Wined and Dined: A Fairy Tale

Last night a man wined and dined me, treating me to the most sumptuous foods and waiting on me hand and foot. This was our first time out but he was at ease in spoiling me, calling me “My Lady”–the way that British people say it (Mehlady). He had his finger on the pulse of everything this epicure enjoys, from mushrooms stuffed with shrimp, crab meat, and spinach to steaming hot paella chock full of fresh seafood such as lobster tails, scallops, and Mahi Mahi. He anticipated my every need and met it while being so careful not to overstep boundaries, after all, this was only our first time out. He even brought dessert, a selection of six decadent treats from Tiramisu to Pecan Pie of which I chose only one for fear that I would explode in delight with anything more. I exploded anyway. We kept things fairly light throughout the meal but by the end he asked me about what I was reading. I responded in the way one responds when they assume that someone won’t know who they are talking about.

“City of God, by this guy Augustine,” I said. His eyes lit up when I said Augustine and I realized that he knew him as well as I did–or at least as well as I was hoping to know Augustine.

“I recently started reading a book on Plato, even though I haven’t read much of that nature since my theology class,” he responded. I lit up at the sound of the words “theology” and “class.”

“Did you attend a theology school?” I asked, beaming in excited anticipation of his answer, hoping we shared a similar path.

“It was while I was at Xavier,” he said.

Now I was really lit.

“Are you Catholic?” I asked.

“I am,” he said. Inside I felt like the 4th of July, all fireworks and Katy Perry singing, “Baby You’re a Firework.”

“I am Catholic too,” the words spilling out of my mouth.

He smiled wide, put his hand over his heart, and extended his other hand in what felt like some secret greeting between people of the faith. I smiled on the outside but inside I was bursting with desire to know this person better, bursting out of desire because I finally found what I was missing, a man who shares my faith tradition and knows a little about Augustine and Plato. All of a sudden the wasteland I had been walking through evaporated and I was in a promised land.

We both smiled at one another and then he excused himself to get something in the back.

He walked away but then turned on his heels swiftly and said, “I’m sorry, I digress, what’s your name?”

As if we hadn’t already greeted one another with hands I extended mine for a chance to meet his again and said, “Nicole.”

“It’s really nice to meet you, hopefully I’ll see you again so that we can talk about Augustine’s City of God. I’m here every day,” he said in earnest as he walked away from the table.

I smiled at my good fortune on this evening. I wasn’t expecting to be wined and dined and treated like a queen. I expected a perfunctory dinner, but this was different, I was unprepared for this difference. I said farewell to this man and took leave of the place where I was wined and dined, walking past table upon table of people enjoying their sumptuous meals and decadent dessert. I squeezed past large groups awaiting seating and finally reached the doors to the exterior of Seasons 52.

As I walked toward my car I exhaled. I’d been waiting for this feeling, waiting to feel something more real than I’ve felt in a while and I finally felt it. I smiled. I got in my car and exhaled again, reaching into my wallet to pull out my receipt so that I could look at his name. He told his name but I hoped that I’d have more than his first name, unfortunately it was not to be. All I had was his first name and, of course, his place of employment, Seasons 52. Far from being in despair at this Cinderella-like fate, I was hopeful. Not because I was planning to make a habit out of going to Seasons 52–because that’s an expensive habit to sustain–but because that chance encounter restored my faith in something like love even if just for a moment.

I sit here now with the only memento from that night, a symbolic glass slipper that belongs to a Prince Charming-prototype. I wonder if he too feels like his only memento of the night is holding a symbolic glass slipper, a receipt with my signature scribbled on it and the last four digits of my credit card number. If I’m lucky he’ll use those two things to track me down and save me from this evil spell called living in this crazy world without a romantic equal. Alas life is not a fairytale, and he probably gives impeccable service to scores of people at Seasons 52, after all, it is his job.

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At Home in Aloneness…

As I looked out the window to the ground being pounded by droplets of a downpour I thought to myself, “I can’t believe I’m here.” The world around me is moving swiftly. People’s relationships are evolving or shriveling up and dying and here I sit, in the same place I’ve always been, and it’s sort of unbelievable to me. As I watched the concrete grow slicker with each drop I tried to feel something different, but my heart wouldn’t budge. I conjured thoughts about people in love with one another, about sitting on a couch with someone doing the proverbial “Netflix and chill,” about having someone to share the end of my busy days with. I tried to conjure some sense of disappointment about not having that yet, about not having a prospect, about not even having the person who I know is a complete waste of my time but I persist because I figure it’s better than being alone. Amazingly I felt no sense of disappointment, no wistfulness for all I’m supposedly  missing at this moment in life. For the first time in a while, possibly in my young adult life, I’m romantically alone with nothing on the horizon, and I’m not scared of it.

For the first time in my life that I can fully sense, I am at peace with being alone. I’m 36 and single and I actually feel satisfied. Not in that cliché, “I can do bad all by myself,” way but in a rewarding, “There is richness, possibility, and hope in this space of aloneness.” This aloneness is not pejorative or stigmatizing for me. I don’t seek to be uprooted from it by busying myself with ways to not lean into this feeling. I’m not compelled to jump on a dating app to busy myself with “in the meantime” men. I am content. This takes me by surprise because for so long I’ve been compelled to mourn my singleness for every year that passes by and I remain so. But I’m 36 and single and I’m compelled to lean into this. I’m no longer willing to create a narrative for my singleness save for the one that tells the story of a woman who has chosen this for herself not as a lot I’ve settled on by circumstance but as a choice.

Just a few weeks ago a man asked me why I’m single given my beauty and intelligence and, initially, I regurgitated the script telling him, “Talk to your brethren.” But a moment later I said to him, “I’m sorry I take that back, it’s not on them, it’s on me. I haven’t found what I’m looking for and I lead a rich and fulfilling life that someone must be compelling enough to be a part of.” I’ve reached that sweet spot that Warshan Shire put words to when she wrote,

My alone feels so good, I’ll only have you if you’re sweeter than my solitude.

As I’m bombarded with engagement announcements, budding relationships, breakups stories, and dating app disasters, I stand still in this world where everyone is searching for someone while I am  finding myself and satisfaction in me. I have hit my own sweet spot, a place where I am building a sense of contentment not as a placeholder until someone else comes but as my home, my strong tower. I am cherishing what I have in this life in walking in a purpose, in my wonderful family and friends who are like family, and in a faith life that I am only beginning to discover the extraordinary riches of apart from anything I might gain from it. It is with slight incredulity that I occupy this space because I am not supposed to be here. The world wants me to mourn my singleness, the barrenness of my womb, the emptiness of my bed, the space between my fingers, the holes unfulfilled…But I am truly, finally, at peace with where I am in that perceived lack because I’ve found my fulfillment.

My aloneness, that presence, fullness, aliveness, joy of being, overflowing love is home. In this place I am complete. Nobody is needed, I am enough.[1]

 

[1] Inspired by the definition of aloneness by Pragito Dove, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/pragito-dove/loneliness-v-aloneness-wh_b_8032702.html

 

Being Mary Jane Lesson #1: Closure Is A Dangerous Desire

Join me every Wednesday as I share my lessons learned from “Being Mary Jane.” 

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t already seen it, you might want to watch it before you read.

mary-jane-paul-resizeLast night was the season two premiere of “Being Mary Jane,” the Mara Brock Akil drama starring Gabrielle Union as a single, successful journalist with an appetite for unavailable men. Last season we left off with Mary Jane ending things with married man Andre and resolving to leave emotionally and relationally-unavailable man David alone. But last night’s season premiere revealed that old habits die-hard and closure is a dangerous desire.

So let’s cut to the chase.

Last night we discovered that Mary Jane is not over David and she is searching for an explanation as to why it didn’t work out between them. But just as she looks for love in all the wrong places she also looks for closure in all the wrong places. We watched Mary Jane search David’s friends for answers and project her frustration on them. Almost everyone around her is telling her to let it go but, as humans in love are wont to do, she refuses. Then in “Be careful what you wish for” fashion, Mary Jane gets an opportunity for closure when his friend–the one whose house she showed up at unannounced–calls David and forces Mary Jane to get on the phone. It is then that David tells her that his girlfriend is pregnant and, the viewer assumes, he tells her to leave him alone. Unfortunately that isn’t the end of the story.

Later in the show we see Mary Jane decompressing in a suite at the Loews Atlanta Hotel and then, suddenly, we see David next to her on the couch. (But does anyone remember her calling him? How did he get in there? And I digress.) It is then that the real closure conversation happens but it becomes less about closure and more about sneaking into an open crack in her heart. This is when closure becomes dangerous and much of Twitter agreed with that last night.

And it goes on.

Last night many women and men were reminded that closure is not what is needed more than it is what is wanted–and an unhealthy want at that. I put myself in the number of people who re-learned a lesson last night as I watched Mary Jane get her so-called closure but come no closer to personal healing and wholeness. She showed us that chasing after closure when it isn’t coming to you puts you in danger because you are vulnerable. In Mary Jane’s case, she was so vulnerable and, seemingly, still in love with David, which is probably the worst time to seek closure. Some people prey on that vulnerability and that doesn’t aid in your healing. This is why closure must be up to you and no one else.

Often we claim to seek closure because we want answers for why it didn’t work out with a loved one. But if we are to be honest, deep down inside we seek it because we hope that they might either heal our broken hearts/egos or even jumpstart something that’s dead. I can say that because I’ve been there. Not so much the jumpstart of dead things but for the healing of a broken heart and ego. You want someone to piece it back together with their words and compassion and to tell you that you were, in fact, the best they ever had in every sense of the word. But that piecing back together isn’t up to them, it’s up to you.

Life goes on with or without closure. Most often it has to go on without closure. And so we have to begin to cultivate the strength to declare that it is no one else’s responsibility to heal us but our own. It is also important to ask whether this closure will add or subtract anything from our lives–especially if you have already gotten comfortable with the completion of the relationship. This is what a friend asked me a few weeks ago. In no uncertain terms he asked, “If you are already 80% there in your recovery process, what’s 20% going to do for you?” I wanted to say that it was going to help me be done with the situation, but I knew that wasn’t the case. I knew he was right. I knew every person I’d spoken to about the relationship over the past year was right. But finally I had to find the personal wherewithal to decide that the only person who is responsible for closure is me. So I’m thankful for last night’s episode reminding me of that.

I didn’t need Mary Jane to tell me that but I sure appreciated watch how painful and awkward the process of seeking closure can be for the individual and for their community. My healing, our healing, is in our hands. The work of closure is in us.

36 Questions to Fall in Love: A New Age Love Potion No. 8

A few weeks ago I posted a story on Facebook from the New York Times about a scientific study that analyzed the power of knowing, specifically intentional knowing and its consequences which is love. The study, conducted by psychologist Dr. Arthur Aron 20 years ago, involved a man and a woman answering a series of increasingly personal questions and concluded with them staring, silently, into each others eyes for four minutes. Through this process Dr. Aron discovered that the likelihood of the two people falling in love was high because of the intensity and intention behind their getting to know one another. Mandy Len Catron, the young woman who wrote the NY Times article, tried Dr. Aron’s experiment with a university colleague changing the setting from a laboratory to a bar and she found love. As she puts it, “Love didn’t happen to us. We’re in love because we chose to be.” From that the title of the article arose, “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This.” It was a click-bait headline tailored not only to a trigger-happy audience but people who are looking and longing for love. I wondered what the outcome of this would be. Would people just read it for the scientific study or would they ignore the original study and use it to accelerate the possibility of love like a new-age Love Potion No. 8. Much to my dismay, the latter is happening.

Good Morning America featured Dr. Aron’s study, specifically the 36 questions, and brought two strangers together to answer the questions and stare into each others eyes. It was lights, camera, action for two strangers and in the end, though it wasn’t certain the two found love, it seemed as though they found something. The two said they would “see what happens” and the GMA segment directed viewers to their website where the 36 questions for falling in love were listed. But GMA is not the only outlet to publicize the questions. Over the last few weeks many media outlets from Vogue to Nigerian website Naij.com picked up on Dr. Aron’s experiment, sharing the background but emphasizing the 36 questions and their ability to make people, even perfect strangers, fall in love. I find this somewhat problematic.

Don’t get me wrong, as a 34-year-old single woman with no immediate prospects this sounds tempting. I’d (almost) love nothing more than to be in love and on my way to marrying the love of my life. I say “almost” because I have a vision of love that is more about the slow and steady over the fast and furious. Being not too far removed from my last relationship, which I liked to call a “growmance,” I prefer the slow-cooked process of falling in love. In my previous relationship, we spent three years in a friendship that though, early on, we both confessed feelings for each other, we didn’t immediately advance on them by choice and circumstance. Throughout the three years we grew to know and love one another as more than friends and we fell into a relationship–we quite literally looked up one day and realized we were in one. Though I would change the way we fell into the relationship, I wouldn’t change our love primarily because there was nothing manipulated about it. It happened to us as much as it happened through us and we then made a decision to see where it took us. We were two people who grew into love but, unfortunately, weren’t two people who could sustain one another in a relationship. Were we “in love”? I’ll be honest in that I don’t understand what that means and I think the concept is often muddied by romantic tropes and fatalism that aren’t altogether realistic for two rational people. But I can say we loved one another–although I believe we did so differently and in a way that couldn’t carry us any further than we went. And so this is why I’m concerned about what it means to set the world on fire with the idea that falling in love by asking a series of questions is advisable. Because, in my experience, loving someone doesn’t always mean you should be in a relationship with them. Love has no guarantees and surely love manipulated may have less guarantees.

In her run with Dr. Aron’s experiment, Len Catron points out that the love that manifested between her and her university colleague happened because they chose it not because it happened to them. Indeed that’s a primary difference between her situation and mine because, as I articulated above, love happened to me and my friend and we fell into a relationship. The absence of making explicit choices about the relationship–save for when he chose to breakup with me and when I chose to take a break from a friendship thereafter–is what weakens the argument for the slow and steady love I prefer and that’d I’d suggest to more people than not. I take issue with the masses using Dr. Aron’s experiment as a love accelerator because it could, at worst, result in people objectifying and manipulating one another and, at best–well someone might actually fall in love and create a sustainable relationship but that is yet to be seen (Seriously, have we heard from the original couple in Dr. Aron’s experiment?). Anyways back to this issue of objectification and manipulation of love. I surmise that people might first look for someone who they could love, then ask the questions and stare into their hopeful beloved eyes, and make the experiment do more work than they actually have to do themselves. That is the over-manipulation of love that is unfolding before our eyes. As a single person on the market I’d be afraid that my dates would be made of men asking the 36 questions they found on the internet instead of asking their own questions and taking the time it takes to truly know someone.

Are we a generation so longing for love that we are more willing to put love in someone else’s hands rather than trust ourselves to manifest it? I understand that given our own efforts love will evade us for longer than we want, but I wonder if having love evade us until just the right time is more worthwhile and sustaining than manipulating love. Indeed we take risks when we decide that we don’t want 36-question love because then love in not a guarantee. But we may also take risks with 36-question love in that the love manifested from that experiment may not be sustainable, or, authentic.

I may have overstated my case against Dr. Aron’s experiment as an over-manipulation of love but I’ve done so because I find it problematic. I don’t find his original experiment problematic, I can’t because he was a scientist doing what scientist do, testing out a theory. I doubt he thought that 20 years later people would take his experiment, make it into click-bait stories, television segments, and get-love quick schemes. But, it seems, that’s where we are now and it probably won’t be long until it is made into a book about how to sustain the love birthed out of 36-questions. So I’ll leave you with this…

Tate Donovan and Sandra Bullock in “Love Potion No.9.” (Photo Credit: Gawker Media)

Earlier I compared Dr. Aron’s experiment and what is happening with it now to a new age Love Potion No. 8 which is a reference to the 90s film “Love Potion No. 9.” In the film, Tate Donovan (Paul) and Sandra Bullock (Diane) play two scientists who are unlucky in love until they discover Love Potion No. 8. Under the effects of LPN8, both Paul and Diane attract whoever they want and, at one point, they attract one another until the potion fades. What breaks the cycle of LPN8 is Love Potion No. 9 a serum that doesn’t create love but destroys any obstacles to it. The caveat to LPN9 though is that the person it is used on must already be in love or else they will eternally hate the hopeful beloved. The potion repeatedly falls into the wrong hands and then, at the conclusion of the film when just a little of it is left, Paul drinks it and kisses Diane and waits the requisite five minutes. Unfortunately it’s too late for the formula, but it ends up not being too late for love because Diane always loved Paul.

I use that illustration to demonstrate the efficacy, not of the potion or of the 36-questions, but of love. Call it alchemy if you must. Love Potion No. 8 didn’t work for Paul and Diane, neither did Love Potion No. 9. What worked for them the pre-existing condition of love, nurtured through work and determination. I suggest that love, unaided by scientific chemistry or experimentation, but love aided by authentic, sometimes awkward, risky, intentional knowing over time is the more worthwhile, sustainable love. And that’s what we ought to be after.