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

100 million single people…and it’s still rough out there.

A book excerpt from Single & Happy:

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, because 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. The insinuation that singles should be coupled or something is wrong with them doesn’t make it any easier.

Not just a little bit rough, honey. It is incredibly hard to find like-minded people with true commitments to self-awareness and 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.

The book I wanted to read and kept waiting for was one that would inspire other single people to slog through the ridiculous maze that comes with being alone in a culture that devalues single people.  I wanted to create a space online for others who were uncomfortable with the dominant cultural narrative in the United States that continues to profit those who constantly tell singles that we are incomplete, not enough, not worthy and amoral if we are content to live, travel, dine and go to the movies by ourselves.

I also wanted to celebrate the beauty and community available to a vast network of singles that did not rely on anything but a community of singles and our allies for exposure.

I’m not interested in being the anti-Steve Harvey, the new Oprah or any kind of New Age guru, relationship expert or life coach. I am just one nerd in a big world who does the best that I can to make sense of an influx of information, social cues and daily life. The narrative that casts single people as the avatars of loneliness, as Michael Cobb has written in his new book, just happened to get stuck in my craw as I was making a lot of transitions in my life. As other journalists will tell you, sometimes you can’t just let a story go.

My motto is to take what is useful and leave the rest. I hope that the stories and information here will be applicable across gender identities, sexualities, ethnicities and economic backgrounds. My intention is to celebrate and document the moment we are all in. While I bring my own biases to this predicament as someone who has been self-reliant and a loner since I was very young, I wholeheartedly believe there is something valuable her for most dating adults.

And we are a huge tribe. In 2010, almost half of all American adults, 100 million, were single – the highest rate in recent history. While those singles spent $2 trillion a year on consumer products, according to Boston Magazine, marketers were still marketing mostly to a culture wedded to heterosexual relationships. But outside of the blogosphere, aside from isolated examples of singular (pun intended) narratives of single people and their journeys, there are few stories that contextualize single life in a positive way.

The stories I found lacking are those that express the fun, joy, humor and moments of serenity that come with single life. The Boston Magazine story was one and Kate Bolick’s now-infamous piece in the Atlantic was another. What are some of the positive stories about single life you’ve seen?

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.

What does too much independence look like?

A friend and I were discussing some of our dating woes the other night.

We are both in our thirties, confident and yet romantic. She really wants to have children. I am still undecided.

The biggest romance killer for us turns out to be a battle of wills and egos. Not on our end — from a guy’s perspective.

In the abstract, it’s clear that more women in our generation are able to care for themselves economically and socially outside of marriages than in previous ones. In real life, on the ground, in the dating trenches, it appears that men really dislike independent women.

Loathe would be the best term.

Even if a guy says he’s OK with a woman who has had better quality education than he has, the way it appears to assault the male ego emerges in all kinds of crazy ways.  For instance, you might be talking about your favorite kind of cake, and he’ll make a snide comment about how he “wasn’t smart enough to go to a school as fancy as Vassar.”

It is so strange. Plus, nothing spells sexy like a backhanded compliment. Instead of a man saying, “I feel insecure that you had a better education than I did,” he’s more likely to make a woman feel like crap for having an opportunity he didn’t have, or that he had and somehow passed up.

This is why I often celebrate the single life. When you’re single you don’t have to have these painful interactions.

But that doesn’t mean that I intend to stay single my entire life. So eventually, I’ll have to figure out the best way to cope with this.

In the meantime, I’m curious about the word independence and what it means to be too independent. I did a lot of self-parenting as a child and I have been an independent woman since before Destiny’s Child made it a rallying cry. Tyrese and other self-proclaimed “relationship experts” have made it a point to deride black women in particular for the same qualities that have made it possible for black women to thrive and succeed in a culture that largely dismisses them and rarely celebrates more than one of them at a time.

People seem to confuse independence for lack of desire for company. So yes, I am self-sufficient. But I rely heavily on my friends for spiritual and emotional support. So in the sense that I’m not dependent on them as the sole source of love, affection and money — yes, I am independent.

Through meditation, I can drop some of the concern I have about being too independent. But I have been single for such a long time that I’m set in my ways, I like the freedom to do what I want, when I want, without consulting anyone else. Independence in a mate, too,  is a wonderful, attractive, hot thing. I’m drawn to people who assert their independence, and go off into the sunset to surf or build planes or whatever it is you other independent people do.

But what does it mean to be too independent? How do you know you’ve gone too far?

Single People Stuff: Letters to yourself

The reason the financial decline of the U.S. Postal system makes me sad is because I adore handwritten letters.

I fell in love with them accidentally.

My mother started many of the mornings of my youth with letters that are currently pressed into my journals from over the years, with a penmanship so lovely pressed into the pages. She had worked as a secretary for many years and knew shorthand…so the beautiful loops of her handwriting looked like calligraphy. Because I came of age in the 1990s, before the Internet and I went to boarding school, the best and cheapest way to communicate with my friends was through written letters.

This note, which was circulated on Facebook as one written by Phylicia Rashad, made me start thinking about the letters I wrote to myself when I was younger and some of the best letters I’ve ever received. On my writing desk, for instance, is the only letter my father ever sent me, postmarked December 27, 1995.

There is some great wisdom to draw from in these letters, particularly the ones that I wrote as letters to myself. I’ll post a few of them here eventually.

I totally posed like that in my mirror at home in my 20s.

Dear Phylicia,

Romantic involvement distracts you and can blind you to what’s really in front of you. And what really is in front of you? You are. You don’t even know yourself yet. You think you know and you want to assert that you do, now that you’re a certain age, but you don’t. What’s in front of you is a whole world of experiences beyond your imagination. Put yourself, and your growth and development, first. There are long-term repercussions to what you’re doing now. Everything you do, every thought you have, every word you say creates a memory that you will hold in your body. It’s imprinted on you and affects you in subtle ways—ways you are not always aware of. With that in mind, be very conscious and selective.

With high hopes for you,
Phylicia

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