More often than not, I have a little bit to say about a lot of things. I thought I’d share a few in the month we’ve reserved for love.
If we treated our girlfriends half as well as we do men, then women relationships might improve. Three years ago, I visited a friend in Sarasota. After the four-hour drive, I did as I sometimes do, stopped by her home first to pick her up for lunch. When I got there, she’d just finished her workout.
“Are you about to take a shower?” I asked, giving her athletic gear a once over.
“No! All I did was walk,” she said.
“If I was a man, you’d take a shower,” I replied.
She agreed but didn’t shower, and the above thought was born.
Why do we (sometimes) get all dolled up for the opposite sex but show up any type of way with our girlfriends? Is it comfort? Value? Societal teachings? For me, how I arrive depends on the event, not necessarily the company I keep, but in general, I show up freshly washed, with a nice outfit no matter if it’s the love of my life or a good friend.
If you love someone, then you’re implicitly saying you accept who they are. You can have acceptance without love, but you cannot have love without acceptance. For example, Dwight fully loves and accepts who I am. He encourages me to be myself, even if that means as he says it, “cussin’ a —- out” because he knows I’m fully capable of that behavior. But that doesn’t stop him from loving me.
People mistake how love and acceptance can show up, though. I have a cousin who lives with a mental illness. I love her like a sister, and I accept this part of her, but because I know her mental health can be overwhelming, I carefully choose when and how I will interact and be with her. Sometimes we forget we can choose how to be in people’s lives, and these choices have nothing to do with how much we love or accept someone.
Why is it we want our partners to have character traits we don’t? Why is that? I know people who desire vulnerability but have trust issues. I have friends who want a specific level of intimacy but don’t seem to know how to cuddle, show affection, or open up. I wonder if, when we seek a romantic partner, we’re seeking to fill a void of something we think we don’t have.
When Dwight and I first met, I wasn’t as self-aware, and consequently, I didn’t know how to be myself. He, on the other hand, seemed very confident in who he was and clear about what he would and wouldn’t do. Did I unconsciously seek someone who possessed the very things I needed to develop? I also wonder if helping one another to grow is more of the point of relationships, as opposed to racking up and celebrating years of companionship…like a prize. Maybe our friends and romantic partners are there to mirror who we are and to reflect who we can be.
Maybe our friends and romantic partners are there to mirror who we are and to reflect who we can be.Tweet
Let me know what you think.
I remember it like it was yesterday. It was around eight in the morning. My groggy eyes were glued to my cell phone. I was watching the weight-loss journey of a tan golden retriever. The background music was sad. Although I knew the ending, I had to see how he did it. How did this fat golden retriever lose weight? Turns out it was through diet and exercise. Hmmmph. It was a heartwarming story, but I couldn’t get those five minutes back. I knew then I needed to leave Facebook for good, but here are a few other reasons why:
It seems like a never-ending reunion. Have you ever been to a family reunion? You show up. You introduce your family to long, lost cousins and great aunts. You find your favorite family member and hang out with them the whole day, vow to keep in touch, and go about your business. From what I understand, class reunions seem to be similar. You catch up, share about your mate, kids, and occupation. Facebook seems to be that but on steroids. It’s cool to catch up, but I’m pretty sure you are not supposed to be connected to all of these people for a lifetime. But because they are now your “forever friends,” you find out a lot more about them than you may have bargained for, like who your boss voted for, if your brother believes COVID is a hoax or not, and if your best friend thinks all lives matter or Black lives matter. It can be #teamtoomuch We were never meant to know all of the things about everyone we’ve ever encountered.
It’s an unnatural interaction. I’m the type of person who’s okay with having a party with all the people I know. As my goddaughter says she never knows who will show up to my events. It could be someone’s 85-year-old grandmother or someone’s 6-year-old son, because that’s the kind of life I live. I’m free and open to all relationships. But Facebook puts all of these people in the same place at the same time…all the time. Like other FB users, my friends’ list included a hodgepodge of people: a former and current director, my current provost, a former program coordinator, a couple principals, friends from undergrad, all types of family members, former high school students, people I went to elementary, high school, and grad school with, and on and on and on. Because we’ve been taught to interact a certain way with each of these people, Facebook creates a weird, alternate reality. Although I’m always me, I found myself functioning as a middle-of-the-road me, because what I might say to my sister may not be the same as what I’d say to the provost of a college. In short, it was too much self-censorship for me.
Everyone’s social media is curated. My FB was comprised of people I actually knew in some way. So, when I saw someone’s close-up shot, I knew she was actually hiding a hoarding problem because I was just over her house. I knew when my friend posted some wonderful quote about relationships that he was on the struggle bus with his own marriage because we’d just hung up the phone. I knew that someone’s perfect selfie was shrouded in depression and anxiety because we’d talked that morning about how it may be a good idea for her to take a shower that day. And this bothered me. FB, in particular seems to be like the Disneyland of socials. Everyone’s happy. Everyone’s excited. Everyone’s passionate. Even when they’re not. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve pushed weeks of mail out of view for my perfectly angled hot cocoa shot. I took a family photo at breakfast the morning after Dwight and I had discussed getting a divorce. But I’ve also posted about not wanting to return to work after the holidays, feeling angry when I realized my bike’s brakes didn’t work, and being disappointed after getting a PhD. I don’t think this is odd. It’s called balance and authenticity. Scrolling through curation after curation is exhausting. I mean even a museum shows the true human condition, which includes pain and sadness sometimes.
Although these are the main reasons I permanently deactivated, I have to mention a few more reasons: I hate that people think they really know you because they read the highlights of your life. I dislike the pettiness and self-centered nature of the platform. The fact that people don’t read the whole article that they post or reply to is quite annoying. Thirst trapping for likes and its evil twin, lurking with no interaction feel a bit creepy. And this idea we’ve created that we can’t live without FB is a bit strange.
If you’re still on FB, I hope you don’t take this as a personal dig. It’s not. I just woke up one day knowing that Facebook is not aligned with how I want to interact with people.
A couple weeks ago, I shared how developing self-worth has helped me be less codependent. This week, I’ll discuss how maintaining four types of boundaries has been useful:
Relationship: Relationship boundaries seem to be the most common. This kind of boundary is mostly discussed within romantic relationships, but over the past five years or so, I’ve developed relationship boundaries with existing friendships. The BFF breakup I recently re-blogged, where I realized I didn’t like to be my friend’s therapist, is a great example. To avoid slipping into a psychologist’s role, I rarely give others advice when asked. Instead, my go-to answer is you know what you should do. Not only does this answer embody my firmly held belief that most of us do have the internal guidance required to live, it also keeps me from establishing relationships where folks constantly lean on me to help them solve their problems.
Time: The next type of boundary isn’t discussed as frequently, and I suspect it’s because people in relationship feel entitled to copious amounts of one another’s time. Take phone conversations, for example. They aren’t really my thing, but I recognize them as something many people enjoy as a way to preserve relationships. However, seldom do I want to talk on the phone, and even when I want to, most days, my lifestyle doesn’t allow for lengthy dialogue. So, friends get a time boundary. Sometimes this looks telling the person ahead of the call that I will only have X number of minutes to speak. Other days, it’s someone asking me if I have ten minutes to answer a question or hear a story. Either way, time boundaries are set, and friendships are intact.
Personal: Personal boundaries are my favorite because they’re unique to each of us. An example of this occurred three years ago. My grandmother wanted visit. My answer was no. I didn’t offer her a reason, but for blogging purposes, here’s why: It was August. My semester begins in August. My oldest daughter was moving to another city. My youngest daughter was beginning her second year of high school. Dwight and I were looking for a house every Saturday and Sunday. There was too much going on and I’d just begun understanding that when life is too much, anxiety kicks in. The last thing I needed was my then 90-year-old Grannie wanting to be involved in all of the things and asking 1,999 questions while doing so. Nope. That’s what a personal boundary is: personal based on your needs.
Conversational: Finally, it is important to set boundaries around what you will and will not discuss. Though it may seem as if there is no topic I won’t share via blog, believe it or not, conversational boundaries exist in this space. Ya’ll can’t know everything. Similarly, I have conversational boundaries with my in-real-life friends, depending on the person. I’ve learned not to talk about anything too serious with a friend I’ve known since senior year, because when I do, he jokes about the subject and never follows-up to see if or how it was resolved. We’re friends, but he’s demonstrated he doesn’t want to hear all that. I only have one or two people with whom I’ll talk about my marriage. Everyone else has proven they can’t handle anything perceived as negativity about Dwight, whom they believe to be an unflawed human being. Conversational boundaries ensure I avoid what feels like toxicity and instead include love and support from the appropriate person. This is not to say I avoid hard conversations, but rather, all topics are not for all relationships.
Relationship, time, personal, and conversational boundaries have supported healthier ways for me to be in relationship with others. Relationship boundaries help me to define how I want to be someone’s friend of family member. Time boundaries ensure I’m not giving too much of myself or asking others to unfairly give of themselves. Personal boundaries allow me to know when to prioritize my needs, and conversational ones help me to not share topics with those who do not have the capacity to deal, while also allowing me to know with whom I can engage.
I hope exemplifying these boundaries helps. Let me know if anything resonates with you.
We were friends for a decade and a half. Fifteen years is a long time. We’d friended our way through childbirth, divorce and international relocations. If you’ve been friends with someone for this long, then you know the laughs, tears, secrets, and experiences that can accumulate. There are too many to count.
That’s why breaking up was difficult. I felt its dissipation at least three years ago, but I thought it would pass. I figured if I gently expressed my new journey to her then, she would understand and join me. That’s not reality. Everyone cannot walk beside you on your path. Everyone is not supposed to.
And you know what? I’ve learned that it’s okay if they don’t. Equally important, I’ve become a little more conscious about who I am in friendships and what I want in those relationships:
I want to be the person’s friend, not her therapist. Friends listen to one another during their times of need. I get it. However, if all our phone calls include me listening to you and your problems, then that’s not a friendship. That’s a therapy session. Asking me to be your part-time counselor is not fair to me or you. Also, I’ve discovered that my tolerance level is low when it comes to this. Some people find this cold and unfeeling, but it’s quite the opposite. I empathize deeply. I take whatever you’ve revealed to me and literally feel your emotion. When it’s traumatic, it weighs heavy. Until I learn to let go of others’ issues, I need my friends to seek therapy, instead.
I want my friends to grow. Is this fair to say? You all know I’m always seeking growth, physically, spiritually, academically, whatever. If you’ve known me for any length of time, then I’m probably not the same person you first met. I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m saying I want a friend who is a mirror image of me. I don’t. But if we’re friends, then I want to know that you care about your own well-being and that maybe, you and I will help one another get there. Here’s the tricky part. Growth begins with self-reflection. And self-reflection requires looking in the mirror and being honest with oneself. I’ve learned the hard way that I can’t make someone self-reflect.
I want my friends to be non-judgmental. For real. I’ve been singing the non-judgment song for about four years. Now, I’m not perfect. Sometimes I still screenshot the occasional text to a mutual friend and wonder “what in the world is wrong with her?” But not always good people. Other people’s business is not often the topic of my own conversations. That’s because I’m too busy doing #2 ^^^ self-reflecting and growing. If the purpose of you reaching out to me is to discuss when someone else is going to get her life together, then you and I probably don’t need to connect that often.
Over the years, I’ve gained and lost quite a few girlfriends. The main reason is because I’d never thought twice about who the person was when we met. It was more like, you like eating out and partying? Me too. Let’s get together and do that, and then we became friends. The end of those friendships forced me to process how or why we became close. I’ve determined the answer is usually rooted in the energy surrounding me at the time. But I’ll save that discussion for another day.
For now, I’m wondering, have you ever broken up with a friend? Did it bother you? Have you thought about what you want in a friendship? Do you have long-lasting friendships? If so, how’d that happen?
I discovered the idea of codependence last year around August. I was displeased with my daughter’s choice of boyfriend, as I had been in the past, and was looking for reasons why she seemed to have fallen in love with the same personality – again. Google is one of my best friends, so I used it to search for specific traits that I’d noticed in both her current and former beau.
No matter what phrases I used, codependence popped up. So, I clicked on a link and read the characteristics:
Problems with intimacy
Jeez Louise! You know those movies that show people’s lives flashing before their eyes prior to their deaths? That’s how I felt reading this list of descriptions. It was as if someone had written an outline of my life. I stopped worrying about my daughter and the men she’d chosen and instead began reflecting on myself and the choices I’d made from childhood through adulthood. The proverbial light bulb went off and I realized (as my sister once said) I’d been codependent as f—k!
From the low self-worth of abandonment to the eventual numbing of painful emotions established in adolescence and further perpetuated as a grown woman, I exhibited each codependent trait. I was stunned, but suddenly, my life made sense.
While most wouldn’t describe me as a people-pleaser, there were specific people I rarely told, “no.” My grandmother was one. The example I repeatedly describe is when she’d told me that she wanted me (and the rest of our family) home for Christmas. We could do what we wanted for other holidays, but December 25th was different. So, even though Dwight and I moved our family a thousand miles away, we drove up and down the interstate every other year for seventeen years with our daughters in tow just because I thought I had to and also because I feared telling her no. I’m not sure what I thought would happen if I said, “We’re not coming,” but I avoided the conversation and disappointing her for almost two decades, all while ignoring how the situation affected my family and me.
Another way codependency showed up in my life is through a lack of boundaries. I could write another twelve posts about this, but I’ll just share two specifics. Prior to 2014, I had no personal boundaries “based on awareness of my own unique needs.” It’s easy to do this when you’re unclear about who you are. How could I know what I needed if I didn’t know who I was as an individual or what I liked? As a result, whatever others liked, I liked. Whatever they wanted to do, I did. You’d never hear me say, “No. I’m not doing that!” It was more like, “Sure. I’m down with anything.”
Similarly, I had very few relationship boundaries. I’ve written before about the ease with which I can become friends with others. However, in the past, I’ve also befriended former students, even when they were still under my tutelage. Years ago, each one had access to me through my cellphone, where we’d chat for hours, discussing their personal business, and depending on what was happening in my life, mine too. I wanted to be a “caring teacher,” but blurred lines and unresolved issues, helped me to become a codependent one as well.
As a current teacher educator, of course, I advise against this; it’s unprofessional. However, reflecting on those ten years, it’s clear that poor boundaries permeated both my personal and professional life in another attempt to prove I mattered.
Another clear way codependency manifested is through control. For much of my life, I didn’t feel as if I was in control of myself. As an only child in a family of older relatives, times were far and few between when I knew what was best for me. Also, losing my mother at sixteen and being sent away at seventeen showed me that I was in control of nothing. Anything could happen at any moment. This led to two issues: I trusted everyone’s opinion, except my own, and I eventually tried very hard to control everything around me, including other’s actions, so as not to be caught off-guard by life, ever…again.
This revelation of codependency really changed my outlook as it gave me a new way to take responsibility for myself and my behavior.
From this point on, I’ll continue to share how I developed healthier coping mechanisms, in addition to conversations with those in the field who can support us in actualizing healthier lives.
Until then, tell me…are you familiar with this term? Have you ever been codependent?
Last Saturday, we held a successful virtual book reading via Zoom and FB Live. About 40 people floated in and out and we are very appreciative.
Also, y’all know I’m always writing about relationships and how we can do a better job with relating to one another, so I gotta say THANK YOU to my grannie and aunt and sister-friends from all walks of life who showed up. Sending gratitude to the following bloggers who also made a way to pop in from Nigeria, the New England area, Oregon, and Georgia:
If you missed it, here’s the 2-hour recording:
For those of you who have not been able to attend our face-to-face book readings, and because it isn’t feasible to convene in person, a few of the co-authors of Daddy: Reflections of Father-Daughter Relationships will be hosting a virtual book reading on Saturday, June 27th from 2:00-4:00 PM (EST).
Here is the link: The Silent Pandemic: A Disease Impacting Daughters
Here is the password: 5LEDVW
We hope you’ll join us! If you cannot attend, then please ask any questions in the comments, so they can be answered during our talk.
The day my father asked me to leave home, I awoke to three or four trash bags filled with my belongings. They slouched in the middle of my bedroom floor. The day before, I’d thrown myself a seventeenth birthday party surrounded by family. But I’d also just gotten in trouble at school for forging a tardy pass.
“You’re moving to Covert with your grandmother,” my father announced. “You walked around here frontin’ yesterday, like everything is okay. YOU’RE SUSPENDED!” he yelled.
I was baffled. I thought that was protocol…walking around and pretending everything was okay when it wasn’t. I’d pretended my mother’s death hadn’t bothered me the previous nine months, and no one berated me about that. Why was having a party while suspended an issue?
But it was too late to argue. My father’s mind was made up. I moved as soon as school ended in June.
By September, my grandmother had convinced my father that he needed to relinquish his parental rights so that she could “legally take me to the hospital,” if necessary. So, the three of us drove to a small Michigan court, where a judge bestowed my grandmother with the title, legal guardian.
My father droned on about the court appointment being a “formality.” He’d “always be my dad,” he said. I wished I had an appropriate response. A tear or a lip quiver would’ve added affect. But I was dead to his speech and to mounting situations outside of my control. Life had finally completely numbed me. During his soliloquy, I zoned out and devised a simple plan for my new existence: befriend no one, complete senior year, and leave as soon as I crossed the graduation stage.
That was the plan, until I went to a computer class called, Basic and met a boy.
He was a year younger. He played football, ran track, blew the saxophone in band, and was his class’s president. He made time for me and he made me laugh. More importantly, he made me forget about my mother’s death and my father’s abandonment. He made me forget that I wouldn’t finish high school with friends I’d known since the first grade.
Initially, we talked on the phone for several hours. He lived five minutes away from my grandparents’ home and his house was on the way to my work-study job, which made stopping by convenient. Soon we traded phone conversations for sitting on his mother’s couch, where we watched their floor-model television and kissed. Our time together quickly turned to sex. I enjoyed it. It was liberating in the most poetic way. When we were together, my pent-up emotions floated free like colorful balloons toward a bright blue sky. I repeatedly chased the euphoria.
I was so in love with the idea that he loved and wanted me that I wrapped myself around him. I mattered. He and I ebbed and flowed through teenage love. There was no way I would let him go. To do so would mean returning to earth to face the reality of my circumstances, which were outside of my control, and I wasn’t ready.
Instead, I (unconsciously) learned men, sex, and relationships could temporarily fill a void. All three helped me escape to a place where I temporarily felt better about myself. As long as I had one, then I knew I was worth something to someone, even if the moment was fleeting. Either of the three were easy to attain, especially in undergrad, where my deeper issue flowed with a sea of everyone else’s rampant hormones and fluid identities. Throughout my life, there were times when I had all three simultaneously in different faces, constantly seeking a high, never quite reaching bliss, still feeling shitty about myself. It would take years before I’d understand one thing about trying to fill an empty space with men. You can’t. There were never enough to make me feel whole. Ever. It was always an impossible endeavor.
This blogger’s poem aptly describes what I’ve experienced.
When I first received a packet of information from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services outlining the events that led to my adoption, I called my then best friend to read her the contents. At first, her sniffles were low, but eventually they began to drown out my words.
“Why are you crying?” I asked.
“It’s just…so sad,” she began.
“Don’t cry,” I insisted. “Don’t cry for me.”
By this time, I was 32 years old and had mastered muffling and numbing my own sorrows. I wasn’t going to sob about my own life, and I certainly wasn’t going to allow anyone else to mourn for me.
I suppressed the pain of discovering I was an abandoned five-month-old baby with the other emotional trauma I’d endured. The only thing about stuffing emotions into an abyss is that they’re never really gone. Pain. Sadness. Anger. Whatever emotion you’ve attempted to ignore stays with you. I learned this nine years later when I was 41.
I’d decided to do a relationship meditation hosted by Oprah and Deepak. I thought the meditation would help me have a better relationship with my husband, father, cousins, and in-laws. What was surprising is the meditation really focused on the relationship I had with myself. This was achieved through chanting mantras and answering journal prompts. One of the questions asked this: What, if anything, are you afraid of finding out about yourself? Or something like that.
At first, I didn’t want to write the truth. But, after realizing I’d be the only one reading it, I decided to be as honest as possible. I scribbled these words: There must be something wrong with me for me not to have any parents.
And then, I cried.
I cried for the five-month-old version of myself, who must’ve been terrified being left in an apartment for days. I wept for a baby who was separated from her mother. In that moment, I realized I didn’t need permission to empathize for myself. So, I also cried for being adopted and not told to feel anything about the finding years ago. I grieved losing my adoptive mother. My final tears were for my adoptive father, who, no matter how much he uttered, “I love you,” had shown otherwise.
That day was pivotal. I’d waited my entire life for someone to green-light my emotions when really, I held the power all along.
Afterwards, I stopped stifling tears and emotions. I began using honest communication in most situations. I refused to follow family and society’s made-up rules of engagement. From that day forward, I knew it was better for me to share emotions than it was to harbor resentment and damage myself further. This ranged from answering simple questions, like “How do you like working here?” to harder ones, like, “Why haven’t you invited me to your parties?” with truth. With many people, I ceased hiding my emotions, and subsequently, protecting theirs. I don’t mean to say that I trample on others’ feelings; that would be insensitive, but rather, I don’t hold back for fear of what others will think. I don’t owe anyone a lie or a watered-down answer because they’re ill-equipped to deal with how I feel or because they’re not used to hearing a different opinion.
Since that day, I’ve also learned how to move through emotions and determine why I’m experiencing a specific response. I have a phrase: I feel (fill-in-the-blank emotion) because of (fill-in-the-blank reason). It might look like this: I feel resentful because my family doesn’t consider how I feel around holidays. Sometimes I share these sentiments; other times, I don’t. The important part is to know how I feel and move through it.
Sometimes tears arise because I’m triggered by past life events, like the time I was watching TV and a woman and her mother were shopping for wedding dresses. I remembered how I shopped for dresses by myself and it made me sad. Being able to acknowledge that emotion and then pause for a second has been more supportive for me than pretending feelings don’t exist.
Finally, because I’m now more inclined to feel my feels and process emotions, I’m less likely to use unhealthy coping strategies. I no longer rely on people, relationships, or sex as a means to improve my mood or self-esteem. As a result, my relationships have improved because I’m interacting from an authentic space, not from a place of suppressed hurt and anger.
For me, an ability to feel has been liberating.