The 99% Real Housewives of Orange County

Before I moved to Orange County from the San Francisco bay area four years ago I wondered whether the OC stereotype was true.

Would there really be rows and rows of tree lined streets and manicured yards?

Would attractive men of ambiguous age with carefully arranged “careless” hairstyles spill out of every Starbucks one hand on their BlackBerry, the other on their extra foam soy chai latte?

Would shiny $50,000 SUV’s driven by impeccably dressed and impossibly thin moms jockey for the last compact space at Costco while their faux-hawked toddler sipped contentedly from his organic Pom juice, the Bugaboo neatly folded in the back?

Would the skies really be not cloudy all day?

The answer, actually, is yes.

I'm starting to wonder, is that really such a bad thing?


I’ve never really considered myself as “fitting in” well.

Most of the time in new situations I end up with friends, but I’ve always felt it was more of a fluke – that I had manipulated them through the powers of my constant talking. Or maybe the hypnotic nasal quality of my voice?

When we lived in Orange County the first time, we lived in a nice neighborhood. We had brand new cars. I had a personal trainer and housekeeper and weekly facials and massages. My second home was Nordstrom. What wasn’t to love?

We lived there for exactly one year. It was the worst year of my life.

I hated myself.

I felt isolated. I felt judged. I felt lonely. (This was also – surprise! – when I started this blog.) I honestly can’t tell you how much of my problem was my projecting or how much was that women truly did not want to be my friend. But, I can tell you that I put myself out there. I arranged dinners. I arranged play dates. I tried to finagle myself into the right cliques.

And yet, each experience was a disaster.

I didn’t want to believe the OC housewife stereotype, but my interactions were not far from it. Lunch conversations were dominated by talk of money or appearance: who owned what where and how much equity they had, who was gated, who wasn’t, who had had Botox, who needed it. Contractors, nannies, and hairstylists’ information were routinely passed around - the trading cards of suburbia.

Everyone looked flawless, but no one dared acknowledge it. As if we were all encouraging each other’s denial that we weren’t just effortlessly thin and blonde and tan with white teeth and invisible pores.

I tried to play the part (“Of course you should always overpay your nanny!”), but inside I felt hopeless that I would never connect with these women. That I would never again have a real friend. That I would never fit in.

How can we become friends, I thought, when I know more about your granite’s origin than your own?

When we moved three years ago, I was grateful to move somewhere that was so un-Orange County. To move somewhere without the pressure to be perfect. Ah, I thought, NOW I’ll be happy.

Yes, well. Careful what you wish for.

What originally appeared to be “individuality” in the city soon looked like indifference. And what we considered “casual” eventually seemed sloppy and "unpretentious" turned into downright depressing.

What a surprise. Miserable again!

But, then an amazing thing happened. I started to have real problems.

My dad and aunt died within a year of each other. I developed crippling anxiety. Chris and I hit some marital bumps. Then, we nearly lost everything when we couldn't sell our house.

Nothing snaps a girl into reality like those experiences.

Now that Orange County is again where we call home, I'm seeing it with new eyes.

The eyes of someone who isn’t desperate to fit in.

The eyes of someone confident of their worth.

The eyes of someone who isn’t trying to compete.

It's a whole lot more fun this way.

We’re renting in a neighborhood of homeowners. My budget is wound so tight that I’m eying Savannah’s High School Musical 2 piggy bank every morning while I make my own damn coffee. I haven’t had a facial or a massage since yesteryear. My toes are still wearing Yvonne’s nail polish from Blogher. I shop at Old Navy when I have a coupon. I’m as pale as the driven snow since tanning has been low on the priority list lately. And my roots are getting to the point where I look like I’m wearing a yamaka.

And yet. I could not love it here more.

In the three weeks since school started? I’ve had two lovely lunches, a play date, five party invites, and a girls’ dinner (finally! drinks!). But, who’s counting? I’ve been welcomed with open arms by every single woman I’ve met since moving here.

(Almost every.) (What is wrong with that one uptight chick who won’t smile back? I see your eyes through your sunglasses, lady. I know you see me.)

I look around here now and I see so much to love about this place – so much I missed the first time around. I see ambitious dads and fun-loving moms. I see parks on every block and a million excuses to put on your shoes and go outside. I see concerts and art shows and martini bars. I see good conversation and even better food.

Were all these opportunities to make friends and live life here before?

Were all these funny talented women here before?

It makes me wonder now, who was doing the judging after all? How much of my first experience was about who I was then?

I’m so glad that we gave this place another chance. Because when you peel back the first layer, there’s a lot of gooey goodness underneath.

Orange County: It’s like a scab!

I think I should submit that to City Hall.

**Also, can we just breathe a sigh of relief that Yvonne is okay? I love her more than all my shoes combined and I’m hugging her with my keyboard. Tightly.

***What's that you say? You say I claimed to have stories? That for some reason I am not sharing? It is true. I do. And I pinky swear one of them is going up over the weekend.


Laural Dawn said...

wow. this was so beautifully written. To say i can relate is such an understatement. You're right - things change when serious events occur and I think you start to care a little less about how others perceive you and more just about living life.

I think it's called growing up.(I don't mean that sarcastically) I know I had a whole lot of growing up to do and I still do.

Y said...

I love you too, which is why I am weeping a little that you are having lunch and dinner parties with women who are not ME.

I'll kick their ass if they hurt you. I WILL.

Cobwebs said...


I grew up in Anaheim, and now I'm all homesick.

I'm glad that you've found the parts to love. Now go take a day trip to Dana Point and look at some sea lions.

Kristin said...

Welcome (back) to the OC pretty lady... you know I'd love to take you to lunch (drinks)!

Trenches of Mommyhood said...

Love your honesty! I'd shop at Old Navy with you anytime!

Ginny said...

Yay for weekend stories! (Glad you're so happy!)

iheartchocolate said...

Wowee, I want to come to OC too.

Self discovery, it's an amazing thing. You sound like you have really learned os much about yourself.

I am so glad you are finding friends there. I so related to your "drop off moms" post and hated you were going through that.

Seriously though, can I come?

Amy said...

I was really glad to read that post. Thank you for sharing. I don't feel so alone now. Most moms I meet are either extremely well-kept, impossibly trashy, or disgustingly fake. I can't connect with any of those. Which makes for a very lonely me.

Lauren said...


Long time reader here delurking to empathize with your pain. I live on the East Coast's version of Orange County.

There was no clearer sign that I didn't belong there than the day that I was greeted by a new neighbor who asked if my parents were home. I confided in my husband (who was also under 30; perhaps if he'd been greying and able to pass off as my father, I would have fit in better?) that I didn't think that I belonged there. I was too young, too liberal (as a social worker turned public interest attorney), and too unconcerned with discussing hedge funds and country clubs to belong in their crowd.

But in some ways-- at least in the perception of my old friends-- I played the part, and I got teased for it. I may have rejected the idea of a "governess" (who SAYS that?) and refused to use the word "summer" as a verb, but I did shop well, and I frequented the spa weekly, and I even had a live in housekeeper. I was a snobby Greenwich wife to them, but to the REAL snobby Greenwich wives, the ones who summered with their governesses when their hedge funds did well, I wasn't quite snobby enough.

And then my twins were born. Granted, they're only 2 months old now, but it's really been a insightful experience. In some respects, I don't fit in. I breastfeed in public (a definite sign of tactlessness among the upper crust, I've learned) because I want to. I've bought them onesies at Old Navy because they were cute. I don't have hired help to raise them for me, although I likely will when I go back to work (which is surely even more of a no-no than not having a nanny is, among moms here.) A woman who works? Because she wants to? Talk about a freak of nature. :)

But I've realized that there's a lot to love here: I like walking them in their Stroll-Air (the only Bugaboo-like brand that comes in a double) through the neighborhoods of neatly manicured lawns; people show pride of ownership, even if it's through their "domestic staff." I love that my kids will be going to some of the best schools in the country and that they'll have access to great extracurricular programs, too. I love that they'll be surrounded by other children who have parents that are role models for success (because even if they are rich snobs, most GOT there by being ambitious, hard working, and brilliant). And the superficial side of me loves Blahniks and spa days. So sue me. I'll win. :)

The point is, I've also found that by not caring what these people think, I've found a group of friends hdfd-- a small group, but friends nonetheless-- who share my views, and I can manage well enough socially to stay in the good graces of everyone else. And when I need a break? I just call an old friend from college, one who knew me as the liberal social worker who spent her days in the ghetto, who is usually all too happy to come hang out with the snobby Greenwich wife I've become. :)

Bobealia... said...

That is fabulous Lena. Really. Don't be too hard on yourself about last time. It's always about who we are and what we are ready for or not. We make choices that are right at the time.
Love you!!!

Anonymous said...

You've grown up, you've changed, and you're coming at it from a new perspective - and maybe OC is, too. Maybe things have changed there, and people are less uptight? Either way, I'm glad you're enjoying yourself and meeting people (and also insanely jealous - why can't I meet people? Oh, because I leave in the middle of freaking nowhere.) Here's to many girls' nights out to come!

Kelley said...

Well thats what you get for wandering off to do 'stuff' before commenting....
Superblondgirl basically said what I was going to say.
You have grown as a person since then. Everything you have been through has made you stronger and more appreciative of the truly fabulous person you are. You don't need those plastic people and they know it. You are drawing genuine people to you cause they can see that you are someone worth knowing. I know that if I lived near you I'd wanna have a girls night with you!

Heather B. said...

I think the whole bad vibe towards the OC is partially due to what people see on TV about it. Unless I actually knew someone that lived there (well, now I know you and a couple of other people) I woul believe that evey woman living there was a trash talking, gossipy, money grubbing, pretentious bitch...BUT! Now I can say that the odds of running into anyone like what has been portrayed on TV is slim to none. Not EVERYONE is like that.

Anyway, I find myself well versed in things Orange County given my attraction to MTV. So, yeah.

It makes me happy that you're happy once again. You deserve it. xo.

Butrfly Garden said...

You're starting to sound like me. Making your own coffee and such.

I'm happy that you are happy.

Tracy said...

It sounds like you have finally found where you belong. I can hear it in your -uh- voice.

I only wish it were Texas! Then you would fit right in with me!

Anonymous said...

It's yarmulke, not yamaka, fyi.

(Hope that doesn't sound snippy, I don't mean it that way.)

Steph said...

Haha at the commenter before me! We understood, Lena.

I just want to say that I hope this is the beginning of a time of recovery for you.

Can't wait to see you laughing again!

StacyBeans said...

Came here by way of Suburban Turmoil and I have to say that you and she both do a great job of being successful people who are not pretentious!

Just wanted to say hi!

Lauren said...

I lived in the OC for 10 years and you are right on about how a lot of the women are there. It sounds like you just got lucky this time. Thank god!

B said...

As long as there are museums and beached and art galleries and indie bookstores, what's wrong with that?

I think the OC has gotten a bad rap because of TV.

B said...

I meant "beaches" of course.

Anonymous said...

I've lived in Orange County since the mid 90s (minus some time in Oregon), and yes, many women here are like that. I don't fit in with the blond, fake, tan, uber-conservative stuff. I'm pale, dark haired, and liberal. But there has been a change lately. The housing market tanked, and many immigrants (mostly Asian, Persian, and Indian) have moved in, making much of where I live much more diverse, thankfully. But I still dream of moving somewhere like San Francisco :)

Anonymous said...

Reading these kind of posts reminds me of just how technology truly is undeniably integral to our lives in this day and age, and I am fairly certain that we have passed the point of no return in our relationship with technology.

I don't mean this in a bad way, of course! Societal concerns aside... I just hope that as the price of memory drops, the possibility of uploading our memories onto a digital medium becomes a true reality. It's a fantasy that I dream about all the time.

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Sylvialnoh said...

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Jones said...

I meant "beaches" of course.

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