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My therapy sessions are absolutely top tier. My Black girl therapist challenges me, throughout our sessions, to push past the surface of what I’m feeling and thinking in order to focus on the “why” much more than I focus on the “what.” It’s uncomfortable asf, digging into the whys connected to our harmful behaviors and patterns, because doing this kind of reflective work usually returns us to the moments in our lives where we felt the most afraid, the most abandoned, the most unsafe, and the most unvalued and unloved. I am currently in a space of recovery and redefinition myself where I am forced to ask myself some hard whys regarding past relationship choices. Why did I choose to ignore red flags? Why did I not end those relationships at the first signs of harm? Why was I more invested in repairing those relationships than I was in investing in my individual healing? Why is there usually so much chemistry between me and people who are emotionally withholding/unavailable or straight up toxic and abusive? Finding the whys requires solitude, vulnerability, curiosity and grace. And I’m learning that this work is best done while I’m single.

“Loneliness is black coffee and late-night television; solitude is herb tea and soft music. Solitude, quality solitude, is an assertion of self-worth, because only in the stillness can we hear the truth of our own unique voices.” – Pearl Cleage

Up until recently, I always told myself that I enjoy being single. I live a full life, one that overflows with wonderful and rich non-romantic relationships. I date and dote on myself regularly. I am not consumed by ideas of marriage or long-term partnership, since I’ve been married twice and engaged another three times. I don’t feel incomplete when I’m not partnered. I rarely pursue labels or titles when dating. Still, there is something inside me that searches for safety, intimacy and deep connection in romantic relationships, the kind of safety, intimacy and deep connection that I have longed for since childhood, a belonging that—honestly—is rooted in feelings of abandonment, fear and insecurity. In the words of singer Erykah Badu, “I’m a recovering, undercover, overlover.” Through serious self-reflection, I realize that when I am chosen in relationships, when I feel wanted, it speaks to the needs of baby-girl me who felt very much like a burden as a child. As much work as I’ve done through the years to heal that little girl who feels emotionally abandoned, to remind myself that I am loved by many people and that I love myself, she still shows up and too often leads my decision-making when someone promises to fill those empty spaces. When my inner-child leads my decision making in relationship building, the result is trauma-bonding and codependency, as I tend to attract other unhealed folks who are struggling through similar suffering. Also, allowing my hurting inner-child to lead my decision making in relationships makes me vulnerable to toxic, abusive partners.

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Trauma-bonding does not make space for rational thinking and good choices. When we bond with others because of past pain, we often aren’t connecting with those people from a space of true and intentional desire. We have to be willing to sit in solitude—to be single— until we are able to ensure that our decision-making in relationships is led by our adult self, the one who has been working toward healing, the one who loves and accepts oneself, the one who knows that unhealthy relationship patterns—like trauma bonding—can make life complicated and often keep us from achieving our life goals. After all, being misaligned in partnership, because we choose partners from a wounded place, can hamper our ability to show up as our best and brightest selves, which is how we make our way towards our dreams. As I examine my relationship choices, because—hey, girl—we are the common denominator in our relationship challenges, I’ve been getting curious with why women struggle to be single and how we can push past those struggles.

I understand, fully, that there are legions of women who have no issue being single. They have healthy attachment styles; they are un-bothered by society’s expectations of women to ultimately only be seen as worthy when we are wives and mothers; they may want love and partnership, but they aren’t pressed to force either. This essay is not for those women. This essay is for the women who are looking for safety and care in every place but within themselves. The women who were made to feel unworthy of love at some point in their lives; the women who experienced the kinds of trauma they can’t seem to escape– the girls whose lives are riddled with anxiety, the perfectionists, the fawn-like people-pleasers, the disorganized attachment baddies who constantly push and pull because the fear of more hurt seems impossible to survive. Women like us have work to do before we can healthily partner, before we can make choices from our hearts and not our wounds, before we can understand the difference between genuine excitement and trauma-led chemistry and bonding.

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Women like us deserve the love we keep searching for in others and the love we keep pouring into others. And more, we deserve to know love that is genuine, uncomplicated, consistent, and not connected to trauma responses. Some ways to that love? We have to get down and dirty with our shadow side. Ask and answer the whys of how we keep getting stuck. Stop playing victim and own our choices. Pour into the other kinds of love that are abundant in our lives– the love we share with our families and our friends, the love we have for our passions and our purpose. Get therapy or coaching, and be completely bare and honest when we do. And most importantly, we should go slow. If we choose to date, to explore connection, we should take our time and keep our eyes wide open. While paying attention to red flags in others, we should always look at our internal red flags, too. Does this person we are interested in make us anxious? Are we showing up as our true selves, or some faux-perfect version of ourselves we hope will make us more desirable? Are we accepting and explaining away toxic patterns and behaviors in ourselves and in others? Are we rushing towards commitment without really knowing who and what we are committing to? When the answers to these questions are “yes,” we must be willing to reset our minds to being in a primary relationship with ourselves.

There’s no one way to heal, or to steady ourselves as single women, or to resist the urge to blame ourselves for being unattached. What is consistently true is that we are worthy of awe-inspiring love and sometimes the best way there is to put romantic love on pause.

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