I am showing up today with a simple question, How are you doing?
I made this quick, spontaneous video in the wake of some big news here in the U.S. For readers who live elsewhere, we found out last week that our Supreme Court will likely overturn Roe v. Wade, a court decision that ensured women have the right to choose whether to be mothers or not, back in 1973. Half of the women in the country could immediately lose the right to abortion, and the hardest-hit would be women without the money to travel to other states or countries. I always assumed that in the U.S. we would have the right to abortion. I remember traveling to Brazil in 2010 and the exact moment when I found out my Brazilian friends didn’t have the same right. I was shocked. Now we will likely be in the same boat.
I am getting emails from the Women’s March organizers about turning “rage into action,” and I am planning to attend a march this Saturday in Providence.
But when I look around me, I see a lot of numbness.
Are we collectively shell-shocked in the wake of this and other news? Are we all too worn out by demanding jobs to do anything about it? If we stay numb, we don’t talk to each other or act. If we don’t act, then our rights get taken away from us.
I made this video about feeling numb because I believe that in order for us to feel anything or do anything about this situation we have to be honest about what we feel right now. Emotions get stuck when we don’t speak about them, or otherwise release them by dancing, pounding on pillows, journaling, or so on.
Ultimately we are going to need a way of fighting back that doesn’t feel like fighting. We are all too drained to fight. We need a way of coming together that feels more like joy and celebration.
What could that be? I don’t know. Let’s move through the numbness together first.
Watch the video above, and let me know how you are processing the news. My friend Marina told me that “Hollywood needs me” because I look so sad at the beginning of this clip, but hey, I was feeling sad! We don’t always have to look pretty for the camera. In my ideal world, there would be no stigma on sharing how we really feel.
Life is feeling a bit overwhelming lately, and so in today’s newsletter, I decided to go light with this dollop of joy and enlightenment from my spirit animal Jonathan Van Ness, author of Love That Story, and star of Queer Eye and host of Getting Curious.
There are a lot of reasons to love Jonathan, but I think one thing I admire most is his unabashed enthusiasm. He often sounds like a nine-year-old girl getting super excited about something he truly believes in, and that is such an attractive quality in an adult.
Drew Barrymore asked JVN (as he is known), “What is your advice for people who are actively dating?”
And by the way, this is excellent advice for life, and work, as well as dating.
JVN: “Even if you are looking to be in relationship with someone, we always are going to come back to our relationships with ourselves.
In yoga this one time we learned, we all learned that we all have this invisible magnet inside of us that is positively or negatively charged, you know. I think when you are working on yourself, it’s going to charge that magnet in such a way that the person you are meant to be with is going to vibe towards you anyway, so you really can’t lose by investing in yourself and your relationship with yourself anyway.”
People often ask me about my name. Sasha is a nickname for Alexandra.
“How do you get that?” people ask.
“It’s a Russian diminutive for Alexander or Alexandra, that’s my official name.”
I grew up during the Cold War, and the boys in elementary school made fun of me as a “commie.” I was seen as Russian because of my name, but in fact, I was named for my Ukrainian great-grandmother Alexandra (Sasha). She came to the U.S. from Zhytomir, a city in the north of the western half of Ukraine.
Zhytomir is a city which Russia recently bombed. The attacks destroyed a maternity hospital, a high school, and a residential neighborhood, and who knows how many people.
I visited Ukraine and Russia in 1989 as part of a delegation of three hundred American teenagers, organized by People to People, an immersive student travel program founded by Eisenhower in 1961.
In three weeks, we visited Moscow and five cities in Ukraine, including Kyiv. We spent a day at a Komsomol camp, the youth division of the Soviet Party, and hung out with families in their apartments. We danced in the disco at our Moscow hotel when we were supposed to be upstairs.
This was summer, just months before the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989, when the USSR still existed. Next came the time of perestroika (restructuring of the economy), and glasnost (openness).
A funny thing happened in 2017, nearly 30 years after that trip. I got an email from Sergei. He attached scans of letters and photos I sent to him when I was a high school senior in 1991, just about to graduate, including my senior picture and a prom photo with friends.
I had forgotten entirely, but Sergei and I became pen pals after I came home from that trip to Russia. He found my address on a scrap of paper from someone I met during that trip, and wrote to me. I wrote back. It was an era when a Russian-American correspondence felt revolutionary after all the barriers between us.
We started to email back and forth in 2017. Sergei welcomed me to visit.
I asked what he thought about politics in his country.
He sounded extremely positive about Putin, calling him the incredibly smart, respected leader who had saved Russia from chaos after the fall of the Soviet Union. Everything he said about Putin contrasted with everything I had read about him as a dictator quashing dissent and sponsoring brutal anti-gay initiatives. Sergei was pleased with the election of Trump too and expected he would help Russian-American relations. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to visit, but a Turkish friend of mine and I thought it would make a good documentary to go and visit. I still think it would.
Since then I have spoken with other Russians I met in random ways, even one via an online dating app (we quickly found out our political views were not compatible). Often they expressed incredible admiration of Putin, to the point that I thought, these people are in a cult. I mean, I liked Obama, but I never talked about Obama as a savior the way they praised Putin.
It is hard to believe now that what is happening is happening.
Russia is bombing the hell out of Ukraine to take back this country, now, more than 30 years after that trip. In the intervening years, Ukraine, like the other former republics, of the USSR, became independent. The other nations are Georgia, Belorussia, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. Those countries must all be watching and waiting, like all of Europe, like all of us.
Sergei and others living within Russia have their own views based on what they are hearing, and don’t get me wrong: Sergei seems like a lovely person. But to me, it seems impossible to not conclude that Putin wants to rebuild the Soviet Union, or at least start, within his lifetime (he is now almost seventy) and doesn’t care how many people he kills to grow his glory. I am not surprised by the extremely high level of support for Putin, based on my conversation with Sergei and others.
I feel an ancestral connection to my Ukrainian great-grandmother too as I watch in horror.
Many people have asked whether our focus on Ukraine is racist or white supremacist. Do we share the same level of concern for refugees who are not white and blonde with light eyes? This is an important question.
I care about the “human family,” and I am also deeply concerned for refugees of Afghanistan, Syria, and many other countries.
I do my best to live by a principle that I learned from Katie and Gay Hendricks, which is called “sorting the files.” In essence, “sorting the files” is a process of continually distinguishing what you can control, and what you cannot. I can share my story, but I can’t change anyone else’s mind. I can’t solve all the world’s problems (of course no one can). I feel called to share my personal glimpses of this complex situation because I have connections to Ukraine and Russia. I hope this situation in Ukraine can expand our hearts to consider the plights of all war refugees.
Finally, I want to share these two interviews with journalists who shed light on this crisis. Women, as my friend Sheryl pointed out, seem to be providing the best analysis. I found it helpful to watch these interviews to better understand what is happening right now, and I encourage anyone to spend the time watching them.
My fascination began in March 2020, one of those weeks when the pandemic started to get all too real. Quarantine had just begun.
One evening when I wasn’t freaking out reading an Atlantic article predicting how long this pandemic might last (three to four years, I distinctly remember reading), I watched Goop Lab on Netflix, Gwyneth Paltrow’s wellness show. Many people enjoy hating Gwyneth, but I like her program’s mission. I enjoy trying out wellness trends too. Heck, I would love to have my own show Sasha Lab. In the first season, Gwyneth and her staff tested out everything from using psychedelics for healing trauma to exploring female masturbation with the queen of self-pleasure Betty Dodson.
The episode featuring the Dutch extreme athlete and health expert Wim Hof (also known as the “IceMan”) sucked me right in. The bearded, ruddy-faced iconoclast talked about how going way outside of our comfort zones by immersing ourselves in cold water can make us stronger. Hof explained that he had worked with researchers at universities for years to demonstrate that cold-water therapy worked to boost the immune system, improve cardiovascular health, alleviate inflammation, cope with depression and anxiety, and control pain. His message, in essence: If you can stand the cold water, you can take control of your health.
Gwyneth’s staff jumped into an unimaginably freezing, snowy Lake Tahoe under his tutelage. I watched, riveted, on the couch, and thought, I could try a cold shower. That night I turned the dial in the shower to the right, but I couldn’t handle the blast. The cold felt water like bullets. I jumped backward and strained to turn the dial back. Wimp, I thought to myself, resigned.
The lure of the cold stayed with me though, even if I didn’t believe I would ever meet its challenge. When I first watched that show, I was sitting on the couch in Buenos Aires, where I had been living for five years. Weeks later I found myself back in Rhode Island, crashing at my mother’s house. It was the beginning of the pandemic when going to Walgreen’s was exciting. Nature was all we had.
I told Elizabeth, my only friend in Rhode Island, that I wanted to try cold plunges. Elizabeth knew a woman who ran a group. She sent me her contact. I got added to a list.
Soon I was getting emails with the subjects “Plunge tomorrow noon” and “4 pm swim—anyone interested?”
Mackerel Cove, Jamestown, Rhode Island, March 2021
One April 2020 day I took off on a forty-five-minute drive south to find the plungers. The calm beach at Mackerel Cove in Jamestown is a crescent-shaped cove with soft white sand and calm blue-green waters. The beach was starkly beautiful in early spring. I was glad for the beauty and to get out of the house. Six people emerged from their cars: one man, and five women, donning bathrobes and pink felt ponchos over their bathing suits, swim caps in hand.
I waved hello and introduced myself.
They yelled, “It’s tropical! It’s balmy! It’s so warm!” The temperature hovered around forty Fahrenheit. I didn’t agree, but I found the group charming. In their excitement, these forty-, fifty-, and sixty-somethings looked and sounded like boisterous schoolkids who got together to play. One of them did a jig on the way into the water. I dipped my feet in that day as they plunged but that was enough. I still didn’t see myself becoming one of those people. And that was that.
A year later the pandemic was still raging. The emails about cold plunges started to fill my inbox again.
In early February 2021, I answered one, “I’m coming!” By the next winter of isolation, I had grown desperate. I wanted to do something outside of my comfort zone again after so many evenings spent watching Netflix in isolation. I took up running in the morning, but I remembered seeing something else in those middle-aged eyes: true joy. True joy had been lacking in my life that pandemic winter. I didn’t know what, but I still suspected something was on the other side of the cold water. I wanted to experience it, whatever it was.
The wind whipped across the beach that gray day in late February. In New England, the winter sun descends before 5 pm. I came wearing a bikini, but I kept my pants on and rolled them up to my knees. I walked in up to about three inches, and then darted out of the icy water. In and out, in and out, six times. I didn’t get far. Submerging my ankles pushed me to my limit. Meanwhile, the group stayed in fortyish-degree water for fifteen minutes even when the air temperature dipped to the thirties. Some of them even swam. Their heads capped, they walked out radiant, glowing. Mostly women. I had never seen anything more badass.
One of them told me on the beach, “Just keep coming back and go in as much as you can.”
And so it went. I came through February and March and didn’t make it any deeper than my knees. I developed a reputation as a shrieker. I would yell and throw my arms in the air, the 45-degree water an assault on my toes, ankles. and calves, and throw my arms around like a windmill to release the pain. The women taught me how to warm up my feet after plunging (bring bottles of hot water and a basin for a spa bath post-plunge).
My envy grew every trip. This was a higher level of joy these people got out of cold-water plunging than anything I have ever seen from my fellow Americans. The group called themselves “What’s Wrong with These People People?” One day someone shouted to them from a car, “What’s wrong with you people?” The name was born. These were definitely among the more interesting characters I’d met since returning to Rhode Island.
Plungers are not your average people.
One day walking on the beach toward me, the tall, bald Michael the leader of the pack, 68, a retired scientist and high school swim coach, shouted into the air with his arms raised to the sky, “What’s wrong with us? We feel like this! I turn into a love machine. I love everything, the sand, the sky, people! It’s like that! Something about what the cold does to your body unleashes that.”
I made about fifteen attempts between February and April.
One afternoon I drove to the 4 pm meeting spot with the conviction, today will be my breakthrough. I don’t know if I am going to turn into a love machine but I am going to get into the water.
That weekend I happened to read an essay in TheNew York Times about a woman who turned to cold-water therapy after an unimaginable tragedy. Her husband killed their two children and then himself. She had come to stay with her aunt on Long Island and found her way to a small group of her own. I understood the attraction. There had been one day after a writing class when I felt a heavy load of shame in my body after presenting work; intuitively I knew the thing to do to shake off those feelings in my body would be to join the group. Even when I only got into my knees or hips, the cold zapped me like a kind of shock therapy. The sensation was so strong that it wiped away negative emotions and took me right into the present moment.
The obliterating quality of the cold water renewed me, even when I didn’t get all the way in.
Inside that gorgeous essay about grief, I found a simple tip.
The writer said, get into shoulder level and breathe thirty seconds to get to the other side. OK, I thought, I will try.
That April afternoon in Jamestown seven of us met. It was a windy, sunny day, on the brink of spring. The water registered at forty-five degrees, bath-like compared to the thirty-nine when I started coming in February.
I walked in with the group further than ever before past my knees, past my hips, and let the water shock my belly. My hands presented the biggest challenge. They hurt the most. I didn’t want to put them in. But I did. I submerged my hands and then my shoulders, breathing to a count of thirty. Around twenty-nine, the pain gave way to vibrating numbness on my skin. A minute or two after counting, the strangest thing happened. My inner fire lit. Somewhere deep inside of my guts a heat built, a contrast to the cold water surrounding me, and the dark water turning into a strangely silky viscous thing. I started to float with happiness, this bizarre combination of cold water surrounding me, a furnace within.
One of the other plungers wore a waterproof watch. “How long has it been? How long has it been?” I asked obsessively. I wanted to quantify my breakthrough.
I stayed in for fourteen minutes that first time, so insanely gleeful.
You never forget the first time.
My breakthrough day in Jamestown, April 2021.
The air felt surprisingly warm that day when we got out. It was 50 or so on the beach. My legs and arms and chest blotted red, dotted with blood vessels. We looked like lobsters coming out of the water. My hands hurt. My hands felt stiff.
“Don’t worry about that,” Mike said, as he saw me regarding my hands. “Cold-water swimmers call it claw-hand. It’s the first sign of hypothermia but it’s not serious, it’s just the beginning.”
The dull ache in my hands faded enough for me to use my hands, pouring my bottles of steaming hot water into my foot basin. I stepped in. My blocky feet thawed as I stood there on the sandy beach in Jamestown by a bridge and behind a hotel, sailboats moored, dormant until warmer days. The high came on gradually. I started to finally feel it, the thing I had been after all along, the bodily joy I had lusted after for months started to take root.
It’s hard to describe the feeling but when the physical reaction came on it was like a flood of warm lights turning on inside, lit up from within. Since then it’s become clear to me that the colder the water is, the more endorphins are produced in the reaction. In this way, swimming in the winter can become even more pleasurable than in the summer. The French call orgasm petit mort, or little death. You die from the intensity of the sensation, then you are reborn. The cold water is a petit mort.
When I was leaving on that breakthrough day, one of the women in the group came over to her car next to mine.
“So you have been coming all this time and this was the first time you felt it?”
“You must really like to torture yourself!”
“Maybe. I guess I had faith that I would eventually get there.”
Of course, she was raising that age-old question: do we dive in quickly into the waves or cautiously enter inch by inch? Everyone finds their own way, if we are persistent enough. Maybe what I loved most of all in that moment was my persistence. When it comes to accomplishing big things, there is nothing more important than persistence.
Have I kept up cold-water therapy? Am I still plunging? Yes. A year later, I am still at it, feeling more like an official group member. I got all the way into the water up to my shoulders on January 1, something I am proud of, but I’ve taken a break recently as the air temperatures dip to the teens. I have my limits. But you know what? I also take cold showers now. Transformation is indeed possible.
I sometimes ask myself, Why? Why do you drive forty-five minutes each way to do something that most people regard as insane? Isn’t there an easier way to feel good? Why not play a joyful playlist and throw your own private dance party at home?
We need many strategies to feel good in our bodies, at least I do. Cold-water plunging is a special pleasure. Sometimes I think it’s the people—the opportunity to share this incredible, outside-the-comfort zone enthusiasm with the other plungers gives me energy for life. The group plunge is a communal kind of orgasm. Sometimes I think it’s the intensity—the pleasure matches the pain. That intensity feels like a confirmation of what it feels like to be a human being, a sensitive one anyway. And of course, there is the possibility of a lovely after-effect. The coldwatergasm can last for hours.
As it turns out, doing this one hard thing has helped me to do other hard things. I often think, if I can do the cold water, I can do this too. Get through this break-up. Publish that book.
I recently re-watched the Goop Lab episode that originally inspired me. I was struck by how much didn’t even register the first time. The idea of getting into the cold water so bowled me over. In the episode, Hof talks about how he turned to cold water immersion to get over the suicide of his wife, the mother of his four children. I didn’t remember that. One doesn’t have to be recovering from tragedy to turn to cold-water therapy—people plunge for many reasons—but that deeply therapeutic, wiped-clean effect does seem to be part of the draw for many. Wim said his children helped him survive, but the cold water healed him.
“You can go into the cold water and adapt, and with that, you become the alchemist of life itself,” he said. I smiled at this thought as I watched on the couch the second time, two years later. I knew exactly what he meant this time. Amen.
Michael, the swim coach, and I celebrate my breakthrough plunge a week later 🙂
New Year’s Plunge, 2022
Rhode Island PBS recently came to film a segment with a few different groups of Rhode Islanders who dare to swim in frigid waters during the winter, and my group is the first to be profiled. You can meet Mike the swim coach here for yourself. Look for my butt around 4:48 as we enter Third Beach in Middletown, Rhode Island. 😉
Last weekend five of us who write about being single (when we actually do want relationships too) and/or about managing the experience of being childless or childfree gathered for a very honest live Zoom conversation.
If you are feeling lonely and/or sad, disappointed, or frustrated right now because you don’t have someone to share holiday cooking with, to kiss under the mistletoe, or at midnight on New Year’s Eve, I absolutely recommend you watch the replay.
As a veteran in this conversation since 2000 when I first introduced my new word “quirkyalone” in a personal essay, I found it fascinating and wonderful to be part of a group of kick-ass, smart, funny women who have taken a leadership role in helping single women lives their lives fully, with a partner or without. It was lonely to be a quirkyalone advocate on my own for all those years so I loved the group energy!
* Jody Day, the genius and revolutionary founder of Gateway Women, which helps women who are childless by infertility or circumstance, organized the online event and led us through an insightful conversation about how we have learned to source our own worth from ourselves, and how to keep our spirits up when spending a holiday alone.
* Shani Silver, who recently published A Single Revolution, read a passage about how to turn around the soul-sucking energy of comparison. When we are looking at people who have what we want, we tend to wonder, Why does she have the boyfriend/husband/girlfriend/wife and I don’t? Shani invited us to all consider that we are just as worthy to get what we want too.
* Nicola Slawson who is based in the UK and writes the Single Supplement newsletter talked about how she has embraced celebrating with her own Christmas tree, which we got to see.
* Yael Wolfe, a writer, photographer, and artist, talked about how she moved on from a devastating break-up with a man who went on to choose a younger woman to realize that a relationship is the icing on the cake of her life, and not her life itself.
* I talked about the value of learning how to say no during the holidays to invitations that don’t feel good. The inability to say no absolutely contributes to chronic pain and fatigue–if you are a people-pleaser, learning to say no with grace is one of the best skills you can learn for your health and vitality.
I definitely recommend you to watch this conversation on one of these these cold winter nights — or one of these hot nights if you are living in the southern hemisphere.
If that video doesn’t completely resolve your feelings of loneliness during the holidays by giving you a feeling of solidarity from others who are living outside the box, then watch this SNL Lonely Christmas sketch too!
PS. The New Year brings a time of new energy. My coaching practice is almost full but a couple spaces will open up in January. If you want to be in conversation about getting support to pursue your goals in 2022, whatever they may be, tell me more in this form.
trick or treating as a childless fortysomething woman – yes it can be done!
After Tanya and I hit up a few houses trick-or-treating on my block, collecting Dark Kit Kats and Smarties, I tried to convince my friend that people might be taking us for teenagers.
At the next house, a sixtyish woman dressed as a witch wryly asked us, “Aren’t you too a little old to be trick or treating?” There was a glint of amusement in her eyes, however, and it turned out she loved our costumes. She, like all the other adults, offered us candy.
Tanya was “the wolf in cheap clothing” with a big animal head obscuring her adult face and price tags for $1 pinned all over her outfit–everyone is going to love you with that terrible pun! Tanya was literally spreading joy around the neighborhood. I was wearing a Russian Doll/Matryoshka costume, ironic since a Russian doll is a traditional representation of the mother carrying a child within her–ummmm, we were trick or treating as grown adults without any children!
We joked about going out with a fake child (marionnettes?) as our costume, but in the end we learned that adults — even childless adults — can successfully trick or treat, at least in my relatively progressive neighborhood in Rhode Island.
Were we nervous? VERY! OF COURSE! Trick or treating as a childless, fortysomething adult was an adventure way outside the comfort zone. I hadn’t gone trick or treating since my sophomore year in college, and really had no idea how people would react. I was prepared for people to judge us. But actually, everyone welcomed us.
There are plenty of parents out there in costume handing out candy and walking around with their adorable kids, and hey, if you happen to not have kids, why can’t you trick or treat too?
As Tanya and I discovered, trick or treating is still one of the best ways to meet your neighbors. If it’s scary to meet new people, then it’s all the better. Halloween is the holiday to get your spook on.
When I talk to my women coaching clients who are 50+, I hear a lot of frustrations about dating. What’s the best dating site to use? Are all the good ones taken? And what about internalized ageism? Is it really too late to find love or is that a story you have been telling yourself based on negative experiences? Does anyone really want to get involved with someone who doesn’t want to shack up together? SPOILER ALERT: Yes! There are plenty of quirkytogethers (or aspiring living-alone-togethers) out there, people who want a committed relationship but not to cohabitate.
This topic of finding love at every life stage (and keeping your sexual spark alive too) is near and dear to my heart because I know it’s not easy but it is possible to find a new mate and feel sexy at every age–I see those stories play out around me in my personal life and with my clients. I also have noticed many women who came to Buenos Aires to study tango with me convinced that no one would find them attractive. I’ve seen those same women get checked out by the men in the milongas with my own two eyes.
The story we tell ourselves about what is possible makes all the difference.
All of this is why I am really excited to invite you to this free online event.
Carolyn, an inveterate social scientist, and definitely a quirky, independent woman, devised an unusual, and highly structured, dating plan to go on 50 first dates to find the right partner for her in her late fifties. Not everyone would want to go on 50 dates–personally that marathon of first dates sounds hellish to ambiverted me!
But I admire Carolyn’s pluck–and the example of resilience she is providing by sharing her story. I’ll be asking her about how she stitched her heart back together after disappointments and rejections.
This event will be a chance to hear about Carolyn’s book, get inspired, and learn about how other women 50+ are faring in the dating scene.
If you have been considering working with me as your life coach this free event is a nice low-pressure chance to get to know me a little better and see me in action interviewing Carolyn.
If you are over 40, 50, 60, or 70 and battle voices in your head that tell you it’s too late, you should definitely come. Yes, it’s great to come to peace with being single, we all need to walk that path to find contentment and joy exactly where we are right now in life. But if love is something you really want, then why give up and deny that? You can register here.
P.S. In reality, everything we are going to talk about will be relevant to people of all ages – so if you are any age and dating or contemplating dating again, you should join us.
a self-love poster spotted on Providence’s not-so-mean streets
I spotted this philosophical poster on my way across the street to walk underneath the changing trees of fall.
“A heart that loves itself cannot broken.”
First let me say that I love these mysterious people who are stapling self-love posters to telephone poles. Their intent to spread the message of self-compassion could not be more admirable. Their tactile work is so much more satisfying and human to take in than another inspirational quote on Instagram.
My heart swelled reading their message. But my critical mind could not stop there.
“But is this true?” I stopped to ask myself, before crossing the street to walk through the park. “Is it really true that a heart that loves itself cannot be broken?”
the first blush of fall on that walk
My heart got broken this year in a way that it had not been broken in years. There were nights when I woke up at 4 am and felt like a meteor had landed in my heart, leaving a charred crater in its wake. The despair of that break-up left my heart jagged and in pieces.
Did that mean that I don’t love myself? Or did that mean I was allowing myself to feel?
I thought about that lovely poster on my walk through the trees.
Here’s how I would amend the text if I were to make it feel true to me.
“A heart that loves itself cannot be permanently broken.”
“A heart that loves itself heals more quickly after heartbreak.”
“A heart that loves itself will not lose itself in grief for years.”
“A heart that loves itself will grow more resilient to love again.”
When I was going through the worst of this heartbreak, someone told me it was a good sign that my heart hurt so deeply. Being more heartbroken than ever, he said, meant I had opened up to love, and the hurt would only lead my heart to grow back stronger. I took solace in the idea that heartbreak could only grow my capacity to love.
Here is what I know for sure by now: Heartbreak is unavoidable. Loss is the flaw in love. Many of our attempts at romantic relationships do not work out over the long-term. Even superficial online dating attempts can break your heart, slowly over time, little by little, cut by cut. Horrible people will be elected as our leaders. People will disappoint us. Our friends and lovers and family will pass away.
There is always going to be heartbreak and disappointment.
The best we can hope for is that our hearts break and then grow back stronger. Self-love comes when we stop blaming ourselves. The key to healing your heart is taking out the thorn of self-blame.
Healing is a shift in perspective. A shift of knowing that you are lovable and life can be good even after devastation. Cue the song, “I Will Survive.” Seriously, if you are going through a heartbreak right now, play that song on YouTube and dance to it. We need to feel the feelings and let them move through us, through journaling, talking with a trusted friend, coach or therapist, dancing, walking, or whatever works best for you to alchemize the pain.
It’s not inevitable that a heart grows back stronger. A heart can also break and not stitch back together. A heart can grow bitter, jaded, shriveled, and resigned, which happens all the time.
Many, many people give up on love and their dreams all the time. It’s a miracle to keep going and to be at peace with your life as it is right now.
It takes a strong heart to keep on beating. A heart that loves itself.
P.S. In a little over two weeks, on Thursday November 4, at 8 pm ET (NYC time), I am going to interview my dear friend Carolyn Arnold about her new memoir Fifty First Dates after Fifty. This is a free online event to celebrate the launch of Carolyn’s book. We would love for you to join us.
Carolyn, an inveterate social scientist, and definitely a quirky, independent woman, devised an unusual dating plan to go on fifty first dates to find the right partner for her. I’ll be asking her about how she stitched her heart back together after disappointments and rejections.
Once you have been slammed a number of times in dating, how can you stay positive and keep going? You can read this interview I did with Carolyn way back in 2012 to get a taste for what we will be talking about.
If you have been considering working with me as your life coach this free event is a nice low-pressure chance to get to know me a little better and see me in action interviewing Carolyn. If you are over 40, 50, 60, or 70 and battle voices in your head thinking it’s too late, you should definitely come. You can register here.
I have been working as a life coach for nearly ten years now, and I must say, it’s been interesting to coach during the pandemic because we are living through unprecedented times together. I pick up on similar themes when I talk to my clients.
One thing that has been coming up lately is this: “I feel lonely and very much want to be with people but also need to take it in small doses.” That’s kind of a pickle, isn’t it? We want to be with others but we are also exhausted by socializing after spending so much time alone.
At the same time, we are collectively experiencing fear about what another Covid winter will bring. There can be a feeling of urgency and FOMO (fear of missing out) in the near future–so I need to see all the people, go to all the events, go on all the dates, or whatever, while it’s still warm enough to meet safely outside.
Operating with this level of urgency is frenetic and draining, especially if you are still being conscientious about the pandemic because the situation is constantly changing and there are so many considerations when making plans, riding public transportation, traveling, etc.
If our government supported us by giving free home tests (as they are doing in Austria since March) so that everyone had the resources to check their Covid status easily, the whole situation would be easier. But as individuals, at least in the US, we have been left to navigate this mess on our own.
What I have been telling clients, and I will tell you now, is that it’s important to slow down and remember that we have a choice about how we experience our alone time. We can remember the distinctions of loneliness vs. solitude (a chapter in my book Quirkyalone).
We can experience being alone as loneliness–a feeling of lacking and emptiness, yearning for that which is not there, or we can consciously choose to experience our alone time as solitude. Being intentional about our alone time can make that time feel more nourishing.
From this slower, more resourced position, we can choose how and when we want to socialize with less desperation, and not overdo it.
Many people have realized during the pandemic that they need more solitude than they gave themselves in the past. Maybe you are reaching for the social thing now out of fear of loneliness when actually what you need to do is light a candle and write in your journal, then play relaxing music and take a bath. It’s a time to figure out what you really want and need–and give it to yourself.
We need to be gentle with ourselves through such massive shifts.
I encourage you to be gentle with yourself and go slow.
I was talking with a new client this past week about how she needed to be in the right headspace of feeling hopeful and entitled to support in her life before she reached out to me about coaching. I think this is totally true for many of us. We need to feel a certain kind of optimism before reaching out to a total stranger to get support in our lives. If that’s you, I want to tell you it’s not that scary to reach out and have a conversation about coaching. Everyone needs support. It’s a good thing, and you can start the process right here.
Executive and Life Coach on a mission to help women connect with their bodies to live their best lives + do their best work. Author: of Quirkyalone + To-Do List. Forthcoming: WET.
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Sasha Cagen is the author of the cult favorite Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics and To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soul Mate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us. Her work as an author, life coach for women and entrepreneur has been featured everywhere from NPR and the New York Times to CNN and Vogue.
In her well-loved newsletter going to thousands of women and men who identify with "quirkyalone," Sasha is the voice for people who don't want to settle--in any area of life.
In her coaching practice, Sasha helps smart, successful women (and sensitive, self-aware men) get clear on what they really want and then to achieve their goals while always helping her clients focus on core issues such as self-worth.