By Josh Walfish

It all began with a simple feast for one.

I had been in North Carolina all of three weeks when the Jewish high holidays rolled around. Stuck without any vacation days to spend the holidays with my family, I decided to make the most of it and made myself some chicken and couscous and bought a nice red wine.

That elegant dinner for one was the first time I really understood the fact that I was in the real world now. No organic Jewish community to join, no parents to cook all this delicious food. Just me, my subpar cooking skills and a dimly lit apartment in eastern North Carolina.

The festivities continued a few months later when I rushed home from work every day during my dinner break to light my menorah in celebration of Hanukkah. The lights glistened as I placed the tray with the menorah in the sink to prevent a fire while I drove to the high school basketball game I was covering that night.

My first job out of college was in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, a town of about 57,000 people according to the latest numbers from the Census Bureau. Although no data is officially available, there are probably fewer than 10 Jews living in Nash and Edgecombe counties — and I am one of them.


“I realized just how lonely I really was in the world. Sure, I had a great family and a fantastic group of friends in Chicago, New York City and Washington, D.C., but if I needed someone to come to my aid at 4 a.m., who could I call?”


I didn’t think it would be a big deal for me. I’m not one to force my religious views on anyone, and I am very tolerant of the beliefs of others. I didn’t see a reason for any issues to arise, and for the most part, they didn’t.

That changed on January 6, 2015.

I was covering the local Christian private school’s basketball team, and they said a prayer before the game. I stood silently with my head looking straight ahead, thinking about all the wishes they were asking from God. When the prayer was completed, an older woman nearby said I was being very rude by not bowing my head during prayer and asked me why I didn’t pray with them.

I tried to explain that it wasn’t my custom, but I might as well have told her that Jesus was a myth and she was crazy. She berated me for a few minutes before realizing I didn’t care. She turned her attention back to the game.

After the game, I went back to the office and recounted the story. My colleagues were very sympathetic to me and told me not to worry, but in my mind, the seeds had been planted that I just did not belong in this town.

Ironically enough, my birthday was the next day, and as I tend to do, I took a state of my life after 23 years. With that incident fresh in my mind, I realized just how lonely I really was in the world. Sure, I had a great family and a fantastic group of friends in Chicago, New York City and Washington, D.C., but if I needed someone to come to my aid at 4 a.m., who could I call?

That realization sent me into a major funk, one of a few prolonged low moments I have had in the 18 months since my graduation. The only way out of that spiral was to work. So I dove into my job, but didn’t do very well taking care of me and my needs in the process.


“Community — especially religious community — is about nothing more than loving one another and helping each other in times of need.”


Even though on the outside I seemed fine, and most people could not witness the turmoil within, I was slowly being engulfed by these feelings of isolation.

The funny part of this story is that it took going to church for me to come to grips with being Jewish in an almost exclusively Christian town.

My editor lost his newborn child to a heart defect, and I attended the funeral with many of my colleagues from work in early May. I sat in the service as an act of moral support, and when there were the prayers to Jesus, I took the opportunity to say the Jewish equivalent to each prayer.

When the final prayer was going to be said, the pastor asked everyone to hold hands and bow their heads. The girl to my right attempted to grab my hand, but I kindly declined the request, and she looked bewildered.

As the family’s processional back up the aisle commenced, my editor came over and whispered that he was grateful I had shown up. He later texted me that he wasn’t sure if I would come, but he was glad to see me there in support.

All religions at the core are about respecting your fellow human. We pray to different deities, but we pray for the same things, and we believe in the same fundamental principle.

Community — especially religious community — is about nothing more than loving one another and helping each other in times of need.

No matter what I say or do, just about everyone I meet in Rocky Mount will assume I’m Christian. I will still get asked which church I attend — my answer of Beth Shalom really throws them off — and I will still get the same concerned faces when I tell them that I offered to work Christmas Day.

So when a curious high school athlete recently asked me after an interview whether I would be going home from Christmas, I calmly told her, “My family puts more of an emphasis on Thanksgiving.”

I went home later that night, put on my charcoal gray yarmulke and lit the Hanukkah menorah for the second consecutive year in an apartment that was now shining with the flickering flames of Jewish pride.

Josh Walfish is a sports reporter for the Rocky Mount Telegram in Rocky Mount, North Carolina.



By Deanna Christy

The world’s grief is an immense weight on this generation. Millennials — those perceived to be lazy, undeserving slackers — are faced with seemingly insurmountable odds as they stare down unspeakable global tragedies. The world is beset with crises: Humanity is increasingly divided; disease, hunger and poverty are rampant; greed is the currency of the day; consumption is unchecked; broken relationships are the norm; terror reigns, and the majority is afraid.

The enormity of these issues is overwhelming, to say the least. I am one to shoulder that pain, fear and grief — to carry it within my heart until it becomes such a heavy weight on my soul that I must weep for fear of losing myself in it. I can’t help it. It’s in my nature to carry that feeling of hopelessness around with me. Ugliness is all around us, and it is difficult to look past that ugliness and see the small beauties that are present in everyday life. We are surrounded by terror, calamity and destruction, and at times, life seems too bleak to bear.

I seek only a profession that might allow myself to lighten the great burdens that affect so many.  

I am afraid — intimidated and discouraged by the problems that will dominate our lifetime. I can’t help but take these problems on myself, and I am constantly dissatisfied with my life because I feel I am not doing enough to help.

In fact, I feel I am not doing anything to help.


I am afraid — intimidated and discouraged by the problems that will dominate our lifetime. I can’t help but take these problems on myself, and I am constantly dissatisfied with my life because I feel I am not doing enough to help.


I recently graduated from college with a degree in advertising, and now I work 9–6 (on non-busy days) at an advertising agency, making commercials for a coffee chain, a grocery store, a credit union, an insurance agency and a collection of online universities. My job allows me to do things like drive a Camaro convertible to work, challenge myself daily, write blog posts on industry happenings, develop strategy about how to best reach our clients’ customers, throw myself wholeheartedly into the behind-the-scenes of production and be on set during commercial shoots (yes, we actually use the black and white slate board and shout “Action!” on set).

I did not choose to be a doctor or a teacher, careers whose positive impact no one would question. I adore my chosen profession, but it is not one typically associated with positive social change or the improvement of humanity at large, which is challenging for me to swallow.

That is not to say I have accomplished nothing.

Ultimately, I get to be involved in creating work that I am proud of, which is a wonderful thing. I am grateful for my job and the company I work for, but a troubling thought haunts me: What am I doing to help solve the world’s laundry list of problems? Nothing, it seems, and that reality often leads me to despair.

During the aftermath of the attacks on Paris and the subsequent uproar about the world’s disregard for other countries in the midst of their own tragedies, a passage from the Talmud stopped me in my tracks: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”


I may not be solving the great issues of our day, but that does not mean that my contributions to the collective happiness of humanity are worthless and unappreciated.


I am not Jewish, but this quote struck me. It forced me to take a step back and escape the spiral of hopelessness that threatened to overtake me. 

I am not obligated to shoulder the world’s grief by myself. Nor am I obligated to single-handedly alleviate this grief.

These words made me feel at peace, comforted by the fact that there is still good in the world, and moreover, good to be done in this world, no matter how insignificant. I may not be solving the great issues of our day, but that does not mean that my contributions to the collective happiness of humanity are worthless and unappreciated.

There may be a day when I can use my skills for the betterment of humanity, and I pray to find that opportunity sooner rather than later. I hope that it won’t be long before I can apply what I have learned academically and professionally to a greater purpose. My deepest wish for my future is to do work that matters, not just to a bottom line or an income statement, but to actual people. I want to create campaigns that really matter, campaigns that are impactful and inspiring, campaigns that truly encourage people to work together and lift each other up.

I’m not there yet, but I hope to be one day. I know I will be one day.

Until that day, I will persist in compassion, walk steadfast in love and make absolutely certain that those around me are valued and respected.  

The work will not be abandoned.  

Deanna Christy is a creative firecracker intent on engaging with the world through explosive ideas, snappy writing and beautiful music. She lives in Lansing, Michigan.



By Beau Hayhoe

When my friend Marina mentioned this project, my interest was immediately piqued. An essays-focused website with a name based off a "Portlandia" skit? I was sold. But the topic was, to be quite honest, a lot to sort through at the start. What could I possibly say? And then there was the matter of finding a photo to convey everything. So, when I found myself on a flight to L.A. to see an old high school friend, I carved out extra time to really dig into this post.

After some writer’s block and a delay on the runway, the thought I found myself returning to related to the reason I was on that flight. It’s a motto I’ve tried to keep in mind when faced with a tough decision or an obstacle or a rough day. Some might consider it a cliche, but it’s really taken on meaning for me when I’ve been faced with a new adventure or cool opportunity.

Life’s too short.

Let me explain — I wasn’t always living by these words. It wasn’t until I was hit by a significant life event earlier this summer — not the loss of a family member or friend or some other massive tragedy, but a breakup that proved to be a pretty major change in the life I thought I had and planned to have — that my mindset changed along with my relationship status.


After the breakup. certain words and phrases she had said rang in my head over and over again. Each time, it felt like I’d been knocked to the ground and kicked in the gut.


I’d been dating my now-ex girlfriend for about a year and a half, and it felt a more momentous time in my life than any other. Things were exciting and new and different, and finishing up school at Michigan State with her by my side was an amazing experience. I felt like we were nothing less than a perfect match. Navigating New York City in our first jobs and eventually moving in together was a really valuable learning experience — one that I thought paved the way for a more vibrant and even better future.

But the life that you think you lead, or the person you think you know — those foundational pillars can change unexpectedly and seemingly instantly. That was where I found myself at the end of June 2015.

I’d started a new job, and I was working on several side projects at once. It was busy, but fulfilling. Life felt pretty good. Living in a major city a month into a new, fast-paced job made for a bit less time and some bumps in the road — our relationship wasn’t 100 percent perfect. It exacerbated some communication problems we’d had in the past, too. It was a balancing act I needed to figure out. But I believed that, as with anything, if you take the time to work on it, things will smooth out. It was nothing I couldn’t handle with the person I loved, right? Not quite.

Being awoken in the middle of the night without any real warning, hearing some crushing and fairly brief words, and then having to go to work the next day and put on a brave face was exceptionally difficult. It only took a handful of weeks before I realized just how drastically this person had changed. It made me feel incredibly small inside — how could I fail so badly? How did I not see this coming? What had happened? 


Through the struggles I’ve faced since graduating college, I’ve learned that some clichés just make sense. It’s a realization I understand more fully each day.


After the breakup, certain words and phrases she had said rang in my head over and over again. Each time, it felt like I’d been knocked to the ground and kicked in the gut. But I gritted my teeth, got up and brushed myself off by sticking to the busy routine I’d developed for myself.             

It wasn’t easy. I felt empty. Over and over, I heard that voice in my head telling me I wasn’t good enough. But in the midst of all this, I realized I had a choice: Do I sit around, wallow in the past and fill up with regret or hopelessness or even anger? Or do I push myself to funnel that failure, to funnel those words into greater motivation, more hard work and greater passion? New projects, new adventures, newer and bigger and better goals? It left me with something to prove. It left me with a chip on my shoulder, and it motivated me to leave that past and, to be blunt, that person, in the dust — because life’s too short to look in the rearview mirror.                  

Through the struggles I’ve faced since graduating college, I’ve learned that some clichés just make sense. It’s a realization I understand more fully each day.

Life’s too short to sit and wonder how your friends are doing across the country. Go visit. It’s too short to not stay in touch with those same friends — it’s as simple as picking up the phone and shooting them a quick text during the day. Life’s too short to sit around and make lists of all the things I want to do in Brooklyn, where I’m lucky enough to live. It’s about getting out there and experiencing them, whether it’s a new bar or a new shop or a new restaurant. Don’t plan too far in advance — just go, now.     

Beau Hayhoe is a fashion PR pro and freelance style writer based in Brooklyn, New York.



By Ashley Fetters

There’s an art to being happy alone in adulthood.

It has to be learned; it has to be practiced daily and dutifully tended to. But I promise it can be done. Really. Being unmarried, single, childless, yet satisfied and fabulous — it’s possible, I swear.

I mean, I think. It’s been almost four years since graduation, and four years since somebody I loved said to me, “We should talk about getting married” — and with these last four years of mostly solo, mostly happy early adulthood under my belt, I’m, like, pretty sure the keys to being alone but feeling complete are as follows:

  • Get a job you love; dive headfirst into it.
  • Know who your favorite friends are; make them your neighbors, your cooking partners, your dining cohorts, your workout buddies, your travel companions, your designated non-judgmental receivers of drunk/why-am-I-still-awake texts.
  • Remind yourself regularly that three’s not a crowd at all if you like spending time with both halves of a couple.
  • Read good books, all the time. Quit the ones you don’t like immediately.
  • Own exquisite bedsheets and wear the comfiest, most absurdly ugly pajamas you can find to bed.
  • Challenge yourself frequently to conquer alone what you think you need a partner for, whether that’s dancing or trail hiking or a Valentine’s Day meat platter for two.
  • Sleep right in the damn middle of your mattress, and every now and again as you fall asleep at night, appreciate how nice it is that your whole bed — and all your time, and all your money, and all your personal space and DVR space and bathroom-shelf space, and all your wine — belongs to you and you entirely.

It’s a good regimen, if I do say so myself. In my experience, it works about 51 weeks per year.

☐ ☐ ☐

This photo is a photo of my sister-in-law. That’s my nephew on her lap, and they’re participating in our family’s yearly Thanksgiving tradition, in which we all write down what we’re thankful for then share aloud what we’ve written. It’s a lovely tradition — really, it is. First on all of our “thankful lists” is always each other, and as you can see from the caption, my nephew always reveals what exactly has been holding his little-boy world together that year by giving thanks for stuff like Cars 2, macaroni and cheese, policemen, firemen, and, as an afterthought, his sister. But now that I sit at the grown-ups’ table, this yearly ritual is often the loneliest I feel all year.

For me, annual Thanksgiving festivities mean sharing a table with eight other adults, some close to my own age, who all married young and married wisely. When they share their “I am thankful for” lists, they express gratitude for their partnerships of nine years, of twelve years, of thirty-seven years, of forty-two years; for their two beautiful children, their three beautiful children, their four beautiful children. Everyone else seated at this table has managed to maintain for decades what I seem to only ever be able to hang onto in half measures, or for a few months or years at a time. They gaze warmly and sometimes tearfully at each other as they give thanks for partners who really do stick by them in sickness and in health, and for the opportunity to wake up every morning next to their best friend.


Maybe this is one of many table-for-one phases I’ll know in my lifetime, or maybe I’ll just keep on carving out a cozy space for myself in the world, accepting the challenge of building a life alone that feels meaningful.


So what’s cropped out of this very festive and #thankful Instagram, I suppose, is me — the aching ninth wheel, fumbling through “I’m thankful for my job, and, um… my education, and my apartment.” And then maybe lamely adding “And being able to sleep late on the weekends if I want to, heh,” all the while wondering why the cool job and the grown-ass-woman apartment now seem not brave but selfish, and why the lifestyle so thoroughly optimized for Doing Whatever I Want now seems so crass and small.

☐ ☐ ☐

I don’t really know what the moral of the story is here. Maybe it’s “Loneliness is real and it happens to everybody, no matter how loneliness-proofed you think you are.” Maybe it’s “Commit to someone you love while you’re young and don’t overthink it.” Maybe it’s “Be better than this Ashley Fetters person is at being in relationships” — or “Be better than this Ashley Fetters person is at being alone.” Maybe it’s just “Always remember to pack some Xanax when you go home for the holidays.”

But it’s hard to know the moral of a story, I suppose, when you also don’t know how it ends. Maybe this is one of many table-for-one phases I’ll know in my lifetime, or maybe I’ll just keep on carving out a cozy space for myself in the world, accepting the challenge of building a life alone that feels meaningful — fifty-two weeks per year, forever.

Or maybe one day I’ll accept the challenge of building a life with someone else that feels meaningful, 52 weeks per year, forever.

I guess I’ll have to keep you posted.

Ashley Fetters is the digital entertainment editor at GQ Magazine. She lives in New York.



By Elizabeth Buckner

Sometime around the end of April I found myself beginning to panic. I was just finishing up my first year as a middle school special education teacher in Seattle when I was called into my principal’s office and told that my position was being collapsed due to a lack of funding.

The previous August, I had moved more than 2,000 miles cross-country to begin a new chapter in my life, and I was not prepared to start over again less than nine months later.

I shook my partner awake one night soon after receiving the disappointing news, tears welling, and asked in a small voice if we should move back to Michigan. I had been in Seattle for months. But I had barely made any friends; my lease was up soon; my job was unexpectedly ending — what reason did I have to stay?

The only furniture we had in our studio apartment was a bed, a desk from Ikea that we had been using as a kitchen table and two folding chairs. Vowing not to spend too much money on furniture or decorations, we had pulled a small bookshelf out of the dumpster to add to our meager collection. We told ourselves that this was only a temporary living situation. And now, with the end of my job looming and a notice that our lease was ending in June, it became obvious just how temporary it was.

I could leave whenever I wanted now. I could go home without losing much of anything. In hesitating to plant myself too firmly in Seattle, I had allowed myself to be too flexible, able to abandon my new city easily.


“‘You have so much time to go home. I wish I had lived in Seattle when I was your age. Stick it out. You will find something. You will be scooped up so quick you won’t even see it coming.’”


But there were a lot of reasons that made going back to Michigan a failure in my eyes.

So many people had cheered me on. They had thrown going away parties, told me how proud they were of me to be moving across the country. Lots of my friends would gush to me about how envious they were of my life in the mountains and by the Puget Sound. Now, I felt sick thinking of the people to whom I would have to explain my return.

My parents had been adamant about my staying in the state when I finished my certification program, citing my drained savings account, the cost of living elsewhere and the dangers of big cities. My mom was sending me Michigan job postings less than a week before my move.

Going back meant that I was someone who couldn’t handle life across the country. Going back meant that my parents were right all along.

Besides, my friend group back home had started to dwindle in the nine months I had been living in Washington. I wasn’t the first to move out of Michigan, but I felt like my move had somehow influenced the friends who were younger than I am. Many moved shortly after I did, so even if I returned, there wouldn’t be much to go back to.

During the nine months I’d lived in Seattle, I would always give vague answers to anyone who asked about my life, trying to seem more casual than I felt.

“It’s up in the air” I would hear myself say when people asked about my job or my apartment.

“I’m still looking” I would smile when people asked if I had found any good friends.

I made excuse after excuse, holing myself up in my dark studio apartment with someone just as flexible and waited out my lease. I shouldn’t get too comfortable. I shouldn’t get too attached. I shouldn’t go out during the workweek.

Eventually I felt myself sway like a tower of Jenga blocks. I had made such an effort not to root myself down that I was now struggling to stay upright.

At the end of May, a month before our lease was up, I forced myself to go see a house that was for rent, hoping that finding a place to live might encourage me to also find a job. When the house was given to another group, I confessed to my coworkers the next week at happy hour that Seattle had defeated me.

“I want to hang up my pictures,” I admitted. “I want to put my tomato plant somewhere other than the windowsill. I want a bed frame and a couch and a coffee table.”

My coworkers stared back at me with sympathy. I was the only one without a house or a husband or an adult air. I was the only one in such flux.

Then, one colleague leaned in across our drinks and said with aplomb, “You have so much time to go home. I wish I had lived in Seattle when I was your age. Stick it out. You will find something. You will be scooped up so quick you won’t even see it coming.”

That same night on my drive home, my partner called and told me there was a one-bedroom apartment for rent up the street. He’d already talked to the landlord, and we could see it that night. I sighed at the news of this small victory as I hung up the phone.

I could already feel new roots beginning to form under my feet.

Elizabeth Buckner is a bath enthusiast, poet and middle school special education teacher who currently resides in Seattle.



By Catie L’Heureux

The photograph captures the view from my family’s lake house. Here, my dad sears whitefish on the grill while damp towels rim the peeling wooden deck and Michigan cherries cluster in tin bowls. On the dock we sip wine from stemless glasses and savor the fading sky, anchored in white Adirondack chairs. Here, I am happiest.

Posted to Facebook just before my college graduation, the photo belies my jobless angst: A newspaper internship had been revoked due to budgeting issues, then unexpectedly reinstated. I would soon be squatting in a filthy basement in a Chicago suburb all summer, bemoaning my lack of a real job. After the sunset and a few other shots, that was it: A year has passed since I’ve shared a photo to Facebook. I don’t Instagram. I seldom tweet. I don’t use dating apps. 

This post-college aversion to social media was abrupt in the same way adulthood bulldozed me. Living in a house with four girls who had all found full-time work, I grilled chicken and ate bagged salad every night, refusing to meet my eyes in the mirror before bed because I loathed the uncertainty, and I didn’t like myself. I cried a lot. I spent most evenings after the internship sprawled on my mattress scrolling through Facebook, tapping likes on happy photos of the friends I’d stopped meeting. Posting my own status or photo was unimaginable, because those choices were inevitably rooted in insecurities and looming failure (Does that profile picture show my best angle? Why haven’t more than 15 people liked this photo in the past hour? I tagged X in this photo yesterday; why hasn’t he liked it yet?).


This post-college aversion to social media was abrupt in the same way adulthood bulldozed me.


These anxieties taxed a mental energy I didn’t possess. So I stopped posting to Facebook, intermittently tweeted (to show prospective media employers an unfortunately tepid social media “savvy”), and wrote 40 cover letters in earnest until a magazine editor asked me to fly to New York for an interview. I got the job, and soon arrived with two suitcases at an all-women boardinghouse in Manhattan to start my new life (an experience I ended up writing about for the magazine).

My withdrawal from social media is inanely average. I didn’t cut myself or contemplate suicide, though I do identify with reports on the mental-health epidemic afflicting college students nationwide. I was fortunate to recover stability so quickly, stumbling into a salaried job that allows me to support myself without my parents’ help. It’s also important to acknowledge that my digital hiatus makes me less of a contributing citizen, for now. I read The New Yorker; I work at a general-interest culture magazine; I listen to NPR; but my absence from social media is ostensibly apathetic.

Here, then, are the things people don’t know. There is the wilting white rose on my desk, purchased after a solo dinner at an upscale restaurant last Saturday night. There is the faux-leather address book on my dresser, in which I thrillingly (nerdily) alphabetize new words with definitions from my phone’s Merriam-Webster app. There are the two museum tickets at my elbow, one of which will next weekend be shared with a guy I met at a bar who forebodingly wears Prada shoes. There is my favorite summer dress hanging in the closet, worn last summer while I indulged in the warm afternoon alone, reading Joan Didion’s essay collection on a bench in Central Park. There are the dear friends who still tag me in Facebook photos, knowing that I may not see or like their posts for weeks. Above all, there is a private solitude I share with no one but myself.

After graduating and moving to New York, I often vacillate between loneliness and aloneness. Friends are scattered throughout the city; I sporadically meet them for drinks and come home to a compact room with pale walls and a silence that can be deafening, or serene. Solitude defined is: a state or situation in which you are alone because you want to be. This idea — an actual desire to be alone — never occurred to me during college. It is now imperative, though still unsettling. Absence from social media engendered this freedom for me, for now. I think of our preciously unfettered 20’s and Susan Glaspell’s "The People" swirls to mind: “This is our little while. This is our chance.”

Catie L’Heureux is an assistant editor at New York magazine’s The Cut.



By Britteny Dee

The first time I remember seeing my dad cry, he was sitting Indian-style on his bedroom floor in front of his closet. I walked into his room to ask him a question and found him staring at a framed picture with tears filling his eyes and streaming down his face.

I didn’t actually need to see the picture to know what it was of — my mom and dad were going through a divorce then, and I already knew he took all their wedding photos off our walls and hid them in his closet.

My mom and dad got divorced when I was 6, just four short years after their wedding day, when someone took the above picture of my mom and me. I found my 24-year-old self studying this photograph and crying just like I witnessed my dad do on his bedroom floor when I was a child.

When I look at this picture, I don’t cry because I’m sad that my parents got divorced. I’m old enough now to realize they’re happier apart and a divorce was much better than the alternative. When I look at this picture, I cry because I’m scared.

☐ ☐ ☐

I went home recently for a birthday party my mom threw for me and two of my siblings. Most of my family was there, and more than a few times, I was asked by a grandma or an aunt when my boyfriend of almost two years and I are getting married. I replied as I always do — by saying the thought hadn’t even crossed my mind yet as I’m only 24 and have a lot I want to accomplish before getting married. But the truth is, I think about marriage all the time.


My parents looked so happy in those wedding photos I revisit from time to time, but knowing how they ended up makes the pictures seem unreal, like they were staged for an advertisement.


After living through my parents’ ugly divorce, and watching them struggle to find love time and time again afterward, I told myself I would never get married. I had seen too many seemingly perfect relationships crash and burn and had acted as my parents’ shoulder to cry on so often that I started to believe true love was something Disney movie writers made up.

But now, every time my boyfriend and I talk about apartment decorations, vacations we have planned months down the road or the puppy he promised me we can get one day, I return to the thought of marriage. When talking about the future with a serious significant other, it’s hard not to.

☐ ☐ ☐

In college, despite my plan to stay single until after graduation, I ended up in two serious relationships back-to-back. I loved each boyfriend more than I ever imagined myself being able to love someone, but deep down, I always knew graduation day would likely mark the end of our relationship, so marriage was never something I had to think about. We had different career goals and dreamed of living in different cities, so I enjoyed the time we had together and left it at that. No looming nuptials meant things were relatively simple.

Unfortunately, college doesn’t last forever. My current boyfriend and I don’t have an expiration date like graduation day, so marriage isn’t completely off the table. Not being able to see into the future and know how it will end is frightening beyond belief.

It might sound like I don’t really like my boyfriend, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. What I don’t like is the idea that marriages often fail, and one day, if we do decide to get married, our relationship that I love so much now could be destroyed. My parents looked so happy in those wedding photos I revisit from time to time, but knowing how they ended up makes the pictures seem unreal, like they were staged for an advertisement.

I know the man I’m with now wants to one day be married. He wants a ceremony with friends and family, and a woman he can call his wife, not his long-time girlfriend or life partner.

Which brings me back to this picture of my mom. I look at it and wonder if on my wedding day if I’ll look as happy as she did, and if, more importantly, I’ll be able to succeed where my mom and dad failed, and maintain that happiness until “death do us part.”

Britteny Dee is features editor of Fashion Times and lives in New York City.



By Dan Ryan

“Hi, is this Daniel? Yes, I have some not-so-great news.”

The 202 area code that popped up on my screen had already sent my heart plunging into my stomach. After almost a year of dealings with Peace Corps headquarters, I knew good news was never delivered over the phone.

“Unfortunately, we are not able to medically clear you for departure to Nicaragua at this time as a result of mental health concerns.”

My departure was supposed to be in a week. The night before, I had gone shopping for all the supplies my sister, herself a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nicaragua, had recommended I buy. I bought a heavy-duty flashlight. That’s really when it hit me. In the months leading up, departure had been so abstract. Holding the gear in my hands made it feel real.

My thoughts were racing as I listened, unable to speak, rooted to the spot while this woman so casually waved away my life plan.

“I quit my job for this. I’ve been working to get in for over a year. They can’t be serious. They can’t be serious. This is a horrible mistake. They can’t be serious. They can’t be ...”

“You stated in your mental health self-assessment that you have dealt with anxiety and depression," she continued. "As a result, you aren’t eligible to serve.”

I had written that self-assessment a year ago. Why didn't they tell me then? It had to be a mistake.


My thoughts were racing as I listened, unable to speak, rooted to the spot while this woman so casually waved away my life plan.


“However, you’re welcome to reapply next year to a new program, and we’ll wo—”

I hung up on her. She had told me all the information I was interested in hearing, and I was done with the conversation.

Within the hour, I removed myself from social media — from Facebook to Snapchat. I felt a burning humiliation at the prospect of explaining myself online to a few hundred people I knew to varying degrees. I had already posted that I was leaving, in an effort to see as many of my friends as I could before I left. The sharp pain of having my biggest dream so casually dismissed consumed my thoughts, and the embarrassment of eventually having to explain on social media why I was not in Nicaragua was the laugh track in the background. I shut it all down, ran and hid.

For whatever reason, there was one person in particular I felt like I needed to call. After graduating, I had continued seeing the girl I started dating towards the end of college. She had become one of my biggest sources of happiness in those unsettled post-grad months, and my first instinct was to go to her when I had terrible days.

During the October after graduation, she left to teach abroad for a year, saying “I love you” for the first time only the day before she left. But those feelings faded soon after her arrival. She froze me out quickly and found someone else. We hadn’t talked in months.

So I just sat on my floor and stared at the wall for the rest of the afternoon.

☐ ☐ ☐

When I had walked across the stage to receive my diploma, I had no concrete plan for post-grad life. I knew the Peace Corps was on the horizon for the following spring, but in between, I felt adrift and uninspired. I traveled a lot and worked a couple of odd jobs, but I made no serious effort to start a life or build a career.

All the while my Facebook account, before I shut it down, was a reminder that I was seemingly the only one of my classmates who didn’t have his life perfectly in order.

There was everyone who had worked hard in college and “deserved” to succeed — it seemed they had all been rewarded with great jobs and wonderful friends right away post graduation. And then there was me: a failure with nothing and no one to blame.

Then, two months before I was supposed to depart for Nicaragua, I began traveling around the United States, updating my social networks as I went. A beautiful picture of a mural in San Francisco, a silly photo from a bar in Seattle, scenes from beaches in Hawaii, brunches in New York, cornfields back home. Following along on Facebook, it probably seemed like I was having quite a bit of fun. But everywhere I explored, my ex-girlfriend stayed on my mind — thoughts of her like unwanted and pushy traveling companions.


I’m back on Facebook now, but if you were to try to revisit that horrible month of my life on some form of social media, you would find no record of it ever happening.


I poured myself into preparing for the Peace Corps, hoping my departure would allow all that to fade into the rearview mirror.

When I got the call saying that the one thing I was looking forward to had been cancelled, I woke up every morning afterwards to my own everlasting “Groundhog Day.”

The first emotion I felt daily during that post-apocalyptic month was regret. Not so much regret at how I’d handled the last few years of my life, but regret that I’d woken up that day — every day — to the same sad reality.

I opened my eyes, laid in bed for an hour or two, ate breakfast (or lunch, depending on how late I’d slept), showered, half-heartedly played “Madden,” feverishly scrolled through job boards, hated myself, ate dinner, rolled a few cigarettes, polished off a bottle of whiskey and went to bed. Rinse, repeat.

I was stagnating, and being trapped with my thoughts 24/7 did a lot of psychological damage.

☐ ☐ ☐

“So how’d you wind up in San Francisco?”

The question I’m asked most often these days is a tough one for me to answer. I usually smile, and sometimes I can feel my eyes widen, unintentionally, as if I were about to embark on an oral reading of “The Iliad.”

But usually I just say that that I applied to a million jobs and found one in San Francisco at a mental health nonprofit, and jumped at the chance to take it.

I’m back on Facebook now, but if you were to try to revisit that horrible month of my life on some form of social media, you would find no record of it ever happening. As far as Zuckerberg is concerned, I graduated, bounced around the U.S. for a little while and washed up on the shores of San Francisco, happy, motivated and focused.

Dan Ryan is a nonprofit worker in San Francisco.



By Brooke Hawkins

There are few things more indulgent than taking a really great picture of yourself. One that makes you unafraid to share — excited even — to post confidently. One that shows your summer freckles in the clearest light, one where the sun hits all of your features so perfectly that for a moment in the many moments of your existence you feel brave and whole.

But, sometimes, these same photos show other parts that you’d forgotten.

On those days, the same freckles that make me feel unique and proud remind me that I’ve inherited them from my mother — though mine more sparse than hers that covered her whole face and grew deeper every year. These freckles remind me of the woman who gave me life. She was the person who helped me understand the woman I would grow up to be. She was the woman who thought tough love was stronger than compassion. The woman who dealt hurt and pain, emotional and physical, and the woman I’ve been unable to speak to since I moved away from home, more than six years ago.

I hold my memories and history with her close — to avoid being named as a person who has suffered abuse, who has missed out on maternal love that many of my peers received and who continues to be haunted by her presence every year when I get a cryptic text that says she “prays for me.”  Another year will pass and we won’t talk or see each other. I am thankful for that space.


I wonder if my friends struggle with their own identities in this way: the same parts that make them feel confident about themselves simultaneously bringing confusion and pain.


I’ve worked really hard to overcome these experiences, and their lessons continue to impact me each year that I move further into my adulthood. Parts of my mother poke through in many things — in my romantic relationships I struggle to trust and confide in people that show me endless affection, as I wait for the day that they’ll have enough of my trust to cause me pain. I work hard socially and professionally, competing with people who have lived lives of Ivy League schools, who continue to receive support and guidance from their mothers, and who appear to have never felt the cold sting of a mother like mine.

I look at my photo and focus on the features that look like hers — the dark brown eyes, the skin that tans a deep brown in the summer, a mole that was lovingly referred to as a “beauty mark” that I now conveniently hide behind bangs to avoid its regular reminder.

I wonder if my friends struggle with their own identities in this way: the same parts that make them feel confident about themselves simultaneously bringing confusion and pain. How do they learn to look at those parts? How do they learn to be unashamed? Other days I convince myself that I’m the only one that deals with this — I seal myself off and push my insecurities deeper. I allow myself to separate from these parts of myself and forget.

As I get older, I try to become more intentional about finding ways to love all of these parts of myself. Even when I feel pleased with the superficial aspects of my appearance and life, sometimes these more unpleasant things rumble beneath the surface and threaten to disrupt my progress.

I look again more carefully at the picture of myself. Sun striking my cheeks, freckles glowing, proud in a living room in a big city that I’ve made home. I see a light in my eyes that’s mine alone. It’s a light of confidence and sureness that I’ve accomplished a great deal, and I still have a great deal to achieve. In these things I can steady myself and learn to love what’s really there. I have many facets, and loving the ones I’ve worked so hard to develop make the painful ones harder to see.

It’s important, I think, to be gentle with ourselves and patient. I remember to look for a few minutes longer at that photo that made me feel so confident, and to learn to be comfortable with the constantly changing image of myself.

Brooke Hawkins is a Chicago-based UX/UI designer, music maker and photographer.



By Maria LaMagna

Labor Day weekend of 2013, just after I graduated from college, started with tears and ended with having too much to drink and throwing up into the downstairs toilet at our family friend’s beach house in Manasquan, New Jersey.

I still cringe when I think about that weekend now.

Before I left on the train from Manhattan to the Jersey Shore, I knew I shouldn’t go. I felt anxious and restless. My summer internship had just ended, and I had no full-time job lined up. My former boyfriend and I had broken up just before graduation, and he was already dating someone new. And even though I wanted to enjoy the few days of beach and sun, all I could think about were the photos of them together at our college’s football game.

I knew that being in a house, surrounded by my sister, our friend and her family, I would be unable to heal in the ways I knew how — sitting by myself, thinking, exercising, watching television shows on my computer. Having to put on a brave face for 72 hours seemed much too difficult.


But worst of all, there were the photos. Photos of my former classmates having fun, taking some time off before their jobs began, traveling in Europe. Photos of the friends I already missed, who felt so far away. 


And it was; I wasn’t much for conversation until the last night of our trip. We decided to play a Charades-type game all together, late at night and fueled by a bottle of absinthe we were passing around. And I broke; suddenly I was on the floor of the bathroom, teary and embarrassed.

My sister, even more embarrassed than I was, wouldn’t talk to me for the whole train ride back into the city. I played with my phone, looking at the Instagram I’d taken the day before when we were strolling through souvenir shops. I knew it was cheesy, a kitschy sign to put on a beach house wall. But in that moment I wanted to believe its message.

“The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.”

☐ ☐ ☐

Even before that  weekend, starting in the summer, I felt myself becoming fearful, a little unhinged. At first, I noticed that I was taking mental notes about the clothes other people were wearing on the street. For me, that was a change; even though I’d been surrounded by much better-dressed people before, even on my college campus, I barely thought about clothes at all. But a few months into living in New York, every person I passed on the street or smushed against on the subway was merely an outfit. I studied their clothes and shoes, becoming increasingly aware of the thinning of my sweater, the scuffs on my cheap flats.

And then it was money. I was starting to pay back my student loans. And besides that, New York prices — like $12 for a chopped salad in a plastic container… how was that even possible? — gave me sticker shock.

And then it was my job. When my internship ended, I had no full-time job offer, but I still had the chopped salads and the loans. And the rent. And the desire to become a journalist without knowing if that would really happen.

But worst of all, there were the photos. Photos of my former classmates having fun, taking some time off before their jobs began, traveling in Europe. Photos of the friends I already missed, who felt so far away. Photos of younger classmates, who were going back to school, when I couldn’t. And photos of my former boyfriend, the one who used to call almost every day to ask how my afternoon went and what story I was working on, in the arms of someone new.

Now, this period of time is hard for me to fully remember. It comes to me in certain images; I know I was sleeping late, then waking up to make tea and binge watch “New Girl” and “What Not to Wear” when I was supposed to be writing freelance articles and sending around my resume.

The happy moments from the last few months of college played like a highlight reel in my mind while I waited for the subway or walked down the street, remembering the pleasant chilliness of a nighttime Cubs game, giggly wine nights, the few gloriously warm days we spent sitting next to Lake Michigan, the prom-themed party my roommates and I threw during graduation weekend.


“We are all thinking about ourselves; no one is thinking about my failures — or my successes — as often as I am.


My pace of life got slower and slower, and the list of tasks I was able to accomplish in a day became short. I wanted to press “pause” and send the same message to everyone I knew: “I know I’m disappointing you. Please don’t ask how I am.” I was mostly embarrassed. I had been confident, even arrogant in college, about the opportunities that surely were lying ahead of me. And suddenly I could back none of it up. I wanted to be a journalist but felt completely unsure that it would actually happen, and my former swagger became paralyzing fear.

I fantasized about escaping. Where could I go to find reprieve from the eyes and the expectations of those around me?

☐ ☐ ☐

Now, I can recognize these same suffocating, ceaseless, inescapable thoughts have been with me for a long time — maybe since I was a toddler. They basically all say the same thing: “This isn’t good enough. You have to do better.”

Around the age of 4, I realized I couldn’t pronounce the letter “r” correctly, and I sat by myself, repeating the words over and over until I got them right: squirrel, girl, rabbit.

In fifth grade, I began hating the way I looked in photos.  

When I studied abroad during my junior year of college, I became frustrated when anyone commented on my American accent, believing my Spanish should be good enough no one would suspect I was from the United States. You’re too “autocrítica,” my host mom told me. Self-critical.

The strangest part is that I never recognized these thoughts as being potentially harmful. I leaned way into them and called them other names, like “ambition.”

I constantly would set “goals,” whether it was to get a better grade in Math or to hold my face at a different angle for my next school picture.

Now I know that in psychologists’ terms, that voice is called a “negative spectator.” No matter where I am in the world, in Manasquan, or Evanston, or Buenos Aires, I bring that voice with me, and all it ever says is, “Don’t relax. There are so many things about you we still need to improve.” At times, it is motivational; at other times, it is my greatest obstacle to succeeding. No matter what I do, it could always be different and better.

Right now, with some help and practice, I’m learning to tell it to be quiet, or at least soften a little bit.

I remind myself that to varying degrees, every person is plagued by a critical voice, and we are all thinking about ourselves; no one is thinking about my failures — or my successes — as often as I am.

I still don’t know if there’s a cure for anything, but I’m certain it isn’t as easy as crying, or sweating, or a trip to the beach. But there are things that help. On my best days, my internal voice sounds more like my mom’s. “There are so many people in your life who love you,” she says. “I wish you could see yourself the way we do.”

Maria LaMagna is a journalist living in New York.



By Marina Csomor

I am faced with a great internal struggle whenever I find a house show or pop-up restaurant or art opening to attend. The initial thrill of possibility of who I might meet or what I could discover at such an event is soon overtaken by a creeping anxiety. But who can I get to go with me?

Although I’ve been living in Detroit for six months, my circle of friends is sadly still limited. I have a few friends living in the suburbs, a few others busy with full-time jobs and boyfriends, a few friends of friends and college acquaintances I know are nearby — but he is rarely willing to make the long, congested drive to the city; she is probably doing something with her S.O.; and I just asked her to hang out a few days ago.

I’m not good at asking for company, and as an introverted only child, I am used to embracing independence and riding solo. But it’s amazing how solitude loses its sheen when it’s a ceaseless reality rather than a bold choice. Sometimes I just don’t want to face a crowd of strangers alone.

Walking into Detroit’s contemporary art museum one Saturday afternoon in April, however, I am excited to be unaccompanied. I’m heading to a panel called “The Art of Food Sovereignty,” which has combined just about all of my callings — art, community, whole foods and social justice — in one talk. I’m ready to absorb the wisdom of like-minded individuals, and alone, I know I will be more approachable. This is my chance to infiltrate a community I have been longing to find.

The talk is great, and I feel fine by myself in the audience. I enjoy looking at the faces around me, noting the abundance of oversized glasses, thrift store threads and carefree bed head.

During the discussion, one of the panelists, a combination artist/farmer, passes around a bowl of greens she picked fresh that morning. I laugh to myself as the bowl gets to me. With no plates and no condiments, I know many people would find this communal snack absurd — even pretentious — but to me, it’s perfect.


Her joy, her ease, her light are apparent — and I find myself again wishing I could be more like her. I haven’t felt that happy in a long time.


These are my people — those I imagine to be that rare breed of authentic hipster, who like art and recycling and DIY because of real interest in radical change, not because it feels profound to be “different.” I see the potential in this crowd to be the supportive and stimulating collective I haven’t yet found in Detroit.

After the talk, there is a reception in the next room where an accompanying exhibit is on display. Fresh salad and medicinal tea are served. The panelists are mingling.

I walk to the gallery, on a mission. One of the panelists — the one who brought the greens — is a woman I have admired for many months after stumbling on a magazine feature about her life as an artist and farmer in Detroit. She is someone I dream of working with — of being, really. I know I must talk to her.

I grab salad and walk around the room, one eye on the display of canned fruits and veggies artfully arranged by color, and the other on her. She is happily hugging the friends who came to hear her talk. Her joy, her ease, her light are apparent — and I find myself again wishing I could be more like her. I haven’t felt that happy in a long time.

The moment I see her alone, I pounce.“Hello, my name is Marina,” I say clumsily, “and I am really interested in your work with art and food and community. I was wondering, does your farm ever take volunteers?”

She smiles, unaware how much I need her to say “yes,” and instead tells me that they usually just work with people in their neighborhood. I think she senses my desperation and adds that sometimes they have volunteer days. “Why don’t you take my number,” she offers. Actually, her email address is on this information card, so “why don’t you just take this and send me a message.” One last smile, and with that, she’s moved on to her next admirer.

I take a final turn about the room, pretending that everything is fine, hoping maybe someone else will strike up even the smallest conversation with me. But they don’t, and I bolt.


Above all, this year I have realized the importance of showing myself compassion when I feel like I’m falling apart.


Walking back to my car, I feel awkward and hopeless. What am I doing? Why am I so lost? As I put the key in the ignition, I begin bawling.

I can’t seem to stop the tears, so I let them keep pouring. With the darkness of this last year, I have cried so many times in public that I don’t even care that the drivers of passing cars can probably see my red, raw face.

I cry in embarrassment at the regression of my social skills. I cry for my desperation to find someone, anyone, who will be my bridge to community in Detroit. I cry because her niceness is just not quite nice enough.

I consider calling my mom, but I’ve shared so many desperate moments with her over the last few months that I figure I might as well spare her from this breakdown.

When I get back to my apartment, I lie down on my bed and pull the covers up to my chin. I ignore my to-do list and the sun shining outside, and open my laptop to watch a movie.

Above all, this year I have realized the importance of showing myself compassion when I feel like I’m falling apart, even if it means being unproductive or antisocial. So, I let myself spend the rest of the day in bed.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll send her that email. But not today.

Marina Csomor is a designer and writer living in Detroit.