The Art of the Out-of-Office Reply

It’s August, and vacationers’ email auto-responses are coming in left and right. From the poetic missive to a simple “nope,” saying you’re not working has become its own art form.

Miley Cyrus’s Style: An Unashamed Exuberance of Sexuality

The performer’s fashion choices and physique make of her a natural avatar for a post-gender generation.

Social Q’s: When a Child Comes Knocking, Selling Candy

Plus: macabre jewelry; a private message told; and a sassy answer to a waitress’s question.

Modern Love: No One to Rescue Me From My Drinking

Though my ex-boyfriend tried, the only person who could save me from alcoholism was myself.

Scouting Report: Shopping Events and Sales Happening This Week in New York

Lacoste is offering clothes and tennis lessons; the debut Gabriela Hearst collection is available; a Billy Reid sample sale; and more.

How to Show Up in the World Naked: It’s Only Hair

Life has a way of picking us up and dropping us down at unknown destinations. That's what life feels like for me some days, like I've been dumped off in a strange place surrounded by nothing that I recognize.

Although I have the navigation path to live with this c*ancer detour all mapped out, things happen that continue to shape me and strip me down.

My current stripping down has been losing over half of my hair to chemotherapy.

My beautifully striking naturally curly, red hair.

You read that right. I have c*ancer and I'm upset about my hair.

I am told I won't go completely bald, like it's an acceptable consolation.

No apologies.

Currently, I have lost just enough hair to rock that slightly deranged look. Think Don King or Christopher Lloyd in "Back to the Future."

I fixate on thick heads of gorgeous hair as they stroll by with envy. I spend too much time looking at wigs, and hair extensions online, knowing they are not for me.

Even in the vulnerable moments when I know for sure where my power lives, it still stings.

I want to feel less. I want to hide inside a nice safe delusion, I want to block out this hair loss that makes my head and heart hurt. I am naked. My armor -- my protection -- is gone. Everything I thought I knew, everything I believed, everything I told myself about who I was in the world has become stagnant in a pond of doubt.

I then spend too much time telling myself I need to be hardcore.

Many days I let myself off the hook by believing that my idea of hardcore isn't just about being tough, it's about acceptance. Deep down, we all want to believe we can be hardcore every day. Sometimes we need permission to ease off, because we don't have to be tough every minute. There is power in being vulnerable. In fact, there are moments when it's the best thing to do -- as long as you choose your moments wisely I tell myself.

Other days I feel tired of being brave, learning from my experiences -- and all those positive things that keep one foot ahead of the other. I just want to wrap up in a blanket of "the world is good" and stay there.

Then the very first question emerges: "Who Am I?" Sent by (my guide) the Crone.

Who am I when I am stripped down?

When there is only me -- mind, body, spirit?

Who am I without my hair?

My eventual answer is: I'm everything -- that's who!

I stand in my everything.

This sensitivity obsession about my hair is hard, but I've begun observing things differently. I've started to make choices around accepting the parts of this storm that piss me off, that feel hard, and keep me stuck. I reluctantly value of my discomfort when I don't run away from it, numb myself to it, or deny it, because it brings me face to face with the fact that I will not be defined by the cards life has in its ass pocket.

While this "attachment" to my hair continues to occupy me, I know that I can't drag a ghost around and be happy. I know that my hair has allowed me to walk around anonymously. It kept me from being seen. I know that looking like a c*ancer patient is difficult because I don't identify as one. I know I am being forced to decide how I will show up in a new way in the world.

That feels liberating, naked and scary.

I consider shaving my head -- a full head mendhi and a crown.

I admit to my journal that I spent too many years unconsciously counting on the positive attention my hair elicited from others. I knew that when I walked in a room I was impossible to miss. I secretly believed that when people were captivated by my hair [which they were] that they found my less visible traits just as captivating. I had designated my hair in charge of my power. I used it to my advantage. I used to hide -- I exploited my exterior to hide my true inner power. How shallow and vain, AND typically human of me.

When something comes along that picks up a life and rearranges it entirely, sometimes it connects with us at our core. Some things come to remind us that we are better than our worst day. We are more than the sum of our faults. We are forgivable. We are lovable. We are worthy of everything we desire in this life. Something comes along and reminds us that we can inhale, and expand from the deepest part of ourselves. We are all allowed to experience renewal.

Living with c*ancer (or any other life-altering event) is about having no idea on any precious day how to do this thing the "right way." I'm thriving one day at a time. I have my voice and I am using it.

Life is about the day to day living. It's about the way we live, the people we choose to love, the way we love them and ourselves that matters most.

Always get back up.

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Get to the Bricks: New Report Details the Experiences of Black Women from New Orleans Public Housing after Hurricane Katrina

Get to the Bricks: The Experiences of Black Women from New Orleans Public Housing After Hurricane Katrina, a new report published this week by the Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR), is the culmination of a five-year research project exploring the experiences of women who lived in public housing when Hurricane Katrina made landfall in 2005 and the levees protecting the city of New Orleans failed. It presents a comprehensive analysis of the interview responses of 184 low-income black women who were living in "The Big Four"--four large housing projects within the city of New Orleans, known as "the Bricks"--and who were displaced by the twin disasters of the hurricane and the flooding. The analysis is based on in-depth ethnographic interviews with the women conducted over a two-year period from 2008 to 2010, when many of them remained displaced in other cities while some had returned to find a different city than the one they had known.

The housing these women had been living in, and which had remained structurally sound during and after the storm, was demolished as part of an effort by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) to replace large public housing projects with mixed-income developments. City services were no longer conveniently concentrated near public housing, and public transit was much curtailed compared with before the storm. For those in other cities, obtaining information about what services and benefits were available to them and living in areas with only sparse public transportation were often confusing and disheartening and presented barriers to their ability to settle their children in schools and find employment. Some displaced women and their children found good opportunities in their new cities, but others longed to return to New Orleans. All of them experienced the breakup of their long standing family and community networks that had provided them with virtually uncountable forms of support--from child and elder care to sharing food and transportation and job leads.

The failure to coordinate services, to plan for the needs of a vulnerable population, to keep families and neighborhood networks together as much as possible, both during the evacuation and throughout their resettlement (which often required more than one move), and to find ways to enable all those who desired to return to New Orleans to do so constitute a third disaster, one like the failure of the levees of human origin.

Finally, during the period these families were struggling with the immediate aftermath of survival, displacement, and relocation, the United States was also experiencing the worst of the Great Recession with its long and slow recovery, the longest recession since the Great Depression in the 1930s, constituting yet a fourth disaster confronting these women and their families.

Yet through it all, these women showed courage, determination, and resiliency as they sought to keep their children and themselves safe and move on with their lives. Theirs is a remarkable story and I invite you to hear their voices in Get to the Bricks: The Experiences of Black Women from New Orleans Public Housing after Hurricane Katrina.

IWPR researchers, under the able leadership of Dr. Jane Henrici, former study director and now senior research fellow at IWPR, interviewed these women in their homes or other locations in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Houston. The Katrina diaspora spread well beyond these relatively nearby cities to virtually every state in the nation. The Katrina migration will likely remain one of the largest and longest lasting in American history that stemmed originally from a natural disaster, compounded as it was by the disasters of human engineering. As such, Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, as seen through these women's eyes, have much to teach us about how we can improve public policy and disaster planning in the years to come.

For all of us at IWPR, this report is a fitting culmination to the research we began on the Monday after the hurricane hit, producing many fact sheets, briefing papers, book chapters, and short reports detailing, through both quantitative and qualitative analysis, the conditions faced by the women of New Orleans both before and after the storm. We wish for them and their families a secure and successful future. And it is our hope that their voices will have lasting impact on public policy.

A version of this post appears as the Foreword in the IWPR report, Get to the Bricks: The Experiences of Black Women from New Orleans Public Housing after Hurricane Katrina.

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Women Can Help Fight Terrorism in Tunisia

Tunisia's Sousse resort tragedy and the attacks at the Bardo museum are a grim reminder that terrorists oppose our efforts to establish a stable and peaceful democracy. Like others through the region, we face exceptional threats against our nation but, as evident from the president's declaration of the state of emergency, Tunisians are determined not to give in. We will address our gaps in security infrastructure as well as economic challenges. However, one crucial element in this fight is still missing -- women's empowerment.

As a group less likely to commit terrorist acts but disproportionately affected by terrorism, women must play a critical role in countering violent extremism. Women throughout the world help shape families and social environments; we offer a distinctive advantage in strengthening our cultural fabric, helping detect and deter the early signs of extremism and serving as a powerful force as peace builders and mediators.

Recent work by international groups such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have highlighted the potential of women as "effective undertakers of initiatives and shapers of narratives to counter violent extremist and terrorist propaganda." Yet women are usually sidelined from counter-terrorism efforts, which tend to neglect the social, economic and political dynamics of the terrorist threat in favor of a purely militaristic approach.

Tunisia is already transforming the way the world views Muslim women. Our women leaders are actively involved in the government, judiciary and civil society. In the 2014 elections, Tunisian women voters outnumbered men among newly registered voters, and 47 percent of parliamentary candidates were women. Women hold 31 percent of seats in our parliament, higher than in the legislative branches of the UK and the U.S. Women deputies of Ennahdha, the Muslim Democrat party to which I belong, played a significant role in developing what has been described as the most progressive constitution in the Arab world, which guarantees human rights, freedoms and equality for all Tunisians.

Yet women in Tunisia, the Middle East and throughout the world continue to be marginalized from the national debate on security, which is still considered the domain of men. At this critical time, Tunisia needs all the resources available to tackle violent extremism and keep its democratic transition on track. An intelligent counter-terrorism strategy must have an inclusive approach to security that tackles the root causes of terrorism.

Deterrence alone may achieve short-term success in curbing violent extremism in our region - that was the strategy adopted by most of our region's former dictators. But it was short-sighted and instead planted the seeds of further extremism. Without a truly democratic society that builds strong institutions and has active participation of the entire society, including women, security measures will be ineffective and counter-productive in the long run.

Women's potential to communicate positive values and work with young people in their communities must be put to good use. The efforts of our grassroots organizations, many of which are driven by women, must be encouraged to serve as bridge builders among diverse populations and connectors of family and community.

Economic development is indeed central to combating extremism; lack of opportunities has created a pool of frustration. But Tunisia's public sector is overburdened and unable to cope with extra demands.

As a result, we are encouraging private entrepreneurship as a particular area of opportunity for growth. Skilled women graduates -- who today represent 60 percent of all university students and are graduating at higher rates than men -- can serve as engines for economic development.

But we need to remove social and economic obstacles to their entrepreneurship. The domino effect of supporting women's entrepreneurship will help increase economic opportunities for both men and women across the country and sustain our progress and stability.

The Arab awakenings created a space for women to become more vocal about their rights to freedom and dignity. The recent attacks have strengthened the resolve of Tunisian women to continue contributing to our progressive model of inclusivity, freedoms, equality and consensual democracy. But achieving real change demands unity, vision and continued social change in our attitudes.

In Tunisia as well as in the region, it is time for women to have a bigger place at the table to discuss all policy issues that concern them, including security and economy. If we want to make a real lasting difference in our communities, women can no longer remain on the fringes of our societies -- we must be central to the solution.

Dr. Boutheina Ben Yaghlane Ben Slimane is Tunisia's State Secretary for Finance and founder of the NGO Tounissiet that seeks to empower female leaders. She also leads a UNDP-supported project, Women Against Political and Electoral Violence.

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Summer Places: The Calming Quiet of Outer Cape Cod

A flock of artistic and literary types are finding summer refuge in Wellfleet and Truro.

Equality for Women of Color Means Raising the Minimum Wage

This piece was also written by Dolores Huerta: labor leader, civil rights activist, and co-founder of United Farm Workers.

Women's Equality Day, August 26th, commemorates the 1920 passage of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which was the first step toward all women having the meaningful opportunity to vote. It is a fitting day for all of us to exercise our influence on the political process by demanding an end to poverty wages undermining women's equality, especially women of color.

California Senate Bill 3, authored by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), will do just that. The bill will raise the state minimum wage to $13 an hour by 2017 and then tie future increases to inflation. The bill is part of a broader women's economic security package called Stronger California, which is gaining traction in Sacramento. This progress comes not a moment too soon.

The call for fair pay is getting louder. The public loved Patricia Arquette's wage equality demand from the podium of the Academy Awards and reacted with outrage to news that U.S. Women's Soccer Team received $33 million less as 2015 World Cup Champions than the 2014 men's winner. Indeed, one polled revealed that ninety percent of voters favor policies that help women achieve equal pay for equal work and raise wages for women and families.

All of this is great news. It reveals that more people in this state and country disapprove of a "gender wage gap" that hurts entire families. Pay gap numbers (which reveal the difference between the average wages earned by men and women working full-time) are shocking, especially for women of color in this state: African American women make on average just 64 cents to the dollar earned by white men; Latinas just 44 cents to every dollar.

But an overlooked contributor to the gender wage gap is the concentration of women into minimum wage jobs. Six out of ten minimum wage earners in California are women and women of color are disproportionately represented among them. Nationwide, 23 percent of minimum wage workers are women of color, compared to 16 percent of workers overall.

If we are serious about women's equality and closing the gender wage gap, especially as it impacts women of color, we must raise the state's minimum wage and we must do it now. Studies confirm that raising the minimum wage would help close the gender wage gap by increasing wages for workers at the bottom of the income spectrum.

California needs a minimum wage fix. Despite the state's great wealth, California has the highest overall poverty rate in the United States. Twenty-five percent of our residents are living in poverty, as are 39 percent of families headed by single mothers. These figures are not surprising given that Californians earning a minimum wage make just $18,000 per year before taxes. That means a hardworking mother of two who earns a minimum wage lives below the official federal poverty line. This is unacceptable.

Working women and their children deserve to be economically stable. Nine to $10 an hour isn't enough for women and their families in California to pay their bills, put healthy food on their dinner tables, and pay for child care.

It not just individuals and families who benefit when working people earn enough to live above the poverty line - all of us do. It is estimated that the California budget would see an annual net gain of $2 billion if the minimum wage was raised to $13 an hour because of increased income and sales tax revenue and reduced costs for public benefits for which working poor people are eligible. Research also confirms that the overall business economy strengthens when workers earn more because low-wage workers spend their increased earnings in the local economy.

If our legislators and Governor really support fair pay for women, as 90 percent of the voters think they should, supporting Senate Bill 3 is the right thing to do.

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Almost None of the Women in the Ashley Madison Database Ever Used the Site

When hacker group Impact Team released the Ashley Madison data, they asserted that “thousands” of the women’s profiles were fake. Later, this number got blown up in news storiesthat asserted “90-95%” of them were fake, though nobody put forth any evidence for such an enormous number. So I downloaded the data and analyzed it to find out how many actual women were using Ashley Madison, and who they were.

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

Almost None Of The Women In The Ashley Madison Database Ever Used The Site

When hacker group Impact Team released the Ashley Madison data, they asserted that “thousands” of the women’s profiles were fake. Later, this number got blown up in news storiesthat asserted “90-95%” of them were fake, though nobody put forth any evidence for such an enormous number. So I downloaded the data and analyzed it to find out how many actual women were using Ashley Madison, and who they were.

What I discovered was that the world of Ashley Madison was a far more dystopian place than anyone had realized. This isn’t a debauched wonderland of men cheating on their wives. It isn’t even a sadscape of 31 million men competing to attract those 5.5 million women in the database. Instead, it’s like a science fictional future where every woman on Earth is dead, and some Dilbert-like engineer has replaced them with badly-designed robots.

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

Family Leave Programs Should Favor Women Over Men

President Obama, during his State of the Union address earlier this year, bemoaned the fact that the United States is the only high-income nation in the world that does not offer a paid maternity leave program. Around Mother's Day, Hillary Clinton released a video passionately declaring her support for paid family leave. Finally, momentum is building to develop a federal program that provides support to families of newborn babies. The key question is: How will it be structured?

Earlier this month, technology companies may have provided some answers. Netflix, Microsoft and Adobe announced generous family leave programs that follow in the footsteps of tech brethren like Google and Facebook. No doubt policy makers are considering these programs very closely when developing family leave proposals for policy implementation at the national level.

Right now, only 12 percent of private sector workers in America have access to paid family leave. Tech companies are some of the elite organizations committed to providing their employees with this benefit. Their main goal is to attract and retain employees by providing them with ample, flexible time to provide a newborn with a healthy foundation for life. Here's the problem: All of these programs are sexist. They reward men at a disproportionately higher rate than women and/or fail to provide women with the comprehensive benefits they require. To ensure optimal results, designers of federal family leave policy must develop programs that better address women's needs for the simple reason that it is women--not men--who carry, give birth to, and breastfeed babies.

Consider the Netflix family leave program. Men and women employed by Netflix will have the option to take off up to one year of paid leave after the birth or adoption of a child. This seems like a radical step forward, given that right now most American workers can only qualify for 12 weeks of unpaid leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act. Since the same benefits are offered to both men and women, it might also seem that, from a gender equity perspective, the Netflix program is fair.

The fly in the ointment is that women who bear children sustain dramatic short-term, long-term and even permanent physical and emotional changes. The joy of bringing a new life into the world also brings weight gain, back pain, bloating, nausea and fatigue. In extreme cases, some pregnant women may require bed rest for a significant portion of their prenatal experience. Recovery is no picnic either, especially if surgery is involved. As for nursing? It's physically challenging, it's time-consuming and its lack of social acceptance can create emotional burdens for nursing women. So from a work versus reward perspective, the men of Netflix are receiving a greater value in family leave benefits than women. That makes the program sexist.

Compared to what's available to average Americans, the programs of other tech companies are innovative and generous, too. Example attributes include multiple months of leave for mothers; leave measured in months, not weeks, for fathers; and additional leave provided to the "primary caregiver." These are great ideas. But creating a foundation for a healthy baby doesn't begin after the baby is born. For women, it starts during pregnancy. Unfortunately, most existing corporate and federal family leave policies fail to take this into consideration.

For instance, tech companies are renowned for their hard-driving cultures and long hours. This dog-eat-dog culture is epitomized at Amazon, where 75 percent of managerial positions are held by men. Now consider that in fiscal year 2013, 5,342 pregnancy discrimination charges were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), as well as with state and local Fair Employment Practices agencies. Further, over the last ten years, 70 percent of the pregnancy discrimination cases investigated by the EEOC resulted in firing of the employee. Pregnancy discrimination not only exists, it also results in women losing their jobs. Those that do not lose their jobs may experience some level of physical and/or emotional trauma, which can negatively affect the development of a fetus. Therefore, any family leave program that does not include provisions to safeguard the pregnant working woman is inadequate.

One of the key contributors to the development of these family leave policies is the zeitgeist of gender neutrality. Gender neutrality blurs the lines of traditional male and female characteristics and roles. In extreme interpretations of the phenomenon, attributes of gender are irrelevant; males and females are interchangeable. This may explain why, at Netflix, men and women receive the same benefits. Their roles as workers and as parents are viewed as interchangeable.

Make no mistake, however. There's nothing gender neutral about having a baby. Pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum recovery are strictly women's issues. Since healthy women are the foundation for producing healthy babies, the design of any family leave program must prioritize the needs of women over those of men.

That is, until men can have babies...

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I’m a 24-Year-Old Small-Town Journalist and I Don’t Want To Die

I work as a reporter and social media editor at a small-town broadcast news station in a safe little community. I came into the office yesterday morning, hopped on to Tweetdeck and began to newscrawl, just like I do every day.

Then, a tweet stopped me in my tracks.

We are trying to figure out what just happened -- thank you all for your concern and kind words.

-- WDBJ7 (@WDBJ7) August 26, 2015

A local newscrew in Virginia watched in horror as their morning anchor and photographer were gunned down on live television. They were doing what we in broadcast refer to as a "fluff piece" --  a human interest story that isn't hard news, but that people like nonetheless. People get sick and tired of seeing nothing but violence and crime day after day.

But this fluff piece turned into hard news. More than hard news, actually. I watched the tweets pour in -- the reporter and photographer had been gunned down live on air, taping this story.

Back at the studio, their colleagues and friends sat stunned, trying to figure out what had happened. Adam's fiancé, Melissa, was in the control room at the studio  -- and watched the entire thing unfold.

shooting news broadcast

The major media outlets picked up the news quickly, probably because there's someone scouring social media and RSS feeds for a living like I do. In the station, the executive producer and I turned on our TV.

I began to shake.

The tweets kept coming. Then the Facebook posts. Then the shocked and horrified faces of the WDBJ anchors trying to explain to their viewers, and probably themselves, what just happened.

I felt my throat tighten, my stomach drop. I was more than emotional. I was more than horrified and saddened by a senseless act of violence.

I was afraid. I admit it.

I was afraid. Because if Alison Parker, who is my age, and doing the same work I'm doing  --  telling local stories of local people in what she thought was a small, safe little town, trying to make a name for herself in a field that we share a passion for  --  could be gunned down in broad daylight, then why should I feel safe?

I always thought, well, as long as I'm not reporting in a war-torn country, as long as I'm not Christiane Amanpour, as long as I stay out of metropolitan areas, I'm safe aren't I?

Is that what Alison and Adam believed?

Did they ride together to that site to do their shoot, waking up early, grabbing coffee and maybe bagels, listening to talk-radio and laughing about office politics because that's what we all do when no one is listening? Did they goof around before rolling the tape, did she practice her outro  -- did they look around, survey the scene, figure out the best way to set up the shot so that the morning sun wouldn't be in her eyes?

When someone pointed a gun at them, when someone shot them dead, were Alison and Adam as shocked as we were, watching it play out? Were they as terrified and betrayed as I feel, watching this happen? Had they, like me, been watching the newsfeeds for weeks, no months, no years, as constant headlines of gun violence saturated our news reports?

One anchor on CBS looked at the camera after reporting this breaking news and said, maybe a bit off record, that she wasn't even surprised.

I didn't know Alison or Adam, but I know my friends and colleagues at my station. Many of us are just starting out. We're in our 20s. We do these fluff pieces. We are small-town reporters clomping around farms and festivals, we are racing to the scene of car accidents and fires, we are waking up in the morning never certain of what our day will bring.

But I can tell you this:

I have never woken up wondering if I would get killed in the field, with my blazer and press badge and passion, no armor, no bullet-proof vest.

Last night, I went to bed with a heavy heart. I knew I would wake up this morning, I would grab my camera and my phone. I would string my press badge around my neck, hovering over my heart.

I wonder if I will ever feel safe again.

To my fellow journos: be safe today  -- and every day.

To everyone who has said to me today, "That reporter was only 24, working in a small town, it could have been you," let me say this:

It still could be.

I remember thinking, when Sandy Hook happened, that's it, finally, something horrific enough that we will change our minds about how easy we make it for anyone, anywhere, to own a gun in this country.

But nothing changed.

As someone who looks at news all day, every day, I thought I was immune to these stories. I, like Alison Parker was yesterday morning when she was shot dead, spend a lot of time on the "fluffy" human interest pieces.

We all need to be reminded that there is light and hope in the world. That there are good people who do good work and make the lives of those around them better.

Even if it's only for a short time that they burn so bright.

A version of this post originally appeared on Medium.

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The Parenting Cliché I Cannot Stand

At the start of Lent this year, I was the sleep-deprived mom of a 3-month-old baby. I published a Facebook status that said, "For Lent, I'm giving up sleep. #newmom."

Funny, right?

It got 45 likes and several comments from commiserating and empathetic mommies and daddies, saying "Amen!" or "Piece of cake!" They got my joke. They understood that as a parent, you have to try and find the humor in pretty much everything or you won't survive.

But then I saw this comment:

"I know it sounds like total BS, but you really will miss the late night snuggling once he gets older. So although it sucks now, try to soak it up."

I "liked" the comment, but actually, I hated the comment. Like, it really pissed me off.

"Soak it up," along with "Enjoy this time" or "Embrace the moment," have become my most hated pieces of parenting advice. (I hate even more that I have said this cliché to other expecting mommies. Before I became one, of course.)

Most of the time, this instance included, people dole out this advice after a comment about some of the less-desirable parts of being a mom to an infant. Here, it was about lack of sleep. I'm sure the comment was well-intentioned. Most of the time, asinine comments are. But this time, I was pissed.

For one, I didn't say anything that would imply that I am NOT "soaking it up." I didn't complain about the lack of sleep. I didn't say, "No sleep sucks," and I didn't even mention late-night snuggles.

Side note: No sleep for mom does not equal "late night snuggles." Sometimes, it equals a screaming, writhing baby who does not want to snuggle. He just wants to cry, eat, use your boob as a pacifier, scream, play, chat, etc.


So you're telling me that I should be "soaking it up" in the middle of the night, when I'd rather be sleeping? No thanks.

Not all moments in motherhood are enjoyable or precious. In fact, some of them are, quite literally, sh*tty. Just because I don't particularly enjoy having bloody nipples and I don't cherish every dirty diaper I change and I don't like waking up every 45 minutes to receive a pacifier, doesn't mean that I'm not enjoying being a mom, or that I'm not soaking it all up. (Believe me, I am soaking up plenty, and most of the time, "it" is a bodily fluid.)

More than that, though, things are hard enough when you're a parent. I don't need the added pressure of feeling like I absolutely have to enjoy every moment of parenting. No one does.

There have been so many days and nights when I've broken down and cried at the enormity of it all, of this job being a mom. I think selfish thoughts like, "I want to sleep," or, "I can't do this," or, "I just want to be alone." My next thought is always, "But you should enjoy this time -- everyone says to enjoy this time!" And then the guilt floods my veins like a drug. Oh, the guilt. It's overwhelming.

Yes, I know, and I agree: Motherhood is precious. Babies are miracles. Time goes too fast. The days are long, but the years are short. And I know there are countless women in the world who would die to have a baby keeping them up all night.

I know all of this. See above paragraph on guilt.

But here's what people don't get: I can enjoy my baby and still wish he would sleep. I can be grateful to be a mom and still want to feel like a human. I can love my baby and still want to sleep in my own bed, instead of the rocking chair. I can be simultaneously tired and wanting sleep and still love my baby with every fiber of my being.

Motherhood doesn't have to be all or nothing.

I can choose to "embrace," "enjoy" and "soak up" the moments that I want to. It's OK if those moments don't include nights when I only get an hour or two of sleep. Or days when I have to sit around topless because my child has decided he will only be placated by my breast in or near his mouth. Or moments when I'm late for work because my baby puked on my first three outfits. Times when my child is in hysterics and I have no clue what is wrong or how to make it better.

Because these hard moments, while not the most enjoyable, are part of the gig. And each one teaches me.

With each passing day that I've been a mom, I learn. I grow. It is getting easier, as everyone told me it would. I am "enjoying" a lot more these days. In fact, I find my 8-month-old to be a complete blast. Even now, it's hard to dig deep and remember just how hard those first few weeks were.

I know he won't always need me. I know he won't always be small. I know that the toughest phases of parenting won't last forever. I know I won't be able to cuddle him forever. I know this.

I snuggle my baby as often as I can, and savor it, because even though he's only 35 weeks old, he is already too busy discovering the world to sit still with me very often.

I inhale his baby smell and kiss his chubby cheeks, thighs and belly a hundred times a day.

I tear up when I rock him, overwhelmed by the all-consuming love I have for him.

I grieve when he outgrows clothing or goes up a size in his diaper.

I melt when I see him light up when his dad walks into the room.

When he smiles at me, I think, "My heart cannot feel any more full."

When he "talks" to me, providing all of the facial expressions and dramatic pauses of an adult, I laugh so hard, and my cheeks hurt from smiling.

When he relaxes in my arms, I breathe a sigh of relief -- he needs me and I can make it, whatever "it" is at that particular moment, better.

I am crying as I write all of these things, because my heart swells thinking of all the fun we've had, and have yet to experience.

So, I am enjoying it. Most of it.

But just because, for one night, I might want to lay my baby down to sleep instead of holding him in my arms, that does not mean I am not soaking it up. It just means I'm tired.

A version of this post originally appeared on Raves & Revelations.

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5 Ways to Get Your Email Under Control And Change Your Relationships

Remember when email was new and it was so exciting to get one?

These days, most people find email to be more overwhelming than exciting.

There's a popular truism that says we teach people how to treat us, and I believe this is true, most of the time. If we carry this idea forward into how we communicate, it becomes much easier to use things like email and texting as tools to benefit our relationships, instead of feeling burdened or overwhelmed by trying to stay connected at all times.

If you find yourself feeling anxious about needing to respond to everyone right away, it's time to check in with yourself about over-giving.

Realistically, most kind, compassionate people love giving to others. But then, sometimes things shift from giving out of a generous heart to giving out of a need to be liked or to please others. In short, while balanced giving is motivated by love, over-giving is motivated by fear.

What does any of this have to do with email?

If we take a step back away from the convention email has become (giant time-sucking inbox full of ALL THE THINGS that need to be addressed), we can start to see if as another form of connection with each other. It can feel less anxiety-producing. We can take our time and respond rather than react. We can make mindful, loving choices that reduce the amount of stress in our days, and the days of those we are emailing. When we get caught up in the need to respond and stay plugged in at all times, we are operating out of fear, which isn't helpful in any kind of communication -- business or personal.

A few tips to shift your relationship with your inbox -- and the people you're emailing:

1. Choose two times a day to check and answer email.*

Whenever I suggest this time management strategy to clients, most initially say this is impossible. Too many important things come in during the day; there's no way to make this work. Here's the thing: when you keep yourself in fight or flight mode, reacting to every email as it comes in, you leave no room to mindfully respond in your interactions. Yes, there are days where we are waiting for an urgent message or have to deal with a few volleys of email back and forth. But often, checking in on email slows down our productivity. Dedicating 30 minutes to an hour as an early in the workday task, and another 30 minutes at the end of the workday allows for focused time on responding with care.

2. Unsubscribe from everything that isn't adding value to your life in some meaningful way regularly (i.e newsletters, sales flyers, etc.)

All of that stuff is generally available on the individual websites, so if it isn't something you regularly dig into, unsubscribe. Some people like to have a separate email account for this type of thing, which can work if you use it for website sign ups, but don't make it one more taks you need to check in on. If each email took up physical space in our homes or offices, we'd be much more likely to declutter. Even if it's only a few minutes here or there to go through and delete, that's time and mental space better spent on something you enjoy.

3. Limit your email responses to five sentences or less when possible. (i.e. all business emails).

Take a look through some recent emails and see how much of it could have been omitted. Sometimes emails require detailed explanations or information, but often, we end up padding them and re-stating things or using filler language that doesn't add anything useful. Respect the time of the people you are writing to, and conserve your own as well; be brief!

The exception here is personal communications that are taking the place of writing a physical letter. (But on that note, why not send an actual letter?)

4. Skip the "last word" follow-up email.

You know, the "thank you" back after an article goes up, the "You too" when someone thanks you/sends an email that would in any other way close out an interchange. This is like sending a thank you card for the thank you card someone sent you. Don't do it.

5. Consider whether email is the right venue for your message.

Do you need a quick response? Send a text, IM or make a phone call. Is it about a sensitive issue? Consider a face to face conversation instead. Are you angry, upset or feeling other intense emotions about the communication? Wait a bit before you send it. And know your recipient! Depending on the type of work they do and their personal communication style, email may not be the best way to touch in with this person.

So how will all of this email taming change your relationships?

Imagine what a difference it would make if your decisions and interactions with others came from a place of loving calm instead of fear and anxiety.

Sorting out how you deal with your email won't change all of that, but it's a good step in the right direction.

*While some of these aren't a fit for every type of work, it's worth experimenting with taking focused chunks of time to answer email in batches, rather than anxiously checking in all the time. If you try it, leave me a note in the comments.

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Motherlode Blog: This Year: $488 on School Supplies. Next Year Will Be Different.

We need to go buy school supplies, my daughter said. It won’t be like last year, she said. Not at all.

Why As A Girl, I’m Glad Chivalry Is Dead

Originally published on Unwritten by Bethany Casey.

You hear it all the time from women, complaining how chivalry is dead nowadays, that men don't understand what we really want out of a relationship. I, for one, am glad this time has come. Of course chivalry is dead; it's an outdated code used by medieval knights, for crying out loud, not a modern day code on dating etiquette. Why is there so much pressure on men to be measured against an unattainable goal?

Being a gentlemen, on the other hand, is not an outdated practice. Men can be sweet, caring, and respectful toward a woman without having to place her on an unreachable pedestal. And, in my humble opinion, it's drastically unfair that men are required to hold up all the responsibility throughout the dating spectrum. Men have to pay, must always open doors, must always pick the women up and take them home, and whilst I think that's lovely, surely we're beyond that point now? It's great when you're dating someone who cares about you, so realistically, they would of course ensure you get home safe, and do things for you. But it should be because they want to, not because they feel somewhat obliged to.

I'm sure many men are now self-conscious about being a gentlemen and caring for a woman for fear of taking away from a woman's independence. some people have simply lost of the art of being a good date, but many men I've spoken to have agreed that they worry about how to treat a woman so as not to seem belittling to her, rather than just being a gracious human being.

On this point, with all these women talking about how they want to stop being treated like fragile little girls, and gain some empowerment, why don't you take a bit of control? Take your boyfriend/husband/spouse out on a date. Send them flowers. Surprise them with things. It's a two way street now, ladies.

I've taken my partner on dates, I get him silly little presents, I don't ask for things. Because he's my boyfriend, not my slave. Of course, he does the same for me, and I appreciate it and love it, but at least I know he's doing it out of love, not necessity, or fear of a huge bitch fit if he doesn't deliver.

So, my tips for dating after the death of chivalry are:

It's both of your jobs to keep the romance going. Take turns planning and taking them out for a date.
If you invite, you pay. That's the way it works.
Make an effort. Shine your shoes, wear a pretty dress. It's fun, empowering, and shows that you have in fact made a solid effort with the date.
Do something different. Dinner and a movie will always be a classic, but be more spontaneous. Do things you've never done before, do things that aren't normal, do things you don't really like but you know your partner would be delighted with.
Never expect something just because you're a girl, or a guy. Men do not have sexual entitlement over women, and women don't have the rights to demand money and presents from men.
Just be yourself. There's no need to play things up; honesty is a key part of anything. Tell the truth.
Hold doors open, hold a chair out, it's sweet. That means both of you.

I could go on forever about dating etiquette, but that's not what this is about. Basically, we live in a time where 'chivalry' needs to go both ways. Dating is a mutual process, you both have to appreciate each other.

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Size Is Just A Number: What Society Doesn’t Understand About Skinny Shaming

Originally published on Unwritten by Sara Li.

When I was six years old, my grandmother gave me a nickname that would haunt me for the rest of my life. Up until the age of fourteen, I was known as Xiǎo Niǎo, or otherwise understood as "skinny bird." I had earned the title with my twiggy figure and an unfortunate habit to talk more than I should. I didn't think much of the pet name at the time - I had more pressing concerns, or so I liked to think - but it wasn't until I hit sophomore year of high school did the name come back to bite me in the proverbial ass. Even at such a young age, the importance of being "skinny" was embedded in my self-esteem. Before I even had the chance to define myself in my own terms, I was pressured into an 'ideal' body type that would be impossible for me to maintain in my coming teenage years.

In the next four years, my body changed drastically. Between the ages of fourteen and eighteen, I teetered on the edges of an eating disorder while both my body and mind, suffered the consequences. Between puberty, monumental stress, and an overall harmful lifestyle imbalance, my body had adjusted with an embarrassingly noticeable amount of weight gain. My size shot from a desirable zero to the four's and beyond. Although this was not what I had once imagined puberty would grant me, here's what I learned when I was no longer my Grandmother's adored "skinny bird."

Body shaming is not equal for every body type.

I had heard the jokes and whispers prior to my weight gain and shrugged them off without any real hits to my self esteem. Being told that I was "too skinny" and "needed to eat more" did nothing to hurt my ego because as I recall, I saw replicas of my body type everywhere. There is no lack of representation for "skinny" people because to this day, people with slim figures are considered the ideal body type. I was glorified, put on a pedestal, and told that I was beautiful because of the numbers on my scale. Turns out, when I lost my membership to the "skinny club", the comments took a complete 180. Family members would make subtle remarks on how my belly was growing larger. Boys would ask when I started gaining weight. As if I had an explanation.

While I was down on myself for no longer having a stick figure, I had missed the big picture surrounding me. Others were speaking out about what it means to really love yourself. Various models and entertainers such as Dove, started reminding society that loving your body shouldn't be limited to just one type. Plus sized models demanded that the fashion industry represent all bodies. Photographers started refusing to photoshop natural beauty. All around the globe, activists advocated for loving your body unconditionally. In particular, there was an emphasis on embracing your curves. Back rolls, heavy stomachs, big butts, everything that was once deemed "ugly" was suddenly in the spotlight. In the most beautifully positive way, it was revolutionary.

Unfortunately, it also lasted about approximately .54 seconds before the backlash began. In a post, a blogger wrote, "I'm naturally skinny. I eat what I want, I don't starve myself, and I am beautiful. So why are you allowed to love your "curves", but it's wrong for me to love my "bones"? Why is it okay for you to call a person anorexic, but horrible if someone calls a person fat? If you can feel beautiful for being big, I can feel beautiful for being small. Get over it!" Others promptly agreed with this sentiment. But here's the thing:

Skinny people have always been considered beautiful.

There's no denying that. Body shaming exists in all forms. It's absolutely wrong, in any and every light, to make jokes about eating disorders and to shame anyone for their appearance. Comparing skinny shaming to fat shaming is to completely ignore already set conventional beauty standards. Just look at the media; there are thousands of weight loss products being tossed in our faces constantly because in spite of all the body positivity progress, we're still being told that above all else, we need to be one thing.


In an ideal world, all body figures will be equally cherished. But in order to do that, we must first acknowledge the imbalance in what it means to have a "beautiful" figure. Telling curvy people that they are beautiful does not threaten the beauty of skinny people. As for the "skinny birds" of the crowd, you should absolutely love your body for no other reason than that everyone should feel confident in their appearance. It's time for all body types to be loved.

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An Open Letter To My Best Friend, The Mistress

Originally published on Unwritten by Rebeccah Arthurs.

To my dear, dear friend, Sarah,*

Let me start by saying I love you, I really do. You make me laugh to no end, and you find my faults and endless cynicism funny, when most would think it's incredibly annoying. My foot in mouth syndrome very rarely offends you, and I absolutely adore how you have the same. Whenever we talk, political correctness is left at the door and I feel like I can be my true, authentic, uncensored self around you. You are the yin to my yang, the pickle to my onion, the p to my v, or the p to my p, or the v to my v (no discrimination here my friends). I never could've imagined that a moment would come where I would truly doubt our friendship, but then you went and became 'The Other Woman'.

When you first told me you'd slept with Jerry, I laughed assuming it was some sort of off-the-mark joke. But no, it was true; you'd slept with him. Jerry is one of our friends and to make it worse, he'd recently gotten engaged to his long-term girlfriend, otherwise known as our close friend, Megan. You spoke of the scandalous encounter as if it was something out of a Mills and Booms novel; I sat there flabbergasted. I have heard many of your shameless sexcapades over the years, but none had ever been so bad that I genuinely doubted your moral compass. What happens between two consenting adults is none of my business; as long as nobody's getting hurt, it's fine. But that's the problem, by telling me, you have made it my business.

Someone is going to get hurt, whether it be you, Megan, or both.

The guilt has been excruciating, and even though I haven't done anything wrong, whenever we're all together as a group I feel vile. I see him sitting with her, his hand around her, and wonder how many time's he's cheated. I wish I could tell her or warn her, I feel like a bad friend for sitting idle, but my only proof of infidelity is his fling with you, and I love you too much to betray you. The only thing worse than seeing him sitting there smugly, is seeing you talk to her with affection equal to that which you show me. I suddenly questioned your honesty, you'd slept with her fiancé, but there you were, sitting and chatting to the both of them in the most platonic and friendliest of ways. Have you ever betrayed me? That's a question that previously I never would have asked, but now I'm beginning to wonder.

Eventually the guilt began to subside and things got back to normal but as soon as you revealed you'd slept with him again, I was disgusted. Up until this point I'd tied myself in knots, biting my tongue, and carefully choosing my words in an attempt to be honest with you. Now though, all empathy for you is gone. I knew you weren't remorseful, but you'd promised you wouldn't do it again. As much as I was trying not to judge you, I absolutely did. Do you have no shame? Usually when two people cheat I blame the cheater and not the other woman, but you're suppose to be Megan's friend. Yes, he most likely is and would have cheated otherwise, but why did it have to be with you?

I judge him and I judge you.

I've never trusted him and now I'm struggling to trust you. To this day I'm not sure if you told him or if he could just tell by frosty reception but Jerry knew that I knew, and begged me not to tell, swearing it was a mistake.

You and I hadn't had a real conversation in days, instead settling for uncomfortable texts, but when you pleaded with me to call you, I did. For once you seemed somewhat sorry, but the more I talk to you, the more I realize that your pity is solely for yourself. You're sad that he cares more about the girl he's been with for three years than you. You expect me to feel sorry for you, and as your friend I want to. But the truth is, I can't. At the core I believe you're in the wrong, your lack of empathy has disturbed me, and your complete self-interest has disappointed me. How can you be so flippant about Megan's feelings and then expect sympathy because, as the mistress, you were thrown aside?

I had to write this letter not because of your actions, but because of our relationship. I keep on telling myself that our friendship isn't being tested, but it is. I'm beginning to resent you in so many ways, I resent that you have put me in a position where I have to lie, I resent that you would put our friend group at risk, I resent you for betraying Megan but most of all I resent you for making me doubt you as a person. If you're reading this I hope you understand that I do love you, but I'm struggling to like the side of you that I'm beginning to see.

*All names have been changed.

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Why Open-Minded People Live Happier Lives

Originally published on Unwritten by Amanda Beadlescomb.

If I had to list all the things I've changed my mind about in the past month, I don't think the list would even fit in the last few pages of my notebook. I've changed my mind about boys I liked, friends I wanted in my life, careers I wanted to pursue, cities I wanted to move to, wines I wanted to drink, and Bachelor contestants I wanted to win. I've changed from loving Starbucks to pledging allegiance to Coffee Bean, changed from hating Hillary Clinton to thinking I could vote for her if Donald Trump was the only other option; my life has changed so much, I even use gel eyeliner now instead of liquid.

In short, I change a lot of my opinions, and I change them often.

I used to stress out about the time when I promised my mom I would never drink until I was 21, and then decided somewhere during my freshman year of college that I was okay with having a few drinks with my friends on the weekends. Or the time I said I absolutely would never date someone who wasn't of my religion, only to fall in love with a boy who didn't have a clue what he believed in. I didn't want to be a hypocrite, but I knew somehow that I couldn't stay the same forever.

In our 20's, we have so much to figure out. Change is constant when it comes to the people we meet, the classes we take, the places we travel. And every new experience will inevitably bring, well, more change. We aren't hypocritical for doing differently during the changing seasons of our lives. In fact, I think changing our opinions is one of the best things we can do for ourselves. Here's why.

The opinions we hold as children and teenagers are often the opinions passed on to us from our parents. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, and sometimes we end up deciding as adults that those opinions are truly ours as well. But going through the process of questioning your beliefs in your late teens and 20's, and tweaking them along the way, ensures that the opinions we have are authentic to us, not the people who raised us.

You must learn day by day, year by year, to broaden your horizons. 

Changing our opinions broadens our perspectives. If you spend time agreeing with one group of people your entire life, you miss out on seeing things from more than one perspective. Rarely are any problems solved by focusing on only one side of an argument, or only one piece of a puzzle. The broader your perspective is, and the more opinions you can understand the easier it will be to think in terms of the bigger picture.

Sometimes, changing our opinions helps us admit our mistakes. Owning up to the fact that I'm wrong is one of the hardest things for me to do. If halfway through an argument I realize that I'm wrong, I am the type of person to keep arguing anyway - fully aware that the right thing to do would be to admit my error. I consider a "wrong" opinion to be one that can be factually disproven, one that tears down innocent people, or one that you suddenly realize is not true to your own values anymore. And from what I've learned, people will respect you more in the long run for changing your mind about an opinion that is wrong than they will for holding firmly onto it in the name of being strong-willed.

Change your opinions, keep to your principles.

The more we change our opinions, the more we learn. There are some truths in your life you will never change, whether those include religious beliefs, family values, morals, or whatever you think is ultimately important. But after those few, solid truths, I think every opinion you hold should be up for grabs. Listen to other's stories before you decide that a certain group of people is inherently bad or good. Explore as many careers as you need to before deciding that something is your passion. Change, experience, and grow. I bet you all the money in your wallet that you'll be better off for it.

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Go Younger: Don’t Lower Your Standards, Lower Your Age Range

Originally published on Unwritten by Aurora McCausland.

In my high school years, I was notorious for liking boys younger than me. It was the norm for me to go after boys who were 1-3 years my junior. All of my friends thought it was strange, and as per typical teenage girls, chased after the boys a few years older. Something made me different, and society made me believe I should feel ashamed for it.

Here I am, years later, in a serious committed relationship with someone a year and a half younger. That doesn't seem like a huge difference, until you stop to think about the fact that I'm in my early twenties, while he still has a "teen" tacked onto the end of his age.
But why isn't this okay?
I know that there's a societal belief that "boys aren't mature until they're 30." And although it's true that women generally mature faster than men, that doesn't mean there are any hard, fast rules. I've dated guys 10+ years older than the one I'm dating now, who were infinitely more immature. From experience, it's not all about the status quo.

"Well, he's the exception," yes, I've heard it before. But what's so bad about "robbing the cradle?" What's so wrong with dating someone younger than you? This is a gender distinction that we need to come to light about. Men have never been criticized for dating younger than them. They just get a high five for bagging a younger woman. But here we are, the female demographic, once again getting the short end of the stick.

Age is irrelevant and as a generation, we're very gradually discovering this. We're seeing young millennials start companies, travel the world, and do amazing things, that nobody expected them to. No one blinks an eye, because it's amazing! Everyone is realizing their true potential, and chasing after whatever they want. We're slowly accepting that age doesn't matter.

If you've bonded with someone and they feel like everything you've been looking for, don't let finding out they're younger than you change your mind about them.

There's no reason to keep yourself from a potentially amazing relationship, just because society tells you it's weird. We're all a little weird, and love is beautiful, so that's pretty darn cool if you ask me. Love your curves, love that you love women, love that you like to shave your head, and love that you like your boys a little young. I'm what some might call a cradle robber, and proud of it.

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Why Fate Is The Explanation And Excuse For Everything

Originally published on Unwritten by Kasia Jaworski.

"Everything happens for a reason." You didn't get into your dream school. That internship didn't turn into a job. Your boyfriend of 3 years gets up and leaves one day; no explanation, no phone call. Your grandmother dies suddenly. You fall in love unexpectedly. You finally recover from a broken heart.

The good, the bad, and all the sh*t in between. What do we do? Chalk it up to fate.

From a young age, we're told that everything happens for a reason. Maybe it comes from our mom or a friend as an attempt to console us. After a while it becomes a mantra, a phrase that we repeat when our bad days get worse or we can hardly believe our good luck. Instead of accepting the natural rhythm and fluctuation of life, we can attribute anything to fate.

It's the explanation and the excuse for everything.

Isn't it nice that we can blame this all encompassing, unanticipated yet always present force for anything that happens to us? It takes away our responsibility and sense of control. While it's slightly terrifying to think that fate is guiding our destiny, we almost always welcome it as a sign of where to go next.

But in reality, fate is just a romanticized idea that actually leaves us complacent. Instead of challenging our views or questioning our situations, it's easier to downplay an outcome as not "meant to be." On the other hand, serendipitous moments are like happy accidents, as if fate rolled the dice in our favor.

Fate is responsible for your breakup, but then also meeting the love of your life. Hard work didn't get you that dream job; it was because you were supposed to end up there. It skews our perception of free will and justifies any hardship or sadness. In a sense, we're all merely fate's pawns, making seemingly significant decisions that are actually trivial to our overarching density.

Who wants to live like that?

While I do believe in chance meetings and well-timed coincidences, I think we're far more responsible for the direction of our lives. Sure, bad sh*t happens. But that's just life. It has nothing to do with fate or a predisposition to bad luck. Sometimes there isn't a reason for tragedy, just like there isn't always an explanation for happiness. It just is.

You can thank fate for leading you to your soul mate, or you can trust that like minded people attract one another, and you'll eventually find love. Without fate's path, you would have never realized you wanted to be a teacher not a lawyer, or you can appreciate your ability to change your mind and how passions develop over time.

Fate is a comforting idea, but everything that's beautifully messy and alluringly unpredictable happens outside our comfort zone. Everything doesn't happen for a reason. Everything happens and we give a reason why it's significant. 

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How Losing A Loved One Can Turn A Boy Into A Man

Originally published on Unwritten by Michelle.

I have seen my girl friends cry thousands of times. Boy problem this, school problem that, in a way I was desensitized to the act of crying. This however was not the case when I watched my dad, brother, and boyfriend cry. It was then that I truly felt the weight of the tears. While it is in our human nature to show emotion, society has long expected men to endure grief by "taking it on the chin." Men are masters at handling most of life's misfortunes, but loss is the one thing I've noticed not even they can brush off, making the times they break even more significant. I saw this first hand in my boyfriend, who lost his father this past February. The death was crippling, but it was through this experience that I saw my boyfriend grow into a man.


His father had been struggling with health issues for several years, and as a result my boyfriend tried to prepare himself to take over the father figure role for his 13-year-old brother. However, no preparation was ever truly enough. The day his father passed away changed everything; he was no longer just an older sibling, but he was now the most critical source of male guidance for his younger brother. I believe that taking care of not only your own needs, but of those who depend on you is a monumental sign of growing up and I watched this quality develop in my boyfriend. Boys who step up in time of loss are no longer boys; they've willingly accepting a responsibility of being a man.   

The toughest part about losing someone close to you is learning how to implement the life lessons they taught, while still continuing to grow on your own. Before his loss, we were just regular college kids in love and had our whole lives ahead of us. We weren't exactly sure who we were, or what we wanted to be and to be honest, I still don't know. However, my boyfriend is now a different story. This experience gave him and other men who have endured loss a unique appreciation for life, but also a newfound drive to fulfill it. They are now not only living their life for themselves, but also for the person they lost. Having this conviction to turn their dreams into reality for more than just themselves is another tell tale sign of becoming a man.


Through all of this, what still shocks me the most about my boyfriend's character is how he was able to handle the situation. Instead of grieving the years that are lost, he celebrated the memories that were had. This was THE turning point where I realized that I am no longer dating a boy, but proudly committed to a man. This experience changed my relationship because, he changed for the better. I learned from him that loss will do more than toughen you emotionally, but will prompt you to evolve as a person. I am dating a man who strives everyday to be the person his father would be proud to see and I for one, am proud to be by his side. To all those who have witnessed how loss can change the person you once knew, take a minute to appreciate the honorable man they have become.

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