Divorce Field Guide: Best Advice

-via my Instagram stream.

Thanks everyone for your comments and emails last week (re: Divorce and Grief). I should preface this post by saying that I’m able to write about divorce now because the worst is over. I’m in a happy, productive place. As I mentioned last week, there are still flashes of grief, and I expect that to persist for a while, but overall I’m looking forward to what’s next.

I didn’t post much through the divorce, because I was too tender, but I’m here now because I’m hoping these notes and the comments can be helpful – especially to those of you who are going through the worst of it right now.

What follows are the three best pieces of advice I received from friends when I was at my unhappiest:

1. Lower the bar for a while.

A girlfriend said she had a kind, mild friend who went a little nuts during her divorce. She was enraged, destroying expensive common property, and behaving in other ways that were out of character. But after a year, she’d mostly returned to normal.

“Everyone gets at least a year of crazy,” my friend said. “Don’t expect to be yourself for a while.”

Whenever I felt overwhelmed, I remembered those words. I didn’t feel like myself, but temporarily setting a lower bar made me feel accomplished for not throwing a rock through anyone’s window. Small victories.

2. There’s good stuff waiting.

Shortly after my separation, I had lunch with an acquaintance whose parents had been divorced when she was around Hank’s age. She said both parents had found new mates who made them happier, and that she could see how hard things would have been if they’d stayed together.

“I’m so excited for you,” she said. “You get to have your own place, figure out who you are on your own, fall in love again, and have first kisses again.”

She knew I wasn’t there yet, but she’ was genuinely excited for me. She’d seen first hand that there could be a happier life on the other side of the hard part, and it gave me hope.

3. It takes a very good boyfriend to beat no boyfriend at all.

There’s no loneliness as deep as feeling alone in the company of someone you love.

A while after the separation, I was starting to feel better. I was listening to new music, enjoying time with my kiddo more, and having long chats with far-flung girlfriends.

On one of those calls with a friend who had also been through a divorce, we talked about how it’s scary to wonder whether you’ll ever be in a relationship again.

“Take your time,” she said. “It takes a damn good boyfriend to beat no boyfriend at all.”

There’s the wisdom that got me through to a happier place. What’s the most helpful breakup advice you’ve received?

Wedding Advice

Getting married is like having a child, suddenly everyone wants to tell you what to do. I’m no exception. In fact, if you’re newly engaged, you may want to sit next to someone else at dinner, because I will not shut up about your wedding. It’s insufferable, I know, but I’m powerless to stop myself.

Anyway, here’s a little dose of unsolicited advice for those of you fortunate enough to live out of earshot:

Take a group photo. Nearly all the people you love are here, in one place. This isn’t likely to happen again until your funeral.

Be prepared. I had a kit on hand for minor emergencies. Having all my little fixes in one place made it easy for anyone to grab me a pair of scissors, some clear nail polish, a flask of bourbon. Here’s a bridal emergency kit list, but you’ll find a zillion of them online. Bridesmaids, if you’re extra helpful, telling the bride you’ll assemble this kit is a thoughtful gesture.

Let go of traditions that bug you. I’m a tall girl with an unfair advantage in the bouquet catching game. It often felt like an obligation to catch the bride’s bouquet before it fell on the floor when everyone else stepped out of the way. Of course then, you must grapple with the look of mild terror on the face of Boyfriend du Jour. So at our wedding, we called everyone onto the floor and announced that catching the bouquet meant prosperity beyond your wildest dreams.

The 6’8 Dutch guy caught it, and he’s currently my husband’s business partner. Fingers crossed, but I have heard a glowing crotch is auspicious.

Do something fun with your guest book. We had a friend take polaroids of guests, and it was such instant gratification to flip through it the next morning. Plus, we still look at it every once in a while.

Plan with a sense of humor. Sure weddings are solemn and import laden, but receptions can be fun — whatever that means to you. Worry a little less about whether something is appropriate and consider whether it will add to the celebration. Crazy straws at the bar? Candy cigarettes as wedding favors? Yes.

Consider consumables as attendant gifts. I got cool necklaces for my bridesmaids and the female attendants on Bryan’s side, but the groomsmen and ushers got port. Looking back on the now-outdated necklaces, I think the guys did better.

Choose your financial battles. Decide what’s important to you, spend your money there, and aim for festive with everything else.

For us, the bar was key, so we did it up. But Bryan used to work in catering, and both of us agreed that once the crowd gets over 100, you really have to pay through the nose for wedding food to be memorable. We decided to make the food fun and celebratory instead. In lieu of passed appetizers, we had a popcorn machine and a cotton candy machine out front. We brought in a BBQ truck for dinner so folks would have some solid food to offset the cocktails.

We were among the first couples to order cupcakes from Citizen Cake — before they upped the prices to reflect the trend — which also meant we didn’t need to rent cake plates and forks. Later in the evening, we had passed Krispy Kreme donuts as a snack. The food was casual for sure, but there was plenty of it, and the bar was a masterpiece.

So those were my big lessons from our wedding, but what are yours? I’m curious to hear pet peeves you have as a wedding guest, what you’ve loved about weddings you’ve been to, what you took away from your own wedding? Spill. I have an anniversary party to plan.

Wedding Guest Comfort

Whenever Bryan or I started freaking out about wedding planning, we would remind each other that it was just a big party. Our main thing was that we wanted everyone to have fun. Real fun, not “wedding fun.”

Here are a few of the things we did to make things a little more comfortable for guests:

-Instead of inviting all the out of town guests to the rehearsal dinner, we had cocktails with everyone the night before at our hotel. Everyone had an extra night to get to know one another, which made for more spectacular hookups the following night.

-In the church waiting area, we had two cork boards. One was pinned with rosemary boutonnieres(rosemary symbolizes friendship), and one pinned with hankies.

-We served cake (technically cupcakes) right before our first dance, and had sparklers on hand, so guests would have something to do while we took to the dance floor.

-We had a box of cheapo spa flipflops for when the heels got to be too much. I wore these half the night, and they facilitated much kid chasing.

-I can’t say enough about having comfort boxes in the bathroom. Seven years later, I’m still getting comments on ours, which had spray deodorant (so several people could use the same bottle), band aids for blisters, dental floss, toothpaste and single use tooth brushes, moisturizer, fashion tape, pads and tampons, safety pins, hair bands, bobby pins and barrettes, and combs (…and condoms).

-We let the crasher crash. He pretended he was French, we pretended we believed him. Be our guest, not-French-Guy!

-We situated our kids’ table between two adult tables, and seated parents at the surrounding tables with their backs to the kids. This made for easy intervention in the instance of fits, but some adult interaction when the kids were behaving. Excellent.

-We set up a web site with tips on how to enjoy the city.

-Two months after the wedding, we went through our photos and printed up the best one of each guest to send it as a holiday card. They were so much fun to put together, like a personalized wedding favor, and we still see our wedding photos pinned to friends’ fridges.

-We had a birthday cupcake waiting for my bridesmaid Trisha, who had put aside her own special day for ours. Trisha is awesome like that.

Flashback Monday: Women’s Fashion Part II, Color

In an effort to gather all my writing in one place, every Monday I post articles that originally appeared elsewhere, or work that has been gathering dust on my hard drive. This piece was originally published by the The Morning News in 2002. Thanks to Rosecrans Baldwin, for the edits.

Black is easy. Black is mythic. It can make you look 120 pounds when you weigh 250. Black is the new…well, you’ve heard it. But do you own anything that makes you laugh when you put it on? Not even a pair of ducky yellow boots tucked into the back corner of your closet?

If not, you need more happy clothes. Even in big cities where women tend to be more adventurous with their clothing, you can count ten women in muted colors for every one woman wearing a bright blue raincoat or green trousers. This is why designers have such an easy time hooking us with their color du season. We’re starved for something juicy.

And you can be juicy. Oh, yes.

Now in Technicolor

Color gets you noticed, especially when everyone else looks as though they’re in mourning. Think of who gets photographed at the Oscars: Nicole Kidman in her chartreuse Galliano, Gwyneth Paltrow in her glowing pink Ralph Lauren, Kate Winslet in her flowering red Ben de Lisi. Remember Helen Hunt’s black Gucci cloak dress? Or Julianne Moore’s sheer black Chanel? Yeah, neither does anyone else.

Get some glad rags. If your closet lacks color, refuse to buy any more navy, beige, brown, or black until your wardrobe is more vibrant. You may hear the inner voice that your mother so cultivated, shouting, ‘A pink suede skirt? That won’t go with anything!’ Perhaps. But it will make you want to shimmy.

Don’t wear green if green makes you look dead. How can you tell? Stand near a window in the store so you can see the color and your skin tone in a natural light. Now hold the item in question up to your face. Do you glow a little, or do you look hungover? If you are hungover and you still glow a little, snap that baby up. Also pay attention to people’s comments. If they ask whether you’re feeling tired when you wear your green sweater, chuck it. If they ask whether you’ve just had your hair cut, buy some more skirts to go with your fabulous green sweater.

Eschew black for special occasions. Consider your little black dress a standby for events that catch you off guard, not a default. If you know a fete is coming, find an outfit that will own the room, something that snaps. This will make you easy to find in a crowd, which makes it easier for charming strangers to hit on you.

Invest in a bright coat. It looks fantastic with an all-neutral outfit, and can make even a T-shirt and jeans look stylish. A colorful coat also adds some flare to more conservative work outfits.

Wear more red. It’s the only color that’s both bold and classic, and every woman can find a shade that flatters her. If you’re not sure what looks good on you, go to an upscale makeup counter and ask them to help you find a red lipstick that works with your complexion. Once you’ve found something attractive, you can buy red clothing with the same base shades. Nothing beats a red dress for sex appeal. If you don’t believe me, lick your finger, press it to your hip, and make a sizzling sound. Now isn’t that more convincing when you’re wearing red?

Mix and Match

The best way to figure out what colors work well together is to pay attention to fashion spreads and imitate the combinations you like. Hard-and-fast fashion rules on what matches and what doesn’t are somewhat naive. Styles are in constant flux. While neon pink with lime green would have been fine in the ’80s, today it would be a cause for concern. Some basic guidelines:

Stick to two or three colors per outfit. The rainbow effect hasn’t worked since you were six. If you’re pairing solids, choose two colors and work with those, perhaps adding a touch of a third color in your earrings or with a pair of strappy shoes.

Dress in color families. When you’ve collected enough pieces in a single color family, consider wearing them together once in awhile. Of course, they should be shades that match, mint green isn’t so hot with olive drab, and they should also be tones that vary. Wearing exactly the same shade of a bright color from head to toe can be an assault on passersby, but pairing a barely turquoise angora sweater with a robin’s-egg wool skirt looks smashing. Avoid an undesirable schizophrenic effect by offsetting a monochromatic outfit with a swingy little jacket and shoes in neutral shades or accessories in a complementary, but distinctly different, color.

Pay attention to color tones. Pastels work better with other light colors, while saturated colors work well together. Pale pink is beautiful with beige, but dark pinks are nicer with a chocolate color.

Pucci Over Pinstripe

Patterned clothing isn’t nearly as versatile as solids. There are a few exceptions—pinstripes, Burberry plaid—but patterns are often a liability. They hang forlornly in your closet because they don’t go with anything; they’re the reason that your white T-shirt is always in the wash.

Still, patterns are fun, and fun is the point. So if you’re going to buy a few things that don’t match much, buy outrageous things. See that bright green ’60s print with huge blue barracudas swimming all over it? That’s what I’m talking about. See that little tank top with the giant spiky flowers in fuchsia, and red? There are forty others like it on the sale rack, because no one else was brave enough to wear them. You don’t have those kinds of hang-ups. Vintage shops and deeply discounted sales racks are the best places to find striking prints.

Those who feel exposed in a crazy, dramatic pattern can balance it with classic clothing in a conservative cut. If you’re not particularly adept at choosing colors that work together, select a neutral or a shade featured prominently in the pattern. Your new barracuda pants would look great with a slate gray T-shirt. Your floral tank would be sweet with a little red skirt.

Tennis Bracelets Are for Sissies

If you’re not a brave girl, or you don’t have enough extra cash to invest in a fuchsia section of your closet, start with accessories. You can dress as conservatively as you like and still look dashing if you wear bold jewelry. What do I mean by bold? Colorful, and big.

Find two or three bright colors that you love—a lipstick crimson, Tiffany’s blue—and begin to collect scarves, pins, and bracelets in those colors. Bright, dramatic jewelry is especially nice with clothes that take no chances. A beige T-shirt, jeans, and sandals looks ho-hum until you add a chunky orange necklace. Your little black dress stands out if you added aquamarine chandelier earrings or a pink tassel necklace that falls to your waist.

The extra bonus with dramatic jewelry is that you can always remove it and stuff it in your purse if you feel overdressed or silly. This is not as true of thigh-high leather boots that lace up the back.

Bold and Brave

Nothing looks good on a woman who isn’t brave, and it takes a brave woman to wear orange pants. Not everyone will like what you’re wearing, but a few people will love it as much as you do. Those people are the correct ones.

Fashionable women are willing to wear what other women won’t (yet). They have a sense of humor about what they put on their bodies, and they’re often respected less for their artistry than their chutzpah.

What the rest of us need to figure out is how to be daring without being reckless. Playing with color is the most foolproof way to do that. Next time, buy the pink suede skirt. It’s practical.

Waxing! Be Ye Forewarned

Hey, remember about two weeks ago, when I swore off waxing in this video? I believe my exact words were, “I have never, ever waxed. I don’t have any intention of waxing. It sounds so hyper incredibly painful.”

Well, I now have firsthand knowledge that I was correct. A few days after taping that video, Natalie (may she burn in hell) convinced me that I should try a bikini wax for my trip to Jamaica. We were getting our nails done at a place that offered hair-ripping services, so I figured what the hell?

More like what the helllllllll? It wasn’t so much the the waxing itself — which was deeply undignified but not too painful — it was the horrifying, burning, swollen aftermath. It never occurred to me that I would need to heal after waxing. Perhaps because I am stupid.

In the airport I texted Heather about how angry I was. Why hadn’t anyone told me?

-I got a bikini wax. Huge mistake. Epic.
-Was this your first?
-Yes. I’m lucky I didn’t scar.
-Oh no!!! … But you’re smooth right?
-Screw you. I’m smooth like a plucked chicken with some sort of inflammatory disease.

Armstrong, you are among the women I blame for not disclosing. You couldn’t help a sister out by casually mentioning the bathroom issue?

Ladies, listen to me. There is no controlling the post-wax spray. You are no longer in the director’s chair when it comes to peeing, you are a helpless urinary bystander. Your stream becomes aimless and befuddled, like a Valium-addled housewife. Now you know.

Yes, it is convenient not to worry about shaving. But does that negate the indignity of traveling commando because wearing underwear is too painful? Does it overshadow the concern about what sort of wonderous airplane fungus is working its way through your skirt and into your “system?”

No, ladies. No it does not.

Advice from Mom, Part I

Wear the tight dress. You won’t have that body forever.

If there’s a nuclear war, head north. There will be less fallout up there.

Don’t tell contractors what to do, it pisses them off. Ask them. And bring beer.

If you’re lost in the woods, follow a stream downstream and you’ll find houses.

The more they process the food, the more you have to pay. Buy the whole chicken.

If a bear attacks, curl into a ball to protect your internal organs.

If someone needs money enough to beg for it, give them a dollar.

If you boil willow bark and drink the tea, it’s like taking asprin.

You should iron that.

If something big stabs you, leave it in until you can get to the hospital.

Put a little lipstick on, Margaret.

You need to learn to shoot a handgun.