It’s my birthday week, so I send you greetings from a new year. I’m back in Buenos Aires (I’ll fill you in on the rest of the Forever Young European tour later!).
For my actual birthday, I was able to have an intimate dinner at my apartment with a few close friends in Buenos Aires. My friends are scattered all over in California, the Northeast, Brazil and Europe. On birthdays, I’m nostalgic for times in San Francisco when my birthday parties were full of long-term friends. But really I am lucky to be able to have dinner with a few dear souls here in Buenos Aires.
Over the birthday dinner, I read my hopes for the next year, what I accomplished over the last year, and “what I know” – it was wonderful to be witnessed in my hopes and dreams and also for what I’ve accomplished in the last year. I recommend this kind of reflection–and sharing it with others to be witnessed–as a ritual for your birthday.
Over the dinner we had a fabulous conversation about what it’s like to be single expat without children living far from family or our roots. We were talking not only about our own personal situations but about this historical moment that we find ourselves in.
For those of us who are not following the traditional formula of what it means to be a woman (being a wife and mother, the caretaker of others) our lives can feel a bit off the map of the media and social media—the pressure might be as much internal as external when you don’t see your own reality reflected back to you very often. Facebook and Instagram can be a confrontational landmine with all those happy family and kid photos from friends. Even though I am well aware of how hard it is to be a mother, and I generally feel at peace with my decision, I still sometimes wonder, hmmm, am I missing out? Am I way off track here? What about MEEEE?
My anthropologist friend pointed out that it’s extremely recent in the history of humanity that any great number of women have been free to construct lives outside of the identity of caretaker. (Let’s say women’s participation in the workforce really took off in the last half of the 20th century. It’s not as if this revolution toward equality is complete—women still earn less than men and we assume women will be the primary caretakers of children and aging parents, or that women have an instinctive relationship with babies. If a woman doesn’t relate to babies or her baby, that’s seen as weird; a father doesn’t bond with a baby, well, that’s not his thing.)
It’s no wonder that a lot of us feel self-doubt about our paths through life, even if we come off as confident and having it all together.
We are pioneers in the big picture of herstory.
That’s what conversations like these are so valuable. That’s why we need each other.
I’ve been thinking a lot about companionship and community lately. As much as I love and need solitude, I also need committed relationships that provide companionship. Loneliness has become the modern epidemic. (Read this fantastic story on “All the Lonely People” for more.)
Facebook aims to fill the gap with “presence” and “community” but actually I find Facebook often tends to make us more distant from each other because people send a chat message or leave a comment rather than call. Social media can facilitate in-person connection but it can also create a lot of shallow relationships. (I believe that some more authentic online communities such as Gateway Women, o or online classes I have taught, can cut loneliness and bring people together—but it has to be an online community where you feel safe to be authentic and real.)
We all need to have some degree of companionship and commitment from others. One big attraction of a committed romantic relationship is that it’s committed. It’s not casual. It’s not, hey, I’ll show up for you if it’s convenient. It’s, I will show up for you. You show up for each other in times of need. If I get cancer, if I need help financially, and so on.
Many people–50% at any given time–are single in the US, for example.
Even if we really do want to be in a committed romantic relationship, how can we also create those kinds of commitments with friends? How do we create a feeling of being loved and solidly held with our friends too? What forms of support do you have in place and treasure, what do you appreciate?
We need other models for committed relationship. We are the pioneers, so what will those look like? One person won’t have all the answers. Many people will. I wonder what thoughts you have on the topic. What works for you in terms of companionship and support, or what do you wish for more of in your life?
I’m also going to be exploring the concept of a private, supportive online community–quirkytogether, if you will, where important and nourishing real conversations like this can take place and people can also meet each other, online and off. Having met many of you as my clients through coaching, my online classes, and the Tango Adventure, I know this is an ideal community for such supportive, nourishing, life conversations–and I’ll be asking for your thoughts on what a community could provide soon too.
the cobbler who saved my shoes in Kolasin, Montenegro
A cap on my right tango shoe came off I discovered this afternoon, leaving the right heel wobbly and unstable. I danced about ten songs on it in the afternoon practica but I didn’t feel confident that I wouldn’t injure my ankle–and a sprained ankle is a big setback. I learned how much a sprained ankle can set you back from four months of physical therapy last year.
I asked one of the assistants in the Summer Tango Camp if there was a cobbler in town who fixed heels. The guy told me yes but only on Mondays and Tuesdays. It’s Thursday so that would be of no use. (What kind of work ethic is that? says this American.) This guy offered no more help and went back to staring at his phone.
I went walking in the streets of Kolasin, this mountain town in Montenegro (in the Balkans, just south of Croatia) where I have been staying for two weeks. I asked the nail salon woman if anyone in town fixed shoes. She did my eyebrows and pedicure so she seemed like a good local to start with. She pointed me two kilometers down the road. It’s very hot, and very sunny, and I did not feel like walking two kilometers in the midday sun. I went into a shoe shop thinking I would look for sneakers with smooth soles to pivot on but for some reason I felt inspired to ask them if they fixed heels.
“No, we only sell shoes,” the saleslady said, but she pointed me to a cobbler 100 meters away! A hundred meters–now that’s my kind of distance to walk in the afternoon heat! I found a lovely guy with a nondescript storefront who fixes shoes. They should be ready at 7:15 and if he does a good job I can keep dancing.
So reminded that it is all about persistence. Everything.
Epiphanies come and go. But the main thing, usually, is keep going. So keep going.
(Written during the Kolasin, Montenegro Summer Tango Camp. We didn’t actually camp, we stayed in hotels or houses. We–700 people–all came together for days and days of dancing, hiking, archery, tango learning, and meeting people from all over the world. An incredible event. You should come to the Summer Tango Camp + the Tango Adventure of course!)
a photo from the day I married myself in the Japanese Gardens of Buenos Aires
Marriage itself is evolving: First we had straight marriage as business arrangement, then we had the soulmate marriage, gay marriage, and now self-marriage. Two years ago the media got fascinated with the mini-trend of self-marriage. Since then I have emerged as one of the foremost experts on self-marriage. Certainly not anything I ever predicted I would be when people asked me what I wanted to be when I was in high school. I’ve been quoted in Cosmopolitan, Self, Vice, ATTN, New York Times, and on Nightline/ABC . I’ve given a million soundbites in the media about why women are saying I do to themselves, but I never really feel like I’m getting at the essence of why—at least for me. It’s easier to talk about the societal trends, but the societal trends are not as deeply true as the personal reasons. So I figured, I would tell my own self-marriage story in the truest way possible. The universal can be found in the particular and the particular is rarely found in a media soundbite. So here goes.
It still startles me to see in print: I married myself. It seems odd. It is odd. I never would have predicted that I would marry myself even though I was an early observer of the self-marriage trend.
Quirkyalone is a word I created to describe people who prefer to be single rather than settle. When I first heard about women marrying themselves, I thought it sounded like a way to ritualize the core principles of being quirkyalone: to love yourself and not settle in your relationship to yourself or with another person. I interviewed two Bay Area artists Remi Rubel and Aya de Leon who had married themselves. Remi and Aya drew on traditional wedding rituals: shower, wedding, reception, and honeymoon. They both went on to marry men and considered the self-marriage foundational, to help them not lose touch with their own needs within marriage.
At the time, I was 30. The self-marriage concept impressed me but I certainly never expected to do it myself. They had worn white wedding dresses and declared their love to themselves in front of an audience of friends. I could not imagine making vows to myself in such a spectacle. Really? I’m a relatively private native New Englander at the core: a writer, and a coach, not a performance artist. Couldn’t you love yourself privately without declaring your self-love publicly?
At 39, my feelings about self-marriage changed
Ten years later, why did I warm to the idea of marrying myself? There were many reasons, in retrospect, that map with the reasons more women are turning to this latest initially odd-sounding twist on marriage. As Rebecca Traister has pointed out in her book All the Single Ladies, women are not consciously rejecting marriage so much as they have more options to not settle out of economic obligation and social pressure. Today only 20 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 are married, compared to 60 percent in 1960. According to the Pew Research Center, millenials are much more likely than older adults to say society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage and children.
But it’s not as if I wasn’t looking for a partner. Like increasing numbers of women I hadn’t find a man to marry between 30 and 40. When I was in my twenties, I thought he was magically going to appear when I was 30. But he hadn’t. And he still hadn’t. Was that because I wasn’t ready? Was it bad luck? Who knows?
Many friends had married. We feted them with gifts, toasts, and photo slideshows celebrating them from infancy on. I didn’t begrudge them these celebrations, but when you get to 40 and haven’t had a wedding, you realize marriage is the only coming-of-age ritual our society provides. Some would call all that marital attention “couple privilege.” Where’s the coming-of-age ritual for me, or any adult, if she hasn’t found a spouse or doesn’t want to marry?
The pressure of the so-called “expiration date” had been weighing me too. All that pressure I felt at 30 or 35: that was nothing in comparison to the inner panic about being single at 40. I knew it was crazy to worry about whether men would still want to date me when I was no longer thirty-something, but I worried.
Something even deeper was tugging me to marry myself that was I wasn’t even able to fully articulate my reasons at the beginning. I just had the impulse. There is a quote from the memoirist Rayya Elias that I like: “The truth has legs; it always stands. When everything else in the room has blown up or dissolved away, the only thing left standing will always be the truth. Since that’s where you’re gonna end up anyway, you might as well just start there.”
I like the idea of starting with the truth, but sometimes you don’t know the truth when you start. You can only grope toward the truth via instinct and the actual living.
But how to do it?
I wanted to marry myself with no clue on how to proceed. Even though I had written about self-marriage, I felt lost. It’s not like there is a set of instructions to follow handed down by generations. There is no self-wedding industry. (Or if there is one, it’s tiny.)
When in doubt, I turn to Google. I did a search on “self-marriage” and that led me to Dominique Youkhehpaz, a “self-marriage minister and counselor” with a B.A. from Stanford University in Cultural and Social Anthropology with a focus in Love, Ritual, and Religion. Dominique married herself in 2008 at 22 and helped others do the same since. I emailed her and we set up a time to talk.
Dominique explained the introspective, creative nature of self-marriage: “You can’t marry yourself without thinking about it deeply.” That was reassuring; I was on the right track if I needed time to find answers. She gave me examples: a Polish woman took 30 days to celebrate herself for 30th birthday. A guy married himself in a musical in his backyard. Another woman married herself alone in her bedroom with a candlelit ceremony. Talking to Dominique brought a huge feeling of relief; I could marry myself my own way. No white wedding dress or big audience required.
Dominique underscored the power of ritual, emphasizing that I could create my own ritual, private or public. “Ritual in itself has the power of transformation,” she said, and that made sense. I also thought, ritual somehow seals the deal. I would create a ritual. I hung up the phone feeling relieved, but like I had a gigantic creative question to answer: how was I going to marry myself in a way that felt true to me?
Who to tell
I also didn’t know whom to tell. Telling even my closest friends felt vulnerable. I didn’t know anyone else who had married herself, and the act of self-marriage still seemed unusual, verging on pathetic. Let’s get real: most of my friends had married men, and I was talking about marrying myself?
Later I would talk about my self-wedding ring at parties in Buenos Aires and a woman ten years my junior would ask me, “Why did you marry yourself and not the earth?” Suffice to way that kind of conversation was not happening for me in the Bay Area in 2014.
I texted my best friend my intention: “I’m going to marry myself, will you help?” Jenny had married an alien in a performance art ceremony in the 90s in which I was a bridesmaid, so I’m not sure why I was worried about telling her. But now Jenny had a partner. Her alien wedding was art, my self-wedding was sincere. She responded supportively.
Who knows why, I told my mother. Why did I think my practical New England mother, who has been married most of her life, would understand self-marriage? When I told my mother, “I think I’m going to marry myself for my fortieth birthday,” she laughed and said, “Whatever’s good for you is good by me.” I was sure she was thinking, My nutty California daughter. I wonder if she will ever get married to a man?
I also told the guy I was dating. He was the closest I had to a boyfriend at that time. He said, “Sure if you want to jump out of a cake for your birthday I will support you.” I took a sip of my wine and said nothing, feeling inwardly self-righteous, and thinking, You don’t get it. Marrying myself is not nothing like me jumping out of a cake! Marrying myself is about taking a stand for my own self-worth and the self-worth of all women, married or not. I decided to tell fewer people.
There was one last person I told in those quaking moments, right before I turned 40: my best friend in Buenos Aires, Alexandra. (Though I lived in Oakland, California I was spending time in Buenos Aires because of my Tango Adventure business.)
“I think I’m going to marry myself,” I told her in Spanish on Skype. Ale is Colombian, but we met in Argentina through tango.
“I married myself!” she said. What a surprise. Ale had married herself already! She told me the story that day.
She had woken up from an anxiety dream. The dream said, “You’re past 30, who are you going to marry? Who are you going to marry? You better do it now.” She decided the answer to the expiration date anxiety was: I will marry myself. She went to a fair that Sunday and bought a ring, declared herself married and instantly felt calmer.
A friend told her, “This is good but don’t close yourself off from others.” She said, “Of course.” Ale felt the same way as I did: self-marriage is something you do to honor yourself, and to calm the panic about not being married in a society that still puts pressure on women to marry by a certain age, but it doesn’t shut off relationship possibilities.
When Ale told me her story I felt like I was stepping into a small sisterhood: the sisterhood of women who had married themselves. I wasn’t so alone in this anymore.
A time of reflection
I had started therapy a year before I decided to marry myself in order to look at any blocks in my own capacity for intimacy and commitment. For a person who wanted to marry herself, I’ve actually been focused on my relationships. I had struggled in a lot of my romantic relationships with abandonment fears, and I had what I would later call “single shame”—a fear that none of my long-term relationships had been long enough, and thus, no one was going to want to be with me.
There had been one therapy session when my therapist looked at me and said, “There’s a lot of shame here.” That had been a hard thing to hear because it was true. Even though I have professionally taken a role as an author and coach who helps others with their shame about being single I was still plagued by a lot of those demons myself. Later I would realize that a lot of that fear came from the fact that I held a secret for twelve years of my childhood: a secret about having been sexually abused once. The secret itself had left a deep mark on my psyche. The secret had imprinted corrosive messages: if you ever tell anyone the truth they will leave you.
My self-marriage, it seemed to me, was about working through that shame, owning all of me, and learning how to be vulnerable enough to share my feelings and my full story. As Brene Brown teaches in her TED Talk on vulnerability, the path to joy and connection runs through sharing the stuff that’s hard to share. Sharing that stuff brings us closer. Somehow I felt that marrying myself would help me get closer with others.
Two questions came out of that therapy session; “What are you marrying?” and “Why call this marriage rather than a self-love ritual?”
I didn’t have the answers to those questions at the time but I kept them with me. I started reading about what Jung calls “the shadow,” the parts that we disown in ourselves. My therapist defined “the shadow” as the stuff you don’t walk to talk about even in therapy. I started to think I would marry my light—the things about me that are fantastic (I can be cheerful, fun, brilliant, helpful, caring) and the dark that I hide from others (I can be moody, messy, angry, bitter, negative, revenge-prone, and neurotic). I wanted my ritual to say: you are lovable, all of you. Even the parts you find difficult.
For my entire life people have told me I am very hard on myself. So I thought, marrying myself would help me with self-acceptance. The essence of love is acceptance.
As far as why call it marriage, I decided that was a semantic strategy. We consider marriage to be deep and important. So is loving yourself. If you called self-marriage a self-love ritual, the ritual wouldn’t have the same weight or importance.
the charms we found at the gas station
So then how did it happen in the end? How did I actually pop the question, and make vows to myself?
I got engaged spontaneously at a gas station on the way back from my 40th birthday hot springs trip to the desert. I had been shy to ask for attention about the self-wedding during that birthday weekend because it was a joint birthday with two friends. I didn’t want to make it all about me, but then I fell silent, moody and sullen in the car, because actually I did want attention.
On the drive out of the desert I finally got up my courage and asked my friends Liz, Sonya, and Jenny for help. We had stopped at a gas station selling Elvis paraphernalia, stuffed animals and jewelry. That’s where I broke down and told them why I had gotten silent in the car. They were enthusiastic about helping me. I just had to ask for help.
We found the perfect charm necklace with two charms: love and Alexandra (my formal name) and did a photo shoot outside the gas station in front of a red and yellow sign for “Premium Gasoline.” I was engaged, and it was just my style, spontaneous. Kind of like eloping with myself—and three friends.
Getting over my cold feet
Nine months later I got married in Buenos Aires. My Colombian friend Alexandra helped me plan the event. I very much needed her as wedding planner to move the process along. I was starting to procrastinate. Ale and I chose a date, June 15, and a place, the Japanese Gardens in Buenos Aires. The guest list: short. Me, Ale and our close friend Nele. (We all met through a seminar called psicotango, which is all about finding yourself through tango.)
The night before Ale came over to help me pick out the outfit. The forecast predicted cool and drizzle. I didn’t want to be cold at my own self-wedding. We settled on my favorite red pants, a blue tank top and black sweater with a lace back. Red pants make me feel like a superhero. A necklace that belonged to the woman I was subletting from—something borrowed! The shoes and tank top: something blue.
“It’s your last night as a single woman,” Ale told me, as she put on her jacket to leave. “Take a bath, light candles, pamper yourself.” I took a bath by candlelight after she left, something I had never done in my life. It’s hard to describe the happiness of that night. It was a little like being a kid on Christmas Eve, the feeling that something very special was going to happen the next day.
When Ale showed up at my apartment the next morning we both felt giddy. We walked over together to meet Nele.
On the way to the Japanese Gardens
My plan for the ritual was simple. I would say something, ask each of my friends to offer a reflection, and then read my vows. Thus began the ceremony, up on the balcony of the sushi restaurant next to the Japanese Gardens so we would be away from the crowds.
“Today I am here with two of my best friends in the world to marry myself.” I explained at the beginning of my ceremony at noon on the balcony of a sushi restaurant so we would be away from the crowds. “By marrying myself, I marry my light and my dark. I bring together all parts of myself, including the parts I do not find easy: my insecurities, anger, and moodiness.”
Ale spoke, “The decision to marry yourself is to become conscious of who you are and accept yourself. When I married myself, I had a symbol, and I want you to have a symbol too. I bought this ring for you a long time ago. I liked it so much I thought I might keep it. I didn’t imagine that I would give it to you as a symbol from one woman who married herself to another.”
Ale handed me a black, brown and red ring she had bought in Colombia. I almost cried. We had unexpectedly created a new ritual: a self-married woman giving another woman a ring.
Putting on the ring
I read my vows. There were 18 of them. I’ve never particularly had the ability to edit myself when I get going. Here were three of them: “I vow to create intimacy in my life by making myself vulnerable, revealing how I really feel.” “I vow to fall in love with others’ imperfections as I fall in love with my own.” “I vow to see myself as beautiful.”
Post-wedding photos with Nele and Ale
Here is the video where you can see my ceremony:
As we walked home, Ale said, “Your ceremony reminded me of how I felt when I married myself, a happy place, Que lindo, How nice, I don’t have to be with a man to make myself happy.” I could tell Ale and Nele got a sympathetic high from my own ritual.
She also joked, “I’ve already forgotten my anniversary, but that’s okay. Self-marriage is like marriage, you forget your anniversary, you lose your ring. But the important thing is we know we are married.”
How is the marriage going? Are we happy together?
A lot of people will comment “how sad” when they encounter self-marriage. I suppose they are saying: “How sad these women have not found men to marry.” Or society is breaking down. Maybe they are thinking we are narcissistic, or any of the other knee-jerk responses people have to self-marriage. Do I sometimes feel sad because I’m single? Sometimes. Do I feel sad about having married myself? Never. My self-wedding was one of the best days of my life.
What difference does it make that I’ve married myself? It’s now been three years so I have plenty of time to reflect on whether this made any difference in my life. First the truth. I didn’t go on a honeymoon. I lost my wedding ring and the engagement necklace. I do not have wedding photos of myself splattered around my apartment.
Self-marriage is not legal. I don’t get any tax benefits from the state, and being married to myself doesn’t give me companionship: someone to have sex with, help me when I’m sick or talk to when I’m lonely.
Marrying myself also did not turn me into a Buddha who embodies perfect self-care and perpetual self-compassion.
Clearly, it’s not as if self-marriage is the end point.
But self-marriage has changed me. There’s no doubt in my mind about that. Marrying myself was a moment in time when I took a stand for my worthiness as a human being. When you marry yourself, you are saying, I am worthy of being married to—by myself or anyone else. The symbols from the ritual—the ring and engagement necklace—have consistently grounded me, especially in moments when I have felt shaky (like a break-up). Wearing my replacement ring gives me the same feeling of calm that the first one did. The self-marriage ring disrupts the idea that you can only be happy when you are married.
The ritual has affected me in many ways. The most profound has to do with the depth of relationship I’ve been able to have with another person. My boyfriend after the self-marriage was the first one who knew that I had a trauma of childhood sexual abuse–and that it still affected me as an adult. I was never able to even contemplate sharing that part of my life story with a partner before.
In the past when I would have reactions to conflict and criticism—some might say overreactions, and men would leave me. They would find me difficult. Ben was the first boyfriend who knew about my story, and therefore he could love and understand me. I had to be comfortable enough with sharing my story for that depth of connection to be possible. I had to work through that shame to get to self-acceptance. My self-marriage was a milestone in that process. When I told him my story I was upholding my vows to myself.
That man and I are no longer together, but it was the most loving relationship I have been in.
At the moment, I am dating. As I said, self-marriage, for me, was never about the commitment to be single. It’s about a commitment to self-love. I am infinitely aware that when I date and find someone that I like a lot of my shit comes up: my fears of abandonment, intimacy, commitment. The poet Adrienne Rich nails it here for me. Getting to love, and not infatuation, is no small thing: “An honorable human relationship … in which two people have the right to use the word ‘love’ is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other.”
Love, actually, is not for the faint of heart. The act of laying ourselves bare to another human being, to be seen for all of who we are, lovely and not obviously lovely, tests us. We can have anxiety attacks, sabotage relationships, or give up. Self-marriage helps me hold my own heart. My ring is a reminder: Of course I am lovable, I love myself.
Sasha Cagen is the author of Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics. She lives in Buenos Aires, where she sometimes help women marry themselves (remotely or in person) and teaches tango in 7-day tango holidays that bring together women and use tango as a metaphor for life and relationships. She is at work on a memoir called Wet, a journey of healing through sensuality in South America that goes even further deeper into these topics of shame, self-love, relationships and healing.
Now that I’ve met you, would you object to never seeing each other again? “Deathly” Aimee Mann
I left a first date feeling entirely uncertain, excited and unsettled. Then, he didn’t call. I had to deal with my feelings for two days afterward. Two days of hell and then I moved on! I used all the tools at my disposal to deal with those feelings, and I thought I would share them with you who are dating. But first—something poetic.
I’ve always thought the above lyric from Aimee Mann perfectly expresses the complicated anxiety of meeting—and actually really liking—someone on a first date. I’m so glad we met, and would you object to never seeing each other again?
Aimee Mann suggests in the song that “I can’t afford to / Climb aboard you / No one’s got that much ego to spend.” She doesn’t want someone to “work their stuff” on her because she has “troubles enough.” Even if the other person is not working their stuff on you, how do you live through the process of dating and getting to know someone–and actually liking them–without going through a roller coaster of emotion? Does he like me? Do I like him? Will he call? Text? Should I?
In other words, how is it possible to be more chill and meditative about this if you get invested in someone you like? Is that even possible?
When I was younger I got the impression from romantic comedies that beginning a relationship with someone was fun. But what those movies left out was the awkward process of discerning how you felt and how the other person felt about you, whether you are in the same place with the same desires and emotional availability for a relationship.
Dating requires some courage: Opening up is always a risk. Why would you want to be hurt when you’re sailing along in your cool-with-being-single-life? The price of entry to go for deeper connection is walking through this valley of making yourself vulnerable. I don’t mean just in romantic relationships either, but also with friendships and family too.
Some people say, “Dating is fun!” Dating can definitely be fun. But we are also human beings with hearts that have a history. Dating can also trigger deep issues from childhood and various aspects of your history, formative first love relationships, breakups and so on.
It’s never more fearsome than when you actually like someone. My friend Jenny sent me a text recently giving me some encouragement after a date, “It’s OK to enjoy those crush feelings. Crushes can bring a feeling of lightness and joy.” That’s true. It’s great if you can let go of the anxiety enough to enjoy the crush.
Some people take dating lightly, and that’s great. But for those of us who find dating challenging, who have gone on zillions of dates and been through what Jody Day over at Gateway Women called the “endless hope/despair cycle of Internet dating” I want to share with you what I have learned about managing the anxiety of dating.
The anxiety may not go away entirely but it can be more contained so we can enjoy more of the lightness and joy that go along with crushes and exciting dates.
Accept your emotions. Dating will bring up emotions. Accept them: excitement, hope, disappointment, fear of rejection and despair. Just because you are aware of your feelings it doesn’t mean you won’t have them. If you have a phobia of birds for example it doesn’t mean your phobia will go away when you see a cluster of pigeons by your door. (That was my big fear for a while.) Maybe you can distract yourself but don’t beat yourself up for having the feelings. Why are you doing this? You’re being brave and going for a deeper connection.
Express your emotions—to yourself or a friend. I find this Milagrows list-making practice can be helpful to externalize the feelings and let them be witnessed. The milagrows practice, as I call it, is a way of writing a list where you note your feelings, especially the ones you are not grateful for, and bless them with gratitude. Writing a milagrows list helps me move through a tough patch more quickly. You could even say writing this list helps you metabolize negative emotions. Talking to a sympathetic friend who gets that dating is not always easy is helpful too. Dating can bring up just as many emotional challenges as a marriage.
Separate these emotions from the person you have just met. Dating can bring up a great longing. They tell you, don’t project when you date, but come on. If you meet someone you like the imagination may go wild with the future you envision, and if it doesn’t work out, it’s a great fall from grace. Disappointment is natural but don’t let the disappointment or other negative feelings become global. In other words, this is disappointment about one man and not all men, one women and not all women. Separate those emotions and longings from the person, because you don’t really know the person yet and whether they would be a good person for you to be in a relationship with anyway.
Which brings us to: Don’t let all your emotions go into the gutter. It’s very easy to let a feeling of rejection from one person spin into, Love never works for me or It’s never going to work out. Believe me, I’ve done that too! Most “never” statements will not hold up to scrutiny when you question them.
It’s crucial to separate disappointment about a particular person (whom you did not know all that well anyway) from disappointment about love in general. Become more specific with your thoughts and feelings. Maybe it doesn’t work out with this particular person because he or she doesn’t want a relationship right now. One dating disappointment doesn’t predict the future.
You didn’t do anything wrong. You can’t make someone like you. Tons of dating gurus out there tell you how to make yourself irresistible to men (Chistian Carter, Rori Rayes, etc. etc.) or how to pick up women, and if you read these people, you think, Oh fuck, I did x, y, z wrong. I won’t say there is nothing of value to be gained from dating gurus, but in the end, if you are manipulating someone to like you in the beginning, they don’t know you. That’s no foundation for a relationship. The reasons that someone likes you or doesn’t like you are ones that you really can’t know. They may like you for things you have never seen in yourself and are not aware of. Give yourself a break. You did nothing wrong.
Time is the ultimate test. You can’t know that much about anyone from one encounter anyway. A date full of chemistry may lead somewhere or nowhere. I am suspicious of the Hell Yes or No thing that people spread as a meme on the Internet–according to this meme, you should only do things that are a Hell Yes. In my experience, hell yesses sometimes fizzle and ambiguous connections may grow. People reveal themselves to you as you get to know them and chemistry alone does not make a relationship. People surprise us, and it takes time to know them. Character and important qualities like kindness and judgment will show up with time. Two-date rule? Five date rules? I don’t have any rules and I won’t suggest any but I am increasingly convinced that first dates are not that revealing and nothing happens that fast. People can be more fully themselves when they feel comfortable with you over time.
Just keep going. Almost every day I am more convinced that success in all aspects of life is about persistence. Take care of your heart and keep on trucking. And if you want help along the path, check out what I offer here.
Unclassified Woman is a wonderful podcast about combatting “limiting female narratives”:
“With almost 25% of women over 40 child-free by choice or childless through circumstance, it seems absurd that women still have to justify their decisions or endure pity about why they’re not mothers. Motherhood is not a mandate and yet so many women are made to feel ‘less than’ or viewed suspiciously or disparagingly, if they are creating a life of meaning beyond biological mothering.
All of these outdated stereotypes lead to one dangerous assumption: what’s your value beyond being a mother? As mainstream society still tends to over-celebrate mothers juggling ‘it all’, and under-celebrate women who, whilst not mothers, have created lives of purpose and service – Unclassified Woman is the perfect antidote to limiting female narratives.”
Michelle Marie McGrath, the creator of Unclassified Woman, and I recorded an intimate conversation last year.
I remember the conversation being so personal that I was afraid to listen to it when she sent it to me. I summoned the courage, pressed play and found the conversation very nourishing.
I hope you will find the realness nourishing too.
In our Unclassified Woman conversation, we go into:
– the messy truth about why I haven’t had children, and many women today do not
– social infertility and circumstantial infertility (our choices are not always entirely choices)
– a near-death experience I had that helped me see I can’t put myself through so much pain around comparing myself and the value of my life to friends who are mothers
– the process of grieving not having a child even though I was never sure I wanted to be a biological mother
– the delicious moment when you figure out who you are and stand for your own value
A lot of people are saying, “It’s not that bad,” “Let’s wait and see.” Some men I know are telling me “everything is going to be OK.” I personally don’t want to be told that everything is going to be OK right now. This is the power of denial. When someone shows you who he is, believe him. If someone mocks a person with disabilities, believe that person is cruel. If that person lies and say they never mocked the person with disabilities, we are dealing with a pathological liar.
I think I have a high capacity to look at the terrible shit that is happening in our country now because of the commitment I made to healing my own shit about four years ago, and this is what I am writing about in my current book project and what I help some coaching clients with. Healing from sexual abuse or assault. Sometimes people didn’t come to me with that but it comes up as we talk about other parts of life.
As I am reviewing a draft for a class where I need to submit 125 passages and an outline, I see a lot of the passages I wrote about my own life apply to this political situation too, the desire to throw your whole life up in the air in a radical way because everything feels so shitty (what some Trump voters wanted to do, voting for Trump for them was like throwing a grenade, and I did that in my own personal way years ago), the natural human tendency toward denial to stay comfortable (what many liberals such as Jon Stewart have been doing by saying, It’s not so bad, and what I did for decades), the need to look the truth in the face to make change and heal (that’s our only way forward, being real about what is going on).
I am writing about a churn in my life, and I think we are going through a churn in our country.
Here’s one passage that makes me feel this.
“I was in denial for a long time. It was too painful to look at the past. So I just kept moving, making lists, making plans, next date, next man. Until someday the fun catches up with me and I realize I never actually got to connect with anyone because I realize that I never unraveled whatever painful things that were holding me back. If we never look at the truth, we will repeat the same patterns. I would never suggest that everyone should move to another continent, but I would suggest that everyone take the courage to look at whatever they have been avoiding looking at. The thing you have been avoiding does seem to hold the key to freedom. What I would say much later is that the churn is for people who need a radical change in life, and the churn is what will bring their subterranean problems to the surface. There were things in me that were so deeply embedded that the problems were not obvious, what was causing me to be so unhappy, to believe I was unlovable, and to get lost in a job that I didn’t want, and it was through submitting to the wild ride of the churn that I could even discover what was actually even going on in my life. In essence, a churn is not to solve all your problems but to even know what your problems are. This is a big step. In order to heal you need to look at the thing you have most been avoiding looking at. In that thing you avoid the most, that’s where you find the path forward.”
Many will deny reality. In personal growth work and politics I believe that the path forward is always about coming into contact with reality, painful as it may be. Denial is very seductive but we cannot afford denial. And there’s a lot of fertility in shit. We need shit to fertilize our gardens.
Believe in yourself, believe in your voice. Quirkyalone is permission to take up space in the world whether you are single, coupled, gay, straight, bi, trans, disabled, any race, any religion. You as an individual have a dignity that is sacred. The worst instincts of people are being unleashed and magnified by a pseudo-leader who has legitimized cruelty and hate. But your dignity exists and it cannot be taken away.
This vision of the world being advanced by Trump would take us back 50 years before the civil rights and women’s movement. Quirkyalone emerged in a historical context where women have economic freedom. Where we learned we could choose relationships out of desire and not because of our need to be in them for economic survival. The world that Trump is advocating and his supporters long for is a patriarchal world where the white man is at the head of the table, and he saves us (and jobs) with his so-called strength. It doesn’t matter what his policies are or that they change constantly because his supporters trust him as the white male savior. We have come too far over the last 50 years to give up our dignity and go silent.
Your voice matters. It matters now more than ever. Every individual voice adds up to a vaster chorus of people calling for kindness and sanity.
If you are a quirkyalone, and you’re looking for someone to be your life partner, you may find yourself single for an extended period: months or yearssssss. How do you keep touch, sexuality and sensuality present and alive in your life while you are single? How can we be “wet” when we are single?
To answer these questions, I’m taking a little tiptoe into the world of podcasting with this podcast with the great Carolyn Arnold, a social scientist, educational researcher, and friend. At the age of 58, Carolyn started a 50 Dates project to find her life partner. She found him by date 49! I’ve interviewed Carolyn about what she learned about loving herself while she went through the ups and downs of dating here. What’s interesting about Carolyn too is that she had a lot of lovers while she was looking for love because sex and touch are important to her. She didn’t want to be celibate and she knew she wanted healthy touch in her life.
In this podcast, I interview Carolyn about how to have lovers and have sexuality be present in your life when you are single and looking for a life partner, and don’t want to be celibate. How do you avoid the pitfalls of misunderstandings, hurt feelings, fantasy/illusion (I thought this was the start of something but he never called!), crossed boundaries, doing more than you really want to do, and more. In essence, we’re talking about how to have clear communication before you get busy and have clear access to your yes and your no at all times. We give you some scripts you can use even.
Carolyn is working on a memoir about her 50 First Dates Project, and in this podcast, we talk about what she learned about having having sex and lovers while looking for love. Carolyn has gone to many Northern California alternative relationship and sexuality seminars and she has learned a lot about how to set boundaries and communicate what you want with a partner in open, honest, loving communication. I’ve been on a parallel journey, and so Carolyn and I have often talked over her kitchen table about how to have conversations about sex when you are dating.
Here are some things we talk about in this conversation:
• How to have a conversation about sex before (or while) clothes come off to avoid misunderstandings and disappointment. We give you some scripts you can use to open a conversation about sex. In essence, the conversation starts with the question, “Do we want to be sexual?” Carolyn thinks you can have this conversation before anything happens. I think it’s a little more natural after kissing.
• The “monogamous mindset of dating” (if you start dating and quickly become exclusive, you can get awfully attached when you start having sex, but are you sure this is really the person you want to be with?)
• Being truly at choice in sex at every moment and why this is important to have access to your yes and your no at any moment, and never feel you have to finish what you started (you have to be able to say no so that you can truly say yes)
• What is sex (is it just intercourse, or can we have a more expansive definition that might or might not include intercourse and might feel like what you actually want to do?)
• How to have supportive lovers while you are dating and looking for “the one”
• Menopause and why you might want to keep your sexuality alive during your 40s (based on Carolyn’s experience)
I published an essay called “What It Feels Like to Watch Trump as a Sexual Abuse Survivor” in Vice in the wake of the video documenting Trump’s sickening bragging comments about grabbing women’s pussies. As the headline indicates, publishing this essay was no small thing for me. Publishing this piece was the result of five years of my own personal work to be even able to name that this incident happened to me, understand how it’s affected me, and to then write about it in a national magazine. Wow. Healing the effects of sexual abuse and assault is actually a big theme in my current writing project Wet and in my work coaching women. And even in the Tango Adventure, because I’m using tango as a way to help women reconnect with lost parts of themselves, their sexuality and sensuality chief among them. These are parts of us that get stolen from us when we live in a culture where we don’t feel safe, but confidence and sensuality are important and powerful–it’s our birthright to feel good and feel pleasure in our bodies. Here’s the essay. Check it out and let me know what you think. Originally the essay attracted some terrible haters but then my quirkyalone readers came to the rescue with fabulous comments. You’ll see.
Saying goodbye to Martha, her soulful scratches and all
I was driving back from the smog check, and I felt myself fighting just the slightest tears. I felt that lump in my throat, knowing, yes, I have reached the point of no return. I’m paying $50 for a smog check and that means this is it, after much resistance, I am selling Martha, my 2007 Toyota Corolla, a solid presence in my life since 2008 when I bought her pre-owned.
Martha. Yes, she has a name. Do all owners give their cars names, like they give their pets names? Do all car owners get so attached to their cars? I don’t have a pet, or a child, but I named my car. Why would I be crying for 2,800 pounds of metal, steel, and plastic? My friend Liz told me I should write about Martha because I way I talk about her, like she is a person in my life. So I am.
First, some basic facts: who is Martha and why am I getting rid of her? Martha was my first car. I bought Martha when I was 34, relatively old to buy a first. I bought Martha during a period of big change in my life, when I went from writer to Silicon Valley product manager. I made more money and needed a car. Having a car felt like a luxury, a big step up the economic ladder. The name Martha just came to me. I wanted a sturdy, reliable car and Martha felt like a sturdy, reliable name.
Since then my life changed. I left Silicon Valley and I’ve spent three of the last eight years in South America writing, coaching/consulting, and dancing tango. I’ve held on to Martha for all these years, having friends drive her paying the insurance while I’m away, because I loved having Martha to come home to when I would be back in the Bay Area, sometimes as long as a year and a half. Recently I committed to living in Argentina to write a second draft of my memoir. Rationally it doesn’t make sense anymore to keep paying the registration and maintenance. It’s time to let go.
Even so, there is clinging to the past. To Martha! We say change is good but change is also hard. If we are honest, we are to some degree ambivalent about most things. Most things have good and bad in them. Change means giving up some things while you gain others. There’s the job you hate but the paycheck you love. The spouse you love and the spouse you can’t live with. There is a grieving process for most changes whether it’s leaving a place, a job, a person, or an object. Objects too have so many memories and emotions attached to them.
Liz told me Martha was replaceable, “She’s a white Corolla. You can get another white Corolla when you come back. It’s not an uncommon car.” I say, “No, those other cars won’t have Martha’s bumps and scratches. Those particularities.” Liz says, “We can dent the new car with golf balls and scratch it to replicate the damage.” I laugh, “OK, we can do that.”
There is soul in the history of an object, in the meanings we give our things over the years. The history is in those imperfections. I put the dent on the car in the first year when I was clumsy parking in a tight garage in San Francisco. At first I was ashamed that I had messed up my car so quickly. Then I decided the dents and scratches made my car unique. I could recognize her in a parking lot easily. That was an important revelation that made me feel better about my own dents and scratches.
I keep thinking of Liz’s implicit question, why does this car mean so much to me? She was more than a car to me. Martha and I had a long-term relationship of eight years, and a long-distance relationship for three of those years. For three of those years I was in South America. She was okay with me leaving and coming back, she never broke down when I went away. The car was an anchor. It’s the mobility, the status, but also the constancy: Perhaps Martha was one of my rocks. She gave me the freedom to roam and always welcomed me back with open arms.
When it finally came time to post the ad, and start showing Martha to buyers, I was nervous to show her. What if people felt different about her than I did? I posted realistic photos on Craigslist and got 30 emails, I showed her to four people and two out of four her wanted her. There’s nothing like having your car be wanted.
The lucky buyer was Jan, a mom buying the car for her twentysomething son Joaquin. I met Jan and Joaquin on a Friday afternoon to complete the transaction. It was time to hand over the keys.
I told Joaquin, “The car is special, so take good care of her. She is very soulful and she has a lot of care-taking qualities. Her name is Martha.” His eyes widened either impressed or freaked out but his mom Jan seemed taken with the name. “Like George and Martha Washington,” she said, as if this had some meaning to them. Yes.
We walked outside and I passed the key to Joaquin, the official handoff. I said to Jan, “I feel like I’m giving away my baby.”
She said, “We would call Family Services if you were selling your baby for $6600.”
I felt a little embarrassed and said, “I know, but it’s emotional.”
She said, “I know what you mean. When I sold my car I felt choked up too.”
So I walked home four blocks, saying goodbye to Martha, and also, hello to an unknown future. Having grieved already I felt more ready for the new chapter, come what may, whether that includes a future car or not. I felt lighter for having been courageous enough to let go. I felt free.
Goodbye to All that is a nod to Joan Didion’s landmark 1967 essay about leaving New York, “Goodbye to All That.”
There was no doubt in my mind that I would see the movie Brooklyn and in the theater as soon as it came out last fall. You know when a movie comes out and it speaks to you to your core, or to some question you have shivering in your soul, you know that you will plunk down $10 to see the movie. So it was with Brooklyn for me.
A tale of a woman torn between two countries, Brooklyn is the story of a small-town Irish girl who comes to New York City from Ireland in the ’50s and falls for a young Italian plumber. She doesn’t come to New York because of famine or oppression. She comes to escape the narrowness of her small-town upbringing and the limited opportunities she finds at home. On a trip back home she feels a strong pull back to Ireland, to her family, roots, and a new Irish love interest. The movie, based on the novel by Colm Toibn, nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, is shimmering, subtle and yet emotionally exquisite.
When I walked out of the movie theater, dazed and happy in the movie’s glow, for the movie is a story of one woman’s pursuit of happiness, I distinctly remember seeing the words “achieving home” together in one of the movie reviews about the film.
Now I Google, looking for those words “achieving home” in the movie reviews to retrace my steps to the idea of achieving home but I do not find them.
The word combination “achieving home” made an impact on me even if I imagined them—the idea that home is an achievement rang as absolutely true. If you are a wanderer, a searcher, like me or the main character of Brooklyn Eilis Lacey, home is an achievement because it takes guts and time to choose, to try different places and know that each promised future dangling based on a place has its pros and cons, its dreams and its downsides, and commitment to roots is itself an achievement. I knew that I was struggling to achieve home myself, and perhaps, always will be to some extent.
I have “achieved home” in the last few weeks. After five years of splitting my time between the Bay Area and Buenos Aires, Argentina, I have decided to make Buenos Aires my primary place for the next 12 months at least, enough time to make progress on my book and grow the Tango Adventure while continuing to offer my coaching services.
The decision came with waves: first the doubt that lived with me for years about what to do, growing finally after enough consideration and research of options to finally a solid decision that I could actually feel as true in my body (when things actually feel settled in my body I know they are true than when they are just mental). Then came euphoria at having committed, then some remorse, knowing Buenos Aires is not perfect and there are things that I miss out on by being away from the Bay Area.
And yet, the decision feels excellent to announce. I am achieving home, in a place and perhaps most of all in my ability to commit to myself, to my intuition, to my belief in my dreams.
With this achievement of home, I cannot help but point out a difference in my story. The movie’s main character chooses between places but ultimately she is choosing between men who want to marry her. It is not that I do not want to marry, or be in love, but in my choice, I am not rushing into the arms of a man who will be my husband. I may very well meet him here in the next year, but it is something else entirely to be a woman choosing destiny based holistically on what makes you happy, what makes you come alive, and not because there is a man at the other end of the airplane travel to welcome you.
This fear has been a demon all along, the fear that if I choose my most alive life this is somehow “impractical” and will negate the possibility of love and marriage. I know this sounds “crazy” coming from the author of Quirkyalone who waves the flag for everyone who chooses to be single rather than settle, but I tell you the truth. It’s gotten too boring for me to not tell the truth. For a whole year after breaking up with a boyfriend in the Bay Area the demon of practicality told me that it was statistically more likely I would find my partner there, even when I felt that being in California was not the right choice for me now.
This choice of home is an extra achievement because I do it as a woman alone. With the hope that making the best decision for me brings the best possible future. I do it knowing that it is my responsibility, my risk, that no one can guarantee anything but this was the best choice for me. So I decide happily too. And I feel the achievement of home, most of all, within myself.
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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