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The Single Woman as “Shelf Warmer”

Recently, I found myself spending time with an acquaintance who has always been in the same social network as me, but for whatever reason, never became a solid “friend” in the way other women in that network had. A married mother of three, she was understandably preoccupied with running her household and caring for her children. Since my lifestyle choice doesn’t require me to consult with a spouse and be confined to the complex schedules of three different little people, our schedules rarely matched and thus, we didn’t get together often. Our acquaintanceship was comfortable for us both and though we found ourselves with some down time on the same day, I was prepared for this isolated incident to not occur again in the near future.

I was en route to another commitment and though I was happy to connect with her, I reiterated during our hang time, “Girl, I’m having fun, but I really need to get running so I’m not late.” And then she did what married mothers who I’ve been friendly with over the years have done on more than one occasion. She made a casual comment that I was always off to somewhere else. Always doing something and thus never having time to hang out with her. When she was ready to hang out, that is. I chuckled and said, “Ya know, we all have overbooked lives in these complicated times. It is what it is.” She went on to bemoan only having this one night available and then admitting what I’ve always known mothers of this mindset have always felt but never vocalized. “I rely on my single friends to remind me what it’s like to have fun and enjoy nightlife on those rare occasions when I’m free.”

In that moment, I felt irritated.

“They want to put us on a shelf and then expect us to just be waiting happily when they find time to take us off that shelf.” Jasmine, a woman who is single by circumstance and childfree by choice has had this same conversation with long time friends whose lives shifted once they took on marriage and motherhood. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why after years of having some version of this conversation with friends who took on families, it bothered me now. To be clear, I was not bothered because my acquaintance had prioritized her family over me. I would find it odd had she made the opposite choice. I expected that even my good girlfriends would have less time to hang out with me once they married and had children. I didn’t begrudge them their decision to make a lifestyle choice that resulted in having to devote 85% of their energy only to the people who lived in their house. What I was taking issue with was this acquaintance’s suggestion that to be single was to be willing to serve as your married friend’s Plan B. In this arrangement, you are supposed to take it as compliment when your married friend with children, who has much more important things to do, puts you on her as-soon-as-I-can shelf until she has less important things to do and comes back to get you.

When I told my acquaintance just how tedious and condescending such a role was for ANY woman, she seemed shocked. It never occurred to her that what she was expecting of her single, childfree friends is exactly what the men she had dated before her husband expected of her and all other single women. To be patient as they were put on the shelf while he sorted out his super busy life that made it impossible for him to plan a date or return a phone call until his schedule dictated either were important enough to him. And when he made this momentous decision…when he didn’t have to be out of town for a weekend or work late or coddle a potential client or ___ and he called with the sudden desire to “see your beautiful face right now — in the next five minutes,” he was perturbed when you said you had other things to do. “But I finally have 17 free minutes to give you. Why aren’t you accommodating me?”

This notion that because you are an adult female who has not taken on children and a spouse, you are by default the one who should be readily available to anyone who desires your time is insulting. It is also ridiculous when you consider the increasing number of women who are choosing to remain single well into midlife. We are nearly a quarter of the way into the 21st century. Surely, it shouldn’t be a surprise to the world at large that women who don’t choose marriage and motherhood actually have committed their post-work hours to a whole host of fulfilling activities. Things they value and consider top priority with just as much fervor as their married peers cherish family time.

We don’t expect our married friends who are parents to be our Plan B. We don’t try to guilt them into submission when we ask them to go to an art opening and they say they can’t because they have other obligations. We often make effort to adjust to their new reality of suddenly ill offspring, no-show babysitters and spouses who need them more than we do. We do this without any expectation that they will return the favor. And many of us understand that their lives as parents make it difficult to do so, anyway. We don’t take it personally because we know it has nothing to do with us. It is about their choice to take on the role of parent and spouse. A lot of us simply anticipate the friendship going through a cooling off period and maybe once the children are older, there will be a reconnection. A renegotiation perhaps. Or maybe not. Since we would have nurtured interpersonal relationships with others in the absence of the one we lost, it just may be that the friendship dies off without ceremony or incidence.

What precious few of us are willing to do is be the shelf warmer, though. Yes, we know you really want to still maintain the connection, but you’re being pulled in so many directions. No, we don’t hold it against you because you aren’t able to spend more than a few minutes catching up with us before running off to deal with a minor catastrophe somewhere in your house. You have valid reasons for not having time for us.

And like the eligible bachelor who has legitimate reasons for never following through on his vague suggestions that he would love to get together sometime, we won’t be placing you high on our priority list, either. There is no ill will. No animosity. If Busy Bachelor has prioritized all these other things over us, good for him! While he is doing whatever it is that is keeping him busy, we will carry on with our lives. When he calls with an urge to see us because he now has an opening in his schedule, it should be no surprise to him that he will have to go back to his busy life because we have one, too.

Again, this should not be news to anyone: Single women are not the secondhand books that you found in your favorite used bookstore and have every intention of reading — eventually. Perhaps? When/If the spirit moves you. We are fully realized human beings with expansive lives and commitments. We are not quaint reminders of your once carefree life, default place holders for when spouses are on business trips or fantastical escapes from the mundane domestic life you really do enjoy, but just want a break from every now and again.

We are more than willing to still be your friend. What we won’t be is your Plan B. There are too many others who are willing to make space for us. It defies logic to expect us to wait around for that rare moment when you need us to free you from your life and then never really speak to us until you need to siphon off our energy again.

Pose: The Best Family Drama on TV

I suppose I should start with the truth: I come from a fractured family. Though still in communication with every member of my immediate family, months can go by when I have not talked to any of them. My mother, my sister and definitely not my brothers.

I noticed my family’s distance as early as elementary school. I grew up well aware that while other kids in my class would probably spend at least one weekend over the summer at a family reunion or cook out in a humid park somewhere, I really could not recall any memories of cousins, aunts and uncles gathered together under a matriarch’s roof - the whole extended family reenacting its own version of the final scene in Soul Food. Neither my mother nor father seemed to have deep connections with family members beyond their own parents. In some ways, that disconnect has continued among their own children.

Perhaps this is why I can’t find words accurate enough to describe my connection to Pose, FX’s groundbreaking series about 1980s Ball culture in New York City. I was enthralled from the first episode when Blanca stalks through Washington Square Park looking for someone to co-opt as her own. As her family. She finds a young Damon sleeping on a bench because his own fractured family threw him away with an ease that baffles me. Their conversation is casual yet poignant. Blanca tells Damon she has seen how well he dances when he practices during the day. She tells him she, a woman who has just been given a reason to live after being informed she would soon die, is starting her own house and she wants it to be more than just a collection of trans women competing for their next Ball trophy. “I want it to be a real family where we all look out for each other.”

Her house becomes just that. She not only commits herself to taking care of Damon emotionally and financially, she extends her care to Pray Tell, father figure to pretty much every character on the show, and a number of impulsive young adults who have no one else to offer them a warm bed and even warmer heart when the world clearly states: “Your life means nothing to me.”
Pose is a tribute to chosen family. And it brings tears to my eyes just thinking about the beauty in such a simple premise.

My family would never throw me away the way Damon’s family did. I can’t imagine my mother kicking me, a teenaged child, out of her house for any reason. And if she did lose her mind enough to do it, my own mind can’t process my father not coming to my suddenly ill mother’s home to collect me and my belongings. I can’t think of any reason why my siblings would tell their children I am dead when I am living and breathing a train ride away.

Though I can’t relate to the specific fracture in Damon’s and Blanca’s biological families, I can understand the longing to create a family of their own choosing. A family that understands them and accepts them in a way their bio families can’t. It goes without saying that none of the characters on Pose want to have to choose their family. In their quiet moments, they are candid about how much the rejection of their families still cut them to the core. They long for the connection they have with their chosen family to be mirrored with the bio family members who have tossed them aside. Blanca, particularly, deals with an incredible amount of emotional abuse from her siblings just to attend the funeral of her mother, whose only tool for dealing with a son who knew he was really a daughter was to banish her child from her life.

For those of us who have come to rely more on our chosen family than our bio one, Pose is the ultimate testament to family being much broader, much bigger than just the people with whom you share DNA and a house. In one season, The Evangelistas comforted one of their own as she repeatedly got her heart broken by a white man so white he could have been on a box of oatmeal, showed up to an HIV ward to stare their future in the face because their chosen father needed them to, demanded a prominent dance institute give their frightened son and brother another chance to audition for an opportunity that would save his life, and held each other accountable for looking out for a vulnerable family member when they had valid reasons not to bother.

I can’t remember the last time the big or small screen has offered such a heart breaking, exquisite portrayal of family. Yes, each episode Billy Porter delivers superb extraness, holding nothing back as he allows us a peek into a world we never knew existed. And the costumes and Ball scenes are themselves worthy of their own show. However, if Pose is to be praised for nothing else, I say we should be up on our feet, clapping like deranged seals because it graciously provides us the prototype for and a comprehensive definition of family.

The Penis Doesn’t Have Limitless Power

I have featured black women who identify as polyamorous three times on my podcast. I was prompted to pursue the stories of the non-monogamous because as a woman who was coming to accept that happily- ever-after marital bliss didn’t appeal to me, I was curious about how other women formed partnerships that were not necessarily defined by getting on an escalator with one nice man as you both cruised to the floor that housed the chapel and shared mortgage payments. I was certain my ideal love structure did not involve multiple partners, but had a feeling that these women who had the courage to claim the love structure that best suited them could offer valuable insight into how I and other women could create the romantic lives we wanted instead of the one we were supposed to want.

Evita, Olivia and Shira did help me unburden myself from the shoulds that black women are expected to carry on our shoulders as we shape shift to fit what the dominant culture and our community dictate is the best way for us to be in the world. However, what was even more invaluable were the messages I got from listeners after each woman shared her journey to ethical non-monogamy. A common message in my inbox was: “I thought I was the only one! I used to think something was wrong with me!” When I engaged in further conversation with these women who thanked me for letting them know they were not alone, there was another trend that was all too familiar. It was the tendency to be advised on how they could be cured of their allergic reactions to monogamy.

“You just haven’t met the right man yet.”

Woman after woman relayed having intimate discussions with sisterfriends and aunties about how suffocating it felt to commit themselves to only one penis, no matter how kind and loving that penis was to them. How they noticed that they were at their happiest when they were not trying to be in one relationship at a time, restricting themselves to just one emotional connection with one man until, for whatever reason, that relationship ended and they got on the next escalator with the next nice man. The sisterfriends listened and chuckled. The aunties nodded their heads, a non-verbal agreement that they, too, weren’t so sure they were committed to the fantasy of what they should want, either. It didn’t take long for the chuckle and the head nod to turn into admonishments that they should be more mature and patient and just believe that the right man was out there. “I hear what you’re saying,” they’d be told. “But, you just haven’t met the right man yet.”

This advice to hold off on making proclamations about what best suits you until you have fallen in love with the “right” man. It fascinates me as the thinking behind it is both illogical and condescending. The women who were messaging me were well over the age of consent. They were not in their teens, twenties or even thirties. They were not nursing their first broken heart, bitter at how painful love gone awry could be. They had tried loving the way they should love for years and came to realize that what they wanted made them happier than what they were told they should want. Yet, it was assumed that this knowledge of themselves was incomplete. It had not been sufficiently tested by an encounter with the magical penis that would cause them to redraw the conclusion they had come to after a lifetime of loving.

Why put so much pressure on the penis? It is expected to transform so many women who have so many desires they are not supposed to have. For the woman drawn to other women, the “right” penis is expected to lure her back to heteronormativity. For the woman who is only mildly tolerant of small children, the magic wand that is the male penis is expected to convince her that she should give motherhood a chance. For the single woman who relishes solitude and autonomy, one encounter with the right penis is supposed to send her into a fit of matrimonial frenzy, all of a sudden consumed with thoughts of diamond rings and white dresses. Is the penis really capable of all of this, though? Maybe the penis is just one little organ that provides women with momentary pleasure and the man to whom it is attached a mere mortal with no power to change the desires of the woman who loves him.

I can understand why so many men and women would believe that the peen is all powerful. I have participated in some questionable shenanigans on account of the peen. I have caught flights across continents to be closer to the peen. I have left angry, tear-filled voicemail messages trying to get myself unquit by the peen. I have even told half truths and outright lies in order to appease the peen. So, yes, for a straight lady, the penis can be quite convincing. It doesn’t take long for a happy hour table full of peen-appreciative ladies to swap stories of the many times they have compromised themselves behind some earth-shattering peen.

But, the power of the peen has its limits. To tell us straight girls that its power supercedes our own knowledge of ourselves is bold. And irritating. “I mean, I was sitting up there saying to her I have finally realized what makes me happy and she was telling me that I could not possibly know what I was talking about because I had not loved enough of the right men.” One of my listeners who had decided to “come out” as non-monogamous to a friend was the most clear on what this you-have-not-met-the-right-man retort really says to women. It asserts that your mind is not your own. Your decisions regarding your body are not your’s to make. You cannot claim what is best for your body and your life in the absence of a male partner. If you have had numerous male partners and still reached this conclusion about your life and your body, then you have not sufficiently tested your hypothesis about what truly makes you happy. “Just one more man,” this line of thinking says. “Yes, you have used your own intuition and life experiences to deduce that monogamy is not your ministry, but have you considered this other penis possibly waiting for you somewhere in the future?” Those of us who make choices exclusively on what we know is best for us are weary of this reasoning that reduces us to children who need permission to make the most rudimentary decisions.

Let’s allow the peen the right to have its one job. It does that job well. We do not need to burden it with tasks beyond its pay grade and level of expertise.

When Marriage Becomes God

This is not a take down of marriage. I am old enough to know that I know very little about almost everything. I am ill equipped to critique an institution that has sustained societies around the globe for generations. I am an expert at staying in my lane and minding my own business. Why some single women can’t envision an entire lifetime lived without a husband is not my lane. Questioning women who expend energy trying to salvage fractured marriages is not my business.

I will own up to this: I don’t get it. Marriage and why some would want it — crave it, even — yes, I completely get that. Building of wealth. Support while raising children. Commitment to more than just passionate, romantic love. Yeah, I dig why this would be a goal for folk. What confounds me are the assumptions about those of us who don’t crave the institution.

In one of the many online women’s groups I belong to, relationships were discussed. Someone commented on women who “allow” men to date them for years, never requiring — demanding — a wedding ring. The implication seemed to be these women devalued themselves. Were “allowing” men to waste their time. Most who replied to the post agreed that women (of a certain age) who did not end up with at least the possibility of a ring after a year or two of courtship were failing themselves. “Why would you continue to date with no goals for the relationship?”

I didn’t comment on the thread. It was far more informative to read all the perceptions of what made a 21st century partnership acceptable. And these perceptions seemed to have not evolved much from those born out of the 18th century. If a woman over the age of twenty-five enjoys the company of a male companion and they profess love for each other, then the escalator should arrive at marriage with expedience. The further away from thirty she was, the more it could be understood why she might be on a slow-moving escalator. However, if there were no eventual marriage and the couple did not both get off the escalator, then…this was a failure. And the bulk of the blame should be placed on the shoulders of the wasted woman who had allowed herself to be in a loving, monogamous relationship for years with no “goals.”

For a surprisingly large number of women, there is nothing else that validates a relationship more than having paperwork done on it. The assumptions about a woman who ended up unmarried after more than three years in a relationship were absurd. First, it was assumed that the ringless woman wanted to be married, but was afraid to pressure the boyfriend and chase him away. It also seemed to be understood that long term courtships not leading to marriage were just 36 months of hook ups with the same dude. “It’s like they’re just having good sex and then when that’s no longer fun, they move on.” This comment made me chuckle. As is the case in many adult relationships, unmarried couples are intimate. And just like when a married couple decide to end their union and the sex stops, the unmarried couple who dissolve their relationship also stop having sex with each other. When they meet someone else they feel connected to, they start having sex again. How is this evidence of anything other than grown ups behaving like grown ups?

What I don’t get is the deification of marriage. I am confused about how in this, the century of our lord: the 21st, matrimony is still being held up as if it is Christ on the cross offering women salvation. I will show up to anybody’s wedding with a nice gift and my hand reaching for a champagne glass. I will congratulate bride and groom and with sincerity wish them well. However, I would do that for my homegirl who decides she is quitting her job and starting her own business. I would big up a co-worker who bought a house. If my homie stayed in her job and never opened her own business, I would see no reason to be concerned about where her career was going. If my co-worker remained in his rental apartment, I’d see that as just a lifestyle choice. Why is there such a high moral value placed on the lifestyle choice of marriage? Why is the acquisition of a spouse seen as some sort of a prize and to not win one is to signify a loss?

When I chatted with Tracy Adams about her decision to divorce her husband, she spoke about how many people placed the word only in front of the words three years when they found out she and her husband were splitting up. “Y’all giving up after only three years?,” they asked incredulously. The implication being that to make such a choice required more suffering and agonizing than she had already put in through those 36 months. See, this was not the same as the homegirl who started her own business, realized she was better meant for the stability of being an employee so closed the bakery and went back to her old job. This was not the same as the man who began saving for a down payment on his house, but after doing some investigating into the housing market decided it better to continue renting. Tracy’s decision to hand back her prize after only three years represented a moral failure. She didn’t simply try to live a choice, realize it was the wrong one and then correct the error.

As Tracy said on Unchained. Unbothered., there is an expectation that women value being chosen so badly that they continue to work doggedly at a marriage, even when their gut tells them the marriage is not right. Non stop emotional labor is a fair trade off to hold on to the living, breathing proof they had won.

For Single Girls (When Having a Boyfriend Isn’t Enough)

I learned early on into my life as a single woman living overseas that I’d have to put in the work to rebuild the social network I’d left behind in New York City. This was not difficult for me since I have always been a gregarious person who relished the company of cool ass women. In Kigali, small town life had its advantages because meeting friends who shared my interests happened almost instantly and maintaining those friendships involved a simple, five-minute moto ride to someone’s house or a local pub. Shanghai proved itself a greater challenge as it is one of the largest cities in the world and I live and work a significant distance from the city’s center. My first year here, I used wechat groups to forage for female friends. I spent a lot of my free time going to a plethora of “black folk events” with various types of black folks. At this, my third year, I have developed authentic friendships with a core group of women who now serve as my sister circle.

“I don’t know how you do it,” a co-worker said to me after I turned down an invitation to go to an after-work event because I had other plans. “You are always off campus and downtown doing stuff.” I had come to expect this reaction from the other Ex Pats at the international school where I work and live.

“Are you coming to the Thanksgiving potluck,” they’d ask.

“No,” I’d smile politely. “Got a homegirl in Pudong who hosts our Thanksgiving dinner each year.”

“We’re doing brunch and a spa day at the end of this month,” they’d offer.

“Sorry, going to Chengdu with my friend to see the pandas,” I’d reply.

You know other people here?, their wide eyes would ask.

I have answered these awestruck eyes more than once with: You know, you, too, can have a life outside of the school gates. It does take work, but it is not impossible. Usually, I get some version of the same response. “I am too lazy to find friends outside of the ones I see for 40 hours each week.” However, one response from a female co-worker has stayed with me long after our conversation.

“I just hang under my boyfriend.” She giggled as she waved off my suggestion that she didn’t have to force friendships with the other teachers she didn’t really like. She could find women here in the ‘hai who could become her crew. “I probably should make more effort to have friends, but me and my man keep each other busy enough, I guess.” This woman was well over 40. I was dumbfounded by her statement.

To be clear: I greatly appreciate the company of a male companion. Particularly when that company involves nudity and good conversation. I have dated often enough since living overseas and have found myself in love a couple of times. However, it never occurred to me that once in a relationship this should be it for me. That the extent of my community should stop with him. This one male human. I don’t know what to make of women for whom a boyfriend is enough.

I have witnessed some crazy shit here in the ‘hai alone. I’ve had no desire to share some of these shenanigans with a boyfriend because he wouldn’t get it. He would listen. Maybe ask the right questions. But he just wouldn’t get it. And more importantly, I didn’t need him to get it. My homegirls would. Immediately. They would skip over the questions and get right to the judgments. “Well, that’s some bullshit right there,” they’d say. “Nothing but fuckery and foolishness. I can’t even…” We’d carry on together until the timid little Chinese barista would ask us to quiet down just a little, please.

When your community begins and ends with your man, who do you go to when you need to find a gynecologist whose staff speaks decent enough English and who does not shame women who are over 30 without a husband or child? Who do you ask to buy you a quality bra on their trip back home and entrust with this crucial assignment after only handing them your size and cash? Who will listen with authentic delight as you describe each bite of the succulent molden chocolate cake that you experienced at an unassuming café? When your entire time is spent keeping busy with Bae, who do you go to when you start to question why you are even with Bae? Who do you confide in when you realize you are only with Bae because this relationship is just a lil bit better than loneliness and long stretches of celibacy?

A loving man who respects you can only give you so much. It seems impractical to put so much on the shoulders of a romantic relationship.

A few weeks after my co-worker explained she was relying solely on her boyfriend to be her village, she shared that she was not extending her contract and would return to the States for a while. The boyfriend had no desire to leave Shanghai and even less desire to live in the United States. “You mean, you gon’ leave Bae?!” I joked with her. She offered up a half smile and just nodded her head. “Well, I need to go back home and if he doesn’t want to come, I don’t have much choice.”

In that moment I felt bad for her. Here she was with a relationship at the beginning of the end and a life transition repatriating back to a country that was on fire. She had no village with whom she could share her story. No healing hands of women to engulf her in a hug and say, “I know you are scared and unsure of your next move. But, look, here is a cake I baked. And some wine.”

I wished her well on this next transition and wondered what would become of her when she returned to a country she had not lived in for most of her adult life. Would she try to boyfriend her way back in or would she employ the more sensible strategy: reconnecting with old friends and making effort to meet new ones?

I know what I will be doing when I return to the dumpster fire that is America. My circle of healing hands knows, too.

Love, I Salute You

I am one of those “late bloomers” who showed up to dating substantially tardy. In high school, a combination of about 50 extra pounds,  a jheri curl and an uncontrollable habit of waxing poetic about books in the middle of conversations about singers and TV stars forfeited my already lackluster game in the girlfriend competition. College was overwhelming on so many levels that the thought of embarking on a journey that others had begun years before me seemed both frightening and ridiculous. Post college, when I threw myself into the dating pool, I did what I had done when I was barely 10 and my father threw me into Lake Pontchartrain and TRIED to teach me how to swim. I thrashed wildly about as if the water which barely covered my head would take away my last breath before finally giving up and laying my substantial bulk on the water’s surface, content that if I were in a “drowning situation” as my father said, I could be saved by my stellar floating skills.

I supply this background into my romantic history because I have found myself in my first long term relationship. I am 38 years old. When The Yankee and I hit our 3 year mark this summer, I will be 39. 

Because I have always been a self-motivated over acheiver, I am genuinely surprised at myself for taking for granted the many life skills I could have been strengthening through a healthy, loving relationship. Somewhere in between my mid 20s to now, I became so accustomed to my life as a curious adventurer who pursued each and every arbitrary whim those gemini twins whispered into my ear that I never even thought to cultivate my other self. The self who shifts her priorities for a partner. The self who not only willingly cares for a lover, but relishes such a duty.

Today, I had a revelation that surprised me. Not only would I make a really good wife, I would probably enjoy being one.

I chuckled when this occured to me. I have never been anti-marriage; I just honestly never spent much time thinking about it. I attended numerous weddings throughout my 20s and 30s with no other thought than, “I am so happy for my friends.” I have spent time with married couples and even babysat their children feeling no other emotion than gratitude that I could hang out with happy people and their hilarious offspring. So, today as I sauteed pork chops and contemplated the two other meals I would make so the Yankee and I could have wholesome lunches at work, I was truly surprised at how happy it made me. I thought about how often I think about us – not just me – but US. At this point it comes rather naturally for me to stop in the drugstore to pick up something that I know he will need and to text him, asking him to bring me something I didn’t feel like stopping at the store to get. There is something to be said for having help. Those few times in the past I had thought about having  a husband, my mind immediately went to how much easier my life in a metropolis like New York City would likely be if there were another income I could utilize.  Now that I am in a partnership, I feel the most secure when I know someone else will bring in toilet paper because I for damn sure am not going back out to get it.  

I am grateful for THIS love in my life at THIS time. Because I have consistently developed into a more compassionate human who is able to tame her ego, I truly believe 38 year old Keturah is much better equipped to nurture a relationship of this magnitude. When I think back to the frightened, arrogant gatekeeper I was just 10 years ago, I am actually surprised that I managed to break 6 months in a relationship. This post is not so much a salute to love as it is to my decision to awaken to it. For while The Yankee is truly a wonderful boyfriend, had I not chosen to develop the skills that are crucial to love properly, this post would not exist. And neither would my first long term relationship. 

 

Narratives That Give Love a Bad Name

Ever since I was a girl, I’ve fantasized about seeing the world. Even when I was a pre-teen, I knew that by seeing the world, I did not mean vacaying in swanky resorts that felt like a night at the downtown Hilton in any nondescript American city and going on cruises, choosing the snorkeling excursion to add some adventure. As an avid reader, my imagination ran wild and when I played that “what do you want to be when you grow up” game in my head, I knew my life would involve leaving American borders for extended periods of time, if not forever. Something has happened to me these last several months. Perhaps, it is because I am looking at a solid decade at a wonderful job which I love in the best city in the country, but I am also beginning to feel the soft legs and mushy muscles of a woman too comfortable and in need of challenge. Perhaps it is because I am gleefully approaching 40 and realizing that this grand number warrants a grand life shift to accompany it. I have decided that instead of the vague “sometime in the future when the time is right” non-deadline, NOW is the ideal time to put my childhood dream into adulthood reality. Around late October, I decided to take baby steps along the way to the next phase of Keturah: global citizenship.

I set an ultimate move date: Summer of 2015. Picked an area of the globe that spoke to my heart: Africa, with specific focus on South Africa, Ghana or Ethiopia. As part of my plan, I spoke this goal into being – telling friends about my impending move and networking with colleagues who could be helpful in job searches. I have even plotted out my auditioning of countries where I’d like to live, planning a trip to Ghana in July with the possibility of exploring other countries in West Africa as well. I’ve picked the brains of numerous Africans – both living in Africa and here in New York City – and spoken with Black Americans who have travelled extensively across the continent. By speaking this almost reality into existence, I have already felt the soft gauze of lethargy and monotony float from my person. I am excited about my move even though it is almost two years away.

Out of all of the conversations I’ve had these last few months, the ones that have been the most revealing are chats I’ve had with friends about “What will you do with your man?” I’ve explained to friends that while The Yankee and I are definitely in love, neither one of us feels that this love is necessitated by marriage. Since we are staying together, we obviously are perfectly content with the status of the relationship and have talked about revisiting and reexamining it when the time comes. Like me, The Yankee is also fighting his way out of inertia right now. He, too, has just begun a new journey in his life. His journey is not necessarily tied to a move to another continent. In two years, it still may not be, either. With that said, I’ve shared with friends that my move to Africa is imminent. It is a pivotal step in the next phase of Keturah. It will happen. I would prefer it happened with The Yankee. But, it will happen regardless of him.

Saying this in the presence of women “of a certain age” has been a little unsettling. When I have calmly spoken about planning my life around my desires and those desires are not attached to what will or will not become of my romantic relationship, I have been startled by some of the love narratives on which many women base their decisions about relationships.

Love Narrative #1: The Ring Trumps EVERYthing (and I do mean every single other thing that you, as a woman of a “certain age,” should want for your life)

“What if The Yankee proposed to you in 6 months?” My friend, Theresa, asked me this bizarre question after I had spent a good 15 minutes explaining how important this move was to me and how not fulfilling it would leave me with a sense of discontent.

“Huh?” I truly was baffled by this question.

“I’m saying, what if he asked you to marry him because he wanted you to stay and create a life with him? Would you still go?”

While the sentiment in this question is one of genuine love of a man for his woman, if you truly examine it, the implication is a bit insulting. So, what if your man wanted you so badly that he had to stop you from fulfilling a significant goal in order to keep you? I mean, you do get something out of the deal; he will marry you, after all. Why not just put that global citizenship business aside for later? Take the ring, Girl. Take. The. Ring!

I asked Theresa if she had been listening to anything I had just said. Unless The Yankee proposed marriage after he had decided on his own that an international move was something he wanted to explore, why would I even consider saying Yes to his proposal? I asked her if she would have married her husband had he shown a disinterest in having children or raising them in the Christian church. Both of these are values that are supremely important to Theresa. If she found herself in a relationship with a man whose idea of family so drastically differed from her’s, no matter how much she loved him, marrying him would make absolutely no sense as his preference in lifestyle was not congruent to her’s.

“I actually would find a marriage proposal from The Yankee under the context you have set up rather manipulative,” I explained to Theresa. “Why would a man who loved me want to keep me from my heart’s desire?”

“Girl,” she sighed. “Most women would be like: ‘I got me a good man who loves me. Let me make this work.’ You are on some other level.”

Which brings us to…

Love Narrative #2: The Scarcity of the Soul Mate (in other words, romantic love is so rare and so limited, that when you have something that even slightly resembles a soul mate, you must NEVER, ever, NEVER, ever let him go!)

Although Theresa is a good ole Christian gal, many women with diverse values and points of view truly believe the narrative underlying her “you got a good man; don’t let him go” comment. Narrative #2 implies that the universe has placed a glass ceiling on love. There are finite experiences. Limited amounts of potential partners. If you have one truly amazing, fulfilling relationship that results in mutual growth and happiness, the chances of your having that again decrease with each passing moment.

Not only is this a hyperbolic fear that is often implanted solely on the psyches of women, but it is also illogical and makes little sense. Much like I am not the first woman to love The Yankee, he is not the first man to love me. It stands to reason that we are rather lovable people. No, we did not find each other easily and there were some dreary crazies in between our love just like there were some dreary crazies in between our past respective relationships. But, we have consistently sustained loving relationships that have brought us benefit and joy. If we decided to part ways, don’t our past experiences predict that there is even greater love out there for BOTH of us?

This fallacy that we will only find meaningful love with “The One” perplexes me. While I am not a cynic, neither am I a woman who believes that love is anything more than a choice to grow with someone. That choice requires you to make a host of other choices as you create a partnership with someone who shares your values and worldview. If I am being love at every single moment of my life, why would I not attract it more than once in a lifetime?

Love Narrative #3: In Matters of the Heart, Women can not Engage the Mind

This last narrative insults me more than #1, actually. It has been a subtle assertion by more than a few who truly find it surprising that I could walk away from a man I loved when there was no “real” problem with the relationship.

“I hope he comes to his senses when it’s time for you to move,” a friend commented after I explained that The Yankee was not hearing the call of the Motherland like I was.

“We shall see,” I responded. “There is still time so things could change. If they don’t, then I’ll have to make a difficult decision.”

When I have spoken about this inevitable decision, I have presented it as one that is not terribly complicated. Either he will want to come or he won’t. If he doesn’t, then I will have to end our relationship. I will eat a cheese cake. I will shed some tears. The sun will rise in the east; it will set in the west.

I have been told I am strong and evolved for being able to even think about this possible dilemma so calmly. While I will never dismiss any compliment, I am disturbed by the notion that ending a romantic relationship is fraught with purely heart-wrenching emotion. A near-crazed woman who can not face the reality of her relationship because of intense emotions taking over her still seems to be the dominant image of a “woman in love” that plays on the subconscious of even the most progressive men and women.

Yes, if I have to end my relationship, there will be sadness. It is not a decision I will come to lightly or joyfully. But, if the reality of my life and its circumstances means ending it, I am more than comfortable allowing my brain to take over when my heart is ill-equipped to do so. I fully endorse raw, messy emotions being underneath decisions in love, but I refuse to believe I am the only woman who’s more than capable of using her head even while her heart hurts.

I am sure many women proudly live by at least one of these narratives. And some would even say it is BECAUSE of these narratives that they have found themselves in loving relationships that have enhanced their lives. However, it should be noted that at the root of each of these beliefs is fear. Is it just me who finds it problematic that something we all agree is deeply important to the human experience should be rooted in a belief structure that appeals to our lesser selves? Shouldn’t we cultivate love narratives that perpetuate the belief that romantic love comes from a place of power? A place within our greatest selves that has not given in to the fallacy that we are fearful, weak creatures. The best romantic love is empowering. Our belief system about it should mirror this power.

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