Candidly Reading #5: Three Women, Lisa Taddeo

Candidly Reading #5: Three Women, Lisa Taddeo

Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women cannot be summarized. I refuse to do it. In just over three hundred pages and through the narratives of three women’s stories, it explores the entrapment of female sexuality in an America dominated by its male counterpart. There’s Maggie, who comes forward to claim her truth in her highly-sexual romance with her high school English teacher. There’s Lina, who simply wants to find that partnership — emotionally and deeply physically loving — that is lacking in her eleven year marriage, so she reignites an old flame in a torrid affair. And there’s Sloane who sleeps with other men and women in front of or recorded for her husband’s viewing pleasure, pushing boundaries as a submissive in ways that not even Fifty Shades could have predicted. I don’t want to give away their stories because I honestly think you should read their lives as Taddeo beautiful scribed them. It was chilling, evocative, and hard to distance yourself from in the heat of the moment (whether sexual, emotional, or even legal).

So today I don’t write about Taddeo’s work in depth because my efforts will not do justice. What I can do, however, is describe my own journey with the male gaze and female sexuality.

All my love x


I can imagine being inside this man’s head and seeing my mother’s legs and following them. One inheritance of living under the male gaze for centuries is that heterosexual women often look at other women the way a man would.

Three Women, Lisa Taddeo

I remember the first time I felt myself capable of the male gaze. Not the subject of it, but the perpetrator; the very one inflicting it on what should have been my female allies. I was eleven years old, on my way back from fifth grade, and confused about what I had been drawn to observe. Breasts budding on my classmates. The ways in which my well-past maturation female teachers dressed. And while some of it was comparison to my own progress, most of it was admiration and curiosity. With a religious upbringing bearing down my throat, I finally coughed up the words in the car one day on the way home from sixth grade, “Mom, do you think I’m a lesbian?”

Now, this could easily be the opener to an LGBTQ+ “coming out” story, but the reality was that I had experienced several all-encompassing, youthful, and not-so-discreet crushes on male neighbors and classmates alike, so instead of taking my question to heart and having an open discussion my mother laughed in my face. “No, sweetie,” she said, reaching over and patting my hand as we pulled into the driveway, “you’re not a lesbian, trust me.”

I would continue through puberty to track the bodily development of my classmates in almost sick displays of masochistic jealousy. But the reality was that I was viewing them not as “too fat” or “too skinny” but as “What size bra cup do they have? Are mine bigger or smaller?” and “Do I need to do more squats to firm my ass?” I would take up running to shed the baby fat that I felt held me back from that young woman’s body I so desired to wield on the world, being told that if I was beautiful in addition to smart and kind, my ambition would have the chance to materialize much more tangibly. In essence, I was taught that being attractive to the rest (i.e. male) population — more attractive than the general (i.e. female) population — was going to get me further in life if I clocked it, manipulated it, fostered it.

It wasn’t until seven and a half years after that car ride with my mother that I was introduced to the rhetoric for exactly what had been ingrained in me: “the male gaze,” the patriarchy, benevolent (and blatant) misogyny. It appeared, strangely enough, in discussion of my first English Literature course of my undergraduate career: “Medieval Romances: Knights, Ladies, Etc.” Some upperclassmen brought in the language to discuss point-of-view for the narratives we were studying and, since it was all new information, I had little to digest the newfound topics with. It was like sitting down to Thanksgiving feast without any cutlery or plates.

That same semester, I made a friend who flaunted her attractiveness to men and women alike. She famously said she was the hottest girl in her high school bowling team — to which I always teased her that it “wasn’t really a stretch with the bowling team.” But she introduced me to the idea that women were often placed in pairs. “You see,” she said one night, turning to me with the CampCo pizza in her right hand, mouth full, “you and me? We’re the virgin and the whore. The two Marys of the Bible. You’re the virgin. You get the picture.” And I believed her, so I brutalized her when she hooked up with someone new or wore barely-there shorts. Instead of building her up, I was more aggressive in the tactics I had been inheriting from years of ingrained misogyny. Because with every guy that hit on her, with every flirtation that confirmed she was “the hot one,” I was being implicitly told through my own short-sightedness that I was “the opposite,” “the unattractive.” And my jealousy built.

I think about the fact that I come from a mother who let a man masturbate to her daily, and I think about all the things I have allowed to be done to me, not so egregious, perhaps, but not so different in the grand scheme. Then I think about how much I have wanted from men. How much of that wanting was what I wanted from myself, from other women even; how much of what I thought I wanted from a lover came from what I needed from my own mother. Because it’s women, in many of the stories I’ve heard, who have greater hold over other women than men have. We can make each other feel dowdy, whorish, unclean, unloved, not beautiful. In the end, it all comes down to fear. Men can frighten us, other women can frighten us, and sometimes we worry so much about what frightens us that we wait to have an orgasm until we are alone. We pretend to want things we don’t want so nobody can see us not getting what we need.

Three Women, Lisa Taddeo

Today, I like to think I am not that woman; I am that woman evolved. The woman I am knows how these things work, is acutely aware of the inner-workings of the patriarchy, and stands for it no longer when it comes to what inhibits not only her sexuality’s expression — her own mind be damned — but also the liberation of her friends’ and female compatriots. As we all heard in Candidly Dating #2, I have ended it with men for misogynistic comments. I have yelled at men in bars for grabbing my friends’ butts. I have used my male gaze eye to tell my friends (and the girls in the bar bathrooms) they are beautiful, and gorgeous, and stunning in no uncertain terms — even on the days when their makeup is running because some part of the universe has aligned against them. I have famously argued with relatives over the issues our current President represents in the treatment of women in America in 2019 (and prior). As for the friends, “the hot one” and I no longer talk after — you probably could have guessed — a fight over a boy who — you probably could not have guessed — chose me and upset the careful balance of mutual disdain we had built over the years. But the crippling grief that accompanied the loss of her and then him and then her in retrospect was enough to teach me that acknowledging the male gaze is good but to wield it in negative action is a dangerous, toxic thing to behold.

While I try to imagine a world without these elements of misogyny (blatant or benevolent), I know there’s not a chance in hell of it coming to fruition in my lifetime. So for now, I acknowledge my inherited gaze and push past it, admitting concession but also admitting power in holding it on our side. We all have it; we just need it to be put towards the better rather than the negative.

Women shouldn’t judge one another’s lives, if we haven’t been through one another’s fires.

Three Women, Lisa Taddeo

Living Candidly #8: Be Friends With…

Living Candidly #8: Be Friends With…

Be friends with the people who promise to deliver you digital AND print copies of British Vogue’s September 2019 interview by Meghan Markle of Michelle Obama when you fangirl so hard that it physically hurts your chest upon hearing the announcement.

Be friends with the people who sit and drink wine with you while you wait for multiple furniture deliveries in your new apartment without complaint, instead encouraging that extra pour while the Netflix loads.

Be friends with the people who run errands with you, and who you run errands with, for the pure sake that together is better than alone and each other’s company is preferred to anyone else’s. Even if that errand run includes waiting in a cellular store for an hour plus.

Be friends with the people who send you “love texts” — reminders that your worth is inherent and your value to them is esteemed. The ones that range from the “Hey! Just checking in <3” to the “Hope you have a great day” to the outright “I love you.”

Be friends with the people you can distance from for a time and then pick up with that same spark and joy in each other’s presence (physical or digital).

Be friends with the people who cry with you, who rage with you, who laugh with you. Be friends with the people who feel with you, not for you. There’s a difference. One is empathy, one is sensory sharing.

Be friends with the people who make you feel whole, whose very tether to your life makes you feel more grounded and vulnerable and fulfilled all at the same time. Be friends with the people who build you up, push you to be better while never discrediting where you’ve been, and celebrate your achievements while you reach for the next rung. Those people are the ones you want by your side when you falter, when you drop, when you sink. Because they know that you can pick right back up there again, and they will do everything in their power to remind you of that strength you lose sight of.

But in order to be friends with these people, you must be their friend too. Work on their resumes and job applications with them, celebrate their latest promotion. Vow to poop on doorsteps of exes, and say you “ship” their latest boo. Make time for their calls, even when you would rather be watching Hulu. Call them when something good happens in either of your lives, or when something is amiss in theirs. Be their cheerleader, their champion, their confidante. Make them feel their inherent worth, their value in your eyes; make them see their beauty — inside and out — by feeling your love. Be their rock when things get hard and promise to stick with them until the sun shines again.

Because friends — even the most fleeting of them — are more valuable than words can express. And when you have them as golden as the sunset, you have to sit on the waterfront and drink in the glow.

Candidly Reading #4: How Could She, Lauren Mechling

Candidly Reading #4: How Could She, Lauren Mechling

What makes a friendship? And to further that question: what makes a friendship last? What gives it that stickiness, that emotional glue to keep two (or three) people invested in each other’s welfare beyond the tit-for-tat of initial contact? Is there an inevitable and inherent expiration date to these bonds? Or do we have the free will to stand up and choose that relationship again, much like we are expected to do in our romantic ties? What is to say that our friendships aren’t our great love affairs?

Of course, none of these questions are novel. In fact, they are wildly, exquisitely clichéd. I, for one, have faulted to posting quotes celebrating female friendship from Sex and The City, Bride Wars, and — ever on brand — The Bold Type under Instagram posts about the closest in my “tribe.” And rarely will you meet a woman in her twenties who hasn’t endured the brutal reality of losing a girlfriend over unfortunate circumstances, minor or major causes aside. But to take these lingering questions on in an engaging way that does not shy away from that fourth question (i.e. is there an inevitable and inherent expiration) is what Lauren Mechling’s How Could She sets out to explore.

I won’t lie and say it was the most thought provoking book I’ve ever read. Following Orringer’s The Flight Portfolio and battling my desire to reread Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch before the September 13th launch of the film, I found myself frustrated with the characters’ continually selfish behavior. The story alternates third person focused omniscient narration chapters on friends Geraldine, Sunny, and Rachel as they all navigate their late thirties and their respective career, social, and romantic arenas. Geraldine at the start is floundering with no real roots and pining after a life that has passed her by, but by the end has a successful career in podcasts and has left behind her good-for-nothing ex-fiancé. Sunny transforms from the top of her career and from having a stable (yet loveless) marriage to…well, not. And Rachel, well, Rachel just kind of floats. As for the prose, it was purposeful but not striking. I saved maybe four sentences from it, a shockingly low amount for me as a typically overly complimentary reader.

Perhaps it was the way that these women eviscerated each other at a dinner, years of betrayals and alienations being brought to the forefront of conversation, but it make me starkly aware of how my relationships now could transform into those relationships by the mid-to-late thirties without proper care and precaution.

I hope I never reach the point of disdain for those I hold dearest that Geraldine, Sunny, and Rachel reached. That paradox of holding onto someone with white knuckles while also holding that person at arms’ length so they can’t inflict any damage on you. Walking that tightrope sounds — quite frankly — exhausting.

If not a lyrical masterpiece or a philosophical wonder, How Could She serves as a cautionary tale to keep your friends closest. Without a doubt, they are the ones who will love you but you must act out of love towards them too.

Candidly Careering #2: Returning To My Passion

Candidly Careering #2: Returning To My Passion

I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. If you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it full speed. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it, and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good.

Roald Dahl

In recent weeks, I have been incredibly vocal to those in my life about my distaste for my current career. And while I could list the various aspects that drive me to pull the magnifying mirror to the center of my desk and stress pluck errant hairs from my face with my thumb and forefinger, that ultimately serves no purpose. The end result is the same: I feel the lack of upward mobility and what is available in the longer term is lackluster to me.

Before accepting my job, I sobbed. I bent over my knees on my small available floorspace and actively grieved the fact that I was putting my dreams and aspirations of the greater part of a decade on hold. All that work, all that fantasy, evaporated before my very eyes. And yet I still accepted to role, mostly at the pure want of my bank account.

I truly do enjoy aspects of recruitment — but what I enjoy is precisely what I would have done within the literary agency arena: screen resumes (review manuscripts), contact candidates (interact with authors), negotiate terms of contracts (negotiate terms of contracts). I find myself incredibly lucky to have the overlap of skills so vibrantly apparent.

But it isn’t enough.

Interacting with the literary community was an essential part of my identity construction; it lent an opportunity for belonging, something psychologists widely agree is a human social need. And with barely the energy to read after work, I was stripped of even the opportunity to attend book clubs.

So when the opportunity appeared to apply to a well-established literary agency for an assistant/support role, I jumped. I took a leap of faith and I sprung from that cliff into the foggy below without the faintest clue of whether I would find myself at the bottom or not.

Reader: I landed not only alive but on two feet.

In the weeks of interviewing, I delved back into the contemporary literary marketplace to have recent reads to discuss, lighting my mind once more with words and phrases and thoughts that had once run quiet. I performed a sample manuscript review and reader report, typing up two comprehensive pages on marketability and textual strengths and weaknesses to consider before making a decision on whether to sign the author. And finally, I was able to accept a role that promises to not only take me back into the community that I withdrew from in the interim since London but to launch me on an upward trajectory that is anything but lackluster.

The change in anticipation of the career switch is palpable. I carry a novel with me wherever I go again, and I’m attending a book club next Wednesday. I took a pleasure trip to the Strand bookstore — my first of what will be many. I bought two — two! — bookshelves for my apartment. Roald Dahl was absolutely, unequivocally correct: it is far better to be an enthusiast. It lights a fire under you and within you, and that fire will sustain you as long as you feed it. The good news is, pages burn.

All my love x

Candidly Dating #2: Recognizing the Red Flags

Candidly Dating #2: Recognizing the Red Flags

According to Greek mythology, humans were originally created with four arms, four legs and a head with two faces. Fearing their power, Zeus split them into two separate parts, condemning them to spend their lives in search of their other halves.

The Symposium, Plato

A running joke among my friends — and, admittedly, in my own head — is that the more red flags a guy has the more deeply attracted to him I inevitably end up being. I have bent over backwards for guys who have displayed anger issues, who have blatantly declared themselves non-monogamous , and who have even shown complete disinterest in me. This last one more than once.

Last week, Rebecca came over to christen my new apartment with a wine and Chinese take-out night, and as we sat on the hardwood floor of my unfurnished living room the conversation turned to the men we were currently talking to. I mentioned the one who had currently been pursuing me — and I mean this non-conceitedly — quite aggressively. My reaction to this interest was complete disinterest in him, to which Rebecca stared me down and said pointedly, “Rose. Let’s be real. You like the chase.” As always, Rebecca knows me better than I do. I do love to be the pursuer. She urged me to this once let myself enjoy being courted.

I let the conversation continue for over a week, and despite my best efforts — or perhaps on behalf of them — I started to see distinct red flags. First it was the question of “Would you date a Muslim?” He was not Muslim so there was no reason that this would be asked unless he had a distinct impression one way or another on whether this was a test of character.* Then there was the assertion of Trump being a better president than Obama when it came to foreign diplomacy. Third, he was adamant than “non-obedient” dogs retained more personality, and therefore were more likable, than their docile counterparts. Finally, the straw that broke the camel’s back, was the staunch opinion that female comedians did not become as successful as males because they relied too heavily on sexual content, something that is apparently “not funny.” **

I should note that during all of this I would have been fine with differing opinions, if he hadn’t talked down to me as if I was distinctly wrong and baseless in my own opinion. The condescension was stifling.

I have been in this place before. Previously, I had limited my voice and adopted new viewpoints to appease my partner in the hopes of that fairy-tale ending. This time, however, I found myself growing disgusted rather than repentant. I didn’t want to back down. I didn’t want to fight — it was too soon to be worth the effort — but I didn’t want to invest in something that was doomed to make me question my own intelligence.

That was the red flag, waving loud and proud from the tail-end of a blimp in Times Square. There was no avoiding it. It wasn’t just one red flag, but a million little red flags from years of dating unsuccessfully — and without a voice — that had been sewn together to make me distinctly capable of seeing this one when it was so visibly affronting.

For the first time in my adult life, I broke it off.

He was very receptive to it, something I can’t say I have always been. I think we both knew we were too opposite, especially since I held my ground in the conversations. But it felt good to say, “No, this isn’t what I want and I deserve to find my complement.” Holding out hope feels good.

I’m not signing off my chance at love for a while, but I am going to hold onto the hope that there is a shared half that belongs to me. A pairing, a complement. And while it’s nice to be pursued, and fun to be the pursuer (some habits never die), it’s even more rewarding to stick to your convictions and believe in your worth.

All my love x


*I said that I would, of course, date a Muslim just like I would date a Christian, a Jew, a Buddhist, a Hindu, an Atheist, an Agnostic. A human is a human. Their faith is just a facet in the whole composition of who they are. (This he said was “Interesting…”)

**I told him that while sexual humor is definitely touted by the comedienne population, it is not something exclusively heard from female mouths and to condemn women for exercising humor that men have been experimenting with and celebrated for for decades is completely sexist. Women, also, deserve the chance to tell stories in a setting that inverts the taboo — essentially what comedy does — and these stories liberate and resonate with female audiences in ways that have previously been unavailable. Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.

Living Candidly #7: On the woman I want to be

Living Candidly #7: On the woman I want to be

Varian could see what she’d bequeathed, genetically speaking, to Clotilde; they had a spirit his father would have called hell-beckoning.

The Flight Portfolio, Julie Orringer

Every morning I take two diet pills aspirationally titled “lean queen” in the hopes that it will curb my appetite to satiate me with an iced coffee breakfast, pastry lunch, and $10 portion take-out dinner for the sake of losing weight without exercise. It does not work, and I lay in my bed at night resisting the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream tub stuck under my roommate’s frozen vegetables in the third drawer of the freezer.

I spend my free time at work online shopping, ordering clothes in sizes I’m embarrassed to admit and will unquestionably lie about if prompted. I pinch at my stomach and thighs and triceps when I look in a reflective surface and sometimes just when I look at myself in my cubicle.

I get blowouts to turn the curly, voluminous locks that once defined my look into sleek and sophisticated tresses that mirror the styles of the models that grace the covers of the magazines I so avariciously consume or even the friends, family and associates that fancy themselves models in the snapshots on my Instagram feed.

And then I make like them and post my own shot with the aim of appearing as effortlessly pulled together and collected as they do to me. A picture just like the one above.

But I am not.

I am tired. And I am frustrated. And I am lonely. And I am at the verge of screaming at subways because that’s as close as a city girl can get to screaming into the abyss.

I’ve recently been wondering what exactly has led me to this point of surface-level success but deep dissatisfaction. And the result is that who I am is not who I want to be.

The woman I want to be follows her passions with gusto and without hesitation. She sets her sights on her goals and makes meaningful steps towards them, even in the most minute ways, until they are within her grasp. She does not boast upon their completion. She lets the work speak for itself.

The woman I want to be is more than her job. She has a balance in her life — a separation of Church and State, if you will — that offers her the chance to find fulfillment in multiple planes until there is cohesiveness.

The woman I want to be knows her worth. She does not need a man’s approval, or another woman’s, and isn’t afraid to speak up and say no when boundaries are crossed.

The woman I want to be cherishes her friends and lets them know it. She places their happiness and well-being as a top priority but also invests in those friendships that offer mutual care, not in those that only drain and take. She forms her tribe, her family.

The woman I want to be is hell-beckoning, a force of nature. She appears strong and beautiful in pictures because she is strong and beautiful, not because of a diet pill, or a new dress, or a blowout. It is her essence, not her expenditure.

Today marks day one on this journey from turning that She into an I.

All my love x

Living Candidly #4: Leaving Everything I Knew Gave Me My Life Back

Living Candidly #4: Leaving Everything I Knew Gave Me My Life Back

What you’ve done becomes the judge of what you’re going to do – especially in other people’s minds. When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then.People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.

William Least Heat-Moon

One tap. One link follow. Three swipes to scroll. 

That’s all it took to find out about the Working Holiday Visa in Ireland. 

I remember it vividly. I was splayed on the couch in a rental beach house, on vacation with my family just one month after graduation from college. I was coming off the worst five months of my life. After a brutal depression that had cost me friends, love, and a complete sense of self, I found I was back in the pub job in my hometown I had sworn was for one summer back in 2014 to fund my study abroad — it was now 2016. And while I was putting on a brave face for my family amidst the shambling aftermath that I found my life in around me, each day brought a tightening claustrophobia. I felt my air running thin, and my ghosts were hot on my trail. 

Now that it’s 2019, we all know that the internet is algorithmic black magic when it comes to supplying advertisements that prey on our history searches. I’m not sure, however, what I was searching for that dropped Stint Gap Year into my Instagram advertisements — and no, this is not an advertisement. Yet when the image of green pastures and smiling faces popped up, I stalled for .5 seconds long enough to read the caption. 

One tap. One link follow. Three swipes to scroll. 

I sat up a bit straighter, alert that my mother was ten feet away. She had been less than encouraging about my desires to attend graduate school in England — not just for the financial reasons, but also for due reasons after my mental break. I quickly saved the URL in my favorites and vowed to revisit it that night. 

I applied that night in my bed, glow illuminating my apprehensive face as I pressed submit. Three weeks later, I took a phone interview with Aoife. Within another twenty-four hours, I was told I was into the program. The program would — for a fee — guide me through the visa application process, provide initial housing in Dublin, and set me up with a temporary employment agency should I wish to go that route. 

Approaching my parents with caution, I presented the reasoning. It offered maturation opportunities. It would give me unparalleled experiences. It was Ireland, home of my ancestors. I was ready for a battle, but none came. 

On September 28, 2016, I boarded a plane at Dulles International Airport, Washington D.C., with two suitcases and no real idea what I was getting into. 


Over the course of eight months, I experienced more of life than I had in the cumulative of the preceding twenty-two years. From the get-go, it was an immersive experience. I dove into a community of ex-pats my first night, the program providing me a community to in which to envelope myself. The following weekend, I traveled to Connemara and the Aran Islands. I would continue to explore both The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland throughout my time: Kilkenny, Blarney, the Ring of Kerry, Cobh, Cork, Galway, Belfast, Giant’s Causeway, the Carrick-a-Rede bridge (pictured). The ease of access to Europe and the camaraderie found in my new friends and fellow travelers propelled me to new destinations: Morocco, Spain, Belgium, Scotland, and England, where I would ultimately decide to pursue my Master’s degree. 

I was pushed to challenge the very ideas that I had taken as dogma my entire life, to think for myself in ways that I previously had never given due chance. I was allowed, for the very first time in memory, to be an individual. There was no one to answer to and everywhere to experiment. 

I am not being hyperbolic when I say that being in Ireland, taking the chance on myself to be the traveler that I had always wanted to be, was the antidote to all the woes that had built up around me for so long. It quite literally gave me my will to live back. And while, yes, it was an incredible risk to choose something so potentially — and admittedly, at times, realistically — isolating, it also gave me the chance to determine the exact boundaries, forms, and bricks that build the person that I wanted to pursue being from that day forward. 

I moved back from Dublin, my home, with a certainty of self. I felt confident in my navigation skills, whereas before I would use GPS for everything. I could manage eating a meal alone or attending a concert by myself (something I do all too frequently now because I love it). I learned how to handle myself professionally in many settings, having juggled jobs from medical records to receptionist to copyeditor on varying bases. I gained political opinions based in my own thought, based in my own experiences. I learned to open my heart to more people than I thought I could, and I’m so grateful for it. 

I’m writing this today because I often find that I take this experience for granted. It gets overshadowed by the glitzier things I’ve done since — graduate school, a real career. But the humbler times of living paycheck to paycheck, scraping by to travel: those are the ones that shaped me. And of that I need to be reminded. 

Travel saved me.