I cried right before Taylor Swift came on stage. I did, I really cried. A grown woman with no kids and a corporate job, I was crying. And when I did, my best friend Kristan was sitting next to me with tears in her eyes too.

The 1989 World Tour was starting its Saturday night show in Chicago. “#TS1989” flashed on the Jumbotrons, and pop hits blasted in the background amping up the crowd. Pre-teen girls were bobbing their heads, grinning and singing all the lyrics, and their moms were busy snapping photos of their little girls. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be here.

All of us – all 55,000 piled high and low in the stadium – eagerly awaited the moment our souvenir LED bracelets would light up to signal that Taylor was coming on-stage. Bracelets that Kristan and I had to hunt down, running from our upper-level seats all the way back to the entrance because someone had neglected to give them to us when we first entered the venue. Forgoing the LED bracelets was never an option. We wanted the full experience.

That day in Chicago, there had been spontaneous, severe downpours, and even tornado warnings. With a heavy heart, I feared that the concert would be cancelled. I would have been devastated, especially because I had flown in from New York to see Taylor live.

But magically the skies cleared and the show went on. In our seats that towered over most of the audience, with excitement and anticipation building, I let my eyes water and some tears fall. I was really here! I had made it!

That night marked one month after walking away from a difficult relationship. There would be no more returning to our terrible cycle of fighting, breaking up, missing each other, and then allowing all the problems to resurface as we cobbled our relationship back together. It had taken me a few tries, but this time I was really done, and I was here to move forward with my best friend and with Taylor.

Like in her “Bad Blood” music video, when my ex and I ended things, I sought my army of friends to help me fight the battle inside myself. Don’t call him, they said. Don’t respond to his barrage of phone calls, voicemails, emails, text messages. Be ready for when he shows up at your door. They made themselves available to me whenever I felt weak or needed support. They helped me pack up my belongings from his apartment, leave my key behind, and even rescued me when he did turn up at my place unannounced. They reminded me of who I am and that I had the strength to make this time different. To make it stick.

A wise, older friend also told me that many women have gone through one of these types of relationships. The kind where you learn about your tolerance and your limits. During my time with this guy, I questioned myself a lot. I felt small and guilty about my own emotions. I felt pressure that shouldn’t have been there. I absorbed the names he called me, believed his interpretations and manipulations, and thought I deserved the actions he took against me. I lost my confidence.

Shortly after the breakup, when I told Kristan that I felt I had nothing to look forward to, and I was worried that I might lose momentum and regret being alone, she suggested we see Taylor Swift in concert – something I wanted to do but wouldn’t act upon without a catalyst. Now I had one. So why not? It would be a celebration.

And celebrate we did. We sang along to every song, especially her older country hits, dancing as much as we could in the small space in front of our seats. We cheered for and felt inspired by the empowering words and genuine emotions that Taylor shared in between songs. We shook our lit up bracelets in the air and had a wonderful time.

When I came back home to New York, I gushed about the experience to friends and colleagues. I joked with them that I teared up when Taylor Swift appeared. But truthfully, I cried because I’d been so happy to be there with my best friend, safe and whole and healing. It’s because even though I was sad, I had finally given myself the gift of self-respect.

P.S. Taylor, if you read this, know that you are a great role model, and going to your concert was once of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Let me know if you ever want to hang out or bake in New York.


If you ask me, Fall is the most beautiful time of year. The leaves are changing colors, setting fire to the world. The air is crisp, like biting into a harvest apple. Simply being outside fills me with joy – and makes me feel like anything is possible. Maybe that’s the reason I’m itching to make a few changes right now.

At the top of my list, I want to do a better job of examining and appreciating life. After all, that’s why Angie and I created this column: as a space for reflection and sharing. We joke that it’s “just between us,” but by publishing our words, we do hope to connect with people like you.

We started writing JBU in college, a time in our lives when everything felt fresh and exciting. Even then, we weren’t terribly prolific, but at least it felt easier to come up with interesting ideas. We were always exploring – both literally and figuratively.

Now, as we near 30, things seem more static. We have each settled into our own routines, and there isn’t always something new to talk about.

But not all stories have to be epic sagas like Game of Thrones, or impassioned soap operas like Grey’s Anatomy. Home life, work life, love life – these topics have been mined for centuries. It’s time for Angie and I to start digging.

To begin, I’ll bring everyone up to speed on my 2014 so far. It’s been a pretty exciting year for me.

In January, after years of writing and revising my novel, I was finally ready to search for a literary agent. I sent out “query letters” describing my story and myself, then I tried not to obsessively check my inbox. Eventually the responses rolled in – some negative, some positive, and some in between.

The best email came in April, from an agent who loved my book and wanted to speak with me on the phone. After talking with her for over an hour, I knew she was the perfect champion for me and my work. Partnering with her is a huge milestone in my writing journey, and hopefully a big step in the right direction for my career.

Then, in case you missed the announcement that was printed in an earlier edition of the newspaper, I got married in September. After nine years together, Andy and I tied the knot in a small outdoor ceremony, with the wind whispering through the trees around us. A couple weeks later, our parents hosted receptions in each of our hometowns so that we could celebrate with a larger group of family and friends. All three events were lovely, and a ton of fun. And like any wedding, there were ups and downs and little emergencies that are just funny anecdotes now.

That’s what I’ve been up to recently! Hopefully there are still more good happenings to come. Either way, you’ll be hearing from me and Angie again soon.

– Kristan


Call us what you will — BFFs, kindred spirits, or soul mates — Kristan and I are very lucky to have each other. Months ago, when New York City was feeling overwhelming, I made a quiet escape to Cincinnati. Kristan didn’t ask why; she just welcomed me with open arms. Her dog Riley did, too.

One might think I would be bored in Ohio, coming from a bustling city that never sleeps, but that was not the case. A recent National Geographic article highlighted great attractions in Cincinnati, and by coincidence, Kristan took me to a majority of them. All just to put a smile on my face. We dined at the tastiest restaurants, munched at the sweetest bakeries, admired the trendy contemporary art, browsed the farmers markets and antique malls, and even took day-trips to nearby places.

My favorite attraction was hiking Hocking Hills, a scenic park with trails and ancient hills. Kristan prepped everything, including carrying the backpack of supplies, while I just gaped at the views with my camera. We mustered our way through a forest blanketed with leaves, up and down small stone stairways, and over several bridges, as I snapped away. Finally we reached our destination: a vast half-walled dome called Old Man’s Cave.

The caves in Hocking Hills have been around for hundreds if not thousands of years. History hypothesizes that the region was a meeting point for nomadic populations, who then settled in the area because of its natural resources and food supply. Now it’s a state park that draws visitors from all over, withstanding the test of time, just like Kristan’s and my friendship.

What’s our secret? We accept each other for who we are and communicate honestly. Being best friends means offering support, but also challenging each other and pointing out flaws. We’re both stubborn and opinionated, and we don’t always agree, but that is the perspective we seek from one another. And whatever decision we make, we always help the other fulfill it.

During the trip, as we walked Riley around a local park, I thought about how serene I felt with us just chatting away, contemplating life and our goals. Turns out, despite all the activities we did, what made me happiest was simply talking to my best friend in person. I might not get to see her often, but I feel very lucky when I do.

Angie's visit 054


Seven years ago, I fell in love with a boy. He was my closest friend in college – someone who made me laugh, challenged me to challenge myself, and listened to all my hopes and fears without judgment. One night while we were hanging out in his dorm, I confessed my feelings for him and then bolted out the door. By the time I got back to my own room, there was an email waiting. He had feelings for me too.

For the next month, things were perfect. Every touch was electric, every smile laced with the shared secret of our affection. When we left campus for winter break – me to Houston, him to upstate New York – I expected the absence to make our hearts grow fonder. I expected the new year to be better and brighter and blissfully full of our burgeoning love.

Instead, on our first day back for the Spring semester, he broke up with me.

Naturally I was devastated. I had no idea what I’d done wrong and no idea how to fix it. I spent the following two weeks in a depression, robotically going to classes and club meetings, doing my homework, and eating only because I had to.

Eventually I pulled myself from this abyss, forced myself to take care of my mind and body so that my spirit could mend. And when an unexpected opportunity arose to escape my regular life – which felt like the mere husk of an existence – I snatched it. An old friend was studying abroad, and a surprise stipend from my summer internship meant that I could afford to visit her.

Nine days in Spain didn’t heal my broken heart, but it helped. My feet kissed the cobbled streets of Granada, my arms embraced the scorching air of Sevilla. I drank in the architecture and history of Valencia. I floated in the shining blue waters off Barcelona.

On the last day of my trip, I took a stroll alone through Buen Retiro park in Madrid. Couples in rowboats drifted across the small lake, and behind that, groups of young people sat chatting and laughing on the steps of the big stone monument. The lush green park made me feel small, and the cheerful conversations made me feel alone, but in the best possible way. Because I was finally happy, all on my own, even on the other side of the world from everything I knew.

My lost and drifting love had found a new place to anchor, a new place to call home. The gaping emptiness inside of me had grown smaller, because Spain had started the process of filling it.

The rest I would have to do on my own, of course. With time.

* * *

Seven years later, I returned to Spain, very much happy and whole. This time, I came with the very boy who had once broken my heart. Between then and now, we had weathered many highs and lows. I supported him through a campus controversy; he supported me through drama with friends. We got back together and we broke up; we fought and we made up. He graduated and accepted a job in another city; I graduated and moved in with him. We met each other’s families, we adopted a puppy, we got a joint credit card.

We had started building a future together, so I wanted to make peace with our past by visiting Spain. In a way, I was introducing one lover to another. But there was no jealousy or fighting – just good food, good sights, and good company. As we strolled hand-in-hand through Buen Retiro park, I was reminded once again of why I fell in love. With both of them.

10-27 Retiro 017


Michael* and I went to school together for a decade – middle school, high school and even college – but we were mostly acquaintances who rarely talked. It wasn’t until two years after we got our diplomas that Michael and I really connected, when he asked me one day about a picture on Facebook from a recent trip I had taken.

From there, we started talking, and our conversations quickly grew more personal, philosophical and profound. We began to meet over tea, then dinner just to talk. In just a couple of weeks, we had become true friends and surprisingly close.

During that brief time, I received and accepted a job offer in New York City, giving me only one more month in Texas.  Normally, I would have found it silly to continue a relationship with someone when I was on the verge of leaving, but Michael insisted that we should make the most of whatever time we had left together. So we did.

I don’t think Michael will ever know the impact he had on my life. Perhaps part of it was the timing: I was graduating, growing up, and taking that large step of moving to a different city. Life was messy and thrilling, and I thought, how lucky I was to find a friend who understood my messy, thrilling self. Through the chaos, that enormous transition, Michael was there to offer calm and practical guidance. He never attempted to solve my problems, but he listened as I rambled on, confused and overwhelmed by all the possibilities in front of me.

Of course I also had my wonderful family and best friends, who have always provided me with support and love. But looking back, I believe I was supposed to grow close to Michael at that particular time in my life, a time when everything was changing. He opened my eyes with a fresh perspective to help me navigate.

Thanks to Michael’s different way of thinking, I started to understand multiple sides of a situation and became more open-minded. I tried to step outside the borders of my cookie-cutter life, and I even learned to embrace my mistakes – because, as Michael convinced me, they can help shape you into a better person if you make the most out of them.

After I moved to New York, Michael and I talked less and less. We went from phone calls to emails to eventually just text messages a few times a month. Recently, through one of those texts, Michael informed me that he would be moving to Russia – a dream of his – where I know he will flourish, after a roller coaster career in Texas.

I wished him well and meant it – hopefully conveying my hope, love and excitement for him – but I am unable to hide the sadness in my own heart at this new chapter in his life. We have grown further apart with time, and the physical distance will only deepen the space that separates us.

No matter what happens, I’m grateful for the impact Michael has had on me. He supported me during a critical time in my life, and now I have the opportunity to do the same for him. Maybe we’ll go back to the edges of each other’s lives, the way we were for so many years in school, but we will always have the memories of a closer time.

And maybe that’s just what some people are meant to do. They are here to guides us during a chapter of our lives, so that we will meet the people we’re supposed to meet and become the people we’re supposed to be.

*Name has been changed.


One tree in the front yard, or two? Wood siding, or brick? Have I ever even set foot in the backyard?

These questions roll through my mind during the drive to Dallas. It’s been over 10 years since I last visited my aunt’s house, but 4 short hours later, here we are. The front walk is like memory lane, leading me to answers I didn’t realize I had forgotten.

* * *

I’m 7 years old, sitting at the dining table, legs tucked underneath me. I hold out one finger, my body tensed in fear of being bitten. Inside a brass cage, yellow and blue feathers rustle, punctuated by twin chirps. My aunt opens a little door and slips her hand in. Next thing I know, tiny claws are dancing across my pointer finger. I relax and smile.

* * *

I’m 9 years old, playing Hearts on my laptop. My cousin, older and wiser, leans over and shoulders me out of the way. “Have you heard of an mp3?” he asks. As I shake my head, he is already typing and clicking and downloading a few things from his server at MIT. “It’s the future of music,” he assures me. Soon we are listening to some song called “Sweetest Thing” by some band called U2 on some program called Winamp. Impressed, I nod to the beat and try to sing along with the chorus.

* * *

I’m 10 years old, knocking tentatively on my cousin’s bedroom door. He doesn’t say to come in, but he doesn’t say to go away either. I close the door softly behind me. He’s sitting on the bed, face red with anger, eyes wet with tears. I sit down on the floor in front of him, but he just keeps staring hard at the opposite wall.

After several minutes of silence, I ask if he wants to play Connect Four. He still doesn’t say anything, but he scoots off the bed and slides the board game out. We’re dropping our red and black checkers into place when his father comes in to apologize. But he never actually says he’s sorry. He just holds his arms out and waits. They hug silently, my cousin’s small body stiff, my uncle’s hand heavy on his back.

* * *

I’m 12 years old, up late for no real reason. While the rest of the house sleeps peacefully, my typing fills the darkness. A childhood friend is teasing me over chat, but I feel something else coming. Something exciting and frightening.

Oh god, there it is. But what do I do now? What do I do with those three little words? I want them — of course I want them — but not from him, not right now.

Joy, regret, and panic churn inside me. With tears in my eyes, I type, “I’m sorry.” I hit send. I sign off.

I don’t sleep that night.

* * *

I’m 26 years old, sharing a mattress with my mother. In the morning we wake to soft light filtering in through the windows. Still half-asleep, we stay in bed, lying on our backs and talking. Catching up, sharing stories.

Memories layer one on top of the other, new on top of old, hers on top of mine. It’s been over 10 years since I last visited my aunt’s house, but pieces of me linger, hanging on the walls next to the photographs. I collect them now, questions and answers no longer forgotten.

One tree. Brick. Still not sure.


One of the hardest things to do after you leave school is keep in touch with your friends. You no longer get to see them every day in class or at lunch. You no longer call each other to solve calculus problems or chat about the Homecoming game. In some cases, like ours, you no longer even live in the same state. So what’s the secret to our success?

Effort.

We chat online several times a week, and we talk on the phone once or twice a month. Actually one of our favorite ways to keep in touch is to write letters, usually on goofy stationery we forgot we had. (Yes, people do still use pen and paper and the US Postal Service.) But even though we tend to rely on hightech methods of communication, the best way to keep in touch is lowest on the tech scale: seeing each face to face and hanging out in person.

That’s exactly what we did last month when Angie came to Cincinnati.

Day 1 started normal enough: Kristan went to work and Angie was dropped off at the airport. Unfortunately, Angie’s itinerary consisted of a full day of traveling on the world’s smallest planes — from Austin to Cleveland, then Cleveland to Dayton. Then there was a delay in Austin, which resulted in the itsy bitsy plane being restarted three times, and Angie began to worry about being late. Ironically, Angie ended up arriving early to Dayton, and Kristan was the one running late.

After a belated but happy reunion at the airport, we drove an hour through the pouring rain back to Kristan’s office to finish an important project and run it to FedEx. We got to FedEx at 8:58 pm — exactly 2 minutes before they would have closed, i.e., exactly 2 minutes before Kristan would have been fired.

Needless to say, we were both happy to go home and relax that night. And with Andy gone on a business trip, we were able to have some quality girl time.

Highlight of the day: The “7th grade sleepover,” reminiscing about the past as well as wondering about the future.

Day 2 was a little more relaxing. Angie spent the day getting to know Riley (the puppy) while Kristan was at work. That night Andy came back from Chicago and the three of us had a lovely dinner, followed by an even better dessert.

Highlight of the day: Black Raspberry Chip ice cream from Graeter’s. Officially Angie’s favorite thing about Cincinnati.

Kristan used a Personal Day on Friday (Day 3) to spend time with Angie. They took Riley to Eden Park, had dinner at Newport on the Levee — think: subdued version of Kemah — and walked across the Purple People Bridge from Ohio to Kentucky. Strangely, many of Cincinnati’s attractions are actually in Kentucky.

Highlight of the day: An adorable older woman telling us she wished she had a camera to take a picture of the three of us — Kristan, Angie and Riley — as we sat on a giant swing sculpture in the park.

Day 4 started with an exhausting but exhilarating aerobic dance class at nine in the morning. Afterwards, Angie said, “Let’s go for a run!” and Kristan gave her a look that said, “Over my dead body. No, really.” Then we drove around East Walnut Hills to look at ridiculous mansion-like houses and take pictures, much like we used to do in Houston.

Highlight of the day: Flailing limbs in the back row of dance class despite Kristan’s dance lessons and Angie’s ballroom course.

Day 5 was very food-focused, with waffles, bacon, and strawberries for breakfast at home, and then grocery shopping at Jungle Jim’s — an international market with singing Campbell’s Soup cans, bumper cars, and other strange novelties. We also did some clothes shopping, but after looking at our receipts, we don’t feel like talking about that…

Highlight of the day: Spending half an hour agonizing over which novelty candy bars to get. Lion Bars from Europe, Pocky from Japan, or Sky Bars from (1940s) America?

And finally on Day 6, Angie “got” to relax at home again, because Kristan had to work and forgot that the art museum is closed on Mondays. Luckily Angie didn’t mind, because she got to play with Riley again!

Highlight of the day: Singing off-key and talking about life while driving back to the airport in the PT “Party Time” Cruiser.

Maybe it wasn’t some wild and crazy, Hollywood-style, Thelma and Louise best friend weekend, but we had a good time even without Brad Pitt or getting chased by the police. Our friendship grew stronger, and we know it will continue to grow because of all the effort we put in. And the best part is, in a good friendship, effort doesn’t feel like effort at all. It’s just fun.

So whether by phone, World Wide Web, postal service, or in person, go keep in touch with a friend. It’s totally worth it.