Gorgeous and wise.
Since launching our holiday Feed-A-Single-Parent-Family holiday initiative yesterday, we've received overwhelming response, both from families in need and from generous supporters interested in donating. To streamline the process for the latter, here are some additional details and a separate form for those looking to give a grocery gift card to a family that could really use your support this holiday season:
My sweet Cleopatra, named for a Queen, sister to a mastiff I never met named Brutus, died on Monday morning. I was working on something and she had been breathing hard all day and I was planning to take her to the vet on Monday first thing. I called after her and she came over, laid at my feet and stopped breathing.
She was somewhere between 8 years old and 11. She was a gift from a wonderful man I met through a good friend who worked at the newspaper where I used to work. Kurt had a brain tumor and needed to go into hospice so he wanted someone to treat his baby right. Brutus, unfortunately, ran away. Cleo, who had grown up with a cat and Kurt, had remained. As you can see, she was beautiful.
My joke about her was that she knew that she was named for a Queen. She was dainty, quiet and sweet. She was well-trained and reserved at first, but mostly she liked to lick people and puppies. On our walks around the neighborhood, she would point her muzzle at the angry-looking feral cats and wag her tail like, “Look, Mom, it’s the love of my life.”
I would gently pull her in the direction of our path. “Um, let’s stay away from animals that might maim you.”
She worked as protection from all kinds of people and stuff, but she did not bark.
Every now and then she would howl in this really unladylike way that was kind of scary. At nothing. Like the wind.It sounded like the creak of a door coming off its hinges.
She sighed with impatience while I tried to make deadlines and hated my computer.
She pressed her wet nose into my face in the mornings when she was feeling well, a reminder for me to get up and get at it. Because I had never had a dog before, I failed regularly to do anything that makes sense to dogs (and probably humans.) She loved me anyway.
For instance, she thoroughly hated thunderstorms and firecrackers (I hear this is typical for dogs). One night, around 2 in the morning, she kept pacing and shaking, so I got several copies of the Yellow Pages (don’t judge) and made a makeshift staircase so that she could use them to climb up on the bed. She walked away and continued to whimper from a couch that I kept just so she could have her own throne.
A few days later, I went to Ikea. When I came home, she had gotten herself nice and comfortable in my bed, sans Yellow Pages. All I could do was laugh.
It was less funny when the frat boys next door had a Fourth of July shindig and Cleo tore down the living room blinds and nearly ripped a few doors off their hinges.
But Cleo did teach me about living and loving in profound ways. The first thing she taught me is that you don’t have to choose a way to be. My story about myself was that I was a cat person (not a single cat lady) and not really a dog person. They were so much work. They were expensive. I didn’t have the time. But really I was non-committal and afraid of intimacy. I didn’t want to love something other than myself so hard because I was deeply afraid of loss. I don’t care what people say about it’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved. It is hard to lose the people and things that we love and the ache feels like it never ends. So I understand why people avoid it.
Size does not matter. I affectionately called Cleo my mini-pony because she really was the size of a small horse. What I loved about her was that she truly adored little dogs. They would be barking and freaking out and running around and she would just look at them and sniff their bellies and if they stood still, she’d lick them until they calmed all the way down. So I learned from her that sometimes things look and seem scary, but approaching them like you might totally be destroyed by an experience is not a good way to make friends at the dog park/in life.
Even when you’re shy, you find the people and things meant for you. Before I got Cleo, I think I thought that I needed to do a lot of work to date and network and circulate to convince any potential partners that I was worth it. But what I learned getting out and about with Cleo is that just by being her beautiful Cleo self, she drew really great people to her and into my life.
You never have to ask your real friends to be there for you. From a recommendation for a vet to a crate (that Cleo tried to sit in without complaint for our first few days together until I felt like a moron and stopped putting her in it) to giving her medication with peanut butter to having a place for her to crash while my mom was sick and I needed to be back East, Cleo taught me how to think first about how to help us take care of her and trust my friends enough to be part of our community. My friends Andrea and Todd went above and beyond, even though they have three other dogs and two adorable sons and plenty of other things they could be thinking about at any given time.
Forgiveness feels better than you think. I used to hold grudges. I still do, but less after Cleo. I have said this before but I like the saying that suggests that festering anger toward people is like holding a hot coal and expecting the other person to get burned. One of the greatest gifts of Cleo in my life was that even when I was annoyed with her or I raised my voice or something, she might cower a little bit and look at me before she stormed off, but a moment later, she would come wagging her tail when I came back to my senses. Then I would hang out with her on her throne and talk to her while I rubbed her belly, hoping I could get back in her good graces — but she had already forgiven me. Grace.
When you are fully yourself, no matter how different, the people who are supposed to love you will adore you for it. Cleo was more famous in my neighborhood, especially around tiny children, as the tiger-striped mini-horse than I will ever be. People would always ask me about Cleo before they asked about me. Sometimes I would complain that I wish she had opposable thumbs so she could have done some work, but I actually loved how committed she was to just hanging out and pretending to tan her belly as opposed to needing to do work. She taught me how to take better care of myself and my heart. She hated water but she also hated the heat, so she spent a lot of her summer doing this version of downward facing dog.
Being vulnerable is a beautiful, painful thing. While the people who know me best and have known me the longest know how intensely I love some people and things, the older I get the harder it is for me to pretend to be aloof. One of my best friends, the one who helped me take Cleo to the emergency vet in the middle of the night to be cremated, said that she learned from her puppy how to open up. I did, too. I was lucky to be a dog mom for a few years. Thanks, Miss Cleo, for teaching me how to howl when I needed to and how to walk and keep trying to live with grace. I already miss you so much.
Psychobiologists can now show that loneliness sends misleading hormonal signals, rejiggers the molecules on genes that govern behavior, and wrenches a slew of other systems out of whack. They have proved that long-lasting loneliness not only makes you sick; it can kill you. Emotional isolation is ranked as high a risk factor for mortality as smoking. A partial list of the physical diseases thought to be caused or exacerbated by loneliness would include Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases, and even cancer—tumors can metastasize faster in lonely people.
I used to get lonely a lot, but over the years, I’ve been really amazed at the great, wide community out there that wraps me up in loving support, even when I try to push people away (consciously or without thinking about it until after they’ve gone.)
The great thing about being single is that you get to decide how you respond to external pressure to be in a relationship, to raise a kid on your own or with a partner that nobody approves of or likes, or even just get a pet and make that the center of your world. (Shout out to Cleo, who turns 12 this year.) Anyway, I was reading this book, No Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing Parenthood, a few months ago. Most of the writers, like Margaret Cho, are comedians. They say a lot of what I’ve written about before when complaining about the ways that coupled people and some uncoupled ones expect that any person presenting as a woman in the world explain their childlessness. Motherhood is still considered a prerequisite for performing real womanhood and women are not treated as such without a lot of drama if they don’t express ongoing maternal yearnings, desire or commitment.
Back when I was working in an office again, a co-worker who has a grown son noticed the cover. She mentioned a couple of other stories about single women, presumably like me, who are much older. One of them had a hellion of a kid even though she didn’t actually want to have any kids because 1) it was what women did in her day and 2) She was thinking about who would take care of her when she got old. I should have left my co-worker’s office. But she was actually standing in my cubicle, I think, which is why I didn’t interrupt the flow of conversation.
As much as I love other people’s kids — and truly, I do — I think having a child with the expectation that said kid will grow up and make sure to escort you to the best assisted living facility when you can longer fend for yourself is not a good enough reason to get preggers. Also, I don’t think merging with another soul in the expectation that you can care for one another into your later years is a good idea, either. We should like each other enough to want to make sure we both survive. That isn’t a given. And it is very, very hard for me to imagine that kind of long-term tolerance. Or maybe it’s that the joy of it, the possibility of the joy of it, keeps me from being lonely.
But I mention all of this to say that loneliness is killer for me as a single woman because at the heart of any panic I ever feel about being single is the belief that I might die lonely. While I’m being maudlin, notice that I didn’t say I would die alone — we all will — or that I would die of a broken heart (that’s my early aspiring romance novelist peeking her head out to say what up.)
Loneliness, after all, is the want of intimacy. Single is not synonymous with loneliness, we know. The faces of the lonely look a little like…well, my people, except loneliness research puts me on the winning side of things, I suppose:
Who are the lonely? They’re the outsiders: not just the elderly, but also the poor, the bullied, the different. Surveys confirm that people who feel discriminated against are more likely to feel lonely than those who don’t, even when they don’t fall into the categories above. Women are lonelier than men (though unmarried men are lonelier than unmarried women). African Americans are lonelier than whites (though single African American women are less lonely than Hispanic and white women). The less educated are lonelier than the better educated. The unemployed and the retired are lonelier than the employed.
Being connected is work. It is as much work, if not more, than being in a relationship. It feels like asserting yourself on the world in order to create a legacy that is not about being sad because you’re not 1/2 of a couple but instead about transforming your relationship to the world (or worlds) that you operate in. It makes me sleepy and sometimes cranky and moody, but the flip side is a reward. It takes loneliness away.
I was all about showing up for my boxing instructor, for instance, one Saturday, but I was tired and felt like flaking almost from the minute we stepped inside a glass-blowing studio (yes!) where she was giving free instruction. A little girl changed my whole attitude, though. She was just full of energy, her parents beaming, her brother off hanging out with the dog and eating something cold that I craved. She picked me as her partner to practice throwing punches, and I was so proud, even though she almost punched me in the face. For weeks afterward, I would run into her mother, and she would tell me about how this little girl who doesn’t know me, loved boxing with me. Weeks turned into months. Now me and her mom are good buddies.
It was great to be able to show up for her daughter without expectation and to make a connection that took me out of thinking about the future, or worrying about who will care for me when I’m old, if I get to be an old lady. Part of making sure I stay around long enough for that to even be a problem comes down to connecting in the moment, as much as I can, as much intimacy as I can stand. The question of how much intimacy one can stand (or, actually, I can stand) is probably a longer discussion.
The Childfree Life: “When having it all doesn’t mean having a baby” is an actual sentence in this Time Magazine article. What!?
Also see: No Kidding, this hilarious anthology that I was reading during my lunch break when one of my co-workers asked me who was going to take care of me when I get old. My answer to her was that there was no way to know, and even if I had a kid, there was no telling that said child would still like me enough as an old lady to take care of me. So, BOOM.
On a more serious note (even though I wasn’t kidding! See what I did there?) Stacia Brown tackles the role of trauma and poverty in our cultural narratives about black love in this great post, Black Love in a Time of Poverty:
If you’re trying to figure out why the poorest of black and brown communities continue to procreate against all odds, think about what children represent (and what they are) for so many families. If you’re wondering why the poorest partners in black and brown communities don’t marry their partners, think about how difficult it is for the most disenfranchised and marginalized among us to maintain healthy relationships without money, emotional support, family counseling, and the other very necessary resources they would need to thrive.
One of my favorite kindred writing spirits in the blogosphere Deonna Kelli Sayed wrote this great post on her blog called Google Me. I Dare You. It really resonated with me though I haven’t told anyone to Google me and it totally reaffirmed my love for her candor:
Sometimes – but not always — I write about the raw stuff, like insecurities, fears, loneliness. If a man can’t approach me about that, he is going to be clueless about the rest of me. I’m at the point that if someone doesn’t want to know my complexities, they aren’t worth my time. I have a big story, and if a man can’t swallow the whole of it, (or if he can’t even ask me a little bit about it) then I don’t need him around.
So, now that we’ve covered the important stuff, you get a treat!
Buzzfeed spies on me, I think, because they know that I find photos like these really embarrassing and funny engagement ones so affirming. I can’t decide if I like the couple in the water the best or the ones where the women look completely sad and bereft.
I was surprised by this one: So Single Black Men Want Commitment. Really?
We recently found that single black men were much more likely to say they were looking for a long-term relationship (43 percent) compared to single black women (25 percent).
Those numbers come from our ‘ views of their lives and communities (the poll was conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health). Our findings about the dating lives of single folks — that is, respondents 18-49, widowed, divorced, or never married — have sparked the most conversation so far.
And the gender skew has elicited straight-out side-eyes.
Right. Fans of this blog know that I have written a lot about the odd politics of interracial dating for black women and the overabundance of stories about how women’s achievement (black women’s achievement, in particular) is keeping the number of women who are single high. “Maybe the truth really is that lots of black men really do want to get boo’ed up while lots of black women are ambivalent,” my friend Gene wrote.
Well, maybe. I’m dating again. We’ll see how it goes. I have a good feeling about it! So, something more positive than ambivalent, for me, at least.
That reminds me of this article I read and am still processing, “Life Without Sex“:
Are you single, married, engaged, “it’s complicated”? Are you straight, gay, a lesbian? All of these categories suggest sexual activity, which somehow reassures us. You are doing something.
But I don’t think that’s our true life and rhythm. We are not machines. Nothing is so tidy about our sex lives. We are very alone in how we dream. We are not making love as easily as we boast we are. And when we are making love, it is not always enjoyable.
Here are some other articles I liked about the single life (and a couple about introverts because…those are my people):
I am at a crossroads. Only a couple of years into my career I am faced with the very real, very scary decision of prioritizing professional or personal.
I’ve read many articles and blogs about this issue and unsurprisingly the discourse is centered on women and the choices we are forced to make between our professional and personal identities. So often this conversation is about if married women should change their last name or when women should have children in relation to the tenure process.
I took myself to the beach and it was amazing. If my bills are any indication, I’ll be paying for it for a long time, but it was worth it to give myself a treat for working my tail off all the time.
One day, I’ll go with my love, I hope. Something about the expanse of the ocean and the fact that I can’t see beyond the horizon enchants.
I took more pictures of the ocean than anything else, really, while I was at Martha’s Vineyard, and it really was my only way of trying to capture what I loved and needed most about the salt water, the air, the sand under my feet.
It was novelty, yes, but more than that. I was writing about when I was little and Mom used to take me visit my brother in Atlantic City. We actually weren’t really there to see him as much as she wanted to gamble. (My Dad liked to gamble, too. One of my sisters thinks they probably met this way. Super romantic, I know.)
Anyway, she would leave me in the arcade for hours while she went on one of her gambling binges. I always ran out of quarters; I was not so good at video games. Manual dexterity is one of those things on my list re: self-improvement. So I was always done with the quarters she’d left me with before she was done spending money we didn’t really have, so I would step out of the weird box-shaped room with all the machines into a quiet hallway where I could see the ocean over the rickety-looking boardwalk.
The Atlantic has always drawn me in. It did when I was little and it did, again, this time, when I was north in Oak Bluffs. My sweet friends there have been married as long as I’ve been alive, and they seem to have found peace and quiet and productivity up there in the bluffs.
The birds are also happy. How they do it, I’ll never know. I mean, these birds are the happiest group of wildlife I’ve ever heard (They woke me each morning with their songs, and I noticed them: ospreys, blue jays, cardinals, high up in the trees.) The wind gusts made the trees sway in a dance.
We had salads with rich foods every night, and big helpings of ice cream. I left with a bag of salt water taffy and the damp pages of my memoir, which I’ve finished a draft of.
I think when I used to travel alone, I used to be more afraid than I was this time. The great thing about getting older, even when you’re single and you notice that many more people than you thought are in couples, is that there is a serenity that comes with maturity and solitude, both.
(Just a quick logistical note: The URL PartyofOnes.com will expire in July, but you can always find me (on a not-so-frequent basis) at thesingleladies.wordpress.com)
I suppose that sounds sexually suggestive but…I’m not talking about that.
My friends are my soul mates.
I believe soul mates are mirrors for us. They show us sides of ourselves that we can’t see because we’re too close to ourselves.
My dear friend wants to have a good time and be casual. While dating. Whatever that means for her.
But, like me, she’s really cerebral. Bless her heart, her standards are astronomically high and they should be.
She’s a catch. Brilliant, beautiful, funny with good teeth. I mean — what’s not to like? She’s also a fellow serial monogamist.
So, she wants to have fun while dating, but part of her is like, Fun? Ain’t nobody got time for that.
And another part of her is like, “Excuse me, fun partner, do you have good credit and dynamic interests?”
But, you know, we can’t tighten our grasp and let go of stuff at the same time for a reason.
You can’t date with a purpose and then be like, “Nah, I didn’t ask you to marry me and spend the rest of your life with me! I said would you carry me and spend the rest of the night with me.”
“Your fun button is broken,” I said without hesitating.
So I told my homegirl that and she repeated it back to me. “Yeah. Maybe my fun button is broken.”
Mine is broken, too, but I’m working on fixing it. Because summer is coming. And I have to do something besides write all the time.
I’m ready to be with my feelings. Feelings is probably my least favorite f-word, by the way. Work is way less complicated. Logical! Organized! A place for everything! A strategic plan!
Emotions = fuzzy, messy, unpredictable. Ugh. It’s too HOT.
Still, I don’t want to go back to being a workaholic. Most of my co-workers are married, if not to each other, to partners they met long ago (typically not at work). So, I’ve planned my first vacation for this summer that will not involve writing, just hanging out. I’m looking for beach reads. I’m going to a lot more parties. My friends are certain that courtship is in my future, though I’m not so sure. But a lot of the parties I’ve been to have been couple-heavy, so it’s hard to know for sure.
What are your summer plans? Are y’all out there dating and mixing it up for some summer love, or what?