Dear Midwest, I Have A Crush On You

I just returned from a business trip to Omaha, Nebraska and I think I can say it… I have kind of a crush. Not on any of my coworkers – that would be weird and I think Gil might have a few things to say about it. No – I have a crush on the Midwest. Or basically everyone I met in Omaha.

I don’t even know if Omaha is technically considered the Midwest, but whatever. It’s not on a coast – it’s the Midwest to me.

And I mean, I should clarify – I didn’t fall in love with the city of Omaha itself. Although I will say they had a much cuter downtown area than I was expecting. It was yuppie and trendy enough to impress a Bay Area snob like me. Good eats, good drinks, good atmosphere.

Outside of that, it was definitely much FLATTER than I’m used to… you can see much further in one direction than I think is natural. And I know for a fact I wouldn’t survive a whole winter out there. My idea of a heavy winter coat is basically a sweater with a big faux fur collar.

But the allure of Omaha is the people. I can’t remember the last time I interacted with so many friendly people in a row. Everyone is nice out there… for NO REASON. It’s a little unnerving, because when people out here are that nice to you, it’s usually because they’re trying to scam you or they want something from you. I sound jaded, but it’s true. I’ve lived in the Bay Area, LA and New York, and whenever strangers are overtly nice to me, I go on high alert.

In Omaha, that’s just how they roll. I took Uber back and forth to the office while I was there (mostly because I can’t be trusted to drive company rental cars – you hit ONE WALL and it becomes a thing) and every single one of my drivers was friendly, engaging and had a story to tell. And I walked away with business cards from three of them.

There was the real estate agent who had lived in San Diego, Portland and all over Florida, but always came back to Omaha because it was in his blood. He spent a good chunk of our time together selling me on all the reasons why Omaha was the best place to live. I told him I wanted to leave California so Gil and I could afford a real house together, and he offered me his card and told me to consider Omaha for the quality of life. He’s the one that old me the Midwest (Omaha in particular), has such a strong sense of community because the winters are so miserable that they all have to pull together to help each other out to get through it.

Then there was the limo driver who was warm and friendly and felt like a family member I just hadn’t met yet. He told me all about the crazy shenanigans he’s witnessed as a limo driver – the worst of which was when he was driving all day for a wedding, when halfway through the reception the groom comes out with the MAID OF HONOR and fully gets it on right there in the limo, with the privacy partition down. He told me her hair was basically on his sleeve as her head was jammed between the front seats but that it wasn’t his place to get involved. I got his card too, in case I need limo or car service next time I’m in town. Or if I ever need a secret place to cheat, since apparently part of his fee includes minding his own business at all costs.

And on my way out of town, I met a stay at home mom who was driving for Uber to help pay off her car and supplement the family income while she is attempting to write a young adult novel based loosely on her son. We hit it off so much it felt like we were old girlfriends and she told me I was the perfect first passenger… flattery will get you everywhere. I have her blog info somewhere in one of my bags too and I will buy her book if she ever publishes it.

Out here in the Bay Area, it’s just not like that. People are much more focused on keeping to themselves. More interested in checking their emails and following up on the latest messages in Slack to actually speak to the person driving them around the city.

And I basically lump myself into that group too – I am the “them” who are too tied up in technology to interact with people on a more human level. Then I went to Omaha and realized that maybe it really ISN’T me… maybe I’m a product of my environment. I can take on the the personality of the city I’m in, and I liked what that meant for those 4 days out there in the middle of the country.

So I got sucked in you guys. I started to imagine our future together, the Midwest and I. Started thinking about what it would be like if we got to see each other more often… if things got more serious and we even decided to make it a little more permanent.

It was basically the equivalent of being so used to Tinder dates who pull out their dicks when you’re not looking, to going out with someone tall and handsome with broad shoulders who pulls out chairs and holds doors for you and kisses you so passionately your knees buckle, but doesn’t pressure you to go home with him the first night. You don’t really know anything about him, but you’ve named your future children with him before you fall asleep that night.

The reality is, statistically speaking he will probably wind up to have one or more personality traits you can’t stand, like the fact that he always tries to order for you in restaurants, or that he starts to try to push his aggressive religious beliefs on you. Or that he always screams the name Wyatt when he comes. You know, it’s always something.

So I need to keep my shit in check… I need to stop searching Realtor.com and getting a lady boner when I see what kind of house I can afford in Omaha. I need to accept it for what it was. A vacation fling with a local that was only magical for those 4 days in that hotel when “real life” seemed so far away.

The Perfect Vacation… And Other Lies Facebook Told Me

I haven’t posted in awhile… I really need to get better about that. To be fair, a big part of the reason is because I just returned from a 16 day trip to Europe with Gil. I know, rough life right? We spent the holidays in Paris, Venice, Florence and Rome. And it was just as beautiful as you would imagine it to be.

And I can confidently say I had a wonderful time with the man I love and it was an experience I will never forget. AND I had the best New Year’s celebration of my life, on a boat in Venice watching an incredible fireworks show and drinking champagne with my honey… it was like something out of a sappy romance novel.

BUT (and this is a big BUT) it was not the picture perfect European getaway I had been imagining. It was hard work! And we stayed in nice hotels and flew with an upgrade to “Premium Economy” (totally worth it by the way) and STILL there were more trials and tribulations than I imagined a dream vacation like this would have.

So while our friends and family got to drool over the pictures I posted to social media, they really only paint half of the picture. The GOOD half, obvs.

trip collageWe have all read about the Facebook effect right? This weird phenomenon of comparing your seemingly drab, complicated, messy, unorganized life to the picture perfect moments of people you went to elementary school with who now have the perfect life, and flawlessly documented new vacation/baby/house/wedding and make you feel like you’re somehow lacking in comparison. Because whether we admit it or not, we are all guilty of trying to put our best foot forward on social media, and with that automatically comes a bit of manipulation of the truth. Not a lie exactly… but maybe a lie of omission in some cases.

Normally I read about this exercise in the context of parenthood: a gorgeous professional picture of the entire family smiling… while everyone was actually screaming at each other between shots and the toddler was eating boogers in all but two frames. The snow filled photos with carefully selected Instagram filter of the little ones sledding for the first time… when really it took five hours in traffic to get there, they fought with each other the whole trip,  and they spent a grand total of 15 minutes in the snow before they complained so vehemently about being cold and wet that you could LITERALLY feel hairs on your head turning gray.

I AM TOTALLY GUILTY OF THIS. I just perpetrated this crime of social media for almost 3 weeks straight. Obviously not with children – I leave that parenting shit to you masochists. No, I essentially Photoshopped my vacation. Not REALLY – I didn’t actually physically manipulate the pictures themselves, but I definitely smoothed over the rough edges so the finished product was shiny and beautiful and ready for consumption.

Don’t get me wrong, I DID have the trip of a lifetime with the man I love. It was thrilling, beautiful, exhilarating, exciting, romantic, and delicious. And if you look at the pictures I posted you would glean exactly that.

What you WOULDN’T see are my teary eyes from that stupid argument we had in front of the Eiffel Tower about retaking a picture because I felt so self-conscious about how fat I looked, which is why I’m wearing his sunglasses in some of the pictures. Those pictures of the Louvre are drool worthy, but you don’t see the three hour line we waited in because we didn’t think to buy a museum pass ahead of time and how by the time we got in I could barely walk (I am still recovering from extensive ankle surgery) and so I spent most of my time there looking for benches instead of admiring art. The Colosseum is awe-inspiring, but you can’t see how sick I am at that point, or how exhausted we both are which led to us snapping at each other for no good reason.

Yes, we shared those stories with a handful of friends and family when we got home, but to a casual observer I got the perfect European vacation with my perfectly bearded lumberjack of a boyfriend. Truth? 16 days of travelling together is when shit gets real. Eleven hour flights. Questionable cab rides. Gross underestimation of how much money you’d be spending on food (some of which was totally mediocre). A swollen and throbbing ankle. Long lines. Short tempers. Obnoxious tourists. Meltdowns. MY PERIOD, a week early.

It happens. Of course it does. Life is messy and chaotic and tragic and bloody sometimes. And I would definitely use each of those adjectives to describe moments in our trip. The real triumph? The one you don’t see in any of the pictures? The fact that those were merely MOMENTS. The fact that we tackled them together instead of tearing each other down further even though it would have been so easy to do – to take out our frustration with a stressful situation on the one we love the most.

The best parts of the trip? The way we sat on a bench overlooking the canal in Venice snuggled up together watching the sun on the water. How tight he held me on the boat when we were watching fireworks on New Year’s. Feeling him reach for my hand halfway through an eleven hour flight when he was somewhere between asleep and awake. The way he helped me with my suitcase on the train in Florence even though he warned me not to over-pack because I would be responsible for my own bags. Spoiler alert: I over-packed.

These are the moments I didn’t document but they’re some of the most vivid memories. And honestly, I wouldn’t change any of them, good or bad. Well, that’s a lie too. I would totally wish for a healthy ankle so I wouldn’t have been in a walking cast for most of the trip. And maybe I would have eaten even more cheese. Yeah, definitely more cheese.

But I wouldn’t trade the experience. Now we KNOW the things we would do differently (I think 10 days is probably our max). And now whenever I see someone posting pictures from their own “perfect” vacation, I always wonder what those “real” moments actually look like. Those would make a much more interesting photo album…

Imaginary Elephants

We had an argument over imaginary elephants last night.

I’m not even kidding. It didn’t escalate into a fight or anything, but that is partially because Gil stopped to point out THE LEVEL OF CRAZY at which I was operating, and how I needed to blog about it as an example of the way a woman’s mind can work that men will never understand.

So here we are. Come on a little journey with me, won’t you?

It all started out innocently enough. We were talking about our upcoming trip to Europe this winter. I am counting down – it will be my first time visiting Europe, and we’ll be spending Christmas in Paris, which has been a dream of mine since I took French in high school. I failed at actually learning French, but discovered brie and red wine and I was sold. One of the other stops we will be making on our trip is Venice. Gil’s been to Italy once with his family, but it will be a trip of firsts for me. We were talking about the things we are most excited about, and I brought up the gondolas in Venice.

Now, you have to understand, I am WAY more of a tourist than he is. I want to do the things I’ve read about, and get pictures of it to remember the experience and remind myself when I’m old and senile what a fun life I’ve actually led. He has an aversion to big crowds and most things considered mainstream and popular. He could spend all day just wandering around the side streets and never take a single picture and be as happy as a clam.

So when I naively asked if he had ridden the gondolas when he was there, I really should have known the answer. “Oh, hell no! It looked fucking horrible. It was snowing and people were bundled up and miserable and it cost hundreds of dollars and you’re floating along what is basically sewage. I can’t understand why anyone would subject themselves to that.”

Oh. Tell me how you really feel.

“I don’t care. I want to ride in a gondola. If it’s dumping down snow then MAYBE we can skip it,” I responded. This was not up for debate. He realized he was going to lose the battle and conceded, but only after I agreed that it did sound kind of expensive and I would have to pony up for this one.

I told him he was being a stick in the mud, and that these things can actually be really fun, SO GET EXCITED. In hindsight, I’m not sure you can really command someone to get excited about something they’re being dragged into, but we don’t need to dwell on that part.

For some reason, I wasn’t done though.

“Seriously babe, we are going to travel so much and there are so many amazing things we’ll experience. But we have to do some of the tourist things too. I mean, when we go to Thailand, you’ll ride an elephant with me, won’t you?”

Young couple tourists to ride on an elephant in Pinnewala, Sri Lanka.

OK, pause. We do not have a trip to Thailand planned. We have talked about it in the abstract, and I know that it’s somewhere we both would really like to go, but a total of zero plans have been made.

For some reason, I just decided that this imaginary trip and this imaginary elephant were the perfect example of the types of things I want us to do together in our travels. This is where things started to go downhill a bit.

Unsurprisingly, he declared that this was yet one more experience he has zero desire to fulfill. “Hey, just because I don’t want to ride an elephant doesn’t mean you can’t,” he informed me. “If you trust it won’t have a heart attack and accidentally roll over and crush you, go ahead. I’ll be on the ground and I’ll be happy to take pictures.”

Spoilsport. Stick in the mud. Parade rainer-oner. Party pooper. These were all the things that were running through my head as he was talking, in the voice of 5-year-old Courtney. And I may have communicated some of these feelings, in the voice of 30-year-old Courtney. And while it had started out as lighthearted ribbing, somewhere along the way I started to actually get a little upset. I’m not proud of it. But it happened.

Let me illustrate an example of how the train of thought can derail and explode so quickly:

He won’t ride an elephant with me in Thailand. ⇒ He doesn’t enjoy the same types of things I do. ⇒ We are going to fight about the things we want to do on our vacations. ⇒ Shit, we are planning to travel a lot together and we’re never going to be able to agree on things to do. Ever. ⇒ Ohmygod, are we not as compatible as I thought we were?? ⇒ I don’t even know this person!!!  We are doomed. 

And here is how it would have gone the other way around:

She won’t ride an elephant with me in Thailand. ⇒ OK, whatever. I wonder what we have in the fridge. I’m kinda hungry.

I exaggerate. Well, a little. Kind of. Luckily for me, Gil is highly trained in detecting crazy, and as soon as I got suspiciously silent (long enough for some of the above crazy train to get rolling) he jumped in. “I want to point out this moment in time babe. Right now. As you are about to get upset with me for not wanting to ride an elephant that DOESN’T EXIST. On a trip we HAVEN’T PLANNED. You are about to get legitimately upset with me for not wanting to ride a made-up elephant on a made-up trip. I can tell.”

And then he broke down into hysterical laughter. So did I. I started laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe. The kind of full bodied laughter where you aren’t really in control of it, and suddenly you snort without realizing it, and that just gets you going all over again.

He was 100% right. I tried to play it off, telling him I wasn’t actually upset and was just giving him a hard time. But he knew. He knew I was full of shit. I hadn’t even realized it, but I was teetering right on the precipice and about tumble down into the crazy canyon of imagined issues and manufactured arguments.

Now, I’m not saying all women operate like this. I may be my own special breed of quirky. But I don’t think there would be so many best-sellers and advice columns and radio shows on the differences between men and women if I am really alone in moments like these.