Candidly Reading #2: Tell Me Lies, Carola Lovering

Candidly Reading #2: Tell Me Lies, Carola Lovering

There is nothing that will sell me on a guilty pleasure read quite like twin recommendations from Cosmopolitan and theSkimm. So when I came across the ombre cover for Carola Lovering’s Tell Me Lies (which, through the novel, you learn is named after Fleetwood Mac’s song “Little Lies”), I was quick to make it my next read.

The premise in essence is very simply collegiate girl-meets-older-boy. But very quickly, I became aware of how Tell Me Lies was going to serve as more than just a fun read. Heroine Lucy Albright is introduced as an aspiring journalist in a non-industry job trying to mentally prepare for seeing the guy who epically broke her heart at a wedding they are both attending. Her narration, altering between her college years and the hours of the wedding, is coupled by those of Stephen DeMarco’s college narration, the very boy who broke her heart. Their duality offers cutting insights into both sides of an addictive and spiraling love affair that derails not once, not twice, but thrice.

And more than once, I saw my relationship — my only relationship to date — unfold on page in glaring ink and typeface.

DISCLAIMER #1: This post contains spoilers. Sorry. Don’t come here if you don’t want the tea.

DISCLAIMER #2: If you are close to me and you don’t want to relive 2015-2016, for understandable reasons, then this post is not for you. You do not need to be supportive right now.


For eight tumultuous months, he was my favorite person.

But those months were brutal. They started with an argument about what the “rules” were for behavior at music festivals. It escalated from there to losing my best friend over their old flame (something I, admittedly, should have been more prepared for). There was the night that I screamed in my sleep in rage because he was fazing me out, my mother in bed next to me having driven two hours up from Annapolis to comfort me in ways she simply could not have done over the phone. There were the Christmas presents thrown at me from the doorway of his bedroom, and the (light) push backwards when I came too close during one of his rants that followed.

People always talk about realizing they’re in love during the happy moments, but I think you realize it in the bad ones. The ones that knock you off center, scaring you when they prove that no matter what kind of logic is in your head, it’s what’s in your heart that determines fucking everything.

Tell Me Lies, Lovering

And yet if you asked me during this time what I was doing with him, I would have said he was my best friend, my person, my soulmate. I loved him more than I loved anything in the whole world. When we were good, it felt like I was alive in another plane than I had ever experienced in my previous twenty-one years. So, yes, against all reason and all judgment, I kept returning every time that he would take me back. As long as I was given chances, as I viewed them (instead of me giving them to him), I was okay.

I was delirious and idiotic and naive and irresponsible and self-destructive, and I knew all of that. But none of it weighed anything against what I actually felt. Do you follow your head or your heart? which do you do? Your heart, always. Right? I didn’t think I would ever stop believing that.

Tell Me Lies, Lovering

When it actually did end, I descended into my darkest mental health to date. It was shocking to me how bleak my life seemed in his absence. For the six months to follow, I was a shell of the person I was prior to our relationship. It took moving to another country, completely detaching myself from the ghost not only of him but also of those who had separated themselves from me in the aftermath, in order to grant myself the clarity and chance to start fresh. I gave myself permission to go on dates again, although I didn’t kiss anyone for another year. When I finally did re-enter the physical arena of romance, I found myself avaricious, eager to gain some sort of confirmation that I was still desirable now that I was capable of optioning myself that way.

Three years passed and (just like Lucy in Tell Me Lies) I found myself in New York City, fully redeemed and confident again. And then he was nine miles away from my apartment.

Whoever I was then seemed like a long-lost version of myself, someone I didn’t know anymore, and I couldn’t figure out how I’d gotten to where I was. I’d been experiencing the same recurring thoughts since I’d moved back to New York: What was I doing? Why was I still chasing him? Did I even like him as a person? How could I ever bank on a future with someone I couldn’t trust? There was that one stubborn, annoyingly veracious part of me that knew wanting Stephen had to be wrong. If you ignored the gray and got really honest, if everything in the world was separated into black and white, into good and bad, Stephen would fall into bad.

Tell Me Lies, Lovering

I knew that I shouldn’t have gone to drinks with him. I kept it quiet, not telling anyone what I was doing beforehand and only a few after the fact. I knew it would hurt many who stood by me, alienate their loyalty, but I couldn’t stand strong, stand reformed, without having the chance to shove it in his face and say, “Look! Look what you did to me, and I’m still here!” And — if I’m being honest — there was still affection.

We are no longer in contact, and I don’t anticipate that will change anytime soon. Like Lucy at the end of the book, when Stephen comes up and tries to flirt with her at the wedding with his fiancée just feet away, she knows that there is no reason to pursue something that to him is just a game. Much like the end of the book, Lucy is able to go and pursue her writing and Stephen is stuck in a dead-end finance job (just like my ex).

Tell Me Lies was exactly the cathartic read that I needed. At the end, I feel as strong and empowered as Lucy. The world is capable of so much more than the multitudes of cookie cutter Stephen DeMarcos. I know this because I see it in my parents, in my friends’ relationships, in my relatives. I feel it in the love they show me.

One day, writing this won’t even cross my mind. It will be, as my ex said when he broke up with me, “a blip on [my/your] radar.” Because, one day, there will be real love in the picture. That all-encompassing, past-relationship-amnesia-causing love that comes into your life in the most common ways. As CJ, Lucy’s mom, tells her in one of their last scenes:

Love — real love — isn’t something you construct or hope or imagine or plan for the future. Love is something you live and feel in real time, in every single moment, big or small. It’s reciprocal and often unglamorous. But we bank on it because it’s what gives life meaning.

In response to International Women’s Day: On nurturing female sexuality

Years later, after I began The Last Romantic blog, I would remember those magazine covers. They suggested something so alluring, so corrupting that they were safe only on the highest shelf, where children and women could not reach. Female sex appeal was dangerous. Sexual desire something expressible exclusively by men. My friends’ fathers, male teachers, older brothers. All of them, reaching for that high shelf. Where, I asked myself then, was my high shelf? And what wonders would I find there?

The Last Romantics, Tara Conklin

On an ordinary weekday in 2002, my mother was hurriedly cleaning out her minivan in the parking lot of the auto-dealer’s mechanic shop with my four year old brother standing watch. As she emptied the various remnants of our everyday life out of the cluttered vehicle, my brother came upon a Victoria’s Secret magazine. My mom was so preoccupied with transferring everything to the interim rental car that she wasn’t aware of Joe flipping through the pages of bras and panties until his small voice pipped up with a confident, “Hey, Mom, can I take this to Doug’s house?”

It has been a solid 17 years since this has occurred and yet this story is told time and time again in my family, always with with my Dad’s final bravado of a fist pump and a proud, “That’s my boy!” My younger brother’s straightforward and non-dubious heterosexuality has been a point of family lore for almost two decades. Now, he has a steady girlfriend of three years and their intimacy is completely understood as par for the course, nothing that needs further inspection or parental involvement although he is twenty years old.

In comparison, when I was six years old and caught imitating dance moves of popular icons of the time Britney Spears or Christina
Aguilera (we’re talking “Oops…I Did It Again!” and “What A Girl Wants” era, nothing extreme) I was hurriedly urged to stop. My youthful and harmless exploration of female allure and sexual freedom did not receive the same laughter as my brother just two years later.

When in high school I started to develop adolescent crushes on my peers, my parents would pry and tease. While this was meant harmlessly, it made me feel as if what I was feeling was wrongful and a point of fault. My involvement in drama productions with romantic plots elicited unwanted investigations into my own romantic exploits — of which, there were honestly none. I was subjected to talks at my Catholic high school that separated the male and female populations only to urge the girls that intercourse would only encourage the man to leave while committing you emotionally further, a terrifying thought for someone who had never been even asked on a date. I became shy, romantically introverted, afraid to talk to men in the instance of inciting rumors. This ultimately led to underdevelopment, my first romantic kiss not occurring until age 21 — a point at which many of my friends were losing their virginity and telling me that I simply “didn’t understand.” At a crucial point when I should have been claiming my sexual identity — in whatever form that was — I found myself apologizing for it time and time again in conversations between my family, my Church, and my friends, all of whom saw my status as some form of potentially problematic or downright reprehensible.

When I finally did become sexually active, I was seen as “changed.” While I expected to be welcomed into the club of non-virgins, there was no banner awaiting me on the other side. And it seemed I had spurned those I left on the abstinence track; one close friend even went so far as to say that our friendship would suffer because I wouldn’t understand her struggles anymore. The relationship that led me to that point ran its course, and I was left with the knowledge that I now had the freedom to choose where I went from here, but also the overwhelming and imminent judgement on my actions if I chose to share them with anyone.


Today, I still hold remnants of these beginnings in my bones when it comes to claiming my sexuality. I do not have a right to the grandiose and more moving stories, I do not think, like those of the LGBTQ+ community. But perhaps there is something quietly relatable in the fact that female sexual freedom is still so underwhelmingly represented and passively repressed. When I do start the conversation, I try to keep it light. Severity is threatening to the house of cards we as a global society have so carefully constructed when it comes to sexual liberation and who can have it.

So today, I’m grateful for the women who challenge me and the world to step outside our comfort zones. I’m grateful for Virginia Johnson of Masters & Johnson. I’m grateful for the sex-positive feminists. I’m grateful for those out there who tell women they don’t have to be sexually active to be worthwhile too. I’m grateful for the female (and male) friendships that pushed me to open up and the friendships that celebrated my milestones.

Thank you, women. And thank you, men, for listening to us. May this world be kinder tomorrow because of your bravery today.

On being happily lonesome

She did a lot of things, but most importantly she continued to choose what was best for her each day. She stopped worrying about those who never returned the calls or messages. She stopped stressing over the small stuff and learned how to grow into her full potential. She finally gave her heart away to herself.

Zachry K. Douglas, Pinterest.com

It’s been one month since I moved to New York and, admittedly, I am on a train back to Annapolis right now for a brief weekend visit. New York has thrown me curveballs, one after another, and — and I am well aware I am mixing my sports metaphors here — I have been bowling what feels like straight gutterballs in response.

If I’m being honest with you, dear reader, and being honest with myself, it has gone something like this: I’ve been ghosted by two guys, several girls (BumbleBFF…I have no shame), and even some potential employers. Four, if we’re really pressing me to count.

I spend most of my days with my headphones locked in. The voices that pour from them are more familiar than my own — and more used. I eagerly wait for my roommates to get home from their lives, but I know that I cannot rely on them for entertainment. They, of course, have their own lives. So I find ways to make a life of my own.

Most days I rise when I want. This can be 9 am or noon. On the rare occasion, I’ll have an interview I need to be ready for, and those are always exciting, tantalizing a future worth dreaming after. But those are not most days. Most days I rise and begin to work on applications with a bowl of Captain Crunch to my left and my liter of LaCroix not far behind it. Then, when my brain doesn’t want to work any more, I make it to the gym. And once I’m sweaty, breathless, invigorated, and feeling steadier than an hour earlier, I go to the grocery to pick up whatever I can afford for dinner. I shower, cook, and call my best friend in the world for a few laughs even though she is 5 hours different and 4,000 miles away.

It isn’t a glamorous life. But there are perks. I’ve reached out to temporary agencies in the hopes that they’ll be able to find me something to tide me over until the real job, the career, starts. I’ve started to plan solo dates — time away from the apartment that engages me creatively. I’m going to my postgraduate university’s alumni association event at the end of the month at an art gallery. I’m going to two concerts alone — possibly three if I can’t figure out who to give my extra ticket to Gavin James to. I’m embracing the solitude.

If I didn’t know what it feels like to be broken, then how would I know what it feels like to be whole?

“Maybe it’s Okay,” We Are Messengers

I’ve been alone before. When I was in Dublin, I felt untethered for much of it. While I loved the city, and while I loved the experiences I had both domestic and abroad, I was incredibly solitary.

I see the mirror image of it forming in New York. And surprisingly, I’m not scared.

Because this time, this is an opportunity. An opportunity to love myself in ways that I neglected for fear of becoming to insular in London. For fear of shrinking away again, I gave away myself too freely when I first arrived in New York. This, though, this newfound solitude — however involuntary it may be (I prefer to think fated) — is offering me the chance to place myself first once more as I near my 25th birthday. A chance to reassess my goals, my promises to myself, my fears and my rationalizations that stop me from facing them.

And when life offers you a chance for growth, you have to take it — don’t you?

You are no longer insulated; but I suppose you must touch life in order to spring from it.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

On what it takes to live

Today, I don’t write on my own contemplations. Instead, I want to share with you a beautiful passage that I found in Matt Haig’s How To Stop Time, something I picked up for a book club I’m attending next week. It goes like this:

And, just as it only takes a moment to die, it only takes a moment to live. You just close your eyes and let every futile fear slip away. And then, in this new state, free from fear, you ask yourself: who am I? If I could live without doubt what would I do? If I could be kind without the fear of being fucked over? If I could love without fear of being hurt? If I could taste the sweetness of today without thinking of how I will miss that taste tomorrow? If I could not fear the passing of time and the people it will steal? Yes. What would I do? Which paths would I step down? What joys would I allow myself? What internal mysteries would I solve? How, in short, would I live?

How To Stop Time, Matt Haig pg. 318

On sibling Snapchats

On sibling Snapchats

And being one of your favorites has always been one of the things I liked most about myself. To be loved in a special way by someone like you, who was loved by everyone so much, was the best part of being your friend.

The Beauty That Remains, Ashley Woodfolk

“Yeah, he’s my best friend,” I say, sitting at the high-top in the back of the bar on the Upper West Side, concentrating on not looking down at my drink as I bring the straw to my lips. My date looks across at me with an unreadable smile — the same one he’s been wearing all night — and I feel forced to continue. “Well, I should clarify. Maybe best friend doesn’t describe it. He’s more like my favorite person. I would lay my life down for that kid. Adult. Kid? Adult? He’s 20. I don’t know…you talk.”

My date laughs. “That’s cool you’re so close with your brother. I’m not as close with my siblings. Do you two talk every day?”

I nod. “Kind of? We Snapchat. But it’s almost constant. Our streak is 173 days right now. I always mess it up when we get to 199. I’m cursed.”

And before I know it, we’re joking about social media and my date’s lack of expertise in the area, justifying my own lack of expertise, and the “hot seat” has eased off of me and back into the steady rhythm of first date banter.


When I was three years old, I became acutely aware that my life was lacking a very, very fashionable accessory that all my friends seemed to be sporting: a sibling. Brooke had Emory. Kelsey had Jason. Robert had Doug. Rachel had Alex. Me? I was a solo flyer, a lone-wolf, if you will. So I began to beg my parents for a sibling. And not just any sibling — a boy sibling. It had to be a brother.

My mother and father, little did I know, were already trying. It was hard enough the first time. They knew the routine for the second, but this time presented its own hardships. When my mom did become pregnant, they began to coach me that the odds were not stacked that it would be a boy. They wanted to prepare me for the chance that I could have a sister. This — did not work. At the doctor’s screening when we would find out the gender of Baby No. 2, my parents heard a weird whimpering only to turn and find me muffling sobs in the corner as I dreaded the potential that it could be a girl. The anxiety was literally driving me to tears at four years old. So when it was revealed that it was in fact exactly what I wanted, I was ecstatic.

Being an older sister to a younger brother brought its struggles through the years. God knows I wasn’t perfect at it either (sorry, Joe, for testing every creative insult on you). And there was distance between us for the years in which we were in the same house, particularly in our formative middle- and high-school years.

But the minute I left the house, that gap seemed to close. It was like being forcefully, physically separated made us grasp for that proximity that we had grown accustomed to for the previous fourteen years of his life.

I’ll never forget when he texted me that he liked a girl.

Or when he called out my (and I cannot stress this enough) asshole ex-boyfriend over Snapchat when he was over my shoulder in the shot.

Or when I moved to Dublin and he insisted on becoming Snapchat best-friends with me.

Because in that moment, knowing that he wanted that closeness that I craved all the way back in 1998, I was completely blissful.

A lot of the Gen X-ers and Baby Boomers call out Millennials and Gen Z for being incapable of long-form written communication. And maybe, for a percentage of the population, they’re right. But when it comes to my brother and me, we defy the odds. We have conversations. We have inside jokes. We keep each other informed on what we’re doing, eating, seeing, listening to, thinking about, hanging with, choosing between, the list goes on.

The most important take away from these little updates though is not what the messages are. It’s that there are messages at all. Regardless of whether they are traveling 4000 miles to from Maryland to London or 400 miles from Maryland to New York or 40 inches from armchair to armchair, when the notification flashes on the phone, they say more than “Snapchat from Joe.” They say, “Joe is thinking of YOU.” “Joe loves YOU.” “Joe wants YOU to have a good day.” “Joe thinks YOU smell bad. But in a good way.” (That last one only he will get.)

I think of you too, Joe. And being one of your favorites is one of my favorite things.

On imagination and parenthood, pt. 1

Most adults claim not to believe in magic, but Klara knows better. Why else would anyone play at permanence — fall in love, have children, buy a house — in the face of all evidence there’s no such thing? The trick is not to convert them. The trick is to get them to admit it.

The Immortalists,Chloe Benjamin

When I was two years old, I had a favorite costume dress that my aunt made me, modeled after Disney’s Cinderella. I wore it every single day and fell asleep in it every single night. But the miracle was that I woke up to find it cleaned and hung up, practically waiting for me to put it on, every morning. It was like having my own fairy godmother — which, in retrospect, was just the reality of having a really amazing mother.

I look back on my childhood and I find myself incredibly grateful for little moments of pure magic that my family afforded me. My parents would sing Tutti Frutti (O Rudy) by Little Richard around the dinner table randomly, erupting me and my younger brother, Joe, into fits of giggles until our stomachs hurt. They would play this game called “Safari” where Joe and I would hide under the covers of their king-size bed and my parents would pretend to be different animals walking over us — lions and ants and gazelles and elephants. They never did anything to cull our imaginations.

And yet the world got the best of me.

2018: I find myself in the back booth of a dive bar in Kentish Town, London surrounded by new friends discussing what it means to be “creative” and whether there is such a thing as innate writing “talent.” To me, I had always believed in both as being an innate component of your being (and myself, lacking both), as inherent and inescapable as your DNA. But the writers who I sat talking to were vehemently opposing my beliefs, arguing that they were not blessed by some spark on their genetic code but in fact the fruits of their labors were essentially that — due to their labors. They were working at it, putting in the hours, the brain energy, the effort in order to ensure that there was some sort of creative output.

I was most struck, however, when our conversation turned to the talk of innate imagination in children. Izzy, one of the conversationalists, made the point that the children that she nannied for had more creative genius in the tips of their pinky fingers than most adults did in their whole bodies — and yet she could see it evaporate from them slowly as time wore on. And, in comparison, she had dedicated her life to retaining some of the imagination that she had once possessed in her own pinky finger tip.

I don’t think I agree with Izzy. Sure, there is imagination in children. Imagination beyond bounds because they haven’t been told a stoic and irrefutable “no” over and over again until it resounds in their brain before it has even been uttered on opposing lips. That’s just a gift of time.

But the rebuttal to time?

Safari. And Tutti Frutti (O Rudy). And that damn Cinderella costume.

So encourage your kids to laugh fully. Listen to their stories, as longwinded and foreign as they are. Experience the world through their eyes. Feel inspired to give into creativity, because sooner or later the world is going to tell them “no.”

Don’t be the first one to say it.

On the intersectionality of fear, courage and friendship

Strange, though; because he is afraid of everything, nothing is harder than anything else. Taking a trip around the world is no more terrifying than buying a stick of gum. The daily dose of courage.

– Less, Andrew Sean Greer

I distinctly remember in my Christian Morals class of 11th grade — I know, again with the Catholic school thing — learning the distinction between bravery and courage. Bravery was paired with its near homophones brazenness and brashness, indicating a lack of thought and a lack of sensible fear. Shamelessly, they used Frodo from Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings as their example of a courageous hero. Their reasoning? He was courageous precisely because he was afraid and because he did not seek glory. He was on his quest because for no other reason than it was his burden to bear and his burden to bear alone…excluding, you know, that entire band of brothers that travels with him, namely good ol’ Sam, but I digress.

I hadn’t thought about that example until today, when I sat down and looked at this quote from Greer’s Less. I had highlighted it in my kindle (how bourgeoisie) because the example of fearing buying a stick of gum reminded me of fearing grocery shopping at one point in my life and I fully intended to unpack that experience, but on second glance that isn’t what this quote is about at all.

This quote is about Frodo and that quest to throw that damn ring into the fiery pit of Mordor.

When you reach a point in your life in which you fear everything, you simultaneously reach a point in which you surrender control. This invariably takes several forms, not all of them healthy. Many have succumbed to some terrible, terrible choices in this: drugs, radicalism, low self-esteem, to name a few and that’s not even exhaustive with my bias. I did for a little bit (ah, see, there we go with the mental health reference).

The important thing is to find healthy fears. Fears that give motivation and purpose. Fears that propel you, that guide you, that give you credence and boundaries. Fears that say “no, not today” quietly when you veer to far to the left or right, or a hard “NOT TODAY, SATAN” when you do a complete 180-degree turn from the path. And if that means you fear everything for a little bit, until you hit that numbness, so be it — but have the resources like (and I hate myself for saying this) Frodo with his Gandalf and Legolas and underappreciated and reliable Sam — did I mention Sam?

And yes, I know this is easier said than done. And I certainly know that when you are in the place of complete fear, of overwhelming fear, of fear so strong you’re even fearing buying that stick of gum let alone traveling the world (feared both), you definitely don’t want the help of anyone. In fact, you want to be left the hell alone to be paralyzed.

Don’t let yourself be left the hell alone.

This is where I go a little extra preacher-like, so bear with me. A few months back, I read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, which I would also quote above if I hadn’t taken my copy back from my apartment to my childhood home for safekeeping I loved it so much. In it, Eleanor hits rock bottom — shocker! But she has good people, really good people around her who care enough to pull her back up. And that’s one of the beautiful things about the world. If you let yourself be helped, chances are there will be people there to ferry you upwards when you can’t carry yourself any further on your own. Sometimes the most courageous thing is admitting you can’t do it on your own.

I’m excited to keep reading Less because I know that Arthur, the protagonist, will find his ferrying people like Eleanor, his tribe like me, his band of brothers like Frodo, and will be able to face the encompassing fear that he is running from so fervently in the early chapters. And I hope you, dear reader, know that you will too, if you have the courage to do it together.