The wisdom of taking a break from dating

Is this another one of those books?

I’m working on a profile of Stephen Arterburn, a Christian counselor who has written a number of relationship books, including the recent Is This The One? Simple Dates for Finding the Love of Your Life.

Fatigue for consuming dating and relationship books is starting to set in, frankly, but I think it’s because I feel wounded by a lot of the dumb media and books that I’ve consumed about relationships. I’m learning to guard my heart against things that don’t serve me, which includes a lot of these books.

The refreshing thing about Arterburn’s approach is that whether you’re single and content or you really want to find the love of your life, it just hasn’t happened yet, his approach seems wise. The other thing I realized reading the book is that I haven’t seen that many books from a male perspective that aren’t douchey. This is one of a handful of titles that are starting to emerge that isn’t demeaning or judgmental under the guise of trying to help its audience.

What I love about Arterburn’s book is that he writes with empathy and humor about taking a break from dating after a brutal divorce. By taking a break, his friends encouraged him to meet as many people as possible, and to do everything from hang out with a lovely friend at the Opera to having a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

Without knowing it, I have been doing exactly some of the things he talks about in his book – just getting out and about, meeting people, volunteering, running or walking around the lake in Austin with my dog, making an effort to work at coffee shops that I frequent and getting up off of my couch more. This is good even if you’re not looking to date someone, he noted, because it will make your life more fulfilling as a single person. I concur.

I was just telling a friend this weekend that there are enough messages and voices in the world who will try to scare you or pressure you without you adding to the noise. Part of reconnecting with my community in real life and online has been about learning how to exercise self-care, but also practicing showing up for people without wondering if or when I might meet “The One.” It’s been a nice journey.

Single Lady Quotes: bell hooks

From Goodreads

I will not have my life narrowed down. I will not bow down to somebody else’s whim or to someone else’s ignorance.

As a young writer, I aspired to be a poet like Ntozake Shange, who distilled so much of the black girl’s experience in her poetry and a warrior like Alice Walker. Intellectually, I yearned for the freedom, clarity and possession that marked bell hooks’ work.
bell hooks was the first black woman intellectual I admired. I read Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life – a conversation between bell hooks and Cornel West, when I was 13, and never stopped admiring her work. It also allowed me to envision myself as an intellectual in my own right. hooks has written over 30 books.

“To return to love, to get the love we always wanted but never had, to have the love we want but are not prepared to give, we seek romantic relationships. We believe these relationships, more than any other, will rescue and redeem us. True love does have the power to redeem but only if we are ready for redemption. Love saves us only if we want to be saved.”

“Love is a combination of care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect and trust.”

“One of the major tasks black women face as we work for emotional healing is to understand more fully what love is so that we do not imagine that love and abuse can be simultaneously present in our lives. Most abuse is life-threatening, whether it wounds our bodies or our psyches. Understanding love as a life-force that urges us to move against death enables us to see clearly that, where love is, there can be no disenabling, disempowering, or life-destroying abuse.”

“It is the absence of love that has made it so difficult for us to stay alive or, if alive, to live fully. When we love ourselves, we want to live fully…When we love ourselves, we know that we much do more than survive. We must have the means to live fully.”

“Exclusion and isolation, whether they occur through overt or covert acts, have always been useful tactics of terrorism, a powerful way to coerce individuals to conform, to change. No insurgent intellectual, no dissenting critical voice in this society escapes the pressure to conform….We can all be had, co-opted, bought. There is no special grace that rescues any of us. There is only a constant struggle to keep the faith, to relentlessly rejoice in an engagement with critical ideas that is itself liberatory, a practice of freedom.”

Remembering my first love

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?

NYT: The privileged Americans are marrying which helps them stay privileged

About 41 percent of births in the United States occur outside marriage, up sharply from 17 percent three decades ago.

But equally sharp are the educational divides, according to an analysis by Child Trends, a Washington research group. Less than 10 percent of the births to college-educated women occur outside marriage, while for women with high school degrees or less the figure is nearly 60 percent.

Long concentrated among minorities, motherhood outside marriage now varies by class about as much as it does by race. It is growing fastest in the lower reaches of the white middle class — among women like Ms. Schairer who have some postsecondary schooling but no four-year degree. – Two Classes in America, Divided By ‘I Do.’

I’ve been thinking  about the concept that Stanford professor Ralph Richard Banks describes in his book Is Marriage for White People?  as “white follows black.” He talks about the fact that what happens to black women who may not be following the marital patterns of their predecessors and who face all sorts of social barriers based on their single status, are actually also setting the stage for how life will start to be for white women.

The article above shows that theory might be correct, as flawed as it is. (Side note: I dislike the New York Times’ reductive take on single people, generally, and this piece is no exception).  I have such an odd relationship to privilege, and yet, given my upbringing, it makes total sense. I want enough to do the work that I am passionate about in the world, but I hate privilege because it excludes people who have very little. In fact, I hate most things that exclude people, but that’s the rant of an outsider, and I’ll get to that later.

The article includes some not-great news about single parenthood. Never say never, but I am highly unlikely to be a parent, so I never write about the topic. Also, given the unpredictable nature of marriage and the fact that I have essentially spent my entire life trying to avoid becoming a single parent, it sounds like it might not the path for me. I do find it interesting that the Times notes that single parenthood has gone from being an anomaly to being pretty popular. That also falls in line with Ralph Richard Banks’ ‘white follows black’ theory. I love that single mothers had to be validated by the fact that the last three American presidents were raised by single mothers. Children of single mothers, you, too, can be great!

Bella DePaulo, an expert on singles and cultural bias against singles writes more about the piece at Psychology Today, which she calls deplorable:

Also missing from the Times story is any awareness that stigmatizing stories such as this one are contributing to the disparity in the experiences of single-parent families and married-parent families that DeParle believes he is merely documenting. Go ahead, keep telling the single-parent families how bad they have it because there is no “6-foot-8-inch man named Kevin” and how superior the married families are because they do have their Kev. That sort of mythologizing and moralizing probably nudged Jessica into finding “a new boyfriend, who she thought would help with the children and the bills,” but who had to be tossed out by the police six months later.

Really, “just get married” isn’t the answer to the economic challenges of single parenting any more than “just say no” is the answer to drug addiction.

Cohabitation before marriage is a disaster, study says

Living with the love of your life may not be the best idea if you’re trying to get hitched.

A couple of months ago, the Journal of Family Psychology detailed a study about cohabitation before marriage (h/t The Awl ) and this is what the site LiveScience wrote about it:

Quickly moving in with your honey may be the kiss of death for some couples. New research indicates that couples who move in together before they get engaged or married are less happy and less likely to stay together than couples who wait.

The researchers contend that couples who eventually get married after living together are armed with a double dose of arguments — those from the early relationship (like jealousy) and from the marriage (household chores and bills) — that eventually can tank the relationship.

“In lots of ways, moving in together makes sense; why wouldn’t you want to live together and test it out? But the process to test makes it harder to end the relationship,” which in turn makes it more likely that the unenthusiastic couple will just slide into an unhappy marriage, study researcher Galena Rhoades of the University of Denver told LiveScience. “We need to find some ways that couples can have that test without making it harder to break up.”

I know from personal experience that testing the waters of something like marriage that really isn’t can be catastrophic. But again, I wonder how many of the more than 1,200 couples surveyed were people of color. I also wonder how many of them are privileged enough to live on their own if their relationships don’t work out. As we all know, the wedding/marriage industry in this country is off the hook expensive, but then, so is courtship. Conservative Christians: 1, Secular paramours: 0.

The Romantic’s Disclaimer: A book excerpt

I love romance and thinking about love. It’s an affliction that was only worsened by a childhood reading list of titles by authors like Sidney Sheldon, bell hooks, Cornel West and a lot of Harlequin Romances, Jackie Collins and Danielle Steel.

I’m writing more about this in another book, but it’s important context: my mother, a single parent with undiagnosed bipolar and borderline personality disorders, left me alone as a child and teenager for long stretches of time while she was working or going to school.

In those long, often boring, stretches of time, I became a writer, a dreamer and a hopeful romantic. I also learned how to live by watching television, movies and reading a lot. My life experience and the people I was blessed to meet along the way helped dispel or reinforce relationship notions in one way or another.

But my earliest ideas about love and romance came from a mixture of popular culture references like The Color Purple, The Temple of My Familiar by Alice Walker, the love poems of Nikki Giovanni and Sonia Sanchez and June Jordan and so many television shows and movies from the 80s and 90s that I couldn’t even start to list them all. (Scenes from The Women of Brewster Place still pop up in my dreams, for instance.)

Having all the time in the world to jump from one seedy or sappy narrative to another was the best structure I had to craft a robust inner life. The soundtrack of my youth is all Jodeci, New Edition, Boyz II Men, Bell Biv Devoe, Johnny Gill, Whitney Houston, Mary J. Blige and Bobby Brown: baby-making music.

Yes, and I loved them anyway

The images from those books – A painting of the blond Fabio caressing a damsel in his arms; descriptions of the dark-haired and ruthless Lucky Santangelo getting her revenge as a scorned lover in Los Angeles; the bucolic love stories of Danielle Steel involving horses and green fields – worked in tandem with music lyrics to feed the epic story that the love of a man was just over the adulthood horizon. To love and be loved was the central goal of womanhood, so if I was really going to grow up and be a woman, I needed to know these plots and their narrative arcs.

One of the consequences of my mother’s mental illnesses, though, was that I had a misshapen sense of what it meant to be intimate with another person. The side effects of bipolar disorder include euphoria, manic depression and violence.  Almost right up until my mother died in January 2012, she was always in love with somebody or something. She was never without a suitor.

Mom loved love. “I think he’s in love with me (smiles but serious)”: this was her constant refrain. I only know of one black man she courted seriously – my father – but the rest of her lovers were like representatives of the United Nations: white, Mexican, Pakistani, Russian.

Mom was loud, bipolar and a beautiful disaster, as Kelly Clarkson sang. I was her polar opposite: quiet, observant and reserved. While she spun through the world, giggling at one intimate encounter or another, I became a student of people and relationships.

For women, mothers are the templates for womanhood and what we believe about being a woman in the world. As a result, I believed that love and sex were interchangeable. Sex in exchange for affection looked a lot like the dramatic, florid romances I read.

Unfortunately, it would take many years to learn the difference between sex and love.

Single Lady Books: Why You’re Not Married Yet by Tracy McMillan

From Tracy McMillan’s website

Updated, July 23, 2012:

It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.

  • Unlike some “dating experts,” Tracy McMillan is transparent about the fact that she was married a few times and divorced a few times.
  • I liked that she wrote from the perspective of a single mother of a boy, because I have no idea what that’s like, but I imagine that it would help you put things in perspective in the dating world.
  • There is so much spiritual stuff in the book. Advice about self-love and avoiding self-loathing and self-sabotage. Advice about women leaning into their feminine energy. Advice about being willing to welcome another person in your life. I was shocked. I literally had to glance at the cover a couple of times to make sure I was reading what I thought I was reading.
  • I learned not to judge writers based on the snippets of their writing and glimpses of their online presence before reading their whole manuscripts. I certainly don’t want that for my work, after all. Writers write for readers to read their work. So I’m thankful she wrote this and I’m glad I read it. If you pick it up, I’d be curious to hear what your thoughts were on the book.

 

From July 19, 2012

I have so many feelings about Tracy McMillan for a lady I’ve never met and didn’t think I even wanted to know.

What I’m learning from reading her book is that we might actually have a lot in common. And I don’t want to laugh, but she’s quite funny. And some of what she has to say is really helpful. Here’s an early overview of McMillan and her new book from SandraRose.com.

Why You’re Not Married opens with a quiz and a brief explanation of her three marriages in the 1980s, 90s and 2000s. She writes openly about her abandonment issues, spurred on by foster care. She writes convincingly about how raising her son has given her insight into how women can learn more about men so that if they want to get married, they can figure out how to be a better wife.

So that was the part that rubbed me the wrong way: I had the impression that she was offering advice to all single women everywhere about why they’re so unlovable. She’s actually targeting her advice, so that made me feel a little better.

“The bottom line is that marriage is just a long-term opportunity to practice loving someone even when you feel they don’t necessarily deserve it,” she writes. “And loving is always spiritual in nature — because people are flawed and it’s hard to love flaws.”

Noted. What follows are chapters that explain why a woman who wants to be married might still not be married. They include “You’re a bitch,” “You’re Shallow” and so-on. The bitchy chapter essentially says that men want to marry people who are nice to them and if you’re not nice, they won’t want to put a ring on it. Because “female anger terrifies men.” She says that being a bitch has become synonymous with being modern, but it’s really just when women are angry and they have tension around their mouths.  She also writes that “bitch energy” can be useful, but even if you’ve had a lot of therapy (check!) having boundaries really just means that you’re angry.

You know what her first tip is? My least favorite command in the universe. Smile!

I think she actually meant this and was not being sarcastic, by the way. Because sarcasm is the mark of an angry, single bitch. Allegedly.

My notes from the rest of this chapter include the suggestion that the best way to change bitch energy is to learn how to be sweet, because most guys want to marry a sweet person. And one way to be sweet and nice is to learn how to cook. Because cooking is nurturing.

OK, but what if you know how to cook and you smile and you’re still single? Well, apparently you have other problems that you’re in denial about. She outlines those later. I’m about halfway through the book.

I like the parts of the chapters that are subtitled “Spiritual Stuff that Will Help You Change.” That’s awesome. There’s some good advice in there. Like, some really good advice about learning forgiveness, letting go of anger and bitterness, learning how to reframe your story so that you’re not the victim and much more.

Then I got to the second chapter, entitled “You’re Shallow” and I had to take a break. I have never in life chosen to date a man based on what he had. I’ve gone so far in the opposite direction in my life that I ended up supporting men with less than I had to prove that I wasn’t shallow – to myself and others — even though I’m not rolling in the dough over here.

So I don’t know who these women are who have this problem, but according to McMillan, and Tyler Perry and every damn body else who targets women for dating advice, gold diggers are real, so I guess this is for them.

When I feel like I want more “get real, sister” advice, I’ll revisit the book and let you know how the rest of it turns out.

Pseudorelationships, Availability and Accessibility

LOL, I love having long heartbreaking conversations with you via text.

I get that we live in a texting/tweeting culture, but I’m not sure how partnership is going to work for me if this is the future.

A huge benefit to being a happy single lady is that I have my freedom to do as I please. But one of the drawbacks is that I sometimes end up limiting that freedom by somehow meandering into situations that look a lot like relationships, sound a lot like relationships and take up all of the psychological energy of a relationship in real life. But I’m still single. Because they are not actually really relationships. They are emotional affairs orchestrated almost entirely remotely.

Has this happened to you?

My first indication this might be a thing popped up a couple of years ago.

I met a guy I really liked. We spent some time together in real life, but most of our communication was public. Basically, he only wanted to connect with me on Twitter.

No email. No texting. 140 characters, 24/7.

Lest I be labeled one of those impossibly demanding women with unreasonably high standards, I endured this way of communicating via direct message for way longer than I probably should have. Because I love Twitter and social media. I enjoy interacting with my friends and making new friends online.

That said, sometimes I need to log out. Because I’m not a Twitter bird. I’m human. (But I do think it’d be great to have my very own #fail whale.)

More than that, even though I had access to Twitter guy all the time, he was basically unavailable. I could always contact him, I could never really connect with him in any meaningful way.

Later, I reconnected with an old flame online. He is online a lot. I am online a lot (except when I’m writing, so that I can actually put some sentences together that don’t use LOL, OMG – you know, little stuff like that).

Well, he was accessible all day long. I could always reach him for a funny video or a shallow conversation. But he was also unavailable. Talk of feelings, the future, fears, love, intimacy never happened except in the confines of texting. I told him that I needed a dynamic that allowed for full expression of all of my feelings. He proceeded to suggest I was dumping him, which was news to me, because we weren’t in an actual relationship.

And yet, it made total sense, because part of what makes dating difficult these days is navigating the way you communicate with the people you want to get closer to and foster intimacy with without completely compromising your identity in the process. Ideally, independent people who are also heavily networked can also find ways to interact with each other and be fully present with one another.

But is it pessimistic to wonder if that’s even still possible now or does it just take extra effort?

Dealing with rejection

A good reminder, I guess, even though it feels like it might kill me.

I was reading this blog from the fantastic Crunk Feminist Collective a few days ago, after wading through some heavy transitional growth crap that I’ll write about in a little bit:

Truth be told, it sucks to feel like on the one hand, good long-term relationships are hard to come by (and 70% of Black women with advanced degrees are single, mind you) and on the other hand, your sexual empowerment strategy is literally a life and death situation, every single time.

This is the kind of ish that professional women of color confront on our journey to trying to find the balance, the all, that highly educated professional white women rarely have to think twice about. {Good reply here though.} I mean, fuck ALL. Can I just get some?!

But I know my desires are healthy. Human. Holy, even. I also know that #AClosedMouthDon’tGetFed. So I have no choice but to keep asking, hoping that in “asking, it shall be given, that in seeking I will find.”  And along the way, I will remember Joan (Morgan)’s most important words from Emotional Justice:  ”I try to be as fearless as possible in my love practice.” Word. May courage be my angel.

Reading it made me think about all of the advice I’ve heard over the years about how much men really love a forward, assertive woman. Common conceptions related to this theory include: Guys always have to approach women, so they like it when women take the pressure off and flirt with them first; A truly confident woman is really sexy and attractive to guys; The early bird gets the worm.

You get the point.

I tried this theory on for size a couple of times. I thought,  If only I could start going after what I wanted in relationships the same way I went after what I wanted professionally, I could absolutely undercut those stupid statistics about educated black women. Because I am totally on Team Awkward Black Girl, this led to all kinds of hilarious moments.

I maybe mentioned this before, but I’m taller than the average woman. I go to the club and I spot a handsome man so much taller than me, that I feel like I have to say something. He’s probably 6’7”. I am in his general vicinity, wondering why approaching him isn’t as easy the movies make it look.

When he’s close enough, I still have to shout because the music is really loud. (Matthew McConaughey, by the way, was in a VIP section that was so small he was the only person in it, standing behind a velvet rope.)

“I bet people always ask you how tall you are, huh?”

He looks down at me with an awkward smile. He blinks at me. “No, never.”

Oh, but my sarcasm meter was broken! Was he being sarcastic? He had to be right? And then…I don’t know what to say now… “Oh, ha, ha. That never happens to me either.” Awkward pause. “Are you from around here?”

He shook his head, turned around and walked away. My brain screamed Fumble! before I finished my drink and tried to go find my friends to help me dance with my wounded ego. No, it wasn’t fatal. But I felt like it was really, really close.

On the bright side, I learned that night to have compassion for men who are brave enough to make the approach. I still have this idea that guys  should “man up” and go for it anyway, but I do understand the sometimes fleeting humiliation that comes with being rejected. I think that guy was the last one I even tried to holler at. Maybe that was over five years ago now. When the wounds are deep, the time just all becomes a blur.

Single Lady Quotes: Ann Friedman

Ann Friedman says what we are all thinking. As usual. (Source: The Hairpin)

If you haven’t heard of Ann Friedman, Happy Friday! As you can see from the lovely pie chart above, she’s witty and like me, she pretends not to know what OKCupid is when her married friends ask.

Also, she’s hilarious. Did I say that already? Here’s her fantastic blog, and a post on International Slutty Women’s Day: A Story in GIFs, which I adore. Continue reading

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