Learning to be alone: The struggle

The cognitive dissonance in our culture is strong. We say one thing and yet we do another. Whether it’s climate change, racism or interpersonal relationships, we struggle with uncomfortable truths and instead cling to immature hopes and dreams, because the vast majority of us have never been taught to face life as it is and to take that reality, no matter how uncomfortable it is and work for something better.

Today’s post is a departure from my usual fare because I am grappling with some issues and, as a writer, the only way to work things out is to write.

It’s been a little over two years now since I left my husband. It was not a dramatic ending—simply two people who, despite loving each other, were simply not meant to be life partners. Instead we now soar as friends, coparents and business partners. To say that we confuse people is an understatement but we found the courage to accept that love is not enough and that we are simply too different to be life/romantic partners. The differences that endear our friends to us can make for many uncomfortable moments in a marriage.

Ours is a culture that lives for love and too often the endings of relationships are seen as a sadness rather than the end of a single chapter (or a few chapters…or several) in the book of our lives. Too many of us run from relationship to relationship looking for our next hit of love because it’s what is expected.

For cis-gendered, heterosexual  women, the pressure to be paired up starts early on in life. I was raised in a family where women were expected to marry. All your achievements are great but a husband and kids is the crowning achievement. I learned that lesson early and married at 18 and again at 24. While many women today don’t marry as early in life as I did, for many of us, marriage or a life partner is our end goal and anything less than that feels like failure.

In the two years since the former spousal unit and I split up, there are a few questions that have become so normal, I know when to expect them. Have I met anyone else and has he met anyone else?  In other words, have we moved on? I thought when I left the family home, I had moved on but apparently, one must have a new partner to truly move on.

When we first split up, I knew that I wanted to spend some time alone figuring out my life. After all, it took getting into my 40s to finally be alone and standing on my own two feet sans a man. The reality is that I didn’t even spend a full year alone (if memory serves it was about 11 months) before meeting someone.  It was a complicated and brief affair that served to solidify a few things for me. I am not interested in marriage, living with anyone or additional kids. In fact, those are my three non-negotiables and I am not interested in wasting anyone’s time.

Since that relationship ended early this year, I have vacillated back and forth about whether or not to date again or to simply make peace with being alone. The truth is it’s a hard decision. I am a woman with needs and frankly, it would be lovely to have a companion to attend events with (including my own work events, which is another layer of complication) and just to have a special person in my life. On the other hand, my life is full. I have one kiddo still at home, my son and his family including my grandson, and a host of friends and colleagues. My professional life is full and I am filled with goals that only now am I in the place to work on.

My latest adventure in dating has left such a bad taste in my mouth that now more than ever, I am questioning whether I have the intestinal fortitude to even deal with the madness of dating in a swipe right or left world. It’s also making me examine why being alone, especially at middle age, feels so challenging. Is it because no matter what we say, we judge the unpartnered? We have created a world that assumes one is partnered and when they aren’t, it feels wrong even though we never question why it seems wrong.

This past summer, I took a mini-vacation alone and it felt like such a huge leap to experience pleasure alone and yet in the end, I had a fun and relaxing time by myself. Too often, though, such moments are viewed as an exception and not the rule.

How often do women feel incomplete without a partner? How often do we send the message that a woman is incomplete without a partner?  Why have we created the narrative that essentially tells us that our real life begins when we settle down with someone rather than seeing that what we are living is our real life whether we are partnered or not?

More importantly, how often does the societal expectation creep in and affect us in unconscious ways?

I wish that I could say that I have the answers to these questions but instead I am trying to figure them out myself. In the meantime, I am working on learning to love and cherish my solitude and make peace with my life in this moment. To see that being alone is not a curse but actually a blessing as it allows me the time to pursue the things that are important to me.

If you are over 40 and unpartnered, I would love to hear from you. How do you fight the societal expectation to be a duo act instead of a solo act?


If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense.

 

Interrupting the usual flow to say that we need your help! BGIM needs you!!

Psst, hey you! Psst, come on in! Have you taken a look around here lately? Take a look, get comfortable. Black Girl in Maine recently underwent some changes, from a new logo representing the full breadth of what Black Girl in Maine Media is about in this moment to increased functionality, including a site that is now optimized for reading on a handheld device.

Last year, I announced my plans to shift direction: to add contributing writers of color as well as a podcast. I am proud to announce that we have accomplished part of that. We now have six contributing writers, including the internationally renowned bluesman Samuel James. The site has also been redesigned for greater functionality, including the ability to read your favorite BGIM writers’ posts.

My plans for expanding to include a podcast stalled out for a while but we are back on track now that my son aka Milo the Rapper is getting into the act with his own expansion. We hope to launch that aspect of things early in 2018. Exact date depends on his tour schedule and my own day gig.

For years now, Black Girl in Maine has served as a place for learning for white people and a community for people of color living in primarily white spaces. My pieces have been used across the country in educational and faith communities including with the Civil Rights Teams in Maine. The work that I have created has held great value for thousands and it has truly been a labor of love but in moving forward with the recent expansion pans, I have had to face the reality that there is a financial cost to all of this.

All BGIM contributors are paid, and my rates are comparable to local publications such as The Portland Phoenix and The Bangor Daily News. However, unlike those publications, there are no advertisers or investors. This is a one-woman shop that only relies on the generosity of readers making either a monthly commitment via Patreon or a “tip” via PayPal. With over 8000 “likes” on Facebook and 11,000 followers on Twitter, currently less than 3% of readers contribute to this space financially. Given that we post three to five articles a day on the Facebook page and post one to two pieces a week here, long term this is simply not tenable.

Many of my writing/blogging peers are moving to platforms such as Patreon where only paying patrons can read their work. I most certainly have considered going that route but recognizing that some people truly cannot afford a monthly gift of $5 or $10, that doesn’t sit well with me. Access is important. I’m also offering my platform to new and emerging writers, and offering them access to a larger audience is important to me.  So moving to a closed format is not something that I want to do.

However, after taking into consideration the true costs of this site as well as my own time that is often unpaid or greatly underpaid, what I am doing is launching a year-end campaign and asking for your help. If this space has been a part of your learning or community, I am asking you to become either a monthly patron or to make a one time gift. Monthly pledges are preferred because it allows me to set the editorial calendar for my writers knowing exactly what I can afford. However, one time gifts are groovy too.

If you have spent anytime online, you know that most media outfits are struggling. We have created a world where it’s easy to forget that the fabulous pieces you read are written by real people with real expenses. It is one of the reasons that as part of our work here, we have paid subscriptions to numerous publications so that we have access to the latest news and commentary as well as making sure that we live our own values—much of which is shared on the Black Girl in Maine Facebook page.

Given that my day job is running a small non-profit, I know that you are bombarded with almost daily requests for support. Yet if this space has added value to your life, I am asking you to let us know by making a one time gift or monthly pledge. No amount is too small (though, if I am to be honest, because of money that is taken off the top before I ever see your pledges or donations or tips, anything under a few bucks really is too little, as I will only literally get loose change in the end).

Thank you for your support.

Warmly,

Shay aka Black Girl in Maine


If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense.

 

Reflecting on the year of flames, or Change is possible

As someone who is almost never without words, increasingly I come to this space unsure of what to say and how to say it. So today, I go back to my roots and I write the words to which I simply need to give life to—and hope that they will resonate with others.

This past week marked one year since Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. Like many, a year ago I felt a sense of paralysis when he won. And yet, I can’t say that I was surprised that he won. As someone whose work explores race and its various intersections, I always knew on a gut level that his winning was not so terribly far-fetched as many believed it to be. A large part of that is due to the conversations I often find myself engaged in with people where, in the quiet moments, I heard the angst that many felt and their desire for radical change.  Unfortunately for us, Trump was not the change you could believe in and instead, over the course of this year, we have all borne witness to the dumpster fire that is now our nation.

Yet on a certain level, this country has always been a dumpster fire due to our inability to address how this nation came to be. We are a nation built on treacherous ground. Always the hope has held that something good could grow from the blood-soaked soil, but in metaphorical harvest after metaphorical harvest, while there have been many a fine-looking crop, the product always has a rot at its core. And the harvests are increasingly blighted now.

The reality that many don’t want to face is that we truly never escape our past. We can run but it always catches up with us or we reach a point where we have no choice but to turn our heads and look backward so that we can better gauge our path forward. We are in a moment like that right now.

As we face the almost daily assaults on our sensibilities and watch in horror as the Trump administration attempts to dismantle everything that made any semblance of sense, there is the realization for many that radical change (the kind that might lead to something better rather than the senseless disruption and destruction Trump represents) is actually within our grasp if we find the strength to stay the course and ride out the discomfort.

Over the past year, many whose privilege shielded them from the cold truth of America have been forced to see what previously they could easily hide from. When you have a leader who gives space to racists and other types of domestic terrorists, you see the underbelly and you are forced to rise in that moment lest you be pulled into the undertow of vileness.

Instead, millions who previously have never fancied themselves as activists have started the work of change and conversations that previously were not the norm have gone mainstream. For a time there recently, the makers of posterboards and markers were doing a brisk business and that’s likely to continue. Many more people now have their lawmakers’ phone numbers and emails saved onto their devices and are constantly in contact with their offices. This off-season election nationwide yielded a more diverse group of changemakers than ever before. People in communities across the nation are tackling the once taboo discussions in their own communities.

Radical change rarely happens all at once though; instead, it is a slow and steady process (and often a messy one) and while the din of media would have us to believe that all is lost, I don’t believe that to be true at all. I do believe, however, that we are standing on the crossroad of change and that it is important to choose the right road. Even in the midst of the widening string of sexual assault and harassment stories that are almost a daily occurrence, we are starting to move the discussion beyond the individuals and instead shift it toward the toxic masculinity that is rooted in our patriarchal system—a tradition that creates people with penises who feel entitled to women’s bodies. A system that for too long has destroyed far too many lives and left a legacy of trauma. But we have a better chance than ever now for a future soon where our boys and men won’t be initiated into that system—if we keep the conversation and work moving.

While a controlled burn is always preferable, the flames of change can be uncomfortable and they can at times get out of control. Through the flames  we have the potential to see something better. And, as easy as it would be for me (or you) to sink into a private pit of despair, I believe that this moment in time can eventually lead us to a better place—a place where we can say that all lives matter and truly mean it. We aren’t there yet, though. And the truth is, many (perhaps all) of us alive today may never see that moment. That doesn’t make the necessity for action and commitment any less. If we care about the collective good, we will tend to the smoldering and ashy ground and plant the seeds now that can bloom for later generations.

How are you doing this year? How has the Trump administration motivated you to work for change? I would love to hear your thoughts.


If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense.