5 Non-Basic Dates You Need To Have With Your S.O. This Fall

Fall is finally upon us! Autumn means falling leaves, crisp and cool air, apple picking, sweaters, and cuddling up with bae. All you want to do when it gets cool out is go on leisurely walks, stay in bed all day, and snuggle up with some blankets on the couch with a good book and a cup of tea. Unfortunately, that sometimes means that your relationship can get a little slow – gone are the summer days of sitting outside drinking wine late at night, going to warm summer concerts, and having picnics in the park. To make sure you don’t get bored with your SO this fall, check out some of these adorable autumn date ideas:

1. Go for a hike.

Lose the UGG boots and invest in hiking boots. Even if you’re not an outdoorsy person, going on a hike can be a great way to appreciate autumn’s natural fall beauty. Since the heat of the summer is finally gone, you can get some fresh air without sweating up a storm – and if your hands get chilly, that’s what your SO is for, right? So go get a look at those gorgeous leaves as they change color; there’s really nothing like it.

 

To read the rest of this article, click on over to Unwritten!

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What It’s Like To Find Your People

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In the summer of 2012, I fell blissfully in love. It was the first time I had ever been so overwhelmingly happy that I had to share it with the world. I felt like sunlight radiated from my pores. It was the only thing I could talk about, the only thing I could think about. 

It was my first (and only) year as a counselor at SEP. I wasn’t in love with an individual, I was in love with a feeling. I was in love with the group of people who gave me that feeling. And like any first love, I didn’t realize what I had until it was almost over. 

Standing on a porch that was drowning in early morning sunlight, I felt something new in the pit of my stomach (and not just the pancakes my friend had made). Like I was a character in a magical realism novel, I began to feel a fire within my body – in the space where my ribs meet, a few inches above my belly button, I felt a warmth that spread through my body to my fingertips and beyond. It was a feeling so fulfilling that I have searched for it everyday since. It has become my goal to find happiness that infects my body the way it did that August morning. 

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Six weeks earlier, I filled a suitcase with summer clothes, towels and toiletries, and other essentials. Just minutes from my house, I was ready to go on the adventure of a lifetime. I thought I knew what to expect – accepting people, a fun time, a learning experience – I had no idea I would find my people.

Up to that point, I thought I already found my people – friends who knew me and understood me, teammates who cheered me on, and family who always had my back. But you can’t know what it’s like to find your people until you’ve truly found them. So in addition to gaining the things I expected to at camp that summer, I finally found my people. And they were nothing like what I expected; they ranged from a frat bro with an extensive shoe collection to a heavily-pierced camp newbie to a pair of sisters who had lived all over the world. They were people who initially intimidated me, people who were interesting and cool and intensely intelligent. But the way I just described those few people doesn’t do them justice; they were so much more than one description. Because the frat bro? He is also an incredible artist, a fiercely loyal friend, and a ridiculously funny storyteller with a talent for funny faces. And the heavily-pierced newbie? She is one of the most adaptable, supportive people I have ever met, who gave us all sentimental necklaces after only a week of knowing us. And the sisters? They are reliable and dependable and always willing to stand up for a friend. They are amazingly independent and perfectly unique and they taught me that love for a sibling can be the strongest kind. These people I just described are only 4 of the 13 people I fell in love with that summer. Some of the others became irreplaceable pillars of confidence in my life. One gave me the strength to push for what is right, no matter the consequences. Another taught me to love my body in all of its uniqueness. One showed me that redheads always have the most fun. And they all taught me to believe in myself, to fight for myself, and to love myself. 

This may all seem overly-emotional and corny, it may feel repetitive, or it may seem out of the blue. But there is method to my madness. Two nights ago, I learned that this summer, SEP will not take place. And while this shouldn’t (and logistically doesn’t) affect me, my heart broke. I thought about all the campers, counselors, and other staff members who, with one email, just lost the chance to find their people. SEP fosters friendships, relationships, and people-finding.

But if I know the children of SEP, the passionate, talented, and caring young adults I’ve come to know over the years, this won’t be the end. Camp will come back, stronger than ever, with people who have a renewed zest for connection. The SEP legacy is forever and I have no doubt that this is not the end. And to all my SEP babies, my junior counselors who are now leaders and my campers who are college-bound superheroes: don’t worry, you’ll find your people. You already have.

Never forget, “someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection, the lovers, the dreamers, and me.”

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Looking Back: The Time I Was “The Other Girl”

As promised, here is a follow-up post about my thoughts now on my week with Chris.

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After our week together in Florida and our few weeks of chatting about how things were going with his girlfriend, Chris and I texted on an almost daily basis, and I grew way more emotionally attached than he probably realized. We Skyped each other and talked about our families and our life goals. After a year of this, I truly thought I knew his soul. I was basically waiting around for him to break up with his girlfriend, which is when we would finally be able to pick up where we left off. Which was where? A few thousand miles apart and a year after one night of kissing. We were nowhere. My pseudo-relationship with Chris made me completely uninterested in everyone else; in our one week together, I fell head over heels for a guy I had no chance with.

Eventually, I realized that I was getting the short end of the stick in our “relationship”: he and his girlfriend were still in a happy relationship, and I had fallen for someone who was emotionally and physically unavailable. I cried in my best friend’s car on a vacation to visit her in her new city, and I finally knew I was wasting my time. So I broke up with him. I know that seems ridiculous – how can you break up with someone you’re not dating? Well, I did. I told him I needed a break from him – from texting, from SnapChatting, from sharing our life stories and our daily nonsense.

A few months later, when I thought I was fully over him, I began talking to him again. But before I knew it, I was back in the same hole I had been in before – hoping that he’d realize how compatible we were, how we were supposed to be together, and every other thought hopeless romantics have. Once again, I ended things.

I’m not sure if that was the last time I talked to Chris, or if we talked again casually after that, but eventually it truly ended. I can’t remember the last time I spoke to him, but I’m glad I finally got myself out of it. I remember being brokenhearted over Chris more than once, but that was my own fault, not his. I had made our relationship out to be so much more than it was. In the end, we were just flirty friends who made out one time. 

Now, three years later, I still think about Chris once in a while, when he shows up on my Facebook feed or someone talks about Florida or spring break, but I’m happy to say I did eventually get over him. In the past year, I’ve considered reaching out to Chris a few times, but ultimately decided against it. Even though we had a truly wonderful friendship, it wasn’t worth the pain I caused myself crushing on him over and over again. Chris was a really flirty guy and for all I knew, he had the same relationship with me as he had with a million other girls. For a while, he meant the world to me, but I could have just been a blip on his radar.

Despite everything – the tears, the classes I didn’t pay attention in because I was texting Chris, and the missed chances I had with other guys – I still don’t regret any of it.

The Time I Was “The Other Girl”

(I wrote this post almost three years ago, before I even had a blog, and I wasn’t ready to share it with people until now. For the most part, I haven’t updated anything I wrote, aside from a few grammatical and syntactical errors. I hope you enjoy this peek back into my life – and my writing – three years ago. I’ll be writing a follow-up piece soon about my take on this pseudo-relationship now, so stay tuned for some “everything is clearer in hindsight” shit coming your way soon.)

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Original Title: I Should Probably Feel Worse Than I Do

Let me just preface this by saying that I do actually have morals, I promise. But I went on vacation for a week, and apparently so did my morals. The story begins spring break  my sophomore year of college. I had been planning a Habitat for Humanity trip for almost an entire year with another girl, and we were finally on our way to Florida. There were seven kids from my school and eight kids from another school staying in the same house.

Upon entering the house, I locked eyes with Chris (*name has been changed). I immediately thought he was cute, in a rugged kind of tall, dark, and handsome way. We flirted for a few days,  cuddling and watching movies all squished on the couch with our new friends, but I knew something was up. He was a total flirt, but for some reason he was holding back. Everyone could tell there was something going on between us, but for some reason Chris wasn’t making a move. Half way through the week I was totally invested in making something happen between us – I knew we were both attracted to one another, and it felt comfortable (for the first time ever). He didn’t make me feel awkward or self-conscious, and I could look into his eyes when we talked without feeling out of place. It just felt right, and it was the first time ever that something felt like that for me. Of course, once I had fully committed myself to the idea of putting myself out there, the truth came out.

He had a girlfriend at home. I was disappointed, but it didn’t make me want him any less. I decided at that point, all morals aside, that if I couldn’t have him, I would just tease him – after all, he had waited until we were in way too deep to tell me he was otherwise engaged. So, I dressed nicely, I flirted up a storm, and, needless to say, it didn’t make me feel any better. Teasing him didn’t help me feel any less teased to begin with. Shocker. The night after he told me about his girlfriend, we watched a movie with everyone. We cuddled, per usual, and if the sexual tension was butter-knife-ready before, it now could have been cut with a shoe, or something equally as dull. I had a hard time sitting next to him without jumping him. This was when I decided to pull the “is this as hard for you as it is for me?” card, figuring I was still just teasing him. His aggressive kiss on the cheek told me my teasing had gone a bit too far. We were screwed. It was all down-hill from there. Later that night we decided it was time to talk, and after admitting that he wanted to kiss me, we chose not to do anything – neither of us wanted to mess up his relationship with his girlfriend. I told him I thought we made the right decision; he told me he didn’t. I knew we were in over our heads.

Fast forward 24 hours to us making out on the couch. Clearly we lost our resolve. It wasn’t very strong to begin with. Our morals, along with our decision to “just be friends” went out the window. You’re probably thinking I’m a terrible person, or that he’s a terrible person. We are both better than our actions that week, and yet we still did what we did. Do I feel bad? Without a doubt. Do I think it was the wrong thing to do? Absolutely. Do I regret it? Not even a little bit.

Before you judge me too harshly, give me a chance to explain myself. Actually, feel free to judge me all you want, I deserve it, just don’t hold it against me, and don’t let it define your opinion of me. If you had asked me before that vacation if I would ever do something like this, my answer would have been no. Ask me now if I’d ever do it again, my answer is still no. Here’s the thing, though, when you’re a lonely college sophomore who has never been told you’re beautiful by a boy, and has never kissed someone you actually want to kiss, your morality line might become a bit blurry when these options present themselves to you. Chris made me feel wanted, and special, and important. He made me feel like I mattered. For someone who has never been told they’re wanted before, that feeling is intoxicating. Chris was charming and sweet and he cared about me. I needed that. I don’t regret doing what I did because it was an experience I’ll never forget. I don’t regret it because both Chris and I can learn from it. I don’t regret it because I won’t ever forgive myself for hurting not only his girlfriend, but also the two of us. And I don’t regret it because I learned a lot about myself.

(Follow-up: In case you’re wondering, Chris and I kept in contact after our time in Florida, and talked a lot about what to do in the following days. My friends disapproved of me talking to him, and they had a point – we couldn’t really keep the flirting to a minimum as we should have been able to. He decided to tell his girlfriend what happened. She forgave him. So while it might be easy to say, “well, I dodged that bullet” to becoming a home-wrecker, finding out her reaction really didn’t change my opinion of the event. It was still wrong what we did. I don’t know her motivation for letting Chris get away with cheating on her, but it doesn’t really make a difference. Whatever her reason, it doesn’t just let us off the hook – Chris and I have both agreed to never do this again. Hopefully we’ll both stick to our decision this time.)

How Living With My Boyfriend Changed Me, But Not In The Way I Expected

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It seems counterintuitive that living with my boyfriend would make me a more independent person, but that’s exactly what it has done. Last year, when I was considering what it would be like to live together, I assumed that cohabitation would make my boyfriend and I codependent. And honestly, I’m so thankful that it hasn’t.

I moved in with my boyfriend immediately after I graduated from Skidmore College. We had three weeks to turn his parents’ basement apartment in Brooklyn into our new home before I left to spend six weeks studying publishing at Columbia University. We packed all my belongings into an excessively large U-Haul and trekked the four hours to NYC. Our first stop? IKEA.

To read the rest of the article, click here.

Virginity Doesn’t Define You

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Tonight I was walking home from work, texting my friend Lisa,* and I realized I didn’t know whether or not she was a virgin. Until about 3 years ago, I had tabs on all my friends’ sexual activity – I knew that Kate had been only ever had sex with her boyfriend, that Caroline lost her virginity at sixteen, but hadn’t slept with anyone in a while, and that Rebecca liked sleeping with anyone who made her feel special. I kept tabs because I truly thought it mattered. Somehow, virginity and sexual experience seemed to define people. Which meant that I was naive, inexperienced, and unknowledgeable.

What I realized today was that none of it matters. I don’t know whether Lisa is still a virgin or not, and I don’t care. She might be, she might not be, but who gives a damn? Virginity does not define you – it doesn’t make you a good or bad person, it doesn’t make you smart or stupid, it doesn’t make you beautiful or ugly. Your participation in a specific sexual encounter says nothing about who you are. Nothing.

For a long time I thought losing my virginity would be a big deal – that it would somehow change me. News flash: it didn’t. I woke up the next day feeling exactly the same as I had the day before (maybe just a tiny bit more sore). The world didn’t stop spinning, I didn’t get invited to join some special club, and I didn’t feel “mature” all of a sudden. Want to know why? Because I was already the person that I am, with or without the intangible concept of “virginity.” Sex is a big step for a couple and you need to trust, respect, and be comfortable with the people you sleep with – but sex doesn’t need to be a big deal. It’s just another step in a sexual relationship. And it doesn’t need to involve anyone outside of the people who are participating in it. Because honestly? It’s just sex.

*All names have been changed.

The Truth About Studying Abroad

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“It’s the best time of your life.”

“It’ll be the most amazing experience.”

“Studying abroad was the best decision I ever made in college.”

“When else in your life do you get to spend four months living in a foreign country this easily?”

“You’re going to love it.”

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One year ago today, I boarded a flight from New York City to Johannesburg, South Africa. After 20-something hours of travel, I arrived in Cape Town, exhausted, excited, and full of anticipation about what the next four months would hold. In the months that followed the first day, I traveled the southern coast of South Africa, I sun-bathed on beautiful beaches, I went to museums, I climbed mountains (okay, just the one), I went shark cage diving, I shopped at amazing markets, I ate way too much frozen yogurt, I went paragliding, I played with monkeys, I made best friends, I saw lions and giraffes and elephants on safari with my family, and I had the time of my life. I also trudged through the rain to class, I studied hard in my bed at night with wifi that could barely be classified as sub-par, I fought with my roommate, I shivered under the covers in my freezing cold apartment, I felt worlds away from my family, friends, and boyfriend, I had panic attacks that were so intense I threw up, I dealt with the grief of a classmate/floor-mate passing away, I spent a lot of time alone, and I cried.

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If you’ve ever studied abroad, you’ve heard (and maybe said) more than one of the statements above. Now that I’ve come back from studying abroad, I’d wholeheartedly agree with all of this. But what nobody tells you before you study abroad is that it’s HARD. It can be scary and sad and lonely. I cried in public more than once. Hell, I cried in public more than five times.

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My experience may have been different than other people’s experiences, but I think I speak for more than just myself in saying that studying abroad is not all sunshine, mountain climbing, cafes, and museums. Nobody talks about the hard stuff. All you hear before going abroad is how much you’re going to love it, how you’ll miss it when you leave, and how everyone is so jealous of you for getting to go on this amazing trip. And while it is all of those things – incredible and fun and the most wonderful experience – it is also one of the hardest experiences. You leave your family, the friends you’ve made over the past few years at college, and all the norms of the country you grew up in for an entirely new culture, school, and maybe even a new language. You have to start all over in a new place, and while that can be the most freeing, exciting feeling in the world, it can also be terrifying.

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Studying abroad was without a doubt the most amazing experience of my life. It’s easy to say this in retrospect – when I was there, it usually did not feel like the most amazing experience. I expected a lot from my abroad experience, so any time it did not live up to expectations, I was disappointed. Looking back on it now, I wouldn’t change my abroad experience for the world – I learned a lot about South Africa, about what it’s like to go to a large school, about how to make new friends, and about myself. It was the most enriching experience of my life, but I recognize now that I played a big role in that. Going abroad taught me how to love a place, how to love from afar, how to productively miss people. It taught me to be okay with being alone, with being myself, and doing what I wanted to. Going abroad made me a stronger person, and for that, all of the hardships were worth it.

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This One’s for the Girls

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“Truth or dare?” 
“Truth.”
“What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done?”

Well, what WAS the most embarrassing thing I’d ever done? I racked my brain and came up with squat. I wasn’t someone who did embarrassing things. Ever. I was the opposite of young, wild, and free – I was mature, tame, and restrained. I was insecure and doubtful and had no idea what my place in the world was. Eventually, I answered the question, as I did every time, with some bullshit answer that wasn’t remotely embarrassing, claiming that I just couldn’t think of the best one at the time.

The truth was, I knew what the most embarrassing thing about me was. But it wasn’t something I had done, it was something I hadn’t done. At 19 years old, I had never been kissed. As confident as I was in other aspects of my life, I was ashamed of being 19 and kiss-less. In my 19 years, not a single boy told me I was beautiful. It hurt. I felt unwanted and invisible. My friends didn’t understand and I felt alone.

Now, I’m not trying to make this some sob story about a girl who had never been kissed and was insecure and melodramatic about it. That IS how I felt, but this story isn’t about how awful it was to be me at 19. What I’m trying to do is reach the population of people just like me, the 13, 18, or 27 year-olds out there who are in the exact same position as I was, and tell you that there is nothing to be ashamed of; it is actually (truthfully and honestly) not a big deal, no matter how it feels.

I thought my first kiss would be a big deal and that it would define who I was. Sophomore year of high school my best friend and I made a pact: we both felt kind of lame for still being first-kiss-less, so we decided that whenever we got our first kisses, we would buy each other ice cream. About six months later, I bought her ice cream. Four years later, she bought me ice cream. Needless to say, I felt like the biggest loser on the entire planet. I literally did not know a single person less experienced than I was. I wanted my first kiss to be magical, to be special, to be with someone I cared about.

It wasn’t. It was on a dance floor, he was probably drunk, he lifted me up and everyone probably saw my hot pink lace leopard print underwear, and we didn’t exchange names until after we finished making out. I was THAT girl. It was embarrassing. I was frustrated – nobody was ever interested in me except for the people I was extraordinarily NOT interested in, and I just decided, screw it. My friends didn’t understand why I felt so weird afterwards; I mean, college (yeah, you did your math correctly earlier) hookups are totally normal. But I had totally let myself down – I’d had standards that I completely dropped because I was sick of not feeling okay about my total lack of sexual experience. I try to not regret things I have done, but I think I regret this. It didn’t make me feel any better about myself when I woke up the next day, and it didn’t help my confidence. I felt awkward, stupid, lame, and disappointed in myself. This was the opposite of what I wanted it to be – not only was it not someone special, it was someone I didn’t even know. There were no fireworks, there was no magic. There was just a lot of tongue.

Long story short, I wanted to get my first kiss over with. I felt stigmatized (if only by myself) for being so inexperienced and I was done with it. It was a mistake. So for anyone out there trying to decide whether or not to “just get it over with,” whether “it” is your first kiss, your first time having sex, or anything else, don’t do it. Keep your standards; it’s worth waiting for someone who is worth it.

“So, Ileana, what’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done?”
“Saying yes when the guy who I danced with for ten minutes drunkenly asked, ‘uhhh… you wanna kiss?'”

Martina McBride’s “This One’s For The Girls”

Sexting Done Right: 8 Rules for the Sexter in You

Sexting Done Right: 8 Rules for the Sexter in You

We’ve come to a point in time where sexting is no longer shameful but a normal (and yes, somewhat expected) part of relationships. As long as you’re not James Franco or a politician (seriously, what is wrong with the people we have in our government?), then there is absolutely nothing wrong with a little sexting from time to time. People have been sharing nude photos with their hunnies for ages, just without the technology of smartphones and instant internet access. Now I’m not saying go ahead and send dick pics to everyone in your contacts the next chance you get but if you and your boo are committed to one another, what’s the harm in sending them a few naughty photos? I know what some of you are thinking: Sexting?! What?! No way!! If those pictures got out, that could ruin my social life, my academic life, and my future career. Well, you’re right, but here are some rules to follow if you decide you want to risk the exposure (pun intended) and send some sexts:

  1. Ask yourself: ‘Do I trust this person?’ If the answer is yes, then go ahead and shed your clothes for that sexy selfie; if the answer is no, then put your phone back in your pocket and leave your clothes on.
  2. Don’t show your face if you’re unsure. The photo can basically never be tracked to you (unless you have some very noticeable tattoo or piercing, or you’re being tracked by the FBI) if you don’t show your face. A picture of your body is plenty revealing enough, so if you don’t want to, keep your face out of the photo.

Follow the link for the rest of the rules!

 

Surviving Long Distance Relationships

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College is a time that is notorious for failed long distance relationships (LDRs). We’ve all heard about them and experienced them in some way or another – whether commuting back and forth between your school and your significant other’s (SO’s) school or supporting your friend after a turkey dump (you know, that awful Thanksgiving breakup that happens when high school sweethearts see each other for the first time since starting college), everyone knows that college is not an ideal time for LDRs. Many people think college LDRs will inevitably end in breakups, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Here are some of the top ways to survive long distance relationships:

• Know that LDRs are hard. They’re really really hard. Prepare yourself to spend some nights crying, having a pit in the bottom of your stomach, and feeling like your heart is constantly breaking. It’s going to be hard – if you go into being apart knowing that it isn’t going to be as fun as being together, you’ll be able to handle it a lot better.
• Be optimistic. Just because making LDRs work is hard, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible. If you keep thinking about the happy parts of your relationship and go day by day, you can definitely do it.
• Support your SO. They’re probably having just as hard a time as you are, so know that as much as you are going to have to lean on them, they’re going to need to lean right back. Always be there to listen to a rant, tell them everything is going to be okay, or just to talk – everyone needs a little extra love once in a while.
• Talk as often as possible. Whether you’re separated by a state or an entire ocean, 200 miles or 7 time zones, it’s always hard to find a good time to talk. You’re always free at different times, you have different obligations, you want to fill your time to distract yourself, etc. Whatever it is, make sure you always make time for the other person; just like you would spend time with them if they were in the same place as you, you should spend time with them now too. Luckily, social media makes this infinitely easier. Viber, Facebook, Skype, WhatsApp, FaceTime, and any other means of communication are all great – mix it up a little bit to change the pace of things. If you texted yesterday, maybe Skype today!
• Remember why you love each other.

Don’t forget: if it wasn’t worth it, you wouldn’t be doing it. But it is worth it, so keep it up. It’s going to be long, it’s going to be hard, but in the end it’s going to be that much more satisfying to be back together.

(featured image via flickr.com)