Of All the Life Lessons I Learned in 2015, These Are the Most Crucial

Here's what I know now that I didn't know at the beginning of the year (other than what fried green tomatoes taste like).
Publish date:
December 18, 2015
boyfriends, parents, Botox, privacy, Cancer, loss, commenters, dogs, self-reflection, internet trolls

I don't believe in astrology. Being naturally curious, though, I didn't pass up the offer when, back in May, I was given the opportunity to receive a custom birth chart and reading from Cosmopolitan's astrologer, Aurora Tower (not to be mistaken for the Australian skyscraper of the same name).

The first thing I asked her was why I'm not as wealthy or as married to Hugh Dancy as Claire Danes is; we were born mere hours (maybe even mere minutes) apart in Manhattan, so wouldn't astrology presume we'd have much more similar lives than we do? During her explanation, I sort of zoned out in a haze of skepticism and acetone fumes — this reading took place at a Sally Hansen event in a nail salon — but I focused as Aurora showed me my personalized chart (well, it was personalized for "Marcia Robbins," but sure, I'll answer to that), which looked like something only a cartography major with a minor in polygraph examination could understand.

She explained that both my rising sign and my moon sign are Libra, which may account for why I don't seem like an Aries, my sun sign (the "main" sign you're told you are based on your birth date). I thought that was pretty interesting since I had, in fact, been told by my friends who are into astrology that I don't seem very Arian (whatever that means).

What really grabbed my attention yet simultaneously set off my cynic alarms was when she told me that I could expect a huge shift in my life starting in July. Seeds would be planted for big changes that month, she said.

And as much as I hate to admit it, she was right. July was a month of important new beginnings for me. It's when I started a new relationship, and I learned xoJane and xoVain were being seriously considered by an important new buyer (which turned out to be Time Inc). And although the first half of the year wasn't exactly a mindless trudge through the mundane, July and the months that followed have been filled with significant life events (and life non-events) that led to a lot of reflection and made 2015 one of my most meaningful and illuminating years in recent history.

Here are some of the things I know now that I didn't know a year ago.

Knowing it's the right decision doesn't make euthanizing a pet any less painful

Max had been showing significant signs of aging for a couple of years. By summer, I couldn't deny that his life was more about confusion and pain than contentment.

When I had brought Max to the vet in March, I asked for guidance on if I should let him go, but the vet's answer was vague and left me feeling guilty for even considering it, though I'm sure that wasn't his intention. When Max was getting noticeably, rapidly more fragile and disoriented, I returned in September for another assessment.

This time, the vet was much clearer, using phrases like "last act of love." He asked me when I was thinking of saying goodbye, and I said, "In the next couple of months." The vet said, based on Max's condition, he'd do it much sooner and even offered to do it that day. I wasn't ready.

I made arrangements for two weeks later, and that day, before the appointment, about a dozen friends met up with Max, Rufus (my other dog) and me in Prospect Park for a treat-filled picnic to celebrate his life. He indulged so much that he pooped in the bag I carried him in before we even got out of the park, so I threw it out and carried him in my arms for the four avenues to the vet's office.

He was perfectly calm as we waited, and I sat on a stool, leaning forward to be at eye-level with his resting body, petting him until he faded away. I sobbed over his face for I don't know how long, and more intensely than I was expecting. Even though I had been contemplating it for months, even though I made the decision and the appointment, I just kept saying, "I can't believe it," over and over.

No amount of consideration, mercy or preparation can lessen the feeling of loss.

If there's a right way to handle family health crises, I am not aware of it

My father was diagnosed with invasive bladder cancer a few months ago — his second cancer in five years. Although his prognosis is good, his treatment and recovery have been long and difficult, to the point that I have no idea what to say to him sometimes.

At one point, I told him, "You can't die because I can't lose my dog and my dad in the same year." It seemed defusingly humorous before I said it, but by the time I finished the sentence, it felt morbidly unfunny.

Even though he chuckled and said he'd try his best, I stopped trying to lighten the mood surrounding the situation after that. We're all taking it day by day.

I don't think Botox is right for me — at least not right now

Considering I've never been anti-cosmetic-procedure and have long been in a career that gives me access to free dermatological treatments, I can't believe I made it to 36-and-a-half without trying Botox. But now that I have — I got a low first-timer's dosage about a month ago — I know I won't be trying it again for at least a few years.

Aside from the fact that I don't have very noticeable lines yet, I'm weirded out by the results. I can't lift the inner ends of my eyebrows, so any expression that involves them ends up looking rather Vulcan. I can feel the resistance in the immobile parts of my forehead, too, which is unsettling.

I don't think there's anything wrong with the product itself — perhaps the doctor who did it needs to work on his technique? — but I impulsively got bangs solely for the option of covering the outcome.

I regret the bangs, though, too, so no one look at me until February when the Botox and bangs have disappeared, OK?

The concept of being completely unaffected by internet commenters is a myth

I've been told that what I do — writing about personal stuff for a large internet audience — is "brave." I've been told by the very same people to ignore the haters. But you can't have it both ways. Without vulnerability and sensitivity to negative responses and verbal attacks, there's nothing to be brave about. There is no braveness in this line of work without haters.

When I first started doing this a few years ago, I expected criticism, but I was not prepared for the hatefulness of some commenters and internet users at large — people who want nothing more than for you to believe that there is something deeply wrong with your thoughts, your appearance, your existence, your choice to write about your existence, all while never believing there's anything wrong with their choice to maliciously (and usually anonymously) insult someone they've never met and probably wouldn't say those things to if they did meet. Some will add insult to insult by calling it constructive criticism, but those smug little bastards know better, and they know you do, too.

There are one-off assholes and long-term hate-readers. They will talk cruelly about you as if you aren't human, while making assumptions and reaching incorrect conclusions about you with the delusional self-assurance that there is no human they understand more deeply than you. And that conviction! It's as if some higher being took pity on them for their lack of self-esteem and bestowed internet confidence upon them as a consolation prize, only to watch in horror as they abuse it and congratulate themselves for their own shittiness.

Finally accepting that they will always exist — that there will always be people who willfully miss the point of everything I write, put words in my mouth, think they can see through to the "real" me, hate-follow me on Instagram, tweet insults at me from anonymous Twitter accounts, and convince themselves not only that this very paragraph is hilariously pathetic fodder for their ridicule but that I also deserve it — I have also finally accepted that, when they cross my digital path, it's OK if it hurts my feelings.

You're not weak to feel a little emotionally rattled by rude comments, even when, logically, you know the stranger saying them doesn't matter. Thick skin still has nerve endings. I can feel the prick when a bee stings me; I just don't have an allergic reaction.

And for the record, I don't think the kind of internet writing I do is brave. But it's certainly more respectable than the kind of internet writing mean-spirited commenters do.

Also, I get paid for it and they don't.

I will never write about my relationship with my boyfriend

For a long time, I wrote about my dating trials and tribulations quite candidly. Now that I'm in love with someone, though, the last thing I want to write about is my relationship.

Sure, I may mention him now and then — previous examples include saying he introduced me to a band and that I've met someone I'd like to travel with — but I will never get all analytical and open-book-y about us the way I have about virtually every other area of my life.

I honestly never knew if I'd draw a line when it came to oversharing, but as soon as I met him, I knew I'd found something I wanted to protect. He understands what my job entails, but he didn't sign up for this, and I made it clear very early on that I would ask for permission to allude to him in even the most fleeting way — including the last few paragraphs and the disgustingly cute Instagram photo below.

Claire Danes can keep Hugh Dancy.