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.

On learning a new dream

On learning a new dream

I have wanted to be a CEO, a real estate agent, an architect, a Disney princess impersonator, and most recently an editor, a publisher, and a literary agent. Not once did capital-“R” Recruiter for a healthcare company enter the realm of potential career opportunities in my future imaginings. And yet, I have just completed my first month of work within that very role.

But I am entirely out of my element.

You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.

Albert Einstein

My background is based concretely in literature and communication studies, from skipping out of my science course Senior Year of high school to my dual B.A. in English and Communication from Villanova to my M.A. in Publishing. There’s a heavy learning curve with every day at my new job, educating myself in the jargon of medical technicians and professionals from their credentials to their daily tasks. I’m proud to say that after a month I can easily differentiate between limited permit credentialing and LMSWs, LMHCs, LCSWs, RNs, and the rest. I can discuss the differences between Doctors Board and 1199 unions and which covers which staff.

However, at every point of my career daydreams, I always wanted to engage in a profession that connected people with their own passions and their own dreams. I wanted something social, something that was people-oriented. And that is certainly what I am doing.

My days are spent reviewing resumes and arranging interviews with hiring managers, helping to host employee engagement events and manning career fairs. I’ve become adept at applicant tracking systems and reading people quickly but still fairly. I’m confident that my skills will only improve with time.

This is all a very long way to say that while I never thought of myself as a Recruiter for a talent acquisition career, I feel pleasantly surprised that I found a comfortable footpath to follow.

I’m determined to be the very best at this job that I can be, even if it fell into my lap haphazardly.

On the rise of standards and decline of romantic action

On the rise of standards and decline of romantic action

…there is nothing romantic about love. Only the most naïve believe it will save them. Only the hardiest of us will survive it. And yet. And yet! We believe in love because we want to believe in it. Because really what else is there, amid all our glorious follies and urges and weaknesses and stumbles? The magic, the hope, the gorgeous idea of it. Because, when the lights go out and we sit waiting in the dark, what do our fingers seek? Who do we reach for?

The Last Romantics, Tara Conklin

If you were to put a gun to my head and force me to open that hidden folder on my phone, you would learn that I am an active user of five dating apps. You read that correctly: five. How many dates have I been on in the last month? A whopping zero. And yet, every night before bed I sit on my phone and swipe — left, left, right, left — until the profiles blend into one undeterminable blur. Am I too picky? Probably? But is that a bad thing? Or is it just something ingrained in the population when it comes to selecting a “life partner” — a phrase that I have actually come to hate instinctively?

Of course, there’s the obvious option of meeting someone in real life. “Rose, just go out and meet people,” you may say. That, reader, is easier said than done. And it offers the same outcomes as dating apps (in my case, a lot of ghosting). At least with the apps, you have the dependable knowledge of what exactly the other person is looking for: no guessing, no head games.

In late 2018, Match.com released its annual Singles in America study, this year helmed by anthropologist Helen Fisher, with the mildly shocking discovery that Millennials as a whole are actually having less sex than their predecessors, despite all the movements towards “no strings attached” language and norms (see all the data in an article in The Atlantic). I say mildly shocking because this decline has actually been on the data forefront for years among wealthy first world countries for several reasons: shifting attitudes towards in-person approaches (is it creepy or is it flirtatious?); the rise of access to a wide selection of pornography; Millennial discomfort with nakedness (I’m not kidding), etc.

I have been very, very open about my romantic searches and endeavors on The Mindful Millennial. Perhaps too open — sorry Mom & Dad. But growing up spawned (quite literally) from their example, a marriage that never once fractured towards divorce in the thirty years of adoration, continued respect, and puppy love infatuation…well, it sets a standard that makes it hard to not wish for that level of intimacy with a partner.

My trial and errors have led me to a point in my life that often results in sitting on my friend Rebecca’s couch with a heavy pour of cheap white whine in a plastic long-stem wine glass with heavier complaints of falling too deep in infatuation with men who reciprocate less than half of the effort. And yet, she listens and contributes her own mirrored behaviors of her own amorous challenges, leaving us quite honestly fulfilling the cliché of the blind leading the blind.

When we heard of Vanessa Valerio and Anita Flores’ Party of Two monthly comedy show having a spring edition for (cheap cheap tickets) Saturday, we quickly hopped onboard with the tagline:

“If you’ve ever watched You’ve Got Mail, Maid In Manhattan, Kate and Leopold, Serendipity, Hitch (F*CK THAT MOVIE, SERIOUSLY), or any rom-com that takes place in NYC and thought “dating in New York isn’t NEARLY this fun and sexy,” then PARTY OF TWO will be your new favorite monthly show! Hosts Vanessa Valerio and Anita Flores are bringing some of New York City’s best storytellers and comedians together to recount their absurd experiences about dating in the modern world.

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/party-of-two-spring-edition-tickets-59145844814#

Perhaps it sounds too much like a “get rich quick” scheme, but for dating. Perhaps it sounds too much like a loosely thought through knock-off Love Actually (first of all, how dare you). But what it turned out to be was truly a reminder that there are people who will gather in the basement of a sex toy shop (I’m not kidding) to commiserate in the fact that singledom and dating are equally brutal but the realities of dating a person ill-suited for you are far more debilitating, although humorous when presented properly. From comedienne Tracy Soren’s honest confessions on why — and I’m not making this up — “getting my ass eaten is my nightmare” to storyteller Susan Kent recounting her two great loves and how she finally, finally moved on, it was a night of humor and depth.

Better yet, when hosts Vanessa and Anita asked people to raise their hands if they’re single, almost everyone in the room obliged and lifted. A shock to this Maryland girl whose parents were at a wedding for a — get this — 22 year old that afternoon (nothing to make you feel like a 25 year old spinster than a fresh faced bride).

In all fairness, at the end of the night, I was back on Bumble, hitting my rhythm of swipes with the same frequency as the nights before. Because there’s still that hope that Conklin talked about. And one day, I’ll have that person to reach for in the darkness. But for the meantime, I’ll have wine on Rebecca’s couch and friendship.

That doesn’t sound too bad, to be honest.

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 the division of the timeline

Photo by Moose Photos on Pexels.com

Forever, Emily Dickinson said, is composed of nows. But how do you inhabit the now you are in? How do you stop the ghosts of all the other nows from getting in? How, in short, do you live?

How to Stop Time, Matt Haig

It would be nice to think that 2,019 years ago, somewhere contemporary “historians” decided to simply flip a theoretical switch and start a new timeline, leaving the choices of B.C. or B.C.E. (depending on your school of thought) and launching us into A.D. or C.E. with a flourish of a quill or etching of stone.

The key word in that sentence however is easy to ignore: simply. It’s too simple — a fantasy. And, as it happens, this was just not the case.

History and the humanities are not my academia of choice so I will likely butcher a part of this retelling, but from what I can gather, the story goes something as follows: a monk Dionysius Exiguus introduced the A.D. portion of our modern system in what we would consider A.D. 525 in order to calculate the time distance from the birth of Christ, but even then was off by approximately three years. His reasoning was also to replace the Diocletian calendar of Christian persecutor by the same name. The concept of B.C. wasn’t introduced until two centuries later. This places B.C. in the eighth century, and the initial adoption of this method wasn’t until the ninth century under Charlemagne. Full adoption wasn’t complete until 15th century. (LiveScience.com)

And yet, today it is critical to our understanding of history and time. Before and after. Our society uses this concept of splitting time into antecedent and resultant as if there was no time in our human existence where we didn’t in fact think in such a way.

Recently, I’ve been overcome with my own division in the timeline of my twenty-four, nearly twenty-five years. At my move to London, there’s a schism. A parting from the person I used to be, a shift into the person I am today. The change is stark, startling, a bit aggressive. My passions are more fully formed, but my goals in manifesting them are different. My instant support network — those girlfriends I text when immediate terrors (or as we call them, the f*ckenings) occur — are relationships that were appreciated but underdeveloped as of three years ago. The shape that I want my life to take, the steps that I am taking to make these dreams a reality, are some that are so ballsy that I would not have been able to fathom an existence where I could execute them without a Xanax or a parental hand-holding.

If I am being entirely honest with myself, for a long time I was running away. Away from who I was, from who I had been, from who I didn’t want to be. And that isn’t a fair assessment about my life “before” because it wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t what I wanted. So perhaps — maybe — I needed to pull a Dionysius Exiguus and decide that there was a period from before that needed to be separated from a time after.

And this schism that I created, it came at a cost. I have ghosts of new forms now, ones I didn’t suspect when I made my decisions to cast off my former shell. That, though, is something I have rationalized as part of life.

My biggest fear right now is that there is another schism on the horizon as I settle into my life in New York City. I’m not ready to let go of this person that I formed and spread into in London. I only hope that the two cities can accentuate each other rather than compete for dominance over my adaptive qualities.

Because, after all, there is no A.C.E. or After Common Era. There are only so many times we can separate ourselves from our pasts and reinvent before the ghosts threaten to overwhelm.

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.