Prologue

I didn’t date much before I was married. I briefly had a boyfriend my freshman year in high school. I met him at band camp. He was an upperclassman, a drummer and my first kiss. 

My next kiss would be five years later, from the boy who became my husband.

I grew up a product of a very conservative, controlled, Christian environment. I was baptized a Presbyterian as a baby. When I was two and my brother almost four, my mother left my father. She almost immediately remarried, and a few years later, moved us from Los Angeles to Visalia, a much smaller community in California’s Central Valley. It was blazing hot in the summer, cold and foggy in the winter and odious cow dung lingered consistently in the air.

I made friends easily, especially at church. That first summer, I attended vacation Bible school and gave my life to Jesus/was born again/became heaven-bound/got saved/whatever-you-want-to-call-it. I was so moved by the experience that I bowed my head, confessed my sins and walked down the aisle to the altar again the very next day. It was gently explained to me I did not need to keep getting saved; it was a one-time deal. I didn’t really get it, but was relieved to know I would not be going to hell that night if I died in my sleep.

I wanted to share Jesus with everyone, not just talk about him in Sunday School. I anxiously worried that my non-Christian/non-churched friends would go to hell, so I invited them over to try and help them avoid it. One friend, now a successful lawyer, came over to swim in our pool and patiently listened to my pitch. When I finished, she politely yet confidently declined my plea to accept Jesus Christ as her personal Lord and Savior. I was shocked and saddened by her response, but we ended up going swimming, anyway. 

At the age of 11, I chose to be baptized again. I wore a white robe over my pressed, pale pink and blue church dress and stood before the congregation in a scrupulously clean, heated tub, constructed high above the choir loft. Because I was an avid swimmer, I didn’t have to plug my nose when the pastor efficiently dunked me. 

Baptism by immersion meant my place in heaven was firmly secured. Now I just had to focus on getting through life without making any terrible mistakes. 

As I moved into my adolescent years, I was more and more affected by the church’s position on abortion, drugs, drinking, dancing, politics, premarital sex and listening to the wrong kind of music. I didn’t want to mess up. I watched my peers around me fall, one-by-one, making mistakes. One Sunday, I watched in horror as a high school couple were called to the pulpit to confess they had been engaging in premarital sex. They were publicly shamed, repented and forgiven all within fifteen minutes, while the organist softly vamped on the popular worship song, “People Need the Lord”

I didn’t want to be brought before the congregation for having sex, getting pregnant or dabbling in alcohol or drugs. I definitely didn’t want to murder an unborn child, invite Satan into my life by backmasking the Beatles or end up left behind at the Rapture. 

So I obeyed the rules. It really wasn’t all that hard. I didn’t have druggie friends and I certainly didn’t have any guys banging down my door, trying to impregnate me. I was terrified of the consequences. I was taught if I broke the rules, I would not receive God’s blessing. Furthermore, I believed if I messed up, especially sexually, I would alter my life’s course and might even miss out on the person God intended as my husband.

At the age of 15, I was introduced to a contract called “True Love Waits.” It read exactly like this:

Believing that True Love Waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my friends, my future mate and my future children to a lifetime of purity including sexual abstinence from this day until I enter a Biblical marriage relationship.

I carefully signed my name in bubbly cursive on the dotted line and vowed to remain pure. From that moment on, I believed if I were to disobey the rules, my future marriage would be problematic from the start. Abstaining from sex would absolutely guarantee a happy, healthy, long-lasting and faithful marriage. 

Around the same time, my mom and step-dad announced they were getting divorced. They had been separated on and off for several years. I wasn’t surprised, nor overly fond of my emotionally abusive stepfather, but I felt angry, nonetheless. An already-broken family was broken yet again. My mom started going to a divorce recovery group on our church’s campus. To my teenage judgment, everyone in that circle seemed like they were ashamed, sad, pathetic, desperate, confused and fallen from grace.

I decided right then and there I would never get divorced, no matter what. 

*****

I was a senior in high school when I met him.

My best friend Joy’s parents owned the local roller rink in town. I worked there part-time, making cotton candy, charging admission and skate rental, selling nachos and hot dogs, cleaning bathrooms and policing kissing couples. 

One weekend Joy’s college-age brother brought home his handsome, charming, dorm mate. They met us at the roller rink. The friend was tall and tan, applied the perfect amount of gel in his spiky blonde hair, drove an orange truck painted a la the General Lee from “Dukes of Hazzard” and sported red Doc Martens with the hammer and sickle on them. 

I developed an instant crush but dismissed it. As much as Joy’s family encouraged me, I wasn’t interested in studying at the private Christian college he attended.

But a year later, I found myself registering as a last-minute student.

I liked Biola University. In some ways it felt like a four-year church camp, except that it upheld much stricter rules. As part of our admission, we were required to sign a contract saying we wouldn’t drink, smoke, gamble or dance. Furthermore, students were expected to commit to refraining from “sexual relations outside of marriage, homosexual behavior, theft and dishonesty.” And, as an earnest, obedient, wide-eyed and closed-legged 17-year-old, I had no problem signing away.

At Biola, group dating was encouraged as much as possible. Our dorm floors would take turns hosting a special themed event, and we were prompted to find dates for our roommates. The event itself was called a GYRAD (Get Your Roommate a Date). 

For my very first GYRAD, I was set up with a wonderful, closeted gay guy. I took matters into my own hands for the second event, and asked out the boy I had been flirting with in Psychology 101. He didn’t waste much time rejecting my offer. 

And then came my sophomore year, when Joy lived on my floor. One day, she knocked on my door and told me she had the perfect GYRAD date for me.

“Who?!” I asked. Joy was a freshman; what boys could she possibly know already?

She raised her eyebrows, knowingly. “Remember my brother’s friend?” 

“Communist shoes?!” I gasped.

“Communist shoes,” she grinned.

The day of the date, I picked him up in my 1994 Toyota pickup truck, complete with its previous owner’s grandmother’s hand-embroidered dashboard cover that read, “STEELERS”. He was just as tall, blonde, tan, handsome, quirky and charming as I had remembered from our brief, first meeting. 

“Football fan?” My date asked, as he slid his thin frame onto the passenger bench seat.

I pressed my foot on the clutch, started the truck and revved the engine.

“Nope,” I shrugged. “But I am a huge fan of embroidery.”

He grinned. I swooned. 

The date itself was pretty standard, safe Christian fare: burgers, fries and milkshakes at a popular retro diner, and a treasure hunt at a miniature golf/amusement park. We conversed with ease. During one of the games, we were asked to tie the backs of our hands together with a thin piece of string and make our way through a maze. We got lost and laughed heartily. Once, our fingers accidentally interlaced, and neither one of us let go. A surge of excitement shot through my body, warming my insides and making me temporarily dizzy. My cheeks burned hotly and I couldn’t help but smile. 

I stole a glance up at him, whose grin – and blush – matched mine.

*****

We were practically inseparable after a few dates. We would talk on the phone for hours, give each other piggyback rides to and from class, laugh loudly as we rode a bicycle built for two throughout campus, jump in his orange truck and drive to the beach, drink breve lattes, discuss God and debate our preference of theologians and Bible translations. It was the epitome of lightheartedness, innocence, sunshine and Christian college romance.

One winter weekend I accompanied him home to meet his parents. That afternoon we drove to Cambria, located on California’s central coast. We held hands as we strolled along the beach and allowed the salty sea spray to tousle our hair. 

We found a log that had washed ashore, and sat upon it. He kicked the sand flea-infested seaweed away from our feet and looked me straight in the eye.

“Leslie, I have a question for you,” he began.

I giggled nervously. I had a feeling what was coming, but I wasn’t quite ready. Would I be any good? What if I did it all wrong? I had been waiting for this moment for a while. It was perfect; romantic. I took in a deep breath.

“May I kiss you?” he asked.

I grinned. “Yes!”

He leaned in, slowly. I allowed my eyes to close as my chin tilted towards him. The blood rushing to my head from my furiously beating heart crashed louder than the waves around me. I felt and smelled his breath — a sweet, almost sugary scent. And then his lips were upon mine: soft, full. I gasped and welcomed the all-over tingling sensation as it enveloped my being.

After that, it was on. We made out like rabbits in the most creative places we could find: the Mormon church parking lot; on a blanket in the park in broad daylight; the front seat of a borrowed car; the top of a picnic table underneath the stars; on a bean bag in the home goods section of Kmart. 

For the most part, we kept our hands and subsequent genitalia to ourselves. We were both virgins and had a strong desire to remain as such, as long as we weren’t married. Unbridled sexual fantasies would come true only in marriage, starting with the wedding night. Obeying the no-sex-before-marriage rule guaranteed a secure, blessed future, not to mention a happy, healthy and long-lasting sex life. After all, it’s what good Christians were supposed to do. 

*****

Almost as soon as two people were seen together at Biola, they were an item. The words “courtship” and “intention” were drilled into our minds, thanks to mainstream Christian propaganda such as the book,  I Kissed Dating Goodbye. We were taught to frown upon casual relationships. If you were going to date – pardon me, court – you had better quickly figure out if you’re going to marry that person.

And since the majority of us good Christians were trying to keep our integrity and virginity intact, the progression of the relationship often moved lightning-fast. It was all too easy to ignore the danger of making a lifetime commitment to a partner we barely knew, much less have time to observe behavior patterns within the context of real relationship, not just the teenage hormone-charged honeymoon stage.

First and foremost, a “DTR” — Define The Relationship — was in order. This was almost as exciting as receiving a promise ring. In Christianese terms, a DTR was basically a pre-engagement engagement.

Next came the candle-lighting.

The candle-lighting was a ritualistic engagement announcement ceremony in our all-girls’ dorm. We held it – sometimes monthly – in the lounge. We’d turn the lights off, stand or sit cross-legged in a circle and pass around a single, lit candle with an engagement ring affixed to it. The flame would be passed to each girl at least once until the lucky owner of the ring blew it out.

Although a lot of us hated those gatherings, we secretly coveted our own candle-lighting. It was a rite of passage; a guarantee of a happy future. And God help you if you graduated from Biola without an MRS degree.

One time, a girl got engaged at the ceremony. We all kept passing around this huge, shiny diamond (made even more sparkly in the soft, glowing light) for what felt like an eternity. The girl’s boyfriend suddenly appeared while she was in possession of the flame, got down on one knee, and blew it out.

The news spread like wildfire throughout campus. Guys respected the proposal for its cleverness and irreverence of the séance. The girls became even more dreamy and determined to get engaged, myself included. The dude was a hero in everyone’s eyes, until he got in serious trouble for being inside the girls’ dorm during non-visiting hours.

*****

I never had a Biola candle-lighting. My DTR occurred on a public balcony of the Disneyland Hotel, overlooking the construction of the California Adventure theme park. Afterward, things continued just as they had been: lighthearted, fun and adventurous. Even though we both had an inkling as to where our relationship was headed, we knew it was wise to finish college. Furthermore, I was to spend the first semester of my junior year studying acting and literature in London, England.

He was heading to the UK, as well. It didn’t come as a surprise that both of us had applied to separate study-abroad programs before we even started dating.

“It’s a God thing,” people would smile, knowingly.

I finished my sophomore year and was offered a job as a writer at a Fox news station. However, I couldn’t bear to be separated from my boyfriend, so I quit and moved in with his parents. 

Read again: I moved in with his parents.

He and I both got temp jobs and spent the majority of the summer surfing the cold, small waves off the central coast, sneaking into each other’s rooms to make out after everyone had gone to bed, and dreaming about the future. 

One afternoon while I was at work, he snatched my peridot ring off the dresser where I had left it. He took it to a local jeweler, had it comparatively sized, and bought an engagement ring with money he borrowed from one of his best friends.

And then he left for England.

I followed a few weeks later. Princess Diana had just tragically passed away, and the entire country was in mourning. He met me at the airport and helped me navigate my way to the university. I was happy to have my own space, but it was located inside a co-ed dorm with shared bathrooms. I was shocked to discover a bar located just down the hall from my tiny room.

I spent the first night with the covers over my head and woke up to the sound of profuse vomiting just outside my door.

I rushed to the nearest red telephone booth and dialed his overseas number.

“Do you want to come see my school?” he offered, gently. 

“Yes!” I sobbed. 

Two hours and a luxury bus ride later, I arrived in Oxford. He showed me the main hall of his college, chapel and library. Then he led me out to the courtyard. The grass was perfectly manicured and almost glowed a luminescent green. 

We stopped in the middle of the cement intersection.

“Leslie, I have given you my whole heart,” he said, in the quiet of the empty square. The fall light began to fade into warm darkness.

He dropped to one knee.

I gasped.

“My heart, like a magnet, is attracted so strongly to you that nothing in my body can hold back,” he continued. “The person you are; the light in your eyes; the fire in your soul. You have given me a view of God I’ve never had. You have opened doors and blown my mind. Every time we’re together I feel our lives are a living prayer. I never knew what it felt like to truly worship God with a whole heart until I met you.”

My eyes began to water. A bird fluttered overhead. Somewhere in the distance, a church bell chimed.

He continued to hold my hand and maintained eye contact with me as he dug around the back pocket of his jeans. 

“Leslie Leigh Spencer – “

He proudly presented a yellow gold, quarter carat diamond ring. Although it was much smaller than I had hoped, it still glimmered in the twilight. 

“Will you marry me?”

And, just like that, I was saved. Again. I had given my life to Jesus and now I would commit myself to a husband. This meant a lifetime of love and happiness, fidelity and security, family and friends, and guaranteed salvation from co-ed, vomit-laden dorm rooms.

James Bond, an Elderly Woman and a Pug

December 22nd, 11:00 am(ish): Walking my friend’s Tibetan Terrier around the Historic Highlands Neighborhood of Pasadena, California. Behind me, I hear a loud engine purring before it rolls to a stop.

“Excuse me,” says a voice. I instantly recognize the man’s Mancunian accent due to binge-watching all of Ted Lasso for a second time. I turn towards the voice. Behind the wheel of a squeaky clean, sapphire blue Porsche Cayman sits an extremely attractive, dark-haired fellow. He is dressed impeccably: baby blue button up shirt, freshly pressed trousers and a well-paired cashmere sweater tied around his shoulders. He keeps his left foot pressed into the clutch and his right foot on the brake pedal, adjusts his designer sunglasses and leans towards me.

I suck some air in through my teeth. Oh, my god. He’s a real-life James Bond.

I make a mental note of my appearance: I’m wearing no makeup, my bedhead is not-so-carefully shoved into a Dodgers cap, I’ve hidden my breasts underneath an oversized Cazadores T-shirt I got for free at a tequila tasting over two years ago, and my mauve workout tights are covered in dog hair and lint. I’m also gripping a bag of still-warm dog shit.

I smile brightly. “Yes?”

“Have you seen an elderly woman walking around with a pug?” He asks.

I stifle back a chortle. I shouldn’t be chortling, giggling or laughing at any of this. Still, my mind wanders. This is the stuff that movies are made of, right? Haggard single gal looking for love meets hot, rich British man who is looking for an elderly woman with a pug. In the end, they all find each other.

I get an idea.

“No!” I respond, a bit too eagerly. “But is there a number where I can contact you if I do see her?”

He futzes with his gear shift and shakes his head.

“It’s me Mum,” he says. “She’s in from London and she took the dog out, but that was 45 minutes ago. She’s probably lost.”

“Well, I hope you find her!” I say, as I nervously brush myself off. I realize how stupid I look, trying to freshen my appearance with a bag of dog shit in my hand.

“Thanks,” he replies, and tears off down the street. I wait for him to turn the corner before allowing myself to laugh, jovially. Aaaand, end of the real-life Hallmark Christmas movie fantasy.

I do hope James Bond finds his mum and the pug. I have a good feeling he will. And I’m glad I found a trash can to responsibly dump the dog shit.

Merry Christmas, all!

A Good Day

I wrote this back in March. Yesterday, before I went out dancing (YES!) and sat in with the band (Honest: I was pretty terrible), I re-read it and came to the conclusion that I just needed to post it. So, here you go.
*****
I haven’t written much lately. Sometimes I sit poised at the computer and hope the words will flow. Inevitably, I get distracted or I vehemently procrastinate (“Haven’t used those makeup brushes in over a year, but I really should clean them!”), or I slither down the rabbit hole of mind noise.

It feels like the days are so very long, yet the weeks fly by. How is that?

It’s 2021, yes, but it sure as hell feels like December 116th, 2020.

It does seem like there’s an end in sight: people are starting to get vaccinated and things are opening back up again. Being a rule follower, myself, I’m not too keen on jumping the line, but I’m champing at the bit (yes, it’s champing, not “chomping”) to have my turn.

I need to see people. I need to hug people. I need to be touched. I need to laugh, heartily, and not worry if my or anyone else’s spit particles are entering our bodies and ready to wreak havoc on our lungs. I can’t get the image of that crazy ugly virus out of my head. Probably ever.

I’m normally a very positive and hopeful person, but if I’m being completely honest here, it’s been a long, dark, anxiety-ridden road. And there have been multiple times I’ve just shut down, completely.

As we all know: a pandemic can do that to you.

Something recently changed, though. I don’t know whether it’s because I hit the six-week mark since enduring an appendectomy and subsequent Snowpocalpyse in Houston, Texas (oh, wait until you hear that story!), or I just got sick of the self-pity and destruction that follows feeling downright losery because I’m unemployed.

Yesterday I woke up and said to myself, “Self, you are going to be creative today. Sure, sure, meet that job application quota (at least two a day), but don’t let it suck your soul. A desk job isn’t where you’re ultimately meant to be. So, write. Play the piano. Laugh. Move your body (but don’t overdo it; you’re still recovering from fucking SURGERY). And revel in the sheer joy that you got out of bed, showered, ate breakfast and even put on lipstick.”

Sometimes, there’s something quite beautiful about being ordinary.

I truly have no idea where this post is taking me. The words are just writing themselves. But yesterday was a good day. I posted a story I had written a couple of years ago on request from O Magazine (they never published it). I had been sitting on it in hopes another magazine would. Alas, alack. Rather than keep it to myself, I put it out there.

I also contacted my publisher again. We parted ways in the summer of 2020, but I needed the rights to my book back.

I got them. A good day.

So, I’m back to square one. And I’ve already started shopping for a new home for “The Christian Girl’s Guide to Divorce”.

Oh! I forgot to tell you — I have officially been divorced for ten years. Ten. A decade.

A couple years into the chaotic aftermath of my marriage, I remember sipping coffee and journaling about the very real fact that someday, I would be divorced as long as I was married.

That day – March 3, 2021 – came and went, and I didn’t even notice. And when I remembered, I raised a glass, but it meant nothing. Because it doesn’t really matter. There’s no need to give it a second thought. Neither marriage or divorce defines me, or you, or anyone.

A good day.

Empowered

A couple of years ago, O Magazine was looking for exciting, funny stories about online dating. I submitted this piece. I shopped it around to a couple of other magazines, as well. And, after a year of “Covid College” (as Anne Lamott calls it), I felt now was a good time as any to put it out there.
*****
I’m 42, been divorced for eight years and have had my heart significantly broken in the meantime. After two brief post-divorce relationships, I was hotly pursued by my best friend’s brother. I fell hard for him. I started to believe in marriage again.

Two and a half years in, he dumped me over email. I was blindsided.

It took a long time to heal, but I eventually did. And I unexpectedly fell in love again. Harder. We were a great match, but our issues weren’t. This time, we mutually ended it.

I settled in for another long winter, so to speak, of healing after a broken relationship.

Several months and too many spilled tears later, my friends were on me.

“You’ve got to get out there again!” they said. “Move on! Have some fun.”

So, I downloaded Bumble, a swipe-right-or-left dating app that “challenges outdated heterosexual norms”, empowering women to make the first move.

Looking for a stable, grounded, emotionally available and healthy partner who knows the difference between “your” and “you’re”. Ideally, you’re wittier than me, I wrote, proudly. I uploaded my most-liked photos from Facebook, sans duck face or bathroom selfies.

And the games began.

Initially, I looked through every single picture and read every single word on every single profile.

After a while, however, it grew tiresome. And to my disappointment, most men didn’t write anything, at all. The ones who did I found insipid, in open relationships, couldn’t spell or ended every sentence with “LOL”.

So I decided to change the rules. I stopped looking for the right one, and swiped right on everyone.

When I matched with a man, I wrote him a message right away.

I think the best part about being single is the freedom to unabashedly consume copious amounts of garlic. You?

1:27 p.m. 7th and Hope. A homeless woman called me “ghetto ass.” I’m quite certain it made my day.

Do you think people who are passionate about CrossFit had terrible childhoods?

If he responded with something witty or engaging, I would continue the conversation. Two days in, I matched with a man six years my junior who was smart, attractive and seemed to have it together. He asked me to “tacos and boozy lunch”. I told him I had to work that day, but I could meet him for happy hour. At 4:30 p.m., he sent me a message:

Come to The Greyhound!

I asked if he were there at that moment. Indeed, he was. I told him I was finishing up at work, but could be there in an hour.

I’ll prolly be home by then, he replied.

I sighed. The guy couldn’t wait one hour? “Prolly” not.

Unmatch.

I did end up on an actual date with an intelligent, down-to-earth guy who was a chef. His passion was pizza ovens.

We conversed easily over dinner and a bottle of wine. As I sat across from him, I tried to force myself to be attracted to him. He was nice enough, seemed normal enough and was attractive enough. I just didn’t feel a sense of urgency in my loins.

When the last of the wine had been drunk and I had passed the quiz on the history of masonry, he walked me outside. Almost without warning, he pawed at, then kissed me. In a last-ditch effort to decipher chemistry, I allowed it to continue for a minute or so. When it was over, the lower half of my face remained wet and raw. The smell of his saliva lingered on his beard and, worse, up my nostrils.

I tried not to dry heave in his face. Instead, I cleared my throat.

“Thank you for dinner,” I managed, weakly.

We parted ways. Later, he messaged me.

I really liked kissing you, he wrote. We should do it again sometime. Naked.

This time, I allowed myself to heave all the way.

Unmatch.

I met a man in the elevator that same week. I was on my way to the basement in pajamas and flip flops, toting a rather large bag of cat poo in one hand, and recycling in the other.

He was a beautiful specimen: tall, dark and upsettingly handsome, with creamy, smooth skin and bulging biceps.

“Hi,” he said. His piercing eyes locked with mine.

“Hi,” I giggled. Suddenly, I was 12 again.

“I like that color on you,” He pointed at my blue shirt.

“Thank you!” I smiled.

He looked me over. “Oh, and you have really cute toes, too. Wow! I’m just handing out all the compliments today!”

I laughed and shifted the bag of cat poo further behind me.

He continued.

“I love beautiful feet. I’m quite good at massaging them, too.”

Ick.

The elevator stopped at the ground floor.

“So,” he lowered his voice. “Are you lonely? Want some company?”

“I appreciate the offer,” I responded, matter-of-factly. “But I’ve got two cats upstairs that are keeping me company. So, no thank you. But, may I ask — does that line actually work for you?”

He flashed a brilliant smile.

“Almost every time.”
*****
I made it four days on Bumble. In the end, I came to the conclusion I always do after re-installing dating apps: online dating just isn’t for me. That is not to say it isn’t for everyone. People can be creepy online and in person; you don’t need an app for that.

Maybe I’m old-school. Maybe I think “heterosexual norms” aren’t so outdated. I have nothing against women initiating the first move, but I like it when a man pursues. I enjoy having doors opened for me. I want to be wooed, wined and dined, and, at the same time, respected.

Am I crazy? Perhaps. But I believe it still exists. I also believe online dating has robbed us of patience, authenticity and an overall sense of decency.

Our culture is addicted to immediacy. One can order up just about anything with a tap (swipe!) of a finger on a smart phone. Food, entertainment, transportation, sex — all at once, even! And if you aren’t impressed, just keep swiping until something better comes along.

If you’re like me, you’re tired of the sifting through the never-ending cesspool of vapid choices presented through today’s dating apps. If you’re like me, you’re looking for a long-term, committed relationship. And relationship takes time to cultivate. It takes effort. It takes chemistry and compatibility. It takes two people willing to come together, bravely reveal their deepest self and personal brand of crazy, then commit to choosing one another, daily.

Is it possible to find that on a dating app? I’m not going to say no. In fact, my sister met her boyfriend of five years on OK Cupid. They were both looking for a relationship when they matched, and they’re a great couple. Even my sister’s cat approves. Not forgetting my own experience: my first post-divorce relationship was with a good man I met online.

Something happened when I put an end to mindless swiping and permanently deleted Bumble off my phone: I felt empowered.

Instead of searching for someone to fill the void when I get lonely, I reach out to a friend. Sometimes that turns into a spontaneous hike, wine tasting or evening enjoying and supporting a fellow musician or actor at one of their gigs.

Instead of staring at my phone for hours every day, I’m reading a lot more. Books! Actual, physical books. I turn the page and smell the paper and write notes in the margin and everything.

Instead of deciding in a split second if a guy is HOT (right) or NOT (left), I’m investing my time and energy in the people I already know. And the more you get to know someone, the more (or less) attractive they become.

Instead of back-and-forth messaging with some stranger who may or may not ask me on – or show up to – a date, I’m getting out of the house and chatting with strangers at the grocery store, gym, or those seated next to me at happy hour. I’ve actually made a couple of new friends.

And by choosing to trust the right partner will come along in due time, I am choosing me.

“How?” You ask.

By saying no to swipe culture and immediacy, I am choosing to slow down. I want to grow, learn and ultimately change for the better. I’m not looking for my “other half”, because that other half is me. I am a whole person, and striving towards being an authentic, wholehearted one, at that. It’s not easy, and sometimes the road is terribly lonely, but loneliness is only temporary. Investing in myself is a priceless gift, away from the distraction and noise.

So, if you end up sitting next to me at happy hour one of these days, please say hi. I’ll be the one doing my very best to engage authentically and with an open heart; my phone buried deep at the bottom of my bag.

Forty-Three

The other day I went to a restaurant for the first time since March. I felt ecstatic, then overwhelmed and horrified. I mean, there were people there. Droves of them. (Okay, there were only about fifteen, it was a strictly outdoor venue and we were all safely placed within many feet of one another.) But still – people! All dressed up, talking and laughing, eating food and drinking drinks. Acting normal.

And for a moment, all seemed right in the world. I breathed a (masked) sigh of relief.

*****
Tomorrow is my 43rd birthday.

Confession: I have been struggling lately. A lot. I am not proud to admit this, but anxiety has taken the wheel. I know I’m not alone in experiencing anxiety these days, and that is somewhat consoling. But tell that to me at 3:36 a.m. when I’m lying alone, wide awake in bed, staring at the ceiling fan and praying its incessant whir will lull me back to sleep. All the while, my heart feels like it’s going to leap out of my chest and bolt for the door, taunting me with maniacal threats of never returning.

The thoughts run like this: What will happen to my career? What do I do next? How do I pivot? Who will publish my book now? Why aren’t people buying my album? How will I make more money? What does my industry look like from now on? When will it return? What does dating look like? (Hint: non-existent!)

And, coupled with recent trips (yes, more than one!) to the dentist – fear in the waiting room, fear of the unknown cost; blubbering in the chair; the sound and smell of drilling; obsessively checking and re-checking the mirror – I finally crumpled.

Give me a pandemic and a truly unknown future, take away my preferred creative outlet and I’ll give you 170% real, raw Leslie. The remaining 30% is reserved for my husband on our wedding night. Snort.

Leslie cries. She makes mistakes. She is anxious. She is a perfectionist. She’s terrified of the dentist. At times, she is horrible at self-care and self-love. She’s constantly battling her bank account. She compares herself to others and subsequently feels like a failure. She isn’t sure how to pivot during this time.

Pivot. Pivot. Pivot. Oh, how I hate that fucking word.

Yet.

Leslie is grateful. Leslie is strong (albeit unwillingly, at times). Leslie is determined. She works her ass off. Leslie apparently talks in the third person. Leslie goes to therapy. Leslie is learning to meditate. Leslie is witty, kind, funny, generous, helpful, capable, talented, honest, vulnerable, hopeful, compassionate, warm, loving, a good kisser, lover, writer, singer, driver, songwriter, teacher, employee, daughter, sister, housemate, friend.

Leslie is loved.

*****
Earlier this month, I was on a Zoom call with more than eighty Biola University Chorale alumni honoring our dear friend, director and mentor, Loren Wiebe, who had just celebrated a milestone birthday.

He shared his wisdom: “Where you end up in life has very little to do with what you’ve accomplished and everything to do with whom you have loved.”

Amen.

I love, and I am loved.

And that is all that matters.

Happy birthday to me.

20th Universary

Today would have been my 20th wedding anniversary.

Over the past couple of days, I have been pondering how I feel about it, and I have found nothing. There are no tears. There is no sadness. I feel nothing. It is just a quiet fact. 

So, today, I am celebrating ten years of singlehood. I celebrate the woman I have become. I celebrate being able to heal. I celebrate the fact I have fallen in love and had my heart broken again and again and again. I celebrate the fact that my heart works, and I’m still open to sharing it with someone again – someday.

Today, I celebrate ME.

#happyuniversary

Grammar Matters

Enjoyed a leisurely Sunday afternoon at my favorite happy hour spot, devouring my latest library find.

Guy seated next to me: “How is it you’re single?!”‬

I looked up from my book, propped my elbow up on the bar and rested my chin in my hand.

“Forgiving the presumptive and irksome nature of your question, the answer is as follows:

Besides the overwhelmingly disappointing inability to step it up to my level, the men who lackadaisically profess interest are petrified to send me grammatically incorrect texts.”‬

Butterflies

I used to attach meaning to butterflies. If one crossed my path, I would take it as a sign that something good was about to happen, or that God was approving. It was something purposeful and special, meant for me.

Later, I decided it was all bullshit.

Eaton Canyon hike - Painted Lady

Painted Lady butterfly I captured on my hike in Altadena, California

Confession: I have been really struggling lately.

I’m stressed out. I’m afraid. I miss New York and my “cool life” there. I still love my ex-boyfriend, even though he’s long since moved on. It’s over, and I accept that. Actively choosing to move forward is a lot harder than it looks (but I am as happy as I look on my Instagram feed, dammit)! I have an album coming out in July that cost more than I raised, and I have no fucking idea how I’m going to pay for it. I can’t get my publisher to return my emails. I’m working, but barely part time. I’m living (again!) with my incredibly gracious and generous friends, Curt and Kathy, and I don’t know how I can ever repay their kindness. (I do pay rent!) I don’t feel like I deserve it. I own nothing but four (really awesome) pillows, a duvet, a smattering of clothes I am extremely tired of, a guitar that, some days, is hard to look at, much less play (see above about the ex), an explicit grammar mug, a bourbon glass (ugh, the ex again), a computer, a phone, and Mavis the Mini (oh, how I love her).

I feel like a total loser. There, I said it. Oops.

This morning, I took my blood pressure and it was elevated.

“Here,” Curt said, as he directed me to the couch and propped up some pillows. He switched on the TV and found the Relaxation channel in 4K. He sat next to me for a moment.

“Take it again.”

It was significantly lower.

“Now come with me,” Curt said, as he took my right hand. The velcro strap of the blood pressure machine dangled from my left arm. He grabbed a sheepskin throw off the couch and led me outside to one of the Adirondack chairs nestled underneath the massive Deodar cedar.

He covered the chair with the sheepskin. I laughed, and sat down.

“Now look,” Curt said, with a smug grin.

“At what?” I adjusted my feet.

“Do you see them? Look across the grass.” He pointed towards the neighbor’s house.

I pushed my glasses firmly to the bridge of my nose. My gaze followed.

And I saw them. A frenzy of butterflies — possibly hundreds of them! — dancing, swirling and fluttering in the air, with purpose.

“They’re called Painted Ladies and they’re migrating north,” Curt informed me, then reached over and pressed the START button on the machine. He left.

I sat, my mouth agape, and barely felt my left arm being squeezed.

I’d never seen so many butterflies in my life. And I’m quite certain there is no meaning, other than the fact that butterflies actually migrate north, along the mountain line, lay their eggs, then die.

I watched them flirt with their struggle. Several flew right across my face. One even flew down my shirt and fluttered momentarily in my bosom, before I helped him escape.

Curt re-appeared with Dick Cat trying unsuccessfully to squirm out of his grip. I laughed heartily, and the monitor reflected it.

And then, the annoying, overused Christianese cliche-because-it’s-true seeped into my heart and spread to my brain.

I am so blessed. And I use that word, “blessed”, because I now know that blessing is synonymous with suffering. There is always joy to be found. And it’s authentic.

Maybe butterflies themselves have no meaning (those poor suckers don’t live that long!), but if you don’t stop and look, you won’t see them.

Right now, I don’t have anything (besides Mavis!) that I would have ever chosen for myself. I am still reeling from leaving New York. I don’t have my own apartment. I don’t have the things and the stuff and the relationship I so deeply yearn for. Or am still grieving.

But I have good, dear, wonderful friends who love me. Friends who listen and encourage. Friends who have invited me into their lives. Friends who are the very epitome of grace. Friends who don’t care if my bank account looks like a 14-year-old’s earnings from mowing lawns once a week.

I have friends who take me by the hand and lead me to the butterflies.

And that means everything.

Epiphany

I had an epiphany last weekend.

Saturday, I drove Mavis the Mini down to south Orange County (California) to spend the remainder of the holiday weekend with my best friend, her husband and their five-year-old daughter.

Somewhere near Disneyland, shoving the remainder of my protein-style burger from In-N-Out into my mouth and shifting from fifth to sixth gear, I actively decided that I was done with my most recent breakup. Well, all of them, in fact. Done-zo. Over it. Buh, bye. Peace out. Thank you, next. (Also, yes, if you need to cue the song, go ahead, but Grammar Queen over here will be spelling out the entire word.)

MOVING ON.

It feels so good.

Here’s what I know: if someone wants to be with you, they’ll be with you. It’s that simple.

I’m not in denial anymore. I’m not holding on anymore. I’m embracing my (single) life as is. It’s actually really good, even if I’m no where near where I thought I would be, part seven hundred and sixty-four.

Another epiphany I had yesterday morning, while dolling up to go to the gynecologist and have an ultrasound of my old, cyst-riddled uterus is this: it’s okay to mourn the loss of what you thought you would have. Or even what you thought — or was told — you deserved.

Life is hard. But it’s still beautiful, even if you were robbed of your ideas and expectations of how it would turn out.

The greatest strength to move forward is found in letting go.

Live fully. Love freely. Grieve if you need to, but don’t linger or wallow. Move the fuck on, because there’s so much great unexpectedness waiting for you. Embrace, live in and cherish each moment from here on out.

Else, your life will pass you by. And it won’t be anyone’s fault but your own.

Forty-One

I’m 41 today. I’m all alone in a big house, taking care of a scrawny orange cat who is a total dick. And since I’m all alone in a big house with a scrawny orange cat who is a total dick AND IT’S MY BIRTHDAY, I decided to lounge around in lingerie. I also did some gardening. In lingerie.

In lieu of writing flowery poetry about turning 41, I am going to quote my dear, good friend Renee.

“41 is going to be your year. You are going to find love in a way you never expected. And you are going to release your album and it’s going to be a tremendous success. You are going to receive the desires of your heart. You are going to be financially stable.

You are going to be completely at peace with yourself, and that’s what the love is. Whether it’s a man or it’s just you being at peace with all of the goodness of who you are and how you are and why you are — you are going to be at peace.”

Amen. Here’s to love. Here’s to peace. Here’s to 41.