From the Heart

From the Heart

Today is Valentine’s Day, which also means it’s…February 14th.

I’ve pointedly begun this entry not from the perspective of “hatin’ on the day,” but in the only way that it applies to me realistically: It’s simply just another day on the calendar for those of us who aren’t in romantic relationships.

And that statement will do either one of two things: It will make you wonder if I’m suppressing sad/bitter/lonely/jealous feelings and lying about it to appear to have my life under control (which, I assure you, I’m comfortable enough to declare I do not), or it will do what I hope for most…give you the freedom to detach yourself from the expectations the day has come to be traditionally known for in case you yourself are feeling any of those aforementioned feelings. (Although, full disclosure, the first guess would’ve been absolutely accurate up until a few years ago.)

You can thank (or malign) a four-hour-long “Galentine’s Day” phone conversation with one of my sister-friends for this post. Also, get you a friend where you can be on the phone for four hours yammering about life and love and things to add to your — ahem — “shopping list,” that’ll get you through the period of your life during which you’re cultivating a true love affair with yourself to the point where sex has transitioned from being a void-filler, to the second-most intimate thing you do in a healthy romantic partnership. (With honest and open communication being the first, natch.)

Innocently enough, the call started with me talking about the impeachment acquittal (ugh!), then segued into how after watching that dereliction of democracy, I proceeded to go out into the world to run some errands and got so badly turned around by the MTA service changes and my distracted state of mind that I almost didn’t make it to where I needed to be in time to get something very important. (Yes, this is vague. No, I ain’t telling you what this means. Deal.) Anyway, by the time I got home, I’d accepted that although I was detoured, delayed and distracted throughout my journey, I still managed to get what I needed just in time, and had bonus blessings along the way. And that, I decided, was the life metaphor I was going to take away from a seemingly innocuous errand run.

Then, we spent the next three hours and fifty minutes talking about messy shit.

She caught me up on her current dilemma with the opposite sex, I shared some life experiences with some exes that I felt might be relevant and helpful in informing how she dealt with her situation, we discussed how our painful childhoods contributed to the ways we’ve dealt with our relationship failings, had some amazing revelations about the early days of our 30-year-strong friendship during a lightning round of “Perception vs. Reality: High School Edition,” and laughed and fake-cried about how our middle-aged (but still fine) bodies are rebelling against us for taking our youth and former durability for granted.

Ya know…real friend shit.

But the most important thing we talked about was love, and what our definition of it was, in keeping with the theme of the impeding day that we nearly talked our way into. My beautiful friend has always put her whole self into making sure those she holds dear have everything they need — which can comprise of her time, energy, resources, et al at the risk of self-depletion — to reassure them of her love and fierce commitment to them. As someone who’s done the same, I knew all too well that it doesn’t always net out equally.

So I shared with her what I’m about to share with you; which is what I’ve learned in the nearly five years of therapy, and especially the past year of being in isolation and forcing myself to dig deep and really look at my own behavior and mindset — which almost certainly attracted the personalities and outcomes that drove me to seek therapy to correct.

Before I start, a bit of backstory: While I’ve dabbled in the realm of introspection over the nearly TEN YEARS since starting this blog (whew!), it came as a shock to realize there was still so much more to be done, because I assumed I’d been operating under the premise that I’d been, as the name infers, “blunt” in how I approached my life and my views about life around me and in general. I was wrong. I assumed talking about my abuse, my troubled parental history and perceived injustices throughout my life would be healing for me and helpful to others going through similar situations. To some degree it has, but there was still more left untapped.

What I discovered is that it left questions about what these experiences did to me as a person behaviorally, and how I operated in ways that has consistently sabotaged my life and relationships for decades because I didn’t understand or care to acknowledge how affected my psyche was. I was self aware to an extent where I knew something was “off.” I knew that in order for me to come to a place where I wasn’t beating myself up about it, I had to accept that the things I perceived was “wrong” was just “what it was.” I understood I had to grasp that the things that people I trusted did that hurt me deeply were never about me as much as it was about what they were going through at the time of their interactions with me. But I hadn’t done any of the work that would get me to this place of true peace.

Instead, I’d defaulted to the classic trauma responses: I withdrew, projected my fears on others, gave up on myself and my abilities and morphed into whoever I thought I needed to be in order to be accepted socially, desired sexually and tolerated in circles where I was a square. In the end, I failed spectacularly at trying to convince myself that I could make the best out of situations I never wanted to be a part of, while simultaneously hurting others who were ultimately let down when I grew tired of the ruse. I showed up inauthentically to relationships both personally and professionally out of fear of being judged and avoiding conflict and resentments, and as a result, I attracted that same chaotic energy everywhere I ran.

Then I hit my forties, and realized that way of life was slowly killing me inside, despite surviving so many other insurmountable conditions which I hadn’t even taken the time to consider how extraordinary that made every day I woke up.

The day you decide to have gratitude as the anchoring presence in your life, is the day you commit to doing everything in your power to authentically make the best of it and protect it at all costs. For me, that meant severing unhealthy relationships and finding the grace to forgive myself and the parties involved for making them so. It meant stripping back the façade to replace the broken parts, and strengthen the foundation of the person I didn’t have the courage to be and the life I didn’t believe I deserved.

And that…to me…is love. Being brave enough to say and do the unpleasant things if the outcome is mutually beneficial for everyone involved (even if it’s only me, myself and I) even when it hurts to acknowledge the truth. It’s accountability. It’s vulnerability. It’s humiliating and humbling. And it’s a lot of work!!

And so, on this day dedicated to love, I pledge to continue doing the work and loving the person I am becoming as a result: Someone who can simultaneously exist as a person who celebrates your love stories, while also being mildly annoyed by the expectation that I have to participate in the pageantry, or risk being deemed sad, bitter, lonely and/or jealous, when I really just want to spend a weekend parked on my couch watching “Judas and the Black Messiah” and Disney+, while eating vegan ice cream and fan-girling over Jamie Raskin and Stacey Plaskett’s work in the impeachment trial despite its unfortunate-yet-unsurprising outcome.

And if you’re wondering how I segued into politics while talking about love, I invite you to re-read the part about “being brave enough to say and do unpleasant things if the outcome is mutually beneficial.” Raskin, who lost his son to suicide, buried him, showed up to work the next day to certify the election with members of his family — all of whom were then put in mortal danger — in tow, and then continued to show up to make sure the person responsible for inflicting a pain that spread across party lines and country face repercussions…did so for the love of his country and the people who live in it. That kind of love is unfathomable, and brings to mind the words of Jimi Hendrix, “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”

And with that, signing off wishing eternal love and peace for us all…from the bottom of my heart.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Love Stories

Love Stories

Sometimes our truths aren’t always the truth.

This is the thought I’ve landed on after a few days of thinking about relationships. More specifically my own past ones.

It all started this past Sunday, when news of the untimely death of artist Nipsey Hussle spread across my timeline. While I wasn’t too familiar with his music, and only came to learn of his other extremely impressive endeavors upon his death, I knew he was in a longterm relationship with the actress Lauren London, with whom they shared a child and a blended family. The news was tragic for so many reasons, but my immediate thought was how awful it was for her to lose the love of her life. Especially after making sacrifices in her career for their family.

To spend years building a life with someone, only to have it destroyed it in an instant because of a broken individual, is my nightmare.

As I processed that news, and the tributes and images and videos that followed, I did what I now know to be the worst possible thing to do to distract myself: I binge-watched the episodes of “This Is Us” that I’d missed over the past few weeks.

If you’re familiar with this show, then you know that a lot of crying ensued as I watched the Beth and Randall storyline send me on an emotional rollercoaster wondering if they were going to make it, and momentarily understanding why they might possibly not. Honestly, the only thing missing at that point was a bottle of red wine and someone playing “Sometimes It Snows In April” followed up with a montage of Prince footage. I was a wreck.

When I thought about the love story of Nipsey and Lauren, two young lovers just getting started, and the fictional one of “R&B,” where twenty years of sacrifices and compromise had reached a breaking point, I looked deeper into my own stories, and saw just how one-sided they were.

It has been well over a year since the last relationship I embarked on came to an end. Unlike all of my previous ones, this one was amicable, and included an actual verbal conversation that never changed in pitch or volume because growth (and therapy).

But even armed with the full knowledge of signs he wasn’t in the relationship for the long haul, I still spent months afterward asking myself what was it about me that was undesirable. I negotiated in my head that if I had just been more of the fantasy girl than the practical one, perhaps I’d be wearing a ring or something close to being committed.

The scariest realization when I do an inventory of the men who were either considered boyfriends, lovers or sexual partners, is the glaring commonality of how I romanticized the situations (and their ends), knowing full well I’d made horrible judgement calls just to say I was with someone or at least feel like I was with someone.

I took back an ex who broke up with me via text after I confronted him about a non mutually consensual sexual encounter (read: rape); and ultimately decided I’d had enough of him only after he spent weeks dodging me after my father’s death, during which time he’d call me “angry black woman,” went on a weeklong vacation without me and told me his friends would always be more important than me (his actual statement was so vile my therapy group – which consists of a few men – responded angrily). My reasoning was he was charming and made me laugh, he apologized and he was making an effort. My takeaway was learning that true love speaks life into you at times when you’re feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders, and doesn’t abandon you because your circumstances are inconvenient or “a buzz kill.”

I stayed in an off-and-on relationship for nearly six years despite mental, physical and financial abuse, because I had grown close to his family, and he with mine. I was afraid of upsetting that dynamic, was invested in his daughter’s upbringing, and it felt like failure to leave a man that everyone thought was perfect for me (although my uncle did pick up on his controlling persona, but never told me until after it ended). And back then I thought love was struggle. My takeaway from that was the travel bug I developed, a couple of cool girlfriends (and one terrible one, who took advantage of my post-breakup situation for her own gain…twice), and an appreciation for what I bring to the table when I find myself in a healthy relationship.

I’ve been a mistress (knowingly and unknowingly), the booty call, and the friend with benefits. I’ve been the submissive and occasionally the aggressor. I’ve been the accommodating and the one who won’t bend. I’ve left jobs, paid money I didn’t have to spare for flights I shouldn’t have taken, and placed myself in embarrassing and awkward situations where I’ve known I was not the only one because I was hopeful and desperate for a win. Each time, I’d speak of these men and moments as if they were normal ups and downs; not registering that the look I’d get from some of my friends and family was one of genuine concern for my sense of reality and self.

Yes, I’ve misrepresented many epic fails, but one of the worst by far was thinking that a man who’d moved multiple times out of the state we both lived in without ever telling me, was my soul mate. That was pretty stupid.

Almost as stupid as missing a friend’s party because I was sitting in a car for several hours, while the guy I was seeing had a meeting with a contractor in a town out-of-state that wasn’t easily accessible to public transportation.

…Or being so averse to traveling by myself that I spent an unnecessary small fortune on a weekend at a cute bed and breakfast in Boston with a man I’d later walk in on during his “self-love session” after he refused to leave the room with me to go explore the city. (I’ve gotten over my fear of solo travel, but haven’t gone back to Boston since that trip well over a decade and a half ago.)

Sure, you can look at this and say “Damn, girl…you definitely have had bad luck in the relationship department, but these celebrity and television relationships shouldn’t be #goals!” And you’d be absolutely right.

To be clear, I don’t want to be any of them. I don’t even want to be the Michelle to someone else’s Barack Obama. I don’t have that kind of ambition.

But these examples – as tragic, fantastical or exceptional as they may seem – have given me a blueprint that ideally won’t send me down the same path I’d been traveling the last couple of decades as someone who was just trying to fill the void left by absent parents and a childhood marred by sexual abuse.

To be in a committed, communicative, mutually respectful and supportive partnership where I feel valued in the present (because most folks see your value only after you’re gone), should always be the goal. To have someone want to be with you not because of what you do for them as far as appearances, status or reciprocity, but because you find joy in their presence and purpose in your connection. To see better versions of you in each other and have it motivate you each day to be and do better. That wouldn’t suck.

And that’s what I want. No exceptions. No bullshit.

In the meantime, my current truth is that I sleep in the middle of my bed, and indulge in the luxury of long hot baths, weekends blasting everything from jazz to girl power anthems, and revel in the quiet time in my own apartment doing whatever the hell I want because I’ve found true love…right here.

That also doesn’t suck.

Tough Breaks

Tough Breaks

Injuries are as humbling as they are incredibly painful.

In a sick way, they’re the tangible versions of time, or the physical embodiment of ending a relationship of some sorts. (In this instance, your relationship with your body changes — in some ways irrevocably.)

It has been four weeks since I fractured my ankle roller skating, and — needless to say — I’ve had some time to think about this and many other things. Of some of the more profound revelations I’ve come to, my top takeaways are:

  1.  Optimism is cute, but realism is necessary in the long-term. When you actually hear the snap of your bone, chances are it’s worse than a sprain. Let the X-rays guide you to the promise land of true (and proper) healing.
  2. Speaking of things that are “cute” until it’s not…pretending to be old and crippled when you’re a kid (i.e., using the “big adult umbrellas with the handles” as fake canes, and/or borrowing an elder’s “equipment”) isn’t so much adorable as it is being an asshole who will eventually get theirs. Also, those umbrellas aren’t very sturdy numerous decades (and pounds) later. The more you know…
  3. Be the kind of person whose friends will voluntarily help you pack for a move, transfer stuff from one apartment to another using a granny cart, make grocery runs for you, drop off food, pills and orthopedic boots, periodically check on your vitals with calls and texts, and do your laundry and cook for you. I literally get by with a LOT of help from my friends. And I’m judging any and every one who wants to be in my life based on these people. Be advised.
  4. “Jane the Virgin” is the best thing to watch when you want to forget you’re relegated to laying motionless with your leg in the air and not getting any pleasure out of it. Real talk.
  5. Never underestimate the power of a pedicure. I had my first pedicure in months done just days before I’d end up with a mummified foot that practically screams “Nevermind the swollen, multicolored mess under these bandages…look at how cute my toes are!” Timing — and self-care — is everything.
  6. Mercury Retrograde is a very real, and very scary, thing. Just sayin’.
  7. When something in your life isn’t for you, the universe has a way of eliminating it…no matter how hard we try to convince ourselves we can make it work, or force ourselves to “just go with it until something better comes along.” Trust.
  8. The experience of moving around on crutches for several weeks will inevitably give you the arms of Angela Bassett, but the overall dexterity of a muppet. In other news: Atrophy is the fucking worst!
  9. I’ve lived through a lot of shit, but there are few images in my life as traumatic as having an Über driver cancel a ride on me, and speed away as I wave to him in the pouring rain while mouthing “I need help!” after one of my crutches loses a screw while I’m attempting to climb the three baby steps outside of my apartment building. That stings more than the rejection of a lover.
  10. People will remark on how positive you are, how you’re managing to take it all in stride and even find moments to laugh, and wonder why. And the answer is…you know it’s only temporary.

There’s always a running joke or meme about how we thought it’d be so great getting older, until we realize that we didn’t have to pay bills or taxes, and struggle day-to-day in unfulfilling jobs and relationships. Then the subject of our mortality becomes a little too real. At forty-two, I’ve already experienced the loss of loved ones; family, friends, classmates and more and more people who shaped my upbringing culturally, politically and in some cases spiritually.

I’m here to tell you, there ain’t a multivitamin or homeopathic cure that’ll keep you from fretting about getting older. Sure, we may embrace it differently at different stages, but we still dread the process. I attribute my fear to the effective advertising back in the day that warned of the dangers of osteoporosis. And Life-Alert. (We were all emotionally scarred by the lady who’d “fallen…and couldn’t get up.” Admit it.)

The moment my ankle snapped, something inside me did the same. At the time, I’d been burning both ends of the candle maintaining two gigs to pay the bills and having a pretty stressful Summer contemplating and processing all the changes the year had brought. I’d use my free time to escape to an outdoor concert or movie theater in hopes of forgetting how miserable and increasingly lonely I was feeling because I’d mapped out a completely different plan for myself, and it somehow had gone awry.

Then, an unfortunate twist in the realest sense reminded me  — no, demanded of me — to stop, take time to take stock and heal, and start over anew on a healthier path.  And I did.

It also forced me to be more vulnerable, and to cease the practice of being too proud to ask for help. I’ve always been independent by nature, so having to rely on others to do things for me has been a huge adjustment. One that I’m not always comfortable with. But the connections that have transpired over the past few weeks has been soul-filling in ways I didn’t know I needed. It’s a feeling that can’t be achieved by cool events, online dating or social media validation. Someone standing on a Trader Joe’s line — I repeat, a Trader Joe’s line! — for you, is worth a million “Hey stranger” texts from some dude who was never invested in you when you were dating, but suddenly thinks you’d be a cool person to chat up and/or hang out with.

And finally, it increased my awareness and respect for people whose physical struggles are not temporary, and reminded me of very intimate examples in my travels. As my right leg has shrunken, I was reminded of the days following my father’s leg amputation, and the hours I spent in his nursing home observing once-vibrant people who could no longer perform seemingly basic everyday functions like walk unaided or lift a utensil. As I amble awkwardly through my kitchen, burning myself with a pan because I was distracted by a falling crutch, I’m reminded that there are people with no limbs competing in high-performance sporting events, cutting hair, and doing some incredible things without so much as a scratch.

Of course I cannot, and will not, compare myself to those extraordinary people, but when I put that in perspective, it’s why I can’t help but smile and feel fortunate that in time, I will be back on my feet.

And honestly…I injured myself roller skating. I absolutely should laugh at myself!

In any case, it’s been a wild ride, and while I could sit here and lament all the quantifiable losses, I’m choosing instead to recognize that I’ve gained much, much more from this experience than even my best laid plans.

Also, I’ll be more careful with my words in the future. This definitely wasn’t what I meant when I said I needed a break.

 

My Sister’s Keeper

When they aren’t selling your information to the highest bidding megalomaniac, or creeping you out with hyper-targeted ads of something you maybe mentioned in a text message five minutes before, Facebook is actually not too awful a place to be sometimes.

For me, it’s a place where I can keep up with relatives I haven’t seen in years, and/or live in places that I’m sociopolitically allergic to. A place where I’m privy to the success or struggles of classmates I promised I’d keep in touch with in our yearbooks, but realized that required actual work to do so. (Shoutout to my college sister-friends for occasionally restoring my sanity and faith in humans in the group chat!) And, most importantly, a place that keeps me informed about birthdays and stances that either deepen my connection with someone, or validate any suspicions I had as to why I never quite connected with them.

Yesterday, it became a place where a pretty big “Aha” moment in my life transpired, and it started an unexpected wellspring of emotion, and hopefully something much bigger.

It all began when I posted the following status:

“Just saw a video in which a group of female 45 voters expressed their opinion on the Stormy Daniels affair. Not surprisingly, they doubled-down on their support for their man, and lambasted Daniels, saying she was in it for the money and degrading her.

Just as I was about to post that video, I paused. I was ready to say “What kind of woman would still support this man after all that he’s said and done, and then drag and ridicule a woman for speaking her truth?”

I stopped because I realized that these women aren’t anomalies. I, too, have defended and forgiven men who I knew to be absolute trash in their behavior towards women – including myself – but was kinder in my thoughts and actions toward them, than I’ve been with women who simply gave me the minutest attitude. (I deemed a former female friend “dead to me” for disparaging me behind my back, but have had cordial interactions with a man who nearly choked the life out of me. That’s just crazy!)

And I’m not alone.

This has brought me to the very horrifying discovery that there are SO many of us who’ve accepted that men are entitled to behave badly, and women are expected to just shut up about it. We’ve been conditioned to forgive, laugh it off, and look the other way. That’s kinda effed up when you think about it. The possibility that WE are OUR OWN worst enemies.

There are monstrous men out here wrecking lives and legislation because there are women in their circle doing the absolute least to check them, and instead are cheering them on. The chants tend to be louder when the woman being punished is a free-thinker.

That’s a real sobering takeaway during this Women’s History Month.

Just saying.”

What happened after that was magical.

While it didn’t “go viral” or bring me internet fame, it did spark a conversation that we’ve sorta been having during the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, but haven’t really had until Stormy Daniels admitted on national television to having sex with someone she didn’t really want to have sex with because she felt she’d placed herself in that situation and therefore must follow through. It’s the same awkward discussion we had when Aziz Ansari was placed in the spotlight for essentially being a bad lay.

But I digress. The point is, women were attacking Daniels’ character, instead of considering the character of a man who had unprotected sex with a person whose profession is literally having sex with people she barely knows on camera, while his wife was nursing their newborn child. A man who has a history of infidelity, misogyny and questionable and unethical decisions, yet still was elected President of the United States. A man who makes cringe-worthy comments about his daughter, normalizes racism and discrimination and comments about grabbing women by their vaginas gets a moral pass, but a woman looking to set the record straight and fight for her family’s safety gets lambasted.

This is the world we live in.

A world where boys will be boys, and the shit they say is just “locker room talk.” Where they can knock a woman unconscious in an elevator, but still get signed to a team before the guy who takes a knee to protest injustice and police brutality. Where they can beat a woman til she’s unrecognizable, or record themselves urinating on a minor, and still sell out venues and have countless female fans and collaborators in the years since. Where they can force their mistresses to have abortions, while simultaneously structuring laws to keep other women from terminating an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy. Where they can shack up with their stepdaughters and still have actors clamoring to star in their films. Where they can play fast and loose with the rules that govern and protect, but get you ejected from the game for your emails. Fucking emails.

Coming to terms with my own permissive history was the breakthrough I needed not just to comprehend the mindset of the women who looked the other way, but to understand that there is a disturbing pervasiveness of double-standards globally that has shaped societies for centuries, and we are still woefully compliant to them.

When I think of all the shit I let slide, it’s really disturbing, and yet it makes perfect sense why I’m single. The insults. The verbal abuse. The physical abuse. The unannounced children. The unannounced live-in girlfriend. The unannounced wife. The unannounced move to other cities. The unannounced resentment, and my new favorite: The unannounced intent to punish women stemming from maternal neglect and/or conflict. Until fairly recently, this all seemed normal…until one day it didn’t.

But for many women, it is still normal. It makes more sense for us to say “He’s just going through some things,” or “That’s just the way men are,” instead of “What the fuck is your trigger, and why can’t you handle your shit in a way that doesn’t punish everyone else around you?”

And it’s because of our desire to keep the peace where men are concerned, we end up doing more damage to our fellow sex, and future generations of boys who will grow up thinking it’s okay to disrespect women, and girls who won’t be able to identify the disrespect until it’s too late. We break our necks coddling male egos, while simultaneously ignoring the very people who need guidance and encouragement the most.

That’s probably why the swift justice bestowed to Harvey Weinstein, and the movements that followed, were initially so confusing to process. We’d just voted in a man who admitted on-camera to sexual assault, but somehow found outrage that brought down one of the most powerful men in entertainment. We still treat Bill Clinton as a rock star, while Monica Lewinsky still can’t have a career without ridicule, and Hillary is still being dragged for everything she says and does despite losing to a man who — once again — admitted on-camera to sexual assault. Let that sink in.

So how do we break the cycle of condoning the transgressions of men, while simultaneously holding a safe space for women to tell their stories and heal from their experiences?  How do we come to that place where we own our shit and say “Hey, maybe we are much harder on women than we are on men because we live in a society constructed by men?” How do we come to terms with the very real fact that the men we revere as fathers, brothers, friends, mentors, lovers, legends, etc., are capable of committing unspeakably evil things against other women, children and just people in general that they don’t deem on their level?

Maybe the first step is admitting that we aren’t perfect, and to own and accept that we can be biased, frightened people who do what we can to survive, and it’s much easier to sweep things under a rug, than do a deep-clean and start fresh sometimes. The problem with that, is there are people breathing in the residual filth we leave behind…and it can be toxic.

I’m heartened by the recent cultural shifts that have seen more women in the forefront as heroes, warriors and leaders in activism and slowly but surely on the political spectrum. I celebrate the voices of a young generation that basically just told us that they’re fed up with our nonsense, and “since we’re not old enough to drink beer, keep holding yours while we figure out how to get these assholes you blindly voted into office out.”

And I appreciate the men out there who embrace, support and encourage all of this necessary change without taking it as an affront to their existence.

That said, being my sister’s keeper doesn’t mean Stacy Dash and her ilk get a pass.

Just sayin’…

 

 

 

Pull The Trigger

There is no greater buzz kill than returning to New York on Christmas Day.

This was my takeaway after leaving my family in Philadelphia, as they were preparing to host Christmas dinner. In the midst of the Cavalier/Warriors basketball game.  I knew then that I’d regret that decision. I was correct.

Heart already heavy from the realization that I’d spent less than 24 hours with them before heading back, the lateness of the train to Trenton, the loneliness of sitting and walking in silence for four hours, and the return to a city awash in people just trying to find their place in it, stole whatever joy I managed to muster in those brief moments filled with laughter, long tight hugs, deep conversations and an unexpectedly fun game involving a shit-ton of saran wrap.

It has taken me hours to place the source of my sadness: Everything feels unstable in my life right now.

On the surface, things look great. I’m in the most ideal job, home and relationship that I’ve ever been in throughout all of my forty-two years. And it scares me to death to think that it’s all too good to be true. But the last few weeks have me bracing for a future in which I’m about to find out how much I’m capable of handling on my own…again.

Which brings me to my parents. Because everything ultimately leads back to the people who made you.

There are days when I resented them. There are days I pitied them. There are days when I try to understand where their heads were at when they thought it was okay to leave me with strangers, neighbors and members of their families who turned out to be child molesters. There have been days where I’ve felt personally affronted when they’d get credit for my accomplishments in life, when neither had been in it full time since I was twelve. And there are days when I accept the fact that they had no idea what they were doing and – in the case of my father – eventually did the best he could, considering he didn’t have the most nurturing parents.

Last year after my father’s passing, I unexpectedly found myself digesting story after story about how involved my father was in the lives of so many people. Normally, that would cause a swelling of pride to know how beloved your dad was, and how many lives he touched and impacted. The thing is…he was being other people’s hero during the years I struggled to pay tuition, find a job that paid a livable wage and compensate for his absence with remarkably insecure and occasionally abusive partners after deeming myself unloveable (the thought you have when your parents are alive and well, but not involved in your life).

And while years of tough conversations in our later lives healed that wound enough to compel me to assume the role of his caregiver in his final years, the pain of the time and moments lost will never fully go away.

In my adult life, it has manifested itself into someone who is fiercely independent, but constantly seeking connection. Terrified of becoming her mother, no longer interested in becoming mother, but strangely aware that her ability to listen to and comprehend children would’ve made her a great mother. Someone who now knows that words unspoken lead to opportunities unrealized…for better or worse. Someone who somehow managed to take decades of trauma, fear, anger and resentment, and turn it into the fuel that keeps her going in her daily journeys to a place where she finds peace, love and acceptance in who she is…and who she isn’t.

Someone who is still struggling to understand what’s become of this world in the past year; where it seems everyone is reminding her of her parents, — in the sense that they willingly chose roles in which they have a responsibility to take care of people, but everything goes to shit because they’re too busy serving their own interests and enriching their own lives while those who need help suffer from neglect.

See what I did there?

This whole year has been a trigger of near catastrophic levels. As vocal as I’ve been over the past year and change to friends, family and the social media world, the words somehow escaped me to truly express how I feel about all this chaos.

To be reminded on a daily basis that there are people in power whose mission in life is to take away my power takes me to places only this blog and my therapist can pull me out of.

With that, I’m going into 2018 absolutely terrified, yet still acutely aware that I’ve done this before.

And I’m still here.

I have to believe there’s something good about that.

Even if it’s to testify that things can – and will – get better.

Also: If they haven’t already, your parents will fuck you up in some way, shape or form. I cannot stress the importance of having a fantastic support system, an openness to look into your self to clean and mend the wounds properly, and let go of the things you thought you knew so you can learn something new.

The past can be our anchor, or it can be our teacher.

We still have the power to choose which it will be.

Happy New Year.

 

Standards for Living

It has now been nearly two weeks since I’ve entered my forty-first year.

Or, as I’d like to call it, “Forty won.”

In a year marked by so much death – from ones intimately close, to strangers known and unknown, not to mention the brutal murder of democracy – I end my fortieth year with an even stronger zest and appreciation for life. Especially my own.

Because, in spite of all the tragedy and turmoil that 2016 embodied for most of the world – admittedly the first half was brutal for me as well – I somehow managed to ride out the rest of it with one of the strongest years I’ve had in nearly a decade on a personal and professional level. I made uncomfortable choices, found more of my voice, embraced the unknown, and found freedom in letting go of things that weren’t right for me. I’ve knowingly disappointed some, and unknowingly inspired others.

What resulted was the universe opening up a world of opportunity in the form of more love, support and fellowship from new and unexpected sources. Ones that allowed and, at times, insisted on, finding acceptance that I once sought from relationships – both familial and romantic – within myself.

So I took those trips. Went to those shows. Saw those movies. Booked those therapy appointments. And so on.

…and didn’t wait for that call to do any of it. And also didn’t give a shit what anyone thought about it.

In the spirit of keeping that momentum going, and in honor of all the fucks I’ve lost during this year, here’s a list of my standard for living for 2017 and beyond:

Stop Hesitating (“Take the trip!” “Buy the shoes!” “Go to the fucking doctor!”) When you have gainful employment, insurance, decent credit, and a shit-ton of people in your life who are in your corner, there are no excuses. Life is too fucking short…and it can all be gone tomorrow. I say this 7 months after my father’s passing, and over a year after the sudden loss of a very dear friend who lived his life fully and generously, so it’s not exactly an epiphany. Death has a way of putting you in “YOLO” mode; forcing you to face your own mortality and, subsequently, your “bucket list.” And the savagery of this year has been the biggest wakeup call of all.

Speak my mind. Anyone who really knows me might be like “When have you NOT?” To them, I say “Hush.” But recently, someone I was once close to, told me that I didn’t communicate with them during the time we spent together. In this instance, I no longer trusted them or had faith in their ability to act in my best interests, but they had a point. It is best to speak one’s mind, for better or worse, that way everyone can move accordingly.

Refuse to spend any of my hard-earned cash on the following: Hip Hop albums from most of this era’s artists (although anderson.Paak might get my money for a live show). Rihanna concert tickets. Anything with the Kardashian name. Poor-quality shoes, clothing and undergarments. Events where most of the demographic is under 35, or frequently uses the word “lit” with more intention than sarcasm, and/or people who like to invite you to functions/dinners/trips/etc. with the expectation that you’ll be bankrolling them or their friend’s portion of it. If we’re not in a long-term partnership, and I have not given birth to you…you’re paying your own way. I am not Angelina Jolie or Mia Farrow. Call Tyrone.

Don’t take anything in life for granted. Not to be mistaken with “not complaining.” While I try to avoid the other c-word, there are gonna be times in life when things aren’t perfect and something needs to be said in order to address and improve it. (See “Speaking my mind.”) That doesn’t mean everything is shit – it just means it’s important enough to me to be made better. But at the end of the day, even the lessons from failures are appreciated.

Do not entertain the idea of a long-term relationship with any man who isn’t equipped to be my best friend. New rule for 2017: “If he doesn’t make plans, doesn’t keep plans, doesn’t respect my time, doesn’t respect what I say, doesn’t respect my gender, doesn’t respect my family or friends (or – as my sister-girl once said after an ex spent two days at her home but never engaged in one-on-one conversation with her – “doesn’t find out who they are to you“), doesn’t show any interest in spending time knowing or building upon mutual interests…I’m not wasting any time with him. My desire for an honest, selfless, interactive and collaborative partnership supersedes my desire to have a proper lay any day. I believe “Stronger Together” isn’t just a nice and sunny political slogan. I’ve seen too many solid relationships where couples travel, party, and make plans and important decisions together. They respect each other’s input and rely on each other for mutually beneficial contentment and growth. They also have each other’s backs when times are hard for either of them. This is what I aspire to be and have in return. And because I’d rather be alone than feel alone…nothing else will do.

Never apologize for being who I am, and take zero shit from any “friend” or family member who has opinions on how I should behave. I’m single, childless, live in a city bursting with culture and vices, and I’ve survived four decades of life that consisted of  events that have broken many. (At least, that’s what I’ve been told.) And for the most part, I’ve done it solo. That I continue to maintain a sense of humor, optimism, desire and enjoyment of intimate connection and only have a marginal social media addiction – I’d say I’m doing okay. Not Oprah okay…but you never know what the future holds.

Stop doubting my abilities and gut. That I still do this on occasion means there’s more room for improvement, but I’d like to think I’m headed in the right direction.

If I’ve taken nothing else from this year, it is that there is no reward for playing it safe. Those who’ve impacted our lives most – in both life and death – have been the most extreme risk takers. The rogues. The controversial ones. The ones who colored outside the lines and bulldozed their comfort zones to fit big dreams (and in some cases even bigger egos). The ones who set a standard for the way they lived, and fulfilled it to the best of their ability, in spite of (or perhaps because of) how others said they were supposed to live.

If we all set standards in our lives, then we’ll do anything to preserve it for our own well-being and joy. Our jobs, relationships, finances, living conditions and even our political leanings are a reflection of those standards. Or lack thereof. I mean, how else can you achieve a “gold standard” without actual standards?

We owe it to ourselves to have them. We owe it to each other to honor them. If, for no other reason, for our own self-respect, and the peace of mind that comes with knowing we did all we could to make the world a better place by being a better person in it while we could.

Those are my standards for 2017 and beyond.

What are yours?

Moving On

It is never easy leaving something or someone you truly love.

Oftentimes, it is unpleasant.

But the time will come when we’ll have to say goodbye to something or someone dear to us for whatever reasons that apply. It’s one of life’s inevitabilities…much like me wrecking a manicure seconds after walking out of the salon.

This week, I had that horrible task. Twice.

The first isn’t theoretically final, but symbolically it is; the apartment my roommate and I have shared for nearly a year is being reclaimed by its lovely owner and her family at the end of the month, so we needed to find a new place quickly. What stung the most was having to leave the beautiful neighborhood we’ve grown to adore, due to lack of affordable housing options. Never mind the fact that the apartment itself is a unicorn in terms of space and affordability. Both were ideal.

Alas, it was never truly ours…and so we had to face facts and move on.

Fortunately, we found an affordable gem in a decent neighborhood that suited all our needs, and wouldn’t force any major and/or uncomfortable adjustments.

The part I’m most grateful for, tho – aside from having a relatively painless search process in comparison to last year (woo hoo!) – is having my name on a legal document holding me responsible for the payment and upkeep of a place that I reside in…for the first time in SIX years.

While that concept seems scary AF, I’m elated, because circumstances over these last years haven’t supported this moment. A layoff in 2010 – followed by an unexpectedly lengthy stretch of un/underemployment mixed with drastic pay decreases throughout the years that followed – proved challenging. Signing a lease wasn’t only risky…it was impossible.

All this to say: As much as I’ve dreaded moves in the past, this one I look forward to, because it means I’ve finally reached the point where I can start over on my terms. It’s bittersweet, yet empowering, all at the same time.

The next goodbye is final and painful, because there’s still a great deal of love, and there was a tremendous emotional investment. The demise of a relationship always impacts me because the failure is personal and, at times, I’d like to think avoidable.

But that’s just wishful thinking.

Over the years, I’ve struggled and occasionally succeeded at being mindful of things in my past life that could – and have – segued into fatal relationship flaws: Let’s just say the list isn’t pretty. Or short. Let’s also say not living with my parents after twelve was the best thing that ever happened to me. Let’s also say that it’s because very early on, life played out more like a Lifetime Network movie written by Alice Walker.

Basically, I was a powder keg with a laundry list of issues ranging from trust, abandonment, intimacy, anger, jealousy, people-pleasing, self-esteem, selfishness and withdrawn (this one’s tough to shake).

Truth be told, I’ll always be a work in progress. But time, meditation, faith, introspection, healing, much-needed therapy and an outpouring of unconditional love and support from friends and family has allowed me to develop into a woman who is now open and optimistic about life, love and all its possibilities. I find joy in authentic relationships and experiences, and I’m quicker to listen to and embrace different perspectives. Most of all, I’ve learned to forgive, let go, and just let shit be.

Which brings us here.

If I’ve learned anything in these forty years and eight months of life, it is that as much as I love the idea of being in love, there’s much more to a relationship than that. It’s work, and sometimes I don’t want to do it, but I will if I know the end result is having someone to grow with, who has your back in times both good and bad and inspires you to do the same. Someone who takes interest in your interests, and includes you in theirs. Someone who relishes in your quirks, and can talk and listen for as long as it takes as you both learn something new and/or rediscover something not so new about each other (instead of using social media or discussing with an audience that doesn’t include either of you). Someone who understands that conflicts and anger should be addressed and resolved in minutes and (if really serious) hours…not days and weeks. Someone who has longterm plans and knows where you fit in them. Someone unafraid to take a leap of faith and land wherever your lives together may take you. Someone whose actions speak louder than their words.

For all our intents…we both failed spectacularly in making that happen. Twice.

And for what it’s worth, I wanted our relationship to work so badly, that I was willing to accept it as it was…even as it left me wanting more.

But it occurred to me that – much like the apartment hunting experience – I began the process desperate to compromise at the risk of losing a part of me. In the end, it took venturing out of my comfort zone on a road less traveled in order to find the place that feels like home, and nothing is lost except the expectations of how things should be.

Not only is that worth moving on to…it’s worth moving mountains for.

I’m scared and excited to find out what the future holds, but right now, I’m just gonna relish in the freedom of the present moment, and go wherever the day takes me.

Which, right about now…is the kitchen. I’m starving.

Designing a Decade

Here we are again, folks…the end of another year!

Now, before we start sighing “finally,” let’s just take into account that we are still here, and still able to fully appreciate the luxury we have of seeing it come to an end, and the promise of new beginnings (or just upgraded versions of your existing situation).

As we know, not everyone has made it this far.

I don’t know about you, but for me, it has been quite the year. One that has overseen the loss of a romantic relationship, a dear friend/mentor and a first cousin with faulty hearts, my father’s left leg, my patience for pushy real estate brokers and the elder/health care system, a piece of my back tooth, thousands of dollars in moving costs, and occasionally my sanity.

For a moment I was about to say my faith, but that wouldn’t be completely true. Because even when shit got a little too real, I knew it would figure itself out. I just didn’t know when!

But amidst those losses, there were huge gains not only in my faith, but in the power of love, family, friendship and loyalty in its truest form.

These lessons from the school of hard knocks came just in time for my fortieth birthday, which I quietly – and happily – celebrated fifteen days ago with one of my fabulous girlfriends. After treating me to dinner, she then lavished me with ridiculously expensive skincare that I’m afraid to use because I will fall instantly in love with it, and become one of those women who spend the financial equivalent to childcare on preserving her own youth. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) Because, even though I look damn good for my age, I can always look better! (She says with tongue placed firmly in her cheek.)

And so, as I sit here…fresh from spending the holiday bouncing from Pennsylvania to Virginia with my crazysexycool family, where I ate a lot, drank even more and laughed when I wasn’t in pain from a recent dental visit…I’m contemplating what I want my new year and my fourth decade to look and feel like.

…and the one word that keeps coming back to me is: “loyalty.”

It’s that feeling of knowing you are loved and supported in your best and especially your worst times. That feeling of knowing help is just a message, a phone call or even just a “look” away. That feeling of not being judged by your mood, your circumstances or your lifestyle. That unconditional love that tells you, “you’re crazy, but I can’t imagine life without you,” or “this isn’t one of our best days, but let’s regroup and make the next round better,” and “we’re not always going to agree on everything, but I’m always going to be here.”

Only that kind of security and confidence comes from loyalty, and this year, I felt it. Breathed it. Bathed in it. Draped it all over my skin, and wove it into the fabric of my being.

It has taken me four decades to fully appreciate that word and its meaning. I’d begun mentioning it in passing when someone asked me what I looked for in a guy, but I’ve since come to understand how much it means to me beyond intimate relationships.

It resonates when I’m rewarded at work with verbal and financial acknowledgements, and when my colleagues tell me to take as much time as I need when my father made an unexpected trip to the emergency room during what was intended to be a short trip to Savannah, and give me more exciting and challenging assignments because they value my work and insights. Or bring me lunch. Or a bottle of wine after a breakup. Or an L.L. Bean fleece jacket. Or kickass tickets to watch tennis and/or “The Peanuts Movie.” (Okay, I love my job.)

It resonates when I see a woman, whose plan was to spend her retiring years traveling the world with the man she loved, spending her days making doctor and medicine runs for him, helping his daughter navigate through the messy process of it all, and taking shifts to feed him in a nursing home…while hoping he remembers her name.

It resonates when his family who live nearby hasn’t visited in the five years of his affliction.

It resonates when I contemplate going an hour out of my way to Harlem to pick up a prescription, because the women at the pharmacy always pleasantly acknowledge me by my name.

It resonates when friends and family spring into action when I have a slight meltdown on Facebook, and help me not only find a place to live, but keep me laughing, liquored up, and thoroughly entertained through some of the hardest months I’ve had in some time. Just because.

It resonates when I consider who’s worthy of my time, energy and my own loyalty going forward.

I’m realizing now that everything has come full circle. Historically, I’ve been drawn to – and spent most of my professional life in – industries that mostly thrive on strong and fruitful relationships and loyalty, so it was only a matter of time before I caught up and realized that I, too, require them to thrive personally.

But seriously…Don’t we ALL?!

So, tomorrow night, when the ball drops into the year 2016, it is my intention to continue loving – and being true to – the skin I’m in from this decade until my last, and reciprocating all the love, support and loyalty that has allowed me and my loved ones to thrive in the chaos of 2015.

Are you with me?

 

 

 

This I Know Thus Far

In two days, I will join several thousand people in Newark for Oprah’s “The Life You Want” tour, where Madame O herself will preside over a program filled with special guests and exercises geared to awaken, enlighten and embolden the masses.

Basically… I expect to cry and over-share with lots of strangers in the name of self-discovery and empowerment. Sort of like I do here, except on a grander scale and with the prospect of sharing with Oprah!

Snark aside, I’m actually looking forward to it. Something about taking action to improve oneself and the quality of the life you live from an internal standpoint just appeals to me.

So, before I embark on this emotional roller-coaster of a weekend, I’ve decided to list what I’ve learned thus far from this crazy life of mine. Unlike Oprah, who pens her “What I Know for Sure” column every month in “O” magazine, I’m still a work in progress, so speaking definitively on anything before I reach my forties is just asking for trouble.

And… as I’ve learned… things do change. Sometimes quite drastically.

Here’s what I know thus far:

  1. Attitude is everything. It was not that long ago when pessimism was my go-to drug of choice. Convinced that everything was either bad — or bad for me — it was easy to embrace negative thoughts, which begat negative results. When I eventually ditched the habits (and people) who fostered that behavior, a new world opened up. One where setbacks bring new directions, unknown things become adventures and disappointments become lessons. We really do speak life into everything we do, and as Nelson Mandela once said, “One cannot be prepared for something while secretly believing it will not happen.”
  2. When people show you who they are… believe them. I’ve heard and read this many times before, but it is so true. In my younger years, I ignored the cues; guys who couldn’t be reached during the day, but call at rude hours of the night to see if you’re free, those who consider you coming directly to their house (or any place where there’s a bed or furniture that could accommodate sex) “dates”, people who relish in gossiping about someone in your mutual circle, relatives you hadn’t seen in years who reach out when they see you in a magazine… yadda, yadda. These days, I’m a little quicker on the draw, especially now that I’m of an age where mortality has become a thing. Once you start realizing you only have so many more years left before your mind and body start dictating the scene more, you get a little selective with how much time you wanna devote to BS.
  3. If you don’t value you, then who will? This was my biggest takeaway last year, when I said goodbye to people who didn’t value my friendship or company. It actually started at the end of 2012, when a chance run-in with a woman at a bar gave me one of the biggest “aha!” moments of my life. Turned out, we had a mutual acquaintance who — shall we say — “overlapped” his time with us. In that instant, I realized I’d undervalued myself by being an option, as I’d known deep down that I wasn’t the “exclusive”. The moment I gave myself value, I gave myself a life I valued. Things fortunately fell into place from there.
  4. Be good to yourself. It’s always so easy to criticize ourselves, point out our flaws and take ourselves for granted. That’s all well and good, as long as you balance it out by treating yourself to a spa day, a nice dinner, or just some alone time somewhere where you are doing something that makes you happy. I’m a sucker for a massage and anything arts, music and culture related. Added bonus if all of the above are done in a faraway locale.
  5. Sex is exponentially better when you genuinely like the person you’re with. It’s official: my twenties SUCKED. Also — although it’s fared better — a good portion of my thirties too. In fact, I can honestly say that there is NOTHING better than being intimate with someone who you are on the same page with in every way. When you have mutual respect, understanding and… most importantly… trust, everything takes on a whole new mind-blowing level.
  6. Loyalty weeds out the riffraff. There’s a saying that goes “quality over quantity”. I’m fortunate in this lifetime to have been acquainted with and gotten to know so many amazing people. But I’ve come to learn the hard way the difference between people who call themselves your friend and the people who truly are friends. Case in point: There are about 600 or so people listed as my friend on Facebook, but if I’m having a shitty day and need to talk to someone who can give me a good “back in the day” story that makes me laugh til my ribs hurt, or remind me of something we’ve gone through together that tested us much more than said shitty day, then that number decreases by about 590. Even when life takes you in different directions, you always find a way back to a place where time stands still, and you know that person has your back in the event someone wants to stab you in it. If you’re lucky enough to have friends like that, then it’s easy to let go of anyone who thinks you must prove yourself to be their ideal and fit in their peg. Fuck ’em.
  7. You don’t have to be something you’re not, but you also don’t have to be relegated to a label. Although I’m more personally familiar with the term “broke” than I am “rich”, I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of meeting, working for and with, getting to know and spend enjoyable times with people who are considered rich and famous. I’m not gonna lie, there have been times where I’ve asked myself “How the fuck did I get here?”, but the most important thing was never saying or thinking that I shouldn’t be. Of course, there have been times where the differences were more obvious and palpable (i.e. black girl in a predominantly white community setting), but I learned the only person that can truly make me feel like an outcast is me. Adversely, even with the experiences I’ve had, it doesn’t make me any better than anyone else. At the end of the day, we’re all human beings.
  8. When it’s right, it isn’t hard. I used to think relationships were supposed to be hard, and anything you want in life required some sort of struggle. There was, and is, a popular belief that if you aren’t constantly fighting then you must not care about a person or a cause. While I won’t debate that theory, I’ve come to see that not everything requires — or deserves — a fight. In my later years, it’s become clearer that when something is right for you, it fits seamlessly into the fabric of your being. The perfect career move. The perfect love story. Anything that’s meant to bring you joy and peace of mind should never bring you pain or stress. Childbirth, naturally, is excluded from this conversation.
  9. When it’s wrong, let it go. It’s not complicated. If it hurts you. If it makes you question your judgement. If it takes away your strength or power or joy… Let. It. Go.
  10. Forgive. Life is going to be filled with challenging times and personalities. Not everything is going to go your way. People will disappoint you. You will disappoint them, and even yourself. It’s the cycle of life. Nobody is perfect. We all have bad days, and sometimes they overcome our common sense and ability to have compassion. Holding on to whatever gave us grief is natural, but ultimately unhealthy if we want to function in society in a way that doesn’t scare people away. My greatest lesson in this life — thus far — has been to forgive. Forgive others, and above all forgive myself. It’s the greatest feeling of all.
  11. Find your happy place. For me, it was a mix of yoga, meditation and then finally embracing a Buddhism practice after years of just being curious. Once I began taking account of how my actions and thoughts either navigated or perpetuated something — good or bad — I became clearer on just how much power I have in whether it persists or if it ends. If things become overwhelming, I just breathe or chant. But if that doesn’t work…
  12. Wine is a magical elixir. It makes bad days go away. It makes you sleep better when your mind has been so busy racing that you can’t settle down. It makes Olivia Pope human again after she’s been so caught up saving folks in Washington and sleeping with the president and hot spies while simultaneously holding her own against a spicy first lady and all while looking fabulous in Prada and Max Mara coats. Okay, this last one was clearly my way of expressing excitement in the return of “Scandal” tomorrow (which I’ll be missing because I’ll be watching Audra McDonald slay as Lady Day on Broadway). But seriously, a glass of red can be a girl’s best friend. Two or more can be her worst enemy, if she’s not careful. What I’ve learned thus far is that when you yourself continue to get better with age, you learn to appreciate things that do so as well.

Given my life lessons thus far, I imagine I’m going to have yet another stupid-epic breakthrough… or a massive headache from all the crying and screaming I may do when Iyanla tries to fix our lives.

Thankfully, there will be meditation and yoga. I think this crowd is gonna need it… especially if they’re anything like me. (Which we all know they are.)

I’m packing lots of tissues…

Where the Heart Is

When it comes to the subject of love, I’d developed a fairly warped perspective over the years.

Some may have used the word “cynical” or perhaps “jaded”, even.

Like most people (with a vagina, whose estrogen levels are only slightly bested by oxygen), I had bought into the belief over time that all the Disney fairy tales, Harlequin novels and anything that wreaked of romance was the definition of true love. In other words, it didn’t exist unless there were grand gestures (preferably without “Jazz hands”).

To be fair, like many many disillusioned people out there, I’d come from a broken home and didn’t know better. Unfortunately, sex ed only taught you what things were and where they go, but glossed over the part about what emotions and actions should accompany any of it. Recipe for disaster…

Undoubtedly, it was by sheer fortune that two amazing women came into my life and provided me with one of the greatest examples of the truest, most unconditional love I’d ever witnessed. It was through watching them on their journey from courtship, to friendship, to relationship, to hardship (with acceptance) and finally partnership that I realized the true meaning of what it’s like to find your soul mate.

Much to the excitement of myself and a few dozen friends and family — and after nearly ten years, countless gatherings, and a couple of freshly passed laws — my friends El and Chris decided to make it official. When they asked me to officiate their ceremony, I didn’t think twice (well, once I found out it would be the second, non-traditional “symbolic” version, I didn’t).

During our consultation with the minister, I was asked why I’d agreed to do the ceremony, to which my response was simply “Because it’s them“. What had been unsaid, was that after observing them over the years, I learned the very thing that was missing from my education during my upbringing…

Through them I learned that beyond passion, there has to be compassion. That patience and tolerance are nonexistent terms when you’re with someone who “gets” you. That the right person will not try to “make you better”, but will instead bring out the best in who you already are, as you ideally would for them. That friendship takes any relationship to a higher level, and if you don’t like the person you’re with, loving them — authentically — is an uphill battle.

Of course, I also became more cognizant of these things while experiencing my own ups and downs in dating. The past year alone had been an invaluable awakening, as it found me coming to terms with my genuine feelings, and determining that settling was no longer an option. After coming off of two long-term pairings (the bulk of which were both miserable), I’d made a choice to go with my gut and walk away from anything that made me unhappy or uncomfortable.

Very often, men and women stay in relationships they should long have ended for the sake of “making things work,” because that’s what we’ve been told throughout history by people who, in retrospect, probably had numerous affairs and whose vested interest likely had monetary motivation. Or religious connotations. Or Tyler Perry.

Not only did the union I’d be a part of show me differently, but I’d come to see and feel it for myself thanks to a smart, confident, funny, wickedly charming and all-around beautiful man who has helped me make sense of it all in just a short period of time.

Tonight, while listening to a Deepak Chopra meditation about “Finding Love”, it felt as if — for the first time in my life — I was ahead of the class. As Deepak explained how having love within allows you to have a greater love for others, it resonated in ways I couldn’t imagine just a couple of years ago, but was keenly aware of now. Once I stopped fighting my heart and following it instead, it led me to a place that has been so effortless and pleasure-filled, that I’ve decided to allow it to guide all my other moves going forward. (Although asking it to choose winning Lotto numbers might be a stretch.)

Thirty-eight years later, all the intake of books, movies, songs, articles, blog and social media posts, soap operas and “reality TV” simply left me with an overstuffed — yet strangely malnourished — perception of something that comes quite naturally when you don’t force yourself to feel it.

When you think about it, most of the greatest love songs and stories are written by people who, in real life, suck at maintaining relationships. I imagine it’s because they write what they want love to be and what they think love should be, and the rest of us are drawn in by the semi-mutual feeling, and/or the “misery loves company/you’re not alone” aesthetic that comes with a particularly tear-inducing piece of work. Matchmakers and love experts are often single themselves, yet we look to them for guidance with our “happily ever after”.

(I’m reminded of a saying: “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”)

This occurred to me when I found myself at an event having a conversation with two women; one was a lovely older woman in her fifties, whose husband was on the event’s committee, and would occasionally pop over to chat with his wife of over 30 years. The other was a self-proclaimed “relationship expert” in her late twenties, who had a blog touting many followers, and was — you guessed it — single. At some point, as the younger woman spoke about her relationship theories, the two of us gave each other knowing looks, and waited for her to get bored with us in order for her to move on and allow us to have the conversation we were meant to. It was that moment, when the decision was made never to take relationship advice from anyone who has not been happily married longer than two decades.

Life changing decision… trust.

And although I’ve stopped taking advice, I remain a constant pupil when it comes to the study of relationships. I understand that when you think you have nothing else to learn, that’s usually when you make the most egregious mistakes because you’ve taken something and/or someone for granted. (Clearly, I’ve dated a few “experts”.)

As I end this post at an ungodly hour, I do so with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude to El and Chris, and to my “Jersey Boy” for showing this woman — whose vivid imagination often leads her astray — what it’s like to be part of something very real.

They’ve inspired me, in ways they may never know, to instead follow my own heart…

Until it stops beating.