. Best if purchased local (meaning, here, in Washington) and organic, these taste like summer.

4. Summer Read: Oh! You Pretty Things

Classed as a summer read, this rapier sharp book is worthy of your attention both on and off the beach. It details the life of a twentysomething Hollywood personal assistant and all the trials and tribulations that entails, with exploration of the pitfalls of female friendships, and even a little romance.

5. Kate Spade Le Pavilion Wireless Headphones

These were a Christmas gift and I love them to pieces–the battery life could be better, but they are light, provide excellent sound, and perhaps most importantly, they have polka dots. What more can you ask for in a headphone?

What are your summer must haves?

Sweetness: Rosé Sangria

I imagine having me as a friend could be pretty difficult at times. I’m incredibly hard to read, my sense of humor is basically sarcasm 60% of the time, and I expect instant responses to my text messages. But, one of the many upsides to having me as a friend is my love of bringing delicious booze to social gatherings. Last month, I discovered (read: Googled) this recipe for Rosé Sangria and it is…amazing. I know, I know, rosé is a wine for teenagers and young, urban dwelling women. But I can’t help it. I love it. I suffer from insane post-red wine headaches, and though rosé is, you know, a shade of red, the headaches seem less catastrophic. And because I only drink it in the summer, drinking it instantly gives me that heady anything-is-possible-but-omg-we-need-to-do-that-right-now-because-summer-is-only-2-months-in-Seattle feeling.

I whipped up a batch to bring along to a rooftop get together last month, and it was gone in two seconds flat, so I highly recommend doubling (or even tripling) the recipe if you’re making it for a crowd. It’s easy to drink, not too sweet, and includes all sorts of delicious seasonal fruit. Cheers to you, David Lebovitz, and Happy First Weekend of Summer/Day Drinking Season! And to all my friends–here’s what I’ll be bringing to all the parties I attend this summer. You’re welcome.

 

I washed these after I took the picture.
I washed these after I took the picture.

 

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Sweetness: The Royal Hawaiian Hotel

Royal Hawaiian Hotel Honolulu
The Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Honolulu, Hawaii

I am not a fancy hotel kind of girl. When searching reviews on TripAdvisor, I scan photos only to be sure there are no bed bug infestations to worry about. I look for clean, safe, relatively centrally located and calm, but luxury resorts are typically the antithesis to both my travel identity and, you know, budget. But during a rewatch of my favorite show of all time, “Mad Men,” I was inspired by Don’s season 6 opener vacation to Honolulu and decided I wanted to stay at The Royal Hawaiian. From the moment I booked my reservation I knew things were different—I received a personal mail from the concierge asking questions about my stay and received no stock answers, but actual recommendations based on my questions. I arrived late one Thursday night on the last flight from Seattle to Honolulu, and decided to take the shuttle offered through Starwood (they welcome you with a lei! Something I secretly wanted on each of my three previous trips to Hawaii but thought I was too cool for). At night, you don’t fully appreciate how much of an oasis The Royal Hawaiian is from the hustle and bustle Waikiki—it’s almost like there’s some sort of biodome fitted neatly around the property. And though I was covered in the scent of airplane and Dramamine, I felt welcomed. Not in the obsequious way that usually occurs at luxury hotels, but in a way that suggests the Ambassadors (Royal Hawaiian staff) are well trained in the art of hospitality.

Historic Wing Garden View Room at The Royal Hawaiian
Historic Wing Garden View Room at The Royal Hawaiian

I checked into my room (Garden View, Historic Wing), a large, l-shaped situation with an oversized fan spinning lazily above my bed. My windows looked out onto the lush drive and entry way to the hotel, and after a restful night’s sleep, I sat in a chair munching the Royal Hawaiian’s trademark banana bread as early morning light transformed into a brilliant day.

On my first morning, I decided to indulge in a very good

Waffles with Coconut Syrup and Whipped Cream at The Royal Hawaiian's Surf Lanai Restaurant
Waffles with Coconut Syrup and Whipped Cream at The Royal Hawaiian’s Surf Lanai Restaurant

(if, admittedly slightly overpriced) breakfast at the on property Surf Lanai restaurant. Breakfast was pricey but the view was priceless, and allowed me one of my favorite pasttimes in Hawaii—watching people take in the site of the ocean for the first time. You can almost see when vacation mode clicks on in people’s brains as they stare, unblinking into the impossibly clear and turquoise blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. Children, released for a few moments from the protective grasp of their parents’ hands and frolic in the surf while their parents’ feet sink into the soft sand. The same slow, genuine smile spreads over every face, and it is an amazing sight to behold in this time where our eyes are almost always cast down, lit by the eerie glow of an electronic device screen.

Archway at The Royal Hawaiian Hotel
Archway at The Royal Hawaiian Hotel

The six-story Moorish architecture inspired resort opened in February of 1927, and with its trademark pink façade has been dubbed “The Pink Palace of the Pacific.” And while the color pink is omnipresent (chairs, towels, umbrellas, toiletry bottles, hats, rugs, etc.), it never becomes overwhelming and is instead just a neat, vintage quirk. With the exception of the Moana Surfrider, all of the big Waikiki hotels are enormous skyscraper structures, and while The Royal Hawaiian recently opened a tower of its own, the intimacy afforded by the historic wing of the hotel is unparalleled. Almost every hallway ends in a beautiful vista of either the grounds or the ocean or the gardens, or an intoxicating blend of all three. There are also quiet seating areas tucked around most corners. One night, I sat with my notebook and a can of Hawaiian Sun and wrote for a couple hours, listening to the waves crash against the shore and the gentle murmur of the two nearby restaurants/bars. The hotel has played host to Hawaiian and Hollywood royalty, but is equally welcoming to a regular vacationer like yours truly.

View from a beach chair at The Royal Hawaiian Hotel
View from a beach chair at The Royal Hawaiian Hotel

One of the other splurges I made on this very #treatyoself trip was renting a chair on the beach. For $40, you get two chairs (I used one) and an umbrella from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. (which is actually a really good value, I’ve seen resorts on other islands that charge twice that). Ordinarily, it takes me a good two to three days to train myself not to check mail on vacation, but a solid four hours of sitting on the beach doing nothing convinced me that, yes, unplugging was best. The people watching on Waikiki Beach is unparalleled. Though I did not take advantage of this, the Waikiki Beach Boys who staff the chair rental area will get (non alcoholic) drinks for you and help you order food.

After a day of doing nothing, I worked up quite a thirst and found my way to the Mai Tai Bar, which also boasts views of the Pacific Ocean. Hawaii is such an effortlessly beautiful place, one that begs for constant photo taking and selfies, but the longer you stay, the less likely you are to want to take pictures. On a busy Friday afternoon, I spotted not a single iPhone out (I did see a lot of GoPros, but I give those a pass). Instead, everyone was either amiably chatting to their travel companion or, if solo (like myself), trying their level best to absorb the salt, sea, sand, and sunshine by sitting perfectly still.

The Last Cocktail and Haupia Cake at The Mai Tai Bar at The Royal Hawaiian Hotel
The Last Cocktail and Haupia Cake at The Mai Tai Bar at The Royal Hawaiian Hotel

On my last night in Hawaii, totally overwhelmed at the prospect of leaving paradise behind, I sidled up to the bar for a slide of haupia (coconut) cake—pink, naturally—and a cocktail fittingly titled “The Last Cocktail.” Behind me, two musicians and a hula dancer entertained the mellow crowd, transporting everyone, even just for a few minutes, not to a simpler place, but into a state of total traniquility, right where they are.

With carefully cared for vintage architecture, furnishings, displays (old school long boards, dresses worn by Hawaiian royalty), and outstanding service, it’s easy to understand why the producers and writers of “Mad Men” chose The Pink Palace of the Pacific as the location of an episode. Everything about the hotel is transformative, and forces you to take a few minutes to relax, and enjoy your surroundings. And for me, it taught me that while my budget hotel tendencies make sense some times, it’s okay to splurge on a place as unique and spectacular as The Royal Hawaiian. I’ve been back for less than a week, and I’m already saving my pennies and thinking of when I can return.

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Pros

  • Location, location, location
  • Architecture
  • History
  • Service

Cons

  • $35/day resort fee includes free long distance phone calls, but do people really use their hotel room phones anymore? So it seems like a waste to say that’s a bonus since most people are not using it.
  • The food is very expensive (good, though). I would not recommend eating there every day, but a couple special occasion meals during your stay are well worth the $$$$.

The Royal Hawaiian Hotel
2259 Kalakaua Avenue
Honolulu, HI 96815
http://www.royal-hawaiian.com/

Hometown Glory: Best Place to Be Today

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The view from the Seattle to Bainbridge Island Ferry

I’ve never been the sort of person who welcomes fall—I don’t have a Pinterest board devoted to its charms, I’ve never used #sweaterweather on an Instagram post, and I am ambivalent about the return of Pumpkin Spice Lattes at Starbucks. So, you’d think that today, the first day of fall in the northern hemisphere, would be a particularly sad one for me. And you’d be partially right—I will miss cool, misty mornings that melt away into the languid heat of a Seattle afternoon, days where the sun sets well after 9 p.m., and the colorful array of sundresses that I’ll now shunt to the back of my closet. I love summer, and it will always be my favorite of the four seasons. But I’m beginning to understand the charms of fall, too, and that’s why Seattle is the best place to be today.

Sunday was a gorgeous day in Seattle—beautiful, sapphire blue skies, warm breezes, and temperatures that soared just past the comfort zone for most Seattleites. But by early evening on Monday, those skies had faded away, and were replaced with slate gray cloud cover that shrouds Seattle for most of the year, a fitting first day of fall. And rather than muting or dampening the landscape, the clouds provide a foil for emerald evergreens, the first leaves turning jewel toned hues, and the jagged peaks of the Olympics and Cascade mountain ranges boasting their first streaks of snow in several months.

The world seems more quiet, and still. Because the sun is so rare here, a warm summer day encourages a frenetic pace amongst the citizens of Seattle, people eager to soak up vitamin D and store it away for the months ahead. But now, we’ve all hunkered down, and life has returned to normal. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t rain all the time in Seattle—most natives will smugly tell you that it rains more annually in New York City than it does in the Emerald City—and the weather right now, crisp, early autumn with cool breezes, is perfect for long walks accompanied by the perfect playlist of mellow music, preferably penned by a Seattle musician. What I will lack in sidewalk café visits on long summer nights will be more than made up for in cozy coffee shops around the city, in restaurants with fireplaces, and the serenity of a long walk through the forest-like park near my house.

More than anything else, the return of fall makes me appreciate small pleasures that slip right past you in the heat and movement of summer—a Sunday afternoon spent wandering through Seattle’s main public library that also doubles as a beautiful work of art. A ferry ride to Bainbridge Island, emptied of tourists and filled only with commuters who still express awe over the view of the city from water. A chai latte, not iced, with maybe one pump of Pumpkin Spice. The heat from the cup reminding you of summer, but warming you for the cooler days to come.

Sweetness: My Way

photo(3)A couple months ago, as I eyed this basically abandoned blog, I told myself I would write an epic recap of my twenties on the last day of my twenties. Weeks went by, and now I’m here, staring at the thing that terrifies me most in the world—a blank Word document with a cursor, blinking at and taunting me. Every sentence I have started sounded like a terrible cliché—a series of sad tropes that people trot out on milestone birthdays. “30 is not that old!” “30 is the new 20!” “You’re still young!” And here’s the thing—I know 30 is not that old, and I know that 30 is relatively young (I hope that 30 is not the new 20, unless it involves me having the metabolism of a 20-year-old and living in Paris). But I’m not here to make apologies for my twenties (because, as ol’ blue eyes said “regrets, I’ve had a few.”). I’m here to tell you that my twenties were an alternately joyous, terrifying, soul-crushing, dreamy, enchanting, and maddening time—but I didn’t fully realize how much I’ve grown and accomplished until one Sunday night this past May.

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Bittersweetness: Dancing On My Own

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetWith the big 3-0 now less than three months away, I’ve been taking a close look at my life so far, and where I wanted to go. In all the lists and goals I’ve made this year, I never once mentioned things I wanted to accomplish in my personal life—relationships with my family and friends, and, most difficult of all for me, my love life.

My love life is a romantic comedy come to life, only without much romance, and super heavy on the comedy bits. Dark comedy. Earlier this year, I hid behind a tree to avoid having to speak to a cute guy I regularly see at work and who regularly speaks to me. Late last year, I went on a date with a man who, after having me pay the bill, slid a pair of nipple clamps across the table at me and gestured towards the bathroom. Last summer, I attached myself to someone who wanted no attachments at all, and I hovered around for months, hoping for scraps of affection that would never arrive.

Despite all of those pitfalls (and that is the abridged, highly edited version of my dating life), I soldiered on, recently picking up a pseudo relationship with someone who was unavailable in every conceivable way possible. My feelings were very real, but this past weekend, a new complication in an already difficult situation made me re-evaluate just what I was allowing myself to accept. The self-love that has pushed me to achieving fitness and health goals, that drives me to succeed at work, and to nurture my friendships, simply doesn’t extend to my relationships with men. I have settled so many times, and I always, always end up broken-hearted, listening to Amy Winehouse on repeat, and wondering why these broken men always seem to choose me.

After graduating from college, my classmates and I moved to the big city. Or, the big city for Washington state, Seattle. Some took a brief break from academia and then went off to graduate school; others joined the military, but by and large, most people quickly settled into office jobs, and then, as if Noah himself had summoned them forth, everyone paired off and got married.

I’ve known since I was a little girl that I wanted a life of adventure. I wanted to live in a big city, preferably above a pizza shop, and near a movie theater, and write books. I wanted to travel the world and see all the things I’d read about. But love and marriage and children were never things I thought of, and were never priorities for me. Watching everyone around me fall into lockstep made me feel like the choices I made for myself were incorrect—like I was doing something wrong and just didn’t realize it, and that I was obviously unworthy of being loved if everyone else was finding it and I wasn’t. I never allowed myself to revel in the glory of being single, to truly enjoy a DVR filled with Real Housewives of Orange County/NYC/Atlanta/New Jersey, to relish Saturday mornings spent in holey t-shirts, and to take my twenties to truly know and understand and love myself before getting into a real, lasting relationship.

So, I threw myself into half-baked relationships that satisfied a baseline understanding of being coupled up, but were never real in any substantial way. I wasn’t secure enough in the choices I made about my life to understand that the things I’ve been doing for the past seven years were by no means perfect, but they allowed me to grow in the ways that I needed to grow. I let so many things have power over me, and never valued myself or my choices enough to respect that I am where I need to be right this instant, and my journey is no one else’s journey.

I was never a big Sex and the City fan—but a love of Pinterest has taught me that the show was full of invaluable bon mots, a treasure trove of quotes to pin and repin, and many of which are applicable to my life. But one I stumbled across recently was one that fits the most with my current state of mind:

“Later that day I got to thinking about relationships. There are those that open you up to something new and exotic, those that are old and familiar, those that bring up lots of questions, those that bring you somewhere unexpected, those that bring you far from where you started, and those that bring you back. But the most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself. And if you can find someone to love the you you love, well, that’s just fabulous”

 

Until very recently, it never occurred to me that my friends might all be getting married not just because they wanted to, but also because they were mentally prepared for all the challenges that being legally and emotionally bound to someone entails. And how could I honestly expect someone to value, respect, and love me in any real way if I didn’t also feel that same way about myself? The men I attracted and have been attracted to are all indicators of my mental state—human, male barometers of perilously low self-worth.

On Sunday morning, I woke up early, took a long walk with Nigel Barker, and evaluated where I am, and where I want to be. I have an amazing job, a great apartment, a passport filled with stamps from the places I dreamed of going as a child. There are things I can improve upon, of course, but by and large, I have so much to be proud of. And if I am truly happy where I am, as a single woman in the city, who lives four blocks from both a movie theater and a pizzeria, I should love myself enough to not settle for just anyone who deigns to send me a flirty message on Facebook.

I sat in front of my computer, turned on “Dancing On My Own,” and wrote an incredibly long-winded email explaining my feelings, and hesitation about continuing the relationship, and asking to take a break from contacting each other. And while the break won’t make up for the years I’ve spent not valuing myself enough, it’s the first time I’ve ever pulled back from a relationship and truly evaluated it for what it is.

The toughest part about growing older isn’t the act itself—it’s when you stop and take a painful look back at all the mistakes you’ve made and the opportunities you missed without even knowing it. But the bittersweet beauty of growing older lies in the moments of reflection and clarity, looking at the journey so far, and taking the opportunity to use that hard earned wisdom to make a better future.

The relationships I’ve had thus far have mostly served as fodder for stories to make my friends and family doubt my sanity, but that doesn’t mean they have lacked value–I’ve learned what I will and won’t accept, and, as corny as it sounds, I need to love myself before I can expect anyone else to really and truly love me. So, while I’ll keep dancing on my own for the foreseeable future, I’ll be learning to love myself. Starting with a date with a bottle of wine and a one woman dance party, with Nigel Barker as a back up dancer.