This Is Where I Used To Live

I wrote my first blog post in a while over at Dad Has A Blog, and that got me doing the kind of reflective life pondering that usually leads me to post over here on my (also somewhat abandoned) “regular” blog. I knew it was meant to be when something happened today that flipped my nostalgia switch into overdrive.

There I was minding my own business at work when I got an email from Redfin. Now even though my real estate fortunes are fairly locked up in a 15-year mortgage on a house that I’m in the process of remodeling, Redfin still sends me friendly missives every once in a while. These are usually updates on how the value of my three-bedroom home is decreasing and the value of the two-bedroom condo I sold on Redfin five years ago is skyrocketing and now somehow worth more than I paid for my house. I’m not sure if this is supposed to fill me with regret or make me want to sell my house, but it’s mostly just making me hate Redfin.

Today’s message did not provide another helpful update though. It just reiterated the sale price of my condo and listed a bunch of other recent sales and listings in the area. This got me wondering how much condos in that complex were actually going for these days, so I scrolled down to look at the recent listings. I saw one that was listed for quite a bit more than I listed mine.

Unit 307. Wait a minute. 307? That’s my unit!

Instantly, someone cued the Barenaked Ladies in my head:

It was back on the market! That meant there were probably fresh photos of the current interior! I could virtually break into the old apartment!

Pathetic or not, this was the fulfillment of a longtime dream for me. I’d been wondering since I sold the place what the new owner would do with all the aesthetic decisions I had made. Being the first time that I ever lived away from home, I poured some money, sweat and personality into the place. My place.

Before moving in, I spent many weeknights there cleaning things and painting things and filling it with necessary new things to make it my home. I spent a lot of quality time at Home Depot. I cleaned every inch of every appliance, cabinet and countertop. I chose colors and repainted every wall. I had new carpeting installed. I had a tile entryway installed. I tried to fix a toilet. Then I hired someone to replace a toilet.

When the eventual new owner first toured it, I remember him looking at my blue-walled Cubs bathroom and muttering something about that being the first to go. Would my light purple Northwestern bathroom suffer the same fate? I remember his real estate agent coming back a second time to measure the dining room to see if his moose antler chandelier would fit in the space. I remember asking her if she was serious. She was. I believe the word she used to describe it was “impressive.”

I never expected to sell it as quickly as I did. According to my vague life plan, this was going to be my place for a while. And those brief years when it was my place were vital for my formation into the independent, self-sufficient and less selfish person that I have become.

The place is also inextricably linked in my mind to the courtship of my wife. Living on my own and having a condo meant my first sustained foray into the dating world. I remember preparing dinner in my kitchen for various would-be sweethearts–my specialty was baked salmon and green beans–only to have things end with the usual disappointment.

Then I met Theresa, and the memories get a lot better. I vividly recall the excitement of my phone buzzing on my nightstand with a new text from her. Or the first time she came over for dinner–yes, it was salmon–and we died of laughter afterward while watching a Jim Gaffigan stand-up special on the loveseat in my living room. Or that time that I didn’t think I would be seeing her one night and she texted me to look out on my balcony, where she was smiling below in the parking lot. Or the time we sat on the couch and she showed me her favorite engagement ring styles.

We threw some great parties here, watched a lot of movies here, practiced swing dancing here, played a lot of board games here, had a lot of fights here (especially after board games), and just spent a lot of time here. This is where we fell in love. We affectionately refer to this era as the Dopamine Days, and they are forever linked to this condo.

So I was very excited to see what had become of a place that has such a special place in my heart and memory.

See for yourself:

If you like his better, don’t tell me. Sing it, Ladies:

Why did you change the floor?
Why did you paint the wall?
Why did you swap appliances?
I see no moose here at all.
This is where we used to live.

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Back to The Room Where It Happened

In the epic hip-hop Broadway musical Hamilton, there is a show-stopping number called “The Room Where It Happened,” that details a momentous backroom political deal that had long-lasting results. Over the course of my nearly year-long love affair with Hamilton, the title of the song has slipped into my lexicon to represent (sarcastically or otherwise) places where important things have occurred. Tonight–without sarcasm–I can honestly say that I returned to what is the most significant Room Where It Happened for me.

Tonight marked the first time in nearly four years that I came back to the school auditorium at Saint Mary of the Angels in Chicago. From the outside and the inside, it looks like any other 50-plus-year-old Catholic school facility in the city–certainly not the kind of place where you would expect your life to change.

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But there I was tonight, in the same space where almost exactly four years ago (give or take two months), I met my wife. Four years ago, I was a 29-year-old bachelor showing up for an intermediate swing dancing class with a bunch of Catholic young adults. Looking back, I remember feeling a lot of uncertainty about my life at that point. I was drifting toward my fourth decade with doubts about what exactly I was supposed to be doing with myself. I had a picturesque life–a steady job, a college teaching gig, a nice condo, a great family and friends–but the vocation of marriage and family that I longed for and fully expected to already have achieved by that point would still gnaw at me in my weaker moments. I began to have doubts about what the future would look like.

I trusted in God’s plan for me, but wondered if the blue prints I had drawn for myself didn’t actually match those of the architect. Faced with that conundrum, I guess I decided to sign up for my friend’s swing dancing class and look for pretty girls to date.


Tonight I found myself back in the auditorium and once again surrounded by Catholic young adults, this time for a speaker event sponsored by the Catholic Young Professionals of Chicago. I’m sure I would have attended this event four years ago as well, in search of spiritual wisdom, but also pretty girls to date. Tonight, I came to the event as a 33-year-old married man who is about to become a father for the first time. Consequently, I was able to focus solely on the spiritual wisdom…and that sharpening of my focus was actually one of the points of the speaker’s talk.

If you ever get the chance to hear Jeff Schiefelbein give a speech, make sure you take advantage of the opportunity. He is dynamic and inspiring and wise beyond his 38 years. His passion is contagious and I think I speak for many in the room when I say that his words left me wanting to be a better person and a better Catholic.

The theme that stood out–and played right into the nostalgia of the location for me–was commitment. Jeff posited that when you fully commit yourself to something, it can be a challenge, but ultimately a freeing experience. Based on the ways my life has changed and the commitments I have undertaken in the intervening four years, I couldn’t agree more.

By committing myself to Theresa for the rest of my life–and now bringing a new soul into the world to share in that commitment–I have freed up so much of the energy and attention that I was wasting on meaningless activities like forced relationships, physical and emotional insecurities, fears and doubts. The difficult and permanently binding commitments of marriage and fatherhood have given my life a purpose and fulfilled a vocation that were previously lacking. I am so grateful for the gift of this vocation, and the ways it has challenged me to become closer to being the person I always wanted to be. I know the refining process will continue as Theresa and I prepare to raise our daughter. I know there will be challenges that will sometimes make these commitments difficult to fully keep. But I also know that I have the focus and ambition to keep them–powers of self-mastery that I had not yet realized when I entered that auditorium four years ago.

Jeff’s challenge to the audience tonight was to live a life that honors your commitment to your chosen vocation as well as to your faith…and to live authentically in a way that makes these choices visible to the world. I am well aware of my shortcomings in both of those categories, but I look forward to integrating his advice into my life and helping others that I encounter to understand and respect the commitments I have made, as well as to embrace their own commitments and experience the freedom with which I am now so richly blessed.

10 Lessons from the First Year of Marriage

groomWith my first year of marriage officially in the books this Sunday, I am an old pro at this married life stuff. Actually, that’s not true at all, but I have come a long way from where I was in September 2014. So without further ado, here is my list of the Top 10 Things I Didn’t Know About Marriage Until I Got Married.

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My Life With Billy Joel

Billy Joel Wrigley Field marqueeSome items on my bucket list–like eating at every Portillo’s location–most likely will never come to pass. Then there are other items that are decidedly more attainable, provided the timing works out.

On Thursday night, I was able to cross off an attainable bucket list item that had been staring up at me from the list for more than two decades. I finally saw Billy Joel in concert. And at Wrigley Field, no less!

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The Evolution of Courtship

A recent New York Times article with the salacious title “The End of Courtship?” was plastered all over my Facebook newsfeed last week. If the NYT’s latest attempt to turn a profit blocks you from reading the article, let me summarize it for you: Dating in 2013 is completely different from dating even as recently as, say, 2001. Technology has introduced a whole bunch of variables that both complicate and trivialize various long-held touchstones of how a single date turns into a relationship turns into wedding bells.

As someone who both loves technology and is ultimately seeking those as-yet-elusive wedding bells, this article was right in my wheelhouse, but left me feeling disappointed, sad and a little bit complicit in the death of traditional dating…or at least the norms of traditional dating. Allow me to explain by examining a few passages from the piece. Please don’t sue me for pasting these excerpts, NYT.

“Dating culture has evolved to a cycle of text messages, each one requiring the code-breaking skills of a cold war spy to interpret.”

True that. These are the new variables that no potential young lovers in 2001 really had to deal with. For every advance in the speed and ease of human communication, there is an equal and opposite opportunity to use these new technologies for awkwardness, embarrassment and blowing your chance. Rather than making a call on Tuesday to arrange Saturday’s date and having radio silence until you meet for dinner, there are now several days for potential interim missives on a variety of platforms that allow for instant communication. When an instantaneous response is not reciprocated, it can set off a whole bunch of alarms.

Texts: I sent her that text six hours ago. There’s no way she didn’t read it by now. Was I too sarcastic? Does she think I’m mean? She must not be into this.

G-Chat: Why did it say she was typing and then she stopped? What was she going to say? And why hasn’t she typed again in the last two minutes? She must not be into this.

Facebook: Great, now I’m going to have to pretend that I didn’t just spend half an hour stalking her profile and act like I don’t already know that she’s obsessed with [movie/TV show/food/animal].”

Facebook (Part II): Wow, apparently we actually have nothing in common. This could be a long dinner. I’m really not into this.

Facebook Messages: Facebook says she read the message yesterday morning. Why won’t she just respond already? She must not be into this. And why does Facebook even have this feature?!

Once responses finally arrive, the Cold War spy springs into action and the questions can get even more numerous and a lot more specific. Have you ever tried to analyze the intentions behind an emoticon or scrutinized comma placement in a text to better understand the message’s meaning? Yeah, me neither.

Of course, this is admittedly a negative way of looking at it, and these sorts of online interactions can definitely fan a romantic flame, but I’m just saying that every time you go over a patch of ice, you can either glide gracefully or fall on your face. For those with poor balance or lack of ice skating experience, it’s not always advisable to seek out extra ice patches. But today they’re nearly unavoidable.

“Traditional courtship — picking up the telephone and asking someone on a date — required courage, strategic planning and a considerable investment of ego (by telephone, rejection stings). Not so with texting, e-mail, Twitter or other forms of ‘asynchronous communication,’ as techies call it. In the context of dating, it removes much of the need for charm; it’s more like dropping a line in the water and hoping for a nibble.”

Guilty as charged. As much as asynchronous communication can get on your nerves when you don’t get a quick response, it sure is a comfortable way to ask someone out. I used to pride myself on being a rather expert composer of witty and intriguing Facebook messages. By the end of the message, potential dates would think I’m the Most Interesting Man in the World. And so funny, too!

But Facebook charm is more easily manufactured and use of a non-verbal platform can result in confusion. Without making a phone call or asking in person to make your intentions crystal clear, the likelihood of mixed signals increases. “How did he phrase it in the message? Is this a date or are we just hanging out?” Suddenly the vocabulary that helped make you so charming is now stabbing you in the back.

My pre-21st century comrades didn’t have the luxury of hiding behind their witty pen for either an invitation or a rejection. I highly doubt snail mail was an effective form of getting a date for a Friday night (this side of Jane Austen, at least), so they put it all on the line — asking a woman out in person or over the phone. Nevertheless, I console myself with the fact that my methods are still more effective and acceptable than some of the oafs described in the article. A text asking “Is anything fun going on tonight?” will never constitute asking for a date in my playbook. Who are these people?

“Online dating services, which have gained mainstream acceptance, reinforce the hyper-casual approach by greatly expanding the number of potential dates. Faced with a never-ending stream of singles to choose from, many feel a sense of “FOMO” (fear of missing out), so they opt for a speed-dating approach — cycle through lots of suitors quickly.”

I have nothing against online dating. I know plenty of people who met online. I even have a free profile on a site that I occasionally log into to scroll through the various fish that the fishermen in that particular sea think I’ll like. It’s like speed dating without any actual dates, and I guess that’s why it feels a little weird to me. I think the article is right on when it says that — for some people — the mentality reinforced by online dating can lead to the ultimate cheapening of the traditional institution of dating. If the computer analysis of your hobbies, interests and values are enough to bring you a list of potential suitors, why should you work hard to get a date with the people you meet in real life? You’ve always got the online date factory to fall back on, right?

Not to me. If I ever made a solid connection with someone on an online dating site, I would give it my all in the same way that I would if I had met the person in real life. I would also quickly arrange to meet them in real life. (Take a note, Manti Te’o.) The lack of effort described in this article is truly unfathomable to me. If guys put forth this type of effort in a less digital age, there would be a lot fewer marriages.

New ways of communicating make an already emotional process that much more difficult, awkward and maddening, while also making some aspects simpler, more exciting and fun. In some ways, I guess dating will never change, even when it’s changing. If you’re doing it right, the thrill of a good date is still as magical now as it was in the heyday of traditional courtship, no matter how many ambiguous texts you might have sent or received. So for those of you who are married, congrats on not having to deal with this anymore. For us single people, forge ahead and try to use technology as an asset instead of a crutch.

I don’t know how to end this post. Play me out, Bublé.