Few and far between I’ve written about my personal experiences as a Black woman. Most of the time I am at the other end of the question asking, urging my subject to reveal their deeply personal truths about loss, life, and particular traumatic moments. Rarely do I touch the subject of romantic love in my personal writing because of the introspection it requires.
But here I am in 2019, trying out a new thing.
In the last few weeks I have thought about why I find it so hard to summarize my experience as a single woman nearing her mid-30’s. I’ve been unpacking and antagonizing on what it means to achieve career success for so long, that I’ve ultimately neglected keeping that same energy around an area that I realize is of great importance to me: my love life.
It all began three weeks ago while I was watching the white woman’s guide to self-discovery: Eat, Pray, Love. There’s a moment in the film where Julia Roberts is teaching herself Italian and she reads a passage which roughly translates to: “I am alone, but not lonely.” As she spoke the phrase, I paused the movie and was completely overcome. For I realized that I was both and had convinced myself of otherwise for so long. I was hallowed out by emotion as a stream of tears made it real. I could only sit in the sobering silence with the understanding that for once my heart and my brain knew my withdrawn secret.
Let me explain that for most of my teens and 20’s, I set strict standards and goals for myself. And it’s also true that no one really told me to do this, I just figured that since I didn’t excel at singing, dancing, acting or sports, I needed a ladder that could help me get to the top. I also did not have many romantic experiences in high school and therefore I set my sights on gaining affirmation from what I could control, which at the time was getting good grades and attempting my hand at “being the best.” In doing so, I continued to check numerous boxes, which only led to other boxes.
“Take the SAT test three times for a higher score (check), get into one of the best colleges in your state (check), join the best sorority on campus (check), graduate (check), move to designated metropolis area for better job opportunities (check), apply for this dream job (check), move to second metropolis area for better job opportunities (check), get into an Ivy League program for grad school (check), and then graduate! After doing this, you will achieve fulfillment and success!” the overachiever in me narrated over and over again.
Doing all of those things for the last 17 years of my life left me with little time for romance. If you read the above mentioned list, boys/men/dating were nowhere in my peripherals. So many Black women who I loved and admired also reminded me that there was no need to focus on men. “They will come when they are supposed to,” or so I was assured. I’m not sure if they came to this conclusion because many of them were doing it all without the emotional, financial or physical support of a loving partner by their side. I also did not see many healthy relationships between men and women in my family—for the men were mostly absent and if they were there, they were exempt from participating during these discussions.
I bought into the idea that the perfect man for me would just plop down somewhere in my sphere without me ever having to look or try or want. “Pray,” they encouraged, because that was really all that was needed.
I look back and realize that the men I eventually let in were doomed from the beginning. I sought out those who were emotionally unavailable, indecisive, and withdrawn. Men who had expedited expiration dates. I now realize that I orchestrated it this way so that when the whole thing blew up in my face, I could comfortably blame them in the aftermath, with my “perfection” in tact. Because to me that’s what was most important—to deflect from my portion of the breakdown/breakup. Because I wasn’t wrong. I could never be.
Even now it is hard to write this and admit that I subconsciously coordinated and was complicit in the destruction of multiple relationships and “situationships.”
I realize it was necessary for me to arrive sobbing at the doorstep of Eat, Pray, Love. It is with full vulnerability that I can say I do crave companionship and I’m no longer appeased by living behind some martyred idea of singledom. I do want to be clear on what I mean by this. Being single for all of these years has been a gift to me. It has taught me so much about maintaining autonomy, about finding the quietness in myself to be afraid, to love myself, to be brave; true freedom. But it has also served as somewhat of a crutch—a blurred mirror reflecting back my own image with no input from the outside.
Somewhere in this wild and wide place we call “The Universe,” there exists a person just for me. I am humbled by the brevity of this, but also anxious at times by the unknown.
I am ending this by saying I will no longer hide from who waits for me on the other side. I have been working so hard on myself that it is time to live and trust that I can make the right decision to choose me, while also opening myself up to an unimaginable, unrestrictive love.