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Celebrating the independent life

lady libertyLong ago, in a universe far away, I was married. And when that marriage ended and I moved out on my own for the very first time (I went from living with my family to living with college roommates to living with my husband), I thought I was going to die of loneliness.

I had no one to talk to, no one to snuggle with, and no one who would rub my shoulders when I got home from a long day of typesetting (I told you it was a long time ago). There was also no one to blame for the crumb-covered rug or the leaning tower of cereal bowls in the sink. It was just me. And it stayed just me until I fell in love with a handsome writer five years my junior (scandalous!) and we decided to live together.

Looking back on those times now, I laugh. I had only been on my own for six months – six months! – yet at the time it felt like an eternity. At this point, I’ve lived alone for nearly two decades and while I still have no one to blame but myself for the cereal bowls in the sink, I’ve learned that if my shoulders need rubbing, I can just go get a massage. Or ask one of my buddies for a backrub. Or lie down on my crumb-covered rug with a tennis ball under my aching shoulders. 

In other words, I’ve become much more comfortable with my single self. Why? I talk about some of the reasons in this Single Shot column celebrating independence.

Single Shot: O say, can you see how great living alone can be?

As much fun as it can be to live with a significant other — shared meals, shared laughs, shared love — there’s something pretty spectacular about living on your own.

First off, there’s no one to answer to. You can dance around your living room to bad ’70s rock at 6 in the morning. You can turn your bathroom into a shrine to Carlos Silva. For better or for worse (to borrow a phrase), it’s your show.

Right now, I’m sitting at my kitchen table wearing a vintage Hawaiian skirt and a black hooded sweat shirt. My hair’s pulled into a misshapen bun and I’m wearing two pairs of reading glasses. High fashion, I am not.

In fact, I may not even be hygienic. But that’s the beauty of living alone. You don’t have to worry about scaring a spouse with your haphazard fashion sense. You don’t have to apologize for snoring like a leaf blower. If you use the last drop of half-and-half or leave your dishes in the sink or spend your Saturday reading Mary Roach instead of taking out the recycling, it’s perfectly fine. You could say it’s your unalienable right.

For singles, every day is a celebration of independence.

Click here to read the rest. And Happy Independence Day, fellow singletons!

Are you a spreadsheet dater?

I got an email the other day from a writer from some British magazine, asking me if I had ever interviewed anyone who’d used an Excel spreadsheet for dating. She’d read one of the stories I’d written about how to keep your dates straight and was hoping I could connect her with a spreadsheet dater.

I didn’t think much of it until I got online and I stumbled onto a slew of stories about Excelgate (Spreadgate? Dategate?), the latest dating scandal to rock the online dating world.

Apparently, some poor sap back in New York (aka David Merkur, a 28-year-old banker with a thing for organization), made the mistake of telling a woman he was out with that he kept all of his online dating activity in an Excel spreadsheet. And not just any spreadsheet — one that featured names, email addresses, photos, 0-10 rankings for “online appearance,” comments regarding communication, reviews about meet-ups, etc.

That in and of itself isn’t completely over-the-top. A little wonky and anal, perhaps, but not downright stupid. But then Merkur’s date de jour asked if he would forward her the file (apparently, they were both heavy Excel users), and he did.

And that’s when the sheet started to hit the fan.

The date de jour promptly forwarded the eerily-detailed spreadsheet onto a few friends, who sent it on to their friends, until the whole thing ended up on Jezebel, ABC News, the TODAY show, The Huffington Post, and, who knows, maybe Portlandia sometime in the near future (“Put a spreadsheet on it!”)

According to the latest, one of the Merkur’s many potential online dates is even considering legal action, not against the banker but against Miss Trustworthy, the woman who spread the spreadsheet around, since it’s causing the woman so much grief. Apparently, Miss Trustworthy failed to redact any personal information like real names, phone numbers, email addresses, etc. before she forwarded it to, oh, I don’t know, 6,000,000 of her closest personal friends.  

“I’ve gotten a lot of calls from random people saying, ‘Oh, you’re the 9.5,'” the woman told ABC News, referring to the high rating Merkur gave her on his spreadsheet. “I think the guy is really nice,” she goes on. “I never met him and I don’t think he did something that bad. He was … trying to keep himself organized … ” As for the woman who sent out the cheat sheet, though, “Why would she send it to the whole world?” the woman wanted to know. “It was a really stupid move. My face is plastered everywhere now. I wasn’t looking for that. I was just thinking that I was using Match.com.”

Needless to say, a pro-spreadsheet dating movement is now gaining ground. In today’s New York Daily News, writer Porter Kaplan outed himself and his own obsessive-compulsive dating habits, admitting that he not only uses a spreadsheet for dating, but “I have spreadsheets to track my finances, the books I’ve read, the countries I’ve visited and which combinations of friends might enjoy a dinner party together.”

I don’t date enough to use a spreadsheet — or pie chart or Venn diagram — but I’ve definitely talked to highly organized types who either keep a spreadsheet or a private journal or a Word doc or some kind of cheat sheet to keep from getting their firefighters and financiers mixed up (as if). If you’re a serious online dater (i.e., you’re meeting new people at least three times a week), you have to have some kind of system even if it’s a Sharpie scrawl on the palm of your hand. Otherwise you end forgetting names and occupations or the fact that your date’s grandmother/sister/pet just died or celebrated their 75th birthday or is currently on Dancing with the Stars and end up looking — and feeling — like a jerk.

Personally, I don’t think it’s particularly creepy or douchy to keep track of your dating info — even subjective info like “nice face and bod” but “very jappy; one and done for me” (comments gleaned from Merkur’s detailed notes). Nor is that weird to add overly anal touches like color coding and bold-faced type to indicate particularly hot prospects.  The important thing is to make sure your little black book — or little black spreadsheet — stays safely tucked away in your hard drive, your underpants drawer, or your brain if you have trust issues (which my guess a lot of single software engineers and banking dudes are now experiencing).

Unless, of course, going viral with your love life is part of your master plan of getting more dates. In that case, my hat’s off to you, Spreadsheet Guy! Way to work the system. ; )

Do you Excel at dating? Or know someone who does? If so, I’d love to hear about it (as would at least one British journalist!).

Love in the time of chemotherapy

My second personal essay on breast cancer, Love in the Time of Chemotherapy, went live this morning on Today/MSNBC and yet again, I’m wondering if I’ve done something completely stupid, self-sabotaging, or — who knows — slightly inspirational. Here’s how it starts:

Call me crazy, but I went on a date two weeks after my double mastectomy.

It was also my first social outing since the surgery, not counting the shambling walks around my neighborhood or the sobering follow-ups with my doc who told me I needed both chemo and radiation since my cancer had been upgraded from Stage 1 to what I called Stage WTF.

The date — a double date, to be specific — was with some married friends and a buddy of theirs. It was very casual, which was good since I was still wearing my surgical drains (stuffed down the front of my pants at this point) and was about as prepared to hold a conversation with an eligible man as I was to walk on the moon.

Thanks to the painkillers, half the time I thought I was on the moon.

To read the rest, click here.

From the online comments so far, it appears that the essay seems to have provided a little humor and inspiration for people (particularly people who’ve gone through something similar) although my guess is the trolls will be waking up shortly and sharpening their knives (and keyboards) for the kill.

Needless to say, I’m feeling slightly exposed.

Not so much because of the essay itself but because of the before-and-after photo shoot that accompanied it. I normally don’t go out of my apartment — or even down to the basement to do my laundry — without makeup and hair. Granted, I do go “commando” (sans wig) when I run, but I wear a baseball hat and sunglasses and figure as long as I keep moving, no one’s going to recognize me. (Of course, the first time I ran without hair, one woman in my ‘hood did the whole sunglasses-pull-down-open-jawed-gape. Nice!)

Anyway, I’d love to discuss the difficulty of “coming out” to a national audience (not to mention every single man within a 1,000-mile radius) at some point, but need to leave that for another day. Right now, I’ve got a deadline looming and a radiation treatment awaiting me in just six short hours. Burn, baby, burn – radiation inferno!  (I’ve been trying to come up with soundtrack to encapsulate each phase of treatment. Hey, you do what you can.)

Again, thanks for all your support, kind words and interest in my writing.  And Enchilada01, if you’re reading this, thanks for the offer of the date! I’ll give it some thought. ; )

Writing about breast cancer is scary, too

So it’s been an interesting couple of days. My essay, Mastectomy and the Single Girl, went live yesterday on Today/MSNBC.com, garnering a lot of online comments. I’m happy to say most of them were supportive, although there were a few people who thought I was “crude and vulgar” or being too flip with regard to a horrible, devastating disease (uh duh — I have it) or that I was suffering not only from ILC (invasive lobular carcinoma) but a really bad case of TMI.

Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

Quite frankly, I still haven’t decided if I’m insane or stupid or brave or full of myself or what when it comes to sharing my story. I just know that I’m a writer and writers write about the stuff that happens to them. And when you suddenly lose a couple of body parts and then your hair and then your strength because you’re being pumped full of poison in an attempt to keep you from losing your life … well, that seems like something that might be worth delving into.

Even if it’s scary. Even if it’s uncomfortable.

And cancer — or any disease, for that matter — is not a comfortable topic.  When I was diagnosed I went looking for information on that topic, though, for stories from women who’d been through it.  Some of those stories depressed me.  (I told my friends if I heard the phrase “I couldn’t have done it without the love and support of my wonderful husband and partner” one more time, I was going to throw up, but hey, I’d just been dumped).

Others scared the bejesus out of me. Tip to those recently diagnosed: avoid the online breast cancer forums for a while — they’re full of information, but all you’ll focus on are the horror stories about how your fingernails are going to turn black and fall off during chemo. (FYI, mine didn’t.) Other stories helped me beyond words.

Anyway, I guess I’m just trying to return the favor by offering my take on the situation. And since I write humor and have always had a knack for saying inappropriate things (and I have the grade school report card comments to prove it), I’m not going to be presenting the Lifetime Channel version of breast cancer.

I’m just hoping that some woman, somewhere, who’s just heard from a radiologist or surgeon or oncologist that she, too, is a brand new member of the Breast Cancer Club, will find something useful in my experience. Will see that breast cancer is doable. And survivable. Will realize that cancer can take your boobs and your hair and your physical strength, but it can’t take your sense of humor. Or your will to live. Or in my case, my determination to kill this motherfucker of a disease one bad joke at a time.

Many thanks to those of you who’ve sent me comments and subscribed to this blog. Your support means a lot. Gotta run now. I’ve got tap dance class.

Mastectomy and the single girl

I’m still not sure if this was really brave or really stupid, but whatever the case, I decided to write a series of personal essays about my battle with breast cancer for Today/MSNBC.com.  The first, “Mastectomy and the Single Girl,” went live today. Here’s how it starts:

Most people cry and cuss and rage at the universe when they’re first diagnosed with breast cancer.

Me? I scheduled a pin-up shoot.

Not that I didn’t do all of that other stuff, too, along with cracking bad jokes and mocking any and all medical personnel within spitting distance.

When the radiologist — aka Dr. Debbie Downer — came into that small dark room to tell me that the ultrasound had found three masses in my two breasts, I cried and raged plenty. I also told her I couldn’t have cancer because I was health writer, as if knowledge comes with a protective shield.

But just like the other 230,000 plus women diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S. every year, I had no shield. What I had instead was a needle biopsy, which confirmed that the masses were all positive for invasive lobular carcinoma, a “sneaky” cancer seldom found in the early stages because it doesn’t create a lump.

One of the tumors had caused a tuck, though, a small dent under my left nipple. That dent — and the fact that I had checked it out — undoubtedly saved my life.

To read the rest of the piece, click here.   To find out more about Old School Pinups, the people who did my pin-up shoot (including the attached photo), click here

My next essay, “Love in the Time of Chemotherapy,” will come out next week (I’ll post another link when it goes live).  As always, folks, I look forward to your thoughts on the piece.

Unless your name happens to be “SueinTX“.  Sheesh lady, lighten up. I got cancer here!  ; )

The cancer kiss-off

As luck would have it, one of the first things that happened to me after my breast cancer diagnosis, was the guy I was seeing decided it was all too much for him. Or I was too much for him. Or something.

Anyway, since post-diagnosis dumping is a pretty common phenomenon (for women), I decided it might make an interesting story.  My piece, “Cancer kiss-off:  getting dumped after diagnosis” went live on Today/MSNBC.com last week.  Here’s how it starts:

Getting diagnosed with breast cancer is bad enough. But getting dumped by the guy you’re seeing right afterwards is sort of like finding a piece of spoiled lettuce on your crap sandwich.

Granted, the guy I was dating wasn’t exactly husband — or even steady boyfriend — material; it was far too early in the game for that. But there was something there. Until things started getting “heavy.” Then, not only was the “something” gone, so was he.

Unfortunately, I’m not alone when it comes to the cancer kiss-off.    

When Cindy Wine was diagnosed with breast cancer 10 years ago, she came home from her first radiation treatment to an empty house.

“My husband said he couldn’t go with me — he was too busy at work,” says the 55-year-old former radio host from Indianapolis. “But when I got home, all of his stuff was gone. I felt like somebody had punched me in the gut.”

For the rest of the story, click here.

Single Shot gets double whammied

As some of you may have noticed, it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything new on this blog. Part of the radio silence was because I was really busy with my writing; in addition to my usual freelance assignments, I started working on a novel.  

But in February of this year, I was sidetracked with something else: breast cancer.

I don’t know if breast cancer and the single life are all that intertwined —  there are plenty of studies regarding breast cancer and age, ethnicity, geographic location, etc., but nothing on marital status — but I thought I might as well start posting a few of my thoughts and stories on the subject. What the heck, it’s my blog.  ; )

But first a few vitals for those who might be interested.  After finding a weird “tuck” on my left breast, I went for a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound on February 4, 2011 and was told I had three tumors in my two breasts. A needle biopsy the following week found yet another tumor. On February 11, my radiologist called to tell me all of the tumors were positive for invasive lobular carcinoma. On February 18, I met with my surgeon for the first time and she told me I would need a double mastectomy (talk about a bad first date). After two very rough months, that took place on April 18. 

While at first my surgeon thought I might be able to get away with “just” the double mastectomy and hormone therapy (i.e., tamoxifen for the next five years),   more fun awaited me when the post-surgery pathology report came back. Due to the size of the tumors (the “two” tumors in my left breast were actually one) and some minor lymph node involvement (again on the left side), I was told I would need further treatment.

So what did I do with my summer vacation?  Chemo, which is not nearly as much fun as it seemed on Sex and the City. I had four infusions total — my particular cocktail was taxotere and cytoxan — with my last infusion taking place August 8.  Chemo was every three weeks with only the first week being the really bad one. But it does wear a body down, so much so that by the time I was done, I could barely walk up the four flights of stairs to my apartment without stopping to rest about eight times. Thankfully, after a few weeks’ recuperation, I was up and running again – literally. At this point, I’ve been able to kick all of the chemo side effects to the curb (except for the hair loss, grrrr) and am halfway through radiation. Woo hoo!

So that’s the scoop on that.  As for the single life – particularly life as a single woman with breast cancer — I’m doing a series of stories on the subject for Today/MSNBC.com. I’ll post them as they go live. And I look forward to any questions you might have about this whole breast cancer thing, which I’m personally trying to treat like a really bad case of the mumps.

That’s it for now. Cheers to you all and thanks for reading.


What’s the story?

Meet Diane Mapes, your friendly neighborhood freelance writer. My regular beats include health, lifestyle and singles issues, but I also love writing about history, natural history, pop culture and TV/film. On this site, you'll find links to my latest stories, media appearances, and, yes, a bit of social commentary on the single life. Also here, info on upcoming classes and events, a library of clips, and a few shameless plugs about my books (hint: see links below). Have fun, glad you're here and hope to hear from you soon.

Oh! And if you're looking for my breast cancer blog, go to Double_Whammied

Check out my books!

How to Date in a Post-Dating World A dating manual for the modern, mangled single.

Single State of the Union
Single women speak out on life, love and the pursuit of happiness.

Follow me on Twitter!

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