“Do what you love, and the partner will follow.” I wish someone had drilled that into my brain six years ago when I was stuck in a swamp of self-doubt, and I thought I needed to stay put in a life I did not enjoy, do the online dating treadmill, and meet a man before my expiration date made me unattractive (read: “unfertile.”)
That is why I want everyone who is single (or coupled) and questioning the best way to live their lives to listen to this podcast. My friend Amy Scott, the creator of Nomadtopia, interviewed me. Whether you have dreams of a location-independent lifestyle or not, listen in. We are talking about living the life you really want to lead and trusting that vitality and confidence will attract the people you are meant to meet. As opposed to sitting around and waiting to meet the “right partner” and then going off to live the life you want to lead.
Amy Scott is a writer and coach who helps people to create lives of freedom and adventure they really want. Amy has been on the location-independent path for over ten years. Amy and I first met when I was about to move to Buenos Aires. We have supported each other along the location-independent and quirkyalone paths. (Amy is married and I’m not, but we are both quirkyalones.)
Amy interviewed me for her Nomadtopia podcast, which is all about “real people living global lives,” sharing stories of inspiration so you can live and work wherever your heart desires. We talked about my the life churn I’m chronicling in my new book (in progress) Wet that led me to these realizations about doing what I love first, my Quirky Tango Adventure in Buenos Aires, the importance of leading the life you really want to lead and questioning societal packages–for example, getting married or buying a house doesn’t necessarily mean “settling down” and being in a relationship doesn’t necessarily mean being joined at the hip.
Reclaiming quirkyalone: it’s about being happy on your own firstSasha: “The limited idea of quirkyalone I was running away from was that it’s just about being happy single. There can be this overreaction about reclaiming singlehood where people then flatten out the concept and think it’s just about being happy single. There are people who are totally committed to being single and that’s wonderful and appropriate because that’s how they feel, maybe they change their minds or not, that’s great, but that’s never what quirkyalone was about.”
“The word alone has 2,000 meanings. For me ‘alone’ means an independence of spirit and you approve of yourself. Classically when I came up with ‘quirkyalone’ it was about being willing to going to a wedding alone as opposed to with a date because going with a date is social convention. You’re willing to live your life and it goes to the level of Nomadtopia. You’re willing to leave your life and go off on this adventure alone because that is what you really want to do.”Read More
Note: I get so many fabulous questions from my readers. So I have decided to start answering them. This will be an ongoing column, “Dear Sasha.” If you have a question, send it in!
I’ve been thinking of having my own sort of “Eat Pray Love” journey in Brazil and any tips or advice would be greatly appreciated. I haven’t planned anything yet, but researching for now. Eat Pray Love for me means re-discovering yourself through travel, visiting a country and discovering a culture and people and learning to love yourself. I’ve been drawn to Brazil since I was young perhaps because I’m from a very mixed background and there are so many mixes in Brazil and also from reading Brazilian literature.
This may be a stereotype but I feel that happiness and joy for life and simple things is ingrained within the Brazilian culture, and also there is a sense of women being strong, sensual and owning themselves as women. I need to be around that 🙂 Samba, music, the sea…and discovering a new culture. I also feel there is a great visual aesthetic and relationship with beauty, colors, patterns, craftwork and I want to explore that more.
First, let me say that your intuition is right on. Brazilian joy may be a cliche, and it’s true. Brazilian people do have a very special kind of joy, and that alegria knocked me out and changed my life when I first visited Brazil in 2007.
I get an emotional tune-up from Brazil each time I visit. Brazilian people have more than their share of misery and difficulty, of course. Many Brazilians suffer with poverty, long commutes, and violence. But in general, Brazilians make the choice to be connected and to smile and to look at the light side of life more than we do in the U.S. They are more connected to each other through joy. They make the choice for humor, to say tudo bem (all good) and really mean it. (Tudo bem is the way people ask each other, How are you? All good? All good.) Another possible greeting is “E a‚àö‚â†, beleza?” which is a way of asking, “Hey, over there, beauty/great/fabulous?” They throw their arms up in the air and choose life. Brazilians are also masters of living in the moment. I wrote about that here.
I have now visited Brazil four times and lived there for a total of 8 months. A third of my next book Wet takes place in Brazil and in that book I’m sharing my stories of what I learned from Brazil.
Let me give you some bits of advice and refer you to some of my favorite posts about Brazil.
If you feel the urge, you must go
If you have an instinct to go on any adventure to discover yourself through travel, I say go. It can be scary. That’s the point. Going into the unknown will teach you so much about yourself.
How do you create your own Eat Pray Love journey in Brazil or anywhere? There are many ways, and you need to find your own. You certainly don’t have to figure it all out before you go. Be sure to leave yourself some free time for exploration in the moment. Elizabeth Gilbert constructed Eat Pray Love in the book in a very orderly way, saying she was exploring x in this country and y in another. That’s usually not how life works. I recommend setting an intention for what you want to explore, but also know that you will discover so much more than you initially intend. We have a hunch, but then the waters of life rush up to meet us and fill in the rest. So I say, set your intention, and then be open.
Traveling alone without a plan is brilliant. Going with a friend is also great, though you will likely have more experiences of self-discovery on your own. You will need to make your own decisions, and this is a big challenge to meet on your own. When everything is stripped away from our patterns of everyday life, you find a blank canvas. What will you choose to do? In essence, where will you put your attention, what will you do, whaat will you choose to create? Traveling without a plan is scary and exquisitely creative. Your life truly becomes art.
Let yourself be open to what happens. There is a Brazilian samba song called “Deixar a vida me llevar” which means “I let life take me.” This was my anthem during my travels, to get off my to-do list mode and let life happen, let life take me. To travel without a plan. Brazilians are probably more likely than Americans to travel without a guidebook, to let the unexpected happen. Take your cue from them and try out this style of travel if you have never tried it. And listen to this samba song for inspiration.
Learn some Portuguese, even just “tudo bem”
Brazilians will love you if you take the time to learn some Portuguese. At the mininum, learn how to say “oi” (hi) and “tudo bem?” Brazilians embrace foreigners and if you learn even a little bit of their language you will be one of the family. Perhaps because they are surrounded by Spanish, they feel “quirky” and different and will appreciate your effort. You will be loved.
Brazil is a super quirky country. Enjoy.
In addition to being a sensual country, Brazil is a quirky country. Read about my favorite quirky spots in Brazil here.
Today I am interviewed over on the website sharpheels about how travel can be a laboratory for change in your life.
Here is an excerpt. . .
“For women in business, banishing the feelings and pressures associated with biological clocks, settling, and relationships or the lack thereof, can be challenging. Embracing their quirkyaloneness through travel and tango could make strong women even stronger.
Keeping high standards and insisting on the best life possible is something that inspires Cagen, and she helps people traverse that journey. Her desire to bring quirkyalone people together has birthed the travel program, Quirky Tango Adventure. Participants join Cagen in Buenos Aires where they “use tango as a metaphor for growth and connection.” The tango is a dance requiring the pairing of partners who know their own space first so that they might relate and share that space with another. It combines a strong sense of self, power, and sensuality to which many powerful women can relate, but which some find elusive in their relationships.
How has travel molded you into the person you are today? Has it had a major influence on your career and personal life choices?
A big part of my business now is curating Tango Adventures for self-discovery, and I found my passion of tango through traveling. Ironically, I first discovered tango in Cali, Colombia, the world capital of salsa. That’s what traveling is all about, unlikely discoveries!
Traveling through South America alone for 14 months in my mid-thirties really made me who I am today. I got more comfortable with following my intuition and taking risks (two qualities I needed to start my own business). When I came back home, I was bolder and had the courage to try things I never would have done before. I learned so much about pleasure, passion, and enjoying life from the people I met in Brazil, Colombia, and Argentina. There is a different quality of presence in these countries, and a different way of expressing love in the everyday.
You are an expert on being single, and call it the quirkyalone movement, can you tell us more about that?
When I was 25, I created the word “quirkyalone” as a way to describe myself and friends. I noticed that I had spent a long time being single, and so had they. I was also noticing imagery and stories in pop culture (Ally McBeal and Sex in the City) that spoke of another reality, of a group of women (and men) who preferred to be single and enjoy the freedom and friendships of that life rather than settle for a less than meaningful or satisfactory relationship.
The concept has become a lot more mainstream now, as being single has become more acceptable in the last ten years and it seems like common sense to not settle. However, being quirkyalone makes people feel like they are outside the norm because they hold out longer than a lot of people do. The concept provides important validation. Ultimately, being quirkyalone is not about being alone or being single. It’s about making a commitment to yourself first to not settle in your life or relationships, to stay connected to yourself and to fully enjoy the time you do spend single.
How can travel help women get back in touch with themselves?
I learned about a concept called liminality in a college anthropology class. Liminal zones are where the structures of the everyday are suspended and we get to discover something new about ourselves and the world. Travel is a liminal zone. When you travel, you step outside your everyday expectations. You leave behind the people you know and their expectations of you. You get a fresh canvas in the liminal zone to try new things and be a new version of yourself. This is a huge opportunity to get back in touch with the things that truly bring you alive and rediscover what you really want in life, and then, to bring that back home to your life—to recreate and layer in new things and ideas in your life.
Many people take my online classes and find courage to travel. Then they wind up changing their lives—for example, leaving a job they didn’t like anymore to start a business, or to then go live abroad. Travel is this huge laboratory for change in your life.
Joseph Campbell is famous for telling us to follow our bliss. (Advice I can get behind.) He is also famous for his work in identifying the archetypal mythic structure in storytelling, the hero’s, or heroine’s journey, and the value of these journeys in our lives.
You can play the game of identifying the Hero’s Journey in popular movies like the Titanic, or you can find the elements in your own life. Each path is unique. He writes, “If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.”
If you are not a writer, these Hero/Heroine’s Journey concepts are valuable for you for your own life. And quite connected to quirkyalone. Especially for women. I’ve often thought that women more than men identify with quirkyalone because there are so few positive archetypes for a woman alone in our culture. And by alone, I don’t even mean single. I mean a woman who takes herself and her life seriously on its own terms–a life filled with meaningful quests.
Our culture is filled with stories of the hero, and not the heroine. In The Odyssey, Odysseus is tempted by sirens and Penelope waits at home for his return. In Harry Potter, Hermione is a sidekick. Other powerful male wanderers with wisdom to share: Jesus, Jack Kerouac, the Buddha, and so on. The list is endless. Who are the women? The woman herself does not go on a meaningful journey for her own sake, and if she does, the conclusion usually revolves around finding true love. (Think most romantic comedies or even the conclusion of Eat Pray Love.)
These are our culture’s stories, and our cultures stories reflect us. Justine Musk, a writer and creativity-inspirer, speaks in this TED talk about “the art of the deep yes” for women. What she calls the “deep yes” is self-worth–the idea of saying a big yes to yourself and what you are capable of in this life. This deep yes has all too often been lacking for women. This deep yes is what you need to embark on a heroine’s journey.
As Justine notes in her excellent talk, “Modesty is a feminine virtue.” Women are expected to have low self-esteem and put ourselves down. Playing yourself down is a strategy for getting people to like you, to make yourself “relatable.” Heaven knows I’ve done that. As she notes, women are usually the “wives, girlfriends, mistresses, vixens, femmes fatales in someone else’s epic story–usually a guy.” So what if you are the heroine of your own story? You as a woman are already stepping outside the cultural paradigm.
Writing about my own “heroine’s journey” in my new book Wet has been so powerful because I knew I was directly struggling with the dominant idea that a woman’s primary role in life is to be a wife and mother–an enabler of others. To take the position that I could go on a quest for myself, and what I might bring back as an “elixir” for myself and others, has been quite radical. And fascinating. And great.
So that’s why I am so interested in the Hero’s/Heroine’s Journey. I’m interested in it as a writer, and I’m interested in more women seeing themselves on the path of a heroine’s journey.
There are still a few spaces open this Saturday, August 2.
Click HERE for class information for this Saturday’s live class on The Heroine’s Journey in San Francisco at the Writers’ Grotto.
Several people have written me to say, Hey, I don’t live in the Bay Area, would you do this class online? If you are interested, let me know, and if there’s a quorum, we’ll get that going.
All the things going on in our minds–art by Brazilian street artist Anonimundo Art
When people sign up for my mailing list, I send them a message asking them to tell me about something they are struggling with. This is one way I like to get to know you better. I hear about all kinds of things, you could not imagine the diversity, and I love getting the messages.
Recently, Laura, 49, wrote me a short message about her struggle. Laura is divorced and has been dating. She recently gave up on dating and is settling into a life on her own. Her message stuck in my mind and reminded me of three words that had recently gelled in my mind: “Single Inferiority Complex.” The Single Inferiority Complex describes the often-nagging feeling that single (and sometimes childless) people have that their lives, and even their very selves, just do not measure up to those who are in partnership (or who are parents).
Laura wrote, “Hi Sasha, Convincing married people that I’m just as good as them despite the fact I never found anyone to love me despite my flaws, unlike they who did. I know this is not my job but sometimes it feels like an unspoken task. Laura”
I loved this email. Thank you Laura for articulating this. When I followed up with Laura to ask her more (I was curious about her situation), she wrote, “I just get annoyed at all the married people that tell me to make myself happy and then some guy will want me. Hey, I already do make myself happy but a) does being married make them so happy? And b) if I’m happy why would I want to ruin it with a guy? Sorry I just probably gave you more conflicting info but I guess there in lies the big question. To be single and hopeful or be single and resolved.”
That of course is the quirkyalone paradox, the challenge to comfortably inhabit the space in between contentment and opennes to love. Sitting in that precarious place, it’s easy to think the world is judging you as inferior. In her Laura thought that it is her “job” to convince married people that she is as good as them. Or that she needs to appear “happy” enough to attract a man into her life.
I don’t know Laura’s friends, so it’s possible that they really do judge her, or believe that’s the only path to fulfillment. I also suspect for Laura–and most of us–we tell ourselves that we are not as good as our married friends. We take on an unspoken task to convince ourselves that we and our lives as just as good as theirs.
It’s easy to feel defensive in a traditional culture where marriage is seen as the path toward adulthood, parenthood is seen as the ultimate path to mystery, maturity, and a deeper capacity to love, and being single or not having children is seen as lesser or immature.
But let’s be clear: Being single does not mean inferior. It means you don’t have a partner. Married people are not automatically more emotionally mature, fulfilled, or happy. Single people are not automatically immature, unfulfilled, and unhappy–or lonely for that matter. Anyone can be emotionally mature or immature, fulfilled or unfulfilled, or happy or unhappy, and that can vary day to day, minute to minute too.
This topic of the “Single Inferiority Complex” is a close cousin to the “Single Shame” we have been talking about in our community. Single shame is the deep-seated feeling that something is wrong with you and no one will want you because you have been single for a long time (usually years, sometimes a lifetime).
Many of my coaching clients are coming to talk to me about single shame. I have lived with this issue of single shame myself, feeling “wrong” that I have not had the long-term relationships that most women of my age have had, and come to understood how much my single shame was preventing me from being intimate and vulnerable and deeply connecting. In fact, this issue of single shame is a significant thread in my memoir-in-progress Wet.
The first step with overcoming this unworthiness that prevents connection is awareness. Proper diagnosis. If we can say, oh, there is this thing called the Single Inferiority Complex or Single Shame and it’s infected our consciousness, then we can be aware of it and pick it apart, and start to question how we see ourselves. Perhaps it’s not so true that our friends are judging us. Perhaps it’s not true that we are inferior or that we have anything to explain or defend. Perhaps there is no way of really measuring happiness or maturity and we are all on unique paths, determined in part by how we show up in life, in part by circumstance and luck.
If you identify with the Single Inferiority Complex or Single Shame, what I’ve learned through my coaching practice is this is totally common among quirkyalone types. . . you are not alone. Second, it’s totally possible to turn this around. To fully embrace you and share you are right now, to own your personal history as well as your desires for connection, whatever they may be.
The secret to an interesting life is saying yes whenever possible. A strong, CLEAR no is important too. Without a strong no there is no yes.
But exercising your yes muscles even when you are fearful or in doubt will no doubt to lead to more magic and adventures. One thing leads to another.
Yesterday, my last day in Buenos Aires. I was packing and preparing for my friends to come over to watch the Argentina-Holland semifinal game when I got an email from a producer at HuffPost Live. His Argentine superfan had disappeared and he needed a fan from Buenos Aires to do a live chat faceoff with a Dutch fan.
He wanted blue and white face paint and an Argentina jersey for the interview, and I had to say, I don’t have those things! I was honest with him and I will be honest with you. I know very little about football. I am no superfan. I know more than most Americans, probably, because I was living in Rio de Janeiro four years ago for the World Cup (such wild passion), and I was in Argentina for this World Cup (such luck!). But I am by no means the person to tell you about “what we can expect from Messl” (the top player in Argentina and maybe the world) in the game.
Regardless, I said, “Sure, why not? But tell me what you are going to ask me.” In the next mail, I said, “Just don’t ask me about the players, ask me about the mood and the passion in Buenos AIres.” Cultural observation I can do. Connecting football to politics I can do. So I commented on the World Cup in HuffPost Live. My brother Dan is an actual sports reporter who covers the Boston Bruins and I found it amusing that now I can call myself a sports commentator too.
Watch my debut as a traveling sports reporter above.
What does saying yes to this opportunity mean? Who knows?
But it’s fun to say yes. It makes life more interesting and opens the door to more magic and adventures. When have you said yes?
By the way, I want to remind you I am teaching this one-day writing workshop Writing Your Hero’s/Heroine’s Journey at the San Francisco Writers Grotto Saturday, August 2.
Perhaps these are the stories of when you have said yes and what you learned. Would love to see you in this class to hear your story, whether you’re blogging, writing an essay or a book.
I was really happy to participate in this HuffPost Live interview on how we address women. Being asked whether I am a señora or señorita here in Argentina has me pondering again ma’am vs. miss and why we women are asked these questions and referred to by our age, marital or virginity status. I’ve blogged here and here about how our language shapes gender and our perception of ourselves. It’s time we have one word to address women–maybe when we are all Ma’ams then the sting is gone. Or when we start to respect older women then being ma’am will truly feel like respect. It might be time to think about shifting our language. France and Germany have!
Are you really going to ask me if I am a señora or señorita?
Here in Argentina, people kiss when they meet. Even men kiss each other. It’s lovely. I’m a fan of human contact and the kiss is nice in comparison to a distant handshake. I was doing business with a “señor” (a man) who was hiply dressed, about 35 or 40, when we kissed cheeks, and he asked me, “Señora o señorita?” This is the equivalent of asking “Miss or ma’am?”
I gave him a puzzled expression in return.
He asked, “Tenes novio o sos casado?” “Are you married or do you have a boyfriend?” If the answer is yes, that would make me a señora, and if not, then I would be a señorita. Señora and señorita can also refer to age or sexual experience (when you are no longer a virgin you are a señora). Most likely it refers to marital status.
I sputtered out, “Me parece raro” (“That seems strange”).
I felt on the spot. Maybe it was a question to break the ice and get to know me but it wasn’t really that kind of situation. I would be in and out of the office in five minutes. What would I say, I’m a señora, since I’m 40 and not a virgin, but I’m not married, so by his definition I would be a señorita? My brain crashed since I don’t fit into either box and I don’t think he wanted to hear all the details of my dating life. So we got over our awkward moment.
Buenos Aires is a quite sophisticated city. Forty-eight percent of the population is single, without partner. So this is not some traditional place where very few women are single. I was taken aback by the question, though I’m sure he meant no offense. But on a deeper level, the language of polite conversation does not have us ask the same questions of men. We don’t ask that about men, now, do we? Señora o señorita, ma’am or miss? We just say señor. Or sir.
An Argentine female friend Virginia playfully calls me “Señora/Señorita” when I see her in the stairways of the tango school where I study. She has the right idea. Better to use both than to choose one since this question presents another false dichotomy of womanhood, like the virgin/whore, slut/prude, good girl/bad girl. All dichotomies that exclude parts of who we are.
In the United States, women are called ma’am or miss. That dichotomy is usually more about age than relationship status (or in the South, respect). I’ve written about the vexing issue of “ma’am vs. miss” years ago and gotten many comments from women of all ages who don’t like either appellation. I’ve learned a lot from the comments that have poured in on that post. Certainly it’s possible to take “ma’am” as a sign of respect for your experience. But there is something inescapably matronly about the term, and matronly is not how I or most women like to think about themselves. It would be different if “ma’am” meant worshiping the wisdom of an experienced woman. Maybe we should reclaim “ma’am” to mean wise, experienced, radiant, self-possessed woman.
Language shapes how we see the world and ourselves.
I am reminded of a question posed by Andreas from German during our quirky chat on healing single shame. He asked if women feel single shame more acutely than men. Well, of course we do, when we are put on our spot to define ourselves to complete strangers (do you have a boyfriend?) one necessarily feels there is a right answer, even if you are not sure what the right answer is.
Men are not asked whether they are married in a simple business transaction. Marriage is not as baked into a man’s identity. It was an innocent question, but the mere continuation of this señora/señorita distinction in language speaks to a deeper tendency for people to judge women on the basis of their fitting into relational boxes, rather than seeing them as independent entities, as we see men.
We hopped right on to the business at hand. He probably thought I was strange for giving him all those strange looks and telling him his question was “raro.” So be it. Señora, señorita, ma’am, miss, let’s call the whole thing off! Or let’s change their meanings.
What does being gay have in common with being quirkyalone? They are both ways of being that don’t fit the social script. The still pervasive “how it’s supposed to be.”
We’ve been talking a lot about releasing the shame of long-term singlehood in order to make yourself more free and available to connect in a healthy relationship (and even to know how to talk about your history when you start dating someone).
Hot on the heels of our chat on single shame last week with Sara Eckel, I was so moved and struck when I saw this video of Ellen Page talking to Ellen DeGeneres about her coming out as gay in a powerful speech at the Human Rights Campaign’s Time to Thrive Conference in Las Vegas. I loved how their conversation turned to the power of releasing shame, for anything we feel ashamed about. We all have our secrets.
Ellen DeGeneres: “How do you feel since you have done it (coming out)?”
Ellen Page: “I knew I would be a happier person. I knew that I was going to feel better. I did not anticipate just how happy I would feel. In every aspect of my life. Just an ease and a comfort. It’s really been quite extraordinary to feel the shift. And it was pretty much overnight too.”
Ellen DeGeneres: “It’s because you’re releasing shame. It doesn’t matter what it is, what you are carrying around as your secret, everyone has something you are carrying around that they are ashamed of. To carry around shame, first of all causes disease, it’s a horrible thing to be ashamed of yourself.”
I’ve been so inspired by the reaction to this issue of the shame of long-term singlehood that I want to incorporate this topic into a new quirkyalone/quirkytogether group coaching program. If you are hiding anything about yourself and thinking someone is going to reject you because of whatever your “thing” is, the best way address this is to practice sharing your story with others. There is nothing more healing than being witnessed.
In this new group coaching program, I want to share with you everything I have learned about quirkyalone and quirkytogether over the last ten years since publishing Quirkyalone, with the intention of helping you create more ease and comfort in your life–especially in the areas of dating and relationship.
If you have been held back by any feelings of shame about your story around being single, this is going to be an amazing chance to work through that sticky stuff with my support and the support of others going through the same thing. If you are interested in being part of this, be sure to sign up here to get on the priority list.
Our quirky chat about single shame last week was so amazing and deep I needed to let it settle into my body and soul to write up this post for you. I feel so blessed that we were able to have this healing conversation. I chose the topic because I have noticed the question as a theme in my private coaching and in the questions that I get from readers:
“I haven’t had a boyfriend or girlfriend in five (or ten) years (or ever). what does that say about me? When I start dating someone, how do I talk about my relationship history (or lack thereof)?”
I invited the genius Sara Eckel to join me because she’s written so beautifully about this dilemma in her Modern Love essay and her book It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single. When she was first dating her now-husband Mark, Sara agonized about when to tell him “the truth.” (She hadn’t been in a relationship for nine years.) In the end, he didn’t care. He was happy he hadn’t had a boyfriend because she was available for him.
Watch the video and you’ll see her read from the beginning of her original Modern Love essay where she reads about always hating that question, “How long has it been since your last relationship?”
She writes about the feeling of being grilled with such beautiful precision: “It seemed so brazenly evaluative—an employment counselor inquiring about a gap in your résumé, a dental hygienist asking how often you flossed.” I shared my own story of trying to spit out the truth to a boyfriend that my longest relationship had been nine months, and it took me a full half hour to get those words out of my mouth. When I did, he was shocked that was the thing I had been trying to tell him.
Our discussion was beautiful and we had great questions from quirkyalones around the globe. I knew this chat would strike a nerve and be healing and it was. I want to share with you my biggest takeaways from this deep chat and I hope what you will take from it. My intention here is that all of us quirkyalones shed the shame and own our stories.
We are the harshest judges of ourselves.
Shame is so heavy for us.
When you tell someone your shameful “thing,” there’s a good chance that person will likely shrug their shoulders and say, that’s it? (Or maybe they won’t. They judge you. So that’s not the person for you.)
Sara’s advice, “Whatever you are feeling ashamed about, sharing it with someone really helps.”
We also need to realize how we are buying into a societal idea that something is wrong with us if our lives don’t follow the prescribed path, and it’s our responsibility to evaluate that idea and discard it if it actually doesn’t serve us.
Ultimately what we are talking about is owning your story. Brene Brown teaches us about the courage that is required to be vulnerable (and live a joyful life). She writes, “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
Don’t be like the writer who believes only the one bad review.
If a clueless stranger or friend makes a hurtful comment like, “How is it possible that you’ve never lived with a man?” or “I don’t get it, you’re great, how come you’ve never had a long-term relationship?” Don’t take that to mean that everyone thinks that way—or that no one will want you. Sara and I are both writers. We know that tendency to believe the one bad review. Don’t generalize and read into people’s minds thinking you won’t be wanted.
Women and men both feel this pain, but more women feel it.
One great question that came in during the chat was from Andreas in Germany. He asked if single shame affects women more deeply. I wrote in my book Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics there are more positive archetypes for male aloneness like James Dean and Odysseus.
Women tend to be more deeply worried that lack of relationship experience. However, both Sara and I get emails from men, and I have male coaching clients. We know men feel this pain of being judged too. The Internet is full of posts with headlines like: “Red flag, is it a bad sign if someone was never married by middle age?” “Is there something wrong with a man over 40 who has never married?” But it’s also true that for men singleness may be viewed more simply as a choice. Men simply don’t have the same level of sexist junk aimed at them, whether that’s the “old maid” stereotype or the virgin-whore dichotomy that leaves a sexually expressed woman worried if she’s a “slut.”
People often assume the fulfillment of a woman’s true identity comes through relationship (marriage and motherhood) whereas for a man his first fulfillment comes through purpose (work). So if you’re a woman and you haven’t had much long-term relationship experience so far, it’s easy to feel you have failed at being a “woman.” Women also tend to be more self-critical (women are almost twice as likely as men to develop depression) and women internalize societal messages more deeply. So our job as women is to question those societal ideals and not let them affect the way we view ourselves. We need to investigate the ways in which we are buying into messages that are just going to make us feel bad—and choose new mantras and messages for ourselves.
Open yourself to believing the opposite can be true.
One of the most powerful tools I use in my coaching practice is derived from the work of Byron Katie.
Byron Katie encourages us to always ask whether the opposite could be true of the things we are deeply invested in believing. In this case, I encourage you to question your belief that being single for a long time makes you unattractive.
Perhaps there are many Marks out there who would be happy you are available.
A male quirkyalone friend delighted me with his perspective (so different from what many quirkyalone women assume): “While it’s a generalization, and everyone’s different, I really don’t think any men I know would care that a woman hasn’t lived with a man or had a long-term serious relationship with someone before, and it would actually be a turn-on that they haven’t. No one likes to picture past significant others of a person they’re dating, plus if it works out you get to experience something for the first time with someone. I can’t speak for the women’s point of view re: a man’s history of singledom, but I’ve never had a conversation with a male friend where we were at all concerned about a *lack* of significant history of someone we’re dating.”
Remember everyone has their “thing.”
I always remember an episode of Ally McBeal where Ally and Robert Downey Jr.’s character are falling in love. She feels the need to spill all her flaws in a waterfall of self-criticism. “You know I’m vain, and self-absorbed, and difficult,” etc. etc. etc. Somehow we feel the need to confess this stuff about yourselves. You better know my flaws!
Daniel Jones, the editor of the Modern Love column, and author of the new book Love Illuminated: Exploring Life’s Most Mystifying Subject (with the Help of 50,000 Strangers) has read a mountain of personal stories about dating and love. One common theme: people worry that something about them is deeply unacceptable. Sara met a woman on book tour who thought that “thing” was being vegan. For me a long time the “thing” jumped from my long-term singlehood to the fact that I like to travel. Or that it was that I let dishes pile up in the sink.
Funny how creative the mind can be with coming up with an unacceptable “thing” about ourselves!
We are “thing” machines. What’s yours? Name it and set yourself free. If you confess your “thing” to someone else, they might laugh at you thinking it’s unacceptable. [You could even post it as a comment here.]
Sara’s advice: “Remember your date probably has a ‘thing’ too that they are worried about.”
You don’t owe anyone an explanation.
You don’t have to explain yourself. When random people ask you why are you single you can say “I don’t know.” Part of self-respect and owning the worthiness of your own story means practicing a kind of containment where you share what you want to share.
You have nothing to confess to a new date either. When you start dating someone new, you don’t have to “hide” your relationship resume (or lack thereof), but you also don’t have to confess it in the first, third, fifth, or seventh date. Confessing implies there is something wrong with you. It’s natural that someone wants to know about your story, but their interest doesn’t mean they are prodding for your “fatal flaw.” Online dating may encourage a consumer mentality, but that’s not the way it works when you are getting to know someone who is really interested in you IRL (in real life). You can let your history come out and unfold as you get to know each other as the facts and intimate stories of your life emerge.
You could even be proud. Or at least view your history neutrally.
Long-term singlehood is a relatively rare phenomenon in part because few people still make the choice to say no to a mediocre or not so amazing relationship at 29 or 31 or 36 and hold on for what they really want. It’s easy for most people to call this “picky”—maybe it means intuitive. Maybe it means high standards. Maybe it means you’ve been busy. Or maybe you have no idea why. Being quirkyalone isn’t a higher calling than being a serial monogamist or a committed single, all paths are equally valid, but you have permission and encouragement to see your choices as courageous.
On the other hand maybe you have been single for a long time and it’s not completely by choice, it’s because you walled yourself off or didn’t have the courage to put yourself out there. Maybe there’s something very deep from your childhood that you didn’t quite figure out yet or you never saw intimacy modeled in your family life, so you have no idea how to create an intimate long-term relationship. That’s challenging, but there’s nothing wrong with that either. We all have issues to work through. Learning how to be intimate and to be in a healthy relationships is the work of a lifetime. No matter where you are, you’re on a journey.
You can see your history neutrally as what has happened, nothing more nothing less. Mindful meditation can help you with this process, as Sara mentions in the chat. If it’s your desire to date, you can make the choice to learn how to date and be in a healthy relationship and practice relationship skills. I emphasize this with my clients in my my private coaching that you can develop these skills no matter where you are in life and use them to improve all your relationships, most fundamentally your relationship with yourself.
This chat was cathartic!
Here’s an email I got after the chat. I’m sharing this with Susan’s permission because she wants to own her story and so you can get the vibe of how emotional this topic is for her and many people.
Just want to say thank you so much for the Single Shame chat. I will admit the tears were flowing at times, but in a cathartic way. I wrote that first question (Sue C.), and the answer was healing—to realize that I am the one heaping the shame and feelings of inadequacy onto myself. I think it’s time for me to stop doing that.
I found it funny how when Sara was answering my question, she referred to mindful meditation. I just starting taking a meditation class last month (and am about to leave for class in a few minutes). If feels like I am starting a new personal journey, and I love it when the different threads come together.
By the way, my name is Susan, not Sue – again, that’s me trying to hide lest I be exposed as that perpetually single person. But as you said, I have to own my story. So Susan it is.
Another women left this message:
Hi Sasha! I just watched the Spreecast chat. Wow. So real. So honest. Thank you. I felt like I was having a deep conversation with good friends.
In the first part of the video I felt like saying: “But there IS something wrong with me.” Because I feel I know why I am single, it has a lot to do with how I was brought up. There is a lack of trust and fear of risking my heart only to be hurt, and shame for being imperfect. So I just haven’t bothered. But maybe it’s not that simple, maybe the story I have been telling myself is quite heavy-handed on the self blame, a bad habit. The facts are that I have been single for 7 years. Be it circumstantial or my own doing.
As the conversation went on, the perception of my situation morphed a little in my brain. “Maybe it’s just something that happened” doesn’t sound so implausible anymore. This new outlook is one of the roots to the self-acceptance you mentioned in the video. It makes everything (my damn story) so much more palatable.
I LOVE the idea of the group coaching! I am signed up to your list already so I will hear about it 🙂
I'm the author of the cult hit book Quirkyalone and To-Do List and a life coach who helps quirky, creative women and self-aware men. I'm also the founder of the Tango Adventure in Buenos Aires.
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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.
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