Monday, November 29, 2010

The One Thing I Don't Have (And Why I Won't Compromise To Get It)

"Honestly, there's a problem in general with men. They project whatever their issues are onto us.  So if they're insecure because they're not where they're supposed to be, they say we're insecure.  But their behavior causes us to be insecure.  And it's a cycle I don't want to be part of.  I don't want a perfect man, I want a man who is willing to grow."

I was chatting online with a close friend earlier this evening, and I wrote the above statement. It was the conclusion of a conversation that began with each of us talking about some of the struggles in our most recent relationships. Granted, I'm having a bit of a bad day today.  I just got back from a nice holiday with my family to my lonely, not-yet-settled-in apartment, I'm a bit tired from the long drive, and I had a dream this morning about the last person I dated, which caused me to wake up somewhat disturbed.  It made me think about what I don't have, when most times I try to focus on what I do have. I come from a good family, I have a strong faith in God, a job that I love, I'm educated, I have some talents and abilities that not everyone has, I look younger than my age, and I have really pretty hair.  I get told that I am loved more times than I can count in the span of one week.  I'm confident without being conceited, I definitely know what my areas of growth are, and I work on myself.  Constantly. There's a lot that I have, and I recognize that I am blessed.

There's something I do not have, that I want more than anything.  A family of my own.

I have always wanted to be a mother.  And I am traditional in that desire.  I want my own child.  I want a child that grows within me.  I'm not against adoption, but I want to live motherhood.  I want to experience the feeling of being pregnant, and I want to use it as an excuse to eat bacon and deep-fried pickles with abandon.  I want my child to have a father, to know his or her father, to live with his or her father.  I want the father to get up and cook my bacon and get me an order of deep-fried pickles.  Even at 3am.  Yes, I want the traditional husband and children.

I'm not apologizing for that, and I'm not desperate because I want that.  There's nothing wrong with me for wanting to have a traditional family.  But there is one thing I will not do.   I will not compromise myself for what I want.

This last guy I dated - let's just say that he taught me some things. Long story (that should never have lasted this long) short, he said he needed to focus on his career and couldn't focus on a relationship (sound familiar?).  I know enough to know that the career that he has chosen to pursue requires about 99.9% of his attention in order for him to succeed at it.  While I didn't necessarily disagree with his focus (in fact I encouraged it), I did disagree with the fact that his idea of not focusing on "a relationship" meant that he wanted to spread himself among many "relationships".  He and I had several conversations regarding our future.  An issue that arose a few times was that he said I didn't ever think he was "good enough" for me.  I've known him practically all my life, so when he said that, I knew he really felt that way.  And when I took the time to think about it, he was right.  I didn't think he was good enough for me.  Never did.

Despite that, I fell in love with him.  The main reason I fell for him was that he genuinely knew me - he knew my good qualities and loved them, but he also knew my crummy qualities, and pointed them out to me in a way that motivated me to grow.  I fought through the feeling that he wasn't good enough.  However, he didn't help.  He did some things which demonstrated that, because of his belief that I didn't think he was good enough, he wasn't going to try.  He wasn't going to work on the relationship.  In the end, I knew that he loved me.  He always did, ever since we were kids.  But my thoughts about him, as well as his thoughts about my thoughts about him, sabotaged any chance at a future that we could ever have.

I've learned that many men feel the need to be settled in their purpose - their careers, their spiritual beliefs, their desires, their personal growth - before settling down to create a family.  If they experience instability or insecurity in any of these areas, they find it difficult to maintain an intimate relationship with a woman. Perhaps this is because many women expect men to provide for and protect them.  (Don't shoot me, I'm just saying what a lot of people think but won't say in this era of political correctness.)  I've observed that both men and women expect perfection from each other.  If you don't believe me, check out some of those YouTube videos on "Black Marriage Negotiations".  I'm not perfect, but I work hard at everything I do.  I recognize my flaws, and when I have trouble doing so, I'll listen to feedback from those I love and trust to tell me the truth about me.  I TRY.

Personally, I don't expect a man to be perfect.  I don't expect him to make a certain amount of money, though he should work hard.  I don't expect him to have a six-pack, because I certainly don't.  I don't expect him to quote the Bible verbatim, though he should have a personal relationship with God.  What I will not compromise is this:  If I am willing to grow and change and become a better version of myself, he should be willing to grow and change and become a better version of himself.  HE SHOULD TRY.  And, until I meet the man who is willing to try, I would rather live without the one thing that I don't have, that I want more than anything in the world. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Last weekend, I moved from an apartment complex in the suburbs of upstate New York, where I'd lived for the past six years, to an apartment in an area of the city that's reminiscent of some areas of New York City, my hometown.  Anyone who's originally from NYC and moves away carries a longing for sidewalks, Starbucks, and diversity.  So, while many single women my age are making the move to a house in the 'burbs, I decided to move into a more populated, diverse, and lively area, with a Starbucks that I can see from the front porch of my new place.

For some people, moving can be an exciting experience, because change usually means growth.  Moving from an apartment to a house would make one feel like singing the theme song from The Jeffersons; you know, "We're moving on up, to the east side" and all that good stuff.  I didn't move from an apartment to a house, but I did move eastward.  For some people, moving might cause anxiety, because they're not ready to do the work that comes along with moving: purging, packing, and cleaning.  For me, the opportunity to purge, reorganize, and clean were my main reasons for moving.  After six years of living in the same environment, surrounded by the same belongings, memories, and junk, I decided I was ready to do the work, and began the process of taking inventory of my life in a literal and figurative sense.  In going through old things, I found letters and cards from old friends, former students, family members, boyfriends, and my ex-husband.  I read through a few of them, and noticed patterns in my relationships: my romantic relationships were short-lived, but intense and full of emotions.  My friendships were fiercely loyal and affirming. My family has a pattern of saying little over time, but in a crisis, they come through full force, in a way that demonstrates love more than words ever could. Through this process, I learned some things about myself and my relationships, both professional and personal.

Romantic Relationships 
I learned that when I commit to someone in a romantic relationship, the ball is truly in my court.  If I'm open and genuine, I receive more open and genuine interaction in my relationships.  If I'm guarded and emotionally distant, my partner will be too.  The problem arises when I choose to be guarded and emotionally distant while expecting my partner to be open and genuine - something I recently noticed I'd been doing.  Although none of my relationships lasted very long, I learned that the ones in which I was willing to risk my heart were the ones that meant the most to me and the other person involved. 

Growing up, so many "best friends" came in and out of my life.  I noticed that my closest friends were the ones who I could trust with my true feelings; the ones who knew the real me behind the ever-present smile.  They were also the ones who told me the truth about myself, whether I liked it or not.  With my friendships, I learned that honesty and trust lead to loyalty and affirmation.  I also learned not to cling to people, but to allow people to come in and out of my life as they choose, and as God sees fit.  Just because a friendship changes doesn't mean the door is closed. Life takes us all in different directions, and if we accept that we've learned what we needed to learn when we needed to learn it from each other, it's easy to let go of a friend while remaining loyal in your heart to each other.

My family isn't the most demonstrative when it comes to love and affection, but when adversity hits, we come together and create safety for each other.  When my ex-husband and I separated, I left the safety of my family to go to graduate school six hours away from everyone I knew and loved.  My brother wrote me a letter in those early days.  I'd moved away, started a new job and a graduate program, and was establishing new friendships.  In that letter, he told me that he understood that the change wasn't going to be easy, but that I would learn through this "crisitunity" (a term learned through his Simpsons obsession) that I can do almost anything, to keep my eyes, ears, and mind open, and to always remember where I came from, as in family.  My family may not know the ins and outs of my life, but when my life feels like it's falling apart, I think of them, and I remember that my foundation is strong, firm, and built on a seldom-said, but often-felt word: love. 

I've worked in education for the last sixteen years.  (Wow, that's a long time.)  In that time, I worked as a Spanish teacher, a high school counselor, a resident director in a college dormitory, and now, as a college counselor and advisor.  I've interacted with hundreds of students, and I've kept in touch with many of them.  With my former and current students I've learned that demonstrating caring, concern for their personal well-being, and tough love matter so much more than what I could ever teach them, and that they really never forget the teacher, counselor, or college personnel that treated them as a unique individual rather than a number or file.  They remind me that what I do on a daily basis matters to someone, which helps me to see each day as an opportunity to live my mission and purpose in life. 

Time Really Does Heal All Wounds 
When you're going through a crisis or heartbreak, the phrase "time heals all wounds" has to be the worst thing to hear.  It means absolutely nothing to the person experiencing pain.  Not only that, it feels like the person stating such a cliché is heartless and lacks empathy.

But it's true.  The best part of this moving process was looking at old cards, poems, and letters from my ex-husband, and realizing that I had absolutely no emotional attachment to any of these things anymore.  I was able to throw away things he had purchased for me, things he'd written to me, things that somehow made it into my half of the stuff we split up between us when we separated, without a single ounce of regret.  Since he and I separated and subsequently divorced, I'd moved five times, and I'd carried these things with me everywhere I went.  This recent move, my sixth, was when I could finally let go of the material things that attached us to each other, and it was so easy to do so.  Time REALLY does heal all wounds, and once those wounds are healed, you can truly move forward with your life.

I Am Not Alone 
When I decided to move, something very unexpected happened.  I told my colleagues and students, and all of a sudden, people were coming forward to offer help.  Boxes were left in my office by the maintenance staff.  One of my coworkers who had moved in the past year loaned me all of her moving supplies and more boxes than I thought I'd ever need (turns out, I needed them all and then some).  Another colleague drove the moving truck I'd rented.  Yet another came and packed up my kitchen and helped me organize myself.  Students took time out of their fall break and Halloween weekends to help me pack and to work really hard at carrying some heavy stuff.  My nephew showed up without my calling or texting him (this is a big deal). They all agreed that I could not have moved by myself.  I did not ask these people for their help; they offered it.  I kept asking myself, over and over again, why I was blessed with so much help.  A part of me felt awkward, and a little uncomfortable, about allowing students and colleagues into my personal space.  When I mentioned that, one of the students said, "You've been in our lives for the past three years.  I think you could let us into yours."

Something as seemingly insignificant as moving has shown me that letting go of the old can make a way for new connections, new discoveries, and new opportunities.  It has shown me not to dwell on what I've lost.  This move has taught me that as I've opened up and chosen to give of my genuine self, many times without thought or awareness, the people in my universe have conspired to give me the goodness within themselves.  The decision to move created a movement in my heart, mind, soul, and spirit.  This movement creates an opportunity for the new to enter my life, and I am excited and hopeful for all it will bring.