Dating …With Children PART 1: The Single Parent

Well, we made it. I made it. Another Father’s Day in the books. It’s true. Father’s Day is tough for me. It’s my annual trip down Agony Lane. But as I think about fathers and mothers and parenting and parenting solo, I think it’s time I dissect this whole single-parent-dating thing.

Can I be blunt? Great. Dating is hard work. It’s exhausting. It’s depleting. It’s frustrating. It’s confusing. It’s dangerous. But, assuming folks are open about our goals, desires, and expectations, it can be fun, exciting, and empowering.

But that’s just the dating adults. What happens when you’re a single parent and you have to juggle parenting as well as being open to finding your own Best Match? There are many critical players involved; for example, Parent No 1, Parent No 2, child/children, Significant Other No 1, Significant Other No 2, just to name a few. If there are multiple children with multiple parents, we’ll need an entire cast list to keep on-hand just for clarity.

How each person acts and reacts and how that lands in each person’s world is one of the most delicate and crucial dances we can play as single-and-dating-parents. I have learned that it’s easier dating other single parents. We get each other. We get scheduling, we get priorities, we get boundaries. We’re on the same page…for the most part. Dating non-parents is not impossible. It is, however, complicated because those above issues are completely foreign. They usually don’t understand schedule conflicts, the never-ending exhaustion, the waking up at 3:24am just because someone wanted a snuggle; the perpetual barrage of stuff that can’t just stay put-away, the parenting priorities, etc. Even though some might be mature enough to empathize and offer patience and space as your relationship develops, non-parents will never understand until they join the club.

[Tangent: I’m also curious about why women are more open to dating a single father than men are to dating a single mother… single fathers are seen as tender, selfless saints whereas single mothers are usually…not seen this way…something about sperm ego, I’m sure… ((eye roll)) men and their territories ((smh)) [tangent over]

So over the next few days, I’m going to deliver a three-part break-down of Dating with Children; one from The Single Parent’s point of view, one from The Childless Other Person’s point of view, and one from The Kid’s point of view.

Let’s start from The Single Parent, my present role and the role I know best.

PART 1: The Single Parent

  1. Do Take Your Time. Translation: don’t rush into something led by infatuation and begin introductions (especially to children!) prematurely. I had to lead with that one. It is the most raw for me mostly because I lose a lot of dates this way; when non-parents get freaked out about meeting the kids or trying to picture themselves as a step parent before I’m even ready to acknowledge a second date. Stop it. Slow your roll. Pump the brakes. Calm your nipples.

Unfortunately, a lot of relationships start out hot and heavy; two people that have been desperately aching for something – anything – meaningful find each other and before you know it you’ve crammed three years of dating into three weeks, your relationship escalates to super nova status and implodes before you know each other’s middle names.

Take your time to make sure you are ready to give your Best Self to your Best Match.

You rushed it. They rushed it. Now you’re back to being lonely and looking, a little depressed, and probably picking up tiny pieces of your dignity somewhere. So take your time. I personally want to fall in love with a best friend. Someone I know can cheer me on at my best and still manage to cherish me at my worst. And that kind of closeness doesn’t blossom over a few texts. That kind of closeness is fundamental to a healthy and lasting relationship; the kind you will probably want to start thinking about introducing to your children. I’ll touch on the dangers of premature introductions in PART 3: The Kids. Stay tuned there.

You also want to give yourself the time and space to not only grieve your previous relationship, but to also be introspective; look at your own contributions to its demise. Are you bringing some negative habits or misplaced bitterness into your next relationship? Take your time to make sure you are ready to give your Best Self to your Best Match.

  1. Don’t Parent Shop. For the love of all things holy, DON’T. PARENT. SHOP. As a parent, you should NOT be looking for a substitute or replacement parent. I cringe when I hear people say they’re looking for a father or a mother for their kids. No. You had the kids, not them. Your babes are your responsibility; not theirs…yet. Your kids already have a father or a mother or they wouldn’t be here. That original parent, whether divorced, deceased or just a delinquent, is still the child’s parent. Plus, they have you and you’re awesome.

Because one day you’ll be old and wrinkly and have little left to offer each other besides unconditional love and never-ending companionship.

When looking for your Best Match, it is imperative that you resist profiling them for step-parenthood.

Why? Because one day you’ll be old and wrinkly and have little left to offer each other besides unconditional love and never-ending companionship. Look at how many marriages fail after the kids move out. During college, I knew at least 10 friends that were confused, crushed and betrayed as their family homes were sold and their parents remedied empty nest syndrome with two separate apartments in two separate states. Where do they go for Christmas? For spring break? Is anything really “home” anymore? AARP says:

While the overall divorce rate in the United States has decreased since 1990, it has doubled for those over age 50.

So while, yes, you must screen your potential suitor for suitability with some parental duties, don’t look for a step parent. Look for your life partner. The kids will grow up. They kids will leave home. The kids will follow their own dreams, start their own careers, find their own Best Match, and begin a family of their own. When the kids move out and move on, what will be left of your relationship? Your bond must be rooted in something deeper and stronger than the kids.

  1. Don’t Use the Kids as an Excuse. Don’t use them as an excuse to date and don’t use them as an excuse not to Your children deserve to have a healthy example of a relationship. If the model you show them isn’t going to set a positive image of a life partnership, then don’t show it to them. Don’t date to find a replacement parent (See above; No. 2), and don’t abstain from dating saying that your kids come first. Date because you want to and you’re ready.

Ok, backtrack. The kids do come first. But so does your happiness. You will offer your children your best parenting when you yourself are fulfilled. Insisting on isolating yourself from trying to find a relationship – if you want one – isn’t fair to the kids. They’ll internalize your loneliness as being their fault.

If you don’t want to date, that is perfectly fine. Just don’t do it.

If you don’t want to date, that is perfectly fine. Just don’t do it. But if your kids ask about why you chose to be single, don’t say it’s because of them.

If you’re longing for companionship, it isn’t noble to martyr your own happiness and say it’s for the kids. Because it’s not about the kids. It’s about your own pain, shame, fear, whatever, that is preventing you from getting out there. If this is the case, it’s time to start that inward reflection on why you want to be in a relationship but are too terrified to take the first step. If you want to date, date for yourself and your own relationship goals.

  1. Do Consider Your Kids. Ok, with all this self-reflective thinking, don’t forget about your babies! They absolutely do count and do matter in your quest for love. Be mindful of red flags, especially with other parents. Non-parents are clean slates and can adapt to being around the children. They can assimilate into your “normal” and learn about how their role can blend into your existing family situation. They will most likely struggle with issues like sharing space, time, prioritizing, delegating, a huge increase in acquiring stuff and how to respectfully discipline or correct your children. But if you choose wisely and everyone is ready to try, a non-parent could beautifully blend into your family as you being to make it your own, together.

On the other hand, red flags from another dating parent can be really frightening. How does the person talk about their own kids? Do they enjoy doing similar activities with their kiddies as you do with yours? Have you seen this person angry? Frustrated? Tired? How do you think your children will receive him or her? How do you think your children will receive their children? While your partner is your partner, your primary job as a parent is to protect and provide for your children. If this person interferes with your rhythm or your parental spidey sense tingles, listen to your inner voice. Don’t risk it.

  1. Don’t limit yourself. Don’t limit yourself with a timeline or a profile. If you do, you’ll just get in your own way. You’ll miss subtle cues, impulsively rule out a winner, flock to the lowest hanging fruit, start something before you’re ready, start something before they’re ready, or doom yourself to complete solitude for the rest of your natural mortal life because you’re looking for someone that doesn’t exist. Remember, no one is perfect (read more about starting a new relationship here).

So if you’re ready to start dating as a single parent, be open and be receptive. Your Best Match might not seem like your Best Match at first. But to truly connect with someone on the most intimate of levels requires some measure of vulnerability and allowing someone to see you and love you.

 

Check back soon for Dating with Children PART 2: The Childless Other Person

 

~OR

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Don’t Recover. Adapt.

The news makes me want to vomit. I’m demoralized by the American presidential election, disgusted with the global rejection of those displaced by war, confused by war period, angry at routine segregation and oppression, and the rampant injustice and violence makes my insides curdle.

But if recovery is getting back to normal and normal  is slaughtering, ravaging, ridiculing and degrading our neighbors, then I don’t want it. I don’t want to go back to a normal where fear begets discrimination and pride births peonage.

I hate that we’ve almost forgotten about Emily Doe simply because another tragedy upstaged the atrocity. I hate it. I hate that we saunter from one sickening unnecessary evil to another. I hate the heartache. And somehow, this pain is so familiar to me.

I stand in solidarity with Emily Doe. One night I shared a taxi with a close friend. We agreed to drop me off first. And then he asked to use my bathroom. Of course. Why not. I told him to use it and let himself out. I was exhausted and going to bed. I said goodbye. And then I woke up to the sound of my bed knocking against the wall; my sweatpants waistband closer to my knees than my ribs. I’ll stop there. I won’t say I was raped. He did stop. But I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in months. I want to move. I want a new bed. I want to burn my sheets. Just like Emily wrote, “I wanted to take off my body like a jacket” and throw it out with the garbage. I still do. I get it, Emily. I ache with you.

And Orlando. God. The agony radiates through my soul. My stomach crawls up into my throat every time I try to read the details of the horrific night. I wish I didn’t know what it’s like to lose someone to violence, too. I wish I wasn’t familiar with getting middle-of-the-night calls that someone has been shot. Killed. I wish I didn’t know what it’s like to huddle on the floor in a corner and pray the bullets miss you. And your brother. And your mom. I wish I hadn’t been to more funerals than weddings – two of them children, murdered in the streets. I wish I hadn’t lost my dad without saying goodbye. I get it. To all the family and friends off the victims, I ache with you.

I don’t just empathize. I understand. I cry with you.  And it sucks. And it doesn’t get better. It doesn’t get easier. And I hope to God we don’t recover.

re cov er

As I – we – are surrounded by loss, I’ve realized two simple truths: 100% of people will die. 100% of people have faith (even if you believe in nothing, you must believe in that nothing with all of your soul). So it makes sense that 100% of people will experience grief at some point. Whether it is the loss of a life, the dissolution of a relationship, a stabbing violation of trust, the pain and betrayal is universal. You are not alone. 100% of people understand.

All of us have experienced a version of emotional trauma that leaves us with a gaping void in our spirit.

Most people will try to ignore the emptiness. It’s so much easier to remain where we are comfortable and unchallenged. We act like everything is fine. We try to recover. We try to go back to normal. But if recovery is getting back to normal and normal is slaughtering, ravaging, ridiculing and degrading our neighbors, then I don’t want it. I don’t want to go back to a normal where fear begets discrimination and pride births peonage.

I don’t want to make a recovery to that. I want a relovery. I want to adapt. I pray that we will adapt.

Adapt to lead with love.

Adapt to allow space to grieve.

Adapt to remember.

Adapt to be nonjudgmental of our neighbors. All of our neighbors.

Adapt to look within ourselves first.

Adapt to identify our prejudices and control our actions.

Adapt to own our emotions.

Adapt to respect others’ emotions.

Adapt to uplift others’ decisions.

Adapt to celebrate our differences.

Adapt to be a willing student.

Adapt to use I-phrases; not you-phrases.

Adapt to stop blaming.

Adapt to admit fault.

Adapt to apologize.

Adapt to be brave.

Adapt to let go.

Adapt to name our fears, insecurities, and silence them from the inside out.

Adapt to improve someone’s life, not take advantage of it.

Adapt to honor your neighbor as yourself.

Adapt to make unselfish decisions.

Adapt to protect and care for strangers.

Adapt to ask for help.

Adapt to constructively cope with dissonance.

Adapt to release control.

Adapt to include instead of condemn.

Adapt to be confident.

Adapt to know when to stop.

Adapt to speak up.

Adapt to accept.

Adapt to back off.

Adapt to listen.

Adapt to learn someone’s story.

Adapt to see people.

Adapt to be thoughtful. Curious. Caring. Gentle.

Adapt to be kind.

Adapt to heal.

Adapt to unite.

Adapt to forgive.

Adapt to understand.

Adapt to empathize.

Adapt to love.

This much I know is true: we will find a new normal. We’ll eventually stop crying every day. One day, we’ll stop thinking about it every day. One night, we won’t have nightmares, or cry ourselves to sleep. Or replay the instant over and over again. One day we won’t occupy that strange space of something that is ending. One day relief will come for longer than a handful of minutes a few times a day.

One day we won’t occupy that strange space of something that is ending.

But some days the sadness will feel fresh again. Real. Surface-level. Raw. It might be in a year. It might be in five years. It might be in two months. We might get dizzy when the wave hits us. When what’s left of that empty pit of loss peeks out from our core and tugs at our memories. It could be a smell. Or a song. Or a stranger’s voice in the distance that has an eerily familiar cadence. It won’t get easier. It won’t get better. But we will adapt.

~OR

#speakwoman #prayfororlando #peacefororlando #gaypride #orlandopride #weareorlando #adapt #recover #stoptheviolence #regrouprebootrebuild #emilydoe #rape #roadtorelovery

What Are Negging & Gaslighting? Abuse, That’s What.

Earlier this week, I shared an article about Training Your Partner/How to Start a Relationship off Right and I fittingly, had the opportunity to put Step 5 into practice this week, too (see my final word below).

I had been on a few dates with someone and there were red flags that I noticed but chose to ignore in the name of being mature and responsible and giving this person the benefit of the doubt. Once I followed my own advice, Steps 1-4, it was most definitely time for Step 5. Why? Because he was exhibiting abusive behavior. It was subtle, sneaky. I didn’t really see it happening. He was a fun and pleasant person, and I genuinely enjoyed his company. But in the midst of our good time, he would insult me and challenge me so regularly, I started to feel inadequate. And then I realized why: I was allowing myself to endure abuse.

Finally, there are names for these patterns. If you haven’t heard of them, it’s time to learn, look and listen. Equip yourself and be aware: This. Is. Abuse.


NEGGING

Negging is that tricky subtle negative garbage that is intended to knock down your confidence just enough so that you’ll be more <air quotes> approachable. The Neg-slinger hopes to pique your interest for being seemingly so disinterested with you that they treat you as if you’re nothing special. AKA passive aggressive insults. AKA bullying.

In this article, where negging is introduced as a pick-up method complete with tips and tricks for using the best neg at the best time to get the girl you want, the author also warns against using the negging <air quotes>“technique” inappropriately, where is comes out as an actual insult. Well guess what, it is an actual insult. Negging is bullying. Negs are passive aggressive self-esteem-crushing blows no matter how you want to define and refine it. Negging is bullying. Bullying is abuse. Do not put up with it.

Some that I heard recently:

“Wow, cute top! I love last season knock-offs.”

“Omigod, I can’t believe you’re not wearing tights. That dress is so short. Aren’t you cold?”

“Three kids, huh? What’d the third one do walk outta there?”

“Wow, cute top! I love last season knock-offs.”

Please imagine my face in response. There were no words. <Negger, please.>

img_2124


GASLIGHTING

Have you ever been made to feel like you don’t remember things correctly, or your judgement is off, or that you’re just plain going crazy? Yes, that’s a thing. That’s an abuse thing. It’s called gaslighting. Gaslighting is when your abuser makes you question your own sanity.

“Gaslighting or gas-lighting is a form of mental abuse in which a victim is manipulated into doubting their own memory, perception, and sanity. Instances may range from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.

The term owes its origin to the 1938 play Gas Light and its film adaptations. The term has been used in clinical and research literature.” (Wikipedia)

“Wow, you totally made that up.”

Unfortunately, gaslighting and negging can go hand in hand. Because in the context where you might actually stand up for yourself against a neg, a gaslighter might say:

“Wow, you totally made that up.”
“You’re just too sensitive.”
“I’ll talk to you when you’re not PMSing.”

No, a-hole you need to stop being a jerk. It’s not me. It’s you. I’m not internalizing things incorrectly; you are saying hurtful things and you need to stop.

Gaslighting is a high-stakes mind-game for control of your emotional and psychological dependence. Be aware. Your experience, perception, and opinions are all valid, especially when you feel hurt.
Emotional abuse is brutal. It peels back your skin and digs its nails into your most vulnerable places. It’s an infection that seeps into your soul, telling you there’s something wrong with you; you’re not good enough; you’re a disappointment; no one wants you. Emotional abuse speaks life into whatever your self-defeating thoughts are. It crumbles you from the inside out, ultimately making you fully dependent upon the abuser as you fight for their approval. But it will never come. You will bend over to satisfy them, but they are insatiable. You’ll fear the same rejection by a stranger so you want to stay where its comfortable. At least you have someone right?

Wrong.

Be strong, be confident. Even if you have to do it alone. You deserve to be happy, comfortable and fully accepted by yourself as well as in your relationships. If someone isn’t making you feel seen, loved and valued, then you deserve better.

So, here’s what I sent to my once-gentleman caller after I had certainly endured quite enough of both his negging and gaslighting:

I just listened to your message. Let me be clear that I am not now and was not Friday riled up, angry, or upset; nor have I overreacted. I am very calm and matter-of-fact. I know what kind of man I want to share my time with and energy on and you have simply shown that you are not that man. Plain and simple.
We are not married. I am not obligated to keep company with someone who has imposed negative critique on both my physical figure and my home in addition to continually taking a teacher/preacher tone with me as if I need to learn lessons in patience, wisdom, confidence and my family relationships. I have the right not to entertain a relationship where I do not feel fully accepted and cared-for as-is. I do not need to be coached/changed/fixed/improved/educated and if I do I will take the initiative myself, not because you told me to.
I appreciate your effort after the fact, but I cannot trust words, only the actions you have shown me and what you have shown me is that you want to be with someone tidier, more physically fit, and willing to be lectured. I am not that person. I am quite comfortable in my skin and in my apartment and I am mature enough to handle my own relationships and decisions without you imposing unsolicited advice.
In your next relationship I do hope you do not imply her body or home need improvement. Most women will not respond well to that or as mildly as I have. Also, thank you but no thank you for dinner. If you’ve already got one foot in DC, I really don’t see the point even if you managed to stop casually insulting me on a regular basis. I’m certain there is someone that is a better fit for you as I am sure there is for me as well. Good luck.

AND SCENE. Do not settle. Be strong. Advocate for yourself. It is much better to be alone and healthy and happy, than in a relationship that is defeating and miserable.

~OR

How to Train Your Man: Tips for Creating Your Ideal Significant Other

In short, there’s really only one necessary step in training your significant other.

Step One: NOPE

The End.

As a woman, single and sorta-looking, I cringe every time I hear the phrase, “I’m still training my husband [wife] [boyfriend] [girlfriend].”

CRINGE. SHUDDER. HISS.

Because the following are things that can and should be trained: pets, skills, muscles, hair, plants. An adult human is not one of those things. Now don’t get me wrong, if you have the trainer/trainee relationship and that works for you, then more power to you and that role-playing synergy. Thank God you two found each other.

But the mentality that someone should pick the closest prototype to their perfect partner with expectations to shape and groom them into that perfect partner is an idea I hope can be quickly eradicated from our social-majority thought. Not only is it unfair to the “trainer” because they are obviously settling and compromising their standards, but it is abusive for the “trainee” to live under constant scrutiny and judgement from the person that should love them the most, unconditionally. The “trainee” has the right to be themselves, relax and be comfortable in the intimacy of home.

Therefore, I offer this alternative title:

Learning Love Together:  Five Tips to Starting a New Relationship off Right

  1. Get Real. No One is Perfect.

There’s a thing I like to call the Prince Charming Syndrome. It involves being exposed to stories and movies that illustrate some perfect romance, budding with a delicious tension, finally blooming into a flawless, uncomplicated union, and they lived happily ever after.

Lies.

Coming from a single-parent home, I didn’t have a daily relationship to set the bar for me. Really, my only examples of marriage or any long-term relationship included my married-and-divorced-three-times mother; my godparents, who remained married but lived separately for several years and argued – both earnestly and jokingly – incessantly; and…The Huxtables. So, if it isn’t obvious, my perception of life partnerships was a bit skewed.  With Hollywood as my standard, I suffered from that Prince Charming Syndrome. And swiftly abandoned every relationship that required any effort or working through issues. By the time I had developed a relationship work ethic, my marriage of almost ten years was beyond my own repair. All affection was a distant memory and my vision of the future was 180 degrees away from his. So I valiantly galloped off into an opposing sunset.

The more I put myself out there, post-divorce, embarking on a spree of great and not-so-great dates, I realized, everyone is different and no one is flawless – no one is a particular upgrade or downgrade from my once-spouse.

Everyone comes from issues, passed down from their parents, passed down from their parents, and everyone internalizes, suffers from, responds to, and exhibits those characteristics differently. Some people are aware of those traits, others are not. Some issues lay dormant for years, awakening with a specific trigger, while others rear their ugly heads early and often and speak louder than words. And depending on how those negative qualities land in the significant others’ world (don’t forget the significant other comes along with their own cocktail of problems), the possibilities for volatile mixtures are endless.

So then what?

Be introspective. Take the time and energy to know yourself.

And be thoughtful. Take the time and energy to know your significant other.


  1. Learning Each Other Takes Time and Communication.

Team projects in the workplace involve a handful of key factors that make or break the outcome: intentional leadership, setting expectations, proactive communication. This directly translates into relationships.

The success of every relationship hinges upon this openness. I know, this is a typical date-killer, the DTR (Define the Relationship) Talk. But really, I don’t want my time wasted and I don’t want to waste someone else’s time either. It’s OK to set boundaries, timelines, communication norms and preferences, and be clear about what you hope this developing relationship looks like. Letting your new partner know ahead of time, “I don’t text every day,” or “I’m more of a caller than a texter,” or “I’m not ready to fall in love, but I want to get to know you better,” are all very reasonable things to say on a first date – better yet, before the first date. If your relationship is lacking these basics, as time moves on, resentment will infect your partnership and slowly eat away every fiber of your connection.

Proactive communication and setting expectations are not things that happen naturally or automatically, either. Someone has to take the lead. Ideally, both partners would happily co-pilot their Ship of Love as it pulls out of Infatuation Harbor. However, this might not be both partners’ forte. If the responsibility falls more on one side than the other, make sure this too is communicated and accepted. If not, it could easily be another foothold for resentment; where one partner feels they are doing all the work to maintain the health of the relationship and the other is absent at the helm.

Set the tone early so that unrealistic expectations are not assumed, feelings are not hurt, and your new relationship doesn’t implode in the first month.


  1. Honoring Each Other Takes Selflessness.

In order to truly honor your partner, you have to bend sometimes. Yes, compromise. When I was a kid and my godmother would resolve spats between my brother and me, she would say, “You guys have to compromise.” It felt like slander. An expletive. Profanity. I want what I want when I want it even if it’s not my toy. Gimme! But she was right. Compromise is the only way to resolve partnership issues. However, unlike childhood squabbles, the compromise cannot take place out of guilt or because Auntie said so.  In a relationship, it must be done with love, compassion and selflessness. If not, enter that sepsis of bitterness once again. Honoring your significant other means selflessly compromising, and doing it with joy, not obligation.


 

  1. There is Give-and-Take

OK, let’s face it: adulating is hard. There are things are just a big fat huge annoying pain to do. Like sorting dirty laundry. Washing it. Drying it. Folding it. And putting it away. Ironing. Dishes. Putting away dishes. Sweeping. Mopping. Vacuuming. Unfortunately, they all have to be done. Even worse, they all have to be done over and over and over again. The absolute worst thing is when you’re in a relationship and you’re still doing everything despite this partner that can’t seem to help. Or this partner that not only doesn’t help but makes things worse, i.e. putting dirty dishes near the sink rather than in the sink or dumping dirty laundry on the floor rather than in the hamper. These little annoying things can set your soul ablaze with rage, or give you one more opportunity to remember that no one is perfect, you can proactively communicate, set realistic expectations, and lovingly compromise.

Let’s take the latter. Perhaps you hate doing laundry but don’t mind the dishes? Trade. Instead of expecting your partner to perform perfectly the thing they avoid the most, set your expectation to, “This is my job,” and release them from the responsibility. Allow them to take over something that you equally abhor. Better yet, if your hate is mutual and one of the things that draws you together, alternate days and make it a game. Reward yourselves with a romantic game or some QT alone when all the chores are done.


  1. It’s OK to Say, “This Isn’t Right.”

A lot of us are raised to avoid rejection conversations (why many people go ghost when something in the relationship has turned them off; it’s just easier – inconsiderate, but easier) or to do it as politely and delicately as possible (which is just annoying if you’re the one getting dumped). But guess what? It’s OK – no, more than OK – it’s healthy to speak up and say, “This isn’t working for me.”

It’s OK to voice a situation where your partner has made you feel uncomfortable, and it’s up to you to decide if it’s worth it to work through that breakdown or if the situation is unforgivable and you’re just done. The point here is that you have the power and the right to stand up for what you want to get out of your relationship. And if it’s not working, it. Is. O. K. You don’t get Brownie points for putting up with a relationship that isn’t meeting your needs. Stand up for yourself. An unhealthy relationship is not better than being alone.

I recently decided to make a list of must-haves and a list of deal breakers. If we make the same lists for homes, vehicles, other big parts of our life that require both a significant investment and a considerable commitment, then why not do it for the person we expect to share our beds, meals, hearts, and life with for eternity? To be clear, this is not a check list with boxes and dating is not a job interview. But it is valid to outline characteristics you hope your partner will possess, as well as a list of things for which you absolutely will not settle. Don’t make exceptions that ultimately force you to smile through your misery or slowly waste away until nothing of your soul remains. Don’t sell yourself short. You owe it to yourself to be fully loved and fully happy; and your partner deserves it too. If you make too many exceptions and excuses, you’re condemning both of you to an unfair compromise that will crumble your life force and extinguish your zest.

At the top of my list: ability to show unconditional love. Unconditional because I want to be able to relax with my partner, be vulnerable and open with zero fear of judgement or abandonment.

And I don’t want to be improved. I’m not a puppy. I’m not a professor. I do not want to train or be trained. I just want to walk alongside someone and be cherished. Don’t we all?

~OR

Before Memorial Day

It’s a holiday. While I’m on-call, many of my fellow Americans are doing the yooj: gushing over the all-too-rare magic of a long weekend without the sacrifice of one priceless Vacation Day or a sacred PTO cash-in. Yes, one of those Mondays that has something to do with the military and too many of us have no idea whether it is Memorial, Labor or Veterans Day. The only thing that triggers brain activity: Day. Off. Fer’ Murica.

It’s the unofficial start of summer with a widespread epidemic of day drinking, lounging, sun poisoning and wishing for still just one more day like this.

Don’t wait until you almost lose someone to see someone.

One more day. It’s Memorial Day. What we’re supposed to think of is those that are serving, those that returned from serving, those that died serving, and those that disappeared serving. This video (again, wrong Monday Military holiday, but same thing…), really got me in the feels:

 

There’s something beautiful and aching about the desperate, automatic, instinctual throwing of limbs around the body of someone you love and miss…like you have to touch them with as much of your bodily surface area as possible and you’ll never let them go again.

My boys hug me like this. It almost brings me to tears each time. I want to freeze the moment and hold them forever. And I know one day they’ll be too cool for me. One day, they’ll start doubting and pulling back and refraining. One day, they’ll tone it down like the rest of us.

We’re muted. We’re diluted. Until we experience the threat of loss. Until that stabbing wake-up call;  that one instant it takes for us to start seeing each other again.

I wish these stunningly passionate wordless expressions of deep affection were more common. I wish we’d be like eager uninhibited children, or the military-relative that has been on-edge for two years or more. I wish we would greet family before leaving for work on the Tuesday after a nice long holiday weekend  and instantly do the same when that awful vacation-hangover workday is over.

Don’t wait until you almost lose someone to see someone. They don’t even have to be in uniform. Hold them now. Embrace them before they’re deployed. Before the diagnosis. Before the accident. Before the 911 call. Before the coma. Before the hospice. Before the abandoned Facebook profile. Before the memorial. Before the void. Before the hole in your spirit. Before they are a memory. Go cling to someone you love while you have them.

Happy Memorial Day.

~OR

How to Cure the Single Blues Like a Boss

Whether it’s just my peer group or simply the common thread of adulthood, the daily tidal wave of couples, engagement, marriage and anniversary photo collages on social media is overwhelming. The only remedy is the equal abundance of cynical e-cards and memes mocking the romantic posts perpetually shoved down our lonely single-people throats. And to finally push us loners into a spiral of independent agony is the digital dating industry and their persistent ads telling us that being single is not acceptable. Swipe this, meet here, and connect on that to find your mate, your match, your partner, your other half. What if I don’t want to? What if I’m already whole by myself?

Tell the Ghost of No Significant Other Present to back off

Well, if you’re feeling the negative weight of solitude and the grasp of singleness is tightening around your wrist, tell the Ghost of No Significant Other Present to back off. Stop swiping, searching, and then rolling your eyes at your dating apps for failing you, and try these ways to enjoy your shining solo self:

  1. Do that one thing. You know, the one thing you said you’d do if you only had the time, money, opportunity and then reserved it for, well, maybe when I retire? Yeah that. Stop waiting. Do it now. You can’t control when your life partner will stroll into your world, but you can control how you maximize your Me Time. Since you’re not on any hot dates, schedule in whatever it is you keep putting off. Maybe it’s writing a book, going back to school, learning a new skill, visiting place #38 on your Bucket List – whatever. Stop making excuses, and do it. Do it for you.

  2. Date yourself. OK, confession time: I love reading and writing in crowded bars and restaurants. Weird, I know. Somehow, it’s energizing for me. The hum of voices, the array of fashion, the smiles, laughter and awkward body language of strangers…it’s actually pretty entertaining. When everyone else is out with the squad looking to pick up a date, or couples that are actually on a date, I somehow feel even more empowered to be anti-that. So go to the movies, go for a walk, rent a bike, drive to somewhere you’ve never been and have a picnic. The possibilities are endless. Just because you’re alone doesn’t mean you can’t leave home and experience life.Fine. Whatever.

  3. Join stuff. If you’re uncomfortable with too much of yourself, then it’s time to get out and meet people – without romantic expectations. Just meet other humans with similar interests. Join a social club, volunteer at a non-profit, take a series of dance, art or cooking classes, get active in your place of worship, purchase membership to fine arts circles, find a book club or lecture series. Heck, start your own group if you can’t find one you like. Make sure it is something that meets regularly – weekly or monthly – so that you can begin to cultivate new connections. You never know; you might just find your tribe.

     


  4. #Friends4Lyfe. Being an intentional friend isn’t something that came easy for me. I didn’t realize until my own marriage was over that I had no close friends left of my own – everyone that had been a “friend” was actually closer to my once-spouse. (FYI, don’t be me. You need friends and your friends need you.) I had to rebuild friendships and find ways to make new ones. Schedule time for your pals and do things together. Even if it’s a phone date or just meeting to go shopping or work out together. You need each other.

  5. I know I will find you; I already love you. This is a line from a dear friend’s song that she wrote when she was single. She was longing for love and sorting through the feelings but didn’t have the person to receive all her adoration and affection. So she sang about it. If you’re confident in the love-to-come and just can’t stop the excitement, then don’t fight it. Write your future partner love letters, songs, create a photo album of yourself to give to them. If the passion is already there, let it speak; your person will be there soon.

  6. Don’t live with your parents. Just don’t. Even if they’re supportive. Even if you’re saving money. Don’t.

Cheers to loving yourself first.

There you have it. If you want to be in a relationship, just hold tight. Don’t dwell on your boredom or loneliness – you’ve got yourself – and yourself is pretty awesome. I’ve seen some extremely interesting couples out there, and if they can find each other, there’s hope for you yet. There’s hope for all of us. Cheers to loving yourself first.

~OR

Avoid the Side-Eye: Dos and Don’ts When Working with Black Women

A cartoon I saw yesterday left me with a knot in my throat. It showed First Lady Michelle Obama looking masculine and irritable, when compared to her potential replacement of the Republican-Party-Hopeful persuasion. There are so many things wrong with this image of her that I had to look away. It infuriates me that a strong, educated, strikingly beautiful American woman can be drawn so viciously. I refuse to link to it here and glorify the artist for his disgraceful work.

But then I considered my own identity issues as a Black Woman. I thought about how we’re shamed for not being good enough, pretty enough, educated enough…but then we’re shamed anyway, even when we blow those expectations out of the water. The truth is that we can never be good enough because someone will always find a reason to complain, nag, and diminish our value (enter the first stop on my Road to Relovery: validate yourself first) – even if you’re a double Ivy League graduate and the First Lady of the United States. I thought about how the physical attributes that kept me away from the cool kids table 20 years ago are the same things the cool kids are spending millions to have synthesized today.

beauty goals by octavia reese
Standard of Beauty 1996-2016

I wasn’t allowed to be Black growing up. As I was taught to strive for greatness, the image of greatness was not Black greatness. The image of greatness I saw did not look anything like me. The image of beauty I was shown was 90s heroin-chic; long, cadaverous, pale, curve-less. And the image of success I was shown was…well, any lawyer or doctor (or both) with a giant house, beautiful kids, 90s heroin-chic wife, fancy car, multiple vacation homes…yep, the upper-middle white man of the 90s was my hero.

But before I go too deep on the double standards I’ve watched evolve over the last decades that absolutely turn my stomach (again, the shame and rejection of the Black woman’s figure by mainstream media, “Omigod Becky look at her butt,” to the booming booty boosting industry giving non-Blacks our shape; the cannabis industry turning from Black street crime and thousands of imprisoned business-savvy young brown people to a legal, medical multibillion dollar industry profiting non-Blacks, etc.), I want to offer the following tips to assist in a successful interaction with the Black goddess of today:

  1. Do know my name. Do everything within your power to call us by our own unique name – not to be confused with that other Black woman you met once, talked to, worked with or grew up with. In school, I was The Token for many years and everyone knew me by name. Enter new Black family stage right; suddenly everyone started calling me Nora. Not my name. I realized I was just filed under “The Black Girl” in their minds and when there were two of us, ERROR 404: Black Girl Name Not Found.
  2. Don’t conditionally compliment me. That means, don’t be surprised that I speak a certain way or have a large vocabulary. Don’t say “wow, you speak well …for a Black girl.” And while you’re at it, drop the mom clause too, i.e. “wow, you look great…for a mom…”
  3. Don’t ask if our hair is real or ours. Assume it is, close your mouth and move on.
  4. Don’t compare us. I am not Michelle or Whoopi or Kerry or Serena or Beyoncé or Iman or anyone else that you’ve seen on TV. Unless it is a comparison to compliment, just accept that many of us don’t fit into your boxed definition of Black Woman. Best once again, to just close your mouth and move on.
  5. Do join us. Women are strong, powerful, divine vehicles of life and yes, we can do all of that thing that you’re doing pregnant and in heels. Men, please stop asking us what we can do for you and let us do our thing or maybe even, dare I write it, offer to help us. And to my ladies, women of all colors, cultures and creeds need to stick together. Stop the girl-girl hate, cat fighting and competition. How about we take each other out on friend dates.
  6. Don’t tell stories. We don’t care about that one Black person you know. It’s ok if you don’t know any other Black people. Actually, no it’s not ok, but if it’s your reality, then so be it. You don’t score “OK With Blacks” badges by telling us about someone you met or asking if we saw the last Tyler Perry movie or episode of Scandal or Empire. Just relax and act normal.
  7. Do let us be ourselves. We’re not all comics or athletes. Again, relax. And maybe just keep the lips sealed one more time.

    be yourself
    Do let us be ourselves
  8. Don’t say “I’m not racist.” You are. We all are. It just depends on what you do and say with your initial prejudices.
  9. Do be aware of your prejudices. Name them. And if you’re a forward thinking human-loving being, then you’ll know better which thoughts and reactions to push aside and how to move on without being awkward.
  10. Don’t admit to not understanding #blacklivesmatter. Just don’t. Close your mouth. Google it.
  11. Do understand police tensions. It’s not right that young Black kids dislike or fear the police, but it does make sense. It is sad but true and don’t forget that our Black history with law enforcement is drastically different from your non-Black story.
  12. If you’re going to assume anything, do assume we’re just as American as you are. I’ve been asked so many times where I’m from. Here. I’m from here. Just like you. We sing the same national anthem, cheer for the same teams, and drive on the same side of the road. If you haven’t noticed, America is actually quite colorful. And it is an astoundingly beautiful thing.

~OR

Hope

It happened. The binge watching. The time-stunning world-gulping addictive blackhole itch that only Netflix or OnDemand can scratch.   First, it was Shannara, a fantastic escape to post-apocalyptic Elvin-run Earth that I first visited in the 90s with my brother. Druids. Allanon. This Allanon is hot. 1997 me didn’t envision him like this. 2016 me approves.

Next it was X-Files, like the good and faithful nerd that I am. It’s been nice pretending to be a tween again.

Then Mr. Robot. I tried. I really tried. I haven’t given up. But there’s something about the curiously attractive cartoonish features of the main character that entrance me in his face; not to mention his monotone, rhythmic – humming to near-numbing – monologues combined with the smog-filtered cinematography that lull me right to sleep. I haven’t noticed my eyes have closed and I’ve rested away several hours of my life until the silence of the electronics’ auto-sleep jolts me awake.

Ever since having children, I hate the silence. Because it’s when there’s nothing on that I hear everything the most. Creaks. Motors. Fans. People laughing a block away. Someone’s engine. Dogs barking. Of course, my own thoughts are loudest of all.

And I just miss my kids. When they’re awake, I miss the nonstop cycle of giggle-scream-whine-cry-guffaw-mom!-cry-scream-I’m hungry! And of course tripping over them as they stay underfoot. Stay. Six eyes on me as I mount my porcelain throne. I draw the line when they ask to see what happened. Just leave. They abide by sitting outside the door and commenting on the smells, asking when I’m done, sliding notes and finger tips under the door.

But when they’re sleeping or with their dad, I miss that complete disregard of privacy and breech of personal space. I miss it like…like a mother misses her children.

Ironically, since I put in my two weeks and was instead granted an immediate exit, thus walking into an unexpectedly needed yet desperately underfunded 2.5-week sabbatical, I’ve had the most frustrating experiences with my decrepit and ever-expiring netbook paired with a deafening case of writer’s block.

So, childless, workless, and afraid of the silence, back to the téle I go. There’s this one thing I keep hearing people talk about. Orange is the New Black. I usually don’t follow TV fads or jump on the hype. I likes what I likes and I’ll watches when I want to watches. But I’ll watch it because I’m curious, not because everyone else says I have to watch it. So, three years later, now I’m curious.

And I’m hooked.

What stood out to me the most, and what has finally cured my temporary case of writer’s block, was in Season One when the skinny mousy yoga lady says that one part that finally starts to ground the main gal.

“You have to remember that. It’s all temporary.”

I had one of those weird reactions like looking behind me to make eye contact with my neighbor because obviously there had to be a witness to this woman on Netflix that just said the thing that I always say – to myself, so that I don’t ever give up; to my friends, so that they don’t ever give up. But oh yeah, I’m alone. So I smiled to myself. I get me. High five.

Maybe that’s why I love the show so much now. Because it speaks to me where I’m at. No not “prision;” but my not-ideal situation.

I never made a conscious decision to be in the circumstances where I am now. Yet I don’t feel that I’m being punished any more than I feel imprisoned. That’s life. And I know that I have to keep going. The bad days are not forever. While it seems like they will never end, they are just as long as the good days I don’t ever want to end.

The other side of knowing that a not-so-ideal situation is temporary is having the hope that the next season is better. Or in the least, it will be a new change. A new adventure. Perhaps a new definition of hard-challenging-difficult-maddening, but the adapting will be distracting enough to feel at least temporarily better than the old bad.

Hope.

hope
/hōp/
noun
  1.  
    a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.
    “he looked through her belongings in the hope of coming across some information”
  2. archaic
    a feeling of trust.
verb
  1.  
    want something to happen or be the case.
    “he’s hoping for an offer of compensation”
    synonyms: expect, anticipate, look for, be hopeful of, pin one’s hopes on, want;

My hope is holding onto the possibility that things will change. Improve. Shift. Having faith that this sucky spot right now is not what God has intended for me. Why would I have such a huge calling on my heart to do certain things if they were only fake dreams, toying with my childlike wonder and optimism?

I don’t believe in a God that teases. I don’t believe in a Universe that beckons me towards a distant rainbow and then chuckles as I fall into a bottomless canyon on the way to paradise.

No. Hope is why I go skipping and singing through the zoo with my children as if nothing else matters in the world except that moment. Because it’s true. That glorious musical-like family performance at the zoo is just as temporary as my unintentional sabbatical that has already disappeared and died.

It is as temporary as my girlish figure. It is as temporary as my pregnancies. As adapting to raise one child. Then two. The intense heartache of losing a third. Then welcoming a fourth. As temporary as our first family vacation. Our last family vacation. It is as temporary as an infant’s first steps. Gone as soon as they happened. He’ll never take another first step. The first day of kindergarten. First lost baby tooth.

Life moments are fleeting. Life itself is fleeting.

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.

~Hebrews 6:18

Hope is and always has been one of my three recurring life themes. The other two are Life & Death.

Weird…

So while I laid my sabbatical to rest last night, this morning I awoke to a renaissance. A new life beginning today, where I quite literally hold a family’s hands as they say goodbye to one loved life; and within hours, watch several families crumble to their knees in gratitude for a temporary extension of their own loved ones lives.

Today I feel whole. My greatest gifts have finally been paired with a great need. Life from Death. And in the temporary phases that are life, I Hope that the painful times seem short and the precious moments linger…


~OR

White People: Shut Up About Beyoncé

YES. There’s nothing I can add to make this any more powerful or spot on. Nailed it.

Bitter Gertrude

After the release of her game-changing, brilliant video, Formation, and the stir her Superbowl halftime show caused with dancers dressed like Black Panthers, Beyoncé is blowing up everyone’s feeds everywhere. And one thing I am shocked/notshocked to see is white outrage about both.

Let me begin by saying that I’m not a Beyoncé fan. I’m not a fan of any of the pop divas. I don’t have anything against them; it’s just not music that interests me. So Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Madonna, Mariah, Adele, I apologize, but I’m sure you and your massive success could not possibly care less that I would rather be listening to punk or classical. The only reason I’m pointing this out is to make sure you know I’m not a Beyoncé fan. This is not about defending a beloved star.

Let me tell you what it IS about.

The vast majority of Black people…

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#febgoalsonfleek 

My goal of committing to a word a day in January was a success! But I don’t want to stop. It was a fantastic experience of intentional daily reflection. Still, a word a day was a bit aggressive. I’m going to do a word a week. 

Sprinkled with some online dating facepalms. 

Because honestly. I need to be the change I want to see in this digital love circus. 

TOPIC COMING SOON – false intimacy. 

Yeah. Sit on that for a minute. 

~OR