Other kinds of love and Happy Valentine’s Day

When I became a journalist, I realized that I was in love with wandering as much as the thrill of the chase. I craved monogamy — in love and in a city — but I was greedy, too. I wanted all of the sprawling urban wild of Houston and the quiet hospitality of East Texas and the seafood with a view of Mount Rainier from Seattle. I wanted San Francisco to be as black and beautiful as Oakland and for the whole Bay Area to offer housing as affordable as the South. For minutes at a time, I could stand tracing the lines of the New York subway system on a map like they were veins in a lover’s forearm.

The quote above is from My Valentine’s Day piece about breaking up with Austin, which I’ll always have a special fondness for. You can read the rest here: http://bit.ly/1mg0i3h

I wanted to put this piece here and thank you for all the love and support you’ve shown me by showing up whenever I have time to post. I realized the other day that it’s been a year since the publication of my book Single & Happy and that it all started with the community of single sweethearts and our allies that I met here. If you hate Valentine’s Day, like I used to, hang in there — it’s almost over. If you like it (and all the chocolate) 1) I recommend Chocolove’s Almond and Dark Chocolate bar with Sea Salt before the day is done and 2) Happy Valentine’s Day.

Either way, may you always get the love of your life and the love you deserve.


Fascinating stories about singles from 2013

I really meant to post this list a little earlier but I moved across country, celebrated that and the holidays with friends and family and as my birthday approaches, a big ‘ol snowstorm has arrived. You guys are my Internet-equivalent of a #winterboo, so I thought I’d say a merry/happy belated Goodbye-to-All-That, 2013 with this mini-list.

Anne Lamott on her year at Match.com: “You could say that my year on Match was not successful, since I’m still single, have been reduced to recycling my Starbucks companions, and am pleased with ‘pleasant.’ To have gone out so many times took almost everything I had, and then I didn’t even meet the right man. You start to wonder if there’s something wrong with you. Nah.”

One of the best reported and most illuminating stories was written by the founders of Onely.org at the Atlantic on the high costs of being single.

I just watched this wonderful video Op-Ed from The New York Times via Upworthy (h/t Natalie Tindall).

If you love videos, this sweet one I first saw at Love, InshAllah is great.

It’s also almost the anniversary of the publication of my ebook, Single & Happy. I had a feeling eventually someone would ask me about the white lady legs on the cover, but I thought I was just being neurotic and should let it go. Then, I wrote this.

And this commenter (as commenters sometimes will) wrote the question that I had been waiting a year for:

On the book cover the photographed legs look like those of a white woman? Why would you do that? Black woman are so beautiful!!

Yes. We are. We are so beautiful!

And whenever we write something that connects what happens to us to broader womanhood or humanity, it is categorized on the African American shelf or in the ethnic studies category. Nothing wrong with that. But I wanted to reach single people generally. Even so, I, too, winced a little when I got the design back and wondered who would ask me about the white lady legs (my brother said it just the way I thought it months ago.) I hoped that the main point of the book — which is only partly about race and a rhetorical, sustained assault on single black women from a particular era (that thankfully seems to have slowed) but mostly about fighting a stigma that impacts women of all races — wouldn’t get missed by picking a pair of legs that looked just like mine. It is my story, too, but it’s also the story of a lot of single men and women.

At least that’s what I was trying for. I might not have been successful. But 2014 is a new year. I’m working on some other books. I’ll keep you posted. Happy New Year!

Thoughts on desire

Spring is here. Until recently, I’ve had some ambivalence about the season.

Out come the flirty dresses and the pretty skirts. Because I’m out more, I tend to get more attention, not all of it welcome. For instance, I was propositioned by the lawn guy, who is an otherwise very nice SO MARRIED AND NOT REALLY MY TYPE! guy.

Even if he were single, my heart isn’t really in it.

I told one of my friends I think my fun button is broken.

My favorite of the marriage equality signs. Love is love.

Some of it is being busy. More of it has to do with the energy it takes to grow and change, to move in a new direction. I don’t ever admit this in public, but…I’m tired. Like, all the time.

It’s a great direction, one that I’ve worked hard for. But it’s still new. And I liked the old me, my old habits.

They were comfy security blankets.

There’s something really great about bad habits, even when you know they’re bad. I kind of enjoyed being blissfully ignorant, except that there’s nothing really great about ignorance when you know that’s what it is. Life does seem simpler when you don’t know what you don’t know.

On the matter of desire, especially.

When I simply wanted someone to show up for me the way I wanted them to, I could generally mask self-sabotage by telling myself that guys just “weren’t ready for this jelly” or some other Beyoncé lyric. The truth was harder for me to accept, that I was trying to be a hunter-gathering goddess on the love front —  “I’m goin’ huntin’!” — applying my work ethic to matters of the heart. I know, I know: men say they like it when women chase them. But I think there’s a coy way that men like this to happen that might be a gender rule I’m making up, but I almost never operated that way.

Maybe I just needed face paint and that would’ve helped more? (From Petersenshunting.com)

I think this is why it’s easier for folks to play games.If you’re just playing around, if it doesn’t work out, you can just pretend to shrug it off and save face. Because you weren’t serious, allegedly.

There are still things that I’m passionate about, but dating is not one of them, for this very reason.

Except, the weird thing about desire is that sometimes when you stop chasing the thing you want the most in the world, it starts chasing you.

This has come up a couple of times, but most recently I noticed it when I went into a store where I crushed very hard years ago on a local dude I’ll call Steve.

Steve was kind of a jerk, because I used to really like jerks (it was a way of being mean to myself, enduring the company of guys who made Kanye West seem congenial.)

And he liked me. I think.

At the very least, he gave me free food, and his sister thought we should get together and he even sometimes took long walks with me to get coffee when I was in the neighborhood. So, I gave him my number.

He never called. I let it go.

Years have passed since I’ve been a frequent customer. Because, you know. Pride.

Only funny because it’s true! In my case, more like ambivalence.

Well, I dropped by the other day, just because I was hungry and it was on my way home and he was there. I thought he was going to jump out of his skin. He was super…melodramatic. “Where have you been?!”

“Writing. Around. Living,” I said. I wasn’t trying to be dispassionate. I was just confused by this enthusiasm.

“It’s so good to see you. Don’t be a stranger.”

Huh. The difference four years makes? Maybe. Also, everybody says that to everybody. Don’t be a stranger. It doesn’t mean “I’ll call you soon for a date.”

I suck my teeth when people talk about how women shouldn’t be afraid to approach men, because sometimes men are terrified of us. If I had a dollar for every time I asked the wrong a guy out, I’d be rich. I know that guys hear all this stuff about independent women, and how they think those of us who are feminists don’t “need” them — but none of that matters. Who cares about necessity when what you really want is for someone to want you the way you want them?

I’ve been reading Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, in which she writes about vulnerability. I love me some Brené Brown in general, but also because reading her work has led me to a really important conclusion about my own vulnerability. I realized reading this book that sharing my love and heart with people irrespective of their capacity for intimacy has been a habit for a long time. All the scars that come with dating the wrong people come from this assumption that there is something more that I could do or become or achieve that would make the difference when really, at the end of the day, we just weren’t compatible.

I used to be bound to a twisted, limited notion of love and desire, one that considered love/affection a response to a deep need for validation, a thirst for healing and rescue, an unnecessary burden I never had to carry but decided to anyway. I’m not sorry that I have compromised my heart and my dignity through despair and on my way to healing, but I wish I’d figured this out a little sooner.

It would mean that I’d get to see jerks like the shopkeeper without averting my eyes in shame or irritation that he couldn’t see what I gift I was then, though he sees it now. What spring offers me this year, like every year, is a gift. Yes, the pretty skirts and the nice dresses, but also the promise of a fresh start. A new way of thinking about what desire really means, what it feels like with a heart that’s more open and not so bogged down with immature notions.

Top posts in January: Single life is expensive, Jodie Foster might still be single and some tough things about being single

I spent most of the month working on the  book party on Valentine’s Day/ Singles Appreciation Day. The great thing is that a number of my single and coupled friends are coming! The not-so-great-thing is that February is a bit of a hectic month, so posting may be erratic.

Here were the most popular posts last month:

The costs of being single vs. married. I had always suspected that being single was more expensive than getting hitched, but I didn’t know just how expensive. Now I’m working on my taxes and I can’t even think about this anymore without getting sad.

Jodie Foster’s single, y’all. I know, everyone only cares about if she came out or didn’t, and why she rambled. But y’all missed the whole point!

Good answer on Quora question: What is the hardest thing about being single?

The comments have some zingers, too. What a relief to know that I’m not the only single woman in America who has these things happen to her. Yes, our married friends are hanging out without us.

The Atlantic: Everlasting Love is a Myth*

On Barbara Fredrickson’s Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become and whether you can love a friend as deeply (or even more deeply) than a romantic partner.

Top Posts in August: Single Lady Car Maintenance, Learning Intimacy & Wisdom from Alice Walker

August was a hit month at Single & Happy with Zen and the Art of Single Lady Car Maintenance.

Zen and the Art of Single Lady Car Maintenance was a global hit, which genuinely surprised me. I wish for all of you a day when you get Freshly Pressed. It was like being prom queen on the Internet – and I met a lot of great readers from all over the world.

Break-ups, learning intimacy & ending self-sabotage was not as popular. But a lot of you still liked it. (Maybe because I posted it the day after the Zen post?)

I need to remind myself of this at least once a week: “No person is your friend who demands your silence or denies your right to grow.” More wisdom from Alice Walker here.

You know how people will ask you if you’re single, then get shocked and say, “Why?!” when you tell them? Well, I tried dating so that I would figure out a better answer to that question. But that, too, was a #fail.

On the New York Times’ great Opinion piece, The Busy Trap, and the difference between being busy and being lonely.

Remembering my first love

Cover for Heartscapes book

Our story is “Invincible Inside Our Love”

My copy of the 1994 Emma Willard School yearbook is embossed with the nickname Bambi.

What can I say? I was in love.

That was what my first love, John, called me. I wrote about us for the anthology mentioned above, which was five years in the making. Here’s a little more about it.

Here’s a little bit of writing from the book:

John was coffee-colored, with a false front tooth he sometimes clicked in and out of place. I adored him with the teenage innocence that allows us to truly give one hundred percent of our hearts. He would become my Panda bear, though at six feet tall and with a baby face, he looked more like a grizzly. He called me Bambi because of my big brown eyes.

The winter I turned fourteen, John was sixteen. He worked as a locker room attendant at the Columbus Avenue Boys and Girls Club near his high school, Dewitt Clinton (the alma mater of James Baldwin.) I had started to the club with my high school classmate, Lanell, who introduced us.

In the Bronx, where we grew up, John and I were both so tall we seemed to rule every city block we wandered together. We dressed alike in Tazmanian Devil t-shirts or camouflage outfits.

My friends couldn’t stop laughing when we showed up at a junior high school reunion dressed like GI Joe and Jane. But I didn’t care. In the Bronx — a tough world of cracked sidewalks, drugs and violence — we were invincible inside our love and nothing else mattered. We could be kids together, playing Streetfighter on his Nintendoo, or , too grown for our own good, be engaged for a few months based on a pretty cubic zirconia ring and John’s promise to love me as long as I loved him back.

All I loved more than John was books. All I had, really, was school…it was my only way out. And when I got a chance to go to boarding school, I had to take it. John, not one to show his emotions easily, cried. I went to the elite Emma Willard School on scholarship, trying to keep one foot on the manicured lawns there and another on the crack-infested streets of the Bronx. I sent him drawings from school as if I were a budding artist in prison. And we talked on the payphone a few paces from my room most nights of the week. But before I left Emma, our relationship was over.

As big and comfortable as our love was, it taught me that not all love can withstand change. While John had protected me from the world, he had also kept me from dropping my defenses and growing beyond the survival tactics of anger and bravado that come with growing up in the ‘hood.

Please tell me you had your own embarrassing nickname. Did you have one for your first love?

What The Notebook & Ryan Gosling taught me about love

It’s summer and I love being in love in summer and thinking about love in summer.

I never feel like more of a romantic sap than when I see Ryan Gosling in a meme, or just in general. In my brain, he’d be the perfect boyfriend, but I’m basing that silly notion completely on the 500 times I’ve watched “The Notebook.”

You should know that when I was a little girl, I had a thing for Harlequin Romances. Like, the kind with Fabio on the cover.

And so, because I don’t have a Kindle or other e-reading device, and I can’t hide the cover, I don’t really indulge in reading too many bodice-rippers anymore. But something good and sappy like “The Notebook” is totally within my rights! So are all the subplots on “True Blood” related to unrequited love and every other rom com imaginable.

Anyway, I started thinking about the things I’ve learned about love and dating from “The Notebook.” I have no idea if this is good or bad or what, but here goes:

  • Romance never dies: I mean *spoiler alert!* isn’t it the goal of relationships to not have to even die alone and perhaps die in your lover’s arms?
  • If you’re a bird, I’m a bird. Yeah, this is the mind-meld thing that sometimes happens in relationships. And it’s always nice at first. But sometimes I want to be a night owl and my partner wants to be a pigeon. That’s no good.
  • Love letters beat everything. Even if the post office is dying and some hater might hide them all for 20 years in the trunk of her damn car.
  • You want to date someone who will just burst out laughing as soon as there’s a torrential downpour in the middle of a lake and you’re surrounded by haughty (but very very pretty) swans.

I know, there are some of you out there who will never understand what the big deal is about “The Notebook” or Ryan Gosling. But I’m telling you, there’s lots of wisdom there. I totally get it, Gosling. If you’re a bird, I’m a bird.

I am a happy Single American: An excerpt from the book

I have been telling you a little about the book I’ve been writing, and wanted to offer you some excerpts of it while I slowly edit so you don’t have to wait forever for a finished product.

The year I turned 34, I had finished three full and seven half marathons and I’d been teaching journalism at the University of Texas as a lecturer for four semesters. I’d dreamed of being a writer for over twenty years, and persevered for long enough that I worked full-time as a newspaper reporter in some of America’s most scenic cities: San Francisco, Seattle and Houston (well, OK, now I live in Austin, which is much prettier than Houston.)

I owned a home – a huge feat for a girl who had once frequented New York City homeless shelters as a child — a beautiful dog the size of a mini-pony, a reliable car some jerk dented with one of those metal carts at Home Depot and a spectacular bill of health from doctors. After years of therapy for having financial issues, control issues, addiction issues and general issues, by the time I reached my mid-thirties, when my therapist said I was the most mentally healthy person she knew, I finally believed her. I had a rich network of friends around the world who respected my work and writing and emailed me dispatches from Mexico, Barcelona and Egypt.

I believe that we are each defined by the people in our lives. They are mirrors for us. I am probably unnaturally devoted to my friends because so many of them have acted as surrogates for family over the years.

I am also a single American.

“Why are you still single?”

This question has always grated on my nerves, but it’s only gotten worse as the years have gone by. It is what I like to call a back-handed compliment. A guy I met recently called it a slap kiss. It is meant to flatter you as in, “Why are you still single when crazy-as-a-fun house Becky got engaged six months ago?”

Before I did any research, before I realized that the problem was a cultural and social one and before I knew there were over 60 million other single Americans who probably shared my pain, I simply answered this question with the truth: “I don’t know.”

Sometimes the answer was different. “I don’t want to be in a relationship.”

The truth, more often, was a bit more nuanced, as any single person can attest. Dating, as I will write about here, is like everything else in the world that the Internet screwed up – incredibly rich with potential, totally, incredibly time-consuming and randomly ludicrous. I could not believe no one had written a first-person account of dating as a single woman in the 21st Century and how to cope with all the shenanigans that come with the package – no matter how brilliant, sexy, big-boobed, erudite or compliant with societal norms a woman is or is not, it is really rough out there for single people.

Not just a little bit rough, honey. It is incredibly hard to find like-minded people with good credit, self-awareness or goals that are scheduled beyond a calendar date in the next couple of weeks. There are books on weight-loss, getting your money right, how to be more devoted to God, and of course, how to get a man. What I really needed for a good decade, though, was a book on how to be happily single.

O.P.P. 2.0: How other people’s perceptions of singles will keep you from happiness

I love the person who made this, but I don’t know who that is.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Fear of Missing Out, also known as FOMO, and how its connected to being an unmarried person.

For people whose entire identity is shaped around being in a relationship, people who are satisfied with whatever their marital status is, (particularly if they are single) represent the ultimate missed opportunity for self-actualization.

Have you ever heard from a friend, “It must be nice to just do whatever you want and sleep in. I miss those days.”

Or, “Wow, you’re always on the go. Do it now before you settle down”?

As a solo person in life, people have an easier time projecting their fears, beliefs and regrets onto your experience. I learned this as I was grieving my mother, and I continue to learn it in the dating process. Meditation helps me to clarify, with my intuition, what emotions/thoughts/actions belong to me and which are motivated by the impressions/thoughts and beliefs of others.

The reason I love the sign above is that it is a perfect reminder to disregard other people’s perceptions about you in order to be great. One of the most fulfilling and amazing aspects of the single life is that it gives you space to dream, explore and build the life you want. You can become the person you admire most, the one that you’re hopelessly in love with and perhaps, along the way, attract someone who appreciates you as you are.

The goal of being single & happy, though, is not to peek through your fingers and pretend you’re not looking for a relationship. It is not about disparaging people in relationships. It’s about accepting your life as it is, striving for what you really want, and appreciating that you don’t have to ask a single other living soul for permission to live a great life.

I know freedom is scary. But it’s also incredibly beautiful.

Postscript to a love letter for her

When I think about my relationship to my mom, I think about my affection for love letters.

I have always loved writing them, in part, because she used to leave long notes for me in the mornings before she would leave for hours. And when she first started using the Internet in Philadelphia’s public libraries, she would send me annoying, ALL CAPS MISSIVES. I kept them, I will read them again some day.

I was thinking about this today when I finished writing about missing her:

It has crept up on me before, when they were alive.

I have written rage-filled screeds about it. Stupid Hallmark holidays. No more sending my father cards that he wouldn’t acknowledge. On Father’s Day, my mother would call in the morning to tell me to wish her a Happy Father’s Day, since she had done both jobs.

But this day to honor our mothers comes first in May.

I have tried everything. I have been drunk on this day, I have spent it commiserating with a friend who had a similar complicated dynamic. I have tried to sleep right on through.

This is my first season of holidays without parents.

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