city girl blogs

10 Things I’ve Learned Over The Past 10 Years

10 years ago this week, I sat down at my laptop and clicked on WordPress.com. I didn’t think much about my handle and template, as I set up a blog. Within an hour, I wrote my first post about getting asked out by a younger man and pressed publish.

The act of blogging was simple. My emotions at that time in my life were anything but. At 35, I had ended my on-again, off-again relationship with Lawyer Boy a month prior. My head knew that was the right decision, but my heart had yet to get the memo. Combine that feeling with the effects from post-concussion syndrome and my disdain for Christmas since my mom died, and blogging provided an entertaining diversion.

Back in 2008, I couldn’t have imagined how much my blog would change my life. Here are 10 things I’ve learned over the past 10 years:

  1. For years, my friends had told me to write down my dating stories. In 2000, I had started a book about my earliest relationships, but didn’t continue with it. I joined Yelp in 2007 at a time when there was small, but tight-knit, Yelp community in DC. Several of the DC Yelpers had blogs, and some of my Yelp reviews referenced my dating adventures. I began to think that blogging about my relationships would be a good fit for me, too. I shared my site link with friends, but reached a broader audience when I signed up for Twitter in 2009. I think of the many people I now regard as friends who I met through Yelp, my blog, and Twitter over the past decade. I’m grateful for being a part of that time in digital culture since it led me to so many wonderful relationships.
  2. In 2008, I enjoyed being public about seemingly every aspect of my life. That worked for me in my 30s. My private life was anything but. Now, I read my old dating and sex advice posts and blush at just how much I put out there. At 45, I’m in a very different place in my life. Aside from the occasional schmoopie Tweet, I am protective of my relationship. Like so many of us in 2018, I curate what I post, which sites I post on, and why I post online.
  3. I bared my heart and soul on this site – with all of my flaws and mistakes. The guys who I hurt rarely stayed around, and I kept going back to the guys who treated me poorly. My dating life was a train wreck, which made for good reading. Schadenfreude – or others’ pleasure at my misfortune – led me to develop a thick skin. Through the blog, I grew to accept criticism and figure out what issues were mine to own and what weren’t.
  4. Digital media is inherently social. There’s the expectation of engagement and two-way conversation. When we post online or send a text or email, we typically anticipate a prompt response. I didn’t think about that 10 years ago, when I started blogging. As my site’s popularity grew, I expected – and at times, craved – likes, views and comments. Was an experience  legitimate, if I didn’t blog about it? As an early adopter to social media, I was very attached to my laptop and cell phone. I question how my relationships were impacted by how focused I was on building my site and my brand. I wouldn’t say that blogging impeded me from living my life, but there was a time when it altered how I lived my life.  Again, this was right for me then. It’s just not where I’m at now.
  5. Actions speak so much louder than words. Over the years, I’ve given a lot of good relationship advice. I just rarely took my own advice. I ran in the opposite direction of those guys who treated me well, preferring the intrigue and challenge of some smooth talkers. Since cancer, I have zero tolerance for games or drama, and I want to model healthy relationship choices for my daughter. It took me until my 40s, but I’ve finally learned.
  6. Back in 2010, I commented while on a date that the daughter I planned to adopt would be the love of my life. I had an idea as to how I would approach motherhood. I just didn’t realize that I would carry and give birth to my daughter, rather than adopting an older child. (And, yes, Roya is living proof of miracles.)
  7. After my diagnosis, I wrote a lot about preventative breast health. I don’t want to discredit the importance of early detection and monitoring. But, I’ve been reading a lot more about metastatic breast cancer (MBC) and urge you to do the same. Nearly 30% of early-stage breast cancers return as stage IV cancer — through no fault or control of the patients. There is no cure for MBC, and the median survival is three years. Despite all the advancements in breast cancer treatment and research, mortality rates have hovered around 40,000 people per year since 2000(!) with less than 7% of research dollars going to metastatic breast cancer. This needs to change!
  8. My blog’s success dramatically altered my professional path. As my site’s reach grew, I began to receive more and more relationship questions from readers. I decided to join the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists as a supporting member, attending sexual health workshops and trainings through the association. My involvement with AASECT led to several freelance writing clients, and I contemplated fully moving from my career as an immigration attorney to work as a sexuality educator. Then, I got diagnosed with breast cancer, and my life took another turn. Toward the end of treatment, American University students who had been reading my blog reached out to me to speak at the Social Learning Summit, the first student-run social media conference in the US. That panel led to me guest lecturing at AU on modern feminism and activism. After my talk, I sent out a Tweet with an idea to teach a class on Sexuality and Social Media at American. Within a month, I was on the books as an adjunct instructor in American Studies, and I became a full-time instructor in 2014.  I never imagined when I began this blog that it would lead me to my calling and connect me with so many inspiring faculty members and students.
  9. My 30s were a roller coaster. I had always envisioned my mid-40s to be a time of stability and maintenance. I was so very wrong. I never imagined that 45 would find me this exhausted and working this hard to get a seat at the table professionally. (Yes, there’s an article on The Fortysomething Hustle on my to-write list!)
  10. My blog changed as my life changed. In four years, my posts transitioned from sex advice to my experiences during chemotherapy to parenting difficulties. Through all the ups and downs, I kept writing my truth at that time. I came to this site out of heartbreak and loneliness, and now, I ironically don’t have time to write because I’m so busy. I keep this site up because it is my past, my own digital archives. I see not only how far I’ve come, but also how blogging led me to a life I never imagined. For that, I have no regrets and much gratitude.
stef woods, city girl blogs

           Photo Credit: Drea Goode Studios

To those who followed along and supported me online and offline, thank you from the bottom of my heart. xoxo

Time to Soar, Dearest A

It was October 2014. 

Roya was up two-three times a night every night. I was in my first semester as a full-time faculty member and teaching three classes. The nanny that I had hired for the year decided to leave the DC area. I managed to piece together a schedule with four babysitters – all of whom were full-time college students.

It was clear that I needed more consistent childcare. I took a chance and reached out to Nanny A, a friend of a friend, to see if she had some hours to spare. She thankfully did, and she began to watch Roya a week later. What started as occasional grading help grew into more hours and days with each passing season.

It was October 2014. 

I parted ways with Roya’s biological father without any tears or drama. I had wanted to be a 100% parent of a little girl, and thanks to God and him, I was.

A little over three years later, I’m reflective as to what an eventful month that October was. Back then, I didn’t know then what I know now…that having Nanny A join our family would be far more impactful than having The Man leave our family.

The love Nanny A has shown both Roya and me is unparalleled. The willingness to be there for us in our highest of highs and our lowest of lows has been unyielding. Nanny A is so much more than a nanny. She is my friend, she is the closest thing to a co-parent that I’ve ever had, and she is our family. She didn’t have to assume all of these roles, but she did. And, for that, I’m truly grateful.

Earlier this year, Nanny A and I talked about her professional plans. She is a successful writer and event planner, and at some point in the future, she wanted to focus on those endeavors exclusively. I knew that she needed to spread her wings, and her responsibilities with us would make that difficult to do. Her end date was on the horizon, but thankfully, she extended her time with us through the summer and fall. In October 2017 (three years to the week after she started with us), I again asked her about her plans. Nanny A would be moving on at the end of the year. It was official.

I cried on and off for 48 hours. Correction, I sobbed. (Picture that messy crying where you can’t form a coherent sentence and your eyes are puffy when you wake up the next day.)

Nanny A’s last date is getting closer, and moving the calendar to December has brought me to tears yet again. There is so much that I will miss about her, but to highlight just a few things:

  • How I can text her at any hour of the day for advice, a laugh or just to say hi
  • How Roya can literally hug her for hours
  • All the special things that she and Roya share together from their favorite restaurants to taking the bus to reading certain stories
  • How she turns into Mama Bear when anyone tries to mess with Roya
  • Our dance parties in the hall
  • How many times we have laughed until we had tears in our eyes

I haven’t wanted to finish this post for a week because that makes this truly real. After next week, Nanny A will no longer be in our home on a regular basis. Last night, as R went to hug us both she said, “Family hug.” She knows now, and I will make sure she always knows that Nanny A is a part of our family.

Stef Woods, city girl blogs

There are no words to do justice to what Nanny A has meant to us nor what she will accomplish. But, the words of the scholar Rumi come to mind:

You were born with potential. You were born with goodness and trust. You were born with ideals and dream. You were born with greatness. You were born with wings. You were not meant for crawling, so don’t. You have wings. Learn to use them and fly.

I anxiously await all the tales of how you will soar, Dearest A. And, until you return to visit, know you are loved and missed every day in big and small ways.

Once Upon A Time

Once upon a time, there was a Little City Girl.  Her parents raised her with love, support and opportunities.  They let her know that she could be anything that she wanted to be when she was older.

At 14, Little City Girl told her father that she wanted to go to Wellesley College and become a lawyer.

“Why do you want to be a lawyer?” he inquired.

“Because I like to write, debate and help people,” Little City Girl replied.

When she went to Wellesley several years later, the professors also impressed upon her and her classmates that they could be and do anything.

A college internship brought City Girl to Washington, DC, in 1993, and she fell in love with the nation’s capital.  After her internship ended, she stayed in DC and got a job as a legal assistant.  She went on to law school, and when she finally started to work as an attorney, she was thankful that an instinct that she had 12 years prior was the right one.

In her first job, she noticed that wearing a short skirt or a fitted sweater to work prompted inappropriate comments from her bosses.  With each subsequent position, she sported more pants suits and felt more comfortable informing male colleagues that their behavior was unacceptable.

She also learned that although her dating stories were entertaining, she had to be selective about what she shared with co-workers.  One partner only knew that she was dating an NFL player – without any specifics – and thought it funny to walk into a meeting after a football game, saying:

Your boyfriend can’t handle his balls.

In theory, she could do anything professionally that she wanted.  But, unfortunately, that didn’t mean that her age, gender, appearance or sexuality wouldn’t be topics of conversation or affect other people’s perceptions of her around the office.

When City Girl left firm life for a nonprofit, she began doing some legal policy work.  She always relied on facts and the law, rather than emotions, when speaking about a polarizing issue, but that didn’t stop a few very conservative people from sending her office hate mail.  Her former boss approached her about doing policy work exclusively.  She was flattered, but she worried that she would miss working directly with the clients if she chose that path.

In 2008, she decided to take a sabbatical from the law to focus on health issues and finish her master’s program.  As she prepared to write her thesis, she thought it would be fun to start blogging about her dating adventures.  She chose to blog anonymously so that if she reentered the policy arena, her sexuality wouldn’t be used against her.  (If she had received several pieces of hate mail and comments about her appearance or significant others without provocation, she knew that her sex life and dating mishaps would become ammunition for those who disagreed with her politics.)

As her blog readership grew, she began attending events as City Girl.  Quite a few people in DC knew both her real name and blog link, but they kindly respected her privacy.  Local online publications were also understanding, taking her picture with her name or quoting her as City Girl without using her name or face.  She managed with the help of others to remain anonymous from the legal policy world.

In 2010, City Girl wondered if it was worth taking another year away from the law to see where her blog could go and start teaching sexual health workshops.  She joined the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists and attended their annual conference. She also found a platform, as she wrote about the use of toxic ingredients in sex toys and the need for self-regulation.  Lotus Blooms and Fascinations at Fun Love approached her about writing for their sites and reviewing body-friendly products for them.  She began to ponder how she could advocate for safe sex toys on a larger scale.

When she was diagnosed with breast cancer in June of 2010, she decided to use her experience to try to raise awareness and help others.  Her friends and doctors knew that she was willing to talk about what she was going through, and opportunities to do just that followed.  The more that she talked about her experience and let others in, the more she wanted to continue to do so.

She finished chemotherapy and realized that she is stronger than she thought that she was.  She also realized that there’s much more for her to do as an advocate and that it’s time to come out from behind her laptop.  If she can help one more person through her blog, her photographs or her interviews, it’s worth it.  She accepts that she may never work again in the legal policy arena, although she wishes that there wasn’t a double standard with respect to female sexuality in the workplace.

Once upon a time, there was a City Girl with long, red hair named Stef Woods.

Stef Woods, City Girl, City Girl Blogs

  

Photo Credit: Kristina Hopper Photography

She’s bald now, but she still feels sexy.

  

Stef Woods, City Girl, City Girl Blogs

Photo Credit: Moshe Zusman Photography

Although she’s not exactly sure what will happen next, she trusts that she will live happily ever after.