Spring Cleaning

Spring Cleaning

Maybe it’s the longer days, or the fact that it’s officially Aries season and us fellow fire signs are feeling extra spicy as a result, but I’m in a really good mood!

It could also be that for the first time in years, a man laid hands on my naked body and it felt amazing.

Sure, he was a massage therapist at a spa…but…still!

Anyway, for an hour, I was the only woman that mattered, and we briefly bonded over the tattoo on my lower back because he was Japanese and knew what it meant. Both translation-wise, and also that I was absolutely game to have all the pressure and hot stone action he was gonna bring to my hella tense neck and shoulder area. This, in addition to the Kundalini yoga session I began the day with taught by a Jamaican goddess, was my gift to my body after spending the previous day tackling laundry and getting my apartment cleaned and smudged to welcome the newness of the season.

All jokes aside…I do enjoy a good wash and (re)set.

My love of keeping things clean and orderly has reached the borderline of obsession compulsion over the years and I’m at peace with that. Mainly because when all else fails in my personal and professional spaces, at least I can sweep, mop, wipe and scrub away some of the angst I’m experiencing in the process in my home. Something about it soothes me. It’s also been my main form of exercise over the past two years as I’ve stayed mostly indoors, and along with my Trader Joe’s and Target runs, can be attributed for the gun show on display on my arms. So there’s that.

But while my relationship with Mrs. Meyers and Murphy’s Oil has been pretty well established for a minute to take on the outward messes, my relationship with my damn self and the inner messiness is where the real cleanup was necessary.

Enter the pandemic; a time that “encouraged” me to look inward in ways I’d only just begun exploring when I started therapy nearly six years ago. (Note: Anyone thinking a couple of sessions will solve all your woes is 1. Wrong 2. Dead Wrong and 3. Not fully ready to do the work and wasting a fuckton of money and time trying to convince others you’re in a good place for optics. Full stop.) Being involuntarily motivated to sit in silence and listen to and journal my own thoughts was the biggest blessing of my life — aside from the added bonus of being able to have deep, meaningful conversations about those thoughts with many of my friends and family who were going through similar things and found strengthened connections and understanding in the process.

Alas, this is a marathon, not a sprint, so the work continues. And in the last few weeks, that’s meant purging things that didn’t fit in trash bags.

I’ve deleted numbers I’ve had for decades. Removed connections on social media that were toxic. Established very necessary boundaries with friends who’ve known me since my teens, and push back —HARD — when someone isn’t respecting them.

I realized later than I would’ve liked that a lot of what’s been keeping me from having what I want in this life has been me, but in my defense, I legitimately didn’t think I’d live long enough to actually want anything other than peace of mind. Now I want money. And a fulfilling career I enjoy in a place where I’m valued and respected and compensated accordingly (even if I have to continue creating it at home). And great sex on the regular with someone who also values me and respects in the present (and not wait months and years to express appreciation after I’ve given up craving it). And more travel.

…And meditative yoga followed by hourlong massages.

You see where I’m going with this.

The point is, the same way I’d spend every week before the New Year rolled in tossing things that either don’t fit or were of no used to me when it came to clothing and random inanimate objects, so too I must apply to mindsets and/or relationships both personal and professional that don’t feel healthy or support or foster growth and becoming the best version of me.

Because, in a perfect world, none of us are the people we used to be. We learned new things. We listened to and gained more perspectives. We embraced both our imperfections and those of others with grace and compassion. We learned to laugh at ourselves and be okay with crying too. We turned mistakes into teachable moments. We evolved.

At least… that’s the ideal scenario.

I understand that there are going to be folks afraid of change. Who feel a sense of security in a lifetime of routine in thought and practice, and believe that the world around them should fall in line to meet their needs and expectations. There are gonna be folks who will only always see the version of you that feels comfortable for them and fits their narrative for their own benefit and ego. And those folks are going to feel personally affronted, resistant and downright combative to anything that challenges them to shift their long-held beliefs.

And those are the people you’ll have to walk away from for your own peace and protection.

It’s not always easy. The urge to try and convince them to see things your way and embrace a new story for the sake of your relationship can be so great. The hope of finally being seen and accepted by a person or group that has all but written you off (in whatever way that looks like), is akin to holding on to a frayed garment longer than you should because you’ve gotten used to it and still like the way it looks and feels in some areas, even when you know it’s coming dangerously close to betraying you and exposing your privates to the world in its last act of defiance.

Letting go of shit is hard…unless it hurts more to hold on. But only you can decide when that time comes. And you’ll feel so much better when it does.

As for me…I’m feeling exponentially lighter these days. And not just because some dude put his elbows in my shoulder blades.

If Memory Serves

If Memory Serves

As Daylight Savings Time sets in…I’m sitting here mentally adjusting to losing an hour of my life, while also being more determined than ever not to waste another second of it with regrets.

Night before last, I spent two hours having what turned out to be one of the most important and healing conversations I’ve had in an environment that wasn’t created by a therapist, despite the last hour consisting of a steady stream of tears veering into openly sobbing at one point, as if it was.

The talk was with my cousin who, over the years, has given his ear, fatherly advice and emergency exit strategy assistance at times I needed it most. Recently, he lost his wife of fifty-plus years; whose long battle with dementia ended just days before Christmas. Having spoken to him only days before her departure, I knew it was unexpected. But based on my father’s battle with Alzheimer’s, I unfortunately knew that even when you think you may have more time with a loved one whose mind has turned against them…you don’t.

And although we’ve spoken since her passing, it wasn’t until this recent call that he allowed himself to fully express what it’s been like not having her physically present to see, hold and talk to…even though she no longer had the ability to articulate a response in the final years of her life.

And this, Dear Reader, is what broke me.

While his journey with his wife has been very different from my own during my father’s illness, which he was familiar with as his first cousin, hearing him admit to not being ready to lose her and selfishly wishing she were still alive so he could still have time with her, resonated in ways where I momentarily lost my ability to be a comforting ear because I became overwhelmed with grief. There’s nothing more soul-crushing than watching someone you love deteriorate. And you’ll never, ever, get over the first time they look at and/or respond to you as if you’re a stranger. Ever. But you always hold out hope for the day they come back to you. The day they snap out of the seemingly endless nightmare they just can’t wake up from.

And when they don’t…you just hold on to the hope that if they remember nothing else…they remember that they’re loved.

In my last post, I mentioned how a phone call made me realize how I’ve deprived myself of the joy of being in a relationship free of shame. I’ve since dug a lot deeper and made some very necessary adjustments as I open up to the possibility of being in an authentic, healthy, loving relationship someday. In this phone call, I was given a sign that I’m on the right path.

Listening to my cousin reminisce about his marriage opened my eyes. The marriage wasn’t perfect. There was a time when we weren’t sure they’d make it. That time was almost thirty years ago. They didn’t give up on each other. They fought to make it work and emerged stronger. He acknowledged and overcame his failings and became the most devoted partner to the very end — insisting on caring for her when others suggested putting her in professional care because he didn’t want her to feel abandoned. And he just didn’t want to. He fed her. He bathed her. He clothed her. He kept a watchful eye at all times when his own health would permit. He sat for hours talking to her as she sat on his lap because she was comfortable and that made him happy. Even as his legs fell asleep. And he’d do it all again because he misses her smile. Her touch. Her voice. Her. He’d do it all again because he loves her.

There’s tremendous power in having that kind of love. And that’s the kind of love I aspire to have. And I’ve learned to be okay with walking away from anything and anyone who isn’t offering that with no regrets.

I’ve become clearer on what I want now, and that’s a direct result of looking back into my past and seeing what went horribly wrong so I can do better. In talking to my cousin and, earlier in the week, my uncle, I was even given the gift of having glimpses into my father’s past that informed some of my not-so-healthy habits. (At least, the ones I hadn’t already figured out.) It appears the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree when it came to giving up everything to be with someone and ending up back at zero. I guess that just means we’re willing to take chances when we believe so strongly that something’s gonna work out. (Although I have significantly reduced my risk factor by asking more questions instead of flying blind and, at the moment, just not dating at all because it’s really fucking scary out there!)

But by far the most important lesson I’ve learned from him, which I realized and mentioned awhile ago but is always worth a re-mention, is to tell the people you love how you feel about them directly and show them in real time. Telling family and friends and random strangers is lovely, but if you aren’t communicating to the person directly, they won’t know or feel it. And while I now understand that we both lacked the nurturing and supportive environments that encourage free expression and healthy communication and conflict resolution in relationships, I really wish I knew then what I know now, so we wouldn’t have wasted so much time denying each other the time and confirmation we needed.

That is my only regret: The years I lost not knowing how dad felt. What he’d been through and was going through. What he really wanted in his life. And why it seemed like he put everyone else’s needs before ours.

The one caveat of his illness is we were both able to forget the painful stuff in order to ensure his final years — much like my cousin’s wife — were as comfortable as we could possibly make them, and brought us closer in a way I’m forever grateful for.

And it’s these memories I cling onto during times like the past few weeks…where instead of celebrating what would’ve been his 80th birthday…I’ve struggled with missing him terribly.

I know this moment will pass. I know there are better days ahead. I know the void I feel right now will be filled in ways even my occasionally active imagination can’t fathom, but will absolutely be ready for when it’s time. And when it’s right.

And I’m confident it’s gonna happen soon…because we just lost a whole hour…so there’s that.

Onward.

Shameless

Shameless

2022 is moving faster than I’m comfortable with.

As a Sagittarius, the previous sentence makes absolutely no sense and is completely at odds with my core ability to adapt to change at all costs.

Still…as we inch toward the final days of February…everything feels like a big blur, and I personally feel like I’m struggling to keep up.

Within the first seven weeks of the new year, I’ve already experienced the highest of highs that came in the form of a fun and family-filled weekend attending the best wedding ever, and the lowest of lows in the form of receiving an offer for what seemed like a great career opportunity…only to discover it was attached to an absolutely trash list of conditions that had more red flags than the Beijing Olympics. Somewhere in between, there’ve also been like three different seasons happening concurrently in New York. And there was a big football game that ran during a concert that made me feel exhilarated, nostalgic, conflicted (because half of the lineup have either assaulted women in the past or have songs about killing a spouse)…and old. The next day, people were professing their love for each other all over the internet, and I made chicken noodle soup and watched a mediocre 80s movie.

Wild times, I tell ya.

Needless to say, I welcomed the possibility of a chill long weekend catching up with some of my favorite people enthusiastically. A fun Friday night dinner chatting and laughing for several hours. A soul-filling Saturday brunch, followed by walks through Highline Park and the Whitney Museum. And then, a surprising Sunday phone conversation that had me doubled over in laughter one moment, then devastated the next as I made an almost heartbreaking realization that left me unexpectedly reeling long after the call ended.

Lemme preface by saying first that the person on the other end of that call had absolutely zero intentions of throwing me off-kilter, and has no idea that my world was rocked by a lighthearted joke that segued into a commentary on experiencing love without fear.

Now that I’ve added that disclaimer, lemme hit you with the context: In the midst of recapping my weekend, he made a joke about one of my friends having a name that also happens to be the name of a party drug. Strangely, in my forty-six years of life I’ve somehow managed to never have that experience, and found the joke hilarious. As one does, I asked if he’d done it, and while I wasn’t surprised by his answer, I wasn’t expecting what came next. He described the feeling in such a way that I was intrigued, but when he mentioned he’d done it with someone he was in love with at the time, and it made that feeling of being in love “better,” I felt a punch in my heart. I was jealous. I’d never in my life had that feeling — of being in love fearlessly and living freely in the moment with someone who loved me back. I didn’t know it at the time I was processing this new information. In fact, my first response was curiosity about how it made things better, which led to a whole conversation about honesty and expressing oneself in a relationship, because in my mind I felt the drug was just allowing him to be someone he couldn’t when he was sober. I was projecting, and I needed to understand why so I could identify the feeling. When I realized why, it hit me like a ton of bricks.

All of my romantic relationships have been saddled with shame. Full stop. ALL. OF. THEM.

When I wasn’t worried about being abandoned or sexually assaulted, I worried whether someone would consider me “spoiled” because I’d been both. I was ashamed of my past and feared it deemed me unworthy of anything real. I never considered myself pretty, or interesting or sufficiently “feminine” (whatever the fuck that meant to me at the time), like most of the girls I saw who had boyfriends who turned into husbands and life partners who adored them and gave them the world. I was ashamed of my financial situation and my lack of stylish clothes and lifestyle that would appeal to certain men.

So I accepted whatever shitty offer I got because I didn’t think I deserved better, went through the new shame of being in inauthentic, unsatisfying, loveless, unrequited and abusive situations and robbed myself of joy in the process. That pattern stayed with me throughout every aspect of my existence, including friendships and even my work life. In retrospect, I can safely ascertain that the first 40 years of my life were toxic AF. Then, I lost the love of my life (my father died), I dropped over 230 pounds (dumped my then-boyfriend), and drastically shifted gears (went to therapy). It hasn’t been smooth sailing, but it’s been exponentially better.

How do I know this for sure? Well…I think the fact that I walked away from a six-figure job because it required me signing away my rights and legal protection from a bunch of egregious demands is a start.

There was a time when I would be uncomfortable around people who had the confidence to ask for what they wanted, who were bold, knew their value and demanded to be treated and compensated fairly and according to what they felt they were worth and deserved. I felt there was an arrogance about them and I resented it. I didn’t understand how limiting that frame of thinking was.

Fast forward…the thoughts that kept me stuck now horrify me — as I see and hear them being used politically to deny people basic human rights and fair treatment and wages.

For so long, I’ve mistaken being shameless as something that only causes embarrassment and potential harm to others. That’s not to say that it can’t be those things. But now, I see that it’s also a freeing feeling; one where you can be unapologetically yourself, in all your imperfect and vulnerable glory, and aren’t tethered to thoughts and fears of whether or not you’re worthy of being loved, accepted and enough.

Because you already know you are…by YOU.

To me, that’s the greatest high of all.

Now…lemme get back to trying to get my shit together. I may be steadier than I’ve ever been, but I still gotta keep the wheels from flying off this bullet train of a year.

That Special Feeling

That Special Feeling

Reality television is a never-ending hell of shameless people with narcissistic tendencies outdoing themselves and each other to prove how far (and low) they’ll go for the instant gratification of widespread recognition and adulation, and the assumed paydays that ostensibly come with said recognition.

…But it does have its merits.

In this instance, it brought me to an epiphany so painfully obvious, that I’m embarrassed it took me so long to put a lens to it.

Let me explain.

Last year, during the “honeymoon stage” of lockdown, I succumbed to the chatter on my social feeds and work Slack channel and watched a show on Netflix called “Love Is Blind,” in which single strangers partake in a social experiment where they “date” by going into rooms (or “pods”), where they can only speak to each other through a wall, and eventually emerge either still single, or engaged to be married in the span of a month. Full disclosure: weeks before, I’d accidentally encountered the couple who became the breakout stars of the show when I was in the throws of a work event, and needed to meet one of our speakers outside and didn’t factor in the temperature when I swung the door open without wearing any protective outerwear and let out an ear-piercing yelp just as they were walking by. They were startled, I was apologetic, and onlookers were amused by the exchange but continued to fawn praise on them for being their favorites. Confused, I asked a woman who they were and figured I’d watch to find out why this couple — and this show — struck a chord and a cultural moment. (Yes, this story is true. And yes, random shit like this happens to me a lot. To the point where my friends make fun of me. Don’t ask me why. I’m only just fessing up to this being a thing.)

An-y-way, I ended up getting sucked into this program, and also falling in love with the couple because they were so damn adorable and pure! Which brings me to present day…because I just watched the extra episodes they added for an anniversary special to celebrate the two year mark of the couples who successfully paired up.

And while those episodes were absolutely as craptastic and contrived as the show itself, there were some standout moments that were, in my opinion, gold.

Most notably, one of the couples that seemed to be on the verge of making it official toward the end of the show’s initial run was now in struggle mode because the man was now entertaining another prospect while the woman was openly declaring her love for him and commitment to working out their issues. And since this is “reality TV,” we get to watch the whole thing play out as this ginger-haired fuckboy with a new midlife Porsche legitimately attempted to gaslight the “girlfriend,” the prospect he kept calling “a friend,” and the audience that he’s justifying his borderline toxic behavior to. It was messy. It was uncomfortable. It was packed with essential relationship takeaways.

Then we were given the ancillary single characters, who maligned their situations, and pleaded their cases for deserving the seemingly “fairytale” outcomes of the married couples, but when given the opportunity to present their best selves on a show that has a bit of a global reach, they consistently blew it in favor of ego and high production drama. One woman in particular thought it would be a good idea to invite a man who was seemingly interested in her to the “anniversary party” as a first date, then proceeded to spend the majority of the evening getting into everyone else’s business and fighting a battle that wasn’t hers while her date was left chatting with his friend who introduced them and everyone else around him until he was over it all and decided to bounce, which then prompted a tearful hissy fit from the woman, who then needed to be comforted and reassured by her girls that she was deserving of love, yadda, yadda. It was messy. It was uncomfortable. And it was also packed with essential relationship takeaways.

But the one key takeaway that I got from both messy AF situations and the show overall (which isn’t so much a takeaway as it’s validation of a running theme in my life these days) — is that any relationship you put effort into will blossom and thrive, while the ones you don’t will wither and cease to exist. The couples that made it did so because they, first as individuals, were wiling to be honest, open, selfless, vulnerable, take on uncomfortable conversations and conflicts, and make sacrifices that ultimately would lead to them collectively becoming stronger. The ones that didn’t unsurprisingly consisted of at least one person in the relationship who was guarded, self-preserved and/or repressed their feelings and desires til the very moment when they left their “mate” at the alter. It was brutal to watch.

In short: Love is a houseplant.

But seriously, people who mutually feel special, valued and appreciated in their relationships will grow into their best selves together. It’s kind of a no-brainer at this point. Yet, here we are.

In the midst of writing this post, I ended up on a (perfectly timed) call with my cousin (aka one of my main heartbeats), in which we were speaking about a family gathering we held exactly eleven years ago, and the life changes that have since happened. One of those things being that I would leave my boyfriend — who was there — weeks later for the final time. What everyone knew was that I’d called in another cousin, who had a truck, and my uncle, who had a licensed gun, to remove me from the situation. What they did not know was that over the course of the nearly six years we were together, I’d been the one financially holding up the relationship; paying half the rent, all of the utilities, all of the dinners out, the spa visits and entertainment on vacations, and putting money into his account when his went into childcare, clothes and shoes, DJ equipment and fixing his used luxury car (aka a money pit on wheels). We made the same salary. I was debt free. He was not. None of this stopped him from blaming me when things continued to go south, taking things out on me physically, telling me I could never do better than him and finally slandering me to our mutual friends when I’d finally had enough. Hurt people hurt people.

If you’re a regular reader, you already know things didn’t improve much on the dating front after that. There was name calling. There was no calling. There was now an understanding that when I heard phrases like “You think you’re so smart,” “Aren’t you popular?” or any iteration of “You talk too much,” I was about to find myself in a situation where I’m in a competition I never asked for that had already determined me the loser because someone needed a win at my expense.

My father was prison counselor, my biological mother was a nurse and my adopted mother was a schoolteacher. By sheer osmosis, I was designed to be someone who always wanted to make people feel special and cared for. It made sense that my professional life mostly found me in roles that catered to the needs of others. It was also, in my mind, the only way I could secure my own safety and presumed care. It backfired. Badly. I fell hard for grand gestures and other red flags indicative of control issues. I was attention-starved, resentful and running on empty. What a time to be alive.

It was messy. It was uncomfortable. It was a time packed with essential relationship takeaways.

The irony in having a father who made convicted (and alleged) criminals feel empowered and human is how he unintentionally failed spectacularly at instilling those same feelings into his daughter. I never got the talks and the words of encouragement that prompted defendants to effusively wave at him in a courtroom (immediately getting him excused from jury duty), procure the latest technological gadgets for members of my family for a literal steal as gifts, or get excited about seeing a photo of me on his desk at work because their niece is a school friend. (Again, true stories. Also: WTF?!) I’d only learned after his death that I was a source of immense pride and a constant topic of discussion for accomplishments never acknowledged out loud. And that discovery, which simultaneously healed and broke my heart, shifted EVERYTHING in my personal and professional relationships.

I no longer stay where I’m not wanted or valued. I no longer entertain transactional people and situations in any form. I’ve gotten really comfortable with having uncomfortable conversations that result in having peace of mind and clarity on where I stand in any situation and how to move accordingly. I’ve become so protective of my energy its almost uncanny, which has made way for more authentic interactions that bring me joy. Disappointments are now seen as the lessons and detours to greater opportunities that they are. I’m proud of me.

When I mentioned earlier about being embarrassed by how long it took me to address the topic, it wasn’t because I wasn’t aware of its impact. Again, I built my professional career around making sure others felt special, at times sacrificing my own personal life and comfort because I never considered for a moment that I was too. I used to joke that I’d either hung out with, dated or been in the presence of enough actors, models, artists, producers, musicians, photographers and entrepreneurs in my lifetime that there should be a handbag named after me. I’m only now realizing not a lot of people could make that joke…or that it’s kinda not a joke. It’s weird. It’s unbelievable. And it’s why I haven’t turned to a life of crime to secure the kind of lifestyle where my travel plans aren’t remotely reliant on how many points I’ve racked up through my Amazon purchases. (Real talk, how many vitamins does a chick need to buy to get to St. Martin?)

Everyone wants — and deserves — to feel special in whatever relationship they’re in and space they take up. I think we can all agree that most problems tend to arise when we either feel unworthy of that feeling, or entitled to be the only ones who do. People will (and have) gone to great lengths for the distinction. Academically-inclined students. People who spend extra money on luxury experiences. Athletes who spend their entire lives training for quickly-fleeting moments of glory on the world stage. Anyone who’s relentlessly pursued the arts in hopes of being world-renown, steadily in demand and lucratively rewarded and awarded in the process. People in marginalized communities fighting to be seen and acknowledged as deserving of all the things they’ve been denied by their more privileged counterparts. People who scaled government buildings for narcissistic psychopaths who gave the word new and ominous meaning. People who use the words “internet famous.” Even people who are so crippled by insecurities and past hurts that they actively push anyone who tries to get close to them out of their lives (after much therapy, soul-searching and healing, natch).

And, of course, people who go on reality television shows to find and vie for love after getting to a point where they felt invisible in the real world.

The reality is…life is messy. It’s uncomfortable. And it’s packed with essential relationship takeaways. But when you find that special someone —or, even better, become them — it gets so much easier to navigate.

Trust.

Xo

Identity Heft

Identity Heft

Etymologically speaking, “a walk in the park” is supposedly an easy thing to do.

Therefore, it came as a complete surprise to me yesterday, when I could barely make my first lap around the nearby park before needing to retreat to the nearest bench in an attempt to shake off a sudden pain that hit me on the right side of my back.

Initially, my first thoughts turned to aging, as it tends to do these days because perimenopause is menacingly real and unsexy. Then I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and understood that even though I walked out of my apartment with nothing but my keys and photo ID in case the cops need to identify my body…I was carrying something heavy.

The week started awful, with me learning as I sat in an airport on my way home from a bittersweet but much-needed getaway that one of my elder cousins lost both her daughter and grandson (who was a father of six) within days of each other at the same hospital in their hometown. Instantly, a wave of guilt rushed in because I’d lost touch with that portion of my family, and didn’t know how to respond…or if I should. Learning the circumstances of both deaths from another cousin only exacerbated the feeling.

My father had always been the family connector; the one who called and drove or flew to every state and family member, and this was his first cousin and her immediate family who had now suffered two devastating back-to-back losses I could never imagine. By contrast, I’ve lived and operated as an only child with limited family engagement for most of my life — gravitating only to specific family members I spent the most time with due to our proximity to each other in age and/or geographical location, and used Facebook to monitor the rest (hence how I learned of the tragedies). It’s moments like these that remind me just how isolated I’ve been to the point of being my own island, and it’s honestly something I’ve begun taking stock of as I grow older and less likely to have a family of my own.

So when I entered the park on that gorgeous sunny day, and saw multiple family gatherings taking place…it didn’t just remind me that I didn’t have a life filled with many of those moments and connections, it became clear to me just how defining those moments are in shaping the people we become.

I’ve always been in awe of and envied people who had solid family and community foundations that encouraged and motivated them to become highly functioning members of society. I get weepy when I watch movies like “In The Heights,” with its message of pride in family, community and cultural heritage. (Same with assorted Asian movies where the young protagonist grapples with coming of age and walking the fine line between self-actualization and preserving constrictive traditions for parental and elder approval.) I grew up in a Queens suburb where my predominantly Black and Caribbean neighbors were more interested in what you had for their own gain, than in collectively thriving as a community. As a child, I’d spend summers in Georgia being ridiculed for my New York accent, and often singled-out for my “big city” behavior. (Interestingly, I now slip into a twang when I touch down in the south, or am speaking to certain members of my family — something I’ve also done unconsciously when speaking to British and Hasidic clients in my past work life when, in retrospect, I wanted them to feel at ease.)

For the longest time, I’ve had trouble identifying and defining who I truly am and what I want in this life. Having no one around to help me figure it out only made me feel more aimless and alone. I often joke about being “raised by wolves,” because unlike my peers, I wasn’t taught how to cook traditional meals (or any – I wing it), how to drive, the importance of investing in things like stocks and real estate, or any particular set of life skills that might’ve made me more of a (human) force, and less of a person who happens to have a shit ton of life experiences that equate to zero tangible assets to show for any of them but a lot of interesting stories and billable hours in therapy. I’ve also never spent any of my formative years being schooled on my family heritage, being exposed to long-term healthy relationships or celebrating holidays like Kwanzaa and Juneteenth…and am only playing catchup on the significance of it all.

Which is why it surprised me that I’d become more protective of my Blackness — and the culture in general — in recent years, considering the bulk of my traumatic experiences came from my own people. That I’ve taken up advocating for people of color to take up spaces in the corporate world when I go mostly ignored by them in the real world unless I have something that benefits them is…something I’m working through. That, and being violently triggered when someone makes decisions on my behalf without my input and/or consent.

These thoughts are too heavy.

One of the many things I’ve learned in this life is that hurt people hurt people…until they do the work to become healed people. And there are gonna be days when it’s hard to not take shit personally, but I cannot and will not continue to let the actions of a few keep me from opening my heart to being and doing better for others and myself. Especially when the end result is authentic love, connection and peace. It’s a lesson I’ll be taking into consideration as I attempt to find the words to comfort grieving relatives and, eventually, find something more.

I’m still insecure when it comes to knowing my true purpose and direction in life (note: I know what it is, the imposter syndrome just hits different), but I’m confident that I’ve built enough of a foundation over the last few years with a circle who genuinely want the best for me and will quickly jump in to make sure I stay out of my own way. I’m blessed to have a support system that celebrates my wins, comfort me through my losses and give me strength on days when I falter and think I can’t make it. They remind me who I am when I tend to forget. Nothing fills me more than being able to do the same for them in return.

I guess, in a way, that does make me my father’s daughter. That’s a good place to start…

I’m rambling…but my back feels better now.

Braking Hearts

Braking Hearts

The last 36 hours have been…different. Slightly weird even. But in the best way possible.

In addition to it consisting of me embarking on plane travel for the first time in twenty (20) months (!), it’s also the first time in seven years that I’ve been in a room with a man who — at several points in time over the course of two decades — I would’ve (and have) given anything to breathe his air…and the first time I didn’t lose my senses during the experience.

That’s not to say the thought didn’t cross my mind…a few times. And not just because it’s been a while since a human other than myself was responsible for my orgasms. It’s because his smile, his laugh, his skin, his voice and his entire brilliant being lights me on fire. Every. Fucking. Time. Because we can talk endlessly about everything from stocks and politics to the MCU (Marvel Comic Universe for the uninitiated). Because I’ve never felt more seen, more smart or more safe with a man who wasn’t my father. Because he’s genuinely one of my favorite people, even though I honestly never thought I’d see him again.

I know, I know…none of this makes sense. How can I describe someone this way and not consummate?

Clearly, I love him. Truth be told, I loved him before I knew I loved him. And none of that will change.

But…I have changed.

In the past, I’ve done most, if not all, of the heavy lifting when it came to relationships. The list of things I’ve done to make shit work is long, exhaustive, mentally taxing and fucking humiliating. It’s easy to buy dinners and offer open invitations to stay in beautiful waterfront apartments. It’s something else to communicate your feelings and intentions and make efforts to check in with someone for no other reason than you’re thinking about them and want to make sure they’re okay mentally and emotionally because their wellbeing matters to you.

Now…I want — no, I require — someone who will do the work with me. Someone who makes me a priority. Someone who wants a life with me and not a life that includes me only at specific intervals. I want someone who wants to show me the world because in his eyes and heart…I’m his world.

That’s not to say he isn’t capable of that. Truthfully, I’ve never given him a chance because I legitimately wasn’t in the right headspace during whatever window of opportunity might’ve existed to be a true partner for anybody. I spent years and copious amounts of resources jumping through hoops of fire when I just needed to chill the fuck out, pump the brakes on being boo’d up (see what I did there?), and be by myself for a while to learn what made me happy and whole…and recognize that I bring a hell of a lot to a table just as I am.

All that to say…my brain has officially demoted my lady parts to a supporting role in this thing called life, and it’s no longer running affairs of the heart. And I couldn’t be more relieved.

That said, I’m still eternally grateful for my rechargeable vibrator, which has come through like a champ during a slate of unfortunate dating app encounters, a merciless pandemic and an epic journey of self-discovery that’s now entering its fourth year.

But that’s another story.

The Mother Load

The Mother Load

Full (moon) disclosure: There’s a good chance I may go all over the place with my thoughts in this post (more so than usual).

Last night, I went outside to gaze at the supermoon, came in and watched “Avengers: Endgame” for the umpteenth time, and realized I hadn’t done a post to mark the occasion of starting this quiet little blog a whole decade ago!

Spoiler alert: I’m still not (technically) gonna do one.

However long you’ve been rockin’ with this sporadic, occasionally depressing, hopefully insightful and always a tad batshit crazy home of my musings — please know that I am truly grateful to you for generously indulging me. It is my hope that you’ve left this page at times feeling enlightened, optimistic, more vulnerable and/or mildly amused. It is also my hope that you’ve spread the word so others might feel the same.

Maybe you’ve gained perspective in areas you never considered. Maybe some of my stories resonated and made you feel seen or heard. Maybe you, too, have embraced therapy. Or meditation. Or skydiving. Or tragicomical sexcapades with lanky/sketchy Cuban poets or semi-famous narcissistic actors. Or obsessively playing the “Hamilton” soundtrack ad nauseam. Or indulgent self-care rituals. (I’d like to delude myself in thinking there’s something here for everyone.)

When I began this blog, I was reeling from a season of change I wasn’t mentally prepared for and desperately needed an outlet to escape. I was struggling to find full-time work after being laid off from a lucrative job a year earlier, was fresh out of a nearly six-yearlong relationship that had grown abusive (subsequently becoming homeless as a result), and my father had been diagnosed with dementia and early-onset alzheimer’s — setting off a domino effect of health, legal, financial and family drama aplenty for years to come. To say that writing about things as innocuous as baseball game proposals and bridge comparisons provided an unlikely balm at the time was an understatement.

Ten years later, this little blog is where the façade gets stripped. And I love it.

Which brings me to a subject I haven’t really been keen to delve into because up until now I didn’t realize it was such a pain point but whew lawd is it ever!

As April comes to a close, it brings with it more than a slew of Taurus folks reminding me that I need to get my life in order and that my birthstone is trash. It also brings the ominous (for me, at least) reckoning that is Mother’s Day; the one day out of the year where I pretend to be engaged by doling out airy tributes to the moms in my life, acutely aware of my personal views on motherhood, and having come to grips with the fact that my relationship with my own biological mother is nonexistent at my behest.

For years, I’ve grappled with a host of feelings when it came to my biological mother: The classic default of hurt/angry with her for behavior that could clinically be construed as negligent/abandonment. Guilty for the last words I ever said to her nearly five years ago at my father’s funeral, after she repeatedly hit me with a program bearing my father’s face for “not getting her joke.” Sad for her because her inability to see beyond her own experiences and narrative has impaired and/or destroyed any real chance of healing or connection with me and anyone else that just got tired of trying and repeatedly failing to be heard.

And yes, I’m cognizant of the disconnect that comes with using the term “biological,” although it’s not as loaded as it’s just simply my truth. Another woman raised me. To me, she’s my mother. Simple math.

But even armed with those basic facts, I never dug into the emotional ramifications of that equation. Never paid attention to how I internalized that anger. Never noticed how during the rare visits in my youth, she’d find opportunities to insult my father, who never spoke ill of her, made countless efforts to ensure she and her family were kept abreast of my whereabouts and supported various members when they were in need decades after they had divorced. (Admittedly a bad husband, but an undeniably good — albeit flawed — man.) Also never picked up on her habit of assuming the victim role and shirking accountability when she made terrible — and often detrimental — life choices.

If I had…I would have noticed sooner that I’d become the very person I’d vowed to never become…at one point basing my decision to not have children on the fear that I’d one day replicate her actions.

Strangely, realizing I was an asshole was quite a refreshing revelation.

After unpacking how my approach to life and relationships was shaped (distorted?) by the fears, resentments, traumas and biases of both my biological and adopted mothers, I began looking at my past romantic relationships and realized there was a common thread: All of my long-term relationships had been with men who held deep resentments toward their mothers as well. One was angry that his mother brought him to America, forcing him to leave his life and friends across the pond behind…glossing over the fact that she was fleeing a violent marriage. One was none-too-pleased that his younger, fairer-skinned brother got more attention than he did growing up. One literally blacked out talking about how his mother would take his deceased father’s social security money and give it to his younger brother for clothes and sneaker shopping, while he was supporting himself through college (even though they did not share the same father). All of them at one point had assumed the role of “man of the house” and financially supported them in their adult life to the point of straining themselves fiscally to maintain the appearance of being the “good son” and keep the desired approval/love of their mothers.

Unsurprisingly, all of them thought money, status and material belongings were the remedy for the huge emotional voids they couldn’t fill. And all had massive control issues.

And as simultaneously heartbreaking and terrifying as that revelation is, it’s not an anomaly. There are SO MANY mothers who are unwittingly hobbling their child’s ability to have healthy relationships and even function as emotionally stable adults. Hell, without even realizing it, I had preternaturally doomed my children to the point where I didn’t even bother having any, so I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like being a woman who puts the weight of her world onto the shoulders of her child because her heart is broken to the point where she makes her happiness and dream fulfillment the priority and responsibility of that child.

Actually, I can and just did. It’s shitty.

I think about that when I hear stories of single mothers pushing their sons to be pro athletes in dangerous but lucrative sports without encouraging them to also have an education and a post-retirement business plan. I think of that when I see stage moms who aggressively force their children into entertainment without their consent. I think of that when I hear stories of women who knew their partners were abusing their kids but didn’t want to lose whatever stability that partner provided, and instead took their frustrations out on the child and abused them more.

I think of women who resent when the child gets more attention than them and ignore or put down their dreams and achievements. I think of women who can’t recover when the child is a physical reminder of the man who brought them pain and, by default, punishes them for it. I think of women who mistakenly believe that withholding words of encouragement and praise will make their kids “stronger.” I think of women who use threats and violence to intimidate their child into meeting their expectations instead of talking to them. I think of women who don’t communicate their needs, fears and desires, who risk sending their kids a message that their needs, fears and desires aren’t valid or worthy of attention, fulfillment and care. I think of all these very-real scenarios…and of the future adults walking around feeling unworthy, unloved, unable to express or process emotions and conflict…afraid to communicate what they require and be vulnerable, authentic, joyful and free as a result.

And it’s soul crushing…in addition to generating way too many red flags to keep track of before swearing off dating/mating for life.

I’d be remiss if I left out the women who inadvertently raise dangerously entitled humans because they fear being labeled a bad mother. They may not be scarring the kids for life, but they sure as hell are making them difficult to deal with in society, which may scar the rest of us.

That said, I know some amazing women who have raised some incredible human beings. I understand it’s no small feat, and it often takes a village. And without the support of a partner and/or friends and family who are equally invested in making sure everyone is functioning on their highest level, things absolutely, inevitably, fall through the cracks.

To them, I say with all sincerity: You deserve your flowers. And the spa days. And the occasional vice-infused getaway. You deserve all the things.

I’ll just close this epic tome by saying that in the thirteen hours since writing the bulk of these words (I was too sleepy to edit and post earlier), I’ve since discovered that Oprah released a new book today pretty much touching on this fun subject, so I’m just gonna take that as a sign I’m on the right path and learned something good over this past decade, and perhaps this is where my generational curse ends.

Also, I’m literally on the same page as Oprah, and I haven’t decided yet if that’s a flex or if I’m about to get cussed out again by the people who keep telling me to write a book already.

Motherfucker.

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.

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?