Motherhood Is

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Artwork credit: “Mother’s Day” by Chihiro Iwasaki, 1972

Motherhood is indefinable.
It is faceless;
It is pervasive.
It is both all-encompassing and understated.

It’s an umbrella.
It shields;
It protects.
It is both forgotten and celebrated.

Motherhood demands industry and ingenuity.
It is tireless;
It is thankless.
It is productive.

It’s a verb.
It is active;
It is passive.
It is.

To mother is to become an unyielding force with the power to move heaven and earth.
It is to part ways with your past, to lose a piece of yourself to the future.

To mother is to crack open your heart, exposing it raw to vulnerability, to depth, to love, to hope.

To become a mother is to see the dawn of a new day for both yourself and another.
It is to know someone instantly and intimately without even knowing their name;
To give someone life, someone who changes your very purpose.

To mother is to be woven into a story outside of yourself, an ancient history bound together by hundreds of thousands of years of sisterhood.

Motherhood is sisterhood.
It is community.
It is strength.

To mother is to err, rage, wilt, grow;
To question, doubt, and evolve.
It is to worry and weigh;
It is to change and be changed.

To mother is to mentor, curate, guide, heal;
To listen, defend, teach, and learn.
It is to hold;
It is to comfort and be comforted.

It is to apologize and to give thanks.

Motherhood is trying.
Motherhood is jubilant.
It exposes us to the far reaches of the human experience.

To mother is to feel so deeply, to love so fiercely, that you welcome an unknown future with open arms, because in that future, with all of your tomorrows, lies your whole heart.

The Case for Romance Novels

Happy day after Valentine’s Day! I’m taking a much-needed break from my recent Vampire Diaries binge to bring you a special edition book post, and what better day to discuss the merits of romance novels, the literature of love, than today, the day after the corporate-sponsored holiday of love?

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No, I don’t read this language. Thank you, stock photography.

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P.S. For those who are interested, I’m on season 5, episode 19 of TVD. This means that, in three and a half weeks, I’ve watched (gulp) roughly 71 hours of the show. Lord help me. #stelenaforever

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At this point, I’m so entrenched in the show I feel like these are my real friends.

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Okay! Back to a different kind of unreality.

In 2016, I read 115 books. Unlike in years past, where I’d typically read one romance out of every 10 books, last year I reversed that ratio. Yes, you calculated that correctly. I read 103 romance novels last year, and I like to think that I did it for science.

I’ve always loved romance novels. In fact, when I was young, I’d sneak over to my grandma’s hidden bookshelf, selecting the book with the most windblown, chest-bared, ruggedly handsome man I could find, and furtively rifle through its pages to read the juicy parts. (Interestingly enough, those more traditional types of romances typically include phrases like “juicy parts,” not to mention “heaving bosom” and “swollen loins.” They’re not all like this, I promise).

Nowadays, I find myself turning to romance novels when I need a pick-me-up. Last year was heavy, politically and socially, and I found myself more and more attracted to them (no pun intended) for this reason. I decided that by reading over 100 romances in one year, I’d be conducting a bit of research to help you, dear readers, discover what it is that is so delicious about reading a sultry romance novel, and why you shouldn’t discount the genre based on your assumptions or what you may have read in the past.

Listen up. If you haven’t already delved into the world of romance, you’re missing out.

Attention family members, this might be where you want to tap out. Our relationships will probably be better off if you don’t know too much about my love of romance novels.

5 Reasons to Read a Romance Novel

Today’s world of romance novels is very different from how it used to be. The proliferation of e-readers and self-publication has allowed the genre to explode (not to mention the success of erotic–albeit poorly written–fiction like Fifty Shades of Gray; trust me, my recommendations are much better). If you dig the old-school Fabio-esque covers, by all means continue to read them. But if you’re looking for something a little more updated in terms of relatability (read: less “petal-soft folds” (shudder) and more literally anything else), there are so many good reads available to you.

Why should you take the time?

1. They provide a wonderful escape from reality

Seriously, romance novels whisk you away to a fantasy land where awkward situations actually make you smile, fictional hotties make your heart flutter, and any bad or cringe-worthy thing that happens to the characters doesn’t actually affect you in real life. Really any fiction could do this, but romance novels are a much sexier and more pleasurable (again, no pun intended) escape than, say, a drama set in a post-apocalyptic bomb shelter. Which leads me to my next point…

2. They make you happy

Reading romance novels allows you to experience the feeling of falling in love over and over again. You know, that feeling that makes you warm and fuzzy all the way to your toes, that warms your heart and makes you swoon, and that makes you smile like an idiot, in this case down at the pages? Who wouldn’t like to experience that?! Bitter over a breakup? Read a comedic romance and believe in love again. Happy in your relationship? Read a steamy romance and skip to #4. No matter your life story, a romance novel is almost a sure-fire way to cheer you up.

3. They are short and easy to read

It seems like most romances today are between 200 and 300 pages. The language used is also very approachable and easy to understand (and many times very well-written!), making them perfect candidates for a fast read. Plus, they almost always follow a predictable arc: couple meets, couple falls in love, couple experiences some heart-wrenching moment that almost or does break them apart, couple comes together with a love stronger than ever. You know what you’re getting into with a romance novel, and that kind of predictability is especially nice in a world that generally isn’t so.

4. They are great for your own romantic life

Romance novels are great for your sex life. There’s nothing like reading about other people getting it on to make you want to as well. As a bonus, you’ll also have some fun new ideas to try out at home (or wherever the mood strikes, that is). Trust me. Read a romance and you and your partner will thank me (and if there is no partner, nothing’s stopping you from enjoying the mood by yourself).

5. There’s a genre (and recommendation) for everyone

Unless you are asexual, you cannot tell me there is no genre of romance that appeals to you. Here are a few recommendations to get you started, but Google or Goodreads can help you find more titles than you could possibly imagine. There is something for everyone (and no judgment here how dark you get; I’ve read some bizarre ones myself).

Contemporary romance

Contemporary romance is a blanket term for any romance that takes place from about 1950 to today, and there are several subcategories within it. If you start to dig around, you’ll also see the term “new adult” romance used quite a bit, which really just means a romance that takes place between 20-30-somethings. Since that’s mostly what I read, you’ll see a lot of crossover with my recommendations and those lists.

Alpha male

Right

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Right by Jana Aston
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This is the second, and my favorite, book in the Wrong series (Wrong is listed below, but I really liked all four books), so I’d recommend not reading it first. The hero is a successful and confident businessman, but unlike others in the alpha male category, he is simultaneously sensual and sweet. The heroine, meanwhile, is a know-it-all who thinks she’s destined to be with someone else. Though she’s irritating at times, I was quickly won over by the story and his rather exhilarating efforts to prove her wrong.

Friends-turned-lovers

Blurred Lines

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Blurred Lines by Lauren Layne
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Two friends who decide to embark on a no-strings-attached relationship is a trope that’s been done time and time again, but this one included just the right mix of friendship, romance, conflict, emotion, and sexual chemistry that it kept me turning the pages until I finished.

The Hookup

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The Hookup by Kristen Callihan
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There are a lot of sports romances, and I usually tend to avoid them because the characters can be so meathead-y, which isn’t really my thing. This book (and the subsequent books in the series, The Friend Zone and The Game Plan, both of which I also really enjoyed) took me by surprise because the jocks turned out to be fleshed out, intelligent, and thoughtful characters. Shame on me, perhaps, for thinking they’d be otherwise. In this friends-to-lovers, opposites attract book, the heroine tries her hardest to resist her attraction to who she assumes is nothing more than a cocky football god. She finally relents, they hook up, and the chase that follows is funny, heartwarming, and incredibly sexy. This entire series was enjoyable and well-written.

The Virgin Romance Novelist

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The Virgin Romance Novelist by Meghan Quinn
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Friends-to-lovers is perhaps my favorite category of romance, and I already wrote about this one in my Fall 2016 Reading List. It made me cringe, laugh out loud, and feel warm and tingly all at the same time.

With a Twist

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With a Twist by Staci Hart
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This is the first book in the Bad Habits series (the second, Chaser, is listed below). It tells the tale of a ballerina and a doctoral student who have been friends for a long time, but have never thought of each other as anything else. Once they start to consider their potential as something more, you’ll feel the slow burn of realization and desire, and will probably laugh a bit along the way.

Yours and Mine

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Yours and Mine by Lacey Silks
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Whereas the aforementioned recommendation made me laugh, this one made me cry some big ol’ fat tears. It’s a heartfelt yet tragic romance about two childhood best friends who become lovers. Yes, it still contains some nice sex scenes, but it’s a far deeper story than I expected and it left a mark on me in a very good way.

Non-specific romance

Friends without Benefits

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Friends without Benefits by Penny Reid
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Also mentioned in my Fall 2016 Reading List was the Knitting in the City series. This is the second of the series, but it’s the one I enjoyed the most. The heroine is a stubborn and sarcastic doctor who begrudgingly decides to let a hotshot comic back into her life after years of despising him. While she tries to resist it, the chemistry between the two is off the charts and the hero (a family man to boot) will have you hot, bothered, and swooning.

Idol

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Idol by Kristen Callihan
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This one can technically go in the rockstar subgenre, but since I don’t read too many of those, I put it here instead. Like some of the others on this list, it was another romance that surprised me by how much substance it contained. Sure, it included several titillating moments, but like The Hookup (above) before it, I was impressed by how well the author developed the characters and their relationship. I also loved the second book in the series, Managed.

I’ve Got Your Number

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I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella
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While this one doesn’t have any steamy sex scenes, it does offer adorably quirky (and not surprisingly British) characters, a far-fetched but fun plot, and a delightfully engaging budding romance.

Royalty

The Royal Marriage Market

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The Royal Marriage Market by Heather Lyons
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This one is kind of a friends-to-lovers book because they befriend each other to stave off unwanted marriage pacts, but because they are royalty, it gets lumped into this category. Perhaps their friendship is why I enjoyed it so much, but regardless, I loved their chemistry (you feel the heat pretty immediately), banter, and overall love story.

Some Like It Royal

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Some Like It Royal by Heather Long
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This is a pretty classic rags-to-riches Cinderella story, where the heroine is actually a long-lost princess and is persuaded by the handsome and intelligent self-made billionaire to act as his fiancée so he can use her royal heritage to successfully enter the European market. Naturally. As wonderfully unbelievable as the plot is, the romance between the two feels genuine, sexy, and sweet.

Historical romance

Three Weeks with Lady X

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Three Weeks with Lady X by Eloisa James
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I don’t read a lot of historical romance, and this one reminded me that I probably should. Its heroine was snarky, smart, and self-sufficient (especially rare in this genre), and its hero was strapping and headstrong, making for quippy dialogue and a fiery seduction.

Forbidden romance

There are several subgenres in the forbidden romance category, but these are some of the more interesting ones I read last year. You’ll quickly learn what you like and what you don’t if you start down this path. For instance, I learned I can’t stand infidelity, Stockholm syndrome, or abuse, so I’ve learned to steer clear of those.

Best friend’s brother or sister (or brother’s best friend)

Chaser

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Chaser by Staci Hart
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Here’s another comedic romance, this one about a scorned heroine who finds solace (if you want to call it that) in her brother’s best friend. The hero of the story is kind of a playboy, but ends up being incredibly sweet and charming as he tries to convince the girl that what they have is forever. This is the second book in the Bad Habits series (With a Twist, above, is the first).

Mr. O

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Mr. O by Lauren Blakely
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Don’t let the title of this one mislead you. Yes, it refers to the main character’s cartoon alter ego (he illustrates the dirty adventures of Mr. Orgasm), and yes he is a little sure of himself and his abilities to please women, but he’s secretly so charming and lovable. Told from the hero’s perspective, this book about a man falling for his best friend’s sister is the perfect combination of sizzling and dreamy.

My Best Friend’s Brother

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My Best Friend’s Brother by Hazel Kelly
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Another super common subgenre, I’ve read several iterations of this story. This is one of the ones I enjoyed the most, especially because it’s not just the best friend’s brother, but it’s also one of the main character’s best friends. And we all know I love that category of romance. The realization of their attraction and resulting sneaking around behavior adds to the sexiness and overall appeal.

 

Boss

The Sexy One

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The Sexy One by Lauren Blakely
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This was one of the most charming romance novels I read last year. Simon, the boss, is sexy, sweet, and smoldering, and, even better, a true gentleman, which isn’t something that can be said of all romance heroes nowadays. This one made my heart swell and my chest (and other areas) ache in the best ways.

Couple swap

The Ground Rules

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The Ground Rules by Roya Carmen
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This is about as far as I could go in terms of taboo romance genre and still enjoy it, and I’m glad I tried it. The jealousy that resulted from the swap made me a little on edge because, as stated above, I really don’t like any infidelity. But reminding myself that it was consensual, not under-the-table, and, of course, fictional, made it easier to enjoy. There were some pretty sexy scenes in there, after all, even though the writing was not all that great. I wouldn’t bother with the sequels.

Doctor

Wrong

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Wrong by Jana Aston
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Okay, stay with me. The doctor/patient relationship is quickly removed because of the obvious ethical dilemma it presents. What’s left is a powerful upper 30-something doctor and a younger 20-something student with scintillating chemistry. As stated above, I thoroughly enjoyed all of the books in this series (the others are RightFling, and Trust).

Professor/student

Losing It

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Losing It by Cora Carmack
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This was the first really good professor/student romance I read, where the dynamic wasn’t abusive or creepy, but just really sexy. Sure, it’s still a taboo relationship, but the chemistry and tension add so much to the overall reading experience. The other books in the series (Faking ItFinding It, and the novellas in between) were okay, but I enjoyed this one the best by far.

Pushing the Limits

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Pushing the Limits by Brooke Cumberland
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It’s surprisingly hard to find teacher/student romance novels that don’t take place between a high school student and his or her teacher (which I’ve read, but feel weird about), so I was pleased to find another great story that takes place in the college setting. After acknowledging but trying to deny their instant lust, the art student heroine has the unexpected opportunity to post nude for her class (and professor) and the heat that follows is reason enough to check this one out.

Roommates

Roomhate

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Roomhate by Penelope Ward
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Don’t be fooled by the Roommates title above; that was actually about stepsiblings who room together. Another popular subgenre, though, is actual roommates who become lovers. This one surprised me with its complex character development and overall story arc. While it’s as sensual as the best of them, I also really respect this romance because of how honest the characters are with each other; there are no unnecessary and immature games here like there are in so many other romance novels.

Stepbrother

Roommates

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Roommates by Hazel Kelly
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This is a very common subgenre (don’t be so shocked!), and there are some really bad ones out there. But there are some pretty hot ones, too, and this is one of them. The being-forced-to-live-together factor upped the tension and the resulting chemistry was really enjoyable. The second one in the series (My Best Friend’s Brother, above) was also worthwhile.

Need more recommendations?

Let me know what you like and I’ll help you find one!

4 Ways to Get Started

The above list of recommendations is long (and by no means extensive) and the lists you’ll find elsewhere are even longer. Don’t let that intimidate you! Here are my tips for how to start.

1. Use your e-reader

I am ALL FOR supporting local bookshops, but I’ve found that with the amount of romances I read, it’s fastest, cheapest, and easiest to read romance novels on my Kindle or Kindle phone app (which is free, by the way). Plus, you’ll be able to read those erotic scenes on public transportation without fear of embarrassment or judgment. Only your flushed face will give you away.

2. Check out the library & sign up for Kindle Unlimited

Romance novels rarely cost more than $5-7 apiece, but you’ll quickly realize how fast that adds up if you read as many of them as I did last year. My suggestion to curb the cost is to check out your local library to see if they have any e-reader licenses for the titles you want to read. I also recommend signing up for Kindle Unlimited, which has several romance titles and allows you to download as many of them as you want for $10 a month.

3. Be open-minded

Start with one of the suggestions above and go from there. You’ll learn quickly what you like and what you don’t, similar to what I mentioned about forbidden romance. I’ve been known to go down several subgenre or author rabbit holes because I’m temporarily intrigued by a particular style of writing or topic.

My favorite romance novels include some hot scenes, but also offer a good amount of substance and romance, too. Others just want to read about sex and that’s okay. Still others don’t want to read about any sex at all and just want the love stories. You’ll figure out what kinds of books you enjoy, how you like them told (POV is a big deal in the romance novel world), and what level of spice you want. Like I’ve said repeatedly, there is something for everyone. There’s even Christian romance!

4. Don’t settle for terrible writing

Many romance authors write beautifully, some write a little less beautifully, and some are just plain terrible. Don’t read the latter! If you start a book and you’re appalled by its writing, stop! Life is too short to settle for crappy quality. The nice thing about the Kindle is that you can return a title after you’ve started it. I’ve done this on more than one occasion and I don’t feel guilty in the least.

The Last Word

While I don’t plan to read another 103 romances this year, I do openly acknowledge that I love the romance books and will continue to read them for as long as I can read.

It really irritates me when people discount the entire genre, because it seems awfully presumptuous and close-minded to believe there is no good literature in such an enormous category. If you fall into this group of people, then I hope to have given you a little motivation to at least try to change your mind.

If you are a little more excited about the prospect of reading a romance, then welcome to the club. I hope you can find something here that suits your fancy.

As always, I’d love your recommendations. Please feel free to comment with your favorite romance novels; I’m always adding to my list.

 

 

Hard is Hard

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Today I sat down and started writing a post about infertility, specifically what not to say to someone struggling with it.

Infertility is an emotionally loaded topic and one that is tough to unravel. Despite it being profoundly common–one in eight couples has difficulty conceiving or sustaining a pregnancy–infertility still carries a stigma. While it really sucked to have to deal with it myself, I like to share my experience to help break down the walls that make it so. Maybe I can help other infertile couples, or, almost more importantly, help their support networks feel better equipped to provide the kind of support the couple needs. 

But that is neither here nor there. As I was writing the post, something made me pause. When dealing with infertility, one of the most frustrating things people told me was that they “understood completely” what we were going through. As I was trying to describe why, it occurred to me that this frustration is not exclusive to infertility. This is something we all face in some way or another.

You know those memories that make you cringe when you recall them? Even years later, I feel nauseated when I think of some of the stupid, insensitive things I’ve said and done. I like to think I’m a good person, and that my friends and family know I would never try to make them feel bad. If we were purely logical beings, it wouldn’t be a problem because we wouldn’t take everything to heart. But we are human beings, and emotions are fortunately or unfortunately part of the package.

Humans are programmed to empathize. We thrive on forming connections to better understand, relate to, and support each other. But empathy is tricky. Unless we’ve experienced exactly what someone else is going through, we’d often be better off trying to show sympathy, and showing compassion for that person’s struggle instead of trying to relate to it our own.

In the case of infertility, I didn’t want people telling me that they understood because it took them “four whole months” to conceive. I also didn’t want people telling me that they understood but that we were lucky because it took them “much longer.” Either one seemed to downplay the pain I was feeling. I just wanted to wallow in a little self-pity and experience my struggle for what it was to me. I wanted someone to say they were there for me and that it sucked. That it must be hard for me. That self-pity may not have been healthy, but it was important that my emotions and feelings were validated for what they were.

Basically, I didn’t want my difficulty being compared on some kind of scale to what someone else had experienced.

Just by nature, when we empathize, we compare. We relate what we are hearing to what we know. Don’t get me wrong, we need empathy. Many of us have experienced similar things and it does feel good to talk about them. Therapeutic even. But here’s what I’ve come to realize:

Hard isn’t relative. Hard is hard.

Just because what we struggle with is different and may carry different consequences doesn’t mean one thing is easier than the other. Even when dealing with my own challenges, there is no need to belittle my current feelings because something I dealt with in the past was “harder.” It was hard then and it is hard now. This is true for anything: loss, illness, relationship struggles, weight gain, weight loss, trying to quit a bad habit, etc.; the list goes on and on. It doesn’t matter, and that’s the most eye-opening part of this realization for me.

Sometimes bad news is awkward to hear. We often don’t know what to say or how to respond, so we stammer out the first thing that pops into mind. We mean well, of course, but a lot of times whatever we say is just not helpful. In a lot of ways we’re automatically programmed to find common ground when instead we should accept that our problems aren’t relative to each other. They are problems and they are hard. Period.

The idea of giving ourselves space to feel what we feel is freeing. It’s important to know that when someone does compare your hard situation to one of theirs, they are most likely trying to be helpful. We’re all just trying to relate to each other, so there’s no point in harboring resentment. It doesn’t matter if what you are going through seems to you to be miles ahead of where they are; hard is hard.

Similarly, we should cut ourselves some slack when feeling guilty because we can’t relate to someone else’s challenge. It’s okay to sympathize and not quite understand. You don’t need to apologize for your life’s challenges or lack thereof. At some point, you’ve surely faced some kind of problem. It doesn’t matter to what degree we experience pain or sorrow; hard is hard. We don’t have to live the same lives to support and acknowledge each other.

Most of the time, no matter the struggle, we’d be better off just saying, “I’m so sorry you’re going through that. I am here for you.” Accepting and practicing this would probably make all of our relationships richer.

From now on, I pledge to do my best to put this revelation into practice. When my friends and family are struggling, I want to be there for them in a supportive way and will try not unintentionally diminish or undermine their feelings by comparing my struggles to theirs, even if I’m just trying to connect with them. Instead, I will try to be better at lending a sympathetic ear and acknowledging their struggle at face value, without figuring out how it fits in my own life’s spectrum of difficult experiences.

Let’s all embrace that life can be hard, no matter what “hard” means to you. We’re all just trying to figure out what it all means anyway. There’s no sense in making in making that harder.