So What Do You Do?

“So…who do you know?”

It was 2016, sometime in February, and I was jostling for position at the bar, desperately trying to get the attention of the tattooed bartender who was looking at anyone (namely, girls with better outfits and more makeup) besides me. I was out in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of D.C. (which I have since learned to avoid on Saturday nights) and my friends, who had dragged me to this bar, were off somewhere grinding to “mid-2000s throwbacks.” Because, you know, the mid-2000s were so long ago now that we can throwback to them and pretend to dance to Chris Brown without feeling guilty about it.

I turned to look at the guy who had been attempting to make some pretty terrible small talk with me and thus, had made me lose my one chance to grab just one gin and tonic please, is that so much to ask when the bartender scanned the crowd, saw us talking and presumably assumed I was too busy for alcohol, and ignored me once again. The man trying to talk to me was your average white dude, if we’re being honest. His face was unremarkable, his hair…probably brown? I know he was wearing a collared, button-down shirt, but it’s noteworthy that the rest of him was so entirely un-noteworthy to me that he’s become just a blur of a memory, two years later.

“What?” I yelled above the thudding, terrible house music.

“Who do you know?” The guy yelled back. And I looked at him – with his neatly-pressed khakis, his Ready To Meet The Parents-haircut, that smarmy smirk like he had just dropped the world’s cleverest pick-up line – and I immediately recognized him as a staffer. You know who I’m talking about: the quintessential white, male Capitol Hill employee. And as soon as I realized that, I also realized that he wasn’t asking me who I knew in this bar, or if I had friends I could introduce him to. No, this man was quite literally asking me, in a crowded bar on a Saturday night in an effort to make a move, who I knew of importance in the United States government.

“Well, personally, I think my mom’s pretty cool,” I responded, to which the staffer looked predictably unimpressed. It was at that moment that I seized my chance, elbowed a pretty blonde out of the way, and grabbed the bartender as he passed. “Just one gin and tonic,” I yelled over the noise. “Please.” Is that so much to ask?

Washington, D.C. is, obviously, an interesting city. It’s the capital of the United States, so people often think that the only thing here are government buildings and historic monuments, but it is actually an interesting city. The international food scene is incredible, there’s a thriving art community both online and on the streets, national and international movements are born here, and if you’re ever bored on a weekend, it’s because you’re too lazy to find something to do, because there is literally always something to do.

But guess what else? Washington, D.C. can be a terrible place to date people. And not just because of the transient nature of the place – after all, people flow in and out of here based on election results, and foreign diplomats don’t exactly put down roots. It’s also not just because eventually, people get sick of the high cost of living, the insane traffic congestion, and all of these allergies, and eventually move away to smaller, less pollen-ridden towns.

No, Washington, D.C. can be a terrible place to date people…because of the people. Don’t try to fight me on this – I will die on this metaphoric hill.

It’s a constant joke that the first question people will ask you when you’re out at a bar, event, or just minding your own business while watching ducks float by at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool is: What Do You Do? I have navigated entire evenings of conversation in which I learn all the ins and outs of someone’s job, what hip D.C. neighborhood they can afford to live in because of their salary, and what they want to do next in their career, but I’ll leave the conversation realizing that I never learned their name. Worse than that? I leave the conversation feeling like I didn’t even learn anything about them. Their opening line is always the same: so what do you do?

This isn’t just me. This happens to everybody. When you mention it, everyone laughs it off in a “Oh, isn’t that just such a silly D.C. thing,” with a dismissive hand wave and chuckle, but it’s actually a terrible phenomenon. And it’s not just with dating – this happens in every D.C. young adult’s life when trying to awkwardly make friends as a grown-up. Even grabbing drinks with friends has become branded as a chance to expand your circle, make contacts, learn more about “the industry.” After all, it’s not just grabbing drinks with friends – it’s a “networking happy hour.” And if you’re going to a networking happy hour, you better bring your business cards and the D.C. conversation starter pack: It’s so nice to meet you! Where do you work?

I think it’s wonderful that people are passionate about their jobs and the work they do here in this city. I would rather someone be excited about how they contribute to society for eight hours a day than hear them whining incessantly on Google Hangouts about how bored they are. Being driven and passionate is a good thing! It’s also pretty cool to be in a city that is essentially The Room Where It Happens. The longer you live in D.C., the more you realize that you’re surrounded by people who actually make things happen in the world. Meeting incredible people from all over the globe who care about the work they do and aren’t just cruising through life is definitely inspiring, I won’t deny it.

But unless someone is gushing about their job and why they’re so passionate about it, when complaining about work or discussing the ins and outs of office dynamics and strategy are the only things people talk about at a bar, it gets repetitive and boring. It feels superficial. What about hobbies? What about causes you believe in? What about your friends, family, pets, favorite junk food? What are you excited about, how do you make people’s days better? Instead, you get the usual: so what do you do? In the end, you leave the conversation feeling like you didn’t meet the person at all. I exit D.C. bars after five hours, still craving genuine, human connections that I managed to make in fifteen minutes in the common areas of hostels abroad.

So in an effort to facilitate those genuine, human connections (or actually just to do something completely stupid and spontaneous that took me out of my comfort zone), I did what any normal human would do: Isigned up for an in-person, speed-dating event at my local (absolute favorite) independent bookstore. On Valentine’s Day.

“Retro Tinder,” as Kramerbooks & Afterwords Café called it, was exactly as you’ve seen it in sitcoms and 90’s movies. It was indeed like Tinder in Real Life, except I had to wear real clothes, makeup, and spend money. To be honest, I prefer the version in which I window-shop men in my pajamas from behind the safety of my phone screen, but this was fun too. I did indeed wear real clothes (a bright red dress and heels that I tripped in on my walk to the bookstore), makeup (which I put on my face with five minutes to spare in my office bathroom), and spend money (on a really amazing cocktail called “The Gin Gatsby” that involves plenty of gin, hibiscus, lime, and rosemary sprigs).

My pal Moira and I had signed up for this speed-dating event together, and so we went up to the mezzanine of Kramer’s Bookstore where the event was held. Every table was decorated with a candle, a bowl of sweetheart candy, and the cover of a Fabio harlequin romance novel. I sat down at my assigned novel cover (Wild Scottish Embrace by Rebecca Sinclair) as quickly as possible because with my heels and low ceilings, I was an absolute giant, and then promptly awaited true love.

By true love, I mean a man who was hopefully my own age, since the sign-up form for speed-dating had kept the age range from 23-35, but there were definitely quite a few gentlemen filtering into the room who were significantly older than 35 and had maybe lied about their age. We were instructed to bring our favorite book as a conversation starter – if we didn’t bring our favorite book, then the bookstore staff would hand you a copy of 50 Shades of Grey and you’d have to explain to a complete stranger why that collection of trash masquerading as a book is your favorite thing to read.

Terrified of having to explain to my potential first husband why I was (not at all) passionate about reading an inaccurate portrayal of BDSM, I brought one of my top 10 favorite books of all time: David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day. David Sedaris is an incredibly funny nonfiction writer who basically takes every terrible thought you’ve ever had in the back of your head, pairs it with his fun upbringing as a gay man raised in the boonies of North Carolina, and creates writing that has actually had me snickering out loud on public transportation. I wasn’t exactly expecting to meet anyone significant that night, but on the off chance my soulmate showed up to this random bookstore speed-dating event, I wanted to bring a book that would filter out anyone who didn’t appreciate a slightly twisted sense of humor.

I won’t share names or too many details about my dates because of privacy and all that jazz. They were all perfectly nice and friendly, but the first guy to sit down across from me had apparently partaken in an Ash Wednesday service earlier during the day and I, a survivor of 16 years of Catholic school, started off our three-minute date by making a joke about ashes and Catholicism. It uh…didn’t go over well.

Every three minutes, a buzzer would ring and I’d stand up and move to the next table, where I’d try to decide whether or not I liked this stranger within a grand total of 180 seconds. I guess out in the real world, that’s all it takes to know if you jive with someone, right? The man in the bar who had asked me who do you know? required all of 30 seconds of interaction before I realized I disliked him. The guy I shared headphones with in a brewery a few years ago and danced to Elvis with as everyone stared? It took all of 2 minutes of that song to realize that I was a big fan.

First impressions matter, and so you would think that these three minutes would give me enough of an impression of these men to decide if I liked them or not, and to scribble a little “yes” or “no” on my speed-dating card, but it was stressful. Not only was I trying to get to know them, they were trying to get to know me. The room was loud, there were weird, raunchy Fabio book covers on every table, and I was trying to charm these strangers while wondering if my mascara was melting down my face.

The good news is my mother taught me from a young age how to talk to strangers, so I babbled with the best of them! The bad news was I left each table confused as to whether or not I actually liked the person, or if I just had expertly executed a conversation and was flying high off of that. As I said, everyone was perfectly friendly! We talked about books and how weird speed-dating is! But I definitely scared one particularly shy guy with my exuberance about whatever it was we were talking about, because he walked away looking both relieved and terrified.

In the end, I stayed true to myself: I talked about pasta, I talked about ramen, I talked about prosciutto. I also think I had some conversations about gentrification in D.C., nonfiction as a genre, and where I intended to travel in the next year as well, but I honestly can’t remember. I think someone complimented me on how personable I was, but that could have just been another way of saying that I wouldn’t shut up. I don’t know – it’s all a blur to me now. I had ten dates in one hour and before I knew it, the evening was over. We turned in our cards and were assured that if we had mutual matches, we’d be given the emails of those people in the next few days.

All of the men slowly filtered out of the room, but for some reason, the ladies stayed. I felt like I had just run a marathon, and I decided to reward myself for going through more first dates in one night than I had had in the past two years by buying myself a glass of wine.

But you know what was my favorite portion of the night? The part that came after the dates. The moment when I was standing there in that tiny, dark room – covered in those gaudy Valentine’s Day decorations – sipping a glass of rosé and suddenly befriending the other eight girls in the room. It was instantaneous. If we weren’t laughing at the absurdity of what we had just put ourselves through, we were earnestly talking about the books we had brought, with more enthusiasm than we had been able to muster when talking to our potential dates.

Before we knew it, an entire hour had passed after the conclusion of the speed-dating, and we were basically best friends. You might think I’m exaggerating, but actually, we formed a book club, right then and there. The event’s organizer, Olivia, was a whirlwind of personality and hilarity, and she took all of our emails down and declared that she would be founding a book club with all of us. It seemed like one of those things you say upon meeting new people at one of those networking happy hours, right? “Oh, we should totally grab drinks sometime!” You exchange numbers, friend request each other on Facebook, and then never see them again for the rest of your life.

But guess what? A few days after the speed-dating event, we got the emails with our date matches. And a week later, we got an email picking out days for our future wine and book club to be hosted at Kramer’s, with a suggested book genre already in place. My date matches were perfectly nice and friendly and sent me sincere emails about the conversations we had (about ramen), but I’m kiiiiiind of more excited about this book club that’s coming up.

Because if there’s one thing I’ve had trouble with in D.C., it’s occasionally breaking through that wall of constant professionalism and getting to know the people around me as actual humans with lives outside of their offices. And, surrounded by a bunch of girls laughing at the fact that we had just tried speed-dating for the first time, commiserating with each other on lost love, and gushing about books and reading and life – I realized that I had done it. I had had conversations with people that went beyond just what do you do? I bonded with strangers, I pushed myself beyond my comfort zone on a silly holiday, and I’m going to see all of my new friends next month to talk about the cheesy, ridiculous harlequin romance novel we’re all going to read.

D.C. is a challenging place to date people, it’s true. But if you’re not too afraid of looking like an idiot at events like speed-dating in a bookstore on Valentine’s Day, you might be surprised by the people (and potential friends, soul mates, etc.) that you’ll meet just by asking questions beyond someone’s 9-5 gig.

5 Things They Didn’t Tell You About Life After Graduation

I started typing this list the summer after I graduated from the University of Mary Washington, in May 2014. Back then, it was full of melodramatic tropes along the lines of, “You will never be as free as you are now, with all your dreams ahead of you!” Or, “Your life will never be as fun as it was when you were pulling all-nighters at the library with your friends, hyped up on 7 cups of coffee and Red Bull!” But that’s not true. I still have plenty of dreams, and I only had a handful of fun all-nighters in the library in college.

For the most part, my all-nighters were just that: long nights of essay-writing, textbook-reading, formula-memorizing nightmares, in which I was hyped up on pure sugar (I hadn’t yet developed a taste for coffee, and relied on Dr. Pepper and M&M’s to keep me awake) and my friends were nowhere to be found and were possibly off getting tattoos. They, presumably, had not procrastinated on their theses like I did (to be fair, I had THREE theses to contend with).

College was undoubtedly wonderful. I often miss parts of it, but I don’t ever find myself wishing I was still there. But now, three years out and at the age of 25, I’m in that odd in-between stage. Not a college student, not yet a full-grown adult (eat your heart out, Britney Spears).

The first year out of college can be a bit of a shock, but in a way, you’re still cushioned by a safety net. You still have the same friends who you can text (“Ugh, I just wish I could have late-night Vocelli’s pizza right now, you know?”), the campus homecoming events, and that shared sense of “we’re all figuring it out together and tweeting about it aggressively.” But three years down the road is different. Three years down the road, I can still remember what it’s like to pull one of those all-nighters, but my life has undeniably changed. So I might be generalizing here, but these are the 5 Things They Didn’t Tell You About Life After Graduation (and I really wish they had):

1. Money is everything

Ok, not everything. But when I first graduated, I proudly proclaimed to my parents: “I don’t need money to be happy!” They were engineering and business majors, what did they know? (A lot. They know a lot.) I was ready to pack up my bags and jump on the next Working Holiday Visa to Ireland, Australia, or New Zealand, and figure out my job when I got there. I assured my mom that I could probably support myself as a temp office worker during the day, and a waitress at night. “Maybe some tutoring in Italian language on the side!” I said excitedly. For some reason, this patient woman let me continue to research this lifestyle option for months. To be fair, lots of people successfully lead this kind of lifestyle! But it’s important to note that I had convinced myself this would be my livelihood in a foreign country, despite having absolutely zero office temp or waitressing experience.

Looking and acting professional at a professional event.
For me, money wasn’t a concern like it is now. After all, immediately after graduation, my incredibly generous parents accepted their not-yet-employed daughter back into their home, no questions asked, until I figured out what I was going to do. I had very little concept of rent costs, insurance costs, or even grocery costs (I like expensive cheese, ok?). For me, the adventure was the important part, and money would work itself out later.

For you college students and recent grads who actually had to deal with real life before they got a Big Kid Job, you already know the struggles of money. You know what it’s like to be out here onyour own with real life costs and that student loan debt looming over your shoulder, and you’re probably rolling your eyes at me. Look, I was blissfully unaware then, but now, having spent my first 6 months in D.C. as a struggling intern and the past two years working at a nonprofit organization, I know money is important.

I admit it – 2014 Danielle was kind of an idiot. I like fancy food, I love to travel, and I have a bad habit of impulse-buying beautiful journals and then never writing in them. To compensate, I end up eating cans of beans for dinner and trying to flirt with men so they’ll buy my drinks for me (I’m terrible at flirting, so this very rarely works).

Being three years out of college has taught me the importance of balance. Knowing when something is important to spend money on and when it isn’t. How to combine your passions and your need for a steady paycheck. I’m still figuring it out (I have had a Postmates delivery robot bring Popeyes to my office three too many times), but I’ve finally had to admit that I would be a terrible waitress. I can’t balance more than two plates at a time, and I run into tables and walls regularly.

2. You have to feed yourself

My dad is an incredible cook. Since I was a little kid, he has always been the one in the kitchen, masterfully whipping up something that had caught his eye in a Bon Appetit  magazine, or any of his famous pastas. I’d help, of course, but a sous-chef is not the same as a head chef.  I lived in southern Italy as a child, where fresh buffalo mozzarella reigned supreme, and plump tomatoes burst off the vine. In summary: I have spent a great deal of my life surrounded by really good food, all of it made by someone other than myself.

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My Dad’s famous summer pesto
I can’t say that the University of Mary Washington’s food was anything close to my dad’s amazing cooking, but hey – it was made for me. At dining halls, I didn’t have to worry about whether or not I had remembered to buy yogurt for the week, or if I’d have enough time to cook dinner before that meeting tonight. Dinner was cooked! It was waiting for me in large vats of lukewarm, lumpy mashed potatoes alongside something that I think was supposed to be meatloaf. It wasn’t life-changing food by any means, but it was there and someone else was cooking it. 

Now…I have to cook for myself. And I’ve realized that despite my passion for charcuterie, my snobbiness about “authentic Neapolitan pizza,” and a pretty decent knowledge of all the hip places to eat in the district, my actual skills in the kitchen are pretty basic. I’m a whiz at pasta, and I have a tendency to make a full pound of it after I’ve had a few drinks (it doesn’t matter if I’m alone or have friends, I must make a full pound of pasta for some inexplicable reason). I can make maybe…5 or 6 other things, which are pretty good. Good, not stellar. I like the food I cook (because I’m cooking it for myself) but I’m definitely not planning a lavish dinner party anytime soon.  

After a long, long day at the office, when you’re so worn out from stress and exhaustion and the never-ending to-do list running through your head as you metro home, you suddenly realize: I still have to feed myself. If I don’t drag myself out of bed, still wearing my work clothes and makeup, and force myself to go into the kitchen and turn those vegetables into something that looks like dinner, I won’t eat. No one is coming to feed me. I’LL STARVE.

As a result, I tend to eat a lot of ramen. No, not that fancy, $15-per-bowl with homemade, pickled onions-ramen that you got in the “up and coming” part of town. I’m talking .99 cent ramen that I bought in a 12-pack from Safeway just in case of “an emergency.” That emergency is me being too lazy to actually feed myself anything nutritious, and is probably why at my last appointment, my doctor looked at me and said, “Your test results show that you’re very healthy…except your sodium levels are a little high.” I neglected to inform her that I regularly eat noodles out of a styrofoam cup with 960 mg of salt per serving.

On the upside, I’m learning to cook and I love it! I’m nowhere near my dad’s skills and I don’t know if I ever will be, but I’ve found that after a day of staring at a screen, I like taking a break from the ever-present glow of my iPhone and actually making something with my hands. It feels good to create something tangible that tastes good, fills you up, and ensures that you don’t find yourself ordering delivery Thai food late at night because you forgot to make time to buy groceries. Again.

 

Even better? You no longer have to scramble at the end of the semester, rationing out your meal plan to make sure you can make it through exam week. Now, we call that “the week before payday.”

3. Your friends won’t stay the same

If you had the most badass, ride-or-die, cohesive friend groups in college that have somehow miraculously managed to stay intact three years after graduation: congratulations. You’re one of the lucky ones. Balancing friendships after college can be hard, and people inevitably grow apart.

My friends in college were a diverse bunch! I had my group of gal pals, the friends I made when living at the International Living Community – a.k.a., Framar House – and the people I befriended in clubs, dining halls, or because we shared a love of the same academic subject (or Harry Potter book). They were (and still are) all wonderful people, and they made my four years at Mary Washington absolutely incredible.

 

That being said, things are different once you no longer live on a campus. Gone are the days when almost every single one of your friends lived within 1.5 miles of you, and you could grab dinner with any of them, on any day of the week. It takes dedication and hard work to keep some of these friendships alive, and the truth is: not all of them survive. Friends grow, they change, their lives become different. They find boyfriends, girlfriends, fiancees, husbands, wives. Friends get dogs, which is wonderful, and you should exploit those friendships as much as possible so you can pet those dogs. But the truth of it is: friends grow apart. Your very best friends will move across the country, or across the world, and you’ll have to rely on the sole power of social media to keep in touch.

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Life out here, three years down the road, is not the same as college, and it can be lonely. You have to learn how to be alone, and that’s okay. There is honestly nothing better than sitting by yourself on a park bench with a book, or going on a solo hike and not having to make light chit-chat with someone when you’re completely out of breath after reaching the summit.

I’ve found that I’m not the only one who feels this way. D.C. is a city of transplants from the U.S. and all over the world, and so I get the feeling that there are a lot of people here who are still figuring out how to call this place “home.” I’ve started a kind of direct approach: I chat to someone in a bar, realize that they’re a relatively interesting, cool person who will withstand me gushing about how much I love dogs and isn’t afraid of eating carbs. I talk about how even though I’ve been living here for 2+ years, everything still feels so new, and it’s hard to meet people and just make friends. When they say, “I know, me too!” I fully embrace my creepiness and tell them that we should be friends and hang out immediately. Like, what are you doing next Thursday? Pull out your calendar. Let’s make plans.

Does this sound aggressive? Well guess what – this has worked on a number of occasions, and I have at least 3 pretty solid friendships that began with me rather intensely leaning in and saying something along the lines of, “Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy, but here’s my number – so call me maybe and we can go to that really awesome happy hour with free guacamole or check out this nifty after-hours museum party I heard about.”

Pseudo-adults, young adults, young professionals – we’re all the same. We’re all trying to figure out how to pretend to be grown ups, letting go of some friends and trying to find new ones. The best way to get through it all is to be sincere, outgoing, and willing to look like a crazy person when asking a complete stranger to be your new best friend. I have made amazing friends since graduation – the kind of friends who will, without a doubt, be there right beside me in a rocking chair, just as wrinkly and cranky as me as we scream at the neighborhood children for running across my lawn. It’s not as easy to make these friends – you have to try a little harder to make plans, and you don’t have the luxury of eating at the same dining hall as them every night – but they have been wonderful all the same. They, too, will move. Grow apart. Travel to different states, different countries. But it’s all a part of that post-grad, always-moving life.

 

 

And those friendships from college? If they’re a real friend, it won’t matter if they live over a thousand miles away. Put in some time to keep in touch, be sure to ask about their family, and try to visit them every now and then. Strong friendships can withstand a little distance.

4. It’s cool to care

In college, I cared about academics. I worked extremely hard all four years in college and have the results to prove it. It did not come easy: my math and science courses were definitely an attempt by the university to literally kill me, and writing a full thesis in a foreign language about the ramifications of rebel groups in Italy in World War II made me want to rip my hair out. I spent many Saturday nights in my apartment in pajamas, slaving over footnotes and annotations.

And I loved it! I still do. I love learning, and pushing myself, and getting into intellectual discussions with my peers and professors. I very rarely skipped class and I all-too-eagerly attended after-hours lectures on history, art, and writing. Although this is definitely an accepted way to cruise through college, there’s always that lingering pressure to be cool. I didn’t party that much, and thus, didn’t feel like I fit in with a lot of my peers – and sometimes, even my friends – who were binge-drinking and raging all weekend.

Three years post-graduation, people still binge-drink and rage all weekend. But guess what? Living in the capital of the United States, where some of the greatest minds live in just 68.34 square miles, means that I am surrounded by innovative art, weekend-long embassy events, a thriving culinary scene, activism, and people who care. People who are so passionate about their work and the causes they stand for that they have decided to build their lives around it.

 

 I am endlessly lucky to live a life in which it is now cool to care. It’s okay to turn down a party because you’re volunteering at the crack of dawn the next morning. It’s cool that you won’t be at the happy hour because you’re attending a social media workshop in the former residence of the Spanish Ambassador. It’s fun to go to after-hours museum parties, where you can combine cocktails and a love for history exhibits. And hopefully, if you land a good job, you’ll be surrounded by coworkers who are very much the same. You won’t have a boss who brags about how he skimmed by on that one class by reading SparkNotes and using someone else’s essay. You will be working with people who love the same things you do, and are trying to make the world better for it. You’ll realize that you weren’t the only one staying home on a Saturday night – all those people are here, right beside you, creating beautiful art and making big changes in the world.

 

5. Nobody has it all figured out (and if they say they do – they’re lying)

Social media is the worst. I work in social media and communications, and I love it, but social media is the worst. According to social media, everyone on my news feed has completely figured out their lives, and is going on vacation to far-off locales every other weekend. They also eat out a lot. Have you noticed that? How is everyone eating out all the time? Who is secretly funding your tapas diet? Tapas ain’t cheap. I know this. I eat a lot of tapas, and thus, have not been able to afford a new purse in six years.  

Your early-to-mid-twenties are a horribly confusing time. You can be perfectly happy with your single life, celebrating the fact that you don’t have to put up with infuriating pet names like “babe,” or with someone who gets pouty because you stayed out all night with your gal pals, but then you see it: seven consecutive engagement photos, all in a row, on Instagram. And you don’t want to be engaged, but you immediately wonder – Oh God. Is this what we’re all doing? Are we supposed to be getting engaged? The engaged people seem to always have their shit together. Their outfits always match the background of their photo perfectly. How do they do that? I’m mostly interested in the perfect outfits – the ring is superfluous to me.

Worse than that are the people that are somehow traveling the world but also getting paid to do it. Or the friends who live in a much cheaper city than you, and can afford hardwood floors, exposed brick walls, and vaulted ceilings in their new apartment. Or the people that graduated and just immediately knew what career path they wanted – and landed the dream job. I’m endlessly perplexed by these people. Before graduation, I had many career aspirations: dolphin trainer, veterinarian, full-time explorer, famous author a la J.K. Rowling, dolphin trainer (again), a Spanish translator, an Italian translator, university employee, social media manager, and then that whole debacle with wanting to be a waitress and office temp in New Zealand.

Nowadays, I work in social media, marketing, and communications. I love it. I think my work allows me to be a modern-day storyteller, and I love sharing a mission and a message through my work. But the reality is, I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. There are hundreds of things I’d like to do, cities I’d like to live in, and dogs I’d like to own before I die. When the rest of the world seems to be moving on without you at an alarming speed, your life suddenly pales in comparison. We’re always told we could be doing more, trying harder, swiping left for one more chance at the perfect first date. Life feels both inexplicably short and long at the same time.

It took me way too long to realize that no one has it all figured out. And if they tell you they do, they’re lying to you because they don’t want  to admit how much they regret their Masters in Basket-Weaving even though, at the time, starting an artisanal basket-weaving business in Vermont with their matching-plaid fiancee seemed like a really good idea. I am happy for the people who are happy – the people who are making strides to improve their lives, and explore the world, and love the ones they love. I want to see my friends succeed. But it’s so important not to compare yourself to them, and to think that just because someone posted a seemingly-perfect picture on Instagram, that they must know what they’re doing. 

You have to step back and take a second to look at your friends, family, the roof over your head, the trees lining your street, and realize: you might not be exactly where you want to be, but right here isn’t so bad either.

No one knows what they’re doing, and that’s the beauty of it. It’s okay to be lost and confused and broke. Three years after graduation, I am still figuring it all out, and I feel only slightly less lost, confused, and broke as 2014 Danielle did, right after graduation. But I have so much more time to become the Secretary-General of the United Nations while owning my own pet-sitting business (no cats allowed) and eating extremely expensive pasta every night. We’ll all get to where we’re going – the important thing is to not worry about it so much in the meantime.

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A classic example of social media looking better than reality: I was surrounded by bees and absolutely terrified.

Back in the game

The thing about blogging is that it seems self-indulgent. Who’s to say that I have anything to add to the World Wide Web that hasn’t already been said on another twenty-something year-old’s blog? What makes me different from any other blonde with a pasta and plane ticket obsession? I’ve fallen into the all-too familiar pattern: young college grad moves to the big city, gets their first job, struggles with rent, and – inevitably – shares their daily misadventures with the Internet.

But I’ve come to the conclusion that blogging, at least for me, is just a chance to get words on (virtual) paper. A place to take a break from the hustle and get back to something that I haven’t done in a very long time: write for myself.

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When I graduated college in the spring of 2014, I was ready to move across the ocean and never look back. I was convinced that I would walk right across that stage with my diploma onto a plane that would take me to graduate school in the U.K., to a working holiday visa in Australia, or to an English-teaching position in Italy.

I had a lot of plans, none of which worked out, and to be honest, it sucked. As a self-proclaimed lover of travel, I was suddenly standing still while everyone else, it seemed, was moving forward. In those immediate months after graduating, I had stopped writing. I almost felt that if I wasn’t adventuring my way through the Andes, I didn’t have anything in my life worth writing about. My blogging and journaling and random scribbles on the backs of receipts came to a complete and sudden halt.

But after months of applying to jobs around the world (and learning to briefly live in my parents’ house again), I landed an incredible internship with an Australian university in Washington, D.C., which made me Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetrealize that (a) I should never try to do an Australian accent in public and (b) staying in my home country and not getting to live that #travelinspo life on Instagram was not as horrible as I thought it would be. Since my internship ended, I’ve now been working at national nonprofit organization for over a year and in some ways, I’m surprised to find out how much I love it here.

Since I moved to D.C., I’ve had more adventures than I could have ever imagined when I first moved to this incredibly humid city (worst. summers. ever.). I saw the Declaration of Independence for the first time at midnight at an after-hours party, wearing American flag leggings. I’ve tried every ramen shop in D.C. and am still deciding which rooftop bar is my favorite. This past weekend I joined one of the largest inauguration protest movements this capital city has ever seen. I’ve climbed to the top of the Washington Monument, pet alpacas at the Embassy of Peru, met congressmen, artists, and new friends.

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I’ve learned that finding adventure in day-to-day life does not have to be limited to boarding a plane to another country. Although traveling is still my favorite brand of adventure, I’m learning how to approach each day – whether I’m on my way to work or just out getting to know my adopted city a little better – as if I were traveling. That is, saying yes to as much as possible, meeting as many new people as I can, and pulling all-nighters that are no longer in libraries.

So here it is: 90% Pasta. The name of the blog comes from the fact that despite my efforts to constantly stay in shape, my diet consists largely of pasta. I’ve loved noodles of all shapes and sizes since I was a kid thanks to spending five years of my childhood growing up in Italy, and a dad who was a whiz in the kitchen. The obsession got so bad that my mom started making a joke that my body wasn’t made up of 60% water, but actually 90% pasta.

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You can expect plenty of pasta pictures, a peek into life in D.C. (which will be especially interesting with this new administration),  rants about being dog-obsessed but unable to afford one, and long-winded accounts of those impulse trips that I’ve been jumping into lately (next up: Ireland in February). Stay tuned!